Friday, June 28, 2013

"Love" doesn't mean "easy"

On Monday and Tuesday this week, my husband and I took an overnight anniversary trip. We do this just about every year, just a small getaway to celebrate the marriage God has given us. We are "disgustingly gushy" (quote from our youngest teenager), and our time alone is spent with a lot of I-love-you's, God-has-richly-blessed-me's, and other sentimental expressions.

If we were in a movie, there would be soft lighting, tender glances, and a fade to credits. But life isn't a movie set. We return Wednesday, and I have a particularly difficult day emotionally. I know I am being unpleasant, and I can't stop. I feel overwhelmed by the kids and other issues we're still dealing with (church, tornado, family). Poor Johnny. He even said, "I'm not used to you being this unhappy after a trip."

We have a good marriage. It is easy to walk through our vacation together, but praise God, my husband still loves me on Wednesday. Still stands by me, still tries to help, still loves me.

Somehow, in the gushy expressions of I-love-you, I want to believe that life will be easy. Our marriage is easy, but even then it is a struggle some days to truly listen, to lay aside our differences and parent together, to say things that might hurt but will help us, to resist saying things that would only vent anger. A tiny part of me says that if I am very, very loved, why is life still so hard?

I think that voice gets louder when we think about God. He adores me? Then why...(blank)?

When did "God loves me" become "life is great"?

It is great to be loved. It is a foundation, a security. Sometimes, the love of people fails us, and often God gets painted with that same brush. When hard things in life happen, it looks like He's guilty of the same failure to love that others have shown us.

But God loves us. And His love is enduring. Sometimes, I think He expresses that love in a special way just before something very difficult happens. When Jesus was up on the mountain with three of his disciples, a voice came from a cloud and said, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." What amazing confirmation for both Jesus and His disciples.

Within a week, Jesus is kneeling in a garden, begging God to choose some other path than the cross.

Love does not exempt us from difficulty. Sometimes, loving well compels us to the harder choices. Think about parenting: you could make life with your kids really easy, except that you love them. So you discipline them; you make rules; you put them in timeout or take away computer privileges, and now your own day is much more stress-filled and difficult.

Sometimes, when you love, you choose to get involved in situations you could otherwise avoid. You choose to walk with someone through their pain.

God loves us that way. He adores you. May you walk today--no matter what it holds--with the strength of His love inside of you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Reading Philippians 1 and coughing

At our first Bible study together (Coffee at Angie's), we simply read Philippians 1 together. Nothing earth shattering. Just reading the Bible. It is amazing how the Bible can speak to you when you (cough cough) read it.

After Lunch at Angie's, I could usually duplicate the devotional here in my blog. But this would be much harder to do with the Bible study. Quote a passage...ramble a bit. Not terribly interesting in written form, sans community. So instead I'm going to share a single thought, perhaps one I didn't even share at our study.

In Philippians 1:4, Paul says, "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy." Paul doesn't just think about his friends at Philippi. He prays for them. He says he is confident that God, "who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (v.6) Despite Paul's confidence that everything is going to be good for these people, he still prays for them.

Just as it is easy to skip actually (cough cough) reading the Bible, it is also easy to skip praying for people. Especially if we think things are going well for them. If we are the "pray regularly" sort, our prayers may sound like, "Oh, tra la la, bless these people." We bring out the big guns when we think someone is in danger or trouble of some sort. Then we are earnest.

But Paul, confident that his friends would mature and fulfill God's purposes, prayed for them. He prayed that their love would abound more and more (v.9). And not just an increasing love, but one that grows in knowledge and depth of insight. And not just growing in knowledge and depth of insight in a general sense, but in order that they would be able to discern God's best for them.

Wow, stop right there. How often have you been uncertain what is God's best for you? I want someone praying that for me! That I would grow in my love for Jesus, in my knowledge of Him and depth of insight. It seems kind of esoteric, not really a practical prayer, until Paul includes that "discern what is best" part (v.10).

Paul's prayers for people were deep. I often copy his words in Ephesians because the way he prays for believers gets at the heart of how we mature. It helps me to think on it. It helps us all to pull together when we ask God for the very things that are listed in the Word.

Let me loop back to something I said earlier: Paul's prayer seems all Jesus-y and spiritual. But really, the things he's asking are God's best for us. The prayer continues, "that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God" (v.10-11). None of us naturally want the glory and praise of God above all else. But I tell you, wanting Him is the best for us. If you've ever been through suffering and trials, the more you understand a hunger for His glory, the more you are sustained. The more He matters, the less stuff matters. Our lives should be focused on retraining our brain and our hearts to look like Him. To look at Him. To look for what we need from His hand.

To do that, it's probably good to (cough cough) read the Bible. And when you're concerned about things or thinking about your friends, it's probably good to (cough cough) pray.

And more than anyone, I'm probably (cough cough) talking to myself.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Do you want to be productive?

It used to be my job to recruit people to serve. I enjoy inviting people to work in the Kingdom. Service is a wonderful path to growth, because Scripture becomes more alive to us as we put it into practice. I want people to visit my church, give to my causes, come buy produce from my people, come to my house for coffee. But...

Today I'm going to tell you that you're doing too much. I saw you flinch. You know who you are.

Trust me, I hate this message as much as you do. I have a friend who's very successful in ministry, and my own career seems pale and limpid next to hers. When I think about her, I always muse, "Well, if you were really dedicated, Angie, you could do that." And then I feel sad and envious. But the truth is, I am not called to do what she does. I really try to hear the Lord's voice and only move when He says yes. Even so, there is always a war between my own crazy ambition and my Shepherd's voice.

In John 15:2, Jesus says, "He [as in, God the Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." There is a danger of thinking you are in Christ and not bearing fruit; this blog entry is not written for that person. My friend, if you are productive in the Spirit, the Lord will prune you.

Mentally picture pruning shears in your hand. They have a very strong lever, and the pinch of those blades is strong.

I often want the same thing that God wants for me. I want to be productive. The rub comes in the method; I'm not sure I like the idea of pruning.

2 Peter 1:8 says, "If you possess these qualities in increasing measure [faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control...see the full list here], they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." This verse is one of my favorites! I don't want to be ineffective and unproductive! And then Jesus whispers, "Ah, good! I shall prune you."


When my rose bush puts up a bud, it usually puts out four or five. Ideally, you should pinch off the smaller buds so that the center one gets more nutrition and grows bigger and more beautiful. But isn't more better? Hmm. Maybe. But a rose bush can only produce so many roses without becoming diseased and unhealthy. In your passion to produce, are you becoming diseased and unhealthy?

Donald Miller commented, "What if you decided to change a dozen people's lives? To keep your focus and prayers toward them. And trusted them to change the world." What if you need to think small and genuine? To be a healthy producer, instead of a mass producer? I don't have the capacity to love large numbers of people well, unlike God who sees the hearts and thoughts of millions. His bigness makes me feel small, and sometimes hopeless. But in truth, I am not the one who changes the world. Neither are the people I help along in the journey. Really, it is God who moves in lives to change things for His eternal, good purposes.

Jesus continues His thought in John, "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me" (v.4). The Spirit in us will bear fruit. We don't do it on our own. And sometimes, if you really want to grow, if you really want to produce the very best that you can, you must say no. Let God take something out of your life.

Snip. Focus. Here we go.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What's your number?

Today I have a guest blogger, my friend Lori Kroh. Lori works in real estate, has an amazing knack for interior design, makes a stranger feel like a friend, and is adored by her family. Thanks for sharing your words, Lori.

Random thoughts are good sometimes. I had this memory float through my head tonight. Funny, how certain memories come back after many years. Many years ago, I lived behind Troy Aikman. Yep. The quarterback! Well, he lived in a mansion in Irving/Coppell and I lived in the apartments by the fields behind his mansion.

I would walk many an evening and be on the back streets through new construction. He would go jogging on those back streets at sunset. Same as me. Many times, I would be walking and then here he would come...towards I would suck in my size 6 belly...and pick up the pace and even jog...why? I don't know. I guess I had the delusion that after so many times seeing me - he would say - Hey there, blondie. You jog? I jog. Wanna go out? and maybe if we hit it off - we can get married?? Yes. Delusional.

But he never did. I guess I was longing for a better life. One that would rescue me and one that fame and fortune could buy me. ***sigh*** I wanted a better life. ***sigh again*** and then I would go back to walking.

Many years later, I was married. I attended a small realtor's luncheon and was part of a select few that got to meet him. There was only like twenty of us. As I waited in line...I got more and more nervous. When it was my turn to meet him, I posed for the picture and smiled. He doesn't smile that great so that picture is not so good if I may say so. Well, I asked him for his autograph, and after he signed his name he made a little tiny "8" on top.

I looked at it and said, "Oh, cute. A tiny 8. I like that!" Oh, yes, I did. I did say that.

He then stares at me.

To further fill the void, I proceed to remind him that we used to jog together over by the fields in Coppell.

He stares at me.

I mean he looks as if we have never met. I was like - " know the cute blonde that wore size 6 shorts and we always said hello and politely nodded at one another?? Please, Troy. Let's not act like we don't know each other." Of course, I didn't actually say this last part out loud, just in my head...but I did remind him about jogging and he did continue to nod and stare at me. Boy - this guy is one tough nut. I mean, what's gonna take for him to be impressed???

Well, fast forward to tonight. I am out walking... with my hubby and two little tikes on their bikes. We go all around the neighborhood. I saw the sunset, and then this whole memory floods into my head - and I stare at my little ones and Scott. Scott remembers everything about me. The first time he saw me. Our first kiss. Our first date. What I said to him - the very first time I spoke. All of it.

My kids?? They love me. No amount of fame or fortune can give me what they have given me. I ***sigh***. Because, I have been rescued. I have a better life and this is IT. I ***sigh*** because I don't have to suck in my belly. It actually is jiggling because I am laughing so hard as I walk and my kids are so cute and silly. I ***sigh*** because I don't have to do anything to impress someone. I ***sigh*** because I realize I have it all - now. As in NOW.

I am so glad that memory came randomly into my mind tonight. I think I will start signing my name Lori Kroh "4". Because, there are 4 of us.

Got that, Troy? A tiny little "4." And by the way: I am very, very three people. And that impresses me.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tornados in Oklahoma, May 2013

This has been an intense weather season. It is hard to believe how much Moore and the Oklahoma City area has been pummeled. My friend on staff at a church in Norman has been reassigned to the position of Disaster Relief. There is so much work to be done, the church has created an entire staff position devoted to organizing relief efforts. It will be years to see this area restored.

Another friend of mine planned to start a church in Oklahoma City, with their first service in August. He's been diligently preparing for a year, and we've teased him about Oklahoma City really *needing* another church. Here's where God's wisdom is greater than ours: when the tornado hit Moore on May 20, he came immediately, and has been on the ground assisting families and organizing relief efforts from a Walmart parking lot. God knew the city would need a minister, and He prepared John Hickman and the other staff of Everyday Church for just such a time as this.

I love pictures of doors, and this photo shows a door left standing in a house otherwise devastated: the homeowner had taped Scriptures all over it, and not a single one blew away when the storm hit.

Also this spring, an EF0 hit my best friend's neighborhood, damaging trees, their roof, destroying their shed. They were running for the storm shelter when it was in their backyard; the emergency sirens went off as they were coming out to look at the damage.

Two months later, an EF2 hits my neighborhood. Several homes were destroyed, about ten impacted overall. Not a shingle from our roof is missing, although we have tree damage.

I am not a panicky person. Raised an Okie, I am more likely to want to watch an approaching tornado than hide from it.
But three storm chasers lost their lives this spring, and the storms keep coming. The new world record for widest tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma (2.6 miles, and EF5). A record number of EF5 tornados, the highest winds possible. Now, I am emotionally worn out and jumpy. We've been pierced by all that has been thrown at us this spring.

However, God has been in the midst of this. Our neighbors, who lost their home, had been visiting a church for a while, but hadn't joined. That church, Southwood Baptist (Tulsa), cancelled their church picnic last Sunday to come help clear debris. When I was talking to the homeowner, he said, "Yeah, I know no one is burning their debris but us [it's legal since we're outside city limits], but there are so many youth here. Burning it is just more fun than hauling it to the curb." He says this, smiling, in front of his wrecked home, with four people using hoses to try to control the blaze in his backyard. Totally relaxed, wanting to make a special moment for his guests.

Those same church people wrote Scriptures all over the standing walls of his first floor. These rooms where the neighborhood gathered for Christmas parties, that the homeowner totally transformed with her huge Christmas collection, now all blown away. The state of their stuff has changed, but they are surrounded by the Word and God's people. They are filled with His presence. Life is good.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. - 1 Peter 1:3-7 (NIV)

5 Little Thoughts from May

Every month I choose five thoughts from my Facebook statuses to publish here. Not everyone who reads my blog is on Facebook. If you're looking for some brain food, here are some thought-starters.

Well, it's 8:00am. And I have realized several things that I've already messed up. I'm so glad the Lord is patient with me. Sometimes, I feel like a 3-year-old left in charge of an embassy.

One of the mysteries of the Christian life is "don't look for happiness here." Our pastor preached a sermon yesterday called Frustrations of a Fixer--just what I needed this weekend, so appropriate for us moms. He concluded with this clever twist: the only thing we need to fix comes from Hebrews 12:2. We need to fix *our eyes* on Jesus. Our greatest troubles often come from what we're focusing on. If it's anything less than Jesus, it's gonna cause us problems.

Want to save on your food bill? Hint: stop buying food. Chances are you have lots of food in your freezer and pantry, but you're buying things at the store because this sounds good, or you saw this commercial, or you don't have time to plan. Declare a "wacky week" and just feed the kids what you find at home. We've had a dinner of leftover green beans, leftover Chinese, sweet potato fries, mixed veggies tossed with butter and thyme, and canned cinnamon rolls. It doesn't go together--but our goal is not "go together." Our goal is to eat the food we've ALREADY PAID FOR. Refuse to go to the store until there's an empty shelf in the pantry or freezer.

It's one of those days where I feel a bit overwhelmed with everything. The advice I have developed after years of dealing with this: hang on. Don't fix it today. Rest, and know that God is God.

Yesterday our pastor preached on fear and failure. He quoted someone, "What are you going to do, threaten me with heaven?" I like that quote. But I also think we are more threatened by losing our lives as we know it here, then going to the by & by. Losing our things, our status, our position, our reputation--these threaten me more than losing my life. So I reminded myself: this isn't MY story. It's His story. And He writes good ones, so I'm all in.