Monday, October 28, 2013

Love and Obedience: The Connection

Brody forgets to hang his towel up... a lot.  He leaves it in the floor of his room and sometimes on his bed still wet.  I've told him a thousand times not to do this, that he can hang his towel on the towel rack that was made for that purpose and use it more than once.  It's an ongoing thing.  I've scolded, yelled even, and become completely irritated by the fact that Brody forgets to hang his towel up…  a lot.  But the other day, I went downstairs where he was and being filled with love for him because he really is the  best kid ever...  He's kind and generous and thoughtful.  He never gets in trouble.  He makes wise decisions.  He hangs with the good kids.  He IS a good kid, very good, even though he forgets to hang his towel up... a lot.  I gave him a big hug for the morning, just a good morning hug really, and told him that he was such a good boy.  "You're such a good boy, Brody," I said,  "such a GOOD boy.  I am so proud of you."  He loved the hug and the compliments.  After I patted him on the back a few times just out of a mother's sheer happiness with such a fine young man, Brody held up his finger and said, "Wait a minute."  He walked to his room, picked up his towel out of the floor, and hung it on its place. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts to Ponder

I go down to our farm in Chilton County a lot.  There's lots of trees and plants and grass there.  But there's no t.v. or internet or phone except for my cell.  I can listen to the birds and cut flowers and put them in a vase.  Maybe I work the garden or dig up weeds, but the main reason I go there is because it's quiet.  I can think there.  I'm not tempted to do housework or laundry or watch t.v.  I can be alone with God.  I can be still and think and pray. 

I think that our culture is so tuned in and plugged up that we miss the quiet goodness that nature provides.  We don't have to think because the answers are so readily available to us.  You don't know who Genghis Khan is?  Google him.  You can find out in two shakes of a lamb's tail.  Never heard that idiom used?  Google it.  You'll know where it came from in...  You get the picture.  In all that information, something is lost...  the ability to think things through, to wonder, to dream, to ponder. 

Our world is moving forward so quickly that the "facts" are being lost.  Take the word "crucial."  It means decisive, important, or significant.  That's what a current Webster's dictionary says, but I have an old "Handy Edition" published in 1944 by the John C. Winston Company that defines crucial as cruciform (cross-shaped), intersecting, severe or searching.  How this very useful, modern word came to be is a testament to the Christian heritage of our forefathers.  So, the next time your history teacher tells you its "crucial" that you do your homework, you could tell him/her with certainty that it's not quite "that" important. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Love: The Most Excellent Way

Love is a hard word to define, but we've all experienced it.  Haven't we?  Look in the dictionary and you'll find something like "strong affection" or "warm attachment."  That's a little lacking, isn't it?

Love is strong.

Have you ever really loved someone, I mean REALLY loved someone?  I have.  And what I feel for the people I love is so intense, it IS hard to define.

Here's why:

The Bible tells us that God is love.  God IS love.  It doesn't say He created love or that He's the source of love or that He gives love...   It says HE IS LOVE.  That's why it's so hard to wrap our minds around what love really is.

We may not be able to put our finger on it, but we do it.  We all love, don't we?  And, we've all been loved.  We crave it, and we can't help but to give it.

Why?  Because we were created in God's image.  If God is love, and we were created to be like Him, then of course it's in our nature to love, to love God, and to love one another.  That's how it was always supposed to be.

But sin entered the picture.  We still have the remnants of God, of love, in our nature, but now we have something else too.  We have a sin nature as well.  And the two natures are so unalike that they battle each other.  Sometimes the sin nature wins out, doesn't it?  But sometimes the God nature wins.  The key is to not let the sin nature win the war.

The only way we can truly override this sin nature in us is by the Spirit of God.  In a natural born person, these two natures are gonna go at it naturally, but when a person is born of the Spirit, then He has a helper.  It's like we get a double dose of the God nature.  Because when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we're given the Holy Spirit to help us in the battle.  It doesn't mean the battle isn't still on; it just means you've got a helper in this life, in this world.

We live in a fallen creation.  There's sin and death and disease and war and famine and all kinds of bad things going on out there that can really get you down.  People always ask, "If God is good, then why does He allow bad things?"

The answer may shock you.  He does it out of love.

He doesn't want us to be in love with this fallen world.  He wants us to be in love with Him.  Because He is greater than anything this world has to offer.

A few years ago, I had to bury my son, Bronner, my baby.  He was only 2 1/2.  I should have been crushed by it, but I wasn't.  Because God showed me that He didn't take Bronner to hurt me, but to teach me, to refine me, to use me.

Just after Bronner went to Heaven, I had this moment of desperation.  I had many moments of desperation, but during one of those particularly desperate moments, I cried out to God to tell me, "WHY?"

"Why the Children?  Why do you take the children?"

I said to God, "There is nothing worse than losing a child!  Nothing!  I know you lost Your Son, but you got Him back after three days!  Three Days!"

And I heard God speak to me in my Spirit.  "But what about the others?  They're all Mine.  You're going to get this glorious reunion with your son, but I won't get that with all of Mine."

And I understood.  I got it.  And maybe for the first time ever, I had compassion for God.  Because I know that He created each person to seek out and to find Him.  He'll never make you love Him.  He'll never make you obey Him.  But, He wants you to because He loves you.

I know that I will be with Bronner again.  I'll hold him in my arms and I'll kiss him and I'll love him forever.  I know this by faith.  It's my hope.  God has given me this, and I CAN endure the pain of separation because I know it's only temporary.

I can see that God took Bronner away from me for a time, for a season, so that some of His children would come back to Him forever.

God is love, and everything He does, EVERYTHING, is out of His great love for you and for me.

God is love, but He is also just.  And His holiness requires a reckoning for sin.  But even in this, He provides a way of love.

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends."

"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends."

Jesus did just that.  He laid down His life for you and for me to pay the penalty for sin so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

"In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, He has overcome the world."

And because He has overcome this world, we can too.

We can walk in the way of love.

In 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, the Apostle Paul says, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

If God is love, then we can put God in place of the word "love" here and understand that Paul means that without God, it's all pointless.  Anything he ever did apart from Jesus Christ, the Lord, gained him nothing.  People place their faith in a lot of things, but unless it's God, the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that I believe 1 Corinthians 13:13 gives an illustration of, then you gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:13 says:  "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love."

It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that we have faith.  It is by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we have hope.  And it is God, the Father, who loves us so much that He would send His only Son to die in our place.

Love is the greatest of these because love came first.  If not for our sin, we wouldn't have to hope, we wouldn't have to have faith, because we wouldn't be separated from God.

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I ask you today...  Is there anything greater than the love of God?  Is there anything more pure and holy?  Is there anything better?

Why would you choose anything else?

Love God.  Serve Him only.

And why not?

God is patient and kind.  He doesn't envy or boast.  He isn't arrogant or rude.  He doesn't insist on His own way.  He isn't irritable or resentful.  He doesn't rejoice at wrong-doing but rejoices with the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things... for you. 

All of it is for you and for me.

Let's pray:

Father God, may your Holy Spirit be alive and at work in the world today.  Open the minds and hearts of everyone who reads this to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, yesterday, today, and forever.  Teach us by Your Word that You love us, that You gave up Your Son to pay the price for our sins, and that if we believe this by faith, that Jesus died and rose again, we will have eternal life in Him. Give us strength, Lord, for the battle.  Clothe us with your Spirit that we may walk in the way of love.  Test us and try us, Lord, that we may be perfected in You.  Fit us for Heaven and take us to live with You there until that time when You bring us back to the earth and every tear will be wiped away and death shall be no more.  Give us to eat from the Tree of Life and let us see Your Face.  And the grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all.  Amen. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In the World but Not of It? Yes, but... How?

This morning, I was reading through some messages and found one I felt compelled to answer knowing all the while that I would want to post it here.  It's a good question, one we should all be asking.  I'm betting that some others are wondering the same thing especially with Christmas just behind us.  I hope so, and I hope what I've written here will help you in your walk with the Lord today.  For privacy's sake, I won't say who the letter is from, but I do want to share both the letter and it's response.  Here they are:      

"Hi Sherri. I feel so awkward emailing you, and I'm not really even sure why I am.  I have just been praying about something and long story short I happened upon your blog and found some of the answers.  I have listened to the show for years, and I mourned the loss of your sweet baby boy as so many others have. I'm not sure why I never read your blog before...I think it's just because I was supposed to read it now. Anyway after reading your blog and listening to Rick preach your baby's funeral I just have this burning question. I just wonder once you "get it" - once you know that nothing we do here matters unless it is for the kingdom- how do you find joy in all the other stuff? Do you forever feel guilty for spending money on something you know you don't really need but that you just want? Do you struggle with the activities that your kids do and the time they spend doing them? Do you feel led by the spirit to know when you are crossing those lines? I just feel the sincerity and wisdom in the words that you write. And I guess I am hoping you can impart some of that wisdom on me. I just struggle with that fine line between being in the world but not of the world. Anyway, I just want to say thank you for sharing your heart and for taking the time to write down the words that have become the answers to another's prayers! Thank you!"

No, I'm so glad you did. This is a great question, the best question, the thing all Christians should be asking, and the thing I have struggled with the most. After Bronner went to Heaven, I wanted to die... literally. I had no love for this world anymore. I found myself lying on the pool deck one day looking into the clouds wanting to fly up into them. I felt at that moment that I could, that I could just give up my spirit and rise up to Heaven with God and with Bronner. As I lay there, I closed my eyes as if to go, and then I heard the names of people I knew were not Christians and may never find the Lord if I weren't here to help show them the way. I stood up and the moment was gone.

I was never suicidal, never would I deliberately take my own life, but I felt that I could, if I desired, give up living. Even before I lost Bronner, I had felt this. When I was pregnant with him, I began to have a great fear of losing one of my children and had even discussed it with Rick. He and I both agreed that we couldn't go on living after something like that. I said that I would just crawl up in bed and die. We even joked about it a little agreeing that he would have to stay and take care of the other children. It was all hypothetical then.

Looking back, that seems almost idolatrous to me, and, in fact, it may have been. I have always loved the Lord, but He has taught me that I must love Him more than anything, even my children. God was drawing me nearer in the taking of my youngest son.

Brody was in first grade when Bronner went away, and I was having a real hard time living in the world. I expressed this to his sweet teacher one day when I was dropping him off. She told me to look at the world through the eyes of a first grader, that there was more for Brody in this world, and that I would have to be here for him through it all. Another mom I know who has lost a son said she struggled with the very same thing. She said that "the world had lost its luster" for her. She told me to just "do the next thing" and that I would find life again. So, yes, it is very hard to live in this world when your heart, treasure, baby, and God live elsewhere.

Then, we began to go on mission trips and see horrifying conditions of life in other places, and that made me want to help them. I stopped feeling so sorry for myself and began to want to help others. I always knew that I wanted to stay to raise my other children, and I knew that my role as a wife was to be a comfort to my husband through his pain and grief. So, leaving the world was never a real desire, just a fancy I guess. I know that there's something so much greater than what this world holds, but what I live for within it is the work God has given me to do. He wants me to raise my children in the fear and the admonition of the Lord. He wants me to love my husband and to be a helper to him. He wants me to write and speak and teach in His name. He wants me to give generously of my time, talents, and resources to further His kingdom. Those are the things I live for.

I recently took my children on a surprise trip to New York City for Christmas, and I had a good time. I really did. But, it's not really my thing. I didn't do it for me. I did it for them because there is still a wonder in them that has gone away for me. There's a song by one of my favorite artists, Kristyn Getty, about that very thing. She asks, in the song, for God to not let her lose her wonder. I do find wonder in some things, things like flowers and birds and babies. I love to see the excitement and wonder of my children about almost anything. They were so excited about our trip. Brooks said the best part was the surprise. They thought they were going to our farm to take Christmas pictures, and when they protested that "this isn't the way to the farm," I pulled out a gift for them to open. It was the tickets to the shows we were going to see.

"Are we going to see a play?" Brooks said.

"Keep reading."

"New York City, New York!!!"

And, I agree. The surprise was the best part. He had worked so hard studying for finals, and this was just the thrill he needed to start his holiday break off right!

It was fun and a memory he'll always have, I hope. I gave him this gift because I love him and because I knew he would enjoy it. There is nothing wrong with that. God, Himself, wants to lavish us with good gifts, and He will one day. We do want to give good things to the ones we love if we can. I would give the whole world a trip to New York City if I could. But I am called to raise my children. And I am.

I haven't always felt this way. I know exactly what you're feeling. I have so felt buyers regret. I don't really anymore. I buy things because I love people. I buy things to make my home more lovely and comfortable for my family. I buy things to look nice for my husband. I think this is good. God calls us to be hospitable, and He has also created women to love beautiful things. The women I met in India were fascinated by my diamond wedding band. They had never seen diamonds. I mentioned this to the man who ran the ministry we worked with there commenting that "women everywhere are the same." And he said, almost a little accusingly, "Oh, how so?" And I said, "We all love beautiful things." He was a little taken aback and had no reply. I think he thought that maybe I was right. Those women had nothing, but they wore beautiful clothing. They wore the same sari everyday, but it was one that was very ornate and lovely. That's part of being a woman, I think.

For me, though, the difference is priority. If I were given a choice between sponsoring a missionary or buying a new dress, it would always be the sponsorship. If we keep our lives in balance, with God right in the center of everything we do, then it's okay. I have begun to ask the Lord about purchases and activities. He always confirms me in my spirit. If I feel wrong in my spirit about something, I know it's not the right choice, but if God gives me overwhelming peace about something, as He has many times, then I know it is His will. For instance, I took my parents on a trip to Ireland a couple of years ago, not for a mission trip but just to give them a good gift, and I felt not one ounce of regret about it. The Lord wanted me to do this good thing for them out of love. We did the same thing for Rick's parents, taking them to London the following year.  Now, we all treasure those moments together so much. Because it's not about how much we spend or what we do, it's a way to express our love for one another. Yes, I sponsor missionaries and children in Africa and ministries in great number, my church, etc., but the people who get the most of me are the people I love the most, my family, my friends.

That's what it all boils down to... love and peace. If you love someone and God gives you peace to give them a great gift, then do it. We do live in this world, and we have to make the best of it. We follow the Lord's leading in all things. He's right there inside of you to give approval or disapproval to everything you do. If you'll listen to that nudging of the Spirit, you'll know.

Another aspect is trust. Some people worry that if I do this or that, I may run out of money. I don't really ever worry about that. I don't worry that Rick will lose His job or that I have to save tons of money for the future. I feel that God will always provide for me no matter what. If the economy fails, if Rick loses his job, if America... whatever! God speaks of this very plainly in Matthew 6:19-34: "Do not lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also... Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value that they? ...Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ...your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

I really think that is why I am at peace with my life... I seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He knows this and has provided abundantly more than I could ever think or imagine. I look forward to my life in Heaven very, very much, but I know there is work left for me here in this world.

I will... that is my answer to God. Yes, Lord, I will do all that you ask or require of me. Yes, this, and more will I do, because I LOVE YOU... more than I love this world... more than anything, Lord, do I love YOU.