Monday, December 5, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Why do Christians say: Blessed?

If you have spent much time in the genial South, you've probably heard "Bless her heart" as a prelude to gossip. It might as well be a curse. God protect this person, and my soul, because I'm about to share something awful, or private, or that may not even be true.



We Christians use the word bless a lot. We bless people when they sneeze to be polite, but it started as salutation to acknowledge that someone had just expelled a demonic presence from their body.

Christians tend to misuse the word bless. To hear us speak, anything with the appearance of good is a blessing, and anything resembling hardship is a lack of blessing.

But that's not actually what the Bible says.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 5:3
What on earth does that mean? Aren't Christians supposed to be rich in spirit; don't you "saved" people claim to be full of the Holy Spirit?

But that's just it. In order to make room for the Holy Spirit, I have to recognize that my own spirit is bankrupt. Without currency. No matter how rich I am by the world's standards, I can't buy property in heaven. I come before God empty and He blesses me by paying my way back to Him. Blessings beyond measure!
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Matthew 5:4
I don't know about you, but I don't like to mourn. I don't want to grieve. Yet the Bible calls it a blessing when I do, because then I can be comforted. Not by friends patting me on the back or dropping off casseroles. By the Holy Ghost. Comfort from within that doesn't tapper off as time passes. That is there no matter what time of day or night, even if I can't utter a sound. Such comfort that Jesus called it a blessing to mourn in order to receive it.
"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth."
Matthew 5:5
Some translations use the word "meek" in place of gentle. My first thought is "oh great, that wouldn't be me." Take heart, dear strong-willed fellow sojourner! HELPS Word-studies says:
"Biblical meekness is not weakness but rather refers to exercising God's strength under His control - i.e. Demonstrating power without undue harshness."
Under His control. With Him, it is possible to be powerfully gentle. Rather than the mousy wall-flower backed into a corner at the high school dance, I picture the woman on the prow of a ship ... steady, unmoved, not afraid of the wind and the waves raging around her. But it isn't the sandwich-board evangelist shouting doom from the street corner at every passerby. For me, it brings to mind a picture a friend posted a couple of years ago. When pro-life protesters in Austin wore red tape over their mouths with the word "LIFE" written on it. With angry insults and indignation swirling in a tempest around them they stood, brave, powerful, and silent. Meek. Gentle.

The beatitudes (as these verses are called) continue and I will wait until next week to explore the rest. For today I leave you with the idea that while the physical provisions we have, the unexpected abundances, the appreciation for hard work, and our families are all blessings ... perhaps we need reminded that the blessings promised in the Bible don't always look quite like that.

If you are in need, feel empty, are mourning, or feel like you aren't doing big, bold things for the kingdom ... take another look through the lens of these verses. Perhaps it isn't that God hasn't blessed you with the answers to your prayers. Perhaps you are blessed because your reward isn't here yet.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Softly Call

Let me tell you a story about Aggies.

They say from the outside in, you can't understand it. And it is true. Almost any university has a sense of school spirit, but there is something different about being an Aggie.



In 1999, I was a junior. I was struggling. I had been a straight A student in high school, and I rarely studied. Even my first year at A&M was mostly review since I had taken advanced courses as my electives as I finished my K-12 education.

But that fall, I was what my Dad calls "a good Aggie." I didn't drop my classes to avoid the blow to my GPA. I stuck to it, even when I knew I wasn't going to pass - even if I didn't miss a single question on the final exam. Why would I do that? I knew I was going to be retaking the classes and wanted to learn as much as I could so that I could do better the next time.

It was hard. I was having to learn to study. On the night of November 17-18 I was studying. I had a microbiology test coming. I was failing miserably in the lecture portion even though I was acing the labs.

One thing I had learned was that I'm easily distracted. So I would go to Evans library, immerse myself in the stacks, find one of those abandoned study carrels with the walls on three sides, plug in my portable CD player (usually with the Braveheart soundtrack spinning away) and block out the world around me.

That night, I was there until late trying to cram gram positive, gram negative, spirochete, bacillus, coccus, disease process, and carriers into my weary brain. I left to return to the duplex I shared with three other friends. I could have driven east from where the library sat near the center of campus, but I took a brief detour to pass stack. It was between 1 and 2 in the morning. There it was, brightly lit, students working 24 hours a day to prepare for our rivalry with t.u. A happy reminder that there is more to college than books.

The next morning, I awoke to tragedy that still rocks me to my core. Probably around the time I was finally falling asleep, stack fell. Students were being pulled from the huge logs that looked like so many matchsticks as the behemoth heap fell.

It has taken me nearly 17 years to learn that it is ok for me to grieve. I still struggle. I cried in the shower this morning, still fighting the guilt that I have no reason to weep. Anytime a helicopter passes overhead, I'm still taken back to the days following the fall. News choppers whirled overhead day and night and campus bristled with antennas as the country watched our personal tragedy like a spectacle, tut-tutting in their safe newsrooms about our traditions.

I didn't know any of the 12 who died personally. Someone from my microbiology class of 500 students was among the injured, but I couldn't have picked him out in a crowd. Only one of my fightin' Texas Aggie class of 2001 was among those who died, but I didn't know him. How could I be so upset? Get over it! It isn't personal Amanda! My microbiology professor perpetuated these feelings by holding the exam despite the fact that many of us were reeling. I failed two classes that semester.

But we are Aggies. The Aggies are we. When something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Even students today feel the weight of what happened nearly a lifetime ago. It is ok, even right, for me to grieve fellow fallen Aggies.

I have attended two other schools since my time at Texas A&M, but I'm telling you there is something about us Aggies. You might not understand it, and I can't explain it to you. But I'm proud to be a part of the Fightin' Texas Aggie class of '01 ... and when softly they call the muster for my fellow Aggies, I will proudly answer ...

HERE.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Day in the Life - Rolled Away

A few days ago we pulled into a gas station, and a grackle was pecking around in front of our car. Shelby piped up from the back seat:

"God and Beast (our vehicle) will protect my heart in my tummy where that bird can't get it. It won't roll it away."

Um. Yeah. I mean, she is right ... the grackle wasn't going to roll away with her heart. I couldn't figure out why she would think that was a possibility?



One of my favorite words is "mondegreen." I love it because I LOVE misheard lyrics. And I love that the origin of the word IS a misheard lyric ... apparently there was a war lament that went "laid him on the green" ... but many listeners heard "Lady Mondegreen." Hence, mondegreen.

Not long later, Shelby started singing ... and the origin of the heart rolling grackle was revealed:

"Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away ...
And the bird took my heart and rolled away."

While I'll never really know exactly what was going through her head thinking we were singing a hymn about a bird taking our heart, I figured out where she got it from.

She is SO smart and SO good at figuring things out ... I wish I knew her thoughts on this hymn
Part of the homeschooling curriculum we decided on is Bible, which includes music. On the way to gymnastics we often listen to the songs since we don't do school on Mondays. We had done that the morning of her grackle statement.

Last Friday we had BLTs for supper to celebrate Shelby's first three consonants!
One of the songs is the hymn "Rolled Away:"

Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away,
Ev'ry burden of my heart rolled away;
Rolled away rolled away, rolled away,
Ev'ry burden of my heart rolled away.
Ev'ry sin had to go 'neath the crimson flow, Hallelujah!
Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away;
Ev'ry burden of my heart rolled away!
- Walter D. Kallenbach 
Mystery, solved. This time.

(and if you're ever in need of a good laugh - search "misheard lyrics" on YouTube ...)


On another note ... her statement about the blessing of the protection of our monstrous 12 mpg vehicle was not lost on us that day. Less than half an hour after Shelby's statement, someone changed lanes into us at 70mph on highway 6 between College Station and Bryan. And bounced off the side of Beast. The girls have done more damage with rocks than that young, late-for-work driver did. She was ok too, thankfully.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Why do Christians say "everything will be ok?"

"Everything will be ok."

Has someone ever said that to you, and you felt like they were blowing you off? Not listening? Delusional?

Have you ever said this to someone? Because you meant well and didn't know what else to say? Because you believed it about their situation? Because you believe it about your own situations?

It's ok. I understand. I'm going to tread lightly here, but I'm going to tell you these things that have been laid on my heart for a few weeks now. It took me that long to digest them, turn them over in my hands, and try to take a look from as many angles as I'm capable of. No doubt I missed some.



If you aren't a believer, I'm going to attempt to help you understand why a believer may say this to you.

If you ARE a believer, I'm going to attempt to help you understand why sometimes this isn't helpful - and sometimes it isn't even true (blasphemy! I know, hang with me here, I'll explain).

For a believer, everything will eventually be ok. That doesn't mean in this life. That means in the end, THE end, the very end of everything, for a believer everything will be ok.

Even if things get very ugly in this life ... divorce, cancer, financial ruin, persecution, we can hold fast to the promise that this life is not the end.
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us." 
- Romans 8:18
Jesus overcame sin and death to give us a way to the Father. In the end, for a Christian, that is all that matters. Not what happens to us here. How we handle, our countenance during trials, our joyful acceptance and continued praise, points to our faith in Him and is our witness to His greatness even when He doesn't deliver us from our pain.
"In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world." 
- John 16:33
Because everything will be ok in the end, we can comfort ourselves with scriptures like the following:
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good ..." 
- Romans 8:28a
But carelessly tossing them for comfort to a lost soul is dangerous. It's like throwing someone a deflated life raft without telling them "Hey, this raft works great ... BUT you do have to put air in it first." Gee, thanks.
"...to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." 
- Romans 8:28b
In reality, for many believers things are NOT ok in this life. We should praise and thank God profusely when things work out well in this life. It is a blessing, not a right. The Gospel is not about worldly prosperity ... if you are poor or sick or unable to have children or lonely ... it doesn't mean your faith is weak or God doesn't love you as much as your healthy, wealthy Christian friend. It means He is working something eternal that you aren't going to understand yet, so you can praise Him anyways. It WILL eventually be ok.
"'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." 
- Jeremiah 29:11
For the believer, there is always hope.

Not so for the nonbeliever. The hope is there for them, a free gift, a gracious offering on their behalf. But if they have not accepted that gift ... they absolutely have no reason to hope.

Tim was reading me something a few days ago about a woman terrified that, because of the election results, her life was going to be shortened by 40 years due to climate change.

For a nonbeliever, this kind of fear is very real. If you choose to reject Christ, this life is as good as it gets. While I do not want to be cruel, I want to be honest enough to say that yes ... disease, famine, death should be as frightening as hell. Because that is what the future holds in the end without Christ.

That is a situation without hope.

Don't get me wrong ... this life can be so good! But there is MORE coming for believers than we can imagine!
So for me to toss a grieving, groaning, crying nonbeliever a nonchalant "everything will be ok" isn't helpful. Everything will be ok for me ... when Christ returns. If you continue to reject Him things will never be ok. And screaming, mourning, a bemoaning the hardships of this world is not uncalled for because this IS as good as it gets without Him.

This vibrant life is but a shadow of what is to come when we get to be face to face with God.
Even if you don't have hardship ... are the fame, fortune, titles, career ladders, bank accounts, vehicles ... do they feel empty? Are they fulfilling? If this life is going to be as good as it gets, and those things aren't filling you up ... it might be a good time to at least consider if that is how all of this really works. Because without Jesus nothing will be ok.

Friday, November 11, 2016

End Your Week Well: Gear Up - Shield of Faith

After a brief break, I'm now ready to address part four of six on the armor of God. The shield of faith.

Faith is my go to answer when things get ugly. Or when things are good. When making a decision. When facing changes. It is my strongest spiritual gift ... which at first disappointed me. Faith? What do I do with faith? Craftsmanship, teaching, exhortation, healing ... those are all DOING something! What can I do with faith?

It turns out, everything.


"in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
- Ephesians 6:16

Not just arrows ... flaming arrows. Arrows that not only pierce but burn, smoldering and wounding from within after piercing armor and flesh.

Arrows of doubt, that threaten to pierce the heart and undermine everything you believe.

Arrows of anger, that burn white hot and blind us to the healing power of forgiveness not only for the object of our rage but for ourselves.

Arrows of division, that cause us to lose sight of our real enemy and strike out at one another.

The shield of faith is held out before us ... away from our bodies, and Ephesians doesn't just say that it knocks these arrows from the air ... it extinguishes them. Rendering them harmless and ineffective.

Our Sunday School class is currently studying a book by Mary Jo Sharp entitled "Resilient Faith" and I feel blessed to have run across this portion while thinking and praying over this blog post:

"We tend to look to faith as a last resort when all else fails. This is backward! Faith should come first." 
- Mary Jo Sharp, Resilient Faith, p. 9
Like a shield! Why is faith a shield? It should come first ... it should go out before us and eliminate some of our enemies attacks before we even draw back our sword to fight.

In fact, our faith alone affects our salvation. Not how we fight this spiritual war. Not what deeds we do on earth. Not who our family is, how we raise our children.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
-Ephesians 2:8
In effect, our shield of faith goes before us and reminds the enemy this battle is already won. It should remind us that the battle is already one. Stand tall, brave soldier. Like Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land ... you already know the outcome! Put that confidence out in front of you and storm in through its wake!


"Your faith has saved you.
-Luke 7:50, Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:34

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Day in the Life - I won't poke her eye ... anymore

The weekend before last, our new niece (my first niece!) and the girls' new cousin arrived a bit early!

I got to hold her too
Victoria talks about her a lot, but one thing she keeps saying is "I won't poke her in the eye anymore."

Maybe we warned her too specifically about being gentle? For the record, I'm fairly certain Tori didn't poke her in the eye any during their brief first meeting. I was nervous as she was touching her head, but she was really very gentle about it.

Dude, Tori, GiGi, Brooklyn, and a subdued Shelby (notice the post-Halloween shoes)
Tori does have a bit of a thing about poking eyes. I blame a counting game I sometimes let her play on my technology. You have to poke number-shaped monsters in their appropriately numbered eyes to wake them up. She has poked me in the eye several times ... she thinks it is a big joke and a fun game.

Lets face it ... she thinks almost everything is a big joke and a fun game unless it happens to her.

But I'm relieved to know silly, laughing Victoria doesn't plan to poke cousin Brooklyn in the eye.

Friday, November 4, 2016

End Your Week Well - Rest

Last week the girls and I went to visit GiGi and Dude (my parents).

We ended up skipping a couple of days of school and I ended up skipping a couple of blogs even though I was in the middle two series. Even today, I'm taking a break from writing about the armor of God.



It's ok to take a day off. In fact, God commands it:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work ...
- Exodus 20:8-10a
A few weeks ago our Sunday School class had a discussion about the sabbath. This was a touchy subject for me, because some define the sabbath as a certain day of the week. When Tim was a first responder, there were those who felt he should pick another career simply because his required him to work on Sunday.

So ... accidents can't happen on Sunday? Or God doesn't want any Christians helping others on Sunday? I fail to believe that. I didn't feel that way then, and I don't know.
"Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a sabbath day?
- Luke 14:5 (Jesus Himself)
In fact, the Bible warns us not to bicker and be consumed with guilt over petty rules such as on which day to honor the sabbath.
"...no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day." 
- Colossians 2:16
But ... God did give us the example of the sabbath, and He did command the Israelites, and their cattle and their servants, and the alien among them, to rest one day out of seven. In fact, even the fields, vineyards, and orchards were to be allowed a rest one year out of seven (and Israel paid dearly for disregarding this part of the law):
"You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow ...
-Exodus 23:10-11a
As with the rest of God's laws ... He wasn't commanding us to do things just because He could. He isn't trying to prevent us from 'being ourselves' or 'having any fun' ... He doesn't want to prevent us from being productive. God gave us the law because He, as our creator, knows what is best for us. Similar to a parent but even better. Tim and I make rules for the girls based on what we THINK is best, but we are merely raising them - we didn't create them. God is infinitely more trustworthy than us as earthly human parents in vessels of breakable, brittle clay.

As busy as our children are - sometimes they are prime examples of rest
This is a struggle for me. We live in a world where productivity is king ... enamored with efficiency we invent ways to use the time that we've saved. In the work world, productivity means money, and money means security and power. As a society, we have spat upon rest in favor of chasing idols.
"The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.
- Mark 2:27 (Jesus again)
God didn't command the sabbath simply to bring glory to Himself. He commanded rest because He created us to need it. We need rest.

Tori takes a lot of "feet up" selfies - I adore them
WE NEED REST. It is OK to rest. It is GOOD to rest.

When we are chasing after greedy idols that demand busy-ness from us ... we aren't trusting God. We aren't trusting that He knows what we need, and we aren't trusting that He will provide during and despite those fallow times.

So, despite my strong drive to adhere to the schedules I've created for myself ... for homeschool, for my writing ...

It is ok to take a day off. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.