Posts Tagged ‘God’

Last Sunday I went to church and our Pastor annoyed me. Not because he was wrong but because he was right; and on top of being right he spoke with a humble passion and grace which made him even more annoying because I could not discredit him for bad delivery. His sermon was on Christian maturity as described in Ephesians 4, but what grated most against my fallen nature were his comments on selfishness.

I have never thought of myself as a selfish person but as I sat in church pondering the struggles I have had in the last several months, I began to realize that most of them are rooted in a world view that revolves completely around my own comfort. One of my greatest struggles in recent days is what I like to call “relational paranoia”. Yes, I made that up all by myself, but put simply it means that I am constantly worried that I will do something stupid in a relationship that will ruin it for all eternity without any hope of redemption.

Now, this might seem like a demented form of humility but from the sermon on Sunday I am reminded that it is actually prideful and self-centered in the highest degree. Instead of my focus being on the love of Christ and how I can best bring that to life for those around me, my focus is on my own performance. Instead of viewing people as people I am viewing them as my audience. I then strive for an affirmation that should already be there from knowing that I am wholly loved and accepted by the God of the universe and this striving becomes not only exhausting but paralyzing. I am not free to simply love people because I am bound by my own selfish need for affirmation. Please don’t misunderstand me to say that affirmation has no place in relationships because it most certainly does, but when it is the motivation for my actions it becomes something it was never meant to be.

So how do I find freedom? As a mom, I so desperately want to be able to teach my girls how to freely love people without the bondage of this “relational paranoia” but how do I get there myself? I must change my direction. When the voice inside my head begins to tell me that no one really likes me and relational fall out is just one slip-up away, I must turn from this and look to my Savior. If His righteousness is enough to make me right before a holy God then it is certainly more than enough to make me right before men and that is where my security is found. My performance will always be subpar but Jesus takes me as I am, gives me His perfection and sets me free to love each person where they are at not based on the amount of affirmation they give me. As strange as it may sound, what I really want is to forget about me and let the love of Jesus reflect in how I treat all those in my life. This shifts the focus from things I must do to maintain feigned awesomeness to the things Jesus has already done to love me and that I can now do for others. Forgetting about me = freedom.

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In the last several years I have read countless articles on the celebration of Halloween… some say Christians should have nothing to do with it and others say it’s no big deal. Honestly, I have found it all very confusing and frustrating. As a Christian I want to orient my life around the glorification of Jesus Christ and as a mother, I want to teach my kids to do the same. However, with so many conflicting and passionately held positions, it has become very difficult to know what direction to take.

This frustration inspired me to launch my own little mini research project and what I found has challenged me to rethink my entire approach to holidays in general, not just Halloween. Let’s take a look at some of my findings. (Please see links listed at the bottom of this article for references)

Christmas:
As most Christians already know, Jesus was not born on December 25th. In fact, no one really knows when Christ was born because the Bible doesn’t say, so how in the world did we end up with Christmas in December? Most sources I have read trace the origins of the modern day Christmas celebration to the Roman holiday called Saturnalia. It was to honor the Roman god of agriculture named Saturn and was celebrated by a myriad of activities including gift giving, reversal of order (slaves and children were waited upon by masters and parents), drinking, gambling and a strange practice of setting up a mock king known as “The Lord of Misrule” who was sometimes killed at the end of the festivities. It’s kind of dark actually and not very Christian.

Halloween:
Halloween of course is the most obvious offender for pagan origins. It originated in Ireland when the Celts would celebrate the end of summer and harvest in a festival called Samhain on October 31st. It was believed that on that night the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred and the Celtic priests, also known as the Druids would lead the people in engaging in divination and sacrifice to their pagan gods. Also not very Christian.

Easter:
Easter is named for the Saxon fertility goddess Eastre/Eostre and was celebrated at the time of the spring equinox which closely coincided with the Jewish Passover. Bunnies, being a symbol of fertility, were frequently used in the celebrations honoring Eostre along with eggs, which were considered to be a representation of new life. There is actually very little information to be found about Eostre but she is said to have been derived from the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar whose rituals were highly sexual. Again, not a Christian holiday.

So now that I have successfully ruined every major holiday I am sure you are asking yourself “What’s the point of all this? Should we just not celebrate anything?” The point is we are gentiles and unless you are Jewish, there is no such thing as a truly God-centered holiday except for maybe Thanksgiving. So the real question to ask is, as gentiles redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ what do we do with our pagan holidays? Well I think there are two things we should do and two things we should not do.

What to do:
The first thing we should do is look at the scriptures for guidance. In Romans 14 Paul says this “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God…” This verse indicates that the observance of a special day is not the important thing; the important thing is that whatever a person does he should do it for the love and glory of our Savior. Colossians 2 echoes this sentiment when it states “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Other good passages to read on this subject are 1 Corinthians 8, 1 Corinthians 10 and Galatians 5, but I think it’s pretty clear that what is important to God is not the celebration itself, but that the heart of the person celebrating is intentionally focused on honoring Him.

In light of these scriptures, it is also clear that we have been set free, not for the purpose of self-gratification but for the glory of Christ. Such things as divination, witchcraft, debauchery, fornication and pagan gods are all clearly described in scripture as evil, forbidden and should certainly not be celebrated. So the second thing to do is choose what we celebrate. During each holiday season we should focus our celebration on what honors God and the good things that He gives us to delight in. It is hard to argue the fact that modern day Halloween festivities are still very centered on the celebration of death, witchcraft and the grotesque. However, this can easily be remedied by focusing on celebrating God’s provision of harvest time. There are lots of ways to do this, including fall festivals, family events and block parties but the important thing is to be intentional about avoiding the dark aspects of the holiday. As for Christmas and Easter, I think it is helpful to remember that God created bunnies, eggs, and Christmas trees. Just because the pagans have used them for a corrupt purpose does not mean that they are actually bad in and of themselves. 1 Corinthians 8 supports this idea when speaking of food sacrificed to idols saying “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him.” To put it more simply, let’s redeem all we can and leave out the rest.

What not to do:
Now moving on to what we should not do. I do not think we should be ignorant of the pagan aspects of our holidays. I think we should honestly confront them and use the opportunity to explain to our children why we do not believe in those things, why they are dangerous and why it is so important to make Christ central in all that we celebrate. 1 Corinthians 10:14-33 emphasizes the dangers of paganism and clearly states that “all things are lawful but not all things are profitable.” We need to be very purposeful in how we teach our children to redeem the culture. God is the author of all good things and it is Him alone who deserves the glory.

The second thing we should not do is treat each other with contempt over something as ridiculous as a holiday celebration. Scripture commands Christians over and over again to live in unity and peace with one another. Romans 14:10 specifically warns us against holding our brother in contempt, stating that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 1 Corinthians 8:9 commands us to not let our liberty in Christ be a stumbling block to our brothers and that goes both ways. As mentioned in the scriptures above, we are both free to observe a day and to not observe a day and neither the one should point a condemning finger at the other. The worst witness against Christianity is not when someone dresses up in a tinker bell costume on Halloween but when we treat each other with contemptuous judgment. This we should never do.

Well, I think that concludes my thoughts on holidays, pagans and Christians. I have spent many years struggling over this subject and I truly hope that I have helped some other parents out there with making decisions for their family. God Bless and Happy Holidays to all!

Links for Christmas Origins:
(http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/20617780)
(http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice-customs.html)
(http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_of_Misrule#History

Links for Easter Origins:
(http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t020.html)
(http://www.gotquestions.org/easter-origins.html)
http://www.truthontheweb.org/easter.htm
http://www.cbcg.org/should_christians_celebrate_easter.htm
http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/place_settings/ishtar.php

Links for Halloween Origins:
http://www.history.com/topics/halloween
http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/onlinediscipleship/halloween/halloween_Pagan_Ankerberg.aspx http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/a123

Steady

Posted: September 13, 2013 in Teachable Moment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Steady. It’s a word that carries the idea of patient endurance; like someone steadily walking towards a faint glow in the distance despite torrential rain, wind and mud clawing at their feet. Every step is slow and difficult but they never stop walking towards the light. Jesus was steady. Despite temptations in the desert, loneliness and exhaustion in His ministry and torture at the cross, he walked steadily towards the light of glory in the end. Steady is a characteristic that should weave itself into the fabric of who we are as imitators of Jesus, but in recent days I have been heavily burdened with the realization that too often this is not the case.

Last week I heard the story of a woman who, because of her gambling and drinking addictions, has decided to give up her children with no real desire to ever get them back. I heard three different stories of women who are giving up on their marriages simply because they are not in love anymore and feel that divorce is what they need to find their happiness. These stories are sad but the saddest thing to me is that they are not rare. Marriages, kids and friendships, both Christian and non-Christian, are falling by the wayside because somewhere along the line our culture has lost what it means to be steady; to walk a road that is hard because it is right. This is not to say that a change in circumstances is never necessary, but it seems that all too often it is not the circumstances but the person who really needs to change.

So as a mom, I find myself asking the question is this all my kids have to look forward to? How do I teach my kids to let hardship change them into strong, steady followers of Jesus Christ instead of people who run away at the first sign of difficulty? In Hebrews 10:35-36 it says this: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” I think this verse holds the key to learning how to be steady. In verse 34 it describes how the readers of the letter joyfully accepted the seizure of their property knowing that they had a better and lasting treasure waiting for them. Their confidence was in the promises of God; that he would come back for them, bringing both justice and reward and this confidence gave them endurance to walk through the pain and be changed.

To me, the coolest thing about God is that He has not only revealed who He is in the truth of scripture, but He has also told us how the story ends. Why? To make us steady; to give us the endurance we will need to do His righteous will even when it feels like death to do so.

Now, the way we pass this on to our kids is twofold. Not only must we strive to firmly root them in their faith (Colossians 2:6-9) but we must also live this way ourselves. We must be steady. If you are anything like me, this idea is terrifying. Life is full of torrential rain that drowns my resolve, howling winds that blow my emotions in all directions and mud that weighs down my soul making it difficult to even move. But the light in the distance is the promises of God and the thing that must be steady in every day of my life is a constant re-orientation around His truth. This is what my kids must see. When I am sick of life and I want to run away, they need to see me clinging to Jesus and they need to see me stay. Not because it is easy but because it is right and the glory of God’s promises is what waits in the end.

In recent days I have discovered something about myself that disturbs me. It is something that has always lingered underneath the surface of my existence, but has never been exposed in full light until I had children… funny how that works.

It all started to come together for me a few weeks ago as my husband and I struggled intensely with our 3 year old about bed time. Each night for over a week our sweet little girl suddenly turned into a maniac; she screamed, threw herself against her bedroom door and stomped on the floor demanding to be allowed to stay up and play with us. As most parents can probably imagine, this pushed us to the brink of sanity. I shed many tears of frustration and spent much time begging God for this season to pass so that my tears could give way to joy once again. Little did I know that this attitude was my real problem; the mindset that my suffering is a roadblock to my joy, is not only incorrect but it is actually the thing that robs me of joy more than the suffering.

I did not come to truly grasp this until I listened to a sermon by Timothy Keller called “Praying Your Tears” which was recommended to me by a friend months ago. In the sermon he makes the point that tears to do not just give way to joy, they produce it (2 Corinthians 4:17). Keller states that we are to invest our suffering and tears into our prayers and that is what turns them into a harvest of joy. This idea affected me profoundly. I suddenly realized how much of my time I spend thinking “If I can just get through this then I will be ‘happy’.” I keep trying to get past my suffering and in many ways I feel guilty that I am suffering at all because it always seems that I should be stronger than that.

I now realize this attitude has cost me much joy, especially in my parenting. My struggles in life will never be pleasant otherwise they would not qualify as struggles, but holding the hand of my Savior as I walk through them will change me and produce a joy that runs deeper than mere happiness. Happiness must always be derived from something, like circumstances or a relationship. Joy is harvested from the investment of our heart, soul and tears. Happiness fades with the changing of circumstances, but joy is as steady as our Savior’s love.

So let’s face it, life is riddled with a wide variety of struggles and many tears, but these are not roadblocks for me to avoid. The struggles are meant to slowly remove the toxin of sin from my heart so that it can beat with a life born of the spirit; the tears are meant to wash away the worldly haze from my soul so that it can breathe the reality of Jesus. However, none of this can happen if I waste all my time trying to get around my pain instead of pouring it into my conversations with God. This means when my 3 year old is throwing a tantrum that could raise the dead, I can freely cry out to Him knowing that in that moment I am learning to trust and pain planted at the feet of Jesus is not wasted but will grow into a joy that surpasses all understanding.

The issue of bathing suits and modesty seems to be a pretty hot topic this summer. There have been two very popular points of view circulating in the realm of social media and since I am a mother of growing girls I feel that this is an excellent opportunity to discuss the subject.

The first point of view was published in an article by Rachel Evans (click here for article) who makes excellent points about the effects of legalism; however, her conclusion implies that women should not be concerned about what impact their wardrobe has on men. According to Evans, God made their bodies beautiful and therefore they should simply dress for themselves. She insists that modesty is subjective and that as long as a woman has dignity on the inside, it doesn’t matter what she wears.

The second point of view comes from a video by Jessica Rey (click here for video) who feels that women’s bodies are beautiful but sacred and should be clothed as such. She also expresses a concern for the effect that skimpy bathing suits have on men and challenges women to be conscious of how they dress.

So what is the answer? Should we wear two piece bathing suits or should we not? Should we care what men think or just dress in whatever makes us comfortable? What do we teach our daughters to do?

First of all, I think it’s helpful to remember that everything we do as Christians is not about conforming to some set of rules or behavioral standards but about pursuing the pleasure of our Savior. In every aspect of our lives, whether it is the work we do, the entertainment we indulge in, or the way we dress, our mindset should always have the glory of His name in view. My point in writing this is not to lay out a set of rules to follow, but to challenge us to keep God at the center of our thought process.

To be honest, I don’t think it really matters how many pieces a bathing suit has, it matters what message it sends when you are wearing it. I have seen two piece bathing suits that are adorable and modest and one piece bathing suits that are as skanky as a Britney Spears music video. As women of God we need to listen to the spirit inside of us and use the common sense that God gave us … if we are distracted by all our exposed body parts when looking in the mirror, chances are everyone else will have the same problem and perhaps that bathing suit is not the best choice.

As for men, I like to think of it this way. Men are naturally more visual creatures just as women are naturally more emotional creatures. How would women respond if men said they were no longer going to be concerned with whether they hurt our feelings or not because words are not bad things and they should be free to say what they like? It seems like that would be using their freedom for their own glory and satisfaction. So as women, is it really honoring to God to say that our bodies are not bad things so we should be able to expose as much of it as we want without worrying about the affects it has on men? Seems like that would be a double standard. No, we are not responsible for a man’s lust, but biblically we are responsible to not dress in a way that exploits his weakness. (1 Corinthians 8:9 and Romans 14:13)

In regard to our daughters, I personally feel we must teach them that their bodies are beautiful, exquisite master pieces of God’s creativity and as such they are sacred. They should clothe themselves in a way that inspires respect, reflecting both dignity and beauty. This is modesty and in my opinion it does matter. I found it very interesting that in her article, Rachel Evans says that the word modesty used in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 signified orderliness, self-control and appropriateness, but insisted this definition had nothing to do with sexual, only material modesty. However, I believe this scripture encompasses both. The spirit of the passage is concerned with the hearts of believing women. In the end, there’s no difference between the woman who flaunts her wealth to incite envy and the woman who flaunts her body to incite lust.

Now I think it is also important to note, that as parents we should pick our battles wisely on this subject. I once knew a girl whose dad absolutely forbid wearing ankle bracelets because he thought they were immodest. The focus was strictly on the behavior, there was no concern for the heart of his daughter and the result was rebellion. As I mentioned before, it is not a set of rules we are pursuing but the person of Jesus Christ. If we teach our children to fall in love with Him then the glory of His name will be the focus of all they do including how they dress, and to me that is the best any parent could ever hope for.

My mother is a very wise old woman and one of the many great sayings she has passed on to me over the years is “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” To be truthful, I never really thought much about the meaning of that statement until recent days, but as my husband and I desperately strive to find the balance in cultivating good relationships with our children while also disciplining them effectively it has taken on a new depth.

In the Scriptures we are given lots of commands regarding God’s desire and plan for our lives. Some people see these commands as protection and a source of life, but most people see them as outdated and restrictive. So what makes the difference between the two perspectives? Relationship. People who have a relationship with Jesus Christ do not see the Bible as simply a collection of irrelevant, oppressive rules, but as a love letter from their Father. It’s a narrative that reveals the very nature of God and His design for a most beloved creation. However, for those who do not know the author, they simply discard whatever words do not suit them and live a life of rebellion against the God of the universe as though He doesn’t even exist. Rules without relationship equals rebellion.

This same principle can be applied to us as parents. When we are all about the rules in order to manage the chaos of life and not much about cultivating relationships that can withstand the chaos, then we lose the heart of our kids. This is something I fear more than death itself. If I make my kids behave the way I want them to, but never get to their heart what have I gained? However, as much as this question haunts me, the fact remains that it is much easier to enforce a rule than it is to spend time engaging the heart of my children. Thus is the battle between what I should do and what the weakness of my flesh wants to do. It is a battle that often leaves me feeling hopeless, inadequate and exhausted. However, I would like to share an example from my past that always reminds me of how important it is to keep fighting and I hope it will encourage all my fellow parents out there to not give up either.

Once upon a time when I was somewhere around 15 years old I wanted to do something really stupid. I had been homeschooled all of my life and had just started working at McDonald’s. I was young, innocent and fresh meat to a crew full of teenage boys hopped up on hormones. It was these teenage boys who invited me to go on a road trip with them and a group of friends to Galveston for the weekend. I wanted go so badly! I was high on all the attention I was getting from a bunch of cute boys and felt this was a good time to spread my wings and fly. So I asked my dad if I could go. Instead of simply saying no, my dad took me out for ice cream at an old Dairy Queen Restaurant to discuss the matter. After we got our frozen treats we sat down and he patiently listened to me divulge all the reasons why I felt it was reasonable for him to let me go on the road trip. Looking back, that must have been absolutely painful for him to listen to but listen he did. After I had made my air tight case for going to Galveston with a group of teenage boys that were practically total strangers, my Dad very respectfully laid out all of the reasons why he felt it was not a good idea for me to go. Of course, in all of my 15 year old maturity, I disagreed with him. We went back and forth for a bit until my dad finally said to me “Angela, I know you cannot see my perspective and you think I am being ridiculous but I am asking you to trust me. I have taken care of you your whole life and I am asking you to trust that I am looking out for you even when you can’t see exactly where I am coming from.” He wasn’t angry with me and even though he had every right to appeal to his authority as my father, he appealed to his relationship with me instead and I have never forgotten that.

Needless to say, I didn’t go to the beach that weekend and now that I have two daughters of my own, I look back on this story and thank God for my Dad’s steadfast protection. The relationship that he built with me allowed me to trust him as a person even when his rules didn’t make sense to my young mind. This is what drives me to keep fighting for my relationship with my kids; so that when push comes to shove and obeying the rules can mean the difference between life and destruction, they know who I am as a person and they know that I am always looking out for their ultimate good. This is how it is with God and this is how I as a parent demonstrate the reality of God to my kids. So no matter how much I fail, I will keep walking in the direction of relationship, because in the end nothing matters more than God becoming real to the little souls that He has entrusted me with.