Is Chaos a Choice?

I like routines.  I survive with the illusion of being in control.  I do not accept change well.  My first defense is just to ignore what’s swirling around me and wait for the dust to settle.  But, the dust isn’t settling very quickly this time.  The world is caught up in the chaos for disease and failing economies.  I track the oil prices on my phone; not a comforting activity right now.  Social media has been both a help and a hindrance recently.  There are lots of resources being offered up, but the panic buying (hoarding) has also been fueled by some of the posts.  The news media seems to be more intent on scaring up a story than providing facts and information in a calm and helpful manner.   It’s hard to know what is real and what is just hype.

We are encouraged to practice social distancing.  Schools are on extended breaks.  Universities are moving to online classes only.  Some businesses are instituting remote work.  Other are beginning the furlough process (Unpaid Corona Vacations) for employees.  Restaurants have shifted takeout only.  Churches are using the internet to meet.  Stores are closing or cutting hours.  Groceries are scarce at times.  And, Toilet Paper has become the prime indicator of how well we are doing.  When it rains, it pours!  What are we supposed to do?

Chaos is defined as “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.”  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living the definition of chaos.  Over the past few months, there have been several very unsettling events that have thrown my life a little off-balance.  They didn’t happen to me directly, but they have affected me just the same.  These events brought change to MY normal and I reacted emotionally and spiritually.   As I have been trying to recover my balance, the stock market crashed, oil prices tanked, and the Coronavirus pandemic took center stage.  Although, I continue to go to work each day and I may seem to be in control, my mind is reeling as my world seemingly spins out of control.  I have to fight the urge to go into “Fix it” mode. 

My morning devotion was in Psalm 37.  One verse in particular (a very familiar one) answered the question “What am I supposed to do?)  Here are several versions of the 7th verse of Psalm 37:

“Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him.  Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top.” 

the Message

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” 

New International

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” 

King James

“Be still before the Lord; wait patiently for Him and entrust yourself to Him; Do not fret (whine, agonize) because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.”

Amplified

Be still.  Right.  Easier said than done.  I do not WANT to be still and wait.  I want things back to normal.  But, right now, being still is the best thing that I can do.  I can be still in my home, away from the rush.  Families will have the time to eat meals together, to play games together, and to just BE together.  There are no extracurricular activities that require our attendance or attention.  We can choose to use this time to connect deeply with our spouse and/or children or we can waste the time fretting and binge watching on the internet.   We can moan about having to eat at home or enjoy the creativity of prepping meals together, even if that means helping to unpack the take-out.  We can worry about where the economy is headed or take advantage of opportunities to save money during this distancing period.  We can allow the chaos to eat us alive, or we can turn to God and allow Him to speak to each of us in the quiet.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend more time in the quiet.  I’ll practice being still before God.  I will spend time in His word.  I will once again spend time drawing, journaling and creating in order to connect with my refuge and my strength. 

I choose to see this chaotic time as an opportunity to reconnect, to return to my roots, to grow in my faith. I will be still.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’

Psalm 46: 1-10 NIV

Huffing and Puffing

Straw, Sticks or Brick?

We’ve all heard the story of “The Three Little Pigs’.  The first little pig built his house out of straw.  The second little pig used sticks.  The third pig used bricks.  The wolf was able to “huff and puff” and blow down the first and second houses, but the brick house withstood his efforts.  As a child in VBS, I also remember singing the song about the foolish man and the wise man:

The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the rock stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the sand went smash.

So, how many of us truly heed the warnings of these two children’s stories?

We live in a “microwave” world.  We have no patience to wait for anything.  We eat fast food, drink coffee from pods, use credit to the extreme, treat sex as a dating option, and seek “happiness” above all else.  We’ve lost the need or the desire to plan, wait and/or build something of value.  We struggle and come apart over the “stuff”.  We live in a culture that confuses wants with needs.  I NEED a bigger house.  I NEED a new car.   I NEED the new phone.  I NEED to be happy.  I NEED to have the BEST. 

Instead of being content with what we can afford, we buy and sell and trade.  We save for the temporary things that we will tire of when the next newest thing is unveiled.  But, we forget about investing in the things that matter.  We are so intent in our pursuit of happiness, that people and relationships become secondary.  We don’t take the time to repair and/or build our marriages or relationships.  We treat relationships that should be the most precious with less regard than the latest IPhone. 

As we build relationships, we establish a solid footing for marriage.  We build the brick house for ourselves.  When sex becomes the basis for my happiness, I build a house of straw or sticks without a foundation.    A challenge or problem within the fragile walls will knock it down.  I know that I’m old school.  I do believe in the marriage vows “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”  Unfortunately, the truth of many a marriage is this:  “to have and to hold today, (unless you disappoint me or become a bigger liability than an asset to my happiness) or until something better comes along.”

I do believe that we have to return to our strong belief in family values.  I do not advocate the “Leave it to Beaver” life, but I do believe that marriage and family have to come first.  My children were always important to me.  I was the typical Momma Bear and they knew they could depend on me to stand up for them.  However, my husband came first.  If I did not focus on building a strong marriage, my kids wouldn’t have the family that they needed.  These are the “bricks” that I have found critical to a successful life/marriage:   

  1. My Relationship with God
  2. My Relationship with my spouse
  3. Taking care of my children

I met both of my husbands through church.  Faith has been a huge part of each of my marriages.  Without God, I could not have survived some of the things I have endured.  We believe that God is in control.  We have to trust in Him for all our needs. My kids were also raised in the church.  I would make a pallet on the floor of the gym where we had services and lay my baby on it while I practiced the hymns and/or offertories on the piano.  Gracie learned hymns in the womb with I practiced.  The church was a 2nd home to my children.  Sunday’s were not optional.  We would be in church that day.  Never a question.

Date nights every month away from our kids are important.  When my children were small and money was tight, we were known to drop them off with a sitter and go home to watch TV alone.  It was what we did as much as just building time together, alone.  It’s important to spend time growing together.  It’s so easy to get pushed apart with children in the house.  There’s so much to do.  Sleep is often at a premium.  It’s work to remain a couple and not just co-parents.

I’ve spent my life being a working a mom.  I went to the office and sometimes traveled for work.  I don’t think my children ever felt slighted.  In fact, after being laid off and home for 9 months, they were ECSTATIC when I returned to the work force. 

There are many, many options in life.  I would challenge myself as well as others to decide which battles in which you engage.  Is the fight for newest or the best “thing” critical to your life? Or, will it just bring a moment of happiness and feed the “NEXT” wolf? Will my house stand against the huffing and puffing?

Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Matthew 7:21-27 MSG

Lessons from Theodore

Theodore

We have 4 small dogs.  All of them are rescues.  Three of them came to us as puppies.  They moved right in and made themselves comfortable.  Our most recent addition is Theodore.  He’s a rat terrier found wandering a country road.  He had fleas and dermatitis when he was found.  Theodore was 5 years old when we got him.  We know this because he was chipped and the rescue organization talked to the breeder.  Neither the breeder nor his first family would take him back.

When I first met Theodore, I was amazed at how very stiff and almost distant he was.  He’s a very muscular dog and can jump over 3 feet, straight up.  We jokingly call him Stick Dog because he never seems to relax.  His legs are always stick straight.  He liked attention, but he never seemed to settle in one spot for very long.  It was obvious that Theodore was comfortable.  His skin had cleared up and his coat a returned.  He was getting good food and putting on weight.  He had learned his spot in the dog area.   On occasion he would fall asleep in my lap, but not very often.  I had resolved in my mind that he was just a loner. 

Early in December, however, something changed.  It was like Theodore realized that he was in his forever home.  He was suddenly a lap dog.  He’s still stiff and likes to know what’s going on EVERYWHERE in the house.  But now, he’s the first to crawl up for cuddles.  He has “his spot” on my right side and it doesn’t matter if one of the other dogs in lying there.  Theodore will maneuver his way into HIS spot.   He will stand outside my bathroom window and bark while I get dressed to remind me that he needs to come inside.  The more that time passes, the more at home he seems.  He even jumped up and down to be picked up just a few days ago.  That was a new thing.  It has been amazing to watch the transformation of his personality. 

Theodore’s journey has made me look at my own walk of faith.  As a young believer, I treated my relationship with God much as I would Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.  If I was good enough, or gave enough, or had something to trade, I would be “blessed” with a happy, pain free life.  If things didn’t go well, then I just wasn’t good enough.    I could never relax and really trust God to work, because I was too busy being BUSY.

Through the years, I’ve learned and adjusted.  I’ve read scripture. 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  Romans 2:12 TLB

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!  He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most.   Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.  You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow!   Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.”  Psalm 23 TLB

 I claimed these scriptures.   I used them as proof that God would take care of me.  In some ways, I think I tried to use them as blackmail to get what I wanted in life.   I assumed that I would live a long, happy, care-free life.  My family and I would serve Him and be under His protection.  We were and we are.  BUT, my idea of protection and God’s were not the same. 

While God promises to ALWAYS care for me, He has never promised that things would be easy and free of trouble.  In fact, He said quite the opposite. 

”And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.”  Ephesians 6:12 MSG

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  John 16:33 MSG

I think as a citizen of these United States, I have been spoiled to expect an easy life.  I don’t have any idea what it means to be persecuted.  So, when I hit a rough patch in life, I get all upset and feel sorry for myself.  Bad stuff will happen.  Even in our country, bad stuff happens.  The worst thing I could imagine happened to me when my first husband died.  I screamed and begged and cried out to God during that time.  I tried to figure out what I had done wrong to deserve this tragedy.  It took several years to come to terms with Terry’s death.  I had to recognize my own selfishness.  “I” was not being punished.  God has a plan for each of us.  Terry got his reward earlier than we expected.  It was a hard lesson to learn.  I’m still not totally sure I understand it all. 

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”  Romans 8:26-28 MSG

As I have become more comfortable in my faith, I have learned to relax and depend upon God.  Trials come.  There are situations and consequences in my life right now that I would definitely prefer not to confront.  I really don’t have a choice.  There are some regrets about past life choices.  There is sorrow in the consequences that must be faced.  But, ultimately, God is still there for me.  There is forgiveness in every situation.   There are blessings and joy to be found. 

” Then, when Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his wealth and happiness! In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!

So the Lord blessed Job at the end of his life more than at the beginning.” Job 42:10,12A TLB

“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”  Colossians 1: 11-12 MSG

The “I” in Christmas

I think one of my favorite Christmas memories is from 1982.  That was my first Christmas totally on my own.  I had moved to Houston for my first “grown-up” job.  This was the first Christmas that I purchased all my Christmas gifts with my own money.  I loved shopping for the perfect gift for each family member.  And what was even better?  I didn’t have to limit myself to just one gift.  I set my own budget and made my choices.  It was great!

My next Christmas memory is from 1988, the first Christmas that I didn’t spend with my parents.  It was the 2nd Christmas after Terry and I were married.  I was pregnant with our son and we spent that Christmas in Houston.  We were serving part-time in a church north of Houston and Christmas fell on a Sunday that year.  The church leadership decided that we should have our normal Sunday School and Church service that Sunday as well as a Christmas Eve service on Saturday night.  We spent weekends in a drab little house next to the church.  The furniture was old, the bed uncomfortable.  Our tree, gifts and dog were all in our apartment back in Houston.  After the Christmas Eve service, Terry and I went back to our little weekend house.  While he prepared spaghetti for supper, I went into the bedroom and cried.  I was homesick and (if I’m honest) a little hurt by the lack of consideration from our church.  After some discussion, we loaded up the spaghetti and headed back to Houston for the night.  We got back to our apartment about 11:00pm.  For our Christmas gifts, we had agreed to a dollar limit and decided to fill a stocking for each other.  So, late that night, we feasted on spaghetti and opened our stocking gifts.  We drove the 2 hours back to the little church in time for Sunday School the next morning.  I was so grateful for the tenderness and understanding of my husband that Christmas.  At was the greatest gift.   

It’s hard to pick a favorite Christmas with my Kids.  I loved shopping for them and seeing their excitement.  I think I enjoyed even more, the days when we would take them shopping for each other.  I will always remember the excitement of looking for the “best” gift for a sibling or a parent.  I believe we taught them that giving is what Christmas is all about. 

I find it disappointing when I see the joy of Christmas giving transformed into the greed of Christmas getting.  When I hear comments like “No one asked me what I wanted” or “I don’t want some cheap thing, I want a REAL gift” my heart sinks a little.  I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for input on Christmas gifts.  But, I think it’s also acceptable to be creative and give from the heart.  A handmade gift tells such a different story than a mass produced one.  Have I gotten things I didn’t need or want? Yes.  And, I try to find something to treasure in each gift, even if it’s only the thought. 

Too many of us get caught in the trap of chr”I”stmas where “I” is the most important part of the word. When that happens, it’s all about ME:

  • “I” want (fill in the blank)
  • “I” need to be central this holiday season
  • “I” will not be inconvenienced. 
  • “I” don’t care what you need unless it works for me. 
  • “I” deserve to be happy.

The holiday season can be very difficult and life experiences often exaggerate issues. 

The family that is missing a key member for the holidays, grieves for the loss of the person as well as many customs.  You may not be able to carry on all of your traditions. Why not try something new this year.  Don’t be afraid to be original.  After my husband died, I didn’t want to celebrate.  It took a few years to face Christmas with any type of joyful spirit.  When we were ready, we changed a few things.  Our tree was no longer traditional.  It was white and decorated in pink, purple, orange and lime green.  We used flamingos and boas to liven it up.    We still added a Santa figure to Terry’s collection and a house to his village.  But, we found new ways to move forward.

Blended families may being a competitiveness to the holidays.  There may be a desire to provide the “best” experience.  And, when adult children marry it adds another level of stress to the holidays.  There are expectations of family traditions from every branch of the family.  It can be exhausting trying to live up to it all.  Young families need to set their own traditions and accept that not everything will remain the same.  We celebrate the Sunday before Thanksgiving and Christmas with our children and their significant others.  That’s frees up the actual holiday for whatever the individual family groups need/want to do.  I’ll spend some “Mumzy time” with my grandson as well. 

Too often, the holidays are a stress on the budget.  You may feel the need to spend money you really don’t have and as a result, go into debt.  I think I forget the lesson from the story of the Little Drummer Boy.  He gave what he had.  He played his drum.  It didn’t matter that there were greater gifts being given.  He gave what he had.  When we give the best that we can, it shouldn’t have to live up to anything else.  It is the BEST.

When “I” become the center of the holiday season, I miss the reason of the season

When “I” stress about living up to the expectations that others set for me (or my gifts), I ignore the true gift that we celebrate each Christmas.

When “I” focus on what makes ME happy, I don’t have time to see what others need or have to offer. 

I need to keep the holidays in focus.  I need to remember that it is CHRiSTMAS and I have a very small part of it.  The joy of Christmas is in celebrating the birth of Christ, the greatest gift EVER!

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Luke 2:8-20 MSG

When Faith Fails

Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”.   In Hebrews 11:1, we find the Biblical definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”   Several times through the years, I’ve heard speakers use a chair as a tangible example of faith.  You see the chair.  You believe the chair will support you.  You have faith in the chair even though you have not proven that it is strong enough.  So, what happens when you step out “on faith” and sit on the chair, only to have it collapse beneath you?  Was it your faith that failed or was it the chair? 

Most of us would agree it was the chair that was at fault.  We will look for a reason to blame the failure.  Maybe the chair was designed for a child and you were just too big for it.  Possibly, the chair was cheaply constructed and the connections just “let go”.  Or, maybe the chair was just old and brittle and was no longer safe for use when you sat in it. Folding chairs are often have a weight limit.  It doesn’t matter how much faith you exhibit, if you choose a chair that is undersized, defective or unsafe, you will have to face failure.  But, I doubt you will swear of chairs for life.  You will choose to sit in other chairs.  You will just be more discerning about your selection of seating. 

So, when we perceive that our faith in God has failed, what’s the issue?  Did God really fail, or did we put our faith in the wrong things?  Too often, I approach God with my list of wants.  I want Him to fix a relationship or a situation.  I want responsibility for which I’m not really prepared.  I want things to stay the same and never change.  I want “stuff” and “things” that I think will bring happiness into my life.  When I treat God like a Genie in a bottle or a kind of Santa Claus, there are more failures than successes in my life. 

What about that relationship?  Are you asking God to fix the other person?  Are there issues that are incompatible with your goals and dreams?  What if you focused on growing yourself and becoming the better person?  Faith is NOT “a magic wand” that will make all of the issues disappear.  Just like a chair, you need to be aware of the things the other person may bring into your relationship: bad temper, sexual promiscuity, control issues, poor spending habits, stinginess, ego are just a few.  The other person may need to be “fixed”, but it’s not your place to decide that.  You are only responsible for repairing the areas of your own life.  I believe in marriage.  I also know that marriage is hard.  Really hard at times. It’s even harder when you refuse to see the danger signals in a relationship.  

How do we define success?  In our society, success is often measured by the car that you drive, the diamond that you wear, the house you buy and the admiration that others heap upon your accomplishments.  I work near the River Oaks area.  I drive through neighborhoods with large beautiful houses.  While there’s a part of me that would love one of these homes, the practical side of me can only see the bills that would have to be paid to maintain such a home and the hours of cleaning that would be needed.  Too many people saddle themselves with debt in order to be seen as a success.  When a young couple is just starting out, there are enough stresses in a new marriage without adding extraordinary debts.  An extravagant wedding (that is over far too quickly) is too often the focus instead of the marriage that is to last a lifetime.  The first home doesn’t have to be a show place.  It doesn’t even have to be your “dream” house.  Work up to that.  Give yourself time and room to grow.  Concentrate on who you are, on what kind of family you want, before you commit to a huge mortgage and car payment. I have faith that all my needs will be met.  But, all the faith in the world will not erase extravagant decisions and the resulting debt that I choose to make. 

No relationship, job, success or amount of money will “make” you happy.  Only you can choose to find happiness in a situation.  Faith may not make you warm and fuzzy.  Faith is not about “ME” and my happiness.   Anytime, I place the responsibility of my happiness or (the blame for my unhappiness) on another person’s shoulders, there will be failure.  Being happy is a choice that ONLY you can make.  Nothing will make you feel happy. 

When hardships come (and they will) and nothing seems to be going my way, does it mean that my faith has failed?  Does it mean that God has failed and I should just write him off?  After struggling with these questions after the death of my husband, I have to answer “no” to both questions.  Because my faith says that God will meet my needs, I am reassured.   Because my faith says that God loves me as a Father loves his child, I am comforted beyond measure.  Because my faith does not depend upon “happy endings” and smiley faces, I stand confident that no matter what, God is still in control.  My faith has changed through the years.  It’s not as me-centric.  My faith is stronger because of the rotten things that have happened.  My faith stands even when the miracles I beg for do not occur, because I know there is a reason.  Ultimately, my faith tells me that I’m not promised this world. What I am promised is an eternity with my God.  That is my hope.  That is why my Faith never fails. 

Flexible or Counterfeit?

We operate in a world that preaches tolerance, flexibility and understanding.  Not bad ideals to practice, in most cases.  I, however, have grown tired of being schooled on the “politically correct” response to every situation regardless of my own beliefs and emotions.  I understand that not everyone embraces my upbringing, my history or my moral compass and I have no intention of forcing my views onto anyone.  But, at what point do my actions stop being signs of flexible tolerance and become indications of an untrue and even counterfeit life?   Is there a line where I am expected to stand up and voice my standards and beliefs even if those very beliefs offend the social norm of today?

I grew up in North Texas in what is often called Tornado Alley.  Like many homes in that part of the world, we had a storm cellar in our back yard.  It had been built by my grandparents, and the door was covered in sheet metal and made a wonder slide for play time.  One day, I discovered that I could walk up the door if I rubbed gasoline (from the 5 gallon container for the lawn mower) on the bottoms of my rubber flip-flops.  I thought it was really neat.  That is until my mother discovered what we were doing.  I was told it was dangerous to play with gasoline.  I wasn’t sure I understood the danger, but I knew not to try it again.  Fast forward 30 years, when I met a friend who had been playing with gasoline and had been badly burned as a result.  Now, I understood the dangers of the highly combustible fuel as well as how fast fires can and will follow not only the liquid but the fumes.  My mother was not flexible in allowing me to have fun and play.  She knew I was playing with fire and did her best to protect me. 

You may be thinking, “Of course she would stop you.  So what?” This example is pretty cut and dried.  The danger was obvious.  The actions were expected.  So I ask:  How many times to we allow others (friends, children, family) to play with “fire” in their lives rather than offend/anger them?  There are so very many moral chasms that we allow others to delve into without saying anything.  After all, we live in a world where sex is casual, attaining personal desire is the #1 goal and faith is only discussed as the punchline of a joke.  We speak of religion without conviction and yet bristle when called religious.  Christianity has become a social tag and the Church a place to go on Sunday mornings IF I decide to get out of bed AND it will benefit me in some way. 

My husband uses the term “American Christianity” to describe today’s social/religious Christian tag.  American Christianity tends to focus on:

  • The importance of the individual not the corporate vision or destiny of “the Church”. 
  • Individual prosperity instead of stewardship; using faith to attain stability and comfort versus encouraging taking risks to advance the Kingdom.
  • Self-fulfillment and happiness rather than glorifying God and serving humanity.
  • Promoting a consumerist mentality with regard to the home church and not the equipping for ministry; A culture of entertainment that replaces the pursuit of God.
  • The church as a building instead of a body that exemplifies a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.
  • Efficiency of worship but not the effectiveness.

While each individual believer is responsible for applying the Word of God to his/her own life, scripture was given to the Church.  When you read the Old Testament, references are made about the Nation of Israel.  In the New Testament, the community of faith (the Church) was the focus of scripture.  As believers, we are to be a PART of the Body or The Church.  We are not ‘stand-alone’ in our beliefs. 

Only in the United States do we believe we are “owed” prosperity.  Rather than being grateful for all that we have in our country, we pray for greater things:  bigger houses, nicer cars, better paychecks.  It would never occur to most American Christians to sacrifice in order to provide for the community around us.  At most, we give a tithe and expect a big return as a result.

If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy”, I will scream!  No one ‘deserves’ to be happy.  Did you read that correctly?  NO ONE DESERVES TO BE HAPPY.  An individual can CHOOSE to be happy in any situation.  When MY happiness becomes my prime focus, I cannot focus on God.  And just to close any gap that may exist:  God will NEVER use sin to bring you happiness.  An adulterous affair may add a level of excitement and fun to your life, but is it worth the sacrifice of your reputation and trustworthiness? 

I struggle with entertainment value attached to our American church services.  I struggle as a worship leader and as a participant.  I know the danger of getting caught up in “performing” on any given Sunday. The need to be part of the worship with the body fades if I’m not on stage.  The accolades from others become my “worship” and I no longer look for ways to grow in my own spiritual life.

I believe we need to attract people to our church services.  But, more important, I believe we need to be examples of a lifestyle of Christ following.  When we show that worship is more than filling space in a church building once a week, we influence the community is a greater way.  We make effective our worship and our lifestyle.  People are attracted to the genuine.  Worship as entertainment will lose its appeal if there is no depth to it.  That’s why we are seeing an upswing in small group/family life worship.  My pastor has said “The Row doesn’t know what you need, but the Circle does.”  The Row represents where you sit in a church service.  The people on either side of you have no idea what’s really going on with you.  The Circle, however, represents the family life group.  That’s the small group that hears you share on a weekly basis.  That may not be efficient, but it’s definitely effective in growing your spiritual side.   

I want to be flexible with people.  I want to be that person that loves regardless and sometimes in spite of the situation.  I need to be a part of weekly worship and daily growth in order to be my best self.  I cannot pretend to be something other than who I am.  I will not be a counterfeit in this world that promotes individuality but demands conformity. 

“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” 

James 1:26-27 MSG

Trust, Hope & Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We have a blended family that includes 5 adult children that range in age from 20-30 years old.  We are firmly entrenched in the marriage stage of life.  So far, we’ve had 3 weddings:  Zac in 2016, Kyle in 2018 and Reagan was married this weekend.  Three down and two to go. 

As a parent, there are lots of thoughts and emotions that arise when one of your children moves toward marriage.  You want the best for your child.  You pray they are making sound choices.  There’s the joy (and lets be honest the stress) of adding another person to your family as well as the new extended family.  Weddings are fun, beautiful, joyful, frustrating, tiring and hard work.  And, after the party is over, the REAL work begins in earnest.

Marriage is a constant exercise in give and take.  According to statistics, almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation.  Researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce.  Of the remaining 50 to 59 percent of marriages, I wonder how many would rate their marriages as “successful”.  I love being married.  I was married for 18 years, widowed for 10 years and celebrate my fourth anniversary in a few months with my new husband.  I had a successful first marriage and I consider my current marriage a success. 

So, what makes marriage so difficult?  I think the answer is pretty simple:  selfishness.  When I concentrate on “ME” and “MY WANTS”, I cannot put my marriage first.  My selfishness takes precedence.  I recently saw a sign that said:                   “Want a bad marriage?  Put yourself first.                                      “Want a good marriage?  Put your spouse first.                                   “Want a great marriage?  Put God first.” 

There is so much truth in these words.  If I concentrate on what God wants, I will take care of my spouse.  It doesn’t matter if my spouse reciprocates.  I am still responsible for seeking a Godly marriage.  And if my spouse also seeks a Godly marriage, so much the better!!

We’ve all heard and/or read 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “The Love Chapter”.  I find that putting scripture into my own words, makes it a little more real to me.  This is my personal interpretation of a few of the love verses. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (Melissa’s words)

Love is valuable.  It is worth everything to me. 

Love keeps going even through the hard times. 
Love gives to others instead of taking for itself.
Love
is happy in its’ own yard.  There are no greener pastures.
Love doesn’t exist only when it gets attention.
Love doesn’t allow my selfish wants to conflict with those I love.
Love doesn’t manipulate to get its’ way.
Love plays 2nd fiddle at times. 
Love is calm in the face of conflict or disappointment.
Love has learned the art of forgive and forget.
Love doesn’t take pleasure in making others beg for attention
Love speaks the truth (even when it hurts.)
Love withstands any attack.
Love is from God and trusts that He is in control.
Love often wears “rose colored” glasses and sees the good in a difficult situation.
Love never asks “what if” and longs for something (or someone) else        Love stands firm and stays true to its’ vows and commitments.

There are three things that will make me successful in life:  Trust, Hope and Love.  And Love is the one that is my focus. 

We all crave love.  We want to be adored and cherished.  Too often, however, we confuse lust with love and settle for less than the best God has for us.  We have found that we can avoid solving issues within relationships by moving on to new relationships.  There is excitement in the chase.  We use the excuses “I’m just not happy and I deserve happiness”, “We’ve just grown apart and have nothing in common”, or (the biggest lie from Satan) “God wouldn’t have brought him/her into my life if He didn’t want me to be with him/her.”  Just as Eve allowed the Serpent to persuade her to eat the forbidden fruit, we listen to the world and throw love and commitment to the wolves in order to have a moment of excitement and fun. 

As my children begin and continue to grow their marriages and their own families, I pray that the words of 1 Corinthians 13 will ring true and keep them on the true path. 

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7,13 NIV