Monday, October 29, 2012

Never Quit Because of Someone Else

It's going to happen eventually if it hasn't happened already: someone is going to irritate you, insult you, provoke you, infuriate you, or do something else that makes you feel like you're being run out of town on a rail! Don't fall for it. It's nothing more than the old enemy tactic of trying to get us to engage in "friendly fire." What a strange term. I can't figure out what's friendly about being fired upon!

What should you do when you want to run away from your church home because of a conflict with another person?

1. Don't. You do realize that all churches have people in them, right? When you find the First Baptist Church of No People, you haven't found a church. Stay in your church home. Too many people have left a good church in search of a better one, only to end up out of church all together. Let the Lord strengthen you by staying put. "If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small." (Prov. 24:10)

2. Aim for restoration. If you know that you did something wrong, make it right. If you can't figure out what the problem is, give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that God will work things out in due season. Stay pleasant and courteous until then, even if "then" is very far away. "He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he." (Prov. 16:20)

3. Forgive. Maybe it's you that needs to do some forgiving? Forgiveness is imitating Christ, so how Christ-like do you want to be? We run into problems when we think that a person has "run out of chances" to be forgiven by us.  "Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Till seventy times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." (Matt. 18:21-22)

Never quit  your church because of people problems. Forgive, drop it, love and stay put. Remind yourself that fellow church members are your church family, and we don't abandon family members. Put the weapons of anger down. There is no such thing as painless friendly fire.

"If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirst, give him water to drink: for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee." (Prov. 25:21-22)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

There are No Perfect Days

You go to the doctor with a strange, gnawing pain in your abdomen. They run a battery of tests and tell you that "everything is normal." Good news, right? Except that you're still in pain. If it weren't for the pain, you'd be having a perfect day.

You drive to the Christian school to pick up your tribe of students. One of them is being escorted to the van by his teacher. "There's a note for you in his backpack," the teacher says with a tense look on her face. Up until that backpack with the naughty-note, you were having a perfect day.

You're anticipating a wonderful vacation, but the sky outside looks ominously gray. When you wake up in the morning, everything outside is buried under three feet of snow. The airport is closed, not to mention many of the major roads. Not a great way to start what was supposed to be a perfect day.

What is the definition of a "perfect day"? Is it a day free from trouble? There is no such day, so let's try writing a definition that is more realistic:

A PERFECTLY IMPERFECT DAY: A day of contentment, regardless of situations or circumstances.

Here are some "contentment quotes" to reinforce our need for this important character quality:
  • “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances."--Martha Washington
  • “You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.' You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”--Charles H. Spurgeon
  • “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."--Jeremiah Burroughs
It is true that character, temperament and personality all have a profound effect on how we view life and how we react to our constantly-changing conditions and situations. It is also true that we will never have enough if we are constantly chasing "just one more thing." And we'll never find contentment in this life if we won't trust God to guide and direct us.

We never know from one moment to the next what God has in store for us, but we do know that He cares. Instead of seeing unplanned events as an enemy invasion, we could choose to view it as an insert from our heavenly Father, and we could aim to demonstrate an excellent spirit. If it's not okay with us for God to alter the course of our day, we're on the throne of self-direction. "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." (Phil. 4:11) If the Apostle Paul could master contentment, we can do it, too. There are no perfect days on this side of heaven. Nice days, but not perfect.

So are you having a perfectly imperfect day? Me, too. And it is well with my soul. How about yours?

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content." (I Tim. 6:6-8)

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Excellent Spirit is Expensive

Daniel is one of my favorite people of the Bible. Just read his reputation: "Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm." (Dan. 6:3)

It's a blessing to have such a testimony. Imagine being so trustworthy, reliable, honest, and even-tempered that the king would feel comfortable handing you the keys to his kingdom. Having an "excellent spirit" means that Daniel worked hard to be a just and honest servant. His reputation impressed his leaders, but not his peers. "Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him." (Dan. 6:4)

What was their problem?


Those envious peers wanted Daniel's position and prestige without having Daniel's character. And since they couldn't attain to his level of excellence (by their own choice), they arranged to have Daniel executed. But we know the rest of the story: Their plot failed and resulted in their deaths instead.

What can we learn from this story?

You will not be loved by everyone, even when you're living right. Accept it, and move on. Living right is its own reward, and when we give an account to God one day, may we stand with the likes of Daniel, unashamed of our efforts to be people with "an excellent spirit." 

As the songwriter Philip P. Bliss wrote, we should "dare to be a Daniel" in this life:
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known.

I dare you. Dare to be a Daniel...or a Daniella. Leadership will appreciate you, and godly friends will cherish you, but those who struggle with envy and jealousy will not have you on their Christmas list.

"Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous, but who is able to stand before envy?" (Prov. 27:4)

Friday, October 19, 2012

New Mommy is a New Normal

From a reader: I was wondering if you would consider doing a blog on being a New Mother? My Husband and I celebrated our 1-year anniversary in May and are expecting our first child on August 3rd. Any help and tips would be appreciated.

Well, by now this dear reader is, Lord willing, a new Mommy. Enter the world of New Normal. Here are some things that I wish someone had told me:

  • Kiss your sleep good-bye for five weeks per baby. That's how long it took the Taylorettes to learn night from day. Maybe other babies are different, but mine seemed to have an auto-detect system that alerted them when their Mom and Dad had settled into a good sleep. Their cries always reminded me of a cross between an alley cat whining and an engine that wouldn't start: ah rat ah rat ah rat raaaaahh. And then I'd poke Norman and say, "Your turn."

  • Nobody told me that they urped up like that. I had to wear a dress that was soaked with slime at the shoulder my first Sunday in church with our firstborn son, but I was ready the next time.

  • I didn't know that diapers could carry so much. Enough said. 

You asked for tips so I'll provide some suggestions, but I also hope that our readers will add their valuable comments at the bottom of this page for you as well:

1. Allow for an adjustment period. New Moms need to give themselves time to adjust to the role. We go to bed with a baby in our womb, then we come home from the hospital with a baby in our arms and life changes forever. It is a blessing, but one that comes with demands unmatched in any other role. Be patient with yourself as you learn how to handle your new responsibilities. And please get some rest whenever  you can.

2. Set your clocks five minutes fast. It's also a good idea to pad your time whenever getting ready to go somewhere. Babies have an uncanny way of needing to be changed minutes before going out the door, so if you are cutting yourself too close, you'll always be tardy. Don't start a habit that will become hard to break. Plan ahead by allowing more time. It's not the same as just getting yourself ready.

3. Don't put your budget underwater. "There is treasure to be desired, and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up." (Prov. 21:20) Be careful about buying things for a little person that is going to change by the minute. That huge bag of mega-blocks may get used for several years, while the cute little bubble lawn mower may not. Become an expert at finding used items for your child(ren).

4. Keep a clean home, but not a museum. Housework doesn't change much with a newborn, but a toddler can turn a living room into something that looks like an indoor state fair without the concessions (unless you count the Cheerios on the floor). Speaking of which, I just had a friend send me a note about how her son discovered that when you put Cheerios in a seed spreader, you can spread them all over the living room! Enjoy this time while your newborn can't handle a seed spreader! When your little one is older, train her to pick up after herself.

5. Finally and most importantly, read Scripture to your child. "The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him." (Prov. 23:24) You may have started this earlier, but if not, start now. And as soon as your sweetie pie can read, he or she needs a Bible and a daily reading assignment, preferably something simple like a Proverb verse per day, until their reading skills increase and then you can increase to a chapter per day. This will develop an appetite for the Word of God. 

A young mother recently asked me this question: "If you could only give me one piece of child-training advice, what would it be?" I thought about it for a moment, then answered, "Teach them to read their Bibles everyday." This is not a guarantee that your child will be godly. It increases the chances greatly, but all human beings have that item called "choice," which will be exercised early and often. The training is up to the parents; the application is up to the children. Our children can't apply something they've never learned, so the Word of God must be a first-choice in our training arsenal. "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding." (Prov. 4:5)

This is just a starter list, as you'll learn more "on the job." Make friends with some older, godly Moms in your circle and glean from them. Motherhood is not sainthood, and children are not angels, but God did call the "fruit of the womb" a "reward." There will be days when it doesn't seem rewarding, but even with the ups and downs, laughter and tears, the love of a mother for her children is beyond compare. 

Congratulations, and welcome to the ranks! Enjoy your new life as a new Mom.

"Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward." (Psa. 127:3)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Living on Less and Enjoying More

I love the "better is" verses in Scripture. These verses have a way of putting things into proper perspective. God clearly shows us that less can be more: "Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife." (Prov. 17:1)  

It really doesn't take a lot of money to comfortably exist, but we can talk ourselves into the mistaken notion that we need just one more thing. A modest income goes a long way in the hands of a prudent person. 

How can we make more out of less?

1. Ask yourself, "Do I need this?" If the answer is "no," postpone the purchase and pray about it. Maybe you'll decide that you don't want it at all. I have seven black skirts (a uniform staple). I saw another one while running errands recently, so I tried it on. It was sharp, but way overpriced for two side-seams and waistband. I told myself to "wait" because it wasn't a need. Besides, if that skirt makes it to the clearance racks, I'll like the price a whole lot more!

2. Will it improve your family's manner of living? When an item or goal is beneficial, it's worth saving up the money to purchase it. Start a fund called "New Bikes" or "Dishwasher," then begin adding money to it weekly or monthly. Keep at it, and you'll have the power that comes from purchasing with cash.

3. Is there another way to have good family fun? I used to love our homeschool field trips. Every autumn, we'd have our "Fall Leaf Walk" on the River Road in Minneapolis. Our children knew that it would include a trip to the doughnut shop on the way to River Road. Total cost of field trip: Under $5.00, even if someone got two items from the bakery (and that someone knows who he is).

4. Make a budget with that money. What money? The money called "income." A budget is a tool for bossing money around; not for bossing you around. If you routinely have "too much month at the end of the money," you're way overdue for a budget. My personal favorite is YNAB, and you can check it out here:

5. Reducing expenses is the same as earning a part-time income. I called the garbage company a few years ago and told them to stop the service, because I was going with a lower-priced competitor. The customer service rep said, "We'll match the price." I asked this question: "If you could have done it cheaper, why didn't you?" I went ahead and switched and saved $120 per year.

It's your turn: How are you living with less yet enjoying it more? Leave a comment below and expand our "idea bank."

"Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without right." (Prov. 16:8)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Great Pretender

A sister friend of mine asked this question in a note: "We all go through a lot in silence. Why is that? Why can't we share as moms and friends and Christians? I don't understand it..."

Some people are intensely private, choosing only to share things with a very small group of people. In other cases, some people are blessed with godly family members who are also excellent sounding boards for counsel. But I'm afraid that all too often, the more common reason is that we don't want people to know that we're struggling. Somewhere along the line, an unwritten rule was passed down that said, "Whatever you do, pretend that everything is all right."

Pretending that everything is all right when it's not is all wrong.

God sees things very differently than we see, and He endorsed getting godly counsel. Consider these verses:

"Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." (Prov. 11:14) Any good pilot will tell you that there are times when they need an extra pair of eyes (and even an extra  brain) in the cockpit for safety's sake. Counsel provides us with the insights of another godly person who can look at our situation with a fresh perspective.

"Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established." (Prov. 15:22) When we are going through something that has us stuck, spending time with a godly counselor can get our "tires out of the snowbank." The counselors are not there to tell you what to do; but they are God-provided assistants to help you sort out your options.

"A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength. For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." (Prov. 24:5-6) There is strength in wisdom, and that strength is exactly what we're seeking during challenging times of trial. Wise counsel enables us to see a way through our situation, helping us to map a plan to victory.

Here's a funny quote I saw online: "May your life someday be as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook."

I have a better idea: Let's quit pretending that life is great when it's not. Do you need some help? Ask for it.

"Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end." (Prov. 19:22)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Did You Hear That?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you suddenly lost the ability to hear? There are birds singing outside my window as I write this. Without the miracle of hearing, my world would not include songbirds. A description that I read on a website about the deaf said this: "It is similar to a goldfish bowl; always observing things going on..."

People who are hearing-impaired did not choose their lot in life. People who having hearing but won't heed have chosen to pretend that they are deaf. "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)

The intention to heed (to regard and observe) makes hearing worthwhile. A hearing ear is useless when it's attached to the body of one who won't heed. I often wonder what motivates a Pastor to continue writing and preaching sermons to so many ears that hear but won't do. My best guess is that these men of God love Him so much that they'll just keep preaching, even if only 10 out of 100 will actually follow the directions of Scripture.

Let's be a hearing minority: hearing and doing.

"The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise." (Prov. 15:31)

Monday, October 15, 2012

God saw that...

Do we really believe that God can see us, or do we just say that we believe it? When a person knowingly lives in a way that displeases God, the lifestyle itself says "God can't see me." Or worse yet, the lifestyle is screaming, "I don't care if God can see me or not!" This is a hazardous and careless way to live, but it is more common than we'd care to admit. How's your secret life? Not so secret. It's a live-action drama in God's sight.

"The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." (Prov. 15:3)

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate.  This is my third Valentine's...