Love Your Neighbor

I started this blog shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, and except for mentioning it briefly in one or two of my posts, I haven’t written about that or any of the political and social unrest that has characterized the past year. While I would be happy to discuss my personal opinions on those topics in a private conversation, I’m not going to write about it in detail at this point either. Suffice it to say, there has been a huge amount of heartbreak, sadness, discouragement, and despair. These emotions have been experienced by millions of different people in different ways and for different reasons. 

What I do want to write about is my bewilderment and disappointment with the way many people who claim to follow Christ have responded in the midst of it all. I have seen and experienced friendships torn apart and churches divided. Anger, judgement, and mockery is directed towards those who have a difference of opinion, and arrogance and pride reign in the hearts of those who are convinced only their view is right. I would expect to see such division and heartlessness in the world, but to see this behavior happening in churches and among fellow believers has been disheartening, to say the least. 

This polarization and division should never have occurred in the body of Christ. Our unity in Christ, and the love we should have for God and one another, are paramount above politics, pandemics, and personal opinions. 

What has happened to loving each other despite our differences? Was this just a nice thought we had when everything was going well and we never really had to put it into practice? What has happened to putting relationships above rules, love above legalism, bearing with one another, and welcoming each other? Romans 15:5-7 is a challenge to us all: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Likewise, in Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Are the significant differences between us now enough to push aside what Jesus describes as part of the most important command there is? 

We should model righteousness and lead by example, but judging people’s motives and shaming them is not going to win their hearts. This is not acting in love towards our neighbor. And there are not only one or two ways to love our neighbor, either. We each have different weaknesses, fears, and hardships, but our pride and lack of compassion have kept us from listening and understanding the struggles of others. We all need Jesus equally. We have all sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23), and we all live in a fallen world. Our struggles differ, but the sinful state of our hearts is universal. As believers, our love and compassion for others should also be universal, as we remember our own need for God’s grace, forgiveness, and guidance in our lives. 

It’s easy to find fault and criticize, but we are held responsible to follow our own convictions, not to judge those who aren’t acting according to how we think they should be. Romans 14:10-12 says, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” 

I am not saying that we should never speak truth, exhort, or admonish others. It would make no sense for me to say that, since my entire blog so far has been built on my view of truth according to Scripture. But we can speak up for what we believe to be true about a certain situation while still maintaining and valuing close relationships with those with whom we disagree. We can listen and strive to understand their perspectives. In humility and grace, we need to allow for the possibility of the Holy Spirit leading and convicting others in different ways. There are often situations where a lot of nuance and gray areas are present. Many things aren’t completely crystal clear. And even if we do believe something is crystal clear because of a command or moral teaching in Scripture, it is not our job to convict, convince, or condemn our neighbor for being wrong. It is our job to be faithful to God’s Word and our own convictions, and then to LOVE our neighbor. 

So many things have changed in the past year, and so many of them have been painful. But God has also taught me so much through this. I think God has used this situation to expose a lot of sin and problematic areas within people’s hearts and lives. I’ve seen my own pride and arrogance brought to light, too. I’ve had to humble myself and admit I was wrong about some things. I’ve learned that God is the only one I can trust to never fail me when other people have let me down. I’ve had my heart and mind opened to new possibilities and opportunities that I never thought I’d consider. I’ve become even more thankful for my relationships with family and friends who have stuck by me through it all.

So, I continue to wait and pray for God’s purposes to be accomplished. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future (cliché as it may sound). I’m looking forward with hopeful expectation of what God will do through all of this. I pray that the events of the past year will ultimately result in more lovingkindness towards others, reconciliation of relationships, repentance where it’s needed, and spiritual growth. 

I’ve been thinking about a song lately that is really relevant (link below). My prayer is that all the struggles and trials of this year are truly God’s Mercies in Disguise.

What is Intentional Motherhood?

For years, I have heard and read about the concepts of purposeful parenting, being intentional with your children, and relying on God’s strength and wisdom instead of your own. I had an idea of what this meant, but didn’t understand how to practically apply it. I knew I wanted to live out my faith in front of my children, but how was I supposed to do that, when I felt like my house was in constant chaos? I knew I wanted to respond with more love and patience, but how could I when I was in the midst of dozens of sibling quarrels everyday? I knew I needed to be less angry and irritated, but how could I control my temper when my children’s behavior still consisted of so much disobedience, defiance, arguing, and tantrums, despite my best efforts to discipline and teach them? 

I thought I was already doing the things that I needed to do in order to bring about more peace in our family and respond differently. I read my Bible everyday; I prayed every now and then about my attitudes. I admitted to God that I couldn’t do this on my own, and that I needed the help, wisdom, and strength of the Holy Spirit to parent well. So why wasn’t anything getting better? Why did I still feel lost in a cloud of frustration, hopelessness, and discouragement? I didn’t even know what my purpose was anymore, or what I was supposed to intentionally be doing. I was just trying to make it through each day without totally losing my mind. 

Then a combination of things happened that started to lift me out of the hopelessness and despair. I had a very discouraging couple of weeks, where I felt like everyone in my family was especially tense, negative, and not getting along well. I knew I was contributing to the negativity but I didn’t know what I could do to stop the bad cycle we were in. During this time, I started reading a book that really helped to clarify some things in my mind and gave some good practical tips. And I truly believe the Holy Spirit brought other things to my mind that I have learned and read about for years, but never realized how it all fit together and how my actions and attitudes had to change. My desperation and prayers for wisdom suddenly crystalized into a plan, gave me inspiration and motivation, and finally brought meaning to the concepts of intentional and purposeful motherhood. 

When I stopped to think about it, I knew my own resources of patience and grace with my children ran dry very quickly, and that I needed God’s help. But I realized I wasn’t acting like I needed God’s help in my everyday life. I was still tackling each new day, each new situation, without praying about it, without reminding myself regularly throughout the day that I needed to be alert and aware of Satan’s attacks. I wasn’t praying over my attitudes and responses multiple times every single day; I was just spending a couple minutes praying every now and then when I was feeling particularly discouraged. I wasn’t thinking through potential situations that might arise and preparing ahead of time for the likelihood of needing to leave the room and ask for His help right at that very moment as soon as I started feeling frustrated- even if it happened 10 times a day. I wasn’t planning for any of this. I was just reacting based on instinct and emotion. Unfortunately, being the sinful people that we are, our human instincts and emotions often make things worse. 

And this brings me to what I believe is the core of the issue. The day after I began thinking about all of this in a new way, I was in a frustrating situation with my daughter. I could feel my annoyance rising. I could feel that I was about to start saying things I shouldn’t say. I knew I had just determined that in situations like these, I would walk away and pray, so I left and closed the door to my bedroom. But I didn’t pray right away. I sat on my bed for a minute and tried to pull myself together, without asking God’s help. Then I reluctantly started praying- and realized something crucial. 

I didn’t want to pray. Praying meant I had to humble myself. Praying meant I had to admit that I was reacting wrongly. Praying meant that I had to ask for self control because I didn’t possess it on my own. It’s easier to yell. It’s easier to unleash an angry tirade. 

So maybe this was the problem all along- not that I didn’t know what to do, but that I didn’t have the humility or willingness to do it. In the midst of parenting frustrations, we must employ humility and self control- probably two of the hardest attributes in the world to master. Our pride, arrogance, and superiority complex over our children keep us from remembering that we’re no better than them; we’re just bigger and older. We are in need of God’s grace every bit as much as they are. We sin every single day, just like they do. We are so self-centered and prideful, we forget that Jesus humbled himself by becoming human and enduring a shameful and excruciating death, so that as believers, we would have the privilege to call on Him for the wisdom, patience, and strength that we don’t have on our own. 

Without immersing ourselves in Scripture, we won’t even know what biblical wisdom and godly responses are. I love to read, so I’ve been pretty good at keeping up with my daily Bible reading plan. But I was failing to take into account how much prayer and preparation I would need to do, and that I would need to do it when I’m not already in the midst of problematic situations or in the heat of the moment. Being intentional means thinking and praying about my attitudes and potential conflicts before they happen and deciding how I will respond before I’m even in the situation, so that when the time comes, I am prepared. It means being aware enough of my own emotions to know when I need to step away from my kids. It means being humble enough to ask for God’s help when I’m angry or tired or confused or exasperated. And it means doing that everyday, repeatedly. 

The Apostle Peter understood the importance of this. In Mark 14:30, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him. Peter responds, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” The other disciples agree. Yet only hours later, they all desert Jesus when he is arrested, and when push comes to shove, Peter does indeed deny Jesus. This experience may have been on his mind when he writes in 1 Peter 1:13-15, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” In 1 Peter 5:8, he warns us about Satan’s attacks, saying again, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  

This is serious language! And it requires serious work and effort. We are in an unseen battle everyday; not against flesh and blood, but against “the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil” who would love to see me fail and my family fall apart (Ephesians 6:12). In order to combat this, we need more than a little bit of prayer here and there. We need to regularly humble ourselves and acknowledge our shortcomings, while asking everyday, sometimes every hour, for His wisdom, grace, and strength so that we can conduct ourselves in a holy way. I need Him to help me look at motherhood as a calling that is full of opportunities to serve, love, reflect Christ to my family, and express dependence on Him through it all. I need Him to equip me to carry this out, as I share in a small fraction of His suffering to love and serve difficult, rebellious people, who don’t always love or serve me back. Without making the effort to focus on God this way, I so easily default back to feelings of despair, negativity, and frustration. 

I think there’s much more that could be said about our intentions and purposes as parents, but this is a good place to start: our main purpose is to become more like Christ in the midst of trials (parenting contains many), and to acknowledge that the only way we can reflect Him more is to be actively, frequently acknowledging our need for Him, both before and during moments of conflict or frustration. 

To end on a lighthearted note- my son has gone through many phases of absolutely hating bathtime. During one of these particularly intense and persistent phases, I sang the song “Lord I Need You” as he screamed and fought me during baths, so that I would be focused on God and keep myself from losing my temper. It actually worked pretty well, so I’m not sure why I never thought of singing it during other difficult times. Maybe it will be helpful for you too! I would love to hear any thoughts you have on what intentional parenting means to you, or the different ways you stay focused on your purpose.

Persevere in Prayer

A few weeks ago, I was asked to write an article on the topic of prayer for a local church’s monthly newsletter. I decided to post it here, as it’s a good reminder for everyone, including myself. The last couple of weeks were kind of rough for me emotionally, and several times God reminded me of my own words that I had just written- to persevere in prayer even when I was discouraged.

Prayer is something I have struggled with for most of my life as a believer, but in recent years I have been convicted that it’s definitely something I need to devote more time to. God has used marriage and motherhood to show me how much I really do need to depend on Him, instead of relying on my own resources and abilities, and I am working to prioritize prayer everyday.

The article needed to be less than 500 words, so this post might be the shortest one I’ve ever written. I should probably work on trying to get to my point quicker in my writing too 🙂

It’s easy to get discouraged when we pray for something for weeks, months, or even years, with no indication of whether or not we will see our prayers answered in the way we hoped. Sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that our prayers alone won’t make a difference. But James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Not multiple righteous people… one righteous person. God doesn’t require hundreds of people praying in order for Him to act. Elijah was one man, and God answered his prayers for rain. Hannah was one woman, and God answered her prayers for a child. Moses was one man who prayed (on multiple different occasions) that God would not destroy the disobedient, rebellious Israelites, and God relented. Elisha was one man who prayed for the Shunammite woman’s dead son, and God raised him back to life.  

Of course, as we all know, there’s no guarantee God will answer our prayers, even if we persistently pray and our motives are pure. Jesus Himself asked God to spare Him from the cross, but ended with this important statement: “Not my will, but yours, be done.” There are many things about life that we will simply never understand. That’s why it’s so important to trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness. If our prayers are not answered, we can trust that God is still in control, and that He has a good plan for our lives. It’s also helpful to remember that the ultimate goal of prayer is not for us to get what we want. Regular prayer deepens our relationship with God and helps us to recognize the leading and conviction of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It changes our desires to be more in line with His. It allows us to humble ourselves before Him, to express our total dependency on Him for everything, and acknowledge His power and wisdom. It teaches us to rely on His strength instead of our own. It gives us an opportunity to praise and thank Him for who He is and for His blessings. 

So don’t give up. Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Make connection with God a priority in your day. Invite Him into your life, ask for direction, seek His wisdom in your decisions. Have faith in the character of God and in His timing. God hears us, and always does what’s best for us, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Your prayers may be answered, but if they’re not, you’ll end up with something better anyway- a closer relationship with the almighty God of the universe, and confidence in His perfect plan for your life. 

Broken

“He’s from a broken home.” We’ve probably all heard this term, used to describe a situation in which a child’s parents have been divorced or separated, or “normal” family function has been disrupted in some way. It’s often used to explain a child’s misbehavior and struggles in school or life in general. We all know the negative effects a tough home life can have on a child, or even an adult for that matter. But does divorce, separation, or abuse have to occur in order for there to be brokenness? I think we all live in broken homes, because we’re all broken people- and the reason for that is sin. 

One of the definitions of the word broken is “not functioning properly; out of working order.” This has certainly been true of mankind ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden, where God’s perfect design for creation spiraled into chaos and disorder after Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Nothing and no one in this world works properly. We have all turned away from God’s authority and plan for our lives. In Romans 3, Paul (quoting from Psalm 14) says that not even one person is righteous or seeks after God on their own. We fall woefully short of what we were originally intended to be. 

We all look for ways to fix this feeling of brokenness. “Believe in yourself! Do what makes you happy! You can be anyone you want to be,” the culture shouts. “You define yourself and your future.” We are encouraged to explore our identities, to discover who we really are, and to do whatever brings us happiness. 

There is an increasing cultural focus on the issue of identity. Race, gender, sexual orientation, personality traits- these things are often how people seek to identify themselves, to bring meaning to their lives, to find where they belong. They are culture’s way of attempting to heal our brokenness. Some of them are part of God’s design for humanity, although we place a lopsided emphasis on them in an attempt to turn them into identities that ultimately define us. Others are actually sin issues that we have twisted into good things to give ourselves a sense of belonging, to ease a guilty conscience, or just simply because it feels good. Society has done a great job of not only tolerating, but accepting and celebrating just about anything that makes us feel good. 

Problem is, it’s all a lie. An enticing lie, to be sure, but a lie nonetheless. People are looking for “safe spaces,” where no one will tell them anything is wrong with them and they’ll be accepted just as they are, no changes necessary. But there IS something wrong with all of us… something that has broken us. And trusting our feelings doesn’t work well considering we were all born with a sinful nature, a bent towards selfishness. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things, desperately sick, and beyond our ability to understand. Our feelings about something don’t indicate truth. We need an objective source of truth. 

We try repeatedly to find fulfilment outside of God and His Word. Like children rebel against their parents, we reject authority and the idea that God would have the right to tell us how to live. Our sinful nature and Satan conspire together to convince us that we will be happier if we go our own way. The sad irony is that God is the only thing that will truly satisfy us! 

True joy, peace, contentment, belonging, and freedom can be found in none other than Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate fulfillment of everything we long to be and have. There is nothing we can do to earn His love. He does accept us the way we are, but change will be necessary if we are to truly surrender our lives to His authority and obey Him. It is often painful to follow Him. The costs can be great, the struggles immense. But not only does He become our new identity, He gives us the strength to make the changes. He doesn’t expect us to push through on our own. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our brokenness is exactly what He uses to work in us and lead us to Himself, the true source of delight and love. 

This isn’t an easy road. Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:24 that we must deny ourselves (reject our own selfish desires that are contrary to God’s Word), take up our cross (embrace God’s will for our lives, no matter the cost), and follow Him. Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5 tell us to “put to death” our sin. But in order to do that, we first have to submit to His Word and accept that it IS sin. We have to accept that we will never find our true sense of belonging or identity apart from Him.  

This is in direct opposition to everything our culture will tell you. The thought of denying yourself something that makes you happy to embrace a life of struggle and submission to someone else’s authority is downright repulsive to most. And you might think it’s easy for me to say all this, being a straight, white, Christian woman. It is true that it’s easier for me than many others. I have not dealt with racism, struggled with my sexuality or gender, or had to deal with potentially losing everything because of my faith. But we all must make the decision to either put our faith in Christ and define ourselves by His power and righteousness, living in obedience to Him, or to define ourselves by any number of other things- even if it’s just our own selfishness, pride, and desire to be the authority of our own lives.

There are many people who have made the difficult decision to lay aside their other identities and follow Christ. Rosaria Butterfield was a feminist lesbian who, after reading the Bible and having conversations with another believer, became a Christian. Her first book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, tells her story, about how she “lost everything, but gained eternal life in Christ.” Her second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, explores the concepts of sin, identity, and repentance.

Becket Cook was a gay man in Hollywood, who became a Christian in 2009 after hearing the gospel. According to this article detailing his conversion, he “traded his gay identity for a new identity in Christ.” Becket still experiences same-sex attraction, but doesn’t define himself this way. In his words, “If people ask me how I identify, I’m just like, ‘I don’t identify by my sexuality. I’m a follower of Christ who has a lot of struggles, including same-sex attraction.’” He also talks about being celibate- denying himself to take up his cross and follow Jesus. I haven’t read his book, entitled A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption, but based on the article, I would recommend it to someone struggling with this topic.

Nabeel Qureshi (who, sadly, died from stomach cancer in 2017 at the age of 34), was a devout Pakistani-American Muslim. After years of study, research, debates, and conversations with people holding all different kinds of worldviews, he left Islam and became a Christian. This decision was extremely costly for Nabeel. His family and most of his friends were Muslims, who were shocked and dismayed about this decision. Islam was a huge part of his identity that he was giving up. In his book, No God But One: Allah or Jesus? he says one Muslim friend told him that if they were in a Muslim country, he would have killed him right then and there for leaving Islam. The only reason he didn’t is because the laws of the United States don’t permit it. Nabeel asks this question at the end of the book: “Leaving Islam can cost you everything: family, friends, job, everything you have ever known, and maybe even life itself. Is it really worth sacrificing everything for the truth?” After an objective study of Christianity, Nabeel’s conclusion was this: “The gospel is the answer to our individual pains, to the world’s sufferings, and to life’s mysteries… It is worth all suffering to receive this truth and follow Him. God is more beautiful than this life itself.”  

In a video that went viral in 2017 (linked below), Priscilla Shirer had this to say on the issue of being defined by race: “I do not describe myself as a black woman, because that gives too much power to my blackness. I don’t want black, my race, to be the describing adjective, the defining adjective of who I am as a woman. I am not a ‘black woman.’ I am a Christian woman who happens to be black… So you may be a black woman, a black man, a white woman, a white man, but that should not define you, so that if your race or if your political group is going in a different direction than the Word of God, you don’t choose your blackness or your whiteness or whatever culture you are. You do not choose that or your political persuasion over what it is that God’s Word declares to be true.” She faced some backlash for this and later clarified that she is very proud to be a black woman, but her point was that “no aspect of life should ever define the believer MORE than our relationship with Christ.” Diversity among race, heritage, and culture are beautiful gifts from God that we should enjoy and celebrate, but they should not define us. 

From Google Image search

These individuals, and countless others, have either given up or reprioritized identities that they once held dear, often at a huge cost. They exchanged these identities for the One that truly brings satisfaction and joy: Jesus Christ. 

My favorite verse in all of Scripture is Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Peter quotes this verse in 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Think about that… by his wounds we are healed. It seems like a beautiful, poetic paradox- that one man’s suffering through a tortuous death could heal us. But He does. If we believe in Him, He heals us from our sin and our brokenness. 

It is painful. But it’s worth it. Jesus is worth it. 

Note: I know that many people adamantly, vehemently disagree with this worldview. If you’re one of them, I would simply say that this is what I believe to be true- but I don’t look down upon you if you don’t. I don’t think you’re any less of a person if you believe something different. I don’t think you have less value. In fact, I believe every person intrinsically has equal value because every person is made in the image of God. You are worthy of love and respect no matter what you believe, and one of the worst things we can do with topics like this is get angry and shut each other out. I would love to hear your thoughts and have a conversation about this, even if you completely disagree with what I have to say.

Find Us Faithful

In case you didn’t know, I am a natural worrier. My daughter also struggles with worrying and anxiety. I have to remind her that it’s not her job to take care of her brother, make sure her friends don’t get in trouble, or keep everything running smoothly. Often, when she is so focused on those other things, her own behavior quickly deteriorates. She is so worried about everything else around her, that she doesn’t remember what she is supposed to be doing or where her place is in the family (under the protection and care of her parents)- and when she is focusing on the wrong things, that causes even more anxiety because she is not physically, mentally, or emotionally able to control or handle those things. 

Once again, parenting serves to prove that we adults have many of the same struggles as our children. God has been revealing to me that I do the same things I get so frustrated with my daughter for doing. How many of us have worried about things we can’t control? Or tried to assume the responsibility that belongs to God for something that we as humans aren’t physically, mentally, or emotionally able to handle? And how many times have we experienced anxiety and distress, acting in ways that we shouldn’t, because we were so focused on what seems to be spiraling out of control around us instead of our own response to it? 

I can’t control anything in my world. I can’t ensure my childrens’ salvation. I can’t make sure everything is always running smoothly. I can’t keep any kind of stress or catastrophe from occurring. 

If that was where the story ended, realizing those things would inevitably cause many of us to descend into major anxiety and depression. If those things were up to us, we’d be in trouble. The reason we can so easily end up anxious and worried is because it is true that we can’t control or change anything on our own. Most of us know that, even if we don’t always readily admit it. But I often forget my place in the same way my daughter does. My place is under the sovereignty, protection, and care of God. And that ends up being incredibly freeing. Releasing those expectations of ourselves, and resting in God’s limitless capabilities, brings freedom and peace. 

But this doesn’t mean we don’t have to concern ourselves with anything at all. God has given us responsibilities. Our responsibility is to be faithful to what His will is for us as revealed in His Word. Faithfully serve and love our families and communities. Faithfully spend time in the Scriptures and in prayer, so that we are growing spiritually. Faithfully obey God’s commands, even when it’s hard. As I would tell my kids, “Focus on your own actions instead of other people, and make sure YOU are doing what’s right.” 

I love these quotes from Nancy Guthrie’s book, Praying through the Bible for your Kids, in regards to the salvation of our children: “We don’t have to feel as if we’ve failed when we don’t see the responsiveness we prayed for… It is not up to us to create change in our children; it is up to us to bring them under God’s Word and then trust him to do the convincing and changing.” As hard as it is to accept sometimes, as parents, we can’t make our children change. Discipline and training are necessary to hopefully bring about proper behavior, but changed behavior on the outside doesn’t always equate to a changed heart on the inside. Fortunately, it is not our job to bring about that change. Our job is to faithfully teach them the truths from God’s Word and do our best to train them through discipline and instruction, and then trust God for the outcome. 

God certainly uses us in people’s lives. Our faithfulness often has a ripple effect. We have a responsibility to speak truth, to stand up for what’s right. If we see or hear something that doesn’t line up with Scripture, either in our families or in the world, we need to address it. But we can’t argue someone into changing their mind or heart. We don’t have the power to change people, and we don’t have the ability to ensure salvation for our children and loved ones. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. 

It’s easy to forget in this culture of instant gratification, that even when God does use our faithfulness to help bring about change in other people’s lives, it takes time. Usually, our children don’t immediately respond with changed lives after one day of godly instruction. It often takes months and years of training, teaching, correction, and leading by example for our obedience and faithfulness to have an effect on those around us. It’s easy to think that nothing we’re doing is “working.” But years later, we may have the joy of knowing that we were having an influence even when we didn’t see it. (Just as an aside, I am talking to myself more than anyone here. I often get discouraged about the lack of immediate results in my kids, and I need to be reminded of this truth frequently.) 

Sometimes living in faithfulness to God even has an effect after we die. Things that we taught our children and lived out in front of them can be brought to their minds when we aren’t physically present with them anymore. We can’t and don’t need to know exactly how God is using us, and all the events of our lives, to bring about His purposes. We only need to know that we, personally, must be faithful to Him, just as He is faithful to us, and rest in His infinite sovereignty and power to use us to influence others. 

One of my favorite songs is Steve Green’s “Find Us Faithful.” If you have never heard this song, please take a few minutes to listen to it here. The lyrics are simple but powerful. This is my goal, and what I will strive for, knowing that I can only accomplish it through God’s grace and strength, and trusting Him to use me according to His plan. 

O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion
Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe.
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful

Fall Writing Frenzy 2020

This is a different type of post for me, but I’ve been getting involved in the world of children’s literature, otherwise known as KidLit. I’m a member of several different Facebook groups focused on children’s publishing and writing, and the other day I saw a post about an event/contest called Fall Writing Frenzy. Several different fall-themed photos were posted, and each contestant needed to pick a photo that inspired them, and write something about it.

One of the photos was a sunflower. I love sunflowers, and this past summer my daughter and I planted some. Two of them ended up being absolutely enormous, and it was fun to watch them grow. I wrote a little poem from the perspective of a young child, using our own experience as inspiration. The top picture is the sunflower image from the contest; the bottom picture is one of the sunflowers that we grew this year.

Sunflowers

Photo cred: Susan Kaye Leopold

Put some seeds in the ground
Sprinkle water all around. 

Wait a week, what do I see? 
A tiny plant with tiny leaves. 

Sun and rain, rain and sun
Look, there is another one! 

Little plants up to my knee
Soon they’ll be as high as me.

Summer fading into fall
Now they’re almost 10 feet tall! 

One of our sunflowers

Yellow petals peeking through
First on one plant, then on two. 

Flowers looking at the sky 
Friends of bees and butterflies. 

Flowers looking at the ground
Now it’s time to take them down. 

No more flowers standing here
But I’ll plant some more next year.

No Pain, No Gain

Confession time: I often wish my life was easier. This is somewhat amusing in a sad sort of way, since my life is already quite easy in comparison to the majority of people in the world, both currently and throughout history. 

But more specifically, I spend a lot of time wishing the PEOPLE in my life were easier to deal with. There are some pretty high-strung, anxious, intense, and strong-willed personalities in my family (myself included). There can be a lot of frustration. A lot of tension. A lot of moments wondering if we will make it through the process of raising children without losing our sanity.  

Despite how it sometimes feels, there are no coincidental situations in life that have no purpose. Instead of being continuously frustrated and discouraged, I started asking myself… what is God trying to teach me through this? Obviously God didn’t give us these personalities and orchestrate our lives this way with the intention of having us feel perpetually irritated and exasperated.

I’ve been doing a study of the book of James that has helped me view life differently. I love James’ style. He is blunt and gets right to the point. No beating around the bush with him. The very first thing he brings up in James 1:2-3 is this: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Why in the world should trials produce joy? Because trials give us an opportunity to rely on Christ for our strength and be made more like Him, which should be our ultimate goal. We don’t grow spiritually if we never have to deal with any difficult situations. The joy comes in knowing that God will use trials in our lives to produce steadfastness. We will become more fixed on Him, firmly established in our faith, as we lean on Christ to sustain us. Trials expose our weaknesses. They remind us that we can’t rely on ourselves. They point us towards God’s sovereignty, provision, and faithfulness. 

Being transformed through trials is evidence of our faith, which is a huge theme in James. If we have true faith, our lives will be changed. James 1:22 says: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Likewise, the second half of James 2 focuses on this topic. Faith without works is not a saving faith. Faith by itself without works is dead. Faith is active along with works, and completed by our works. It is not that our works save us… salvation comes through faith alone. But, true faith will RESULT in works. Our inward transformation is evidence of our faith. If there is no evidence, there is no real faith. Anyone can believe facts about God. Even demons believe in God! Obedience to God’s Word instead of giving in to sin in the midst of trials and temptations is what sets us apart. 

Another big theme in James is controlling what we say. Our words reflect what is in our hearts. What I say in response to my kids and difficult people in my life is the outpouring of my heart. If my heart is being transformed by the gospel, then my speech will be too. And James is clear that we need God’s help to do that. His description of the tongue is striking: “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6,8). Jesus himself has sobering words for us on this topic in Matthew 12:33-37: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known for its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

What I say in response to disobedient children or difficult people reflects the state of my heart. Is my heart, and in turn my speech, being transformed? Is my faith being proven true by a slow but steady positive change in my words, and increased self control? Our pattern of speech is so closely linked with our hearts, that it is the evidence of true faith (or lack thereof). Our words have the power to cause destruction and destroy people. But Jesus is more powerful… if we submit ourselves to Him. 

Here’s the real kicker- we can’t blame our problems on other people or circumstances. James 4:1 says this: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Remember earlier, when I said I wished the people in my life were easier to deal with? That’s me, shifting the blame off myself, looking for a way to justify and excuse my own contributions to the conflicts and clashes. James says that instead of looking outwardly for someone or something to blame, we need to look within ourselves. Our sin and selfish desires are the source of strife and strained relationships, and we are responsible for how we respond to the situations that God has allowed in our lives. If all we do is try to blame other people and circumstances for our problems, we will never allow the gospel to truly transform us. 

The remedy to all of this is humility and repentance. His grace is greater than our sin. But we must humble ourselves before Him. James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” 

I often don’t think much about repentance. But we can’t truly draw near to God without it. Our sin should sadden us. It’s not something we should brush off, make excuses for, or laugh about. We can only have a right relationship with God through regular repentance, confession, and acknowledging that we cannot live righteously on our own strength. When we see God for who he truly is- limitlessly holy, good, pure, powerful- the only right response is humility, because we know we are nothing in comparison to Him, and we are nothing without Him.

Viewing ourselves through an accurate lens should change the way we interact with other people. James 4:11-12 shows us that we are in no place to speak evil of others, because only God is the lawgiver and judge. Pride keeps us from recognizing our own need for God and wrongly elevates us above others. Humility allows us to reflect Christ in the way that he mercifully and patiently deals with us, so that we may treat others with that same mercy and love. 

The book of James is very practical with many calls to action. It could be looked at as an overview of how the Christian life should be. It has brought a lot of conviction, clarity, encouragement, and peace to my heart. If you have never done a study on James, it is well worth your time! And if you have, I would love to hear how it has challenged and encouraged you in your own unique trials of life.

Opinionated… or Foolish?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been outspoken. I find it very difficult to hold back my opinions, especially when there is a situation where something seems unfair, people are mocking or making fun of others, or someone has a certain perspective on things that doesn’t jive with how I see it. When I was younger, there were many times that I was too bold or just plain tactless, even to the point of being offensive. I was actually proud of my tendency to “tell it like it is” and not be “fake.” One of my youth pastors would even occasionally tease me by saying, “Tell us how you really feel, Krista,” in a playfully sarcastic way… because no one ever had to try to figure out how I really felt. I made it very obvious! 

With age and maturity, in some ways I’ve also grown in wisdom. Typically, I think things through a lot more than I used to, attempting to gauge how my opinions might be perceived by people who view a situation differently than I do. I still don’t have much of a filter between my brain and mouth sometimes, but I don’t think it results in as much offense as it used to, because my thought process is changing from “I’m right and I don’t care who doesn’t like it” to “different people have different experiences, and I should be open to understanding where they’re coming from.” I’m trying to become more compassionate and empathetic, and I’m more concerned about the image and reputation I am creating for myself- especially because, as a Christian, I represent Christ. 

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that several verses addressing this issue have come up recently during my daily Bible reading. While I do believe that we should be able to hold respectful discussions, I feel the urge to express my thoughts about certain topics when it’s probably not always appropriate. Even when I try to carefully word my opinions so I don’t offend people, I don’t often consider if it’s the right time or setting for a particular conversation. I don’t usually think about the possibility that maybe it’s better to stay silent, or try to have a discussion either in person or through private messaging instead of a public social media thread. 

Here are the scriptures I’ve come across, along with my thoughts about them. 

Proverbs 18:2 “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Ouch! How often do we only care about what we have to say, instead of truly trying to understand someone else’s experience?  

Proverbs 26:4-5 “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” These verses seem to say opposite things. This is meant to make us think about what the best response is depending on the specific situation. Many times, it’s better not to participate in conversations when someone is acting foolish, because you probably won’t get anywhere and might end up looking foolish yourself. But other times, it may be wise to respond with a correction so that people don’t assume that there could be no other options except for what the foolish person is saying.

Proverbs 26:12 “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” This refers to someone who is “stubbornly unteachable,” as my ESV study notes say. We should be careful that we aren’t so convinced of our own opinions, that we refuse to listen to any other ideas! 

Proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the impression that I’ve been a lot more foolish than I may have previously thought. 

Ecclesiastes 7:16 “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” At first this verse didn’t make sense to me, but the ESV study notes offer a helpful interpretation. In this case, the term “righteous” refers not to being morally correct, but “right in one’s cause.” The advice here is to not be obsessed with always being right in an argument. People who insist on always winning arguments or having the last word end up alienating everyone around them. 

James 1:19-20 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Slow to speak… not usually my specialty. Slow to anger… most of us have a lot of work to do there too. 

James 3:6,8-9 “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who are made in the likeness of God.” James doesn’t mince words, does he? This is a sobering reminder of how powerful our words can be. We need to rely on wisdom from the Holy Spirit to not use our words for evil. 

These verses were convicting for me, and maybe they are for you too. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This isn’t directly talking about our speech, of course, but what we set our minds on has an impact on what we say and do. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 4:23: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (NASB).

What is filling your heart and mind? Is it a desire to show love and kindness to others through your words (or silence)? Or is your greatest concern letting everyone know how you really feel, no matter whose feelings you hurt in the process? It requires a lot of self control to tame our tongues! Fortunately for us, we can take comfort in the fact that God’s grace is sufficient, for His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Addictive

Every morning started pretty much the same way: my phone alarm rang, I hit snooze at least twice (even though the night before I was determined not to), and eventually turned it off for good. Then, before I was even out of bed or awake enough to open both eyes against the bright screen, I opened my Facebook app. What’s everyone been up to since the last time I checked my newsfeed (which was probably less than 8 hours ago)? I usually spent at least a few precious kid-free morning minutes scrolling social media, before I got up to start my daily Bible reading.

And if that doesn’t expose my priorities, the rest of the day unfortunately didn’t get better. Any time I had more than 5 seconds of downtime and didn’t immediately have another task to attend to, my finger automatically went right to my Facebook or Instagram apps. I don’t even have to think about it. Pick up phone, open Facebook. It’s like breathing. 

Social media addiction is a recognized issue. The website addictioncenter.com has a page concerning this*, and includes the following statement: “Social media addiction is a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.” Social media (SM) usage and the rewards of attention via likes, comments, and retweets light up the same area of our brains that is triggered when using addictive substances. 

As many as 5-10% of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction, but most of us aren’t truly addicted. Still, habitual use of SM negatively affects our mental health and relationships. I can’t count the number of cumulative hours I’ve spent doing absolutely nothing productive while scrolling Facebook, comparing my life to everyone else’s perfect-looking (but filtered and edited) lives, ignoring my kids and housework. 

In fact, SM can quickly become an easy go-to when I want to check out of my reality as a stay-at-home-mom of two active and high maintenance kids. I choose my phone over playing outside with them, asking if there’s something they’d like to do together, or taking the time to teach and train them when there are quarrels or attitude problems. And often, the only real result I get from time spent on SM is a distracted, discontent mind. Not a great trade-off when I could’ve been investing in relationships with my kids, doing something productive around the house, or using my free time in a more beneficial way, like reading, working out, or even going to bed earlier!  

I’ve begun to ask myself some questions and pray before opening SM apps. For a long time now, SM has had far too strong of a grip on me. Before I open Facebook, I’m getting in the habit of considering what my reasons or motivations are, and praying about three things: Is this a good use of my time right now, or is there something else more productive or important I should be doing? Am I looking at SM out of a desire to escape what’s really going on in my life (like dealing with my kids)? Am I prepared to deal with the possible frustration and distraction it might cause? 

I also think there is great value in doing a SM fast. It can start off small- for those of us who are used to opening SM apps dozens of times a day, maybe even one whole day without any of it seems hard. Try half a day, or just a few hours without using any SM, and every time you’re tempted, pray instead. Pray for God’s help in not letting SM control you and dominate your free time. Pray that you would manage your time wisely and not use SM as a way to tune out of the demands of real life. Pray that you will be more focused on investing in your relationships with family and God. And don’t get discouraged if you slide back into bad habits. I still open Facebook first thing in the morning sometimes, and I still choose my phone over more productive and meaningful activities. But I’ve acknowledged the battle, and I’m working towards victory.  

In the end, the only things that will matter are those with eternal significance- people’s souls, the time we spent serving God and others, and our own love and knowledge of God and His Word. SM can be beneficial, and it’s an important way of staying connected and informed in today’s world. But we can’t let it be THE most important, time-consuming part of our lives. Let’s not waste the little time we have on earth mindlessly scrolling SM, comparing our lives to others, being sucked into online arguments, and posting things for the validation we get from the likes and notifications popping up on our phones. Life is so much more than that! 

Do you struggle with spending too much time on your phone? Have you felt any negative effects on the rest of your life because of it? What strategies do you have for managing your SM usage?

*To read more about social media addiction, this is the website I referenced: https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/

To Complain or Not to Complain?

Every parent has probably experienced what can sometimes feel like incessant whining and complaining coming from their children. In this time of social distancing, extra “togetherness” can provoke this even more. Our children’s whole lives have been turned upside down; for months, there has been no school, no church, no events.

This understandably brings about anxiety, discontent, and grumbling. They are sick of being around their siblings and parents nearly all the time with almost no breaks. They are sick of being in the same house. They are sick of the only opportunities for interaction and learning being on screens (thank goodness iPad school is over for now, is all I have to say). They don’t fully comprehend why nothing’s the same anymore, and they don’t know when things will go back to normal. 

Wait… adults complain a lot too 

This is starting to sound a whole lot like my own feelings, and I suspect the feelings of many other adults as well. Although whining might seem especially irritating coming from our kids, the truth is, most adults struggle with discontent and complaining too. How should we deal with these negative emotions? Should we sweep them under the rug, bury them inside, try to ignore the fact that life contains many challenges and irritations? Or should we air our grievances to anyone who will listen, regularly post complaints on social media, and allow negativity and dissatisfaction to take over our lives? 

A Negative Example- The Grumbling Israelites 

The Israelites were notorious for their complaining and grumbling after the Lord delivered them from Egypt. The complaining started almost immediately and never stopped for long: when they saw the Egyptian army pursuing them before they crossed the Red Sea (Ex. 14:10-12); when they couldn’t find drinkable water in the wilderness (Ex. 15:22-24, and 17:1-3); when they were hungry (Ex. 16:2-3); when they were tired of dealing with their problems (Num. 11:1); when they were sick of the food that God provided for them (Num. 11:4-6); when they came to the Promised Land and saw the fortified cities and strong inhabitants (Num. 14:1-4); when they rebelled against Moses and Aaron’s leadership (Num. 16), and many other examples. Despite their grumblings, forgetfulness, and lack of faith, God mercifully provided for their needs. Sometimes, their complaints brought about God’s anger and judgement, and Moses interceded for the people several times so as to escape complete destruction. 

Positive Examples- David, Habakkuk, Job, and Lamentations    

But there are examples of acceptable ways to bring our complaints to God, too. The Psalms are full of laments, sorrow, and grief. In Psalm 13, David expresses feelings of complete abandonment by God. But he ends with praise, saying that he will trust in God’s steadfast love and rejoice in his salvation. Habakkuk consists of the prophet’s complaints to the Lord because of what he saw as an apparent lack of justice and God allowing sin to go unpunished. The book begins with the same question David asks in Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord?” Throughout the book, he comes to trust in God’s sovereignty and wisdom, and again ends with wording very similar to David- “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). 

The book of Job gives us another example of someone who expressed strongly-worded emotions to God about his suffering. Job himself even calls them “complaints” repeatedly in the ESV version of the Bible (Job 7, 10, 21, 23). But he was still considered righteous because of his service and faith in God during his time of hardship, despite the extreme frustration and anguish that he brought before God. Lamentations is, predictably, a whole book of laments concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, but the Lord’s steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness are emphasized (Lam. 3:22-24), as well as His eternal reign and the hope of restoration (Lam. 5). 

So what do we do?

I get so weary of my childrens’ complaints that my instinct has become to immediately scold them and stop them from expressing negative emotion. But the fact is, the emotions are there; we cannot ignore them and expect them to disappear. We need to find an appropriate way to deal with them.

I believe the many accounts of complaints and laments in the Bible teach us that God can handle our questions, sorrows, fears, and distress. However, the way we do it, and our attitude towards God, is of the utmost importance. In each positive example we looked at above, the conclusion is that, when all else fails, when our lives are in ruins, when we are threatened, persecuted, or suffering… we can trust in God’s faithfulness, love, sovereignty, and wisdom.  We can trust in God because of who He is; not because of what he does for us. (Read Job 38-41 for a magnificent speech by God, detailing his power and sovereignty, emphasizing that humans could never fully understand the ways of God; take note that after Job submits to God and repents, he finds comfort in God before his time of suffering is ended). 

And even if we lose our lives, our God is a God of salvation. If we have put our trust in him as our savior, we will be with him for eternity after we physically die here on earth, with the hope of a bodily resurrection after the return of Christ. Job also alluded to this, saying in Job 19:25, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” No matter how bad life gets, we always have something to rejoice in, which turns out to be the most important thing of all- the steadfast love and salvation of God. 

The antidote- thankfulness and focus on God 

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 to bring our anxieties, prayers, and requests to God, with thanksgiving. God wants us to bring our needs and emotions to him, and the reason we can be thankful is because we know God is sovereign, wise, and loving in all his ways, even when we cannot understand his ways. Earlier in Philippians, Paul cautions us against grumbling, so as to not be like the crooked and twisted generation of Israelites (Phil. 2:14). We must be careful to not be characterized by having a complaining spirit, one who forgets God’s deliverance, power, and promises.

I am trying to practice allowing my kids to express their discontent and negative feelings for a short time, then guiding them back to think of the positive aspects of a certain situation, and list things to be thankful for. I think we as adults can follow a similar process in our own lives. While discussions with others about situational concerns are important and necessary, we should do so respectfully and pay attention to our attitudes. Regularly complaining to others, either in person or on social media, reflects a heart that is not focused on thankfulness for God’s provision and blessings. Instead, we should take our questions, frustrations, and complaints to our all-powerful, all-wise God, and then choose to rest in His plan and salvation.