Are You a Pouter?

imagesDo you ever have evenings at home when you and your husband don’t speak to one another?  Someone’s feelings were miffed because of some slight or some frustrated statement. A few misunderstood statements have been exchanged. Maybe there was no explosion or anger, but still, there’s something in the air between you. You are distant and cool. At least one of you is pouting. Pouting wasn’t likely an effective strategy when you were trying to get your way as a kid. Practiced in adulthood, it’s both ineffective and damaging to relationships.

 My very good friends, Bud and Lucille, were happily married for about thirty-five years. Little did Bud know that night, when he kneeled beside the bed and prayed with Lucille, that she would not awaken in the morning. Following the prayer, he leaned over and kissed her, they exchanged “I love you”s  and went to sleep. It was just a regular night. It was only the next morning when Bud brought Lucille her coffee in bed, that he discovered her spirit had left. He just slowly sat down beside her and said, “Oh Lucille, you’ve gone on and left me.”

 All of our nights should be like this…just regular nights. One day someone will leave someone and we don’t know which regular night it might be. But surely all of us would want it to be a night like this. There is wisdom in the words of Ephesians 4:26: Let not the sun go down on your wrath. I would add: Don’t let the car leave the garage on your wrath. Don’t put the phone receiver down on your wrath. Don’t close an email on your wrath. One day not so long ago I met my  good friend, Cindy, at the hospital moments after her husband had been in a wreck on his way home from work, only to agonize with her as the hospital personnel brought the wedding ring from his finger and gave it to her. From there we went to tell her children that their father had died. It was one of the worst days of my life. Cindy bravely faced the realities and was amazingly strong as we told the children. As tough as things were that day for her, they were not nearly as unbearable as they could have been had there been problems in their relationship as he left the house that morning. But our God shields us, as His children from the biggest pains of life and death. When we are doing life and marriage His way, the biggest of burdens are blessed with peace and hope. Not only do we live prepared for the worst eventuality, but the everyday living is blessed with peace and serenity as well. It takes effort, but daily pout resistance pays big dividends.

A Second Look at the Mantra

NotAboutMeWhen I talk to sisters about our walk with the Lord, we often repeat the phrase “It’s not about me,” several times together. Taken from our study of the “meek and quiet spirit” of I Peter 3, we can find practical guidelines for life’s decisions when we understand that every facet of daily living revolves around the fact that I am about helping people go to heaven. If I have this spirit, I dress to help those around me have purity. I arrange my schedule so that it includes faithful worship and can be interrupted when there are needs around me and chances to serve may come my way. I put aside my inhibitions and discomforts and speak to friends about the Lord. I go out of my way to be ethical, even when others may scorn my convictions.

Most of the time when I reach into my core-values-heart-of-hearts and pull out the phrase “It’s not about me,” I do so to give myself the nudge (sometimes I need a shove, though) to do the hard thing–the thing that I do not want to do for my Lord. I do not want to do something good for this enemy because it will make for an uncomfortable encounter. But my conscience presents me with this phrase and I bake that pie or send that card. I want to give my husband a piece of my mind because it just seems like he is too busy lately to even be thinking about what my psyche is needing from this marriage. I pull out the phrase and start concentrating on what I can give to the relationship rather than what I can get. You see how the phrase modifies my behavior when and if I can be strong enough to fully apply it and do the hard things that make life in Christ, ironically, both sacrificial and rewarding.

But, lately, I’ve thought a lot about how the phrase can do more than help make our decisions. It can comfort us. There are times when we can become very discouraged. Sometimes we can, if given the raw end of a deal or facing what we believe to be unjust criticism, begin to want to come to our own defenses. We want to bare our souls to others. We want to tell someone else just how wrong this accusation is or just how much we’ve personally sacrificed to make this good thing occur or to prevent this disaster. Our instinct is often to say, “Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute. Let me just show you some details you’re overlooking!” In short, we may be tempted to toot our own miserable little horns.

And then we remember… ”It’s not about me.” The cause of Christ is about an old rugged cross on a hill called Golgotha. It’s about someone who became discouraged enough to weep drops as blood in a garden where those who were supposed to be watching were asleep. It’s about three years of a grueling ministry in which every day was met with false accusations and misunderstandings. It’s about a trial in which no man came to the defense of a perfectly innocent man. It’s about details overlooked–like 300-plus fulfilled prophecies or scores of people walking around as living proof that He was the very Son of God. It’s about how this misunderstood, falsely accused, beaten-down and discouraged man lived a sinless life, died an undeserved death, and conquered a grave–all for my sins. Yes, I remember. The overriding purpose of my life, the all-encompassing business I’m about is not me, in any sense.

There’s real comfort in the midst of sorrow when we wrap our minds around the fact that, if we are living faithfully, we do not have to prove to any accusers that we are worthy in any way. The fact is, without the blood, we are UNWORTHY in EVERY way. In spite of our best intentions and even the sacrifices we may have made to follow Him, we are still wretched without that old rugged cross. While we work to protect our good reputations, we can move on from discouragement without always feeling the need to vent. We move on from feeling “all alone” remembering Gethsemane. We move on when we’ve been hurt, remembering the cross. We can live with misperceptions when we read its inscription, “King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). He was bruised, but I had iniquities. He was wounded, but I had transgressions. He was striped with that whip, but I was healed. Thus there is nothing, in my sinful state that I can endure that is worthy to even be compared with the glory of the cross. I am, if a sufferer, a guilty sufferer…not a glorified one. But I Peter 4:13 says that if I do have to suffer anything because I am His, that I am sharing or partaking in the suffering with Him and that it (the suffering) will fit me to be a partaker (or share in) His glory when He comes again. I love that. There’s comfort in knowing that the hard things that may come with living for Him are giving me a tiny little piece of the glory with which Jesus has been crowned (Heb. 2:9).

None of us is ready to say, “Bring on the suffering!” Perhaps we should be. In fact, no one reading this has any practical concept of the kind of suffering that was very real to Christians in the Roman Empire in the early days of the kingdom of Christ. But I can tell you, if you are living for Him, you will face a day when you will think, “Ouch, where did that jab come from?” or “That little accusation took me by surprise,” or “It’s no fun being all alone while standing for this moral principle or refraining from this bit of ‘fun’,” or “Well, I’ve cried a bucket of tears over this lost soul,” or “Can this pain over this lost opportunity for Him just please go away?” You already know how this feels, don’t you? It feels like you need consoling. It feels like you need someone to put His arms around you and say, “This is going to be okay.”

And so our Lord does this:

And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. (II Corinthians 1:7)

There is a great consolation for Christians who may be hurting for the Cause. Some who read the blog have written me letters about things that are hurting you… difficult things that have come your way because you are doing your best to live His way to His glory. Today’s post is for you. It is the most comforting part of realizing that Christianity is not about me. In the process of self-denial and Savior exaltation that comes during the blackest of times, I find myself closer to Him, more like Him… I find myself being a partaker with Him–a shareholder with the Lord in both suffering and, one day, glory. It makes me want to go out and live this day for Him!

Processing Problems: from Panic to Peace

Broken-heartMy heart wants to write tonight about Sandy Hook, but I can’t get my mind wrapped around the events of last Friday. I can’t meditate  deeply enough or ponder long enough on the tragedy to come up with any lessons save the obvious ones about the destructive nature of sin, the beauty of the hope of heaven and, always, the irony of the tragedy of abortion that occurs in far greater numbers with many more perpetrators and far less fanfare than any school shooting in history.  These are lessons that I frequently discuss on this page and, as long as there is breath in me, I will continue to talk about them, even though I despair to see the American culture largely scoffing at them.

In the last few days, I have been in contact with a woman whose husband is given over to the sin of pornography, another who has succumbed to her own propensity for using and manipulating others, one who is experiencing difficulty because she was accidentally administered an extremely incorrect dosage of a strong medication, one who is waiting to die of a deadly STD, one who is recovering from a very debilitating mental and emotional trauma, one who is struggling with the placement of her aged mother who is ill with dementia, one who is tortured by the knowledge of sin in the life of someone she knows who may potentially harm others, one whose husband is experiencing hurt inflicted by his fellowmen because of something valiant he is attempting to do for the cause of Christ, one who experiences grief from anxiety and is losing her much needed counselor and one whose husband has left her and her five children for another woman.   All of these women are in the body of Christ and all of them are suffering immense pain of one form or another.  Tonight, I am having trouble focusing on the root problems in these scenarios and I am certainly having trouble knowing the right answers, when there are such, to these various dilemmas.

Sometimes lately when I go to a quiet place of prayer, my days seem so brimming with problems –my feeble mind so shell-shocked– that I can’t calm it enough to articulate the needs or even to find the words to plead for wisdom. It’s in times like these that I am so very thankful for the Holy Spirit who can express what I’m too weak and worn to say to my Father.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8: 26,27).

I fully believe that the Spirit has finished His work of revelation to mankind. We have the completed Will of God for our lives in His Word that thoroughly equips us to every good work (II Timothy 3:16,17). There is nothing left for the Spirit to disclose to us–nothing that God wants us to know.  But I do not believe the Spirit has finished working. While he has finished revealing from God to man, He is now at work in the other direction. He takes my sentiments to the Father, when I am too burdened to express them–too stressed to enumerate them, too tearful to fully even understand them–I say, then he takes them, in perfect form, to the throne of grace through Jesus the Son  My Father hears the perfect pleas of the Spirit in behalf of His very imperfect daughter. And, when I think of this, I am encouraged, renewed and ready to go at life once again.

 I am especially grateful that the passage that tells me He is taking my pleas to the Father immediately precedes the promise that’s my life’s anchor:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Problems piled into panic in me, then processed through the Spirit into perfect pleas, then perfected in His powerful plan for something good for me, because I’ve been called according to His purpose. And I can pillow my head knowing that all is ultimately well with my soul.  I hope every one who reads can have this blessed assurance. It’s a peace that really does pass understanding.

Correspondence with a Broken Heart

The following letter came to me yesterday in response to Monday’s blog post. I’ve already prayed for this sweet sister. Will you pray for her, too? I’m praying for all of us that we may learn valuable lessons while we may have time to avoid eternal tragedies. I give you her letter with her permission:

Cindy,
I read your “Average Joe in Europe” and wanted to comment about what I learned from a “converted” Muslim to Christianity about three years ago. It was from an interview somewhere that I found on the internet. He said that the reason that Muslims think that they need to come to America and take over is just what you said – they see America as a “Christian” nation, a nation that must be like the TV shows, “Dallas”, “Soap”, etc. that his family saw when he was a teen before his family came to America. They equate Christianity with America, and America with the TV programs they see. “Such immorality! Such lies! We must go and punish those who profess they know God who live like this,” was their thinking, he said. Ironically, his family escaped his country to come to the freedom in America. Do you know how he was converted to know Christ (albeit in a false church)? Not by the daily conversations he had with his high school Christian friends; not by “observing” the life styles of Christians, but by reading A FEW verses in Matthew. From those few verses, he knew his Muslim teachings had been a lie about Jesus. He began to study the word of God on his own. Imagine that, to simply read and learn the truth FROM the Truth. He said that he told his father that he was a Christian, and that he fully expected his father to kill him in his bed before morning, but morning came and he was alive.

I’ll try to find it again. Though, I doubt I can.

Can I tell you something else? My family is gone to hell. Including me. I learned today that Husband has been on some porn junk, though he says “it’s wrong”. He went to nude beaches on an island he had to go to … long story. I mean, he has been baptized, but is basically, “unchurched” (my term for not attending worship for a very long time), so no real surprise. My older, “goodly” girls, as you once called them, have both left the church (beyond “unchurched”), and I must admit, lately, I have such hateful feelings toward Husband. I know the reality of that sin. We cannot love God and hate our brother. Hate and Heaven are not together. Timidly, I agreed to marry this man that I couldn’t think of a way to get out of the relationship, and my parents, whom I obeyed all my life didn’t say a word of advice to me about it. If my dad had said one sentence to advise against marriage to him, I would have ended it then, and I waited for that sentence. It never came. I think my parents were of the popular opinion that children are old enough to make up their own minds when they are old enough to leave home and go to college. Now, we have daughters that, one did not enter her marriage pure, and the other will not. Both are or will be married to atheists. Can that be possible????? My whole life of training them to be faithful Christian women was a waste. Don’t quote Proverbs 22:6 either. I failed that verse somewhere. I didn’t train them right somewhere, and I think I know the weak spots that failed them.

Just a story for you to warn women and girls not to take the path I have taken, but of course, if you have some words of encouragement and verses of hope, I would love to hear that.

signed,
______________________

So what is it we can learn from this sister who has opened up the recesses of her broken heart today? Here’s a partial list for us all. (I also responded to her personally.)

1. As already stated, the media in America routes rather than reflects our moral condition.
2. America’s moral condition is a large factor in her weakness or strength before the world.
3. The gospel still is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16).
4. The gospel is simple, especially if left undiluted by false teachings of men.
5. When we forsake the assemblies of the people of God, we become weak and fall into other sins.
6. Children desperately need two faithful parents in order to maintain a strong faith. Statistics work against them in other cases.
7. The father’s role as the spiritual leader in the home is extremely crucial in the spiritual development of children.
8. There are certain sins that make the distinction between hating the sin and hating the sinner a difficult, albeit necessary one.
9. Pornography destroys relationships. It destroys homes. It hurts children. It is of the devil (Matthew 5:28).
10. When parents can see that their child is about to marry someone who will effectively lead her to hell, they should step in and do all within their power to keep that from occurring.
11. Though inserting godly counsel, for parents, is a tough thing to do, children generally long for parents who set boundaries, maintain discipline, and then, through the “marrying” years, are watchful for their souls.
12. Children are still children, in many respects, at age 18 in America, today. They still need parents and they often still need systems of punishment.
13. There are plenty of atheists in the world today and the devil would love to use them to pull your children from the Lord. It is very important that you include apologetics along with the staple of the Word in your daily family Bible times. (I DID say DAILY family Bible times. I hope that is a given.) Apologetics should begin at age 6 months!
14. There is a real sense in which we are wasting time parenting if our children grow up and leave the Lord.
15. Time is of the essence for parents. There may come a day, young parents, when you would do anything to go back and redo the year in which you find yourself right now. But opportunity, once past, is forever gone. It has no apron strings. Redeem the time.
16. As long as there is life, there is hope. We should never give up on family members who have left the Lord.
17. Sometimes we come to points in life in which we cannot control what anyone else is doing/choosing, but we can still control our own personal choices. Never compromise faith for family.
18. Prayer is always the most valuable resource that we have.
19. All of us have made mistakes. It takes an humble heart to be willing to admit them and it takes a great deal of compassion to bare them so that others can avoid them.
20. Honest evaluation of “weak spots” is learning. We can all do a lot of that along the way.

Blueberries and the Book (The Exciting Conclusion!)

About Last, but Not…Well, Last AND Least 

On the day of the firstfruits, my biggest temptation was to grab a whole handful of big, delicious berries and fill up my basket in a hurry. Those big clusters of ripeness just made me want to grab them by the fistful. I soon learned to be a bit more discerning, though. What I didn’t see, at first, was that in the middle of those clusters were some tiny white berries, as yet barely exposed to the sun and needing several more days, even a week or two, perhaps, to mature into usefulness for pies, jams, bowls of cereal and ice cream. Picked in the big cluster before their time, they would yet be hard, bitter and difficult to digest. 

You know where I’m going. In every congregation there are those who are young and immature in the faith. Before they really become useful to the church, they need more exposure to the Son. They need a little time to grow. They need a little extra attention when the faithful are being productive. One day they will be ready to be useful. But for now, they just need to grow. Hands that are busy in the “bush” need to take special care not to make these young ones fall before they reach maturity. Hands need to be careful to preserve the potential of those who are still growing.

How do we identify those who are immature, perhaps spiritually needy, or in danger of falling? Here are some catch-phrases that might be typical of those who are not yet of age, spiritually:

“We want to be sure our needs are being met.”

“Let me tell you what THEY are doing down at MY church.”

“When I was sick, only two people even visited me.”

“I didn’t get too much out of that service.”

“We need to go somewhere that has lots of teenagers.”

“I know the Bible says__________, but I just don’t think God would…”

“I hope they hire a preacher who is in his thirties like we are.”

“That sermon was pretty good, but it was too long.” 

“We’ve got to get on the road, so we won’t be staying for class.”

“ I’ll do it if you can’t find anyone else.”

“If we join your church, do we have to attend on Wednesday nights?”

“ I hope my kids don’t have to miss the gospel meeting. Maybe their games will be over by then.”

The list could go on, but you can see that these types of statements reveal a heart that has yet to grow to be more concerned about the well-being of others than self. We’ve all seen this wonderful transformation to unselfishness occur in the lives of friends who are in the Book. Sometimes personal trials make people more cognizant about the needs of others. Sometimes our genteel treatment of those yet young in the faith, along with our prayers can make the difference. 

Let’s remember that growth occurs at different rates and let’s make every effort to preserve the potential of young and growing members. Often that will mean deferring our own plans or even depleting our cash-on-hand. But remember, they will mature, and when we are patient and gentle, productivity for the greatest Cause on earth will be multiplied.

Right Turn

For four days now I’ve been wishing for a right turn. Right is the way I turn now to go to my dad’s regular hospital room and left is the way to the ICU, where he has spent the past three days. I’m thankful for all the turns in life through which the Father leads because I have that wonderful assurance of Romans 8:28. “All things” (the good things and the bad things) “work together” (are assimilated) “for good” (to be in the best eternal interests) “to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose” (for faithful Christians). That makes every turn the right turn for me.

Lots of you already know that my father has been hospitalized since Friday afternoon. For many prayers and kind words and visits and snacks and meals and cards, we are very thankful. Dad’s main problem is pneumonia now and I covet your prayers for some easier breathing. I think the brewing pneumonia and resulting lack of oxygen to the brain last Friday morning was the cause for his disorientation and confusion, As he later said, “Cindy, I have just never been so inept and confused in my whole life.”

I said, “Dad, could you not even think to call me?”

“I could not think of the answers to any questions and I didn’t know what to do.”

So he went to the church building. In all of his confusion, he just put on his coat and tie, grabbed his glasses and his Bible and, in auto-pilot, he drove to the side of the building where he normally parks his car. There are six turns and about five stop lights between his house and the meeting place of the Jacksonville church of Christ. According to the surveillance camera later viewed, he entered the building at 10:24 A.M. and then proceeded to the auditorium. Still confused about why it was empty (apparently thinking it was time for one of the assemblies), he spent the next six hours, likely losing consciousness and falling, struggling to get up and becoming more and more desperate. Thankfully Homer Smith, one of the shepherds of the church, began to wonder about why his car was there and where he was. I was notified and I began asking everyone who might know about where he was until Homer, our new MVE (most valuable elder) found him and called the EMTs, who took him to the ER, where he was later admitted to the ICU.

He’s not out of the woods, but an enzyme count of 14,000–so very dangerously high–has dropped to 800. That’s impressive. He is completely coherent. That’s way better. His breathing is nothing but wheezing! That’s the part, for now, for which we need prayers. It’s really hard to watch and hear him breathe so laboriously.

But there is a blessing trail here. I can quickly enumerate ten of the many blessings about the whole episode:

  1. Win or lose the battle for life on this earth, the battle for life—the real battle–has already been won.
  2. There are ministers of the Father all around His people and they are extremely caring. They are servants with an attitude; the attitude of Matthew 25: 31-40.
  3. Eighty-nine years of relatively good health is a great record. Just being in this hospital or even on this internet makes us aware of so many whose trials are so premature compared to any we might be experiencing. Dad is the only surviving child in a family of eleven children. He’s been very blessed.
  4. When my dad “can’t think of any of the answers to any of the questions,” he goes to the place of worship. (That’s kind of like the Psalmist in Psalm 73.)
  5. There are lots of colder, more desolate places to be unconscious than in the church building.
  6. The proximity of excellent medical facilities in almost any region of our great country is a blessing we consistently count on.
  7. The presence of skilled doctors, nurses, technicians and even smiling volunteers is a very good gift from the Giver of all good gifts.
  8. Cousins, sons-in-law, husbands, fathers-in-law and brothers-in-law who are elders and preachers in the kingdom are double-kin and that’s special. I have about twenty-one of those and they are wonderful.
  9. Dad, the “lost” sheep, was found by a shepherd.
  10. “Clinically improved,” the term used to describe Dad today, is fun to hear and I love turning right.