Thursday, December 30, 2010

Naming the New Year

What will you name your new year? Have you even considered giving a name to 2011?

Last year, Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience suggested her readers pray for the upcoming year and then name it. As strange as that may seem, I did just that.

With house plans dusted off and sitting on my desk, I felt God speaking that 2010 would be a Year of Restoration. And in so many ways, it has been just that.

Instead of my being dressed in three layers and hunkered over a frigid keyboard, periodically rubbing my hands together when they became too cold and stiff to type, I now sit in a centrally-heated, well-insulated house. It's the home we dreamed for many years, the home delayed for six years by God's hand when He allowed our lives to be sifted by those who sought to destroy us.

With the walls of our home rising up strong around me, we find some large sense of restoration. And I find it such a blessing that the few minutes after a steaming bath is no longer the only time I can feel my toes. Even when the temperature dips low enough to coat the old tadpole holes of summer in a sheet of thin ice, I crinkle them beneath the covers and smile.

I appreciate all these "comforts" that many of you take for granted...and that I took for granted, too, until my seven-year stint living in a couple houses that literally breathed the stifling heat of summer and the coldest of winter when I could see my breath upon awaking each morning.
I've spent much of December thinking of what this upcoming year holds. A week ago while much of the nation huddled indoors and children played in frozen drifts that covered a dormant creation, God sent Louisiana a series of 70 degree days.

Doug and I roughly sketched out where the garage and a few flower beds would go. Then, he did what any good farmer husband does--took his tractor and tilled up the flower bed that will separate our "yard" from the hay field.
A few days later, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, I went to our old home and pressed heel to shovel, unearthing all the red, pink, white, and canna lilies; an old rose; a mound of catnip; and several other plants I had left behind this summer. That afternoon, my parents and I planted everything in two beds. In the back yard, we also put in a live oak and maple tree. When my husband arrived home, he said, "You're putting down roots, huh."

Those were the same words that came to me earlier in the day.

Yes, 2011 will be the Year of Putting Down Roots.

It's time to grow.

"Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers" (Ps. 1:1-3).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Choosing to Be a Slave

Conspiracy? That's a pretty big stretch. Cover up? I doubt it. Mistranslated because of negative societal perception? Now that's a rationale I can buy into.

John MacArthur's newest book entitled Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ explores the mistranslation of the Greek word for "slave" "in almost every English version" throughout history. Going as far back as "the King James Version and the Geneva Bible that predated it," translators substituted the word "servant" where the original text's wording should have been interpreted as "slave."

With the word (in all its forms) mistranslated almost 150 times in the New Testament, it's easy to see how this change significantly impacts a Christian's understanding of how he should relate to Christ.

MacArthur's overall point is that while the early Christians understood this distinction of their relationship to the Master, modern-day Christians' view of themselves as "servants" instead of "slaves" has distorted their relationship to God.

Although MacArthur is extremely long winded and repetitive in sections (and his huge footnotes are extremely distracting such that they would have been better as end notes), he is fairly easy for the layperson to read. He also does a good job of exploring the differences between slavery in Jesus' day versus the slavery in the more modern world. Once one understands in Scripture what slavery meant to Jesus, one can then understand how a Christian is intended to be a permanent slave "of God, for Christ, to righteousness" (175).

I found most interesting MacArthur's description of what happens when a slave is adopted. He contends that even though we are friends of Christ and adopted sons of God, the paradox is that we are still slaves. This section was where I felt he rushed, not fully exploring this concept and merely writing it off as a paradox in a Bible full of paradoxes.

Overall, though, the text was quite enlightening to the reader who only knew of the abuses with slavery over the past few centuries.

**I receive no payment for this book review. Thomas Nelson merely provides me with a free copy of the text.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Simpler Christmas

If it weren't for a few outside-inside toys because of the cold weather, you wouldn't know Christmas came and went today.

Our Happy Birthday Jesus monkey bread "cake" this morning is all but gone. (Yes, the 2 candle is all I could find in the drawers).After two family dinners over the past two days, there aren't many leftovers in the fridge either.

And that's a good thing.

Doug and I decided to have a simpler Christmas this year, paring down to keep our eyes on the true meaning of Christmas instead of stretching ourselves thin in an effort to fulfill some imaginary "to do" list guaranteed to make the season bright.

Although I made several loaves of apple gingerbread for friends and church family, there was no "slaving" in the kitchen all day just so I could make sure I got everything made for us. Not the peanut butter fudge. Or the divinity. Or the cranberry bread. Or the peanut brittle.

We skipped the snow-in-the-park, the Reindeer Run, the lighting of the town Christmas tree, the parades. The only time we went to see Christmas lights was as part of a jaunt to Wal-mart to buy the nine mouse traps that still haven't managed to ensnare our Christmas mouse.

And to the chagrin of our oldest son, mommy and daddy made shopping easier, too. Each child received only one store-bought gift and one game from us while Santa merely filled the stockings with play dough, bath body paint, moon pies, and such. While Wyatt was resistant to this change, by this evening, he was parroting his daddy's words from this morning, telling me he was grateful for the toys he had, that Jesus was our greatest gift. Yes, now if he can just remember that a year from now.

I think my favorite change this season has been taking up a tradition from my mother. When my brother and I were young, the best presents were the ones she made for us. So, this year, I began a tradition of crocheting a "critter" of some sort for the kids. The gingerbread boy was quite a hit.
And Amelia loved her doll, complete with sparkly crocheted shoes and quite a full mane of hair.
At the grandparents' house, I even managed to have a little fun myself today.
I told my husband this was the best Christmas I can remember since the children were born. May this be the beginning of many more simpler Christmas seasons where Christ is first.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Celebrating A Milestone

The coach has turned back into a pumpkin. At least one of the horses has turned back into a mouse (that's another story entirely). The sparkly paste jewelry is tucked back in the white rectangular box, shoved to the dark recesses at the back of the drawer. And the dress I wore seven years ago is again ready for dry cleaning, perhaps to be worn on another future Cinderella occasion.

This afternoon, with children napping and Doug home early from work, I spent more time "getting ready" than I've spent all year. The out-of-production sparkly strawberry-scented skin powder made its yearly appearance for this special occasion--an anniversary date night with my husband. I even had the luxury of fretting over which shoes to wear on a 77 degree winter day.

A few hours later, looking totally unlike the worn-out people who mumble "how-was-your-day" under the covers before turning out the lights, we dumped our three children at their (blessed) grandparents' house and went to enjoy a quiet dinner by ourselves.

For a few short hours, I wasn't "Mommy! Emerson poo pooed in his underwear!" or "What's that, mommy?" (said while holding a huge deer tick) or "What if they run out of bread?!...Well, what if they stop making bread? THEN what?"

I was simply a wife enjoying a tenth anniversary dinner with my husband.It's not the first decade of marriage that I would have planned for us, but I can't imagine where we might be if we hadn't struggled together, suffered together, and survived together by supporting, comforting each other and seeking the Lord together.

I may have no glass slippers, no kingdom, and no royal title to show for ten years' laboring to make a marriage work...and ten years from now, I still may not.

But I have a husband whom I love more dearly than I did a year ago and who loves me, too. Somehow, that's worth a whole lot more than anything in Cinderella's happily ever after.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Decade of Dust

One of the first events Doug and I attended as husband and wife was his Paw Paw's funeral. I stood awkwardly at the graveside, watching my husband mourn a man my heart did not mourn but felt it should.

Paw Paw had only a fifth grade education, but worked in a time when that and hard work was enough to earn him a job as the mail man and, ultimately, the title of Postmaster. He had a love for creating layouts for model trains and making thin-wooden rectangular boxes with his hands.

Although I know many stories about him, he and I were probably only in a room together half a dozen times before he died. And even then, I can't remember him saying anything. I just remember a quiet man with bottle-thick glasses, freckles, and a slow gait.

This past week, I've been getting to know, just a little, the man I never got to know.When we moved to our new house, my in-laws agreed to let us move the red barn with us. While the term "barn" lends itself to grand visions of an immovable structure, this small one-room, simple structure of the depression would hardly impress most people. First used as a corn crib, then as Paw Paw's puttering shed, it's spent the past decade since his death as a storage container for those items no one knew what to do with and just couldn't bring themselves to throw out.

Saturday, I began the process of disturbing ten years worth of dust and cobwebs.In one corner, I uncover a pile of Paw Paw's wooden remnants, some the same thin boards he used to make two boxes my husband considers prized possessions. There are no clues as to what project was next on his list.

Then comes the bag of leftover pieces from the chain link fence project, the same fence I was thankful for so I could lock my children away from the highway.

Red Folgers and green Maxwell House coffee cans line the shelves, some full of ten penny nails, bolts, plumbing supplies. Those lidless containers are a mixture of hardware, each piece individually coated in cobwebs and dead insects, most too rusted to be useful. Along the wall lay more empty coffee cans in case he needed more storage. He was a coffee man for sure.My broom tears through an old bird's nest hanging from a rope, its thick, brittle loops hanging from a rusty nail. Finally making it to the very back, I unearth a messy mouse's nest in the cabinet where a mama cat birthed her kittens a couple years ago. A large metal clamp, rusted closed, and two wooden triangles sit atop the table. But that's all I find here of him.

No papers with plans. No sketchings. If he made any, all that has long ago rotted away.

My cleaning done for the day, I close the door even though it seems silly to do so. A missing board and nails displaced from the rotting cedar on the front won't really keep anything out.With new boards on the front of the barn, a coat of new paint, and a few pieces of tin replaced on top--soon this barn will take on a new life as my garden house and (so I learned this week), Wyatt's "magic tree house."

It just makes me wonder if someone will come after me, searching through future cobwebs for clues about me and what I found important in life. And when they do, what will they find?

Will it be merely seeds, shovels, and potting soil?

I hope it is so much more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Move Over Webster: Redefining Christians

Besides the stomach flu, my mind has been held captive this past week by tiny letters set on cream colored pages and bound in solid black.

It's been awhile since a book has intrigued me enough to give it room in my thoughts throughout any given day, much less for an entire week. But that's just what Gabe Lyons' newest book has done.

The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America is sure to prompt any reader to disagree, agree, become irritated, and grow excited all at the same time.

Lyons' text looks at trends surrounding those who claim the title "Christian," classifying all Christians into three categories--Separatist Christians (those who separate from mainstream society to avoid the taint of sin), Cultural Christians (those who "inherited" their faith but do not practice it), and the Next Christians.

While his casual, even dismissive attitude concerning Separatist Christians and their preaching of a half-gospel beginning with the fall of man is sure to raise the ire of many, Lyons' main point is important. He argues that when the Christians of the past few generations chose to withdraw from society in order to make themselves holy, they wove a cocoon around themselves that, yes, kept the taint of sin out, but also stopped them from impacting a society they were totally removed from.

The result of that separation is being played out today in modern-day America where Christians no longer hold the influence they once did either politically or socially, where the term "Christian"is synonymous with words like "judgmental" and "hypocrite."

The Next Christians he describes are people who are proclaiming the gospel from creation to Jesus' return and who are learning to live in (not apart from) the world just as Jesus did, working side-by-side with non-Christians in formerly-off-limits areas of society in their attempt to "restore" the world and the people within it to a state of what "should" be instead of what "is". Whereas evangelism was the sole activity of Separatist Christians, the Next Christians see their activity for Jesus as twofold: evangelism and restoration.

Lyons sees this group as the hope for America's tomorrow, where Christians will impact their culture for Jesus, restoring it instead of watching from the sidelines as it continues its downward spiral.

The problem with the Next Christians, as Lyons describes them, is that they seem to fail to evangelize hardly at all, but instead focus on living out Christ's love, grace, and gospel while just assuming that people will ask about Christ or assuming that the beauty they create in restoration will always lead others to Jesus. He says that this type Christianity is working and that "where Christians restore, people get saved." I'm skeptical and wonder how without a concerted effort to add the sharing of the gospel with their attempts at restoration, how one can assume that the person will automatically be pointed to Jesus.

Whether or not you agree with Lyons, his hope for a better future where Christians are active in impacting their world instead of cocooned away, where Christians view their jobs as their ministry, where Christians view every person as God's creation and worthy of grace--it's a hope most would share.

Layperson or minister--this simple book will leave you thinking.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Even When Everyone is Sick

If you peeked in my windows this week and saw what looked like a crime scene, thank you for not calling the police. Somebody would have probably thrown up on their uniforms, and that would have meant yet another load of disgusting laundry for me.

Although I haven't posted this week, nobody is dead, least of all me. It just probably looked that way, if you're a peeping tom (or tom-ette), that is.

The Medusa-haired woman clad in red velour robe and sprawled across the kitchen rug...that was me.

The three still-in-pajamas-at-2 pm-children jockeying for the best "lovins" spot around my trying-desperately-to-remain-still-body...they were mine.

And the commercials on the television that hasn't seen a commercial since the advent of Tivo--I approved them.

I do not want to relive this week--ever. But in my weakness is when God works, reminding me of the good in the bad.

Five days of stomach flu has made me oh so thankful...

For a washing machine that ran for three days straight and didn't give out.

For a dryer that rapidly returned favorite blankets to tear-streaked faces before bedtime.
For soft crocheted afghans that warmed feverish bodies...and were fun to poke little toes through.For a husband who worked all night so he could stay home all day and take care of the children when I was too weak to get out of bed.

For little arms and necks and fingers that wrapped around me and held me close as the minute hand turned round, extra love that their normally active bodies never seem to make more than a moment's time for.

It's not how I intended to spend my week. It's not an illness I would have intentionally subjected myself to in order to make myself see all these blessings.

But in the end, I did survive. And God has redirected my perspective once again to how rich I truly am.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Never Too Young

He and I are so very different.

My days are charted on calendar squares long before my feet touch the sheepskin rug beside my bed. My dreams are lofty and require a lifetime pursuit.

But Wyatt?

Each day, he lifts head from a Thomas the Tank pillow to live in the here and now, asking, "Where are we going today?" His dreams can be fulfilled in a matter of seconds--digging in dirt piles, having a tractor playdate with Opa, or making a gingerbread house with Grand daddy.

He's not even four years old yet. At this point, Wyatt can't imagine a time beyond Christmas.

My heart, though, leaps months and years ahead to the teenager, the young adult, the man I want him to be.

And what I see in him scares me, tugs at this mama's heart with an indescribable ache of concern.

This past week, the problem of lying has returned with a vengeance to our holly-decked house.

Wednesday afternoon, Wyatt lied about breaking a floor tile left on the back porch. We talked about it. We discussed why it was wrong. He was punished. End of subject, right?

Not three hours later, the lying monster returned.

Three precious angels were instructed to "not move" and finish eating supper at the kitchen table while I walked upstairs to grab their Wednesday night church clothes. Still holding pants and a shirt from the first closet, I heard running feet and then Wyatt yelling heavenward that Amelia had done something naughty.

At first, I thought our kitchen had been hit by a sudden hailstorm that silently came and went in the two minutes I was away. Then, I realized a glass platter made of safety glass had shattered on the kitchen floor, leaving no piece larger than the diamond in my wedding ring.

In the cleanup talking, it became clear (as it so often does to mothers) that Wyatt, not Amelia, broke the plate.

Another lie.

What was I doing wrong? Defeated, I sunk by the kitchen pantry and began to cry.

Wyatt didn't understand--this wasn't how mommy normally acted when he did something wrong. Why wasn't she yelling? Spanking? Sending him to a naughty bench?

In that instant, this mommy saw in the shattered glass a vision of a lying child growing into an lying adult consumed with sin and not consumed with a love for Jesus...a child separated from me for all eternity.

And I cried.

My mother says he's a little young to learn about hell. I didn't really think about that as he asked me what was wrong, and I began spilling forth my heart in one huge run-on sentence:

"Mommy is going to heaven one day and she wants you to be there with her. And if you keep lying and being naughty, you can't go to heaven to be with me and Jesus. You'll be sent away from mommy forever to a place called hell."

At this point, his voice grew a bit wobbly, too. "But who will take care of me."

I told him the truth, that nobody would take care of him in hell. I said that people only went to heaven if they loved Jesus and obeyed Jesus' commands as a way to show Him love. Lying was not obeying or loving Jesus, and if he didn't ask Jesus to help him be an obedient boy........

And we cried together.

For now, I snuggle a bit closer to him as we read our afternoon stack of books together. But it's the tomorrow I long to know about.

I can prepare Wyatt's heart to love Jesus. I can teach him Scripture, read him Bible stories, take him to church regularly, involve him in showing others Jesus' love, and live out Jesus' love in my own actions.

But only God can direct the heart toward saving faith in Him.

When you pray, add my children's names to your perpetual prayer list. No person is too young to start praying for his/her salvation.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making Connections: B.C. to A.D.

If you've ever had the thought, "Why doesn't Israel just give back the land, and then there will be peace." If you've ever wondered why the Middle East is constantly in upheaval with nation against nation. If you've ever asked why Muslims hate Christians and Jews so much.

If any of these statements describes you, then pastor and author Bryant Wright's newest book, Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East is a must read.

When I saw the cover, I'll admit that I expected my head to hurt reading some high-brow critical analysis concerning the intersection of Scripture and history. But nothing could be further from the truth. Wright's style is clear, extremely easy to follow, and at a mere 167 pages, a great education in three-night's read.

Part One explores the Biblical story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and the two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Wright details where the conflict between the three major world religions began in relation to these biblical individuals and then gives a "where are they now" look at Abraham's descendants in relation to the countries in the Middle East.

Part II then explains Abraham's story from the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian perspective, thereby providing the reader with an understanding of the constant in-fighting and hatred that still exists today in the Middle East.

Surprisingly for this uber-critical reader, the only critique I have is that Part One of the book is extremely repetitive. After describing the outline of the Abraham story, Wright rehashes the same ideas in the "Sarah and Hagar" chapter and then again in the "Isaac and Ishmael" chapter. Since there is a Study and Discussion Guide at the end, I understand his logic in dividing the story up into sections to be discussed in a weekly small group setting, but for the individual reader going through the text, it made me yawn, "Yes, yes, yes, you've said that already. Get moving..."

Overall, if you're well versed in Old Testament history and if you've followed the political climate in the Middle East so that you know the who's who of Isaac and Ismael's modern-day descendants, then this book is mere review of the basics.

However, if you are the average person who doesn't really know much about the connection between Old Testament times and the modern situation in the Middle East, I would definitely recommend this as a great "starter" book..