Wednesday, December 24, 2008

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Don't you think Christmas brings out the best in people? And I'm not talking about people in the mall, or even people in mall traffic, I'm talking about people who take seriously the wisdom that it is better to give, than to receive. It's refreshing, especially after studying the seven deadly sins for the past six weeks, to witness such widespread generosity. It seems like everywhere I go I see Angel Trees, Toys for Tots boxes, and efforts to support our troops. And you read about professional athletes, like Kurt Warner, who invest not just their money but their time to serve the less fortunate. I am so thankful that there's something good left in us, despite all the pride, envy, lust, anger, greed, gluttony, and sloth.

Sometimes it seems we witness so much heartache, so much greed, so much anger, so much that is downright evil, that the decent act becomes striking. Were you awestruck on September 12, 2001 to see the depth of character of so many Americans? Or after the Tsunami of 2004? Or after Hurricane Katrina? We may be wholly imperfect beings, but there is a glimmer of something beautiful in each of us.

I've often wondered where that goodness comes from. The answer is found in Genesis 1: 27 which tells us that "God created man in his own image." Each person is an image-bearer of God Almighty. The flicker of that image may sometimes be very dim, but nothing can fully extinguish it. Nothing can change the fact that each man, woman and child were made in the image of God.

Today I celebrate the birth of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He's my Savior because I know that I could never earn my way to heaven. The very idea, after taking a hard look at my own life through studying the seven deadly sins, is laughable. Earn a place in eternity with a holy, perfect God? Absurd. Presumptuous. Arrogant. No, I need a Savior for sure.

But the birth of Jesus is not just about eternal security, it is about the here and now. It is about being an image-bearer. The life of Jesus--his example of loving unconditionally and yet without compromise--is the goal, and the provision of the Holy Spirit is the way. As followers of Christ we need to take seriously our responsibility as image-bearers and embrace the power through the Holy Spirit to do so.

The Apostle Paul said "you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."

Merry Christmas and may your image-bearing of God Almighty be evident to all in 2009.


The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

A reader wisely pointed out that I have never really talked about where the seven deadly sins come from, and I greatly appreciate his observation because it's an important point. The seven deadly sins are not listed by Jesus or Paul, or grouped together anywhere in the Bible in a systematic way. It was the early church fathers who came up with the list, although there is ample biblical support for each one. And it is not meant to be a complete list of sins in general, but a list of sins that are pervasive and deaden our relationship with God Almighty. Of course, no sin is deadly in the eternal sense--thanks to the birth we celebrate tomorrow.

But pride is the very worst of the seven. C.S. Lewis called it "the spiritual cancer," and it was pride that caused the fall in the first place. Adam and Eve ate the apple because they wanted to be like God. They acted in self-centeredness, they itched for recognition, and even though God told them not to eat the fruit, in that moment, they believed they knew better. And why was the Tower of Babel built? Do you remember? So that the people could make a name for themselves. Pride.

Sin often has its own punishment; think of the personal destruction that gluttony and lust wreak in a person's life. But pride is the one sin that God vows to address himself. James tells us that "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6). St. John Cassian wrote about this saying that the evil of pride is so great that God himself is its adversary. How wretched a thought to have God as an adversary! Yet even in the most noble of efforts pride creeps in. We may aim to serve the needs of others, but we often retain the itch for recognition. I itch like crazy.

Denial of sin is also a paramount issue that stems from pride. We are tremendously creative beings when it comes to rationalizing why we are not responsible for our own actions, or why in this particular case, what we are doing is not actually wrong. It is pride that fuels this fire of denial. Pride causes one to chafe under the rule and sovereignty of God (William Backus), and this attitude of the heart burns its gruesome branding into everything we do.
Pride is ugly and pervasive. So what's the cure? What is the spiritual calamine that tames the itch for recognition, that thwarts the self-satisfaction, self-seeking, drive for status, authority and control? Humility is the obvious cure, but how do we obtain it?

Jesus tells us that "whoever humbles himself like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:4 (NIV). But what does this look like practically? A child is open to learning--they know they don't have all the answers. A child is trusting and unpretentious. They have no authority and they know they are not in control. Not that a child is free of pride (at least I know mine aren't), but certainly we can agree that children are generally more humble and more trusting.

Perhaps the best thing to do is meditate on all of the passages in the Bible that address pride and humility. When we become convinced that God hates pride, and cracking your Bible open will convince you of it, then we will take more seriously our efforts to root it out. We can pray about it and meditate on the humbling reality that no matter how sinful we are, God sent his Son to die for us. You may be so prideful that you don't even think you need a Savior - but you know what, even that doesn't matter. God still sent his beloved Son to die for YOU.

Merry Christmas and please check back tomorrow for a special Christmas blog.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust

So a bit of blogkeeping: we're in the final stretch here on the deadly sins. I'm going to finish up with the sin of pride before Christmas, and then I plan to do a special post on Christmas Day, which I hope you will check out. Also, I have a Christmas offer for my readers. Thanks to the C.S. Lewis Institute, a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to purchase Mere Christianity at a greatly reduced price. I have now moved a case of Mere Christianity from Virginia to Florida and back. I haven't been giving away Lewis as quickly as I intended, so I would be very honored to mail you a copy if you've never read it. To say that Mere Christianity is a life-transforming, amazing articulation of the Christian faith is a grave injustice. So own your copy today, while supplies last, and Merry Christmas! (email me your address: lewis.offer@yahoo.com)

Now, back to the deadly sins. Lust is hard to write about for two reasons. First, this is the one deadly sin I don't really struggle with (see definition below), and secondly, it's the one I am most inclined to be judgmental about. I wouldn't be so silly as to claim I've never had a lustful thought, but physical attraction for me is a secondary issue. I needed a man that was smart, funny, driven, and disciplined. I needed a man that knew God. I needed a man that would spur me on despite my sloth. So it is just a testament to God's abundant provision that Will Jackson meets all these needs and is sexy to boot!

Many commentators claim that lust is not merely about sex--that it can involve a preoccupation with things in general, but usually those cravings fall under other sins like envy or greed. Not that the classification should be legalistic, but in my opinion, lust primarily revolves around sex. And there's so much to talk about even when we limit lust to its sexual manifestations, that in this posting that's what I'm going to do.

Our culture is obsessed with sex. Would anyone dispute that? But one of the problems with the bombardment of imagery that we face everyday is that it blurs the distinction between loving sex, i.e., sex within marriage between a man and a woman, and lust, i.e., the longings and actions which treats others as objects for sexual pleasure. Sex outside of marriage is wrong. It might be fun. It might pleasurable in the moment, but ultimately it's degrading. Our culture scoffs at this truth, in fact, some readers might scoff at this post. But it's the truth anyway. We might try to merge love and lust. We might cling to the idea that lust leads to love. But it doesn't. Physical attraction is important, but that's not lust. Lust is when you look at another person and think how they could give you pleasure. And this is just not something that I do.

But I know most men seriously struggle with lust. They are visual beings and our culture feeds those eyes of theirs in every way possible. As a wife and mother of three boys this reality gives me a sick and helpless feeling. I've dreaded writing about it, because I don't even like thinking about it.

But refusing to think about it, doesn't make it go away. In fact, acknowledgment and accountability are two things that could help. For those who struggle with internet pornography, I know there are ways to sign up to have your computer tracked. One site that looks good is www.xxxchurch.com, and there are lots of churches that have support groups as well. Like everything else in life, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

One other thing that really bothers me about lust is the defeatism that is often conveyed. Boys may be boys, God may have created males with different drives, and they may be more visual, but Philippians 4:13 is still true. If you know Christ, then you should be telling yourselves, even in the most tempting of situations, that you can overcome lust. Just like me with my slothful inclination, tell yourself that through Christ, "I know I can. I know I can. I know I can."

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

Isn't it interesting how some of these deadly sins aren't really even part of our vocabulary anymore? We rarely hear the word glutton except in the phrase "glutton for punishment." Yet many of us eat too much, shop too much, and all-around consume too much. We let ourselves off easy by playing a comparison game. If we aren't morbidly obese or an outright alcoholic then is it really gluttony?

But once again it's not solely about outward behaviors. St Thomas Aquinas summarized gluttony as eating "too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, or with too much finicky fussing." I've done all of these things. In fact, I do all of these things.

Years ago, before we started having babies, Will and I had a favorite Indian restaurant. We ate there about once a week, and we knew all the staff. The host would greet us at the door, "Jackson," he would say, smiling brightly and showing us to our table. We always ordered the same delicious entrees with onion nan and mixed raita, and when they served the food it was as if the aroma somehow overpowered our manners, we became Kobayashi and Chestnutt wolfing down hot dogs. We laughed about it at the time, but now I see it for the picture of gluttony that it was. "Too eagerly" is a bit of an understatement.

So does this mean enjoying food is a sin? Of course not. Think about Jesus. There's something almost magical about sitting down to dinner with friends, especially in someone's home, like Jesus often did. Sharing a meal can be a great way to bond, to get to know someone, or to just leisurely learn something new about someone you've known a long time. But that doesn't happen if your focus is on the food instead of the people.

I don't know if I focus too much on food in social situations, sometimes I think I probably do, but I know that gluttony is a problem for me. I think about food too much and I eat too much. The solution is obviously self-discipline. After all I can direct my thoughts (see last week's post), and I can intentionally place myself in situations where gluttonous overeating is not even an option. But another important component for the follower of Christ is to have a regular time of fasting. Dunnam and Reisman argue that "fasting is a means of practicing the fact that we cannot feed the spirit with the body's food." I've long had a ready list of why I do not, can not fast, but I'm feeling convicted about this. So I'm going to start.

How about you? Do you fast? I'd love to hear about it if you do.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

Outside of Nickelodeon's Go, Diego, Go! which features a talking, three-toed variety, you really don't hear the word sloth very often. In its simplest form sloth is really just plain laziness. So would you consider yourself lazy?

It is easy for me to think about all the stuff I do as a mother of three boys, and quickly conclude that laziness is not currently an issue in my life. I do not watch television (except sports on weekends with my family) and some days I barely get to sit down. But once again my interpretation has been a bit too convenient, because it's really not about what you do as much as the attitude of your heart.

One of the books that I've been reading talks about how depression is linked to the sin of sloth. (What Your Counselor Never Told You, William Backus). Dr. Backus didn't use Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh as an example, but really he could have. He so fits the description of the person who readily listens to that negative inner voice. Certainly clinical depression oftentimes has a chemical component, but can't you just picture someone like Eeyore in a downward spiral emotionally, believing they cannot do this and they cannot do that. Assuming that person doesn't like them, and that nothing really matters. I think we all have those voices, and I think anyone would end up like poor little Eeyore if they listened to them.

I am currently vacationing in beautiful Park City, Utah. The last few years I've had this intense desire to snowboard. I am six feet tall which means I have a long way to fall. And I can ski pretty well, so I really do not understand why, at thirty-six, I have this thirst to ride. But I do, so today Will and I took a break from the dreaded ski boots and enrolled in our second riding lesson. After a nasty wipe-out, which is currently memorialized by a giant and throbbing left knee, we took our lunch break. I sat there feeling pretty sorry for myself, thinking about how complicated life would be if I tore something or broke something, thinking about how bummed I'd be if I didn't get to ski with my little boys any more this week.

But then it hit me. I've been studying about sloth, about how it is an attitude of the heart, how at its core it's a denial of Philippians 4:13 which says that "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (NIV). And as truth often does, that changed my whole perspective. I may have torn cartilage in my knee, I may have broken my coccyx too (although I really don't think I did either), but I need not worry. I need not be like Eeyore or the tired little engine in the The Little Engine That Could. I may have a voice in my head that says, "I cannot. I cannot. I cannot." But the great news is I don't have to listen to it!

The message of the Bible is the exact opposite of nay saying Eeyore, and is even better than that of the noble little blue engine. The Bible says that I should always be telling myself that, through Christ, "I know I can. I know I can. I know I can."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

If you aren't the proud owner of a twenty-pound unabridged dictionary, let me remind you that Christmas is just around the corner. The dictionary is capable of doubling as a weapon and I can assure you that the definitions in my unabridged are much more enlightening than online dictionaries. Take, for example, the simple word greed. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.com use the following definitions: "excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions" and "a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed." But my unabridged adds "an excessive, extreme desire for something, often more than one's proper share," and lists seven synonyms.

A couple months back I blogged about Best Buy's marketing slogan: You, Happier. I visited Best Buy again a couple of weeks ago in search of a VCR (lots of VHS tapes and a broken player) but they don't have them anymore. They didn't have the You, Happier. banners either, which I initially thought was kind of cool, but then the employee I was chatting with pointed up to the Happier, Holidays. banner. Ugghh. Best Buy's unabashed appeal to greed promotes the pervasive idea that more and better stuff leads to happiness. But consider our own grandparents: we have more possessions than they dreamed possible, and yet we seem to be less content. We can think of and have lived many examples of how more is not better or how that thing we just knew would make us happy did not. But we can't seem to accept that the formula always fails. Instead we believe that we just haven't yet acquired the right stuff.

Jesus tells us in the Bible that He came so that we might have abundant life (John 10:10), but He warned us to be on "guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15). So obviously an abundant life is not a function of stuff. So why are we so inclined to this excessive, rapacious, extreme desire? Given how rich our society is as a whole, greed is even hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it's manifested personally as tightfistedness or an unquenchable thirst for more, but sometimes it's more social in nature, wanting to have more than others or wanting what belongs to others. Greed is not knowing what is enough, it's not living the virtue of temperance, and at its core it's a disposition of the heart about stuff. So really only you know how greedy you are. Well, you and your Maker.

So what's the cure for greed. It's actually quite simple. I found it right there in my beloved unabridged. The antonym for greed and its cure is generosity. I said it was simple, not easy!

Think of the most generous person you know. Don't you just love and admire that person? Now, think of the most generous person that ever lived? And I'm not talking about Bill or Melinda Gates. Although it's truly incredible how much their foundation has given, the biblical view on giving is proportionality and so they haven't given as much as the impoverished woman who gave her last two coins (Luke 21). And the most generous person who ever lived was Jesus Christ. He wasn't generous in terms of giving away great wealth (there's no evidence that he ever had much), but He loved people. He took time for people. He asked for the little children to be brought to Him. And ultimately He died a brutal death for the scoffers who spit at him. Now that's generosity.

We are called to emulate His loving and generous spirit. (John 13). It is a high standard -- one that we can only hope to work toward.

Let me close with a thought-provoking and convicting question: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 John 3: 17)


Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

So my sweet friend Melissa was the sole commenter on my last blog--further evidence of the widespread denial of sin! Actually, I'm kidding. I know this is a really tough subject and one people are reluctant to talk about. You might have noticed that I didn't specify or even hint at how I envy. I'd be embarrassed to reveal just how shallow I can be.

But I will give you a personal example for our next deadly sin: anger. On Saturday we took the boys to their first college football game. It was thirty-five degrees, but other than Sam's refusal to wear his mittens, we all had a blast. Sam danced to every ditty of the marching band, and the older boys screamed and cheered for every first down. It was just a very, very fun day. We bought the boys foam cavaliers and hats and t-shirts. We ate stadium food and sipped hot chocolate. I mean it was an all-out good time. But later when I was putting the boys to bed, our oldest son, Will, was unhappy. Really unhappy. He complained that he wasn't tired. He complained that it wasn't fair. I was sort of taken aback my his ingratitude but reminded myself that despite his stature, he is only seven years old. But then as he was brushing his teeth, and I was sitting on the floor, putting Sammy in his pajamas, Will called over to me with a deadly serious look on his face, utilizing a condescending and emphatic tone.

"Let me be clear!" he said.

I was instantaneously livid, and I imagine many of you can sympathize. Since "it is not the impulse of anger but the way we handle it that turns into sin," you might want to know how I handled it? (Dunnam and Reisman).

"Get over here," I snapped, using an even angrier voice than Will had used. Then I cupped his little face in my hand and said, "Don't you EVER, EVER talk to me that way again. Do you understand?"

So whatever it was that he wanted to be clear about is yet a mystery! But here are some of the problems with how I handled this situation: (1) I raised my voice; and (2) I was acting more out of personal hurt and wounded pride than I was acting to teach my son an important lesson about respect and gratitude. And that's really one of the major problems with anger. As much as we may think our anger is justified, our motives are never pure--our own self-interest is always there to mar the righteousness of our indignation.

But consider Jesus and how He cleared the moneygrubbers out of the temple. He didn't use his disciples as a swat team and He didn't use his power as Creator of the Universe. Isn't it kind of amazing that He was able to send them running with a whip of cords? Dunnam and Reisman observed that, "It was not his physical strength, but his moral power. The moral force of Jesus' anger against their wrongdoing sent them scrambling from the temple." But that doesn't work for us mere mortals because we cannot attain the moral authority. Nearly all of our anger is tainted by our own self-interest. Jesus was angry because his Father's house was being defiled. If we want to emulate Jesus we will be angry about things which violate God's law, but aren't harmful to us personally. We can be righteously indignant about the mistreatment of others: about human trafficking, slavery and child prostitution, and I hope you are. (One great organization to give to on this is The International Justice Mission www.ijm.org). And certainly there are examples closer to home as well, but my main point is that we try to justify our own outbursts as righteous anger, but really we are kidding ourselves.

Instead the Bible issues many warnings about anger. A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11). An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. (Proverbs 29:22). Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22: 24-25) [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5) My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

So even though I'm not usually much of a hothead, I now realize I've been misconstruing the real issue. If we look at ourselves honestly and with the right standard -- provided by Jesus himself -- I think we all have some tendency toward anger. So what's the cure? C.S. Lewis said, "The surest means of disarming an anger...[is to] start examining the passion itself," and Dunnam and Reisman suggest exploring what your feelings of anger really tell you about yourself. These are good starting points. You can also meditate on the verses above, and like everything else in life, you can pray about it.

In closing, here is a great thought to consider: "The size of a man can be measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry." (author unknown).

I hope that you are spurred, as I am, to make sure that thing is not small.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

In my last blog I told you that I am studying the seven deadly sins as part of the C.S. Lewis Institute fellows program. Even though I've gone to church my whole life, and spent the last ten years seriously pursuing a relationship with my Lord and Savior, I have never before taken a hard look at the seven deadly sins. And yet I am more and more convinced that talk of love and grace without acknowledgment of our own sin trivializes the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. As one scholar rightly asks, "What had we thought the ripping and writhing on Golgotha were all about?" (Plantinga, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be). His observation that the local church often ignores "the lethal reality of sin" resonates with me; he says the "sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting."

And I have to say, I am finding the study of the seven deadly sins to be a very fruitful endeavor. It is altering the way I look at myself, and the way I look at society as a whole. There is so much sorrow in this world. We rightly attribute much of our pain to natural causes, but we also allow individuals to escape blame for the most heinous of crimes. We reason that people with horrific backgrounds of abuse, neglect or other injustice cannot possibly be held accountable for their actions. But I believe this is a mistake. Let me be clear: I am not saying that experiences do not affect our behavior, they do. But even though we are uncomfortable with the topic, even though it's taboo in our politically correct culture, we cannot ignore that sin also plays a role. Sin is real and we are all masters at denying it. As we start to be more aware of its reality, we begin to see it as a major component of the sorrow all around us.

Although the sin of pride is usually listed first among the deadly sins, I'm going to close these seven blogs with pride and start with envy. There are many facets to envy, my Webster's Unabridged has three full paragraphs describing it, but simply put, to envy is "to feel resentful and unhappy because someone else possesses, or has achieved, what one wishes oneself to possess or to have achieved."

Have you ever felt that way? Of course you have, and so have I. It's a terrible feeling, and even though we don't go around admitting it (you hear people say they struggle with lust, with greed, with overeating, but when's the last time you heard someone say they struggle with envy?), but we are all guilty of it, some more than others. And all sins have built-in punishments, but the terrible thing about envy is that there is no pleasure in it, and yet it is insatiable. Even if you obtain the possession or the status that you envy, that is no cure--you'll just envy the next thing.

As Frederick Buechner says, "Envy is the consuming desire to have everybody else as unsuccessful as you are." But not only is envy consuming, it can lead to all kinds of other sins. Remember how King Saul envied David or how envious Joseph's brothers were of his special status in the eyes of Jacob? Where did their envy lead them? Not exactly to the paths of righteousness, right? So we're fooling ourselves if we think envy isn't a big deal. Envy impedes our ability to recognize the blessings that God has graciously bestowed upon us, and envy also keeps us from rejoicing in the blessings of others.

So what's the cure? Well, naming it is step one, but beyond that I'm certainly no expert. I just started studying this myself, remember? But from what I've read, here are some ideas:

  1. Take an honest look at your life, ask God to reveal to you where you have issues with envy;
  2. Then pray for confidence in God's Word, that in your heart of hearts you will rest in the fact that you are His unique creation and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made;
  3. Pray for the person you envy;
  4. Meditate on God's love;
  5. Know that love and envy are incompatible ("We cannot deeply love and at the same time envy, for in love we wish the very best for others." Dr. William Backus).




Monday, November 3, 2008

From Life to Entertainment

I've been reading a thought-provoking book entitled, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. A section of the book called "Amusing Ourselves to Death" has the following quote: "the value we place on entertainment suggests that it has become a diversion not only in the sense of a playful relief from the main business of life but also in the sense of a distraction from it, an evasion of it..."

Do you know people like this? People who seem to derive more meaning from watching others, than from living their own life? It's certainly nothing new to say that Americans watch too much television, but I do think it's interesting to consider why we are watching in the first place. Is it "playful relief from the main business of life"? Or have we let entertainment become a way to distract ourselves from our lives, or even evade our lives? Of course, TV isn't the only culprit. With the latest technologies a person can avoid even a second's reflection by taking their iPod everywhere they go. There are some wonderfully enriching and edifying options, and while I am thankful for these resources, the still small voice of God still cannot be found on iTunes. Another readily available distraction is this medium: the Internet. This is my biggest weakness. I can be pretty compulsive about it. And sometimes I sit down to do something very specific like pay a bill, and I get off on ridiculous tangents that consume way too much of my time. When one-year-old Sam toddles over and takes control of the mouse I know I've exceeded a reasonable limit.
I am currently doing the second year of a fellowship program offered by the C.S. Lewis Institute (find out more at www.cslewisinstitute.org). During year one of the program the fellows were required to do a time-audit. It was a useful exercise to take a candid look at how I spend my time. I highly recommend keeping a record for a few days, especially with regard to how much television you watch, how much time you spend on the Internet, how much time you spend in quiet reflection, and how much time you spend studying the Word of God. I need to do it again myself. Maybe, if I'm feeling brave, I will share with you just how much Internet time I log on an average day. The truth is I don't even want to know. It's not like I sit here for hours, but the two minutes here and ten minutes there really add up.

Of course, I have three huge reasons to be intentional about how I spend my "couple more soons" (see previous post if that doesn't make sense to you), and their names are Will, Nate and Sam. Obviously I want to spend as much time as I possibly can playing with them, teaching them, and loving on them, but what's more is that, just like all children, their behaviors are more caught than taught. And that means that I need to be ever-cognizant of all that I am modeling.

Sam is only nineteen months old, but I am continually amazed at what he has already caught. I don't wear makeup everyday and I only curl my eyelashes once in a blue moon, but if Sam gets into my bag of tricks (my sister Laurie's term) he holds the curler up to his eye! In fact, Sam somehow knows the proper use for each item in the bag, and has for months. And the sippy cups I use have a little rubber valve that fits into the top. It looks like a symmetric piece of rubber with two sides, but there is actually a right way and a wrong way. There is a tiny little arrow on the translucent valve that points to the right way and I usually hold it up to the light to see it. Sam loves to get into the dishwasher and fit the sippy cups together. He takes the cup, the top and the valve, and guess what he does with the valve? Yup, he holds it up to the light. Kind of freakish really. If we think anything is getting past our little ones we are mistaken.

But whether you have children or not, there are people watching how you live, and they are making judgments about how consistently your life aligns with what you profess to believe. How you manage your time is just one small part, but I believe it is an important part. And I for one can definitely do better.






Monday, October 27, 2008

What God Wants

One of my favorite things in the world is to sit and listen to my boys, Will and Nate, entertain themselves. Each finds the other to be an unparalleled comedian. Sometimes Sam is included in the revelry, and I'm sure hoping that one day he'll be a full member. But for now, most of their jokes are intended only for each other, and boy oh boy, do they get worked up into a laughing frenzy. Nate, in particular, sounds almost intoxicated by the hilarity of it all.

Sometimes I wish the whole of life was like that, yet I know that Jesus told us in plain and simple terms that we'd have trouble in this life. (John 16:33). Amazingly, His words are often ignored. Thousands upon thousands of people have been led astray by the prosperity gospel--the claim that God always wants you healthy and wealthy, that God always wants you in a Nate-like hilarious state-of-mind. Certainly, if that were true, Christians would be the healthiest, wealthiest people in town, and the envy of all their neighbors. People would probably start turning to Christ by the droves.

But how would God be glorified in that? People would be using God as a means to an end. It would be all about them and what they could get from Him. But that's not the way God works. The reality is that even though God often chooses to bless those who follow Him, even the most devout Christians experience extreme hardships and heartaches. It must grieve God greatly to see people embrace the prosperity gospel when it mars the whole purpose of Jesus' sacrifice. And why exactly didn't the prosperity gospel work for Jesus anyway?

My pastor, Lon Solomon, was speaking about this recently and he said, "sometimes God wants you sick." Now, that's a pretty hard-lined position, much different than what we often hear, that God allows pain in our lives, but does not will it. So I've been thinking about this, and talking with some friends about it. And in some respects I'm not sure, in our humanness, we can fully get our heads around it. God loves us, right? How could He want us sick?

However, in another respect it makes perfect sense to me. As C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, "Christ says, 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You...No half-measures are any good.'" But tidbits and half-measures are pretty much our nature, don't you think? We have to work at it if we really aim to give ALL to Christ.

Now look back at your own spiritual journey and ask yourself this question: Where did I most learn to trust God with my life? Was it when you were in green pastures walking beside still waters? I doubt it. It was in the valley of the shadow of death, right?

So if God wants us to trust Him, to cling to Him, to rest in the assurance of His love, and we best learn to do that in the valley, then why can't the valley be what God wants for us?

If sin had never entered the world, we wouldn't have any valleys. But sin did enter this world, and Christ told us we'd have troubles. So why not pray that we will learn all that there is to learn in our valleys, and then take heart and praise Jesus that He has overcome the world!






Monday, October 20, 2008

A Couple More Soons

Wednesday marks seven of the happiest years of my life. In some ways my little Will turning seven is a stunning realization of how quickly time passes, and yet in other ways pre-motherhood days seem like eons ago.

I've been reminiscing about Will, how sweet he has always been, what a kind heart he has, how he comes up with amazing ways to help me. On Saturday Will and I were in Subway with the baby. I was paying for our sandwiches and Will was by my side, but as I was waiting for change I realized he was gone. Then from the back of the restaurant I saw him confidently carrying a wooden high chair above his six-year-old head. He picked out a table and straightened the straps for me to easily load Sammy. What kind of angel boy does something like that?

But one of my favorite stories about Will, and there really are so many, happened more than four years ago. He jumped off the ottoman, and although x-rays didn't show any type of fracture, he was limping so much that the doctor casted him anyway. It was August-- an inconvenient time for a two-year-old to be dragging a cast around since all you want to do in DC in August is get wet. But he didn't complain. He would ask when he was getting his cast off, but it seemed more like a matter of curiosity than a pressing need. He was such a trooper.

As the time approached for him to get it off, I'd tell him, "only a few more days" or "pretty soon we are going to get your cast off."

The morning before the big day Will woke up, stretched out his little arms, flashed his magical smile at me, and declared, "only a couple more soons!"

What a great outlook! And really so applicable. The Bible likens this life to "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14 (NIV)) Life is indeed short. In contrast to eternity we all only have a couple more soons. Yet lately I've been feeling very sad about the divisiveness in our country, about the prevalence of hate and greed, and then I've been researching international adoption for an article I was working on, and learning about the needs of orphans around the world is incredibly sobering. I've been wondering if we should buy some big farm house in the country and adopt a dozen or so orphans. But I can't think of anything sadder than using up my mist, my couple more soons, worrying. I know God never wants me be to be anxious about anything--that it is never His will for me to worry.

Yesterday, my pastor, Lon Solomon (hear his remarkable testimony "A Story of a Changed Life" at www.mcleanbible.org), reminded us that God is sovereign. Isn't it interesting how we really do need to be reminded of the basics? I sat there and thought why have I been worrying so much? Is God in control or not? Such a simple question. Such a simple answer, and yet it lifts the world off my shoulders.

It also reminds me of a brilliant C.S. Lewis observation about having an eternal perspective. He said, "Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither." (Mere Christianity)

Let us rest in the fact that God is in control and let us always aim at Heaven.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Shrek Without the Yogurt

Did you know that Sleeping Beauty is about to be released again, or "brought out of the vault" as Disney is fond of saying? I hadn't heard, but my five-year-old, Nate, saw a preview the other day.

"Mom," he said, "there's a new movie coming out called Sleeping Beauty. It looks good. It looks like Shrek without the Yogurt."

I wrote it down that very minute, ensuring that statement will never be forgotten in the Jackson household. But of course, Nate is right. Sleeping Beauty is a lot like Shrek without the ogre. Well, except for the fact that Shrek is a spoof of Sleeping Beauty and all things Disney. Nate wouldn't know that it is, in fact, Shrek that is a lot like Sleeping Beauty, except they added the "Yogurt." Shrek is his standard, the standard of his generation. It is really quite a paradigm shift and it got me thinking about how things change.

Even in my lifetime, which I am reluctant to admit is closing in on forty years, things have changed dramatically. There's a steady evolution in the world of ideas, but there's also catalysts which cause a sudden push forward. When I was a little girl, there appeared to be a consensus, that while the truth may not always be easy to uncover, there was at least the possibility of its discovery. Slowly more and more people began to question the very existence of truth. By the time I was in college, the "everything is relative" mantra was pervasive. Those who held to absolutes were regarded with disdain. The enlightened abandoned even the language of absolutes. At least they claimed to. A close look reveals that most postmodernists cling to the absolute of tolerance, even though it is logically impossible for them to justify this internal inconsistency. If everything is relative, it doesn't make a lick of sense that anything is good or bad. So you can't pretend that tolerance is any different than any other moral judgment. If you want to be consistent you cannot say tolerance is good. It's all relative.

But postmodernists are hardly unique. It seems that most people are inconsistent. What we believe affects our behavior, yet often our beliefs fail to determine our behavior. Sometimes we act contrary to that which we profess to believe. The book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons is a modern commentary on how the life of the typical Christian fails to reflect Christian values, fails to even be distinguishable from the life of the nonChristian. And G.K. Chesterton summarized much of Kinnaman and Lyons' book a century ago: "The best argument against Christianity is Christians." In a similar way, the postmodernist (the person with the "it depends on what is, is" point-of-view) fails to live a philosophically consistent life. For example, how many postmodernists do you know who are unwilling to label the Holocaust evil? Yet the logical conclusion of a relativistic worldview actually necessitates the ridiculous claim that the Holocaust was neither bad nor good.

But the Holocaust was evil. And tolerance is good. In our heart of hearts we know that. As Lewis said, "The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other." (Mere Christianity).

So it is not very hard to get people to admit that there's a standard. After all, what sane person would really want to live in a moral vacuum, where life in a concentration camp and a life of freedom are equal? Reasonable people will admit there's a standard. They just won't necessarily admit there's a Standard Giver, and that's like Nate thinking it's Shrek without the ogre. Both represent myopic views that miss the big picture. Because there is no standard without a Standard Giver.

But even with a standard and a Standard Giver the picture is incomplete. The necessary element which fleshes out the masterpiece is Love. The Bible tells us that the Standard Giver is Love. He made you just as you are, and He loves you just as you are. And nothing you can do will ever change that. Now, that's absolute cause for praise. Hallelujah!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nice Mommy, Mean Mommy

On the way to school last week, my son, Will, spotted a house that was decked out with pumpkins, skeletons and spiderwebs. Will has a way of making dry yet amusing observations, especially for a six-year-old.

"I guess they're ready for Halloween," he said, without even a hint of enthusiasm.

But it got me thinking about the whole spooky season. I've always been puzzled by it. Not the dressing up as princesses and superheroes--there's no mystery there. I mean the let's-get-ourselves-scared-out-of-our wits aspect of Halloween.

When we lived in Florida we were blessed to have a pool in our backyard. We invented many games in that pool, but the boys' favorite game was Nice Mommy, Mean Mommy. This is a game whereby I would bounce around the pool with one boy in each arm, kissing them and saying, "Awww, nice mommy...sweet, sweet, mommy...so, so sweet..." Then with facial expression turning vicious and a little growl through clenched teeth, I'd declare, "Mean Mommy!" Then Mean Mommy would thrash about, splashing and dunking two hysterically laughing little boys. It is surprisingly difficult to laugh and swim at the same time, and so twenty minutes or so of this routine and we were all exhausted and ready for the hot tub. We played Nice Mommy, Mean Mommy a few times at our swim club this past summer, but really it is a spectacle best reserved for your own backyard.

And even Baby Sam likes games with an element of fear. Hide-and-Seek gets the most laughs when he is startled to find me. And Sam much prefers to have his chubby little feet bitten rather than kissed, and frankly I'm happy to do either all day long.

These examples are innocuous little tales about the entertainment value of anticipation, but I think there is something deeper going on as well. I believe we are innately attracted to a certain aspect of the dreadful -- this is hinted at in childhood but ripens as we mature. Consider the words of St. Augustine that were written nearly seventeen hundred years ago:

What is that which gleams through me and smites my heart
without wounding it? I am both a-shudder and aglow.
A-shudder, in so far as I am unlike it, aglow in so
far as I am like it.

Augustine is describing the holiness of God as terrifying, and yet also appealing. I won't pretend to have anything of Augustine's spiritual insight, yet I know what he means about the smiting and the shuddering. Have you ever had the feeling that even contemplating the Holiness and Perfection of God is too much to endure? It makes me feel like Adam and Eve in the garden -- like I need to run and hide.

So maybe the desire to be scared at Halloween can be explained, at least in part, as a perversion of our longing to experience the holiness of God. After all, a mere glimpse into His holiness is haunting. The great prophet, Isaiah, was petrified in God's presence, crying out "Woe to me! I am ruined!" (Isaiah 6:5).

In Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the novice demon is told that "everything has to be twisted before it's any use." And everything in this fallen world is twisted, isn't it? Even our cravings for the holy.

Boy am I thankful my little guys are still in the superhero phase!

Monday, September 22, 2008

This Ironic Paradoxical Life

Life is full of irony and paradoxes. My dictionary defines paradox as something that "seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth," and suggests that an "essential feature of irony is the indirect presentation of a contradiction between an action or expression and the context in which is occurs."

Whatever, right? Processing that is like brainy boot camp. I'm almost too intellectually fat and lazy to work through it. Yet I find it ironically paradoxical that Sam, in the wisdom of his eighteen months of doing life, fights so hard against sleep. The child is never ready for bed. I've spent hours upon hours rocking him, giving much thought to why. Why does he fight it? And I think I've come up with the answer. It's about control. We're born with an "I'm calling the shots" attitude. We have an innate confidence that we know what we need. The paradox is that it is only in surrender that Sam gets the one thing he really does need: sleep.

This little nursery phenomenon represents the human story. We go through life thinking we know what we need and how to get it. Our perceived needs evolve over time so there is an ever-present striving. Many think life is about sex, status, and stuff, but the satisfaction these bring is fleeting. The hedonist knows that he will always need more pleasure, the billionaire CEO isn't satisfied by status (see Oracle's Larry Ellison), and things always fail to fulfill (See previous post, You, Happier.). Our real needs are to know where we came from, what our purpose is, how we are supposed to live, and what happens when we die. Written in our DNA is a need to explain the evil that is in this world, a desire for justice, a hunger for love, and a yearning for forgiveness. You can search the world over for answers to these questions. Different worldviews and religions offer different answers, and some can be very appealing. But Jesus Christ is unique in all of history because no other worldview or religion addresses all of these needs. (Ravi Zacharias often speaks to this. Learn more at www.rzim.org).

But just think about it. Jesus explains our origin, gives us transcendent meaning, provides a morality with which to live, and offers us eternal life. The Bible describes how evil entered our world and our hearts, it gives us guidance for how to mete out justice on earth and provides the hope of ultimate justice. The Bible also explains and satisfies our hunger of love. Finally, redemptive forgiveness is found in the person of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice not only pays for our sins, it obligates us to forgive one another as we have been forgiven.

So Jesus isn't a set of rules. He's an answer to the longings of our hearts. In fact, Jesus is THE ANSWER. And how do we take hold of Him and his gracious offer to satisfy our deepest needs? Just like Sam, only in surrender.

After thinking about this I've come up with my own definition of paradox. It is something that is true, but in our subjective analysis seems contradictory. It doesn't seem like surrender could possibly be the answer, but it is. It doesn't seem like God could be both three and one, but He is.

The fact that our "fallen little minds" (a favorite Joe Stowell line) can even recognize any paradox illustrates that there is something beyond our subjective comprehension. We operate in the dimensions of this world, but many things, including paradoxes, point to a dimension we don't yet understand.

Someday Sam will recognize his need for sleep. He won't fight anymore. And someday I'll understand how it is that God is three and one. Until then I've got faith that I know what's best for my son, and more importantly, I've got faith to believe that Jesus is God's Son.

Monday, September 15, 2008

You, Happier.

Last week I went in Best Buy with a broken camera and a broken cell phone, and an hour later I walked out with...a broken camera and a broken cell phone. Actually it wasn't their fault, and it wasn't merely that three wild and destructive little guys were in tow. Something about contracts and upgrades, and finally "oh fooey, I'll have to come back." But since the four of us spent a good sixty minutes in there, I had ample opportunity to consider the banners hanging from the rafters. You, Happier.

Do you think stuff from Best Buy will make you happy? The latest greatest gadgets, and the turbo fastest, blu-ray, bluetooth? Will that make you happier? And by the way, I know there's not really a blu-ray bluetooth, at least not yet. What I'm saying is that although it might seem silly--gadgets having anything to do with happiness--those banners wouldn't be there unless some marketing guru and some not so meager focus group agreed the "You, Happier." campaign works. Major corporations like Best Buy don't often make New Coke mistakes. New products and marketing strategies aren't just thrown into the marketplace to see if they stick. Somebody somewhere has analysis that proves just how effective those two little words are.

And maybe it's not so silly anyway. After all, who doesn't want to be happier? All of us have a longing in our hearts for more. The rub lies in identifying more of what. And oh how glorious to know what it is not! And it ain't stuff. I've lived among some very well-to-do people--Washington attorneys, lobbyists, and overachieving physicians--the kind of people who have gadgets coming out of their ears. From my experience the relationship between stuff and happiness may actually be inversely correlated. The more stuff you have, the less happy you are. Certainly, it's not a hard and fast rule. There are some happy people who have lots of things. And I'm not exactly techno-deprived myself. But as much as I use and appreciate my iPod and my cell phone and my laptop, these are mere conveniences. They have nothing to do with my happiness.

My joy is derived from purpose, not possessions. And I believe every person's purpose is the same: to glorify God, our loving Creator and enjoy Him forever (See Westminster Shorter Catechism). He's given us different gifts (Romans 12: 6), and so the ways in which we glorify Him are as varied as we are, but what joy, what energy to do whatever it is you and I were created to do. And what futility to pursue possessions as a means to anything more than a pile of stuff.

So, You, Happier.? Not at Best Buy, not apart from God.

The words of Lewis on this issue are hard to beat:

"God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." (Mere Christianity)

Or perhaps even better:

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (The Weight of Glory)

Amen. Let us aim beyond best buys and mud pies!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Kiss of Grace

The prodigal son is one of my favorite Bible stories. It is so rich that it seems there's a fresh insight every time I read it or hear it taught. If you haven't read it recently, and by recently I mean sometime today, take a minute and savor it. (Luke 15:11-32).

Could there be a better picture of grace? There's just something ingrained in us that gravitates toward hearts that forgive, toward souls that love regardless of performance. Does it melt your heart that the father sees him while he is still a long way off? And when he spots his son he takes off running to meet him. Running. Have you ever seen a middle-aged man running to greet a son? I never have. I've witnessed reunions of families I do not know in airports. My eyes have stung to see a father cling to his son, so proud, so filled with joy to fold him into his arms again. But none of us has ever witnessed a reunion like Jesus describes.

First of all, I don't know anyone who demanded their inheritance early, received it without reservation, and then squandered it in Vegas. And in our humanness it is very difficult to imagine that when the What-Happens-in-Vegas-Stays-in-Vegas dude crawls home to Daddy he receives a warm reception, a downright bash thrown in his honor. No questions asked. No condemnation. No disapproving looks. No lectures. We cannot fathom it because it is not a human story.

It is a supernatural story about divine grace. We are the lost children. God is the loving father, watching for us, waiting patiently, spotting us while we are yet a long way off. He runs to us, and even when we've made a total mess of our lives, His heart is filled with compassion. It doesn't matter what we've done, what we've squandered away, He throws his arms around us and He kisses us.

Even though the parable is primarily about our relationship with our Heavenly Father, there is much we can apply to our earthly relationships. It was pointed out to me the other day that the father in the parable kisses the son before the son even has a chance to give his spiel about sinning against heaven and his dad. Isn't that indicting? What if the next time someone wrongs you, you kiss them and throw your arms around them even before they have a chance to explain themselves. In fact, how about just once forgiving someone without a single condition, without a single demand. Now, that's grace. Isn't it fun to think about how that person would react?

By power of the Spirit, I am determined to try it. I'll let you know how it goes.

And even though I never can get any of you to comment, I sure would love to hear about your own kiss of grace.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Viva La Vida?

So I admit it I'm a Coldplay fan. Worldwide there must be about a half billion of us, but unlike a lot of bands that command such a fanatical following, this British sensation really does make great music. Their rhythms are original and catchy, and I guess maybe their lyrics are good too. I'm just not much of a lyrics person--unless it's a lyrical disaster akin to Phil Collins' Groovy Kind of Love, which is too painful to ignore--mostly I don't even listen to the words. I just hum along or make up my own lyrics, which are sometimes quite similar to the original and sometimes, to the irritation of those around me, rather dissimilar. I know, I know. Poor Will, and he's such a lyrical purist.

But sometimes I wonder what subliminal messages I'm picking up with all my nonlistening. For example in Coldplay's recent number one, Viva La Vida, I know they are saying something about Saint Peter, but what? As you may know, the album's full title is Viva La Vida Or Death and All His Friends. Evidently, the members of the band were going for a sort of bipolar mood, attempting to reflect the ups and downs of life. The upside is the song Viva La Vida, Spanish for long live life, the downside is...well, obviously Death and All His Friends, a ballad about ill-fated love. Life and Death. You can't be more polarized than that. And even in the life song, the words belie hope: "For some reason I can not explain I know Saint Peter won't call my name."

Wow. I guess if one knew Saint Peter wasn't calling their name, they sure would want to "long live life," so the album title is certainly apt, but how sad. So much of my purpose, so much of my hope, so much of who I am is derived from this very issue: For many reasons I can explain Saint Peter is calling my name.

Is he calling yours?

This blog is about spurring each other on to greater love and good deeds, but did you know love and good deeds are irrelevant when it comes to eternal life? I mean completely irrelevant. You can no more earn your way to heaven with good deeds, than you can drive there. The only way to heaven is to "confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead." (Romans 10:9 NIV). It is so simple a child can understand, and by God's grace, I have two that do. Working your way to salvation is impossible, and God in His mercy, has provided such an easy answer. Unfortuately, some people refuse to accept that it really is that easy. But if God loves you, and He does, why would He want it to be hard?

John 3:16 says whoever believes in Jesus "shall not perish." Now that's my kind of Viva La Vida!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Pillow Principle

A few weeks ago a babysitter put my children to bed while my husband and I enjoyed a picnic dinner and concert at Wolf Trap. A DC summer is incomplete without at least one visit to this amazing venue (check it out at www.wolf-trap.org). But when I got in bed, The Black Crowes still ringing in my ear, my most beloved pillow appeared to be missing. It is important to know that this pillow has been a part of my life for more than thirty years. Originally a fluffy down pillow, it is now flat as a pancake and easily folded into my suitcase wherever I go. I've wondered whether any pillow, save one of the airlines' sorry little numbers, has ever logged more miles than mine. It has been to Europe twice, Canada, and Mexico. It has cruised to the Bahamas, once in 1985 and again twenty-one years later. And that's only its international travels. Goodness, I sure hope this post doesn't prompt the CDC to confiscate it, because although I admit it is a little peculiar, maybe even a teeny bit unsanitary, I love this pillow.

So I drifted off to sleep longing for the malleable coolness of my beloved, contemplating doing a full search, but fearing that little ones would wake from the ruckus. In the back of my mind I think I already knew that little Will had taken it. In the morning he received a full interrogation.

I should have asked about the babysitter, how the night went, if the baby cried, but I couldn't help myself. When little Will appeared at the bottom of the steps my first words were, "Did you take my pillow?"

He grinned from ear to ear, quite satisfied that the coup had been successful.

"Please don't take it, again," I warned.

"Well, I love it too," he said with his palms up and out in indignation. "Why can't I have one? Can I get one for my birthday?"

Poor thing he doesn't understand it can't be bought. Only thirty years of reckless devotion and fanatical use could reproduce it. It is one of a kind.

But it means the world to me that he loves it. I find it oddly affirming and bonding--this shared love for my pillow, especially since he and I are the only ones that seem to recognize its beauty.

Last week I had the immense privilege to vacation at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference on Lake Michigan. (www.vacationwithpurpose.org) I saw seven magnificent sunsets in seven days, each painted with different shades of pink and purple and blue. I also heard the president of Cornerstone University, Joe Stowell speak (www.getmorestrength.org), and he made a very simple, yet profound statement. He said that we care about what people we love care about. Stowell didn't say so, but really it's the Pillow Principle. It is rejuvenating and edifying when people you love are enthusiastic about something dear to your heart, even when that thing is a nasty old pillow. And the converse is also true: the absence of enthusiasm can be deflating, especially when your loved one is never or rarely jazzed about the things that get you jazzed.

So what's the lesson? Should I expect my husband to all of a sudden love my pillow? No, of course not, we don't need to feign enthusiasm, but we can be cognizant of how meaningful it is to share genuine enthusiasm. My husband is already looking forward to football season. He greatly appreciates my shared interest, my willingness to park beside him on the couch and cheer on the Philadelphia Eagles. Would I watch the Eagles if it weren't for Will? Probably not, but I love him and I care about what he cares about.

But the Pillow Principle is actually a lot more than just sports and idiosyncratic fixations, it's biblical. In John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times, "do you love me?" Peter assures Jesus that he does, and each time Jesus follows Peter's assurance with a command to feed and take care of His sheep. It is somewhat of a cryptic exchange, especially given the unique history between Jesus and Peter, but Joe Stowell helped me see that what Jesus is really saying to Peter is, "if you love me, you'll take care of my sheep." Who are His sheep? People.

So just like Peter, there is an implicit command in loving Jesus. If we truly love Jesus, we will care about what he cares about. And Jesus cares about people! All people. Do you?

Let me just say that when I pose this question to myself, my heart cringes. I know it's a work of the Spirt, but somebody spur me on!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Message

I've heard people say that in every oral communication there are at least three distinct messages. There is the message the speaker intends, the message actually conveyed, and the message the individual hears. I recently saw the truth of this principle when I took my three little boys to Fort McHenry, a lovely national monument about an hour from our home. Fort McHenry is where Francis Scott Key penned the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, and our visit there was quite educational. I had always thought our anthem was written during the Revolutionary War, but now I know better and my little boys know better. It was written in 1814, during the Battle of Baltimore when the British attacked Fort McHenry.

I have to admit that I was rather pleased with myself and with them that afternoon. On our drive home Will, who is six, and Nate, who is four, were spouting out all manner of facts and figures regarding the War of 1812. The recitation put Baby Sammy to sleep, but I had a surge of pride over my budding history buffs, and found their level of interest, and seeming comprehension, remarkable.

But then came bedtime. Nearing tears Nate told me he was afraid to go to sleep because “those bad guys with the cannons might come back.”

“You mean the British?” I asked, trying not to laugh too uproariously.

Nate nodded gravely.

"Sweetheart, there is absolutely no chance of the British attacking us again,” I offered.

But big brother found my assurances wanting, wholly inadequate. “Nate,” he said, tenderly, “don’t you remember? The Americans won. The British can’t attack us again. We killed them all.”

So much for history lessons! I've laughed and laughed about it, but could the message received be more different than the message intended? And how often do we fail to discover that the little ones in our lives, or even the adults, have so miscontrued our message that they effectively believe we've wiped out the British race?

Isn’t it astounding what poor communicators we are? I mean we do it all day everyday, yet so few of us are much good at it. One of my favorite authors, C.S Lewis, once wrote that “to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” But it is often an elusive joy, isn’t it?

I think that's the treasure of good friends--an implicit agreement about the art of words, a shared joy over their meaning. When we muse in a self-deprecating way about life, a friend laughs. But there’s always a danger that a person still outside that lexicon barrier will say “awww,” and rob you of all the joy your words intended. And nothing ruins a funny moment like pity. For example, when I joke about proudly wearing a fabulous new sweater only to find at the end of the day that the strip of plastic identifying the size was never removed, I don’t want someone to think the Large, Large, Large, Large, Large I was branded with all day is sad. I want them to join me in finding it hilarious, absolutely side-splitting that I could do such a thing…AGAIN!

And when you tell a friend that you’re stressed or tired, they know just what you mean, whereas between strangers, these are very subjective standards. You need to know tolerances, personalities, even sleep patterns, to rightly associate the real meaning of such labels. It can take a long time, a lot of interactions to come to mutual understanding, a consensus about words.

It shouldn’t be too surprising then that relationships, especially new ones, can sometimes feel like work. But the payoff, the wonder of being understood, is a sweet reward so be willing to work at it, be willing to suffer through all the misunderstandings. Reflect on the fact that you sometimes hear a different message than was intended, and that sometimes the message you send is not what is in your heart. Most of all, just keep trying, because that elusive joy is a wonderous joy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

SPEAK!

Only the Father of lies could come up with that old whopper about sticks and stones breaking bones but words being powerless to hurt us. Isn't it astounding that people bought into that one? I mean what an easy victory for the enemy! But even though it's been many years since I tried to apply that ridiculous little jingle to my tongue-induced wounds, I continue to be struck by the truth of the exact opposite message, the message of the Bible, the message that words are incredibly powerful, especially words that are spoken. (See Proverbs 16:24 and James 3:3-12)

I just finished Beth Moore's Believing God 10-week Bible study. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and it's available online. http://www.lifeway.com/believinggod/ Grab a few friends for accountability and do it! You won't be disappointed. The study is foundational and profound at the same time, which is truly a feat. The overarching themes are basic to the Christian faith, but Beth Moore takes it deep with probing questions and personal examples, and of course, the entire study is drawn from the Bible itself.

One of my favorite parts of Believing God was on the power of the spoken word. She said, "I believe, therefore I speak." Again, it is simple, yet profound. It really got me thinking about how little I talk about what I believe. Sometimes my reluctance stems from the fact that I don't want to hold myself out as example, "prone to wander" as I am. But that's another great tool for the enemy. After all, if we waited until we were perfect to share our faith, no one would ever share anything. And as Ravi Zacharias is fond of saying, Christ didn't die to make bad people good, but to make dead people live! So I'm embracing a new willingness to share my faith and God's great faithfulness to me. Hence, this here blog!

But the power of words isn't just a spiritual principle. I mean of course God spoke creation into existence, and as Romans 10:9 states, I'm saved by confessing with my mouth that Jesus is Lord, but the spoken word also gets you married. It is with your voice you plead guilty or innocent in a court of law. With my voice, my spoken word, I became a member of the Virginia bar. At our baby dedications, I promised with my voice to raise the boys in a God-fearing, Christ-centered home. We take oral agreements very seriously. We may commit the most binding contracts to writing, but when someone goes back on their word, we feel a keen sense of disappointment.

Even in day to day life the spoken word has a mysterious strength that the written word lacks. We sign our most insignificant notes and emails with love. Yet how often do you tell that same person that you love them? I know you can picture a thank you note that says something like "Love, Sally," and yet you are certain Sally has never told you that she loves you. And how great is it to hear, instead of read, that someone loves you. Are there warmer words in the English language than "I love you"?

So it might be a bit ironic that the topic of this first-ever blog is the power of the spoken word, but I am praying that this writing will encourage you to think about the power of the words you speak. Maybe you will even call Sally and tell her that you love her.