Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Apple Muffins and the Work of the Invisible

I was born and raised in Rhode Island, the tiniest state in the union. If you are from New England or have ever visited there, you know that coffee shops hold a prominent place of importance; the drive through lines stretch twice around the building and everyone is addicted to that delightful, splendid caffeinated drink. Even those who don’t really like coffee, hold Dunkin Donuts cups, just as a sense of style. ;-). One of the clearest childhood memories I have is of going to a place called Mister Donut with my Mom and my sisters and sometimes with my Dad. When I went with my Dad, I usually had whatever he did (except if he occasionally chose the coffee roll, of course—that decadent dessert was reserved for adults, not children—that was an unspoken understanding ;-)). My Dad was not a big dessert eater—he would drink pots and pots of coffee—but he would usually order one chocolate frosted donut as his snack, and I would happily imitate him on the few occasions that we went.

But with my Mom, a single baked good comes prominently to my mind—the rectangular apple muffin. I would almost always order this with her. We had a tradition, a habit that my Mom kept for quite a few years while we were little girls. My Mom would drive in our old car to a local library with us girls in tow. There, we would sit –usually in the basement where the children’s section was—for hours with my Mom after we picked a huge pile of books for her to read to us on those squashy bean bag cushions. I can still smell the scent of the old historic George Hail Library in Warren, RI and see in my mind the stuffed animals (taxidermied) that were used oddly as decorations there! My Mom would read book after book to us as we sat enraptured by the stories within their pages. We usually went once a week and literally stayed for hours.

Afterward, she would take us to that place called Mister Donut (now a Dunkin’ Donuts) and after ordering we would file into the orange plastic booth to eat our muffin and to drink a little cardboard container of milk (you could even have coffee milk back then–the official Rhode Island drink--in a little cardboard milk box). It was always a muffin after our library trip, as my Mom considered a muffin healthier than a donut for lunch (at least in theory ;-)). I would almost always have the apple muffin—all of their muffins were baked in a rectangular shape back then, and they would heat them up with butter and put them on a little white plate that needed to be returned to the desk afterward. Not as many things were “disposable” then. The apple muffin had caramelized apples on the top, the kind that must have come out of a can. And I would almost always have that kind of muffin—once I find something that I like, I usually stick with it—I am still this way!

I realize now things that I didn’t realize as a child—that my Mom was investing in us. Her hours of reading were an investment into our lives and hearts. The library time was a special one, but every day at home, especially before we attended school, she would literally read to me and my sisters for hours each day consistently. I can still remember the old green chair that we sat on and the warm sunlight streaming in through the windows where we sat.

She was investing in us. She tells us now that the Lord had laid this upon her heart as she was bringing us up—to read to us like this. And now both of my sisters and I love books—one of my sisters is an English teacher and one is a writer; both use their gifts for the Lord Jesus and are devoted to Him.

It was an investment, a sacrifice. Did my Mom really want to sit for hours and hours every day and read thousands of books to her children? I’m sure that she didn’t always. But she was obedient to the Holy Spirit speaking to her heart during those important formative, growing-up years. She loved us deeply and wanted us to have a good foundation –and part of this foundation she believed, was a heritage of books.

More important to my Mom was that we had a spiritual foundation--not that we were "good" children, but my Mom had a deep desire for each of us that she verbally expressed, that we would love the Lord with all of our hearts and serve Him without counting the cost. This was ingrained upon my young heart even as a little girl and I knew that my Mom was praying fervently for each of her children while at the same time sacrificially investing in each moment of our lives. 

The Lord has given each of us a calling, a chance to invest in our children . . .  

As believers with children there is a universal calling given to each of us and this may manifest itself in different ways in each of our lives, but at the core is the same--to train up a child in the way he should go so that when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). We are also called to teach the ways of the Lord to our children though word and example. 

Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth. 
Deuteronomy 11:18-20 NKJV

We often place this calling into a "category," the "religious" one, among other things-- but training up our children in the ways of the Lord is to be part and intrinsic parcel of every step of our lives. When we have a living and breathing and active relationship with the Lord, this will be infused into all that we do and be poured into the lives of our children through our daily example. 

At times it is difficult--our flesh rises up and rebels against this kind of unhindered giving--we don't always want to keep a schedule, read another book, rock a sick child and sing to them into the wee ours of the night, give up our own plans and dreams in order to invest our time and energy into the lives of our children. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. 

But the Lord calls us to this kind of joyful, watchful, prayerful existence. And in a paradox, we are fulfilled through giving. It is a matter of surrender. It is the process of joy. 

How do we "invest" in our children? Here are several ways, among others, as the Lord reveals to each one's heart the leading of His Spirit as we love and interact with our children on a daily minute by minute basis and listen to His Spirit leading us--

We invest in them emotionally: We take time to listen to them, talk to them, look them in the eyes. We talk to them while they are playing. We pay attention to their emotional needs if they feel lonely, frightened, overwhelmed. We point them back to Christ and relate their "feelings" to His Word. When they are afraid at night, we pray with them, sit with them, and leave a night light on. When they are overwhelmed, we remind them that Jesus Christ is with them in whatever situation they are facing. When they are angry, we direct their anger to God's Word and point them to the way of forgiveness and mercy and of leaving their feelings and emotions in God's hands. 

We invest in them physically: We do things with them--sacrificially. We get off of our phone and play with them, read to them, show an interest in what they are doing and experiencing. We leave some of the chores undone for a few minutes to play a game on the floor with them, to play make-believe, to help them tie their shoes. We encourage them in the pursuits that they are gifted in, in their physical gifts and urge them to use these gifts for God's glory, according to His will--whether in sports, music, drama, etc. We pray with them about how the Lord would have them use these gifts. 

We invest in them spiritually: This is overarching and touches into all of life. It is vitally important and without it we have lost a sense of the majesty of God and His purpose and of His holding together of all things. Everything may be brought back to Jesus. We can pray with a child who has fallen off a bike. We can relate our trip to a yard sale and finding something that we needed to His provision. We can pray before we drive in our cars, asking for His protection and guidance each time we leave our driveway. We can learn memory verses with our children, we can have a daily devotional time with them. We can have a nightly time of prayer and Scripture reading as a family. We can listen to sermons on CD or through a different means at home or in the car (often we are surprised at how much even little children absorb!) The Lord will bring ideas to your mind as you seek Him in your life with your children. I have found that if I am too busy to seek the Lord in my day to day life with my children, then I am too busy and need to surrender something to the Lord and look at my priorities afresh. 

Again, God will speak to each one individually about how He would have each one personally invest in the lives of their children. Listen for His still, small voice and don't rely on all of the voices around you to tell you how to parent. Listen to His voice and to good, Godly advice, and life will become very simple. His will is not complicated, but it is often difficult, and it will require sacrifice and the deep surrender of searching our own hearts. It is worth it. 

When I was a senior in high school, a "dream" of mine came true. I was accepted into the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. I "dreamed" of becoming an English professor. I loved writing; I loved teaching. It is a long story, but the Lord led me down a very different path. And now, each day, I sit in a quiet house and home school my two little children in a very different place than the one that I dreamed of being in. We are told that we will not feel fulfilled unless we follow our hearts. I am a testimony that that line of reasoning is flawed. When we allow our hearts to lead us, apart from the Holy Spirit, we will always end up feeling empty. But when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead our hearts we experience the pathway of the greatest fulfillment and joy. The Lord replaced my initial desire that was not rooted in His perfect will for my individual life and showed me a pathway different than what I planned, a pathway that included raising up two little children to know and to follow Him. 

It is difficult to give up visible glory to pursue an invisible work--we all want to shine and to be noticed for what we are doing--that is part of human nature. And yet, Christ calls us to humble ourselves, to pursue His calling upon our lives with devotion to Him--to invest at times, in the invisible--trusting the end result to Him. This is what we do when we raise up our little ones (or in any other "invisible" work that Christ has called us to), leaving our own ambitions at the foot of the cross and giving into the life of another, into the next generation. 

There is joy in surrender. There is fulfillment in pursuing the will of Jesus Christ with all of your heart. The initial investment is costly, but it is worth it. When we really desire something precious and lasting, it is worth giving up all the gold in the world to obtain the pearl of great price. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Called To Accountability~Embracing the Principle of Admonishment

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
Proverbs 27:6 NKJV

There's a theme that is prevalent right now in many churches. It echoes on many of the women's blogs that I read; I hear it among my friends. Often, it even fastens itself within my own heart. 

That theme is: don't judge me

Don't judge my house, my appearance, my children, my car, my makeup, my dog, my fingernail polish. Don't judge the circles under my eyes, what my kids eat, whether or not I'm gluten-free, who I stand for politically, how I spell my name. 

Just don't judge me. Keep to yourself. Just let me live my life the way that I need to or see fit. 

Don't judge me. 

Some of these things are very insignificant and really don't matter eternally--but there is a deeper principle here, and one that has become rooted in the hearts of modern Christians. This principle of "don't tell me what to do--don't confront me--don't tell ME I'm doing something wrong"--on issues that really do matter and do carry eternal significance.   

Issues that the Word of God is very clear about . . . open sin or disregard for God's Word, hypocrisy, compromise, anything in our lives that brings dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ.

And when someone does, they are almost immediately labeled "legalistic" or "judgmental." 

I'm going to say something controversial here, but something that I believe is strongly Biblical and something that has been heavy upon my heart for a long, long time:

 We are called at times to confrontation. And many Christians will call us judgmental.

Not about nail polish, or makeup, or dog breeds, but about things that really do matter eternally. 

There is a principle in Scripture, one that is very barely spoken about, and that is the principle of admonishment

We are called to it. 

Admonish (definition--Merriam Webster): 

~to express warning or disapproval to especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner
~to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to 
~to say (something) as advice or a warning 

And there is a distinction made between making judgments on our brother or sister as if we are God and admonishing them, as  a fellow sinner saved by grace.

This distinction is very, very important. 

Admonishing is something vital within the Christian community whereas judging another believer in a way that sets ourselves up as better than that person is sin. 

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Matthew 7:1-2 NKJV

There are times when we need to keep our mouth shut and pray about a supposed problem that we see in a another believer--not ignore it, but pray. Christ does not call us to criticism but to intercession--

When we discern that other people are not growing spiritually and allow that discernment to turn to criticism, we block our fellowship with God. God never gives us discernment so that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.
~Oswald Chambers

And sometimes that intercession leads to this deeper principle of admonishment. 

Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. 
Romans 15:14 NKJV

Like it or not, agree with it or not, we are called to accountability with one another within the Christian church. The Scriptures are very clear about that--

but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 3:13 NKJV

When everyone within the Christian church is afraid of admonishing one another , we "exist" as a church in a murky mediocre puddle--and the Spirit of God is quenched. 

Truth carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation, but confrontation nevertheless.
~Francis Schaeffer

I really believe that this is why there is not more power in our churches. Because sin is so tolerated. We are all so busy with our own lives and problems and with our fascination with this principle of not judging anyone that we have  lost a sense of (as A.W. Tozer would put it) "the Holy." 

We are afraid to admonish, to gently warn. To turn someone and deliver them from sin--

let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
James 5:20 NKJV

This admonishment must always flow from a spirit of humility, of determined gentleness, of the desire for the other person's good and for purity in the church. It must flow from love--and from a deep longing for holiness in the church, something that has been greatly lost. 

Indeed, we are losing our sense of "the Holy," our sense of the majesty of God and the authority of Scripture over our lives. This is reflected in our attitude of tolerating obvious sin in our own lives and in the lives of others. The fear of God has been greatly lost--

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, “Be still and know that I am God,” mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century.
~A.W. Tozer

We are losing our sense of true community, of true Christian love, of God's grace through repentance and turning from sin. 

Revival cannot come without true repentance. Revival will not come until we renounce hidden sins and allow ourselves to be judged by God's holy Word, the thoughts and intents of our hearts laid bare before Him. Revival will not come until we regain our sense of the Holy. 

Here is another almost foreign principle in the modern Christian church--that guilt can be the goad that drives us to the cross. 

Guilt in and of itself can be toxic to our growth as believers. But the guilt that brings us to our knees and causes us to search our hearts before God can bring us to that place of humility before Jesus Christ that drives the spear into our sin and kills it. Guilt can drive us to our knees and be a help to grace. David speaks about this kind of guilt after he sinned with Bathsheba--the guilt that lead to repentance and restoration. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
The God of my salvation,
and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
O Lord open my lips
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. 
For You do not delight in burnt offering
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and contrite heart--
These, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:12-17 NKJV

How grateful I have been for this principle of admonishment in my own life! It brings a smile to my heart to think of how many times my Mom has said to me "I'm just throwing out warnings." (or something else along those lines :-) Her words and admonishment and advice have saved me 
through the Holy Spirit of God from making many, many mistakes in my life. I am grateful to her for warning me and giving me the opportunity to search my own heart and motives before God. Where some would call other Christian's admonishment in their lives, "judgmental," when it is done in a spirit of love and in a true desire for the other person's good and the glory of God, it brings hope and grace and as the Word of God says, may save someone from a multitude of sins. 

So don't be so quick to feel "judged" by other believers when they genuinely confront an area of your life that may be off course. In our parenting, in our day to day relationships, in our marriages--another believer may be offering hope, not judgement.

And even if they are judging you, offer them grace--the same grace that you have received. Search your heart before God and submit to Him . . . He will make all things plain when we sincerely seek Him. 

So go ahead--judge with righteous judgement--with the discernment of the Holy Spirit of God--admonish, rebuke, encourage, exhort. And above all, make sure that your own life is right before God--be as hard upon sin in your own life as you are in the lives of others. Because it starts there first. 

And embrace this Biblical principle of admonishment--because judgment, true, righteous judgement begins in the house of God. It will flow from obedience and humility. It will flow from a sincere love of the brethren. And it's eternal effect will be peace. 

I'm not a prophet of doom; I'm a prophet of love. But love will bid a warning doom to the children who play on the freeway. We need to wake up.
~Keith Green