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Time Away

Last night I arrived home after being gone from the family for 7 days!  Crazy I know!

I wrote a guest blog post on Overflow that explains why I was gone and what I was up to.  If you have not seen it, check it out here 🙂  I am not going to repeat myself on this blog.  Instead I want to share with you the thing I love most about having time away…I get to think!

As a mom I think about a lot of things, all day long.  Did the kids do their homework?  Is there a load of laundry in the dryer?  How long can we go before I have to go to the grocery store?  When can I make time to call the friend from church that I know needs to be encouraged?  How can I encourage Brian today?  Did he take a lunch?  What does he eat every day for lunch?  Am I a bad wife because I rarely fix him a lunch?  Can I be involved in a new ministry at church?  Will it encourage me or deplete me?

It leaves very little room for deep thinking.

That is why I love time away!  After a few days the worries of normal life slip into the distance and I can think clearly.  I can hear the Lord in a different way.  I see the things in life that I dream about and desire that in normal life I am doing nothing about.  Why is that?  Why is it every time I have time away the same thought comes to mind and I say this I will do.  Then when I get back to normal life I shy away from it and think it just won’t work right now.  For me this one thing  has been circling in my mind, my dreams, my dare to hopes for years.  I need to act on it!

It is not only dreams that I spend time thinking on while away, it is also the functions of our family.  Why do we do it like that?  Is that really the best way?  Why don’t we change it up?  How are my priorities reflected in my time spending?  Do they line up?

I always return refreshed and ready to make a few changes and pursue a few dreams that I had let gather dust in a back corner of my mind.

I once opened a Dove Chocolate and found this message “Live your Dreams”.  I put it on the fridge, because that is what I want to do.  Having time to think helps me purposefully pursue my dreams.

It is a gift to have a mind at rest, then able to contemplate the thoughts which rarely gets to float to the surface, those thoughts which desires to be set sailing.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or Christian?

So if the Christian church is “advertising” the gospel is it the best approach to push the “buying point” as saying a prayer of repentance and belief, and then follow that up with the “now you are in the family of God” proof-texting? Trust me, this is an honest question and not a leading question. And I don’t want to make it “hard” to believe in Christ. And as Mike said on Wednesday, I do not see any evidence in scripture that there is anything other than Christ’s death and resurrection which accomplishes salvation, which is attained by faith, and that there is not some separate step of “Lordship” that goes after salvation, etc. But I, along with scores of others, have led many in the process and have often ended with something like:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” –John 10.27-29

or, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” –Romans 8.16

Not only have I led people in this, I have trained hundreds of teens and adults to share their faith in this way.

Then I read a very well done study and well written synopsis of the culture of Christianity in American teenagers by Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, titled . Through their study they write a strikingly precise summation of what I have observed in the general culture of teens and what I think can be applied to age groups much older and still be on target with reality:

“in the ecology of American adolescents’ lives, religion clearly operates in a social-structurally weak position, competing for time, energy, and attention and often losing against other, more dominant demands and commitments, particularly school, sports, television, and other electronic media.” (p161)
“…we suggest that the defacto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what we might well call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.’ The creed of this religion…sounds something like this:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about onesself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

How is the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God ending up with a result like this!? I know there are various contributors, some of which I have already talked about in the faith-science dichotomy and truth approach. But a large contributor is our focus on a one-time decision prayer, life insurance policy type salvation experience. If you are a Christian today and someone asks you how you know or why you are a Christian, please don’t say “because when I was 5 (or 25) I prayed a prayer…” or if you do say something like that it is only the first half of the first sentence which then goes on to talk about how the living Spirit of God is at work in your life yesterday and TODAY. (Oh, and doubts are fine! I think that is one of the greatest things about faith, doubts can be and should be aired out and wrestled with)

I don’t find a story in the Bible where a person is given assurance of their salvation based on a prayer they prayed in the past. I find reminders of individuals belief of the belief of a community of people, but no assurance. In fact when these reminders of belief are given it is often followed up with the telling of how they are still being “faithful” or “fruitful” in their belief. Additionally, Paul urges us to live, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2.6) It seems that the greater biblical support refers to a continual faith-living, believing, or fruitful life as assurance of our salvation.

So I don’t think it is wrong to encourage that one-time prayer of salvation, and the followup “family of God” / “Now you’re ‘in'” encouragement, I just think it is incomplete. But I want to be careful, because I don’t think the “completeness” of it is to then say, “now you need to obey the law…” which will tend to be a legalistic earn your salvation approach. I do think we need to follow that up with something like, “now, daily, allow this faith to be worked into every area of your being, to the very core of yourself. You will find new ways that your faith applies to your life and community. You will be continually transformed and you must allow the Spirit of God in you to change you and display God’s character through you.”

Finally, I leave you with an approach that we take with our children (which I learned in part through some great conversations with a great reformed theology friend and is really pretty basic to scripture teaching) As our children are growing up we have treated, talked with, taught them that they are part of a believing community, the Church. As they are growing up they can choose to believe (accept) or reject that. I recognize that a child doesn’t express much independent faith when they are young and therefore are heavily influenced by our belief (this is actually the beauty of family as God designed). As each one has expressed faith in Jesus Christ for salvation we celebrated! They were born again! (The kind of beginning that John commented about yesterday) But we then watch and continually look for opportunities to encourage them to affirm their faith and express belief in new ways. Two of ours have expressed enough independent faith for us to encourage them to be baptized. As the grow and in these reaffirmations they will mature in their faith and our prayer is they will grow beyond Mom and Dad’s faith holding them up to understand the even greater cloud of those who have gone before, test their doubts, strengthen their faith and bring others along with them. We certainly share with them about a future of eternity in God’s full presence, but we more often talk about what it means for them to have faith today and how that can change their character (at Tommy commented earlier this evening) and make a difference in the community in which God has put them.

Well, a much longer conclusion that I intended, and a little different ending point than I set out toward 10 days ago. I still would like to come back to the faith-science discussion as I have many more thoughts related to that; but it will wait for another day (probably not tomorrow 🙂 )

Born and Born-Again

When my wife and I were having our first child, we determined that it was pretty important to make sure that she and our daughter were provided for if I were to die unexpectedly, so we researched the options and I took out my first life insurance policy. I set it to withdraw the monthly premiums automatically from my bank account and don’t think about it any more. The only time I thought about it was when I changed my bank account and received a letter from the company to make sure the premiums continued to get paid. I am concerned that this is a similar story to how many experience “praying to receive Jesus.”

We saw yesterday that the word “believe” is the central instruction on being “saved” from our condition of separation from our eternal creator. So, what is it to “believe”? It seems that in our times it is mostly understood as “think the right thoughts” or “know the right information” or “agree with a set of expressed truths”. But this is not what it is primarily about. “Believe” in the Bible comes from the verb form of the word for “faith”, but our English language doesn’t have a verb form of faith. To believe something is faithing. Active faith is belief. Certainly one must know something about the specific truth to believe it, but it is not merely knowing something, it is acting on our knowing. These actions can be big or small, but it is active.

The most concise chapter in the Bible about faith is Hebrews 11. Read how it begins: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people…” and the whole chapter goes on to list action after action of people believing.

It is the orientation of one’s life and actions around the person of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and forgiveness of our sins. By the way, I think this is why baptism is mentioned so many times (though not always) with “believe”, it is active faith, a public proclamation. In an excellent, and exhaustive work on faith, Paul Tillich expresses this even more emphatically:

“Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements. Faith is the most centered act of the human mind. It is not a movement of a special section or a special function of man’s total being. They all are united in the act of faith. But faith is not the sum total of their impacts. It transcends every special impact as well as the totality of them and it has itself a decisive impact on each of them.” (Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith, 1957 ; p4-5)

Secondly, the Bible doesn’t instruct us to just say a prayer to receive Jesus and we are done. I have been wondering if people walk away from Christianity because they did the prayer thing and it has no further impact on their life. Like a life insurance policy, just make sure the premium gets taken out of the “bank” once a week by going to church (or at least twice a month). To be fair, I admit that this isn’t the teaching of most churches, but it has become too familiar in the action (belief) of peoples’ lives in American Christianity.

Furthermore, I am even more concerned about this in Christian believers’ households because the angst of many parents until their child “prays to receive Christ”, after which they stop the continual teaching, mentoring, and encouraging their child because “now they are ‘IN’ for eternity”. I celebrate BIG TIME when a child expresses faith in Christ, in fact one of my nieces took that step on Christmas Eve! But let’s treat re-birth (born-again concept from John 3.16) in the same way we treat birth. Could you image, parents give birth to their baby and then just let life happen, because now their born? Life wouldn’t “happen” very long and these parents would be in jail shortly after the baby’s life ends. After birth, we nurture new life, we continue this in such a way until they are able to live independently. This is a strong burden of mine after 18 years of working with teenagers, many of whom give a testimony of praying to receive Christ at a young age and yet are no different than their peers who have never had such an experience. Believers, we must disciple our children in a continual conversion process and a series of commitments at various life stages and crises.

It is reported that one of the greatest influencers of converts in recent history, Billy Graham, said, “Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ” (multiple internet sites attribute this saying to Graham, but I was unable to find any source citation) It is important to emphasize both an instantaneous conversion (although many times imperceptible) as well as an ongoing transformation.

Tomorrow I will bring this series to a close with an additional part of this point and a then bring it back around to where I started 9 days ago.




Honest Words from a Pastor’s Wife – Christmas on a Sunday

This year Christmas came on a Sunday, which has not happened since 2005.  If I am going to be completely honest I was not excited about this occurrence.  Although I love going to church I do not enjoy getting this family of 6 ready for church.  If we could just go in our PJs that would be glorious, although totally distracting and strange to say the least!  When we are home for Christmas it is a pajama kinda day.  Last year I remember thinking how strange it was to be sitting down to Christmas dinner served on our fine china along side family heirloom silver all the while wearing PJs!

My thoughts about this started before Thanksgiving.  Our church has a Thanksgiving Day service, Brian was there.  I was not too excited about that one either.

Then came Christmas.

Brian was to be at both the Christmas Eve service and the Christmas day service, there would be no getting around that unless we left town and he took a vacation day.

A week before Christmas, I got a text message from the husband/pastor/creative ministries guy that informs me my two oldest children will be singing in both the Christmas Eve service and the Christmas Day service.  Well it looks like I am loosing this one!  All I could think was, this must be what the Lord wants them to do.  It is not so much about me.

It is important to always be checking my heart and listening for what God might say in every life situation…
Speaking to my Mom around Thanksgiving gave me the first viewpoint/heart change that was needed.  My Mom was in a new town away from family and was informing me how neat it was to go to a church service on Thanksgiving Day.  My heart that had been set on, “can’t we just be a family on Thanksgiving and Christmas and hang out at our house” began to change as I realized the blessing a service can be to others.  Others who do not have family, others who have guests in town who only go to church on holidays, others who need the encouraging words of Scripture in song and word all are encouraged by a Thanksgiving or Christmas service.  In reality I am encouraged as well, but that was not my concern at the time.  I just wanted my loves home in their PJs.

The girls were delighted to find out they would be singing in the Christmas services, I believe there were even screams of joy when the news was told.  However, on Christmas morning when it was time to put the newly unwrapped presents down and dress for church the delight wore off a bit.  I had to give the pep talks while placing the curlers in their golden hair.  “You have the opportunity to bring joy to others by singing and encouraging their hearts.  You never know who will be in the audience.  Someone may really need the encouragement this service will bring.”  I was speaking to myself as well as to my girls.  The Lord always teaches me as I try to teach them 🙂

They went, they sang, they came back all smiles!  They ended up with their picture on the front page of the newspaper, singing so sweet.  I received word from several who went to the services how encouraged they were by the service and the girls’ involvement.  The Lord knows what He is doing!

To finish it all off they were back in their PJs with in 30 minutes of coming home, back to their new unwrapped gifts!  Christmas dinner was still china, crystal, silver and PJs!

Retraining Takes Time

Last weekend we granted Emma her year long dream of having a parakeet.  As a family we headed to the pet store to pick out two parakeets (they are social animals you know) a cage and all the extras.  Everyone in the family was very into this activity, to say the least!

The first night of our little ones being in our home was perfect.  Emma spent the evening right next to the cage, informing us of their every move.  They did not move much, probably due to getting over the drastic change they had just gone through.  They also made only a few little tweets.

Then morning came!

As our new friends became comfortable with their new home they began to tweet and move about, and that is when Ranger (our Weimaraner) discovered what was in the house!

With out going into all the details we will summarize the next several days with these words “Ranger the birds are our friends, not your food!”  Just imagine with me as Ranger lunges for the cage and sends all four children into a fit of yelling and crying, and he does so repeatedly!

Yesterday, I called the vet to see if they had any advice.  I am really a little worried we may not be able to change Ranger’s thoughts about these birds.  I would HATE to crush my little girls heart by telling her we have to give the birds away!!

Here was the advice:

“Get a spray water bottle.  Every time he gets excited about the birds spray him in the face and say no.  He has to be retrained to learn the birds are OK to be there.  He is a smart dog I think he will get it in a few days.”

Only time is going to tell if Ranger is able to be retrained!  Somehow I had forgotten all the birds he has killed in the back yard.  I am not kidding, he usually kills two or three a year.  I am a little embarrassed to say this did not cross my mind.  I am not too positive that a spray water bottle is going to do the trick…we shall see.

This retraining thing got stuck in my head!  I am currently in a new phase of life.  The ministry that sits before me is not familiar.  I keep longing for things of the past.  The Lord is retraining me.  I think He does that in our lives.  Sometimes it is gentle and calm, a simple redirection.  Sometimes it is in-your-face like a splash of water, a forceful redirection.  When it is done, what is the result?  Peace, peace in the Lord’s will and in His character.  Retraining takes time, and I am thankful the Lord is not finished with me yet!

1. Are you feeling the gentle hand of the Lord to retrain you in an area of life?  Instead of a gentle hand is He choosing an in-your-face method?

2. Do you long for the retraining to be done that you might reflect Him in a greater way?  In what way will you reflect Him differently than you do now, once you have been retrained?

Currently, Ranger is whining at the cage he needs me to stop typing and go be in-his-face!


Top Ten Things You Need For A Family Vacation Roadtrip That is Extreem on the Mileage

We take a lot of family trips in the Suburban!  I know, SUVs are not so popular these days, but our family of 6 who drives on long road trips is very thankful for the space!!  I thought I would share the things that we bring along that I think make it possible for us to drive thousands of miles.  So here they are in order of what came to my mind first:

1. Igloo full of drinks, and lunch stuff.  This should be placed in the car where you can open it as you are driving.  You could place it next to one of the kids and deem them the Igloo King or Queen!

2. A box or bag or something full of snacks. Throw in a roll of paper towels, some wet wipes and a knife for extra easy sandwich making.

3. A bag of small sports equipment. When our kids were younger we took a beach ball that we could blow up at each rest stop.  We look for a Rest Stop to have one meal a day, either lunch or dinner.  Brian and the kids play some active game, this year it was baseball, while I make sandwiches and the best on-the-road meal I can come up with from my igloo and food storage bin.   Some of our treasured memories of vacation have even happened at these rest stops!

4. Stop by the library and stock up on books and DVDs. Be sure to pack half of them in hiding and pull them out for the return trip!  It works great! (of course you should have a portable or built in DVD player with headphones for each child…but watch videos in moderation or attitudes go bad even faster when the movies are turned off)

5. The Redflix app for your phone. When moral is down we head to the nearest RedBox, aided in locating it from our app, and present a newish movie to watch.  We go back and forth on our trips from a movie to two hours of interactive car stuff.  We travel hours and hours in the car so the movies help bring a break for everyone.

6. The app for your phone.  On our way to Texas we spend one or two nights in a hotel.  Having this app helps us find a place to stay while we are driving.  Sometimes you really do not know how far you are going to make it in a day so easy hotel reservations are a good thing.   We are able to see hotel prices and amenities, as well as ratings.  Great tool!

7. Parenting seminar downloaded or CDs (we got ours at the church library).  While the kids are watching a movie it is time for Brian and I to talk over life stuff, plan better parenting, be inspired, or listen to a good novel together.

8. A good novel downloaded or on CD (church library once again).  Grab a good novel to read aloud as a family as well.

9. A good supply of workbooks from a dollar store.  I love Five Below!  I can always find good workbooks in the summer time and cheap markers to fill my kids car bags with.

10. The patience and perseverance of Job!  No kidding!  These long trips are not for the faint of heart, you have to have some gut to push through the family break down moments…because they do come, and sometimes they come BIG.

Hope the tricks we have learned are helpful if you have a road trip coming up.  I would love to know any tricks that work well for your family, so I can steal them and glean the benefits!  Happy traveling!

I need to add a number 11!

11. Take your husband to WalMart and let him pick a car toy or surprise.  This year Brian got Flarp (noise putty), you know what I am talking about right?  He said, and I quote “this will be hours of entertainment”, and it was!  Brian and I got it out in the car without the kids knowing anything about it and Brian started making the noises.  He and I were laughing so hard we both had tears in our eyes.  Once the kids figured stuff out they did not stop playing with the two cans we bought till the putty had dried out.  Good times!  Husbands have great ideas!!  Don’t forget to ask them 🙂

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