Friday, August 31, 2012

Legalism Logistics

I spoke about legalism last week in my blog post entitled, "Legalism Loopholes."  I hinted that I would probably be writing more about this topic at some point--guess I am already feeling led to it.  This is a topic that can evoke a great deal of passion and emotion amongst people in the church.  In fact, it is actually the catalyst for more church fights and divisions than anything else.  It has never ceased to amaze me how prone we can be as people to want approval by others on nearly every matter in our lives (we are insecure at times), but how judgmental we can be to others who are not "doing it our way" (we try to transfer or deflect that insecurity).  Actually, those who are critical of the way others live (when it comes  to matters we are not called to judge--things that are not laid out as "sin"), are still exhibiting insecurity by trying to prove they are right and get a posse behind them to do things exactly as they do. As believers, we all agree that we are each uniquely designed by God, and we would all agree that we want to be who God made us especially to be.  But when we transfer our judgements onto others for things we are not called to judge, we are basically saying we want everyone to live the same life, look the same, and do the same things.

Last Sunday, I had the fun privilege of being asked to sing a shortened rendition of Aretha Franklin's song, "R.E.S.P.E.C.T.," to set up a sermon on disrespect.  The Head Pastor of our church requested it be sung to creatively set up the topic and our Music Director/Pastor offered the crazy op to me. Being a musician with a love of diverse music, I accepted with joy.  But due to my former legalistic upbringing, I had a little fear and trepidation about it after agreeing.  I found myself wondering if it would "offend" some in the congregation that I was singing a secular song from the 60's on the altar of God.  I had to release that fear to God and trust that Pastor Jim knew what he was doing.  He would have never gotten me to sing that song for church 13 years ago, so at least I'm making some progress, albeit slow! 

As I touched on last week, I grew up in a strict Baptist church where legalism was never mentioned, but practiced religiously.  It was one of those churches where pretty much anything "fun" was frowned upon (dancing, card playing, secular music, you name it)!  Singing anything but hymns on Sunday for congregational singing would have been strictly forbidden and frowned upon, (and singing an Aretha Franklin song in church probably would have been viewed as a call for God to strike with lightening)!  Over the years that I have been a believer, I have come to realize that the Christian walk is not always black and white.  Though there are many sins clearly laid out as, "sin," in God's Word, there are many other issues of daily living that are not as clear, as Romans 14 discusses.  I happen to believe wholeheartedly that this issue of music is one of these "grey areas."  Obviously, you can find music out there that is clearly "worldy" and even "evil" by the lyrics alone.  But I happen to think that most music is delightful and God-given.  I do not believe you have to listen to Christian radio only to be a devout believer or to remain sinless.  If I truly believed that, then I would have to also watch only Christian news programs, go to only Christian movies, view only Christian TV shows, purchase only goods from Christian businesses, and basically, never leave my house! (I am guessing that this would not be a very effective way to witness and minister for the cause of Christ)!  Where does one draw the line?  Once you start drawing these staunch, heavy lines of legalism the next thing you know you are completely surrounded, or worse you become hypocritical (you draw heavy lines in some areas and not others--and the lines don't all get drawn from the same argument in your "laws").

Much like watching TV shows, going to movies, watching the news, listening to music, or wearing stylish clothing, there are things we do in the world that could be viewed as, "worldly."  Though clearly not "religious" or "Godly," these things are obviously not inherently evil or bad.   I believe that God gave humans the creativity and intelligence to develop everything from technology to medications, and that usage of those innovations is many times a huge blessing and gift from God.  But as Christians, we are taught in God's Word to be in the world and not of the world (John 17:14-16; Romans 12:2).   This is where the grey areas come into play.   As Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 10:23, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify." In other words, there are some daily living issues that aren't inherently evil or sinful, but some of them may not bring anything good to your life or help build-up your life, either.  Paul goes on about this in further detail in Romans 14 when he explains that each person in the faith will have different personal convictions in these "grey" areas, based upon their own strengths and weaknesses, and that it is okay to agree to disagree on these matters.  It is up to everyone to decide privately for themselves in faith in the Lord.

When we try to put laws or restrictions on each other in these grey areas, we are instigating our own code of do's and don'ts (creating laws), and essentially "playing God" to other believers.  This is legalism--it is a highly religious, pious belief that whatever I deduce as sin, is sinful for everyone.  But God's Word says that there are some sins clearly defined as sin by Him, and some that are not (Romans 14).  According to this passage, all believers in the body of Christ (the church), must decide for themselves in these undefined areas--they must decide whether they feel they are sinless and "free" to partake of that particular area or not.

One of the grey areas that I didn't begin to view as "grey" until about 10 years ago is drinking.  Growing up being told in church (and by other legalistic believers) that any consumption of alcohol was sinful, it was a hard area for me to rethink.  I believed (and still do) that alcohol is one of the biggest pitfalls into which the enemy lures people, and having come from a family with some struggles in this area, I found it easier and better to abstain, especially while having my young, impressionable daughter living under my roof for so many years.  I not only feared that I might possess the hereditary predisposition to have issues with alcohol, but I also wanted to be a good example to my daughter in case she would happen to have that gene.  But I have heard leaders in the church twist God's Word to suit their personal position on drinking by taking Scripture out of context to make drinking an actual "sin."  The verses in the Bible that speak to "strong drink" or alcohol, all state clearly that drunkenness is the sin, not drinking. They warn against strong drink, but you will not find a passage that says, "Thou shalt not drink any strong drink."   Even Jesus turned water into wine to help some friends who had run out at their wedding celebration.  If drinking wine was a sin, then Jesus, who was perfect and sinless, wouldn't have obliged and worked a miracle to make more wine for his friends.  We also read about Paul telling Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach issues (1 Timothy 5:23).  So we clearly see that drinking is not sinful when done so with caution and respectful reasoning.  This is true for a lot of things in life--moderation and careful consideration are essential (gluttony can also cause severe health issues, and that doesn't make food inherently evil).

There are not only many grey issues in the Christian walk, but these matters also create many varying levels of conviction from believer to believer.  Some Christians feel that attending R-rated movies is where they draw the line--period.  Others may feel that the rating isn't the defining line for them.  They may base their sinless freedom on seeing an R-rated film by the type of film it is--if it is an Oscar-nominated film with an excellent plot and deeper contextual meaning, they may feel completely non-convicted about seeing it.  God may convict one person that a grey area would be bad or sinful for them and NOT convict another believer in the same area.  This has to do with personal convictions and individual weakness/strength, not Biblical convictions  (Biblical ones are true for everyone--they deal with clearly stated sin issues in the Word).  I have a friend whose husband does not go to public swimming pools because he is personally such an overly visual guy, that he finds himself constantly sinning mentally while he is there.  So it is better for him to not even go to the pool.  How sad it would be if he transferred his own personal conviction and need to abstain from the pool onto my husband and ruined my husband's God-given freedom to go swim some laps.  We all have different weaknesses and strengths, and God deals with us each accordingly.

Pastor Jim, our current head pastor, preached a sermon series 12-13 years ago on legalism using Romans 14.  He coined these different convictions as, "per-cos" and "Bib-cos" (personal convictions and Biblical convictions).  We were new to this particular church when he preached this series, and I recall being shocked and horrified at the things he was stating because they were in such stark contrast to the things I had been taught my whole life.  (But I also recall being unable to find Scripture to support my long-held positions on these grey matters).  I went so far as to set up an appointment to speak directly with him about this sermon topic.  Upon that meeting, Pastor Jim graciously explained further the notion of personal vs. Biblical convictions, based on Romans 14.  It made sense, but I still had some thinking to do in my processing of it all (it takes time to undo years of wrong information).  I had gone into his office quite upset and convinced that I was going to disprove his opinion, and he kindly shared truth with me and just let it marinate.  This spoke volumes to me--Pastor Jim understood not only from where I was coming, but He knew the Truth of the Word would eventually reign supreme.  He knew I would either have to accept that Truth or not (and he wasn't going to get all riled up about it--he knew God was in control of my thoughts and beliefs).  He didn't try to "win" and he didn't attack me for my incorrect Bible applications and previously held staunch beliefs.  The sensitive, honest attitude that he exhibited was very refreshing to me--quite different than the direct, harsh, "do or die" attitudes I had so often seen in legalistic believers during my formative and earlier young adult years. 

Honestly, and at the risk of offending someone, I am happy that God has blurred some of the ridiculous legalistic lines that I had drawn around myself for so many years.  It is truly freeing to see that so much of which we yell "foul" is just senseless.  I do fully realize that perhaps God has blurred some of my legalistic lines because I have spent 33 years being a Christian, and am now in a season of life where I have the luxury to not need to be quite so rigid (I do not have children in my home watching my every move for whom I need to be extra cautious).  When we are responsible for youngsters, we need lots of lines and lots of guarded living (the world will already blur many lines for them in their life, so we have to pick our battles and lean on God's understanding for where to place those lines). 

So I see now that the enemy uses legalism to keep unbelievers from the truth (they view Christianity as, "no fun" and, "too strict or rigid," and they just avoid everything to do with God and His Truth due to that).  I believe the enemy also uses legalism to keep churches from grace and from growth.  He enhances a "God-complex" in people who are supposed to be more concerned with love and grace than they are about laying down their own law and shaming their fellow believers.  When this occurs, churches not only suffer a huge void of grace, but they can actually become a "dead" church due to it.  I have also seen first-hand how legalism destroys communication and honesty in a church body.  When people feel they will be ridiculed or judged for their personal convictions (or lack thereof), they hide things from their brothers and sisters in Christ which they shouldn't have to hide.  My mother used to feel she had to hide that we were avid card players and that we had a devout love of all kinds of music in our family.  This "hiding" of things that aren't inherently sinful actually creates a feeling of sinfulness in the people partaking of them, even if they didn't have a conviction about originally.  It is a tangled web of hypocrisy and dishonesty spun by the legalists in the church for power and self-gain, and it spins out of control until people get hurt.  I have spent years trying to mentally "undo" this web in my own mind.

Balance and much prayer are required in not only committing ourselves to a life not conformed by the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2), but also a life not founded on piety and graceless finger-pointing.  Romans 14:13 states, "Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another.  Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block OR obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."  We see here that we are not to be so loose in our "freedoms in Christ" that we drag other, weaker believers down the primrose path to things that would be sinful for them.  But we are also not to be so pious, self-righteous and hypocritical that we concern ourselves with condemning our fellow believers for things about which they have been given different personal convictions and are not sinful of which to partake.  I think Romans 14:19 & 22 sum it up nicely:  "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.  So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves."



Thursday, August 30, 2012

When to Run

You hear it said that, "you can't run from your problems."  There is this negative idea about "running" from things versus facing them.  There is some truth to that so far as it relates to problems in your control, problems that you helped create, or problems that are your responsibility to handle.  But according to God's Word, there are many instances in which we should always run and we are commanded to flee--those instances of potentially harmful and sinful temptations.  These are problems from which we are strongly encouraged to run.

 You can find a lot of verses about "running" and "fleeing" in the Bible.  My personal faves on this topic are as follows:

*1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."  (I love this verse because it is reassuring to know that God provides a way out for me when I am tempted.  I can just "escape" or run away.  I also appreciate knowing that no matter how evil my temptations seem, they aren't anything new to God or to other humans like me.  Christ faced every one of them. Everyone has had them--they are "common."  Satan loves to guilt us for our temptations.  But the truth is, he has no power to do that when we realize that we are all tempted, it isn't a sin to be tempted, and "there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ," as Romans 8:1 states clearly). 

*2 Timothy 2:22 says, "So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart."  [I love this verse because it not only tells us to run from temptations that give us passions of folly, but it also tells us what to pursue in place of the temptations.  We can't just run, we have to pursue something else in order to defend ourselves against being continually tempted (or worse, being coerced into sin from that temptation).  It also reminds us that we need to be with other believers regularly in order to combat the world's temptations. We need people who also "call on the Lord" to support us, and we need friends with "a pure heart."   Furthermore, we need people who are real--those with whom we can share things honestly in our struggles and entrust with our lives.  We have to support and love each other regardless of our temptations and sins because we need each other--we cannot stand alone (Hebrews 10:25; Ecclesiastes 4:9).  We also have to be careful not to be harsh, critical, or condemning of a fellow believer's sins, so as not to become tempted in that sin ourselves, as Galatians 6 states].

In Matthew 4 we read the story of how Jesus was tempted by the enemy and how He resisted.  Jesus was God in the flesh, and even He was tempted.  But the Bible says He sinned not (Hebrews 4:15).  So having temptations in and of themselves is not "sin." In fact, in James 1:12, we read that those who withstand temptation (trials) and testing, without sinning, will be blessed.  People argue about whether Jesus could have actually been tempted since He was perfect.  James 1:14 says that temptation occurs when we are dragged away by our own evil desire and enticed.  This makes sense because you wouldn't be tempted by anything for which you truly didn't have any desire.  But this could make some think that Jesus couldn't have actually been tempted (or if He was, that He wasn't truly perfect and sinless because according to James, He would have had to possess evil desires in order to be tempted).  Since we know that Jesus was part man (human) and part God, we can dispel this idea easily because the part of Him that was God would have never allowed Him to sin and would have trumped his human side and made Him "perfect." We also know from checking both the Greek and Hebrew meaning of the word, "tempted," (of which the original manuscript of God's Word would have derived), that being tempted means to be "tested" or "proved" (not necessarily "enticed" by evil).  James even clarifies his own statement in verse 12 when he says that if you persevere the temptation or trial, you'll be blessed.  If having the temptation in and of itself was sinful, there would be no blessing for having it.  It doesn't say that you are blessed if you persevere the sin--it says clearly you'll be blessed if you persevere the "trial."  So Jesus passed all His trials and He was never dragged away to sin.  He nipped every instance of temptation in the bud long before He was ever dragged away and enticed.  In fact, in the Matthew 4 account of Christ's temptation, it is the devil who ends up fleeing (what a pansy)!  But in the accounts of Christ's times of struggle as being part human, He laid down a perfect example for us on how to avoid falling prey to temptation--you pray (Matt.26:38-42), you quote Scripture (Matt.4:1-11), and you run (as we're told repeatedly in the Word, such as, in my two favorite verses above).

James also explains further the notion that we are "dragged away" by our evil desire upon being tempted when he says in verse 15, that it is only after our desire gets "enticed" and then "conceived" that we can next, "give birth to sin." So he clarifies again that there are steps leading up to the actual sin that aren't "sin" in and of themselves.  The key factor here is whether or not you succeed at resisting the temptation or whether you entertain it to the point of sin.  If you entertain it, you are being enticed by your evil desires, which is the precursor to the conception and birth of the sin.  Jesus didn't entertain any temptation or sin.  He warded them off immediately by quoting Scripture, praying, and fleeing.  We, on the other hand, are sinful to the core by our nature (we aren't naturally part God, as Christ was).  So our evil desires are much more easily enticed (and we get dragged away in our temptations--we don't always run immediately).  Therefore, we have to be very cautious to guard our desires and make sure we flee upon the instance of temptation, as Jesus did.  We also must set up safeguards to shield against them, as well. I like that James uses the word, "dragged" here--it gives the connotation that believers shouldn't be willing to run toward or choose the sin for which they are being enticed because they [should] know deep down it isn't going to be a good choice.  No one with half a brain would run to sin--you'd be dragged kicking and screaming if you understood who was out to get you and what your consequences were going to be from obliging them!  So "dragged" is a perfect word choice here. Sin shouldn't be something we are easily drawn to doing (God help us).

It is also important to notice that God is not the one who tempts us--temptations can only come from the enemy, other people, or ourselves (from our own sinful desires and thoughts).  Sometimes they come from all three at the same time, which can be a real problem.  But God only allows temptation, and He allows it to build perseverance in us (James 1:2-4,13) and to "test" us to see if we'll take the way out that He's provided.

We, as believers, fall prey to two opposite, extreme thoughts about temptation--at times, we think we are horrible people for having temptations, and then at other points in our spiritual journey, we're guilty of thinking we don't have any real issue with them.  We sugar-coat our temptations as if we're impermeable or immune to falling away from our Godly beliefs and actions.  We think if we've only slept with our spouse, we don't steal, we don't cheat on our taxes, we don't get drunk, etc., that we are basically "good" people.  We like to lump sins into "big sins" and "small sins," and we think our small ones are justifiable most of the time.  We all know that though there are more severe consequences to the "big sins," that sin is sin to God.  He hates all of it.  Some of the "small sins" we think are not that big of a deal are actually a big deal to God (like pride)--He despises it (Prov. 16:5).

Here is a list of the most common temptations that all humans face that are clearly laid out in God's Word as "sin."  There are plenty of sins listed here that we like to "white-wash" or justify at times.   But they are clearly sins from which we are to run and not even entertain in temptation.   It is a humbling list. 

(Taken from,
From "A Study on Temptation" by Dr. Richard P. Bucher
  • trusting our reason more than God and His Word
  • loving the praise of men more than the praise of God
  • complaining instead of thanking and praising God
  • self-pity
  • the neglect of prayer
  • depression, despair
  • fatalism (giving up, why botherism)
  • worry
  • the striving after fame
  • the neglect of God's Word and Sacraments
  • false belief and false teaching of God's Word
  • jealousy / envy
  • anger (temper)
  • lust, sex outside of marriage
  • slander
  • pride, bragging
  • laziness
  • gluttony
  • rebelliousness
  • theft, stealing
  • cheating
  • lying
  • coveting, discontent
  • idolatry
  • drunkenness and drug use

Upon reading this list, I was more aware than ever of my own personal sinfulness.  I have had issues in several of these areas over the course of my life and still struggle in some of them.  I shared about my biggest sin issue of "worry" in a former blog post entitled, "Habit-Swapping."  I do not believe that this list of common sins is all-inclusive.  Obviously, there are many other sins not listed here (cursing, not observing the Sabbath, and so forth).  But Dr. Bucher has covered it pretty well.  His list is a compilation of most of the 10 Commandments (see Exodus 20 for the complete list) and many of the "favorite sins" of our current day society.  He also left out murder, for example, but I'm guessing that is because this list is of the "most common" sins.  I would guess that at least half of these wouldn't even be considered "sins" to most Americans.  Sadly, some of them are even valued in our nation (i.e. seeking after fame, loving the praise of men, and pride.  We love our liquor and our food in this country for sure, too, so let's not forget about gluttony and drunkenness).  Dr. Bucher lists "anger" as a sin, but since anger is a God-given emotion that even Jesus appropriately exercised when he angrily turned over the money-changers tables in the temple, I am guessing that Dr. Bucher means that the sin associated with anger is when we act inappropriately out of our temper or rage.  In no way does God mean for us to stifle our anger to the point of never having any passion about wrong-doing.  So this list warrants the use of common sense.  

I didn't post this list with the purpose of writing a blog post of condemnation--I am the one who needs condemned here!  It is just "food for thought" on areas in which we all could stand some improvement with regard to resisting temptation and sin (and this food is safe for which to become gluttonous)!  My main purpose was to say that temptations are not sins.  We have to stop allowing satan to tell us that we are horrible people just for having them (yes, I purposefully do not capitalize his name to show disrespect--silly, I know, but it gives me a small yet great feeling of power over him)!  But the enemy takes us down the primrose path to guilt when we let him tell us we are worthless for even having temptations, and this actually only separates us farther from God, the One Who says there is no condemnation to them that are in Him (Romans 8:1).  I know from speaking to many women on various fronts that we allow the enemy too many times to put us in bondage to our temptations--even when we haven't sinned from them, and even when we despise and rebuke them.  We need to be standing victorious that we haven't sinned and give God the glory and praise for His help with that, instead of thinking we should be so perfect as to not have them in the first place. Our great enemy loves to put us in bondage, and if he can't get us to sin, he'll put us in bondage for having the temptations.

On the flip side, we have to stop "sugar-coating" our sinful tendencies towards our particular temptations.  When we think we are "doing well" in our spiritual walk, this is when we are most vulnerable to falling.  We also have to remember from where temptations come--that their purpose by the enemy is to drive us away from God and drag us into sin and misery, but their purpose by God is to make us stronger (as James 1 tells us) and get us to seek HIM.  I also wanted to drive home the point that temptations can more easily become sins if they are entertained to the point that we are enticed and coerced to sin.  As 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  In other words, we have to turn our thoughts over to God immediately (since sin always starts in the mind).  As Christ did when tempted, we must use Scripture, prayer, and running/fleeing in order to nip our temptations in the bud right at the start.  It is a slippery slope if we do not--we lose more and more control over those temptations the more we entertain them.  So those three things need to be our weapons of choice for fighting them instead of letting them drag us away and entice us to sin.  Last, we have to remember that if we succeed at withstanding temptation and sin not, we will be rewarded and blessed. Christ has the final victory over every sin and for all who trust in Him, and we can celebrate and rejoice in that fact through Him, as well.  Praise be to God!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wanting God

Last Friday, I blogged about waiting on God and how in teaching us patience, God teaches us to desire Him (Isaiah 26:8-9, "...O, Lord, have we waited for you.  The desire of our soul is for Your name.").  I have since thought more about this idea of, "wanting" God.  It kind of surprised me to find that God teaches us to desire Him while He teaches us patience.  I guess it makes sense--when we're waiting on Him for something(s), we seek Him harder or look to Him for help, which causes us to then learn to need Him and thus, want Him more.  Shamefully, I don't always feel that I "want" God.  I want a lot of things--a marriage that lasts til death, a financially sound retirement, personal health and fitness, an end to radical Islam, healthy grandchildren, a part-time music career, world peace, an end to world hunger, anyone but Obama for president, my family to all come to know Christ, etc.  We ask God for lots of things we need and want.   But I don't often say, "I want You, God."  If you asked me if I want God, I'd tell you, "Yes."  But it isn't something I say to God often or think about regularly, as I should.  I think of that old worship song, "As the Deer," that is based on Scripture from Psalms 42:1 and sings, "As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after Thee."  I used to sing that song all the time in my former church and with my students in the Christian school in which I taught.  If we mean what we sing, we are saying, "We want You, God." I also think of Psalms 23:1, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."  That is like saying, "With the Lord as my Guide and Protector, I need nothing else.  I have everything I want and need."  That is a pretty huge statement made by David.  He was obviously at a point in his life where he could definitely say, "I want God."

This idea of God teaching us to "want" Him got me thinking about how God says He is a jealous God.  We talked in Sunday School several months ago that if jealousy is a sin, how can God, Who is perfect and sinless, be jealous?  In Exodus 20:4-5, in the list of the 10 Commandments, God states, "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God."  Here we see contextually, that God is exhibiting "righteous" jealousy--He is jealous when it comes to us worshiping other idols or false gods (i.e., gods that are concocted by ONE person--I won't mention any specifics here, but you get my drift.  God's Word clearly states in Romans 1:18-20 that He has made Himself known to everyone and that "no one is without excuse" for not believing Him to be the one true God).  Our Sunday School teacher explained this notion of "sinless or righteous jealousy" by likening it to and describing the kind of jealousy we have in marriage.  If our spouse cheats on us, we have a righteous jealousy--in this instance, Biblically speaking, we are exhibiting the sinless kind of jealousy.  It is a righteous indignation, and God says we are entitled to feel this kind of jealousy.  This is similar to His kind of jealousy.  Just as we don't want our spouse cheating on us and defiling the marriage, neither does God want us "cheating" on Him in our relationship with Him. We are to serve and worship only Him.  It  makes perfect sense when we view it this way.  Obviously, God is not playing the role of the "green-eyed monster" with His jealousy (which is, sinful jealousy that is self-serving and desiring of things that aren't warranted).  His jealousy is warranted and it is there to protect our relationship with Him. He desires us just as He wants us to desire Him--just like a marriage covenant should be.

This idea of "wanting God" brings a rather lengthy, but monumental story to my mind and heart. When I was teaching second grade in a Christian school 16 years ago, I had the fun policy of eating a special lunch in the classroom with each student on their birthday (or their half-birthday if their birthday fell in the summer months).  On this particular day, the students got to have a private lunch with just me, and I always brought something very special for lunch to share with them.  The kids looked so forward to this, as did I.  The conversations I had with them each, one-on-one, were really a hoot and so special to me.  As a teacher, you're usually so busy working with all the kids at once that there really isn't a lot of time to share individually with each student.  This was a great way for me to have some special time to get to know each kiddo and in many cases, see them in new ways.

I recall one of those birthday lunches very vividly--in fact, I know I will never forget it. I was having the worst morning ever.  My husband and I had gone to our Bible study fellowship group the night prior, and a conversation had come up in our study group that rocked me to my core.  One of our group's members began sharing how she didn't know sometimes if God was even real and went into great details as to why she had serious doubts.  Her arguments were valid--and she delivered them in a tearful account providing much evidence as to why she had these doubts.  Now I am not trying to slander her for sharing her real feelings and thoughts--if we can't raise those questions and feelings in a Bible study or in church where can we?  Those are places where truth-seeking should be occurring safely and regularly.  But the things she said were horribly disturbing and they shook me severely.  I left the Bible study that night very upset.  I cried all the way home and I remember Matt trying to calm me down and deflect the things she had said with as much Biblical truth as he could.  But I went to bed that night doubting God for the first time in my entire life.  I felt alone, scared, betrayed, and as if my life had no meaning whatsoever.  For some odd reason, I was hit with these lies and doubts at a weak moment, and they were believable to me.

The next morning was just awful.  I hardly slept the night prior.  Awaking at the crack of dawn to prepare to go teach Christian children about a God I now doubted was just the most awful feeling.  I felt like a total fraud, all the while feeling betrayed that I'd been duped as a child myself.  I remember standing in my bathroom looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, "Here you go to waste your time telling kids a bunch of whimsical crap."  I also recall styling my darling little girl's hair for school that morning (she attended the same school in which I was teaching at the time), and thinking, "If there's no God, then when I die I will never see Allie again."  I felt I was on the verge of a serious mental collapse.  These were thoughts I had never had prior, and they were absolutely mind-warping.  It was the lowest point I had ever experienced in my walk with God.  I was empty and I was sinking.

I somehow managed to pull myself together and get to work.  My stomach hurt so badly all morning that I felt seriously ill.  I plugged away with my, "business as usual" attitude, as best as I could, but I told the Lord many times that morning, "You have to show Yourself to me.  I am dying here. I cannot do this job if You aren't even real."  I offered up many pleadings that morning to Him--and I mean many.  The thing about teaching kids is you have to be on your "A-game" at every moment.  You don't fool kids.  They are so pure and intuitive--they can read you like a book.  So I prayed all morning off and on just to be able to stand before those kids and resemble some dignity and normalcy.  I now find it ironic that I was praying to and deriving strength from a God Whom I was doubting at the same time--almost funny, actually.

So I had a birthday lunch on this particular day with a special little girl, Lindsey.  I recall thinking, "Lord, I cannot sit in this classroom for 30 minutes with this child when I am on the verge of a serious breakdown.  Please help me be genuinely joyful for her."  Soon the rest of the class went to lunch.  Lindsey and I prepared the table for her special lunch, small-talking about her birthday plans with her family for that evening.  As we sat down to eat, she posed a serious question to me about something she'd seen on TV the night prior.  It was about the Jon Benet` story--Lindsey had heard the media raving about how this little girl's parents were being implicated in her murder, and she was rocked by it.  She told me the details of what she had heard and I could tell she was fighting back tears.  This innocent, precious girl was horrified by the notion that parents could harm their own child.  It terrified her and rocked her little world (and boy, was I in tune with those emotions at this moment).  I found it rather interesting that both Lindsey and I were struggling mentally that day, and I don't think it was by chance.  So her question to me was, "Mrs. T., why would anyone's mom and dad kill them?  They said on the news that it was for money."  I said, "Oh, honey, they don't know for sure yet that this is what really happened.  If those people did that, then they are really evil people and God will get them."  I went on to explain that this is a rare thing and she can just pray to God about it and let Him handle it.  I told her I didn't want her to think about it anymore, and reminded her how God tells us to think about things that are good and lovely (Phil. 4:8). I also reminded her how we had talked in class devotions recently about money being, "the root of all evil," (1Tim. 6:10), and how people do all kinds of horrible things when they don't have God and they want money more than God.  This seemed to make sense to her and I could visibly see the fear melting away from her sweet innocence.   She seemed to be feeling much better about the whole thing, and it did my heart good to be able to help (it took my mind off how I was feeling)!  Then she randomly says, "Mrs. T., I don't want money.  I just want God," and she smiled this little smile with the face of an angel.  She proceeds to go back to eating her lunch and at that moment, I felt God say to me, "And you think I'm not real.  I'm sitting right here in this child across from you."  At that moment, my eyes began to fill with tears and I faked needing to go to the office for something really quickly so that Lindsey would not see me starting to lose it.  I slipped outside the door and got my composure, praising God that He had shown up for me.  He was so faithful to me in that moment to not make me wait any longer for His presence.  He knew I was on the edge of something really bad, and He came for me that day in a second grade classroom.  He came in the face and heart of a child.  I am sure He did it more for those kids than for me--what an ineffective teacher I would have been for the remainder of the year in a Christian school doubting the existence of God!  God shows up when it is of dire, utmost importance.  He is so faithful it blows me away at times.

The coolest part of this story is that Lindsey and I experienced a real bonding at this birthday lunch after my, "ah ha" moment.  I came back in the room quickly and apologized for slipping out.  I told her that I had really appreciated what she said about wanting God.  I told her that she was right on target to want only God.  She then blew me away asking, "Mrs. T., how can I ask Jesus in my heart?"  So long story short, we talked at length, ended up praying the sinner's prayer together that day, and Lindsey asked Christ to come into her life on her birthday.  She is now a 23-year old, beautiful Christian woman, who is living an amazing life for God. I am honored and "pleased as punch" to have been a part of the start of that--and what a hoot that it came out of a birthday lunch where I was sinking in my faith.  God blessed me with the chance to lead someone to faith in Him on the day when I was doubting mine. God makes no mistakes.

In retrospect, I know God used this horrid night of doubt to spur me to seek Him and the truths of Him harder.  I discovered that I needed to KNOW God and His TRUTH in the fullest--not just accept what I'd been taught most of my life.  My belief needed to be based on the fact that God had showed up for me that day, as well as, on truths that I had sought and found for myself.  I needed to never again be duped into thinking that my Lord wasn't real.  I began studying other faiths, as well as my own, in order to be better able to disprove other faiths and stand on my own, without ever again doubting or mistrusting my Lord or the truth of my faith.  It was truly a life-changing moment for me. I've posted about this on my Google profile briefly, but the book that most changed my life during this quest for truth about my faith was, The Case for Christ, by Lee Stroebel.  You can buy this book "used" for less than fifty cents on  Trust me, it isn't an "easy-breezy read," but it will be the best two quarters you ever pay for coming to know the truth of Christ.  It is written by a former atheist who went on a serious mission to find out the truth of who Christ really was and the whole, "Christianity thing."  You can trust the author's resources (I checked many of them out for myself, and you can do the same easily).  He is trustworthy, honest, and real, and God bless him for it.  Lee Stroebel worked like a dog to find God, and God showed up.  God is more than pleased when we really seek Him.  He knows our hearts and minds, and whether we truly want Him or not.

The thing I think about the most from this incident in my life is, "How in the world do people get out of bed every day who don't know God or believe in Him?"  I did that one morning, and it was almost unbearable.  I've never felt so meaningless and alone in all my life.  I felt as if life was purposeless and like I'd bought into the biggest lie ever told.  No wonder I see so many miserable people in a given day--you smile at them and they look at you like you're nuts. It is also no wonder so many people struggle with addictions, too.  If I lived every day thinking, "this is all there is,"  I'd be numbing myself regularly, too.  It makes perfect sense to me now why people behave the way they do.  Without God, life is sheer misery--I know, I've been there.  If you've never had a "God-moment," start praying for one.  Pray hard and pursue Him.  I guarantee you that God will eventually show up if you persist and truly WANT Him--and you'll never be the same.  He wants us to want Him, and the best part is, He wants and pursues us, too. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hometown Band

Last Friday night, we began our evening out eating a nice supper together in L-town (A.K.A. Lawrence,  KS--the town we designate as our "hometown" since we live between Topeka and Lawrence).  We dined at one of our "fave," usual places, "La Parilla," (Latin American food to die for), and then walked up and down Mass. Street for the Annual Busker Festival (which was a total hoot).  If you've never been, you must go next year.  The city hires and books professional street entertainers for a solid 3 days from all over the nation--they are the best of the best, and you will be anything but bored.  Just seeing all the interesting locals come out for this festival, with darling puppy dogs and cute kiddos in tow, is fun in and of itself!  Lawrence, KS is, in my opinion, a special town.  It is a decent-sized college town with a small town feel.  It has a thriving downtown for a town its size and for being so close to Kansas City, which also makes it a rarity.  Lawrence is an enigma of sorts, in my view, with its combination of hippies, hipsters, and yuppies, and its historical buildings, varied artsy bistros, and shops ranging from quirky to high-end.  It is like a compilation of every town, big and small, new and old, in one little town.  I adore this little art and music-driven city.  The people are just so friendly and warm.  Matt and I always say we are saving to move to KC someday for retirement, or to move somewhere sunny.  But at times, I think Lawrence is going to need to be my hometown permanently.

We were planning to also attend a concert later in the evening on the 9th Floor of the Oread Hotel in L-town at a lounge called, "The Nest."  The view from this lounge is incredible.  This hotel sits up on Mount Oread on KU's campus, and on a clear night you can see all the way to Bonner Springs.  You can also easily see this hotel from many miles out on I-70--it is enormous and has a blue and red light on the top of it.  It is architecturally quite beautiful and resembles a modern day castle.  We go up there about once a week or so to enjoy music and just have a lovely time together enjoying that view.  There's always a nice breeze, and it is just the best rooftop lounge to which we've ever given our patronage.

The band that was playing last Friday night is called, "Quiet Corral," and they are a local Lawrence band that is just musically awesome all around.  Matt and I got turned onto them through a guitar friend of mine at church who really knows music, and who predicted two years ago that this band would get national recognition--he was right (thanks for another great tip, Armand)!  We have gone to see them numerous times this past year or so, and we are adoring fans for sure.  One of the lead guitarists/singers in this band works on the side in one of our other favorite restaurants in L-town (probably not for much longer I'm guessing--their success is rising fast). We recently spoke with him and congratulated him on the success the band is having (namely, the fact that they will be playing at Austin City Limits in October--which is a huge honor and step forward for their band).  He was so nice, took much time to talk with us, and even took an interest in learning our names.  We were impressed with his humility and genuine kindness.  He then invited us to come to a special show of theirs at the Oread last Friday night, but when we arrived right before the show, they were at capacity, so we didn't get to attend.  They were turning unhappy people away in the droves. What were we thinking not getting there earlier?!  We were not pleased with ourselves.  What can we say, the Busker Fest distracted us!  I was sick about it and still am.  I plan to tell Garrett how sorry we were to miss out on their show the next time I see him.  I am sure it was yet another great one!

I could seriously go on and on about this band--they not only have diverse and phenomenal musicianship, but their songwriting is superb.  Their music has its own unique style and flare--it is not only easy on the ears, but it is uplifting, as well.  It is kind of a mixture of folk, acoustic rock, and modern Americana.  They've been compared to the band, "Mumford & Sons," and you do hear some similarity.  The lead singer, Jesse Roberts, described their style in an interview with Lauren Lloyd for the "LAist," in saying, "Well, we’re just Kansas boys, so our style comes from the wheat fields and a bit from all of the hipsters in Lawrence."  I loved that--perfect description. They are excellent performers with flawless pitch and playing.  All of them are multi-instrumentalists, and they know their various crafts well.  The overall feeling I get at their shows is this distinct and great feeling of, "belonging."  They make it quite clear that they adore their Lawrence fans and always play to a packed room or house of mutually adoring support.  They interact with the crowd well, and that coupled with their thought-provoking music evokes a feeling of community amongst everyone there.  That isn't something that comes with effort--it is a natural gift, and they possess it.  Go see them if you can--no, run to see them.  And don't show up late like we did last week!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Much to Celebrate

On Saturday, Matt and I attended a beautiful wedding of the son of our former Sunday School teacher.  It is always a glorious thing to attend a wedding. In my opinion, there aren't many celebrations in life more wonderful than weddings. Two lives joining as one is a pretty big deal. But this wedding was even more special due to an extra cause of celebration.

The groom, who was in the same youth group at church with our daughter, has had a rather extraordinary life. He has spent the better part of his young years battling health issues--serious ones.  In fact, he has had two liver transplants, the second of which was only a few years ago.  He has dealt with health problems related to both surgeries quite consistently for most of his life (liver rejection, etc.). In spite of all that, this amazing young man has always kept a strong faith in God, a positive attitude, a great sense of humor, and a heart filled with greater concern for others than he has ever had for himself.

When our daughter was in the youth group at church, Matt and I went on the youth ski trip to Loveland, CO as parent chaperones and group leaders. This young man was on that particular ski trip and began having some problems with his liver-related health issues. It became a little scary at one point. He was really sick and looked so very ill that for a while we were concerned about whether he would need to be taken home immediately or maybe even to a hospital first.  During this situation, when one would expect a youngster to not be in the best spirits or mindset, Matt and I observed this young man exhibiting concern for others though he was the one who needed the concern (he didn't want to trouble anyone by ruining or interrupting the ski trip due to his illness, and he displayed numerous other instances of selfless concern for others in the days that followed, even though it was clear he still didn't feel that well).  Thankfully, he improved enough with medication that he was able to stay on the trip.  But we saw him put his own feelings and personal needs to the side as he ever so naturally embraced a humorous, joyful heart that week.  He is a strong, enduring, persevering young man, and I was extremely impressed with him--have been ever since.  I've never forgotten his amazing spirit. 

Just a few years ago, upon waiting for a liver to become available for his second transplant, I dropped a care package off at his house.  We knew things were not looking good for him and our church had been praying devoutly and earnestly for his healing and/or for a liver to become available (which is an awkward thing for which to pray--you're essentially praying for another person's demise and another family's loss.  It seems like a really horrible and selfish prayer request, but it is a necessary one.  When you know and love someone who needs an organ, what choice do you have?).  He answered the door looking so sickly--I really wasn't prepared for it.  It tore me up to see him in that bad of shape, especially as such a vital young man who should be living his life to the fullest with much less burden to bear.  But by his spirit, you would have thought he was in perfect health.  He was so joyful, kind, positive, and grateful.  I was awestruck yet again.  I went there to minister to him and hopefully give a little love and encouragement to him to let him know we were thinking of him and praying, and I was the one who left blessed.  He even went so far as to sincerely ask me about my daughter, Allie, and how she was doing at college (yet he was barely able to stand or answer the door, and in the middle of a severe, serious fight for his own life).  Amazing kid.

I recall bawling the entire way home and pleading with God to please provide a liver for him.  This young man is the only child of his wonderful parents, and having an only child myself made me even more empathetic to their family's situation, and just how very special and important "only children" are in the eyes of their parents.  I prayed, "God, this young man loves You, he loves his family, and he is an amazing witness for You.  He doesn't deserve to go through this at this age, and yet he has the most grateful, kind, caring heart.  You HAVE to keep him here.  He is invaluable to his parents.  He is invaluable to your cause."  God answered that prayer (and that of hundreds of others who love this kid) when He provided a liver very soon afterward.  I've never forgotten the way this young man looked that day I wept and prayed for him in my car.  To see him looking so healthy and happy Saturday, and relishing every moment of his "big day" were blessings of enormous proportion.

So it was a great honor and thrill to attend the wedding of this wonderful, Godly, precious young man.  He has been through more in his young life than most people go through in their entire lives.  It was immensely uplifting to witness him marry another wonderful, Godly person in purity and utter joy (I don't think I've ever seen a groom beam quite like he did upon seeing his bride coming down the aisle--absolutely adorable)!  The faithfulness of God to bring him to this day of momentous celebration brought tears of joy to my eyes and many others.  We have seen this beloved family go through so many times of great distress and have prayed for this young man's protection and healing more times than we could ever count.  So Saturday, I also had the privilege and joy of lifting up many words of praise to God for it all, and for allowing all of us the grand delight of seeing God's hand of healing and provision in this young life.  I asked God to shelter him and his darling new bride, and give them a long life of loving one another and serving Him together.  I also prayed for the family of the special person who donated the liver to him--that God would give them many provisions, blessings, and comfort, as well. Besides my own daughter's wedding last November, I don't know that I've ever attended a wedding where I felt so humbled and thankful for what I was witnessing from God's hand on so many different fronts. What a great day.

Friday, August 24, 2012

While We Wait

If you read yesterday's blog post, then you know I was asked by my Worship Arts Director/Pastor, Bryan, to "share" last night with my fellow worship band mates at rehearsal. Bryan asked me to share what God has been teaching me recently, and it was hard to decide what to share since there are always so many separate things God seems to be trying to teach me, as He does all of us.  But the thing I feel God has been trying to drive home to me the most lately is patience, and this idea of, "waiting on the Lord."

Recently, God showed me in His Word that at the root of every personal struggle, battle, need, and prayer request, we have the issue of waiting on God.  Rarely do our supplications and prayers get a quick, "yes" or "no" from God (except for maybe our basic daily prayer items).  Most often, we just have to "wait."  Our patience is being constantly tested by God--sometimes for many years, perhaps even decades.  Personally, I have several prayer items for which I've spent over 20 years praying and petitioning God, and I still am.  But through this, we have to have patience to trust Him, and we need faith and hope to relinquish control so as not to worry about whatever things we're waiting on God to handle.  We also have to have faith, hope, and trust so as not to give up on Him while we wait.

We call people, "control freaks," all the time--it has become yet another derogatory catchphrase in our society (and we have so many in our quest for pointing out "other people's flaws").  But the truth is we ALL have control issues. We all struggle with trying to control our lives in different ways--this is why we all get impatient with things and people, and why we get stressed over things.  We try to take on our daily struggles and carry our burdens ourselves and "handle them."  We even get annoyed with petty things like other drivers and long lines, and the root of that annoyance is patience and control.  God has shown me that this issue of waiting on Him and trusting in Him began in the garden. Eve wanted to be in control of things, and was enticed by the enemy that God wasn't giving her full intellectual access to everything He knew. So essentially, she was the first ever control freak, and didn't trust God or have patience to wait on Him for any provision--intellectual or otherwise. She rushed ahead, and doubted God and what He'd told her (He warned her if she ate the fruit she would die).  In her quest for "control," she basically tried to, "be God."  She was impatient and wouldn't wait on God and just let Him be God.  This has been our root sin ever since--everything we do stems from this.  We basically want to be God.  We want what we want, and we want it right now.

So why does God feel the need to teach us to WAIT so often by testing our patience?  Perhaps because it is our biggest curse from that original sin. We proved to Him in the garden with our "sin nature" that we need to be taught some serious lessons on patience.  But we can all think of the basic reasons why God teaches us patience so regularly in life.
Some basic reasons I came up with initially are:

*so we don't become spoiled or entitled, always getting what we want when we want it (as children do when they get their way all the time)
* so we can strengthen our faith and trust in Him
* so we can learn gratefulness (you are more appreciative of answered prayers and needs that God meets for you when you've waited for them)
*AND, so that God gets the glory when the supplication or need is met (when we have to wait for something, we are much quicker to give God credit than when it comes easily to us--we know we had nothing to do with it because it didn't come easily to us).

But as I read different passages in the Word about "waiting" on the Lord, I found several other interesting reasons why God tests our patience so much in life.  Some of these weren't new to me, but I had forgotten them.  Some were "ah ha" moments. The passages are as follows:

*Psalms 27:14 says, "Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord."  (So gaining COURAGE is also a byproduct of having our patience tested.  This was a new idea for me.  I've never really thought of courage as being a complimentary virtue to patience.  But it does take courage to "wait," keep your cool, and relinquish control of your life for sure)!

*Psalms 25:3 says, "Let none that wait on You be ashamed."  (So we are taught to be UNASHAMED to wait on the Lord, having confidence in what He will do.  This verse could also reflect that we are to be unashamed to give testimony to others about what God is doing for us or how we know He will meet our needs.  We are told in Romans 1:16 by Paul to be, "unashamed of the Gospel."  Essentially, we are to be unashamed of Christ and giving Him control of our life.  This was a new thought for me--that in having my patience tested by God I am learning to be unashamed of Him, knowing He will take care of my needs).

*Psalms 25:21 says, "Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait for you." (So we learn OBEDIENCE and gain better CHARACTER from waiting).

*Lamentations 3:25-26 says, "The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. (So, in testing our patience, God is also trying to get us to SEEK HIM, HOPE IN HIM, and prove Himself as our SAVIOR, yet again.  I think it is pretty cool that God wants to be our Savior every day--not just once upon coming to Him through Christ!  So He uses these times of "waiting" just so He can save us yet again.  He reminds us that we don't just need His saving grace once, we need it daily.  I love the idea that God makes us wait just so He can swoop in and rescue us)!

*Psalms 33:20 says, "Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield."  (So here we see that God wants to be our HELPER and PROTECTOR in times of need). 

*Is. 40:31 says, "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  (So here we see that God teaches us PERSEVERANCE and ENDURANCE through waiting, as well as, to HOPE in Him.  As a runner, I've always loved this verse since it speaks to "running and not growing weary"). 

*Is. 30:18 says, "Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; blessed are all those who wait for Him."  (So here GOD WAITS to respond to us just so He can be GRACIOUS to us in return for OUR waiting on Him--He is testing us to see if we are worthy of his graciousness.  He is also waiting along with us--this was a new idea for me, as well.  Reminded me of how any great coach gets involved in the coaching process--no one likes a track or cross country coach who stands along the sidelines yelling while you're running your rear off during practice.  If your coach ran WITH you, they were a great coach.  God WAITS WITH US.  What a great God!)!

*Is. 26:8-9 says, "...O, Lord, have we waited for you.  The desire of our soul is for your name."  (So in this instance, God teaches us to DESIRE Him.  We all say we "need" God or we "seek" God, but we rarely say we DESIRE or "want" God.  This was a new thought for me--to WANT God.  We want a lot of things.  But do we WANT God?  We need to want Him--He is really the only thing that is fully trustworthy in life and the only person Who we can know for sure will always be there for us.  He is worthy of our DESIRE).

*LAST, Romans 12:12 says, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."  (So here, we see God teaching us to be better PRAYER warriors when we have afflictions we are waiting patiently on Him to resolve.  Nothing makes you get on your knees faster than afflictions.  God knows this and He many times allows and uses struggles to come into our lives just so we will look UP and PRAY to Him).

So upon reading these and many more passages about waiting on the Lord (there are tons of them in the Word), God showed me lots of other reasons, besides my initial thoughts, as to why He tests and refines our patience so often in pretty much every area of life.  It's really no wonder "waiting" is such a trying and painful thing for us--there are so many things going on all at once that God is refining in us while He teaches us to wait.  It is also no wonder I wasn't sure what to share with my band last night that God is teaching me right now--God IS teaching me lots of things all at once, through this "waiting."  This is just how He operates with us.  The key is to recognize our great need for refinement in all these areas so that instead of shaking our fist at God when we get weary of waiting on Him, we can do as it says in Psalms 34:1 and, "bless the Lord at all times," and, "praise Him continually," no matter our circumstances, because we know He is working for our personal good.  We can trust Him that He has our best interests at heart.  He is the perfect example of patience--He is certainly patient with us. If He weren't, He would have smote the earth long ago.

In closing last eve, I shared with my fellow band mates last night how this idea of, "waiting on God," relates to what we do on Sunday mornings in music ministry.  We in the body of Christ are all waiting on things in this journey together.  We pray and worship together. We hope together.  I told them that every Sunday, our church is flooded with people who are all "waiting" on God for many things, just as we each are.  They are waiting on unanswered prayers for better jobs, health issues, financial issues, personal addictions, family struggles, broken relationships, battles with their kids--you name it.  Some people are patiently waiting, some are joyfully waiting, some are in great distress, some are angry, and some are totally hopeless.  You can see it on their faces when you are leading worship.  This is why I close my eyes so often when I'm leading--I just have to focus on God and not look out at the crowd all the time.  I feel like my fellow worshipers need some personal space to privately worship and not be looked at by the worship leader.  I need my own personal space to worship, too.  But many times, I really don't want to look out at their faces and see their pain.  It is hard to see people looking downcast in spirit or even totally broken. I praise God that I belong to a church where people feel safe and free to come to God wherever they are at spiritually or even emotionally, and they do not feel they have to put on false heirs about it.  But I find myself praying for those individuals in my church body who appear to be struggling while they "wait" on God.  I can so empathize--we've all been there.  I shared with my band mates that I think it is really important when we are scheduled to lead, that we are sensitive to this, and that we as a group pray each week for the people who will be there to worship with us.  We need to pray for God to move in their lives and in our lives, as well.  We need to just be there for each other.  We must also pray that we can be vessels of light and encouragement through our music for our fellow church body that is, "waiting on God," too. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Legalism Loopholes

My Worship Arts Director/Pastor, Bryan, has invited me to share with our worship band prior to our rehearsal tonight.  My first reaction was to say, "No," because of my legalistic upbringing in a strict Baptist church.  Growing up in this church, I was taught that women should never speak over men due to the 1 Timothy 2:12 verse that states, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."  In this verse contextually, Paul is writing to Timothy and giving him suggestions and instructions on worship and how the church should function.  Therefore, I grew up thinking that women should not be in positions of great authority in the church (where they are, in essence, "over men"), or placed in situations where they are, "teaching men."  I still believe this is a good instruction given by Paul, and that there are reasons for it (which if I shared here would be an entire blog post in and of itself).  Suffice it to say, I don't think anything in God's Word should be changed, altered, adjusted, or disregarded to suit the current times in which we live.  God's Word never changes and neither does He (Malachi 3:6).

This verse (and my legalistic upbringing) also posed a real problem for me when I was asked to begin leading worship for my church (not just singing, but leading) over a year ago.  I had to be counseled and instructed by the male leaders in my church, who were training and encouraging me to lead, to view this verse more accurately and differently than I had from my legalistic upbringing. Since I just sing, pray, and MC a little for the services at church when I lead worship, and I'm not actually "teaching" or "showing authority" over men, they told me I am not insulting God by my leadership in this way.  So in essence, since I was being told by male leaders that this is how I should view this verse, I have decided it is okay with God (I am submitting to the male authorities over ME).  It is an odd thing for an independent woman such as me to be this submissive on a topic like this, and perhaps it even seems silly to some.  But when it comes to pleasing God, and especially for leadership roles that I am given in my church, I don't want to fail or compromise anything in God's Word--no matter how badly I desire to be in the role I'm offered.  It is a serious thing to me to please God, obey Him, and make sure I am walking exactly how He desires in whatever opportunities and ministries He chooses to hand me.

So in praying about this invitation to "share" tonight, and in getting the opinions and counsel of my husband and my Worship Pastor, Bryan, I have decided to say, "Yes."  In Bryan's words, I will be "sharing," not "teaching."  I will make sure to throw the disclaimer out tonight to the men in the group that my purpose is just that--to share from my heart, not to instruct.  Beth Moore, an incredibly successful and popular Bible speaker, author, and teacher from Texas, always tosses out this same disclaimer in her classes that are always geared toward women, but in which many men attend (she is such an awesome teacher that the men want to be in her class)!  I have always respected and valued the way she handles that situation.  I think it is very important to be sensitive to this and respectful of it.  God states clearly in His Word that women are the "weaker vessel" and that men are to be the leaders--gentle, LOVING leaders that is (1 Peter 3:7).  I do not believe this is meant to be a stifling position for women, one in which they are viewed as LESS than men, and certainly not one in which they are ever abused, looked down upon, or mistreated by men.  In fact, Jesus was one of the biggest liberators of women of all time--He (God) even came to earth via a woman, and no man was needed to bring Him here (hence, the immaculate conception).  I just think that God is saying that there are different roles and expectations to which He has given both genders due to their unique abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.  Namely, these roles and special positions are important in marriage and in the church (which makes sense, since marriage is a picture of the relationship of Christ and the church, according to God's Word in Ephesians 5).  When those roles and positions get confused or the lines blur, there are consequences that are less than desirable (again, a blog post for another day--in fact, I could write several blogs on legalism, too, and probably will eventually).  But confusion due to mixed-up purposes and roles is not God's design or intention.  He is a God of order, and He has special guidelines and individual purposes for each of us--and some are gender specific.  I want to make sure I am always respectful of that and of His wishes.  The Bible says that ALL Scripture is profitable and God-breathed, (2 Tim. 3:16), so picking out verses I dislike or ordering up my religion how I want it to be is not allowed or appropriate--in fact, it is blasphemy according to His Word.  Many people do this today for many reasons.  But in my opinion, we either believe God's entire Word and try to live by it, or we don't.

But I am looking forward to sharing this evening with my fellow worship leaders and musicians.  They are an incredible bunch of people and have blessed my life more than they know.  We always all go out to dinner after practice together and I look so forward to the fellowship and fun that ensues.  They have shared so much with me and in sharing their gifts and talents with the Lord even more.  Though it invokes some fear and trepidation in me to share with them tonight, I am happy to give back to those who have blessed me so much.  I have much to learn from each of them!  I pray that I am able to share whatever God lays on my heart for tonight, and that I please Him in so doing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

You Schmooze, You Lose

Upon coming to know Christ, we are told in God's Word (in verses such as, Acts 2:38; Acts 5:32; Romans 5:5; Romans 8), that we not only gain salvation by trusting in the debt Jesus paid for our past, present, and future sins, but we also immediately gain personal access and connection to Him (the deity of God and Christ) through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  In layman's terms, once we accept Christ, God actually gives us the other 1/3 of His being--His Spirit--to live in our hearts and lives in order that we have his guidance, protection, and power.  This is what Jesus was talking about when after his death and resurrection, He told the disciples that He would never be apart from them (and they were thinking, "What are ya talkin' about?  You're leaving us!").  But He meant that His Spirit would be always present with them. Upon coming to know Christ, and gaining the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, He blesses us with yet another awesome gift--a spiritual gift or gifts.  The Bible speaks to the fact that all believers are given special "gifts" with which to work for Christ and spread further the cause of Christ.  These gifts are discussed in detail in Scriptures such as, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. After taking a class on spiritual gifts, and having several people who know me well fill out a questionnaire regarding what they believe my gifts are, I discovered that my spiritual gifts are: teaching, encouragement, mercy, and intercession (prayer).  Now these gifts aren't a person's "talents"--there are other abilities God gives us besides spiritual gifts (singing would be an outside gift of mine, but not a "spiritual" gift).  Even unbelievers have these (obviously).  Outside talents are equally usable to God--He very much wants us to use those for Him, as well.

But back to spiritual gifts.  When you have the gift of encouragement, (and especially when it is coupled with mercy), you have to be extremely careful how you use these gifts so as not to bring undue harm upon yourself.  God has been instructing me recently (quite fiercely, in fact), to be somewhat guarded about my use of these gifts for Him.  In Matthew 7:6 Jesus says, "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."  Another passage that God keeps bringing to my mind is that of Proverbs 23:6-8 which says, "Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. 'Eat and drink,' he says to you, but his heart is not with you.  You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments."  I have also thought about the many verses in the Bible that state that, "God is not a respecter of persons" (James 2; Acts 10; Romans 2:11).  God shows no favoritism--we are all equally important and worth dying for to Him (He doesn't look upon people differently for their abilities or position, and nor should we).  God looks upon the heart--not the ability or position of a person.   In pondering all these verses, God has made it very clear to me that in my quest of loving people and showing them love through my spiritual gift of encouragement, I need to be cautious not to, "throw my pearls before swine."  In other words, there are people who will take clear advantage of this, even when your motive is truly pure.  There are people who we may think deserve our praise and encouragement, but they really don't--nor do they need it (they probably need humility more than anything)! They will twist it, use it for their purposes and benefit, and leave you in their wake.  God wants us to love others and be a vessel of His love to others in order that they might know Him.  But He doesn't want us lending our hearts to others (our heart belongs to Him), or using our spiritual gifts on people who are a waste of our time or who will smite us in return for our love and desire to foster a genuine relationship with them.  We will end up looking back upon it with much regret and needless pain after they "turn and tear us to pieces."

If you've never experienced this in your life, then count yourself blessed--immensely.  Perhaps you haven't because you are more prudent, cautious, and wise than I.  Or perhaps you do not possess the gift of encouragement, so you're already more protected from the pitfalls of this situation (and every spiritual gift has its blessings and curses--they all have pitfalls from which you must guard yourself).  The lesson here is simple.  In any situation where we are outside the body of Christ (or the church), and we are utilizing our spiritual gifts naturally, willingly, and joyfully, we better be going to God first for wisdom, asking Him for prudence and clear vision on how to proceed in the situation or relationship (and when He gives us the "red flags," we better listen).  We also must prepare ourselves from the start that loving others doesn't ever mean it will be reciprocated (and to some degree, that shouldn't be our motive for love anyway--certainly not our primary one.  True love is selfless and seeks the benefit of the other person).  This requires balance though.  We are to love others selflessly, but not wastefully or to our own demise.  When we love people with a reckless abandon, God values this, but He doesn't want us to set ourselves up for being "torn apart."  Even Jesus didn't put Himself in a position with the scribes and pharisees (who were constantly trying to defame him) where He would let them hinder His ministry and life's purposes by wasting His time trying to earn their love, respect, and approval.  He even told them to their faces that He didn't come to die for people like them who thought their "laws" were going to save them.  He went so far as to call them, "vipers!" So even Jesus didn't kiss the hineys of everyone--even those in positions where you'd think He might have "schmoozed" a little to save Himself the trouble of having them on His case all the time (or to gain acceptance and approval by powerful, supposedly intelligent people who claimed to be "Godly").  Jesus knew to Whom He belonged, and His identity was unshakable.  He didn't need anyone's approval.

It is also easy to "love on" people who we are naturally smitten with due to their abilities and their apparent generosity to us.  But even this situation demands our prudence and caution.  We have to realize that it is God that gave the talent or gift to that person, and it is God who has provided us with any opportunity handed to us through that person.  We have to place the glory and the credit where it is actually due--to God.  This will help to shield us from thinking too highly of another human and expecting, wanting, or needing more than we should from them out of our "over the top" love and respect for them.  It will also help to guard our hearts and keep from putting ourselves in positions where we will be trampled or taken for granted.  Though we are called to love our fellow humans, they are HUMAN.  They are flawed individuals, just as we are.  So we have to be cautious when we have a serious need to feel accepted by others who we love and respect so much.  We also should never have to "schmooze" anyone for their love and respect in return--if we feel we do, that is an enormous red flag right there.  Anytime we have to try too hard to win favor, we usually never end up earning the other person's love and respect genuinely anyway (because if love and respect are unbalanced in the relationship, look out).  In fact, there's a good chance they may not fully understand our love outside of the terms under which the world has taught them.  They also may not be capable of valuing it or giving it back in return--selfless love is a rare trait these days, and I believe only those who have the power of the Holy Spirit can truly operate out of selfless love.  Obviously, we should NEVER schmooze just to get what we want from someone (in essence, "lie" to the person about how we truly feel about them because they have something we want or need).  I know personally, I've never schmoozed anyone who I didn't honestly value to a ridiculous level, so I'm not sure how that would ever really be an issue for anyone (I'm not sure how or why anyone would want or need anything from someone about whom they thought negatively).  But you get my point.  At least if you truly loved someone and got burned, you realize you are still capable yourself of genuine love without reciprocation, and that is worth something, I guess (though there are many lessons there).  I believe God will work that undesirable situation for good eventually--either for you or for that person, perhaps both.  He promises that though all things in life are not "good," that, "all things work together for good to them who love Him and are called according to His purposes," (Roman 8:28).  That is a promise from a God Who doesn't break His promises (and it just happens to be my favorite verse of all time, as well). 

When we think we are in dire need to gain someone's respect, love, approval, or acceptance in return, the Bible says we are accepted already in Christ.  We don't need their respect, love, or acceptance.  We have God's love, grace, and acceptance, and we shouldn't and don't need anything else (2 Cor. 12:9).  So my lesson is this--prudence and caution are extremely necessary (dire, is a better word) when using the gift of encouragement.  Even though rooted in honesty and from the heart, showering people with compliments and love must be done in wisdom and with the understanding that my heart is fragile thing--only God deserves to own it and only God deserves my utter praise. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Miracle Drug

In keeping with yesterday's blog, (which was horrendously lengthy--dear heavens, forgive me--nothing like writing a week's worth of blog posts in one post), I wanted to BRIEFLY share (much to your joy) a health tip.  As a runner of nearly 30 years now, I have begun to notice that my joints are showing the effects of all that abuse.  In the last few years especially, the pain I experience at times in my knees, hips and ankles can be a real annoyance.  A sweet friend at church shared a tip with me this past December that has literally changed my life.  She told me how she and her husband began taking Glucosamine Chondroitin for their joints and that it has not only stopped their pain, but it has changed their exercise life.  Upon the realization of their own benefits from taking the health supplement, they decided to give it to their aging dog that was no longer able to climb the stairs in their house at night to join them for bedtime.  So they decided to perform a trial on the pooch to see if the "Glu-Cho" (as I call it) could help their beloved family friend.  Not only was the dog able to climb the stairs after a short time, but he could join them on walks again, as well.

After hearing her testimonial, I literally rushed out to purchase the supplement that night.  I am happy to say that "Glu-Cho" has also changed my life and that of my husband.  Before taking it, we both had noticed over the past few years that our stamina in our running and the distance at which we were able to run without severe pain were both decreasing significantly.   After taking it for less than a week we both noticed amazing improvements.  Neither one of us had knee pain any longer.  My hip pain was also totally gone.  Within a month, we were able to run twice as far as we had been able to prior to taking it.  We had not been able to run farther than a 5K for the past few years without major pain.  Minus the stifling heat we've had to deal with this summer, our 4-7 mile runs feel like a walk in the park instead of a battle of the wills between our joints and our pain tolerance.  Now Matt and I can run the Lawrence trails or run the entire trail at Lake Shawnee and not regret it.  Thanks to this drug, life is good.

This dietary supplement is formulated to support, build, and strengthen bone and joint tissue.  It also boasts claims to provide joint comfort and mobility, lubricate joints, and renew/rebuild cartilage. I feel confident in telling you that it lives up to its reputation.  It is a little pricey, but that is a lot of bang for your buck when you are dealing with pain and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle of fitness with middle-aged joints.  It comes in a variety of brands and formats, but I have found the best to be Walmart's Equate Triple Strength brand with MSM included. Some people find that they do better with the MSM added and others do better taking brands that do not include it.  The Equate brand is the least inexpensive and only requires you to take two caplets a day (many other brands require you to take more per day, and they are already more costly on top of that).  The other thing I like about the Equate brand is that you can take both caplets at one time (many other brands require you to take them at different intervals each day).  It is important to give warning that most "Glu-Cho" does have shellfish in it.  So if you have an allergy, take heed.  There are other forms on the market now that do not include shellfish ingredients, but you have to really check the label (and they are probably pricier).  It is also important to warn you that some people have nausea related to taking this drug and would probably do better taking one of the lower strength formulas and/or one that requires you to spread the pills out over the day.  We've had nothing but good effects from it and seriously thank God that this friend shared this tip with us.  I ran my first 8K race ever this past Memorial Day, and would have never been able to do that without this drug.

Everyone I've ever told about it feels the same way after taking it--like it is a "fountain of youth" pill that they can't live without.   Who would have thought that at 42 years of age I'd be blogging about joint pain dietary supplements.  I sound like an old lady!  Don't worry, I won't be blogging about Metamucil, Poligrip, or Activia anytime soon (or ever)!  But hey, since this getting older thing isn't easy, whatever we can do to help each other live better lives is only a good thing.  Happy running!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Aging Athlete

If you've been to my profile page, then you have discovered that I am a runner, swimmer, golfer, and a few other athletic descriptors.  You could say I have a "Tomboy" side, but I'm more of a "girly Tomboy" (I've been known to play Table Tennis in high heels in the Power & Light District in KC with Matt, and I almost think I play better in them due to being height-challenged)!  Being active and being outdoors are therapeutic to me, hence, my sports of choice.  Upon hitting forty, I have certainly noticed changes in my performance and ability in a few of these sports.  I train much harder and longer now at running than I ever have, and just cannot get the performance results I had in my twenties and early thirties.  For example, at 27 years of age, I got first place in my age division in a 5K race, running it in 22 minutes with absolutely no training prior--I wasn't really even running faithfully at the time, let alone training.  I could train every day of the week now and never hit 22 minutes again (it could have something to do with being 10 pounds heavier now than I was then)!  I really had no idea how blessed I was to be young.  I don't think anyone ever fully realizes the benefits of it at the time.  We're too busy living it to take time to consciously notice how fortunate we are to be able to do pretty much anything we want with little effort and few consequences.  I used to be able to eat 4-6 pieces of pepperoni pizza with no weight gained and no heartburn.  If I did that now, I'd gain 3 pounds overnight, the acid in my stomach would bore holes in my esophagus, and my cholesterol would go up 20 points (and you think I'm exaggerating...oh, I wish).

I also have to stretch before swimming now (which I NEVER had to do) just to keep from pulling something in my back or legs.  They say swimming is an injury-proof sport--I think not.  I swam my typical 50 laps the other day, and swear I pulled something in my back.  It wasn't like I did something atypical while swimming that day--I didn't try to reenact the Olympics or anything.  But I was popping Aleve like candy for a few days afterward.  I also used to be able to do the quick, somersault turnarounds at the end of each lap ("flip turns").  Due to my 40-year old eyesight issues, my vision is bad enough now in water and coupled with sporting goggles, I'm nearly blind while swimming. Since I cut it too close once recently and whacked my head on the edge of the pool, I've decided to let the fancy flip turns go (I'm guessing wearing a helmet instead of a swimmer's cap would probably not be conducive to speed or effective at protecting my thinning, weakening hair, either)!  Touche`.

I am also much more cautious and easily exhausted skiing (water and snow) than I was even a few years ago.  I used to be able to slalom around a lake so long that Matt would try to knock me down by wildly driving the boat so he could have his turn.  Now, I'm always letting go of the rope with shaky legs, tired arms and burning hands, wondering if I can muster up the strength to go again for even a couple minutes.  As I float in the water, stretching out my aching back, I weigh the odds and tell myself, "Come on, ya big wimp.  Get your lazy butt up and go again."  So much for the days of waiting impatiently for the boat to come back for me so I can ski again.  Now I'm wishing he'd drive slower!  Likewise with snow-skiing, changes have occurred.  I used to go to the top of the mountain and ski straight down without ever stopping--and with little inhibition, caution, or being overly winded.  Last time we snow skied, I had to stop three times on the way down just to rest my knees and ankles (having small ankles may be nice for vanity sake, but they do not tolerate the abuse I place upon them anymore).  Matt and Allie sure noticed a difference in my speed, too (they thoroughly enjoyed waiting on me the entire day--not)! In my pathetic defense, I was fighting a serious case of bronchitis at the time and had been coughing up a lung each night.  This didn't help my cause.  But I also noticed I had some fear that I've never had while snow skiing before--just this odd cautiousness that I was going to break a leg or rip a muscle at any minute.  You've heard the saying, "with age comes caution."  So true, so true.  At this rate, in ten more years, I'm going to be skiing the greens alone!

Fortunately, golf is one sport you can pretty much play up until your senior years and not notice much change in your ability or performance (praise God for golf).  My Grandpa, (A.K.A. "Gramps"), encouraged all of us in the family to learn to play golf because it was his sport of choice (and in his true English heritage style, he proudly qualified it as, "the sport for all gentlemen and ladies").  But he also encouraged all of us kids to learn because you don't need a team to play it and if you can walk, you can play it.  So it is truly one of the few lifelong sports.  As a young girl, all I wanted to do was drive the golf cart.  But I learned to play in all the years of tagging along with him, my aunts, and uncles, and I am so grateful that I did.  That sport has brought not only my family great memories, but it has given Matt and I more joy, exercise, and companionship in our marriage than any other sport (and I get to be outside)!  It has also helped me to work on my anger management skills.  If you aren't someone who struggles with four-letter words, this sport will bring them out in you (even if they are deeply buried in your subconscious, and come on, who are we kidding--they're in there).  You may think you don't have anger issues, but play golf and find out the truth! We almost always walk versus getting a cart so that we get good exercise, as well.  It is just an all-around great sport and will help you hone some focus skills, too.  Besides focusing on not saying bad words, you'll learn to put your energy into concentration and positive thinking (or you'll get good at confessing sin to God for your new wicked vocabulary skills)!

It is frustrating to notice these changes in my athletic abilities and find myself babying muscles, joints, and a weary body, in general, to continue to pursue the sports I love.  But I am not a wuss, and if I have to keep the Aspercreme, Aleve and Advil companies in business over the next season of my life in order to stay fit and active, then so be it.  I've decided I'm going to be a fighter versus giving in to these age annoyances.  While laughingly complaining to an older gal about my aches and pains, she replied to me, "Well, it isn't fun, and I don't feel good about the way I look anymore, but you're going to have to just give into it and learn to accept that you cannot do all these athletic ventures at your age, because middle-aged women just naturally gain weight and become less active."  I profusely, vehemently disagree. This is what is wrong with our country and why we are all overweight.  I also believe this mentality is a vehicle for the enemy to use against us as women on several levels:  to create a lack of intimacy in our marriage (because who wants to be intimate when you feel like crap about the way you look); to cause us to doubt our worth and struggle with depression (when we feel bad physically, we start to feel bad mentally); to pit us against each other in comparative ugliness (those who are trying to stay in shape are judged and ridiculed as being, "vain," "in denial," or "trying to be 20 again," by those who have given up, and those who've given up in turn struggle with feeling pressure and having self-esteem issues).  All that is unfruitful and pointless--the Bible speaks clearly that we are to care for our body as the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19; 1 Cor. 3:16).  I do not believe this should be some obsessive thing motivated by vanity.  However, I think desiring to be desirous by your husband and being an attractive witness for Christ are only good things.  If all Christians were obese and dumpy-looking, would we really be effective for the cause of Christ in a world where image is everything?  I think not.  I know that our husbands should love us unconditionally, but that is no excuse for us to become lazy in our attempt to keep them interested.  Just as we expect and appreciate our husbands to continue to court us and date us in marriage and care for their physical health, we likewise better be willing to keep ourselves up as best as we can for them, (as we did when we dated them and initially tried to win them over).  I do believe that our spiritual health is of even more importance to God (1 Timothy 4:7-9) and is where our real beauty lies (1 Peter 3:3; Proverbs 31:10-31). But accepting poor health, "giving up," and being lazy are clearly not Godly.

As Matt and I have gotten more adventurous in running races for our own accountability and fun together this year, I see women much older than I am running in them (not many, but they are there).  They aren't setting world records or anything, but they are in great shape, have smiles on their faces, and in true athlete form, they aren't giving in to the restrictions and annoyances of age.  At one of the last races I ran, I told one elderly lady who ran the race too, that she was so awesome and such an inspiration.  I asked her if she deals with pain issues in her running.  She replied with a chuckle and a smile, "Oh, honey.  I hurt all the time.  Have for years.  But I've never felt better."  I loved that.  I will never forget her.  Though she has deep wrinkles from all the running she's done outside enjoying the sun over the years of her long life, she seemed decades younger to me than an 80-year old obese lady with less wrinkles sitting her rocking chair, unable to do anything else.  I am certainly not speaking to or condemning those who find themselves forced to a life of sedentary living--my own grandma is in a wheelchair at 82 from massive stroke, and she  is the cutest, most inspirational, loving, kind, precious, happy, viable person on the planet.  She still makes me cinnamon rolls and she is in a wheelchair!  I hope I'm half the woman she is when it's all said and done!  I am speaking to those who could take an Advil and go for a walk instead of being overweight, grouchy, acting 25 years older than they are, and trying to beat down those of us who try to maintain some resemblance of personal health and joy.

My son-in-law's grandmother, who is in her seventies, runs marathons and other races on a constant basis in KC, as well.  She is an amazing believer and woman of God who I have so enjoyed getting to know.  When she came to the wedding of our daughter and her grandson last November, she walked into the hotel wearing a pair of killer, pointy-toed high heels and skinny jeans.  As I watched her with admiration from afar, with her spunky, stylish hair-do and joyful, "feeling-fit attitude," I looked at her and thought, "Man, that woman rocks."  That's how I hope and pray to go out.  I'm not going to "give in" and give up.  I want to go out as a smiling, healthy, pain-pill popping fighter.  It's either that or bad health coupled with a sour, downcast attitude and spirit.  God-willing and with His help and strength, I'm putting on my boxing gloves.  I read a great story in a devotion book I own by a gal who struggled with depression.  She shared how she knows that since depression is an illness of the mind, you have to make a sincere effort to reprogram your mind to think good thoughts and get out of the pattern of old, negative thought (this made me think of Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things).  So she makes a conscious effort to daily ask herself, "It's a new day.  Am I gonna be a 'weenie' or a 'hot dog' today?"  In other words, "Am I going to "wuss out" or embrace life with zeal, strength, and mental positivity in Christ?" 

I've decided to embrace that quote as my battle and rally cry, as well as one that I've loved for years from one of my all-time favorite flicks, "The Shawshank Redemption."  In this movie, Morgan Freeman's character, "Red," says, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'." I plan to quote this to myself any morning when my physical pain and age annoyances are attacking me mentally and taunting me to "give in," give up, and be a "weenie."  I can face the facts that my days of amazing performance are over and that I will have to let some things go periodically as I age (like my lap-swimming flip turns).  I also realize God may decide to take my life at any moment, or take me down a path of illness where I am forced to change this mentality to a lesser degree for a while or much earlier than I desire.  So I am fully aware that this health-seeking drive I have isn't giving me the grand control of things.  GOD is in control of my life in every sense of the word.  But I'm not going to go out as a quitter or a wus, and certainly not as long as I am physically able to overcome most of the obstacles (what else are safe pain meds for anyway?! God gave man the wisdom and ability to create them)!  God has made me a steward of my own health and I'm going to give it 100% effort in His name and for His glory in my life.  Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'.