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Posted on Apr 9, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 8 comments

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart

It’s been hard to know what to post recently.  Some of the things I’ve been going through don’t seem like things that need to be blasted on the internet for all to see…  Some things are deeply personal and too precious for publication. 

I hope the look on my face says it all.  I am happy.  I am full of peace.  God is good and He is blessing me in some wonderful ways. 

I looked at some pictures on Facebook tonight of a high school classmate.  She is beautiful; was a beauty queen many times over.  She married a handsome, successful man and they have lovely children.  It appears that they have everything anyone could want.  But the look in her eyes is far from happy.  She is smiling, she is wearing clothes that flatter her surgically enhanced figure, but there is not one speck of joy in her vacant eyes.  It made me sad. 

I wish I knew how to share this joy I have found with everyone.

I have written this before, but I will do it again.  This joy is only found in a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  We can have that relationship by getting to know Him through His Word:  Scripture, The Bible.  If you don’t like to read, listen to an audio-version of it.  Fill yourself up with God’s Word, spend time in prayer, talk about what you’ve read with others, think about it, write about it, study it.  Get involved in a Bible study with other believers, find a good church you enjoy going to and get involved, find creative ways to express your love for the Lord – but more than all of those things, learn His Word.  There is no substitute.  Spending time with God is the only way to have an intimate relationship with Him. 

I know it sounds boring, tedious, and time-consuming.  We don’t want to be dorks who can’t talk about anything else and start wearing our pants really high on our waists.  I get it.  I felt that way myself in spite of the fact that I was living my life in service to Him as a committed Christian.  I prayed and asked God to give me a love for His Word, and amazingly He did it.  Everything has changed now.   I’m even wearing my pants really high on my waist.  (So that’s not true, but you all let me know if I start looking like a dork, okay?)

Loving God isn’t easy because it takes work, just like being in human relationships takes work.  But It is worth it.  I promise.  Pick up a One-Year Bible and join along with me.  If you decide to give it a try, I’d love to hear from you. 

Jesus saves and He makes all things new.

*Photographer:  Leslie Coelho

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Posted on Jan 31, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 3 comments

I Will Rise

I Will Rise

I will rise
When He calls my name…
I will rise
Before my God
Fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise  (Chris Tomlin)

I feel like I’ve been sitting for a long, long time – waiting for God.  And now, He has told me to rise and go to Haiti.  It is extremely unexpected.  I’m not a social activist with a heart that bleeds for people I don’t know.  My heart bleeds for people I do know and I’m willing to turn myself inside out to help them.  God has to hold me back at times and remind me that He is the rescuer, not me.  Yet I need to go to Haiti. 

God is cutting all the fat, the excess, out of my life.  I’m learning what is important and what isn’t.  I carefully consider each decision before I spend money, before I commit time, before I put food in my mouth.  This careful consideration is also new for me.   My parents are frugal, responsible, conscientious people who hate debt, fat, and laziness.  They went a bit overboard at times and while I learned a lot from them, I saw what others had and couldn’t understand why I didn’t deserve it too.  I resented it when we got to go to amusement parks and couldn’t buy a soda there, but had to hike back to the car parked 16 miles away to eat soggy sandwiches and Capri Sun from the cooler.  I resented it when told not use paper towels excessively and to buy clothing on sale.  My parent’s taught me good lessons, but I didn’t appreciate them.  As soon as I had money and credit, I rebelled.  I used as many paper towels as I wanted, left the refrigerator door open while I made a sandwich, and bought my clothes at full price from the best stores.  And the only one I hurt was me.  Today I am paying for my excesses, and it’s about time I learned. 

It sounds terrible.  It isn’t fun to drastically cut your spending, your food portions, your entertainment, and more.  However, it’s worth it.  Freedom comes through simplicity.  Freedom comes through discipline and sacrifice.  It embarrasses me that it took so long to realize this truth.  My self-regulator broke, or turned off, or just got ignored?  The joy that I feel right now, the sense of accomplishment, is more than I can say.

What has changed me?  What has given me the strength to finally do something I wasn’t able to do before?  It’s simple:  Scripture.  I’ve read the Bible all my life and can tell you most of the stories and quote much of it by heart.  But I wasn’t feeding myself with God’s Word daily.  I wasn’t feasting on it.  I didn’t know how.  And then someone taught me about the daily readings in The Book of Common Prayer where you read about 4-6 chapters a day, about 30 chapters per week.  I committed to it and within a few months I was a different person.  A year later, I’m beginning not to recognize myself, and the change is good.  Right now I’m reading The One-Year Bible with my church and that’s still about four chapters a day.  It doesn’t really take that long.  You don’t have to do any kind of extensive study.  Just read the portions of Scripture each day, reflect prayerfully on them, and jot down some notes about what they mean to you. 

It. Will. Change. Your. Life. 

Proverbs 5:22 -23 (NLT)
An evil man is held captive by his own sins;
      they are ropes that catch and hold him.
He will die for lack of self-control;
      he will be lost because of his great foolishness.

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Posted on Nov 6, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 1 comment

Ignorance is Bliss?

In a conversation I had with a woman in her late 50s who was describing the abusive childhood of a loved one, she repeated a commonly used excuse for the irresponsible behavior of the parents.  How often have we heard this phrase: “They did the best they could with the knowledge they had”?  That phrase is usually followed or preceded by a horror story of child abuse or some other atrocity.  I decided a long time ago that I despise that phrase, that excuse. 

I do realize that we often do things out of ignorance and on some level that will always happen and cannot be helped.  No one can know everything or understand any situation fully but God.  Perhaps that’s why God is infallible?  He knows everything and sees each situation from all sides.  But I don’t mean to get into a theological discussion of God’s perfection, so moving on…  As I was saying, I do understand that each person will make mistakes out of ignorance and this is to be expected.  The reason I so despise the phrase mentioned is because it’s often is used to excuse behavior that is reprehensible.  When a small child is beaten with a board full of nails for saying a curse word he’s heard his father use a million times before, then forced to “confess” by repeating that curse word and is so frightened he can’t remember it, is then forced to guess what curse word he said then beaten for each incorrect curse word he guessed until he’s nearly dead – that is inexcusable.  Don’t tell me the father didn’t know any better.  No one is that stupid.

I heard that phrase many times while I was growing up in the form of, “I’m sorry I hurt you.  I did the best I could with what I knew to do.”  And I decided I hated it.  I was not the one beaten with boards, thank God!  But in a pastor’s house, you hear horror stories every day.  People bring their problems to their pastor and I paid attention.  Ignorance was sometimes an excuse, but it struck me as totally unreasonable.

I made a decision somewhere around the age of fourteen that I would not let that be an excuse for bad behavior in my life.  If I didn’t know something, I would find out.  And I have built my life on that concept.  I’m a researcher.  It may appear that I make quick decisions and don’t take the time to think them through.  I am a decisive person.  But what many don’t realize is the number of hours I’ve spent searching for answers to questions I don’t have to answer yet, so that when the day comes that I do have to make a choice, I can choose wisely.  I rarely decide anything without much research and forethought.  When I do, I usually regret it. 

Ever since the day my brother was born when I was nearly eleven years old, I have known that I want to be a mother.  I began to research parenting and did all I could to apply the principles I learned to the children around me.  When I was in my early twenties, I finally put down the parenting books because I realized I was driving myself crazy with all this theory and no one to practice on.  I haven’t picked up another parenting book since then, but I’m a really good babysitter and aunt! 

The point is, I didn’t want to make parenting mistakes out of ignorance when the time came.  I haven’t picked up any more books since then, but I’ve been a diligent student of my friends with children.  I’ve watched how they do things, asked questions, and made mental notes for myself. 

In my mid-twenties, a friend challenged me with a unique understanding of Scripture as it relates to the end times and Christ’s return.  She walked me through the Scriptures to prove her point of view.  As she did this, I realized I disagreed strongly with her, but I couldn’t articulate why.  I KNEW she was wrong, but I couldn’t walk her through Scriptures myself to show her why.  I became furious and had to walk away from the conversation before I lost my temper.  I wasn’t angry with her, but with myself for not knowing more so I could discuss it with her.  I’d been a Christian all my life, was a pastor’s daughter, the product of several Christian schools, and had even spent a year in Christian college.  Yet I was mute before her argument.  That realization drove me nuts.

A few years later I enrolled in seminary.  The major paper I did for my last systematic theology class was on this very subject.  I was determined to understand it and refute it.  When I finished that paper, I felt such a sense of accomplishment!  I went back and talked to her about it and was finally able to explain why I disagreed with her.  I didn’t change her mind (darn it!), but I was no longer ignorant either.

Proverbs 13:15 says, “Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard.”

What good would it have done for me to have yelled and shown my anger toward my friend that day when I didn’t know what to say to her, just knew I disagreed with her?  I kept my mouth shut until I had good understanding.  She had no idea I had been so worked up by what she said.  When I went back to her years later, we had an intelligent conversation about it and she was touched that I cared so much about her ideas that I went and studied the matter out to be able to answer her.  We are still great friends to this day and every once in a while have to acknowledge our different opinions on the end times.  This is done with no animosity, but respect.

Proverbs chapter four is full of admonitions to get wisdom and to make sure we understand things. 

Proverbs 4:5 Get wisdom! Get understanding!
      Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
       6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
      Love her, and she will keep you.
       7 Wisdom is the principal thing;
      Therefore get wisdom.
      And in all your getting, get understanding.
       8 Exalt her, and she will promote you;
      She will bring you honor, when you embrace her.
       9 She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
      A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”

We often do shameful things out of ignorance; things that embarrass us later.  We can’t explain why we did them except, “I didn’t know any better.”  But Proverbs urges us to seek wisdom and understanding.  Instead of shame, it promises that we’ll have an ornament of grace, a crown of glory on our heads. 

I try to live my life by the words of Proverbs 4:13, which states, “Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.” 

What would the world look like if we all sought after wisdom and understanding?  If we all tried to understand the best way to do something before we did it?  What would the church look like if just the Christians did that?

There’s no way I’ll ever know all the things I’m interested in, curious about, or need to know.  I wish I could, but when would I sleep?  I realize how little I know, which drives me to learn more and apply myself to getting instruction.  Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power.

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Posted on Mar 22, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Just Goofing Around | 9 comments

Keeping Secrets from Satan

I’m an extrovert, which is helpful for a blogger.  I have very few secrets because it’s just too hard to keep them.  How do you remember who knows what about you?  That’s exhausting!  What are we all looking for in life but to be known?  The thing that people say when they fall in love is: He/She “gets” me.  We’re all hoping someone will understand us and think we’re cool.  I don’t think it’s just me.

 

But there’s more to it than that.  One of the Scriptures I’ve based my life on is in I John 1.  In the New King James, the section heading is “Fellowship with Him and One Another.”  I won’t quote it all here, but basically it says that Christians should walk in the light – confessing our sins to one another.  The opposite of walking in the light is hiding away in the darkness.  When we bring things into the light, we are confessing our sins to one another.  Am I promoting the Catholic version of “The Confessional”?  Not really.  I’m promoting friendship.  I’m promoting real relationships with others who know us in and out. 

 

When we confess our sins to one another, they no longer have the same power over us.  The shame is removed, the darkness is exposed, and others who love us are able to pray for us.  Those who love us are able to support us, to not expose us to things that might weaken us, and stand beside us when we fall. 

 

There’s a great power in knowing we’re not alone.

 

There’s wisdom in keeping your precious things private.  As extroverted as I am, you aren’t likely to read specific details about old boyfriends or my hurt over the loved one who constantly breaks my heart here in my blog…  But I have some wonderful, close, trustworthy friends who truly know me. 

 

I think many people in my generation understand this way of thinking and relate to it.  I’ve learned that many who are older have a harder time with it.  They were taught that appearances must be kept up and that there are certain things that are not to be discussed.  There’s an element of truth in their perspective.  Appearances can be important. We want to avoid the appearance of evil.  And some things should not be discussed openly, or at least not with strangers.  So there is probably a healthy balance between the two extremes. 

 

But the younger generation gets frustrated with the focus on appearances to the detriment of the health of a family or an individual when secrets must be kept to protect someone’s repetitively bad behavior.  We are tired of the lies and misrepresentations.  We are tired of being asked to cover for those who want to appear one way to the outside world but are completely different behind closed doors.  We are tired of blatant hypocrisy.  We’ve experienced the hurt it can cause and we don’t want to pass that hurt on to others. 

 

So you can imagine my surprise a while back when someone told me that he doesn’t talk about the deep things in his heart because Satan will hear him.  And if Satan hears his weaknesses and fears, then Satan has power over him to attack him in the weak places. 

 

Huh?  (Picture me shaking my head in confusion…)  I had a very difficult time digesting this information. 

 

This Christian is afraid of Satan?  What happened to “Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world?”  (I John 4:4)  Christians don’t have to walk around afraid of Satan! 

 

This fear was very real and has paralyzed the man for many years.  As I thought about it later I realized, he’s keeping secrets from Satan!  And those secrets are eating his soul alive.  He is isolated from people, afraid to make friends, and afraid that what he reveals about himself will be used against him by the devil.  (More confused head shaking…)

 

All I could think was – what a sad way to live. 

 

I assume that about one in every three new friends I invest in will really turn into a good, close, trustworthy friend.  I expect new people I meet to fail me or even to betray me.  It doesn’t make it easier when those things happen, but it doesn’t shock my system so much either.  I’m better able to take it in stride and focus on the friends I do have.  But I refuse to give Satan that much power over me.  Let him hear me confess my sins!  And let him be defeated because those sins no longer hold the same power over me as they did when they were locked away inside walls of guilt and shame.  I can’t think of a better way to frustrate Satan’s plans for my life than to confess my sins and make Satan so irrelevant and powerless over me that I have nothing to fear. 

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Posted on Mar 20, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, My Crazy Family | 2 comments

Wisdom isn’t Free

I recently heard a father talk about how he prayed for his children to have wealth and financial security.  This amazing father is setting up his children to be financially successful.  My first thought was: Brilliant!  What a great gift to his children!  My second thought was: I wish my parents had prayed that for me.  Maybe then I wouldn’t be suffering like I am right now, trying to get free from debt.  

As I sulked about it for a few days, I began making notes to pray for my own children’s financial future.  I dreamed about all the things I could pray for my yet unborn children – financial security, health, godly mates, long life, and so forth.  In the meantime, I was feeling resentful toward my parents for not praying for me to have financial stability and wealth.  As it goes with most of these things, God soon opened my eyes to a greater concept and showed me the wisdom of my own parents.

Mom and Dad were always very intentional about teaching me – Scripture, leadership principles, financial responsibility, stage presence, respect, thankfulness, concern for the under-dog, and even how to do things that seemed like too big for a little girl.  They especially taught me about wisdom, reading Proverbs to me and teaching me about Solomon.  I’m not sure how many times they talked to me about Solomon, or how old I was when I heard the story for the first time, but it is a story that has remained with me all my life.

As I considered the Solomon story, I remembered that God offered Solomon anything he wanted and Solomon asked for wisdom.  I’ve always been struck by the fact that all this happened in a dream.  If Solomon were awake and had friends around him to consult with when God made this offer to him, it might have taken him a while to decide what he wanted.  He might have asked for more power, to be healthy in every way, to be the most influential man who ever lived, or to have his children be wealthy and secure.  All of these are wonderful requests, but in his most vulnerable and open state, he asked for wisdom to rule the people well.  God was so pleased with Solomon’s request he was also granted wealth, honor, and a long life.

Mom and Dad taught me if I prayed for wisdom, God would be pleased with me too.  Not only would He give me wisdom (which God promises in James 1:5), but all the other things I need in life would be given as well.  Suddenly I understood why my parents hadn’t spent a lot of time praying for me to be financially secure or wealthy.  They knew if we prayed for wisdom, those things would come as well.  A wise person cannot help but have honor and be financially successful!

The one thing Dad did not share with me during those lessons is that wisdom isn’t free. 

Wisdom comes with experience, which is why we typically associate the elderly with wisdom.  Our hair gets gray because the life experience we have sucks something out of us.  Our fashion standards today tell us to hide our gray hair because it means we’re O-L-D, when in fact it represents life experience and wisdom.  It’s embarrassing to be 33 years old and have half of the hair surrounding your face already gray – or is it?

I’ve discovered over the years, as I have prayed for wisdom nearly every day of my life and in many situations, it is a costly request.

Wisdom comes with experience.

We have a choice of how to handle each challenge that comes – will we learn from it or will we resent the hard things and waste our time asking God “why?”

The thing is, knowing the cost of wisdom, I’ve continued to pray for it.  When I was in my early 20’s, I saw marriages all around me either ending in divorce or failing to thrive.  I saw people hurting one another out of ignorance or fear and it made me so sad.

I prayed that God would teach my future husband and me everything we needed to know to have a joyful marriage – before we married each other. 

I thought that prayer meant I would learn a lot of things quickly.  I had no idea that more than ten years later, I’d still be in the learning process!

I spent several years regretting that prayer and repenting from it.  But recently God spoke to me during a time of prayer and seeking.  He told me to stop regretting that prayer because He had heard my heart.  He understood what I meant:  I wanted to enter a marriage relationship with tools in place to help me deal with the problems that inevitably come in any intimate relationship.  He heard my heart’s cry and is honoring that request.

My parents did not pray specifically for me to be financially secure or even wealthy, but they did teach me to pray for wisdom, which encompasses all those things.  They also taught me through their daily lives how to be a financially secure person.  They taught me to tithe, to save, and to be frugal.  I did not value those lessons at the time, but they gave me a firm foundation to fall back on when I finally came to my senses about financial matters.  Sometimes I am a slow learner, but my goal is always to be learning and growing.  I’m thankful for those gifts they gave me.

The father who prays for his children to have a secure financial future is a very wise man.  He is doing well for his children.  I’m thankful for parents who also prayed for me to have a secure future by teaching me the value of wisdom and praying for God to bless me with that wonderful gift. 

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