Thursday, May 30, 2013

God, please help. I don't know what I'm doing.

Today I have a guest blogger, a friend of mine named Vicki Hookham, mother of five children, which somehow earns her shock, criticism, and admiration. She is one of those people who handles life with honesty and humor, one of my favorite angles. I would like to title this "That awkward moment when you see your own wisdom and it is profoundly lacking and yet you push on, because what else can you do???--but that seemed a little long.

A checkout clerk at Walmart asked me why I have "so many children" last week. I thought she was more curious than intending any disrespect, and worthy enough of the benefit of the doubt anyway, so I just gave her the most to-the-point answer: "Because we like them!" But that doesn't mean we always know what to do with them.

I don't know all the details of what A (13) and E (11) did to each other in the Junior High service at church tonight, but each boy hopped in the car quite loudly convinced his brother deserved everything he got--apparently smacking, kicking, and the lobbing of shoes at each other was involved. From what I could glean of their bickering, I judged them both guilty for perpetuating discord at every opportunity and demanded the Standard Insincere Apology Exchange (tm). And drove home wondering what to do for my sons' spiritual needs.

Minutes later, Eric is bent over, quietly sobbing in the 3rd row. I let him cry until we were home, and he could gather himself somewhat. What was wrong? He said he was ashamed of the way he behaved at church tonight. When Andrew heard this, he looked pretty sheepish too and the apologies were much more sincere. We talked about sin, personal responsibility, anger, forgiveness and bible verses, prayed for each other and held each other.

I have no control over what I see as my children's greatest needs. But Someone Else does, and tonight I saw proof that in His hands, it will be okay. It isn't pain-free, but it is quite worth it. God makes it "worth it."

The image in this blog entry is an actual action figure, available for purchase at

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bad people

Are there bad people in the world? I have talked before about how my worldview has changed in the last year to include Three types of people. Lately, I have been reading a book called The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. Dr. Stout claims that one in twenty-five Americans is a sociopath, a clinical term that she characterizes as a lack of conscience. Basically, without a conscience, these people are motivated more by playing a game, by winning in social situations, than by attachment.

Rarely do I say that a book is a "must read," but this one is. You will encounter a sociopath in your lifetime, and if you are kind or hold to high values, you will likely end up as a target of their bad behavior. Be alert. Be on your guard.

Jesus tells us, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). Wolves are around us; we are a natural target. Jesus knows we are in danger, and he warns us: be innocent, yes. But be wise. Be informed. Don't be trusting of everyone, because some of them are dangerous.

If you have had a painful encounter with someone, borrow this book from me. You might see yourself, or the person who hurt you, in the stories, and I promise, this perspective will be liberating. Very often, when you accuse a sociopath or take a stand against the person's behavior, you find people around you critical because you are being difficult. You won't just get along; you are allowing strife and unforgiveness into the relationship.

Dr. Stout is not a believer, but her advice is echoed in the Bible, even though she herself doesn't understand it (when she describes religious thinking). Her main point, that a sociopath has no conscience, is echoed in 1 Timothy 4:1-2: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron."

And her advice to avoid this person--unusual advice for a psychologist, who normally recommends working things out in the relationship--is again mentioned in Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:5 tells us that there are some people we should simply stay away from (and verses 1-9 are a great description of dangerous people).

The other thing I really liked about Stout's book was her assurance that the average person doesn't like to think this way. We like to think the best of others. We ascribe motives to people that reflect our own, and we also assume others feel guilt in the way that we do. Not the case with sociopaths, but it sounds awful to make such accusations. She says again and again that it is right to trust your instincts; believe what seems incredulous, or you will get hurt. And people around you will call you callous and misjudge your motives.

I often counsel friends, and this book gave me a new awareness of when it is okay to say, "Stay away." You still have to seek healing from God when you've been hurt. You can't hold on to bitterness and anger, but you do not have to believe the best about everyone. In fact, you have to struggle a bit against our culture just to believe the Bible: there are bad people. Be aware; stay away.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

God places candles in the dark, not the sunshine

I posted the other day about Suffering when you do good. Today, with the massive tornado in Moore, I am thinking simply about suffering. The verse that popped into my head was that God sends rain on the just and unjust alike. My instinct is that bad things happen to everyone, and I'll talk more about that in a minute.

So I went to look up the verse that is in my head, and once again, the Bible amazes me. It always gently corrects and refocuses me, like when you manually handle the lens of a camera. Wherever you turn, you adjust--sometimes a lot, sometimes just a little, to bring things into proper focus. The verse in my head is actually words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:44-45).

Jesus is not talking about rain as if it's a bad thing (which was my thinking). In this verse, He is addressing the question, "Why do good things happen to bad people?" Our hearts must be generous and loving towards those who do wrong, because our Father is good to everyone (sending them sunshine and valuable rain). Jesus once again flips everything on its head. Bad people get helped! Bad people see things work out for them! Our Father is amazing and good and generous. We, those of us who wear His name, need to love with that kind of generosity.

Now let's go back and look at good people suffering in a natural disaster. It would be weird if a storm swept through an area and the homes of God-followers were spared. An event like that would indicate judgment, and Jesus did not come two thousand years ago for judgment. John 3:17 says, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Jesus WILL come someday to judge the earth, but now, we are in mercy-mode. God's kindness and patience are leading people to repentance (Romans 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).

In Egypt, the first-born of every household died, except those (Jew or Egyptian) who paint their doorway with lamb's blood. If anyone (Jew or Egyptian) sprinkled blood on their doorway, their first-born was spared. When people awoke after the Passover, there was wailing and screaming, and the Jews were told to leave. That's judgment.

If believers were spared in a crisis, we would ourselves become prideful. But even if we reached out to those around us, we would be Other, someone distant who didn't suffer.

This is why Jesus came to the earth in the first place. He is Immanuel...God with us. He was not content watching our suffering from a distance; He stepped in. And He didn't merely fix our circumstances; He fixed our hearts. God tends to do things slowly, so that we see and grasp it. It's like He is saying to us, "You don't need your circumstances easy, child. You need Me." And if our circumstances were easy, we would never learn the joy of Him. We would be happy because of our circumstances, and the pain of this world would go on, happening to others.

But when we know Him, and we see the world hurting, we run to the pain, just like Jesus, our brother and savior, ran to us.

And when bad things happen--like an EF-4 tornado--our homes are stripped away along with those who don't know the joy of Jesus. And we let our homes go, because they are not as important as the world seeing our Lord. The trappings are stripped away--we wouldn't ever choose this!--and there we are, still loving Jesus and praising Him in our pain.

Sometimes we even lose a child.

And then we are Immanuel, the body of Christ, the Spirit of God dwelling in flesh and wrestling with the horror and holding on to Someone Invisible. We are light in a dark world. Sometimes it gets very dark.

You don't have to muster the light yourself. It has been put there inside of you. And light shines in darkness. Always.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Do something, mighty warrior

The book of Judges is about God's unrelenting pursuit of a people who really don't care about Him. They like to be rescued when they get in a bind, but they are not determined to follow Him. And He lets this scenario run--really, He could do something differently--because He is painting a picture of our stubborn hearts.

In the days of Gideon, the enemies of Israel would raid at planting time and destroy everything. The Israelites even built shelters in the hills where they could run and hide; like a tornado shelter in Oklahoma, they knew they would need it. So Gideon is hiding in his winepress one day, and the angel of the Lord appears to him and says, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior" (Judges 6:12).

Notice that the angel says that the Lord is with YOU. Gideon replies, "Pardon me, my lord, but if the LORD is with US, why has all this happened to us?" (v.13). Gideon is griping about the decline in his culture. "Look how bad everything is!" he moans. And when the angel says, "God is with you," he misunderstands and thinks God is with his people.

Is God with the United States, or is God with you? The United States is not a Christian nation. God-fearing people have been deeply involved in this country, but unlike several American colonies, our nation did not establish an official religion. In the colonies, religion mixed with the state led to persecution by the ruling religious opinion of those who didn't agree; the founders of the United States saw this as a problem and wanted to preserve religious freedom without establishing a state-enforced opinion.

Now let's go back to Gideon. The angel says to Gideon, God is with YOU. So Gideon needs to get off his posterior and do something. Gideon's first response is to complain about how bad his nation is, and that God hasn't been involved like He used to be. Meanwhile, God Himself is sitting in front of Gideon telling him to DO SOMETHING. I am with YOU.

What's going on around you that you don't like? The Holy Spirit of God is IN YOU. DO SOMETHING. God can direct moving water, but if you just puddle, you will stagnate. Gideon was afraid, he knew he was too small and too insignificant to really make a difference. And yet, God called him a mighty warrior. Gideon's first forays into mightiness weren't all that impressive, but he did get one remarkable battle. And several chapters in the Bible. What kind of reward do you demand before you move? Guaranteed success? Huge world change? I hope that I am willing to be an unnoticed part of God's army. Many, many remarkable people go unnoticed, but we are part of God's story, and His story prevails.

Go for it. A conversation with God is the way Gideon got started, and it is how he proceeded. Good lesson there.

Now do something.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Suffering when you do good

The Bible speaks to me when I'm hurting...isn't that wonderful? When I got pregnant, I discovered that somewhere I had acquired a Hallmark, soft-lighting image of what carrying a child would be like--which was smashed like a watermelon thrown from a truck at 65 miles per hour. Marriage, on the other hand, didn't startle me. I had seen, in my parents, that life has ups and downs. Sometimes the other person's foibles drives you nuts; sometimes you have serious issues to work out. It is often very, very hard. And yet often that relationship is tremendously rewarding, sometimes quite idyllic, always valuable. I think my own marriage has been easier because I saw a living example of a good one (thanks, Mom & Dad).

So it's nice that the Bible speaks to my real life, with its good moments and bad ones. And on a side note, it's good to read Scripture when you're not in crisis. Read about rough times that believers face, warnings that are given to us. Lay the foundation of healthy expectations. Hard times are hard. It only makes it worse if your expectations are sunshine and lemon drops.

Peter writes to the church, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12). I'm guessing there was some surprise in the body, and he's addressing that by saying, "Don't be surprised!" Fiery ordeals are not fun, and our first reaction is usually WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME, with the accompanying drama your personality is prone to. Peter says, hey, fiery things happen.

Peter says they happen to test you. Do you remember pop quizzes in school? You're skipping along, doing your homework (or not), knowing there isn't a test until the end of the unit, and then BAM, "Put away your books and take out a piece of paper." Have you been preparing? Have you been doing what you need to do? If not, you might fail this test. But the quiz is designed to remind you of the seriousness of being diligent and industrious. It is a tool in a teacher's tool bag. Trials are a tool for our Father, to shape us to look more like Jesus. If you haven't been paying attention, they might catch you off guard, but the purpose is to recall you to the work you are supposed to be doing of growing in your faith. Buckle down. The quiz itself can be useful.

"But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (v.13-14). A disapproving family member or neighbor does not feel like a blessing. A sharp criticism of your parenting or job choice does not feel like a blessing. Are you following the leading of the Spirit in your life? If someone insults you, then you are blessed. Following Jesus requires us to see the world upside down. A trial gives you the opportunity to believe what He says instead of what you feel.

Peter tells us that suffering as a Christian is better than suffering for doing the wrong thing (v.15-18). Feeling guilty sucks. When you are angry from pettiness, it is unpleasant, and you have to kick your way out of the emotion. When you are righteously angry, you can feel the emotion without guilt, without struggling against its current. There are times to be sad, to feel joy. Emotions that line up with Jesus are a blessing.

When we suffer for our wrong choices, there is a different process we go through to find our way out: repentance, forgiveness, learning new behavior. But when we suffer for righteousness, you put down roots and you stand. Psalm 1 contrasts the wicked person with the one who seeks after God. God-followers are "like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither--whatever they do prospers" (Psalm 1:3). There are times we, as God's children, suffer for our sins. But there is a deep goodness in suffering because you followed Jesus. It is a blessing hidden in that difficult situation, like a treasure you only find in a dark place.

Finally, Peter says, "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good" (v.19). You didn't get here without God's knowledge. He saw this coming, and possibly planned it. He certainly planned FOR it; He is bigger than what you are facing. If you are facing something huge, then your perception of God's power and strength may grow, until you see Him as bigger than your obstacle. He is sufficient. He is faithful. He is good. This trial hit while you were doing the right thing; don't give up now, just because it's hard. Keep on, and know there is reward for you in this path. You are not alone.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

My child

The other day my daughter asked me if I would buy lunch for her friend. She didn't ask for herself, and I knew some extenuating circumstances. I immediately said yes. As I was driving to buy the meal and then deliver it, it occurred to me that this very friend had asked me three times in the past two weeks for money to buy lunch. Each time I said no. But when MY CHILD asked, I said yes. My child has special access to me and my resources.

There are times when my child asks, and I say no. It is, after all, my responsibility to shape her character, and sometimes not getting what she wants is what's best for her. But she knows it is our family's nature to be generous, and so she asks for a friend, and I say yes.

Now imagine with me how your Father responds when you ask on behalf of a friend who doesn't know Him. That friend can ask, but you are His child. Do you know what family you belong to? Do you know His heart for people? Are you grabbing someone's hand and running to Daddy?

Jesus said, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

Friday, May 3, 2013

5 little thoughts

Not all of my blogging friends are on Facebook, but that's where I post thoughts that aren't big enough to make into a blog entry. If you're looking for a little something to chew on, here are my top 5 recent posts.

You must answer this question for yourself: Why do I follow Christ? Until you know for yourself, you cannot talk with others (even your own children). If your answer sounds like something printed in a church bulletin, scratch it out and try again. When it sounds like *you*, then you will know why *you* follow Jesus.

Do you want to learn the value of your time? Set a 20 minute timer & do all you can to clean the kitchen. Then set a 20 minute timer and work on laundry. Then another 20 minutes looking through that pile of paperwork. Now you know what an hour of your time at home is worth. Budget it wisely.

Do not be anxious about anything, even the important stuff that most of the people around you are anxious about. (Every now and then, don't you look up to heaven in amazement....really, God? You meant that even for *my* circumstances? Working to conform my life to His word. He is good.)

"I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High." - Psalm 9:1-2 I get tired of people being super-excited about their church...although I've personally been there, and that excitement has even been my job. But I came to Jesus not because He was some fabulous new product on the American market. He is amazing and good. He has saved me and comforted me and helped me and directed me and healed me. May I bear testimony to Him in all of my words, my choices, my actions, and in my heart. Wherever you are this morning, I hope you spend time focusing on Him. And if you are in church, I hope your church stays out of His way.

If you had a friend who claimed to be a vegetarian, but ate meat all the time, wouldn't you doubt her beliefs? There are such things as vegetarians, but she isn't one, no matter what she says. Likewise, a person can say, "I am a Christian," but at some point, it makes a difference in her behavior--or she doesn't really believe it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When priorities kick your plans around

I had to cancel Lunch at Angie's today. It's the third time this semester: once for weather, and another time because of one of my kids being ill. Today my middle child is sick, and yesterday was miserable. I stopped cleaning house to get my daughter because she wasn't feeling well. I settled her at home with a movie, then I picked up my youngest and bought some groceries. My sick one kept wanting my attention; she seemed to be feeling more and more miserable, and finally at 6:00pm, she asked if she could go to the doctor.

"Great," I thought. "I'm never going to get the house clean for the lunch." And I became more and more stressed. My girl is in a serious study at school that requires a certain number of hours from her, and not until 10:00pm did she decide she needed to stay home.

I don't know if these situations stress you or not. I think one of the reasons that God gave me my best friend is because she tends to cancel. We've been friends for decades, and many times I have gotten a last minute call from her saying she can't come, usually a family reason but sometimes her own well-being. Every time, it strikes me as unusual: she's putting her family's needs above a commitment? Her own health above her plans? I hate doing that. I like to be SuperAngie, never slowed down by the ordinary of life, always able to DO IT ALL.

However, I have said to my best friend, over and over, "You are such a great example to the rest of us." To say NO in order to be healthy, to make family a priority. It seems to be an example our culture needs. I know that I need to see it. But when I have to make the choice, it's much harder. Do I want to be a great example of making right choices, or SuperAngie? Dang it, I want to be SuperAngie.

I NEVER want to disappoint people. My mentor once told me, "Priorities are vertical, not horizontal." We think we can do everything, but if we strive to do it all, we are placing everything on the same plane. If we have priorities, then some things, some people, have to get our vote when life squeezes us. And make no mistake: life will squeeze you. In fact, God set it up that way so that you can see what your priorities are. Sometimes, squeeze situations tick me off because they show me how poorly my priorities are set. I don't think SuperAngie should have to put up her cape and nurse a child.

Ironically, I was going to talk with our group today about The Beauty of Motherhood. Well, here it is. At one point yesterday, I told my sick child, "You have to choose to take care of yourself. You can't just keep going [due to the pressures you feel from people around you]." Hello! Were you listening, Angie? (Angie drapes herself in her cape and stalks away.)

Here's how you make these choices: look to God. Stop looking at the people that you feel are depending on you. You are not called to respond to the needs of people. The gospels say that Jesus did not trust himself to people, because He knew their hearts (John 2:24). We are supposed to trust ourselves to God, and prayer is trusting those around us to His care as well. Jesus withdrew from the crowds and spent time alone. I guarantee you, I am under the dictation of people/expectations more than God, because I do not withdraw as He did.

I have had times in my life when I followed my priorities a little better, with a little more grace. Today's just not that day, and yet, I'm still choosing to be mommy. Not The Beautiful Amazing Mommy. Just ordinary. The solution today is not to tell myself, "Read your Bible more. Pray more. Be stronger." Today, I simply need His strength. Today, I am weak; I need Him.