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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Living in the Light

Have you ever been in a restaurant when the lights suddenly dimmed and the softer, more ambient light began to glow, cluing you in to the fact that it was no longer day time, but evening had arrived? In fact, the restaurant may have even changed menus at about this same point, transitioning from smaller portions and reasonable prices to the larger entrees and equally enormous price tags.

My husband and I were recently at an Outback Steakhouse when this happened. We noticed the transition, felt it. But then it passed and our eyes adjusted and we moved on with our conversation. We had been in the light of day, but suddenly we were in the shadows of the evening. No big deal.

But while we may actually enjoy the shift from light to candlelight in a restaurant, the same transition sometimes occurs in our lives and we best take notice when it does.

Today I read in 1 John 1:5-7:

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

These few verses are packed full of truth, but I just found myself asking one simple question in light of this passage this morning:

Are you living in the light or sneaking about in the darkness?

I know the answer to that question without much self-examination. We may grow accustomed to the dark, but if pushed to acknowledge whether or not we're operating in it, most of us know the truth pretty quickly. 

I've had times in my past when I was indeed living in the dark. What did that kind of life look like?
  • I had secrets.
  • I didn't disclose all the facts at times.
  • I insisted on privacy and resisted situations where I would need to be transparent.
  • I balked at other people's questions -- simple questions like, "Where were you?" or "Who was on the phone?" or "When did you get that dress?"
  • I kept my relationships shallow and surfacey.
  • I lived in a shroud of guilt and secrecy and shame, but it was my normal so I didn't try to remove it.
And when I lived in the dark, this one thing I knew: I was still under the watchful and omniscient gaze of my God, but I was not in fellowship with Him. And I wasn't in fellowship with other believers either...not true, intimate fellowship.

But the darkness felt like a warm and comfortable blanket, heavy as it may have been. And if someone, even God, tried to lift it from me and pull me out of that dark cocoon, I would become angry, resentful, self-protective.

In time, however, I did, by the grace of God, step out into the glaring, blinding light again. It was a shock to my senses, uncomfortable and very exposing. But there I stood...until my eyes adjusted and I saw what I'd been missing.

In the light there is:
  • freedom
  • fresh air
  • fellowship with other believers...healthy people who are alive and living genuine, authentic lives
  • peace with God
  • relief
  • wisdom, real wisdom, not that shady, mysterious, twisted stuff we call wisdom but which is in fact nothing but worldly foolishness, vanity and arrogance
  • perspective, the big picture
  • integrity
  • authenticity
  • grace for others
The truth is, life in the light is so much better. But somehow, in the shroud of dimly lit darkness we are fooled into believing that the life we are living is in fact superior to those in the simplicity of the light. I've lived in both. The light is where true life is.

And when you walk in transparency with others and humility with the one true God, you will walk in the light. He is in the light. And it's good here, really it is.

I've found that I have to make a conscious effort to walk in the light. Here's how I stay in the light:
  • I keep in constant contact with Christ. I have a daily quiet time in which I read His Word and share with Him from my heart.
  • I go to church. I engage with a body of believers and call them my family.
  • I confess my sins as quickly as I'm convicted of them. I try my best (and it is difficult) to own them as "my sins" and not brush them off as anything else.
  • I work really hard to tell the truth about every little thing. Once again, this is not always easy for me.
  • I don't allow myself to hide anything. When I catch myself hiding away some money, stashing away a favorite candy bar, tucking away a little memento even, I stop myself and ask why I'm doing that. If my reasons aren't completely honorable (for instance, I think it's fine to stash away $40 to buy my husband a birthday gift), I don't let myself follow through. I can keep things; I just don't let myself hide them. Once again, I'm sort of a bury-the-bone-in-the-backyard kind of dog, so this one's hard for me. But it's worth it to live in the light.
  • I stay accountable about where I'm going. I tell someone when I'm going to the mall, for instance. 
  • I don't have passwords on my phone, my computer, my television, etc. My family can see what I'm doing in those places. No secrets here.
  • I enlist an accountability partner when I find myself struggling with a particular hang-up, e.g. watching too much television, over-eating, spending too much money on clothes, etc.
How about you? How do you stay in the light instead of drifting into the darkness? This is one of those areas where I can always use another helpful tip. In fact, I think we all could use an occasional shining from a fellow believer's flashlight, helping to point the way back to the wide open spaces of living in the light. So, do share. After all, that's what living in the light is largely about...keeping each other in the corner of our eye, so we're less prone to get into something we never meant to get into.

Let's live in the light!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An "Out of this World" Tip for Meditating on Scripture


I've mentioned a handy, dandy little tool for meditating on scripture most every time I've talked about it this past year, and yet I've neglected to ever really provide all the how to's for this particular tip. So today we're going out of this world with an extraterrestrial sort of meditation method.

Now before you think I've flipped my lid and gone all new age on you, let me explain.

When I teach gals to meditate on Scripture so that they might feed their hungry souls with the bread of life, I teach them to spend time with it, chew on it, swallow it, etc. Still, the whole meditation thing is quite foreign to most of us and we need all the practical how to's we can get in this area. A number of years ago I came across this handy little acronym that gives you some mighty creative ways to ponder the scriptures.

S.P.A.C.E. P.E.T.S.

It's not enough to simply say that we need to "spend time" with a scripture passage or verse. The common question would be, "What exactly am I going to spend time doing with it?" I need some ways to chew it--some questions to ask about it.

When you happen upon a scripture that resonates with you, jumps off the page at you, ask the following questions as you ponder the verse:
  • S - Is there a Sin I need to confess?
  • P - Is there a Promise to claim?
  • A - Is there an Attitude to change?
  • C - Is there a Command from God that I need to keep?
  • E - Is there an Example in this passage that I need to follow? (e.g., Paul is rejoicing in prison, Daniel is deferring all the glory to God, Joseph is forgiving his brothers, Mary is submitting herself to God's purposes even though she can't understand them.)
  • P - Is there a Prayer here that I need to pray?
  • E - Do I see an Error I need to avoid? (e.g., Joseph is bragging to his brothers, Samson is fooling around with temptation, David has failed to turn away from temptation, Martha is getting distracted with the urgent.)
  • T - Is there a Truth I need to accept by faith and walk in?
  • S - Is there Something for which I need to thank God?
Sometimes I hear people say that there are portions of the Scriptures that just really aren't worth spending much time on. But actually, even the tabernacle design plans, the genealogies, the divvying out of the Promised Land, and the blessings and cursings of the Old Testament offer good eating...if you know how to get your fork and knife out and cut it up right. Sometimes we just have to ask the right questions.

So today as you eat from the Word of God (and I hope you're eating several hearty meals!), try eating it with some SPACE PETS. Simply take the passage you're focusing on and slowly and deliberately ask the SPACE PETS questions of it. And if the answers to any of the questions are yes, then take the time to "swallow" that scripture by confessing that sin, claiming that promise, asking God to help you change that attitude, recommitting to following that command, or heeding that example. Or maybe you'll swallow it by praying a scriptural prayer, opening your eyes wide to a potential error, accepting by faith a difficult truth, or thanking God for that special something.

Let me know what you think about this "out-of-this-world" method for meditating on Scripture. Have you ever done anything like this before? Tell us about it. We'd love to know how you go about feasting on the Word of God so that it satisfies your soul like nothing else this world has to offer!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Little Straightening Up

I've been straightening up lately. I haven't been cleaning, just straightening.

For my Mother's Day gift, my husband is providing me with a one-time house cleaner today. So you know how that goes. I have to straighten up so she can clean up.

In fact she came over Monday to survey the house and see what I wanted to have done. I can tell she was wondering how she was going to be able to dust, mop and vacuum with all the stuff that was strewn everywhere. She looked a little concerned.

I assured my one-time heroine that things would be put in their appropriate places so she could indeed dust and wipe down and mop and vacuum and such.

So as I've been straightening up and putting things in their places and throwing things away today, I've considered how I might need to do the same thing in the deeper places of my life. You see I've been asking God to do some pretty deep cleaning in me lately as well. And while He is quite willing and able to sanctify or wash me up all by Himself, I do have to cooperate with some preliminary work.

Before God moves in with the cleansing power of His Word and His Spirit - a might duo indeed - it's a good idea for me to set the stage for His work by:
  • allowing Him to search my heart and see if there are any wicked ways or sins I might need to confess and repent from. Sort of like my walk thru with my housecleaning angel on Monday, I need to give Him permission to point out any waywardness I need to deal honestly with.
  • rearranging my priorities so that I take time to spend with Him each day, consistently and eagerly.
  • sorting through the hindrances that have recently gotten in the way of my seeking Him more often.
  • putting aside all the encumbrances that weigh me down and get in my way of running a clean race.
  • and making sure He has all the cleaning tools He needs to work with, namely His Word. I may need to spend more time in the Bible, even adopt a few new ways of approaching His holy Word.
So while I was putting things away yesterday, I also took a little mental inventory of my walk with the Lord. And indeed I found some things to be out of place.

And today, while my one-time maid really scrubs and cleans my house until it sparkles, I'm going to be sitting and soaking in the Word of God, allowing Him to scrub me clean as well.

By the way, did you have a good Mother's Day, moms? I sure hope so. Mine wasn't a perfect day of bliss, but it was a sweet and pleasant day. And, hey, I got a housecleaning service out of it! What about you? Did you receive anything special for Mother's Day? I'd love to know...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Now This Might Hurt A Little


My daughter HATES getting shots. (The photo above is obviously SO not her.) If I were to have to take her in for even one shot in the arm, here's what I could expect:
  • I'd have to force her into the car.
  • We'd sit in the parking lot of the lab or doctor's office for at least 15 minutes with me talking her into getting out of the car.
  • She'd whimper in the waiting room, shaking her legs nervously and wringing her hands.
  • When they called her back to the patient room, she'd say she wasn't going.
  • I'd have to get up and pull her out of her seat.
  • It would take two nurses and myself (at the least) to hold her, pet her, soothe her, etc. while she received the shot.
  • I could go on...
  • This is based on real life experience...
Oh, did I mention this is the same daughter who is graduating from high school in two weeks? She has never outgrown this fear of needles and as much as I try I don't seem to be able to change this worrisome tendency she has. I don't like shots either, but I don't act like she does about them. She has a serious problem with needles. Which is only a mild comfort to me when I consider she will probably never shoot up heroine.

When she was younger, or maybe even last week, she would ask me why she had to have shots. Is it really necessary? Didn't I feel bad about making her get a shot, have a TB test, or give a blood sample?

I would explain to her that I did indeed feel bad about it, but it was necessary. The shot or test was definitely for her own good. I think she gets that now, but when she was just a little girl she could not wrap her mind around how anything painful could possibly be for her good and be ok with her mama.

Sometimes we take that same attitude with God when it comes to the painful things in our lives. We may suffer through them, even stoically, but deep inside we think the painful things of life couldn't possibly be God's plan for us.

He would never willingly choose for us to suffer. Right?

Well...actually...

At times, believe it or not, God does indeed choose for us to suffer pain. He even appoints us to suffer.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:3 Paul tells the people in Thessalonica that he and the others who were with him had been destined for their current afflictions. And in 1 Peter 4:19 we read:

Therefore let those who suffer
according to the will of God
commit their souls to Him in doing good,
as to a faithful Creator.

Now I'll admit, just like Abby and the shots, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that at times God would destine, appoint, will for me to suffer. But if I'm to take God at His Word, and I choose to do just that, then I must resign myself to the fact that my God does indeed choose for me to suffer at times.

But just as I talk Abby through her needle situations, God talks me through the painful situations in my life as well. His Word explains to us why and how we must suffer. Here are a few of the precepts from God's Word that help move me from kicking and screaming in the waiting room to fully embracing the pain appointed to me.
  1. God is love. Period. God doesn't just love. He is love. I can know that anything God destines to come into my life, He has chosen to do so out of love. (1 John 4)
  2. God is in the processing of doing a huge work in my life. He is transforming me into His image, changing me from the inside out. We like to quote Romans 8:28 that says, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose," but only as a consolation when things start going south. We are wise to realize that this verse serves not only to comfort us when things get bad, but to warn us and alert us to the fact that there will be some painful things God must use to work out His plan in us. The painful things are part of the plan. That leads to the next point.
  3. God is sovereign; He is in control. Some folks are offended by this characteristic of God. "If God is in control," they might say, "then why does He allow little children to die, good women to be hurt, people to be victimized, war?" Why indeed. I don't know, but He does. Nothing takes God by surprise. He is never thrown for a loop or taken off guard. That may offend you or it may comfort you. I choose to be comforted by the fact that I have a God who never has to say, "Oops!"
  4. The pain always has a purpose. Romans 8:28 doesn't just suggest that God manages somehow to pick up the broken pieces and put them back together to make something good. The point is that He is fully in charge, fully aware of what He's doing, and doing it all according to plan. So when we have pain in our lives, there is a purpose for it. Just like the purpose of Abigail's shots are for her well-being, the purpose of our painful situation, whether great or small, is to change something in us. First Peter 1:6-7 reminds us that our trials are to refine our faith so that by the time we see Jesus face to face we will be fully prepared to give him "praise and glory and honor." He will be so dear to us and we will be so familiar with Him that we will know Him fully and give Him all that is due to Him. 
If you're going through a painful situation today I invite you to consider these biblical precepts. Sometimes we feel it is safer to just assume that God has "allowed" the painful circumstance, but He doesn't really want us to have it. We try to create what we consider to be a more compassionate and tender God, I suppose. But in the process we also dumb Him down, knock Him off His throne, and belittle His purposes. I don't want that kind of God. I don't think you do either.

So in even in the midst of your pain, resist the temptation to "humanize" your God. Remember, His ways are not our ways. They are, in fact, so much higher, so much bigger than ours. We might not like to consider that God has ordained pain for us, but truthfully, at times He does.

And that's ok because we can trust Him with it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The End of a Very Good Book

I held a couple of babies, listened to a retired school teacher talk about getting your preschoolers ready for kindergarten, talked about breastfeeding with some nursing moms, and headed to the post office...to mail my daughter's high school graduation announcements. I'd call that a morning of contrasts.

I love hanging with our Mothers of Preschoolers on the first day of every other week. Being a mentor mom for our MOPS group gives me the opportunity to give back to the younger set, something that is very important to me because I owe such a debt to a few older women who poured into me during those busy, uncertain, and wearing years. And, even though I'm far removed from preparing a preschooler for kindergarten or nursing a baby, I still love talking about such mommy interests. I think I always will, because while those were exhausting years, they were also precious years and I remember them with nothing but gladness of heart.

Still, as I fast approach the completely empty nest, the smell of freshly changed babies, the sweet talk of chattering two-year-olds, the toting of diaper bags and strollers, the talk of naps and Dr. Seuss, and the swapping of birth stories...gets to me a little.

This past Saturday evening my husband and I sat about ten rows back on the right center aisle of the Buena Performing Arts Center. After years of viewing performances in this auditorium, we know the good seats. We watched for our daughter's entrances like hawks on the lookout for a scampering mouse. She dazzled us and everyone else, even though she wasn't technically the star of the show. We watched her slightest moves, her facial expressions. We only took our eyes off her occasionally to check out what the main characters were saying, what they were doing. Then, satisfied that we had caught up with the action, we diverted our gazes back to our star, the one we had come to see. We clapped at the end of each scene and then we clapped a little louder, a little longer at the end of the performance. And then we sat there...staring at the closed curtain...for the final time.

I've been telling my daughter for months now that I'm going to be just fine we she leaves us in the fall to go to college. And, with a little patience and a little talking myself through the transition, I will. But right now, as time is slipping by and all those "last" this and thats are coming and going faster than I can get my camera out of its case, I'm starting to find it hard to breathe.

I'm not going to write much more about this. I never intended to write this much. I don't want to be one of those moms that tells the younger moms, "Enjoy them now; they'll grow up before you know it." Actually, every day was accounted for with the growing of my kids. It did happen fast, but not before I knew it. I savored. I took it in. I enjoyed each age, each phase, each stage, each day. I honestly did. And, minus a few tearful and heated exchanges, a few worrisome nights at the hospital, a few frustrations over truly minor concerns, and a few disappointments and losses, it was...glorious. Simply glorious.

But still, it's all about to change...

And upon the backdrop of young mommies nursing babies all around me this morning, my day of mailing graduation announcements, planning a graduation party, and looking for scholarship notices in the mail seems a little like the final pages of a treasured and well-worn novel. I always feel a mixture of relief, resolution, and regret when the pages in my right hand decrease to just a few while the majority of the book rests in my left. Relief because all is turning out well -- and it is. Resolution because I know where the sequel will pick up -- in all likelihood, anyhow. But regret because I'll have to read the final words soon and place the beloved book down.

I'll pick up another one, hopefully the sequel, but this one is finished.

My mommy years are almost finished.

Hmmm.

I don't normally like to open myself up to a lot of consolation or pity. I don't even feel very comfortable receiving a whole lot of encouragement or empathy. I'm a little more private and self-sufficient than all that, usually.

But feel free. Please, feel free.