8.05.2016

What Kind of Impression Are You Making?

Today's Food For Thought: What are you thinking about? What are you talking about? What are you impressing on your children?




Last month our perspective changed. It happened subtly and then suddenly, and the outcome (purging more than 3/4 of our extensive DVD collection) ended up being far less painful - liberating, in fact - than either of us anticipated. True, the adjustment hasn't been without hiccups - like the first post-purge weekend when we walked around, looking lost and asking, "what do you want to do?" - but the conversations that have taken place in the 2+ hour time slots that were formerly filled with movies or TV shows have been far more fulfilling and challenging.

As I have tried to make clear in past posts, this isn't about looking super spiritual, pointing fingers of blame at those who don't do the same, or securing our salvation. However, my hope is that by sharing what God has been teaching us as we strive to become more like Christ, you will have something to chew on as you seek God's will for your own life. And while you may not feel conviction about how you spend time relaxing (I'm not the Holy Spirit!), I challenge you to look at your life and see what God may be asking you to give up or change as you pursue a life devoted to His will, rather than yours.

As Believers, we are to become more like Christ as we grow up in our faith, not more accepting of what the world deems "normal." As parents, our job is to model for our kids the living and active role of Christ in our everyday life, to help them understand how His attributes are what we strive to imitate, and that the lens of Scripture is how we view the world.

One of the reasons for our big purge was our growing sensitivity to one particular issue: Jesus is the Name of my Savior, not a word to be used to casually express frustration. And though I hadn't stooped to the level of taking God's Name in vain, other crass phrases had definitely crept into my vocabulary... unless my mother was around, and then I found myself paying attention to what I said. So - the million dollar question - if I wouldn't say it in front of my mother, why would I say it when Jesus hears my innermost thoughts?

For the record: I do not expect the world to act like Christ (Philippians 3:18-19). Additionally, our goal is not to protect our children from the world (we couldn't do that, even if we wanted to), but rather, not to elevate the world's actions as approved behavior through our entertainment choices in the surroundings of our home. There is - in my opinion - a major difference between overhearing someone take the Lord's Name in vain while out in the world, and comfortably sitting on our couch, essentially approving the action by choosing to watch a film where it's casually thrown around.

And it's not just the language. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it's the accepted lifestyles and actions that we no longer wish to passively condone through our choice of films and shows. Over the years, there have been times when I have found myself blushing when someone has asked to borrow one of our DVDs. I've been uncomfortable when loaning out our James Bond collection because casual sex with new acquaintances wasn't something I'd encourage in life, but apparently if it's "just pretend" and on the screen, it's okay.

For years I told myself that it wasn't a big deal for us to watch films with sex, violence, and R-rated language because we were both married, mature Christians, and we could separate those things from the possible positive undertones in the film. It didn't bother or affect us (or so I told myself) and I came up with plenty of reasons why it was okay for us, despite the fact that I would have wished for a hole to open up and swallow me if Jesus had physically walked into the room while I was watching 007 bed the women he just met. What changed this summer was finally seeing the disconnect between what we believed and would want our kids to learn, and what we watched.

BUT...

"We still live in the world, and you can't bury your head in the sand! If you don't expose your children to it, they will just learn about it without you." I can hear you saying this, muttering it under your breath, rolling your eyes, or even shouting it at your screen right now. And you're absolutely right! We're not naively thinking, "If we don't show our children films with cursing in them, they will never hear it." TRUE STORY: I learned my first curse words (really good ones, too!) in the toddler's Sunday school at our church. I was living 3-year-old proof that you can be in a "holy huddle," surrounded by Christians, and still experience the world in it's midst.

Instructing, not exposing - this is the switch that flipped for us. Do we want to impress upon our children the glory and awesomeness of God, or the depravity of man? Do we want Hollywood to teach our children about the world, or do we want to help them view the world with discernment by sharing with them God's perfect plan and man's fallen state? These are the kinds of questions we started asking ourselves that have led us to this point, and though the HOW is still being figured out, the WHY has become clear.

The Gospels are explicit that our role in this world is to shine our Light on the hill, not hide it in the safety of our Christian circles (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus actively modeled for us how we are to behave in this world. He knew the histories and actions of those who surrounded Him, yet showed them love, cared about their pain, befriended, ate with, and talked to those that the "holy huddle" of the day, scorned (Luke 7). Jesus was in the world, but not to blend in - He was there to show a better way. 

Jesus was perfect, coming to save the world that He was engaging. I know this might come as a surprise (that's sarcasm!), but we are not perfect like Jesus. It's easy for us to try to be in the world, and find ourselves getting swept up by the world. No longer just acknowledging the actions of the world, but joining in because we don't want them to think we're some sort of goody two-shoes. In our desire to be accepted - often with the good intention of "developing a relationship" that would, ideally, lead to sharing our faith - we tend to get swallowed up, no longer seeing things as black and white.

Bottom Line: I am very much a work-in-progress. I'm 34 years old, and I've been a Christian for 31 of those years, and yet here I am, still trying to figure out how to get out of my own way, to follow after God with my whole life, and die to self so that I may live for Him. Jesus is still working on me, and #iamthankful for His patience and mercy. 

7.28.2016

And So, To Clarify...

PERSONAL NOTE: Okay, look. A.W. Tozer was a human, just like you and me, and no, he wasn't perfect and no, he doesn't have all the answers, but... he sure gives one a lot of food for thought! 


Last week I shared about a God-led decision to remove films and shows that we previously considered "family friendly" from our home movie collection - sacrificing the sacred cow of entertainment, if you will. This personal upheaval in "life as usual" is more complex than I have time - or desire - to unpack in a single blog post, but the simple version is that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has caused us to rethink our standards. {There's another post in the works that digs a little bit deeper into that aspect. Look for it soon, if you're interested.}

And while that is the Bottom Line (obeying God by not ignoring the conviction we feel), based on some of the comments I received after the last post, I realized that I needed to clarify a few things.

For example, at this time we're not purging ALL films and shows (Andy Griffith and Fiddler on the Roof are still very much in our home DVD collection), nor are we ripping down the screen and projector to sell on eBay. In fact, you will still find us on the occasional weekend with a bowl of popcorn, snuggled down in blankets and pillows, watching one of our Pixar favorites, like The Incredibles. But even that may change in the future if God nudges - we're open to wherever He takes us on this journey.

What changed for the present was our perspective on the films that we previously accepted without batting an eye, taking a different view of them now based on the subtle undertones (premarital living arrangements, casually taking the Lord's Name in vain, or the prevalence of sexual innuendos) compared to the Biblical model of becoming more like Christ. It looks less like, "TV is a tool of the devil, right up there with drums" and more like the old cliché, "if Christ joined us on the couch, would we still be comfortable laughing at this?"


In fact, this whole change in perspective isn't really about the medium. I can already tell that this train of thought is going to end up overflowing into books {Collective Bookworm GASP!} and social media. God's working on me, reminding me to play an active role in assessing what I see and hear when I'm watching a show, listening to a song, reading for pleasure, or even what I'm passively viewing while I kill time on Facebook. Facebook. That's a whole other post. But I'm a grateful work-in-progress... so stay tuned. You never know what's next!

A.W. Tozer posed a good question for all Believers: What are we laughing at? Are we laughing at sin? Trust me... it creeps in so easily! For almost 20 years the Hubs and I have laughingly quoted a line from a well-known 90's chick-flick. It starts with a word we wouldn't say in front of our mothers, but we clean it up - of course - by substituting "beep" for the word. If you're reading this thinking, "How does that make it better?" then you now realize that we're not as smart as you might have previously thought. It seems obvious now, but for almost two decades (that's embarrassing!) it hasn't been something we've thought about when we say it, because it made us laugh. What are you laughing AT?

Moving on... I also realize that some people may have read our decision and seen it as legalistic. Make no mistake: this decision to purge various entertainment items has nothing to do with our salvation (Ephesians 2:8 & 9). Our eternal security does not rest on our entertainment choices (thank the Lord!), but our growth as Believers does. It's time for us to listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit as He guides us in our walk with Christ, even when He moves in previously "off limit" areas, like what we do to relax and unwind.

Finally, yes, God is working in each one of our lives in different ways, and as Believers we are each at different stages of the Christian journey. However, don't use that as an excuse. If you read about our choices last week and it made you uncomfortable (or even angry - hey, I've been there reading about the decisions of others!), maybe you should ask yourself, "why?" My point, last week and today, is this: look at the areas in your own life that are, even unknowingly, off limits to God. Ask yourself why it's off limits, and what scares you about offering it to Christ if it means growing to become more like Him.

If someone told me 6 months ago that I would eventually purge two-thirds of our DVD collection, I would have snorted. Relaxing with a movie (or two or three) was my idea of a great Friday night. To give that up would be painful, and (Heaven forbid) I would be bored. Yet here's what I've discovered in the last month: when you start opening previously closed off areas of your life to God, relinquishing ownership gives freedom rather than feeling like a sacrifice. (Romans 8:5 & 6) Gray turns to black and white.

What's in YOUR off limits area? 


7.20.2016

Yes, but HOW different?

NOTE: This is a personal story of God's work in my life. It wasn't written or shared to come across as "super spiritual" or to pass judgement on anyone for not doing the same. God's working in each of our lives in different ways - this is simply the way He's currently changing me. If it starts a discussion in your home or just gives you something new to think about, all glory to God because I'm certainly still a work in progress!

When the Hubs sat down next to me and said, "This is a conversation I don't want to have because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like where it takes us." I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like it either.


As Christians, God calls us to be set apart. While we glibly spout off how important it is to "be in the world, but not of the world" - do we ever stop to think about what following-through might actually look like? What would happen if being "counter-cultural" meant more than giving up our sleep on Sunday morning or offering a quick prayer before we eat?

When we got married 16 years ago, I was teetering on the edge of a TV addiction. Many of our early arguments started over my desire to watch "some stupid television show" - as Peter phrased it - and ended either with tears (me) or capitulation (him). Thankfully, moving overseas in 2005 broke my habit of glassy-eyed TV viewing, and in the years since we walked away from the world of current television programming, it turns out that "must see TV" isn't actually a must.


Of course in the case of the Olympics or BBC shows like Sherlock and Lewis, I find ways to watch online (it doesn't count if it's British television, right?), and we have a large collection of DVDs that we watch in our downstairs movie room using our projector and pull-down screen. Wait... what? If you think that sounds like a contradiction, then you are smarter than I have been. Or perhaps just more honest. 

You see, it's no sacrifice for me to give up the idiocy that I see on TV while sitting in a waiting room, but don't touch my chick-flicks or my fascination with British mystery programs. That's how I relax and unwind. It's sacred and off limits to conviction. Uh oh...

In Psalm 101 (vs. 3 and 4), David says this:


I will not look with approval on anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil. 

For almost two years now, every time I read these verses, the shows and movies that I willingly own and watch have always come to mind. Much like we did with the adoption call (lie down, wait for the feeling to pass), I knew it was something I needed to deal with, but it wasn't something I was willing to hand over to God. I mean, it wasn't hurting anyone, right?


Which brings us full circle to Peter's statement: "a conversation I don't want to have." Turns out, he's been dealing with the same thing - conviction about how we spend our free time, what we watch, read, and listen to, and the whole idea of entertainment in general. The ensuing conversation was definitely in the realm of "counter-cultural" and the outcome of it was going to make us look more like freaks to the world than we already do (not having cable, and adopting 5 children at once isn't exactly "normal," apparently).


I tried to play devil's advocate, "well, some stuff we watch brings about discussion..." but the arguments sounded lame as soon as they left my mouth. In my head I already had a mental list of favorite films that I could no longer justify having on our home shelf - films that seem innocent, until you view them through the lens of Scripture. Do you ever stop to listen to how many "family friendly" films take the Lord's Name in vain (Exodus 20:7)?

Peter wisely let the discussion end with no decision... allowing us both time to think about it. Some things you don't have to pray about. If you read the Bible, then you already know what God says about it, and the action to take is not prayer, but obedience. "Praying about it" is so much easier, and the standard Christian answer more times than not, but obedience is hard because it often means dying to self, and giving over something that you previously treasured.

It didn't take long. When Peter left for work the next day, I headed downstairs to start putting movies in a box. Some were no-brainers (James Bond - don't judge!), while others were a bit harder (You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding - normalizing premarital sex/living together and accepting the use of cursing as a normal part of conversation). These days we find ourselves saying, "Hmm... would we be comfortable sitting here, watching this with the kids? Do we like the message it's sending out [like, living together is totally fine] or the language they use? Is this edifying and helping us to become more like Christ?" More often than not, the answer is no.

"What you applaud you encourage, but beware what you celebrate." 
{Ravi Zacharias}

6.30.2016

Celebrating the Unique

INTJ (Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judgement) is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of the 16 psychological types. 
People with the INTJ personality type are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, but they do not squander their energy. Possessing intellect and strategic thinking that allow them to overcome many challenging obstacles, INTJs have the ability to both develop and implement a plan for everything, including their own personal growth. {via 16Personalities.com}
That's a small section of insight into what I (and the Hubs) are like as individuals - apart from our faith in Christ, and our desire to die to self and be formed more to His image. But God also created us as unique beings, with specific gifts, talents, abilities, and personality traits that have helped us survive and thrive in difficult and varied situations throughout our individual lives, and during our 16 years of marriage.

It was this very uniqueness which gave us a calm assurance that God had specifically equipped us to take on a situation (adopting 5 children at once) that others thought insane. We labor under no delusion that it will be easy, or that we will always respond well to the outcome of turning our lives upside down in obedience to God's calling. We are not going through the adoption process to fulfill a personal need, or for the praise of men or the gratitude of children, but because He has led us here.


Although we have been in this process for over 3.5 years now, the reason we didn't tell many people about it until earlier this year was because we were not mentally ready to deal with the influx of unsolicited advice that we knew would flow our way. And, just as we anticipated, it has.

"I have a friend who adopted..."
"There's this book you HAVE to read..."
"You should really consider..."

Believe me, we've heard it all. And each time it happens, I attempt to smile and bite my tongue, trying to believe that most of the people mean well (which, as an INTJ, is not a belief that comes naturally for me). What most of them don't know is that we've spent the last 3.5 years researching and counting the cost of this God-orchestrated story. 

We've talked to those who have adopted, listened to those who have done more than us, researched the best educational methods for children who are adjusting to a new environment and language, and studied the cultural norms and taboos of their home country. Despite assumptions to the contrary, our registry items were selected with care, toys were chosen with purpose, and school curriculum based on the needs of our children and the skills of their teachers (a.k.a. us). In short, if it's a part of the process, we've probably hit it. 

This doesn't stop people from giving their two cents (which even I confess to doing on occasion), but whether you've written me off as an insufferable know-it-all by now or you're still hanging around to see where this is going, here's the thing I want you to take away today...
Every adoption story is as unique as the adults preparing for it, and the child(ren) facing it. Every life story is as different as the individual living it. And the so-called experts may not, in fact, always know best.  
I am not you. You are not me. Relax... and let God write His beautifully unique stories in your life, and in mine. 



4.29.2016

What's Your Excuse?

This week my sweet husband said two words to me that you might not expect out of him...

You're pathetic.

Now, before you get your knickers in a knot and leave comments about how no man should ever say that to his wife, and no self-respecting woman should ever take that from a man, let me be very clear: he was totally correct

In context, we were discussing a fundraiser that we're trying to plan for our adoption. And by "trying" I mean that we've talked about it a lot. And by "planning," I mean avoiding doing anything other than emailing a couple of people. 

There are a lot of positives to being married to someone of the same personality type. You get each other's humor, you understand their weak spots, and you're a solid team against the world. However, it also means that those aforementioned weak spots are your collective kryptonite. 

You'll be happy to know he didn't stop there. He paused before saying...

We both are.

In this instance, he was referring to our combined hatred of talking to people on the phone. Emails? Yes. Texting? A gift of the technology gods to introverts everywhere! But phone calls? Oh, please... anything but that! I've been putting off a phone call (to someone I know!) for months, and then a second phone call for several weeks to someone I don't. There's always an excuse
I was so swamped at work today. I meant to call him/her, but then I totally forgot until it was too late. I have it on my "to do" list. It's really tacky to call over the weekend, I'll wait until Monday. It was the next thing on my list and then [insert name] dropped by and ended up staying for 2 hours. {Or when there is time and no good excuse...} Did you see that I organized the pantry?
Here's the deal: in my head, I know that I have built up something I hate doing (talking on the phone) into a Goliath that it does not deserve to be. And truth be told, the calls take about 5 minutes, the information is gathered, and then it's all over. The "stone" of just doing it could absolutely take down the Goliath of dreading it.

How often is this the case? Yesterday, Phil Gerbyshack shared an image on his social media channels that perfectly captured this tendency, with the quote, "Stop saying it won't work. Start asking how you can make it work." As soon as I read it, it clicked.

There are several things in my life at the moment that I am guilty of shoving into the "it won't work" category. I am the queen of excuses when it comes to those things - always ready with a, "yes, well..." answer when the Hubs (or anyone else) asks me if I've followed through on something. If I took Phil's advice, I wonder what all I could accomplish - and what my life might look like in a year - if instead of making excuses, I started asking, "How can I can make it work?"

Now, if you'll excuse me... I have a phone call to take care of.


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