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 ...


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.
" 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.
" 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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Day in the Life - Dreams in the Field

We just came back from visiting GiGi and Dude (my parents) so I missed a couple of posts. We all need a break sometimes, right? More about that on Friday ...

The other night at dinner, Shelby was telling us that she was going to have good dreams, but then bad dreams were going to come and take her good dreams. I'm sure I don't have this verbatim because she was talking very fast ... but Shelby has some ideas about how dreams work.

"Yes, I have a good dream but then a bad dream comes and TAKES it."

*insert swiping hand motion*

"Then I wake up and I say 'Oh, it was a dream. God, take it away.' Then God TAKES my bad dream (*insert hand swipe again*) and puts it in the grass."

Mommy: "God puts your dream out to pasture?" (Bad Mom Joke, I know. She didn't get it.)

"Yes, in the trees on the other side of the house. And it is in the grass and says 'Oh well.' Then it comes in my ear."

Mommy: "Your bad dreams come back through your ear?"

"Yes! And they come to my good dreams and take it away, take it away, take it away. Every night."

*said with hand uplifted and eyes rolled upward* Those pesky bad dreams.

If I'm understanding correctly, bad dreams live in the pasture on the other side of the house and come back at night to take good dreams away. Maybe if we go out there we can scare them away for good so they won't be coming back.

The funny thing is she didn't really seem all that bothered about this whole process.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Day in the Life: I'll just say I wasn't.

Our curriculum came with some fun little "games." They aren't necessary to learning, and I wasn't even entirely sure what they were ... but this is our first year and a kit sounded good.

It turns out, Shelby LOVES the games ... they're a type of immediate feedback, a visual and interactive reward. So I'm really glad we got them!

Last week I put one up that was a little city-scene with a road. It has several cars to choose from. I moved them along the spaces on the road as Shelby got answers right that day. I told her we'd pick a new car each day and she could race her previous days' cars. She LOVED that idea.

The first day, she chose a police car.

The second day, she chose a sporty red car. Because she's my daughter she calls it a Corvette. To her, every red car is a Corvette. But hey, she thinks I deserve one for my birthday so who am I to argue? She is a sweetheart.

So here we are, racing cars. When she passed her car from the day before, the police cruiser, I said "Uh oh, what if you were speeding???"

Shelby Hope said to me, quite matter-of-factly "I'll say I wasn't."

Heaven help us.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word: Why do Christians say "saved?"

If you didn't read my post from last Monday, you may very well be asking "Saved from what?"

The argument against humanism was that you can't better yourself. Because there is a better way.

Yet one of our human instincts that seems to set us apart from the animals is that we want to do better. This past week we've been reading about the point in Jesus' ministry where He is approaching the cross. Sweet, independent Shelby told us:

"I'll save myself."

She's only four. She's grown up immersed in Christianity and Bible stories. Yet there it is. We think we can save ourselves. We try to save ourselves. We make vows and promises and try to haggle with God. And at our worse we let go and even become something less than human. Sometimes that it what it takes to realize we do need saving.

After disappointing the rich young ruler with the news that what he had done was not enough, Jesus' disciples wanted to know just who CAN be saved, if we can't save ourselves:

"'Then who can be saved?' And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
- Matthew 19:25b-26
What Jesus meant is that we can't save ourselves. We can't follow the rules enough. They weren't made to fix our relationship with God ... they were made to show us it was broken. To break our hearts for what we have lost, what is missing, enough to send us searching for it.

So who CAN be saved? You. Yes, I may not know you but I can tell you that you CAN be saved.

"Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
-Romans 10:13
To some that doesn't seem fair. Some of the people who feel that way call themselves Christians, and some may be people who generally lead good lives and do good things and are generous to others. But our goodness is like dirty laundry to God.

It is so much better than fair. Fair is me paying the consequence, the price, for my sin. Death. Not just  the death of this finite body on this dying planet ... eternal death. Believe it or not, God isn't rubbing His hands together with glee waiting for you to mess up so He can strike you with a lightening bolt, like some cartoon Zues.

"... who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is on God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.
- 1 Timothy 2:4-6
God loved you, and me, and the rapist, murderer, child-molestor, genocidal-maniacal dictator ... He loved all of us fumbling, confused children enough to send His own Son, His perfect one, to do what we couldn't. To live a perfect life and trade His spotless record for our own. Instead of each of us paying our own pentality with our own death, His one brutal, humiliating, degrading, bloody death on the cross paid the price once and for all for anyone who would accept it. A better way. The ONLY way.

"'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' They said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved ...'
- Acts 16:30b-31a
When Paul and Silas stopped the Roman soldier from committing suicide ... thinking they had escaped from prison under his watch ... he saw something was different. He saw the power of their God to break their chains and the power of their faith keep them in place without them.

That is what my life is supposed to be doing for you. I can't live a perfect life, only Jesus did that. But I pray every day I am doing His work, the things only He can do through me, that someone watching me gets a glimpse of Him instead.

Because we all need a hero, and my life's work is to introduce you, and my children, to Him.

"... that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved ...'Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
- Romans 10: 9 and 13

Friday, October 21, 2016

End Your Week Well: Gear Up - Gospel Feet

"... having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (NASB) 
- Ephesians 6:15
Now, if you know me you know I love shoes. So forgive me if my analogy to this verse is about shoes.

One or both of my children may also be obsessed with shoes ... I was not involved in whatever happened here.
Imagine our unprepared soldier from the last couple of weeks ... we tied a belt around the flapping bathrobe and put Kevlar on because terrycloth never stopped much of anything aside from a chill.

I have house shoes ... but more often than not I forget them somewhere around the house (or they are painstakingly, tediously scooted to another place on feet less than half their size) and when I hop out of bed in the morning they are nowhere to be found.

Now imagine that you are meant to fight a battle AND run and spread news of this battle. On bare feet.

Ouch. I may be a farm girl, but I don't even like to walk out to the compost bin without some boots on. Much less wrest out the fight of my life or run to someone with good news.

Because, what is the gospel? It is good news! Good news of peace! We are not only preparing to fight a battle but preparing to spread the news of the peace that will follow when the fight is over!

Try to imagine, pre-iPhone, pre-75mph speed limit, that you have just heard the news that a deadly war is over. That your rescuer is coming. And you know there are people who don't know! You will want to run and tell everyone you can find! I don't know about you but I can't run down the road on bare feet.
"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!
- Romans 10:15
"How lovely on the mountainsAre the feet of him who brings good news,Who announces peaceAnd bring good news of happiness
- Isaiah 52:7
So how can we shod ourselves with the preparation of the gospel of peace?

Preparation ... we make ready. Readiness, to me, implies a certain confidence. So I'm picturing heels, because nothing makes me feel quite as confident as clacking loudly down a hall with my footsteps punctuated by the staccato of stilettos.

Readiness to defend. To defend the truth of the gospel. To defend in prayer against an unrelenting enemy. Ready as my trusty boots ... I can swish through tall grass without the fear of snakes. I can slog through mud without chilling my toes. I can dig in and not loose ground if I need to shoulder a heavy load or push something out of our way.

"... always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence ...
- 1 Peter 3:15
But when it comes time to run, tennis shoes is the only answer. A pair of well worn, but not worn out, shoes that won't blister my feet in the stiffness of not having been tried and tested, but which won't fall apart before I reach my destination.

"They will run and not grow tired,They will walk and not become weary.
- Isaiah 40:31
And yet, the gospel of peace is a comfort. When we are battle worn and weary, the gospel itself that is our inspiration to stand and fight and the very lifeblood pouring through our veins as we boldly speak its truth ... it is also our comfort, like a well worn pair of slippers, when the battle seems uphill and our audience is not responding.

"... continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard ...
- Colossians 1:23

You won't make it far on bare feet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Day in the Life - Some people call it a fork.

Attempting to civilize children is an uphill battle.

I have a spoon but I'm going to eat my rice with my hands. One piece at a time.
I know we have to give them silverware to use or they'll never learn to use it. I know chimpanzees use tools ... but frankly with the invention of plates I don't think humans would ever get around to that. Lets face it ... the chimps are using sticks to dig termites out of a log.

And sometimes I just give them finger foods because it is easier.
Quite frankly, I'm not trying to get my girls to eat their macaroni and cheese with a fork so they can dig it out of a log. I can really only think of two reasons:

1. So they can behave in a civilized manner consistent with the society they've been born into. So they won't go on a date to an Italian restaurant and start chowing down Lady and the Tramp style.

2. Because some food is greasy and messy and if they eat it with their hands the evidence is everywhere. Everywhere. Even if I send them to wash their hands immediately after gorging themselves on slippery chicken, there will be fingerprints on the table, the chairs, possibly the walls in the hall, the door frame, the door knob, the light switch, the stool, and the faucet. IF they go straight to the bathroom.

Do I have to eat this? Do I have to use a spoon?
What do my children do? Rather than running away with the dish the spoon sweeps a napkin about herself and marries the fork. Or tucks a baby fork into bed under a nice warm quilt(ed paper towel).

Recently I reminded Shelby in my worn-out, running out of patience nagging mommy voice to use a utensil to eat her macaroni and cheese.

She looked right at me and said, as if speaking to a child younger than herself:

"Some people call it a fork."

"Duh Mom"

Monday, October 17, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word: Why do Christians say "sin?"

My first inclination this week was to write about "saved." But the first question I've heard people ask about "saved" is "saved from what?"

So instead, let's go back to the beginning.

"And He said 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'" 
- Genesis 3:10 
"...sin is crouching at your door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." 
- Gensis 4:7
I've heard sin described as anything that separates us from God. Until the first sin, and the Bible doesn't say how long that was, but clearly it was not even past the first generation of humans. Until Adam and Eve disobeyed the one (ONE!) commandment God had given them ... He walked with them in the garden. They were naked and not ashamed. They were truly innocent.

After this first act of disobedience ... they were driven from the garden. They could no longer eat from the tree of the fruit of life. Which means they would die.

Some Christians would give you a list of "do" and "do nots." I'm not going to do that. Until you are willing to recognize that we are all born separated from God:

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." 
- Romans 3:23

there really isn't much point in my telling you how to obey the Lord. If you ask me to tell you if something is sin or not, I'm not going to lie. Even if it means I get called hateful. Look what that did for Phil Robertson and Dan Cathy.

Sin isn't something I get to define. It isn't something the government gets to define. I used to try to invent ways to make whatever I wanted to do "not sin." I would reason with myself "God made me, and I am this way, so how could it be a sin if God made me and I want to do this?"

Sin is disobedience to God. We are born with sinful hearts.
"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,And in sin my mother conceived me." 
- Psalm 51:5
And He says that we can't obey Him perfectly.

Why would He make rules we can't possibly follow? When I was studying to become a teacher we talked about helping kids be successful. Making a huge list of rules that were hard to follow wasn't a way to do that. It wasn't even conducive to a well behaved, productive classroom.

So why would God do that?

"through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." 
- Romans 3:20

What kind of strange religion is this, Amanda? You can't better yourself? I don't want any part of that. Well, then next week I'll tell you why we say "saved."

"just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned - for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law." 
- Romans 5:12-13
You can't better yourself. Because there's something better.

Friday, October 14, 2016

End Your Week Well: Gear Up - Breastplate of Righteousness

Today marks the second in a six-part series I am doing on Friday about the armor of God. Last week I covered the belt of truth ... how surrounding ourselves with the truth holds everything else together.

What is a breastplate? We actually had a part of our band uniforms when I was in high school called the breastplate. I don't know that it would do much, defensively. It was about a 2x4 inch square piece of metal that slid onto a belt/suspender thing over your chest. Lets face it - part of the reason I tried out for the flag corps was that I hated that uniform.

Nobody has the breastplate on here ... photo courtesy of my friend Carla Eastepp Ellison
But we weren't gearing up to be attacked even if we were a military style marching band. So I invite you to think of a breastplate more like Kevlar. You know, the bulletproof vests most police, and some EMS, wear.

They are made to thwart attack. They are made to stop not only an arrow, a deadly bullet. I have meticulously extracted an expanded Talon hollow point projectile from the strands Kevlar in the vest of a sheriff's deputy. These vests, these breastplates, save lives. They are amazing. I imagine the officer had quite the bruise ... but he lived. That bullet was meant to kill him and it was stopped in its tracks.

How does righteousness protect us? And how do we wear it?

"I put on righteousness, and it clothed me" 
- Job 29:14a

"I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,My soul will exult in my God;For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness
- Isaiah 61:10a

"in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing
- 2 Timothy 4:8 
Throughout the Bible righteousness is described as something we put on, or which is put on us. We ourselves are not righteous. Let me say that again. You cannot achieve righteousness. You can't buy it ... it isn't some talisman you wear on a necklace or carry in your pocket to protect you.

Through His death on the cross Jesus made it possible for us to be covered in righteousness.

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 
- 2 Corinthians 4:21
But righteousness is God's alone. We accept the covering, the protection, of His righteousness when we choose to obey. Much like an officer ... we have to choose obedience every morning and accept His righteousness before we can wear it. It isn't a hard shell God encases us in when we accept salvation like some kind of spiritual turtle. We have to choose righteousness every day.

"Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness" 
- 2 Timothy 2:22a
And what does that protect us from? The consequences of sin - of disobedience. If we are open to those screaming bullets the enemy has launched at us ... our ministries fail, our families fall apart, our prayers are but echoes in our rooms, and everything we do that is unrighteous comes with a price.

"But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear." 
- Isaiah 59:2

"There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation;There is no health in my bones because of my sin." 
- Psalm 38:3
 God didn't give us His laws and ask us to obey them to show He is hot stuff. Do you not understand He isn't like us? He doesn't have ego. He created us and the world we live in. He made the laws, and asked us to show Him love by obeying them, because He who made everything knows how life works best. The laws are there to protect you. YES we live in a fallen world and bad things still happen ... the enemy is yet roaming about. However, when you put on righteousness like Kevlar to avoid the consequences of catching fire ... you aren't left standing, yet again, on a battleground in a bathrobe.

The bullets will still hurt ... but they can no longer claim your eternal life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Day in the Life - K = T

When the girls say something the wrong way, I don't correct them anymore. Because so far, they correct themselves and then I miss their little Shelby-isms and Tori-isms.

I miss "coo mees" ... which was how Shelby used to say "Excuse me."

I'll miss "boo doo" (blue) ... it's already becoming "blue-doo" and sometimes just "blue."

Victoria (Bictoria) has taken the cake though, which one little letter switch.

A "drape!"

She pronounces the K sound for the T sound. And it kills me every time.

Come = Tome

Milk = Milt

Momma's girl! Loves her "tips" and salsa.

Cake = Cate

Daddy goes to "wort."

First "tamping" trip
She begs us to "tick me" or to "stop ticking me." She accuses Shelby of "ticking her" and I'm not quite sure what to do if I didn't see it. It could mean kick, it could mean tickle.

She doesn't like to be grabbed around the "net" [who does?!].

In the morning she is excited to "wate" up.

I "pit" this for YOU!
I know there are some I missed. It seems like new ones pop up every day.

Then one day, she'll wake up (instead of "wate" up) and it'll be as if it never happened. And I'll miss Tori's Ts.

Eager to start "amastits" when she turns 3

Monday, October 10, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word: Why Do Christians Say "Lost?"

Late last week, I saw an article blasting Andy Stanley for undermining the Bible for saying [caveat, I have not watched the sermon in question but am providing the link since it is the original source of his quote]:

" ... perhaps you were taught, as I was taught, 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' That is where our trouble began."
- Andy Stanley

Before I even read his defense, I got it. I get it. In my recent writing training, we are told to think of who we are writing to. I feel called to write to anyone, but I always write with the lost in mind. Yet even in saying that I reveal the truths ingrained in me from my childhood.

Praise God they were. Without the foundation of songs like Jesus Loves Me, scripture memory, and faith at a young age, I'm not sure I would have arrived at 38 with the faith that I have today. I'm not entirely sure I would have arrived at all.

Yet I can't help but spout terminology and a belief in the Bible that, to a unbeliever ... or better yet, someone who IS a believer but in something other than God, Jesus, and the Bible ... negates anything I have to say.

Because the Bible says so is great reasoning when speaking to a Christian.

It completely invalidates what you are about to say when you are speaking to a nonbeliever. A lost person. A nonChristian.

So for the next few Mondays I want to address, at least from my own perspective, why do we say some of the things we say. Starting with lost.

Amanda, I'm not lost. It is 2016. I have Google maps, Google Earth, access to global positioning satellites in the palm of my hand. I know right where I am. I know where I am going.

I know where I am on my career ladder, and I know what steps I need to take to get where I want to be.

I know how much I need to save and how I need to invest it in order to have the retirement I'm dreaming of. I'm good. Self-sufficient. I'm not lost. I don't need rescued, saved, or any of the other remedies you and others like you are pandering.

Fair enough. You have to start somewhere.

Fellow believers, don't tune out on me ... but in the effort to not start with "because the Bible tells me so" I will be referencing Biblical reasoning for why we say lost at the end.

Right now, I want to focus on the fact that we say nonChristians are lost because ... well, you are. You may not be lost on this planet. You may not be lost at work. I'm sure you are very good at what you do. You may be an awesome parent with well behaved, sweet, awesome kids who love you.

But in the spiritual realm, you are so lost you don't even know you are lost. There are no positioning satellites. There is no muse that will whisper along unseen and unheard delicately guiding your steps to success.

Your eyes can't see the spiritual realm, but I'm going to guess that, at the end of the day alone in your room, you might admit to yourself that you have encountered it one way or another. Wondering where we came from, why are we here, what happens when I die, why am I different from animals (because really, is the opposable thumb and the ability to make language THAT awesome? I love picking up spoons and talking there is so much more that separates me from any of the pets, farm animals, or wildlife I've ever observed).

You have a soul. And your soul is wandering, blind, in a realm of warfare. Angels aren't chubby cherubs floating in pink ethereal clouds ... they are armed forces, so terrible and frightening that almost every human encounter recorded begins with the words "Fear not!"

So we Christians say "lost" because without Jesus, the Holy Spirit, you have no guide. No defenses. And without the Bible you have no map. No sword. Imagine staggering onto a modern day battlefield in your bathrobe ... sand flying, you could be almost anywhere. Explosions muting sound to a muffled echo ... you wouldn't even know north from south, much less which sandy country plagued by conflict you may have wandered into. Without a gun. Without body armor. No GPS.

Back to the Bible ... the book you, as you read this, may or may not have any strong feelings about. But since I am writing about why Christians call nonChristians "lost" I'll tell you what it says.
"For the Son of Man [Jesus] has come to seek and to save that which was lost." 
- Luke 19:10 (also Matthew 18:11)
Jesus came to rescue the lost ... and without Him we are all lost. He SEEKS us. Imagine if you will our unprepared bathrobe soldier. Imagine a hand reaching out of the endless swirl of gritty tan. A face not of condemnation ("How did you get yourself out here? What's wrong with you?") but of invitation. Jesus often dined with sinners. Imagine He invites our soldier to refresh himself. Sit down. Listen to what I have to offer, are you thirsty?

When the lost are found, Jesus doesn't laugh and gloat. There is rejoicing. Celebration. Welcome home to the home you didn't even realize you were missing, found one!
"What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish." 
- Matthew 18:12-14 (also Luke 15:4-7)

"Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!' In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
- Luke 15:8-10 
Lost isn't an insult to your orienteering abilities. It is empathy. Any Christian was previously spiritually lost. Would you take a chance a look at the map and risk realizing your bathrobe is flapping open with a dangerous desert war waging around you?

(If you are anyone who has ever wondered "Why do Christians say ...?" Please shoot me an email! Maybe God will provide you an answer through me. I would be honored.)

Friday, October 7, 2016

End Your Week Well - Gear Up: Belt of Truth

I've never done a series on Friday, but I think the armor of God will be encouraging after several weeks of writing about the enemy. We have an enemy ... we know he loses ... and we even have weapons against him: defensive and offensive.

In an effort to be original, I've avoided looking up what other authors have to say about the armor of God (though I intend to afterwards). I realize there are much better analogies and theology out there. But if you'll allow me I'd like to just let God speak through one life's context and His Word.

The armor of God is found in Ephesians:

"Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 
Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace, 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. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 
With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints ...
- Ephesians 6:11-18

Some call it the belt of truth ... lets face it, girding your loins sounds like a crazy lifting move.

The thing about belts is ... they surround you. They go all the way around. And while I realize there are belts that are just for looks ... the main purpose of my belt is to protect me from shame.

In the past year I've lost close to 40 pounds ... my wardrobe hasn't exactly kept up with me. Some of my jeans are 2-4 sizes too big. If I didn't wear a belt ... I'd soon be quite embarrassed. My hands are often full when I'm in public ... if I'm not carrying something they are full of little hands. It is more important to me to protect those little girls in a parking lot than to pull my pants up. Without my belt ... there's a good chance I'd soon loose them as we shuffled along.

You can't do battle if you're tripping on your pants. And shame can be paralyzing.

"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
- John 3:17
Jesus didn't come to shame us. Shame has another source - remember the accuser? The old liar wants you to feel shame, and he induces it with lies. Of course the defense against lies is the truth!

"... you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
- John 8:32b

So gird your loins with truth ... lift it every day. Pick it up and put it on. Hide it in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8). Cover the lies of shame with truth and bind it about your waist tightly. The only way I know to do this is to be in the Word every day. God's Word is the truth by which all other standards must be measured.

"The sum of Your word is truth,And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.
- Psalm 119:160

"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
- John 17:17

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Day in the Life - Losing Your Temperatures

"A fool always loses his temper,But a wise man holds it back.
- Proverbs 29:11
Sometimes we call it being grumpy. Sometimes I admit that I've lost my temper. Voice raised, tone ugly, cadence impatient. I hate it as soon as it comes out of me.

If a fool looses his temper, then I am the queen of fools. This is not who I want to be. This is not how I want to parent, teach, speak ... do anything.

"Momma I'm sorry you lost your temperatures."

She was really mad, then she wasn't but it was during the "Phelps face" thing and I asked her to do it again
Sweet Shelby. She pulls me out of that white hot angry place in a heartbeat. I do lose my temperature. The heat goes up, out of control, but there's the danger of hearts turning cold.

"He who is slow to anger has great understanding,But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.
- Proverbs 14:29
It is better than it used to be, but I am no finished product of God's refining fires. Day by day, moment by moment, each "deafness of defiance" where Shelby pretends not to hear me when I know full well she could hear the cellophane crinkle of a wrapper or bag from across the house ... I have to stop everything and call on God to still my tongue. Bless my heart and shut my mouth.

"He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,And he who rules his spirit, than the who captures a city.
- Proverbs 16:32
So it isn't by might that I can cool my heels. It isn't by fortitude or strength that I can crank down the thermostat. Only by the refreshing of my spirit, by giving God control and admitting I don't have control can I reign in the redheadedness.

What do you mean, stop taking Shelby's goldfish?
I could hem and haw and say that when I lose my temper is when they finally start listening. But I don't want to parent them under an iron will of fear. I could call it "righteous indignation" but I'm coming to understand that is an attribute solely belonging to the Lord.

"... for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
- James 1:20
I try to be quick to apologize to my girls, but I need to "keep my temperatures." Shelby has a disarming personality like her daddy ... but Victoria takes after her momma. Passions run high and will only get higher. So when defiance stares me in the face and dares me to lose my mind, I need to give it to God. Before I alienate these children from myself, and possibly Him, in the flames.

She really didn't want her dirty diaper changed. Really. Mom you're unreasonable.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 4:7 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Strength ... submitted

This past week Tim forwarded me a devotional. He didn't mean it as an admonition, but the Lord used it as one. The devotional was one from Chuck Swindoll, and in it he said something which was a revelation for me:

"...going through sustained hard times weakens most men. For some reason, hardship seems to strengthen women.. 
- Chuck Swindoll, A Plea for Understanding
But, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? Doesn't that apply to men?

"Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church ... as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
-Ephesians 5:22-24


If you don't know me, I happen to be what some would consider a strong woman. I was a strong-willed child. I have survived childhood, college, surgeries, emergencies of many kinds, I've escaped abuse, graduate school, I walked the Back Bay Fens alone at night ... I'm certainly not a weak or sheepish woman. The idea of submission raises the hair on the back of my neck ... something inside me says "Submit? If anything is going to submit here it isn't going to be me ... been there done that."

"She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
- Proverbs 31:17
When times get hard, I get harder. I never imagined that perhaps my strength was a weakness in our marriage. Lord, why did you make me strong if I'm meant to be submitted to my husband who, unbeknownst to me, weakens under pressure?

The answer came to me quickly. I don't have to be a feminist. I don't have to charge off to work and leave my husband at home with the kids. God didn't make me strong to put down bad guys, slay the pig, and drag home the bacon for Tim to cook (though let's face it, he does bacon better than me).
"She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
- Proverbs 31:12
Perhaps wives become strong so that, in submission, in that dreaded subservient position that requirement humility and trust, we have the muscle to lift our husbands up. To help them overcome the lie that they aren't going to get through this, that they've failed, to help them slaughter the lies the enemy is whispering to them night and day.

Without my submission to my husband, I am in danger of towering over him. Of overruling and overpowering him in his weakened state. Of tearing down our marriage instead of building it up. Of scattering our family like a snake in a henhouse instead of gathering them to me like a mother hen. Creating chaos and fear instead of warmth and nourishment ... a place to come back from refreshed rather than a final stop on the spiral to defeat.
"The wise woman builds her house, 
But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.
- Proverbs 14:1
God made me a strong woman so that I can build and uplift from a position of submission.