Speak Up (to God first)

I’ve been blogging this week on how common it is for we Christians to hold ourselves up as the standard for others to follow and the importance of looking to Christ (not others) as our standard. (If you are just checking in you can read Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays posts below.)

It sounds easy:

  • “Oh, good! Now I don’t have to worry about keeping my house as clean as Jackie’s! I hate the pressure I’ve been feeling from her.” 
  • “This is awesome; when my co-worker doesn’t get stuff done I just need to show grace and not sweat it.”
  • “What a relief to know that I don’t have to impose my standards on my kids. If they don’t have the capacity to help much with chores I just need to understand they have different ‘boundaries’ than I do.”
  • “So glad to know that I don’t have to give in to the pressure to be as legalistic as my friends about getting things done. They just need to relax!”
  • “This is so helpful. Now I can stop fretting about my friend’s constant complaining about how hard her life is. Her boundaries are just different than mine.”

Yes, maybe Jackie’s cleaning standards are off the charts and God wants to set you free from her being the standard. Perhaps you’ve been resentful of co-workers who don’t work as hard as you do and they need to be set free from your judgements.  Maybe your kids can’t keep their rooms clean enough for your preferences. Or you might have legalistic friends who think they gain God’s pleasure through their actions and they do need to relax! And your friend’s regular complaining could be rooted in pressure she’s feeling from herself or others to be someone she’s not.

But sometimes I’ve confused grace with laziness. Know what I mean? God’s grace never lowers the standard. In fact, it raises it. Jesus didn’t just condemn adultery. He taught that the lustful seeds that can lead to adultery are equally as sinful. And it’s not enough to not murder someone, the anger that fuels murderous thoughts and actions is just as wrong. (See Matthew 5:22 and following.) Grace isn’t given to encourage irresponsibility. Rather, it “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness…and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). Rather than promote laziness and the avoidance of hard things, grace teaches us to embrace responsibility and then empowers us to do well!

A homemaker whose house is consistently unmanaged may not have the ability to keep her home as clean as Jackie’s. But Jackie isn’t the standard: God’s word is. When Paul instructs we ladies to be “busy at home” (Titus 2:5) he didn’t make a list of what that busyness should look like. “Busy” to Jackie might combine with the personal preference of a tidy linen closet with neatly stacked, identically folded towels. Her friend keeps busy just keeping the laundry done so someone can grab a clean towel from the basket when needed.  The question is are both friends fulfilling their God-given mandate to be hard workers at home? Whether single or married, stay-at-home or working mom, no kids or many, we ladies are called to manage our homes well. (I know some guys visit this blog; thank you! Hopefully, if you’re married you’re helping your wife with this formidable task.)

When those we love are excusing laziness with boundary-keeping we need to speak up. Refusing to allow others to be the standard doesn’t mean we aren’t accountable to the clear teachings of scripture. But our first words should be spoken to God.

Which reminds me of a story I need to tell you tomorrow….

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Ceiling Fans and Baseboards

I wish Stanley could know how many people are benefiting from his story.  Your shares and comments indicate this topic of elevating personal preference over scripture — and either pressuring or being pressured to conform — is  common.

So what happens when we feel others are wanting us to be their clone or it at least seems they believe they’re boundaries should be shared by all?

We remember the gospel.

Sometimes Christians can be sadly similar to our unbelieving counterparts. When someone tempts us to feel inferior we gossip instead of humbling approaching them for a face to face chat. If a friend has it “more together” than we do, jealousy rather than respect can churn in our hearts. When someone’s laziness or irresponsibility pulls their boundaries in closer than we think they should be we criticize and judge rather than pray and support.

Should Christians respond differently than non-Christians when relationships get messy?

I have been on both the giving and receiving end of critical judgements about my boundaries. During a sad and painful season of my life some years ago I could hardly function due to the weight of grief and depression resulting from wave after crashing wave of challenging circumstances involving people I love. Yet rather than receiving empathy and care during that time I felt scrutinized and judged for not being more others-focused. Then during another season a friend courageously communicated that she felt I was elevating my way of doing things as a mother and homemaker as superior to her (and possibly others), leaving her wondering if I based my acceptance of her on how well she was adhering to my standards. Ouch.

Boundaries change. People have different preferences and passions. Some women don’t think the house is really clean until the ceiling fans and baseboards are dusted while others think homemakers like that are neurotic. One employee believes getting the job done right means working evenings and weekends when needed while co-workers watch TV and go to the beach once their 40 hours are clocked. Some couples regularly set aside weekly date nights to connect and converse when friends seem to do fine maintaining their relationship without consistent time out.

Remembering the gospel means acknowledging that the only One who was perfectly able to set and fulfill the standard for godliness was killed because absolutely no one else could. Only Jesus Christ was the perfect son, brother, co-worker and friend. He alone showed us how to live a life worth fully emulating. We don’t know if he cared about dusted ceiling fans or how much overtime he worked. (As I sometimes reminded my kids, it’s likely he was pretty tidy because he paused to fold his grave clothes before exiting the tomb; wish it had helped the neatness in my kids rooms! Oh well….) And if He was ever late, messy, didn’t clean his room, or worked more or less than others it certainly wasn’t because He was sinning.

Making ourselves the standard for others and then judging them likewise is playing God in their lives. Instead of looking to Christ we tempt people to look to us. The problem is this: people can actually achieve our standard but we can never, ever achieve His. Women can be guilted into keeping their laundry done and employees can be made to work unplanned overtime. But no one can become perfect. Only perfection can say, “Follow me.” The cross provides hope that His indwelling presence and power can conform us to His image — but frees us from having to conform to anyone else’s.

So do we just leave it with “no one’s perfect” and accept our and others boundaries unquestioned? Does contentment equal acceptance of boundaries that seem misplaced? Can Christians lovingly challenge and help each other to embrace necessary changes that rightly bring our boundaries closer in or further out?

That’s for tomorrow’s post.

What Stanley Taught Me


I apologize to those who follow my blog and received this yesterday late morning in your inbox. I originally mistakenly scheduled this post for yesterday instead of today.  Sorry!

Years ago there was a popular author that was widely read among Christian women who promoted the idea of large families. Her premise was that birth control was often used for selfish reasons to limit family size for personal and financial gain. However, she also agreed with scripture that children are a gift and reward from God to be welcomed and enjoyed (Ps 173:3).

While I enjoyed and benefitted from reading her book, there were several problems:

  • What about women who desperately desired children but were unable to have them? Was their infertility an indication that God didn’t love and want to “reward” them? 
  • Is limiting family size categorically and automatically due to greed and worldliness? What about other legitimate reasons for not having as many children as biology would allow?
  • Were women with large families “better” or “more godly” than those with fewer children?
  • How many children were “enough?” 4? 7? 12? 15?

We Christians veer from grace when we project personal decisions and convictions onto others, and then judge them when they don’t adopt our passions. When the Bible is clear we can be (i.e. adultery is always wrong for anyone at anytime for any reason). But when scripture is unclear we must resist the temptation to enslave others to our definitions or application. Children are a gift from God to be welcomed and enjoyed. Yet God didn’t define for us what this looks like from family to family so we can’t either.

Family size is just one of the ways we can apply truth dangerously. The simple fact is this: how many children a couple has is up to them alone, and having lots of kids can be just as selfishly motivated as having only one. God is most concerned about the motivation of our hearts in every matter.

My young friends and I didn’t like Stanley. (You can read about him in yesterday’s post below.) He was awkward and goofy. We wished he would just stay off the Merry-Go-Round rather than stay on briefly and then make us stop our fun to let him off before it spun too fast. But what if he wasn’t a scaredy cat as we supposed? Maybe he really would have thrown up if he hadn’t gotten off because he wanted to feel included but could only take so much. Perhaps there was absolutely nothing wrong with him…but there was definitely something wrong with us.

When the boundary lines in someone’s life are tighter than ours, self-righteousness can rear its ugly head. The self-righteous Christian thinks he or she is the standard by which others should live. When friends have to get off the Merry-Go-Round before we do, it’s tempting to roll our eyes and think they’re lazy or are wimping out.

After all, a large capacity to get things done isn’t always related to character.

Are you someone who finds it easier than some to “get the job done?” Are you tempted at times to look at others who lack your capacity and surmise that they’re lacking? Lazy? Prioritizing wrongly? Are you unknowingly giving into self-righteous eye rolling when you end up having to take up the slack of those that can’t seem to keep up?

Remember those boundary lines. While others may lack your capacity, organizational skills or energy level don’t assume they are sinning in the process.  If they are, God will show them with or without your gracious help. But perhaps they are functioning exactly as they should be in this season.

I’ve come to think that Stanley got off the Merry-Go-Round because it was the right thing to do. As a kid I judged him for not being able to endure a silly playground activity. I imagine it was hard for him to feel so different and alone. Hey, maybe he needed some toughening up; I don’t know. What I do know is that I was one of the kids who didn’t like him because he wasn’t like me.

Adult self-righteousness can hurt, too. Like me, have you been the object of the judgements of others for not having the same values or preferences they hold dear? And, like me, have you also done the judging when your own values and preferences haven’t been embraced?

Being the one who has been hurt by others can help us to resist tempting people to feel the same.

Stanley has no idea how much he taught me.

Stanley and the Merry-Go-Round

When I was young the playgrounds in my town all had those small Merry-Go-Rounds. We especially enjoyed it when one of the dads used his muscles to leave us holding on for dear life. Well…except Stanley.

momitforward.com

momitforward.com

He always insisted on stopping everything so he could get off. Eye rolling friends sighed, slowed everything down and let him off. But most of us absolutely loved the tummy tickle that built as we spun faster and faster.

Do you ever feel like your life is spinning away from you? Like Stanley, does life get to a certain pace and then yell to stop it and get off?

I felt that way recently. Between getting one house ready to sell and looking for another; having Benny’s mom with us for a couple of weeks as we discussed and experienced the real-life changes her moving to Florida with us will require; helping out with grandchildren; carpooling my daughter to college and other activities; working part time for my son; keeping up (or trying to!) with normal responsibilities of caring for my family; juggling various family and church events in our home; and serving alongside Benny in our new church, I’ve heard “Get me off of here!” echoing through my heart.

Yet when I look at my list of responsibilities I don’t see anything that can go!

The fury of activity in my life feels out of control at times. Sometimes I feel people yanking at me in different directions. I don’t always prioritize things well and end up using my time unwisely, which results in tasks piling up. When I have to say no to a request by someone I love I battle guilt and wish for simpler days when I could be more consistently available to help with cleaning, babysitting or meals. My crowded thoughts sometimes tempt me to feel scattered, unable to fully concentrate on the task at hand because the to-do list calling me looms.

I went through a season a couple of years ago when my laundry didn’t pile up and the house stayed tidy because my responsibilities had waned and I was looking for things to do once the day’s tasks were completed. Wow, did that season end! Now my life is full of time consuming though meaningful people and responsibilities. Additionally, the circumstances through which I and those close to me are walking are weightier now that my friends, my kids, my husband and I are older.

What do we do when life is either slower or faster than we would like?

I’m finding fresh comfort and strength in a familiar passage from Psalm 16:

“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance” (vs 5-6).

In Old Testament times a rope or cord was used to mark the parameters of an owners property. David’s faith in God as the one who established his boundaries is beautifully communicated here.

“David was assured of God’s help, counsel, and guidance (vs 7). Because he continually focused on the Lord, he knew he could not be shaken” (Women’s Evangelical Commentary: Old Testament).

Over the past week I have found fresh comfort in the truth that God has marked off my boundaries. Of course, sometimes we decide on the boundaries. Either through selfish protection of “my” time we neglect to help and serve others, making our boundaries close and comfortable. Or perhaps love of prominence or enjoying being needed by others tempts us to stretch out our boundaries further than we have the capacity to wisely manage.

Whether our boundaries are closer in or further out than we would like, when the lines have been established by God we have no room to complain. Like David, we can pray for eyes to see how pleasant they are — even when things aren’t going as we would like.

Poor Stanley. He just couldn’t take it when the merry-go-round spun fast. He was smart to get off rather than humiliate himself by puking all over everyone. But the rest of us liked it. Some people can simply handle life spinning at a faster pace than others.

More on that tomorrow.

 

When Doubts Don’t Disqualify

Late one night in 2009 we got a call.  Our oldest daughter, Jaime, was upset. “Mom, you won’t believe it. Our house was hit by a bullet less than a foot below the girl’s room!”

In the few short years since they had moved into their beautiful new home, crime required them to make calls to the police. But this straw broken the camels back. PJ and Jaime decided that night they would be moving. Immediately.

Gratefully, they quickly found a landlord that would rent to a family with four young children — and a doberman. Jaime knew the decision was the right one, but a part of her was understandably sad to leave the house they had made into a home. Three of their four children were born while living there, and Danae made her entrance into the world in their bedroom upstairs. Memories made and hardships endured had endeared the house to her. She drove away wondering what the future held but eager to live in a safe place.

Two rental homes later, it looked hopeless that she and PJ would have a home to call their own anytime soon. Then when Redeemer Church was launched 40 minutes away and her dad and I started talking about moving, she battled discouragement. Last summer she and I discussed how sad we would be when she helped us pack up a moving van without any timetable for them to join us.

My grandchildren will soon be making messes and memories in this home.

My grandchildren will soon be making messes and memories in this home.

Yet this afternoon she and PJ will settle on a beautiful home in Lake Nona.

What happened? God intervened. He made the impossible possible. Through a sovereign stream of providential love He led them to a sale by owner home that perfectly suits their family. Just three months ago that which seemed like an impossibly distant dream has become a reality. And one happy Granma is thrilled that Kayla and Wyatt will be riding their bikes to my house after our own move there in early March.

Jaime was connecting the dots even before she and I talked yesterday.

“Mom, God knew when that bullet hit my house that this home would become mine. He knew it all when I was worried that I’d never own a nice home my kids could love like I did my childhood home. He was there when I was crying over feeling like we wouldn’t have roots anywhere. All along He was arranging everything so that I would have a school room and a backyard and a playroom and a house I can use for hospitality. Why in the world did I not trust Him???”

A friend once said something I remind myself of regularly: “Let’s all just admit it: trusting God is just plain hard work sometimes.” It’s true. Trusting God doesn’t come naturally. It’s a work of His indwelling spirit that alludes us when trials loom.

Over the years I’ve watched my daughter walk through some really hard stuff. When disappointment and fear stalked her and circumstances tempted her to distrust God’s compassionate care, she’s been honest about her struggles. She is like every other believer, including her mother, who has doubted the love of God during suffering. Author Jerry Bridges says, in fact, that questioning God’s love and care is a typical reaction of the struggling Christian. (His book, Trusting God, is one of my top five life changing books.)

Are you struggling through a season where doubts of God’s tenderness and care are stalking you, too? Are waves of disappointment, sadness or discouragement beating against your heart and tempting you to wonder if He is really in control? Do unanswered prayers make it seem like hopes for the future will never happen for you while you watch others enjoy blessings and fulfilled dreams?

When God’s delays tempt you to wonder if you’re loved, perhaps you can remember Jaime.

In 2003 a house was built. Six years later she and her family would move into a home one hour north; a house in which she planned to spend many memorable years. God knew what she didn’t. Circumstances would require that she, her husband and their four children would move into three different homes during the following four years until that house built in 2003 would become theirs through a set of only-God-could-do-this circumstances.

Understanding why the twists and turns of life happen is hard. Trusting God through those unwanted changes is often harder. How comforting to know that our distrustful hearts don’t disqualify us from His provision.

I’m happy that my daughter and her family have a lovely new home. And that she knows Who provided it.

Despite her doubts.

Happy Birthday, Redeemer Church!

Send off Sunday at Metro Life Church: January 1, 2012

Send off Sunday at Metro Life Church: January 1, 2012

Celebrating one-year birthdays is always fun. Typically, the baby is now starting to reach some fun milestones: walking or nearly walking; feeding themselves (kinda); saying a few recognizable words; being entertained with toys; and interacting with other children. Parents often start to realize their little one is becoming a toddler and with this realization comes a mixture of emotions. Where did the year go? He/she isn’t a baby anymore! Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were bringing a newborn home from the hospital? And it typically hits them that the little one who used to love being held now wants to get down —  which means exploring, making messes, slamming closet doors on their fingers and fighting with other kids over toys.

Our first Sunday! January 8, 2012

Our first Sunday! January 8, 2012

This month we celebrated the first birthday of Redeemer Church. And I’m having some of the same thoughts that I did when my kids had just turned one.

The year has flown by and the changes and memories have been many. We’re in our third Sunday morning location and have welcomed new friends only to tearfully say goodbye when jobs took them away.  We’ve grown together through worship, biblical fellowship, picnics, birthdays and sharing tears over painful experiences. Some of us who don’t live in the Lake Nona area are currently packing to move to new houses and re-experiencing the mixture of excitement and loss as the reality of life with a new church sets in. We’ve been challenged and convicted by preaching that has stirred our faith, reminded us of God’s faithfulness and convicted us of sin.

A quick move to a Martial Arts Studio called "Ultimate Power" :-)

A quick move to a Martial Arts Studio called “Ultimate Power” 🙂

And we are experiencing one-year-old growing pains. While we’re grateful for the Martial Arts studio owners that have allowed us to rent their facility, it’s not in our target area and folks have a challenging time finding us. When the kids blew pretend horns a few weeks back to bring down the walls of Jericho during their lesson, those who were listening to the message all heard and smiled, wondering what the yelling was about. Because the church plant happened so quickly without adequate time to ramp up, many of us still live a distance away and are finding the expense and time of commuting challenging. We’ve been a church long enough now for some of the “newness” to wear off, which means the offenses and disappointments Benny warned us last year would surely come are happening. In fact, this past week someone told Benny they weren’t feeling cared for by us during a difficult season through which they are currently walking. (So sad….)

First Picnic January 2012: We did this for them.

First Picnic January 2012: We did this for them.

We are one year old. We’re making progress but our steps are sometimes unsteady. We know where we want to go but aren’t completely sure how to get there. We trip over each other and are tempted to grab friendship and significance from someone who has what we want. When new folks come we don’t always do a good job of being sensitive to them not getting our inside jokes or wanting to feel a part of the months prior to finding us. Yes, our flaws, sin patterns and weaknesses are being exposed. No surprise.

Opening Sunday: Easter 2012. Love my pastor.

Opening Sunday: Easter 2012. Love my pastor.

Yet it’s all good. Good when someone at Community Group responds in an unhelpful way to a friend’s confession then humbly asks to be reminded if they do so again. Good when the pastor and his wife don’t express adequate care to a church member who is honest enough to say so. Good when a special needs child escapes from Children’s Ministry again and the church is endeared to him all the more. Good when people realize that participating in this new church is hitting them in the wallet and on the calendar and yet they continue to serve with joy. Good when a married couple is in conflict and they agree to bring up their fight to their Community Group, then leave feeling helped and loved.

Being a part of something new has been fun. Meeting new people and hearing how they found us builds our faith that God can lead people to a little church that meets in an out-of-the-way Martial Arts studio. Watching God knit hearts together for the mission of reaching the area with the gospel makes the money and time and sacrifice more than worth it. Watching little guys stacking chairs and little girls offering to help mothers with their babies to “serve the church” warms my heart.

Soon to become home.

Soon to become home.

And soon I will live there. I’ll shop at grocery stores and eat in restaurants with people God has providentially put there along with me and my church family. We’ll join the YMCA and my grandkids will play soccer and football and basketball with my neighbor’s kids. We’ll open our home for worship nights, game nights and times of biblical fellowship over food. We hope to invite neighbors in for coffee and offer to help when we see moving trucks down the street. Children will mess up our yard and stain our carpet and drop our dishes. People we haven’t yet met will be invited to look for the blue roadside signs that remind them that Redeemer Church is here to serve the community. Most of them will never visit but, by God’s grace, some will.

I pray they will enjoy meeting our one-year-old. I love her. This little one is the Bride of Christ; one of the local churches He died to see born. She’s young and immature. Just learning to walk. Making messes. Starting to talk and sometimes not saying the right thing. But so much fun.

Happy Birthday, Redeemer Church! I’m looking forward to what year number two brings for you!

Jenny’s Stubborn Darkness

Earlier this week I was on the phone with Jenny (not her real name). She’s going through some severe trials. Wave after wave of difficulties have been bearing down on her.

She admitted to me that the primary reason why she continues to trudge through each day is because she doesn’t want to be a burden to her husband. His own struggles would only be multiplied by her sadness, questions and requests for him to help her. She asked for prayer, saying she didn’t know how much longer she could keep going without falling apart.

Have you been there?  Have you felt at times that your needs are going unmet because you have to keep your spouse, children, family members or friends in mind? Do you remember how alone you felt? How much energy was required to do simple tasks? How desperately you longed for someone to think as much about you as you were about them? The nagging hesitance to hope things would get better because you couldn’t bear yet more disappointment if nothing changed?

Jenny is probably experiencing with author Ed Welch calls the “stubborn darkness” of depression. I know that stubbornness. And at least two of my friends are in the middle of it now, including Jenny.

Does God expect us to obey Him and do what’s right in the midst of trials and suffering?

I reminded Jenny yesterday that while I’ve experienced the hopelessness and go-through-the-motions way of living in which she is currently, it’s more important to remember that Jesus is empathizing and praying for her. In the garden He asked God to not make Him go to the cross unless there was no other way. “Let this cup pass from me,” He asked.

And what cup was that? Scripture tells us the cup was filled with the wrath of God (see Ps 75:8, John 18:11, Matthew 20:22, Revelation 14:9). Jesus was fully God but also fully human, just like you and I. He didn’t want to suffer an agonizing, humiliating death by hanging naked on a cross while cynics mocked and Satan laughed. He wasn’t a stoic who kept a stiff upper lip. No, he was a man with flesh and blood, temptations and grief, emotions and desires.

But in His darkest hour He, the God Man, elevated what was right over what He felt. “Not my will but yours” was His conclusion to a heart and mind so filled with agony that his sweat became blood.

Jenny knows that while she feels like crawling into a ball and retreating behind closed doors, she can’t. There’s laundry to do and lunch to make. Errands to run, a frig to clean out, and dust bunnies to sweep up. Kids to get up for and an upcoming birthday party to think about.

Because her suffering Savior thought of her during His darkest hours, she has His indwelling power to do the same.

The thing is, I’ve watched her do it for years. When stubborn darkness refused to lift and bad news rolled in like thick fog into her world, she demonstrated maturity and strength beyond any woman’s ability. Yes, a lot of her motivation was, like now, to not “be a burden to her husband.” I don’t know about you, but in my life that doesn’t last long. I may start out  wanting to respond well to a hard situation to help and support Benny, but before long complaining and “somebody take care of me” attitudes creep in (or in some cases fly out of my heart and mouth). Only God can help a hurting person to continue to incarnate the love, sacrifice and service of Christ when circumstances tempt him or her to crawl into that ball of pain.

I told Jenny that because of the grace I’ve observed in her over the years, I was confident God would continue to help her to be like Him. To get up in the morning when she wanted to pull the covers over her head and pretend she wasn’t needed. To referee sibling arguments when she wanted to tell the kids their bickering was just stupid compared to what she’s going through. To love a man who doesn’t seem as focused on her as she is on him. And to keep pursuing God when she’s wondering if more disappointment at His sovereign plan is coming.

Jenny, thank you for trusting God through stubborn darkness. For being honest about your struggles and pain without using them as an excuse to be irresponsible. For serving others when you would have loved being served; reaching out when you could have pulled away; worshiping instead of charging God; being patient when friends comments are insensitive rather than helpful; and, most of all, growing in godliness rather than becoming bitter and self-absorbed. And for being brutally honest about your sadness, temptations, sinful reactions and struggles in the process.

God has been busy in your life and I’m grateful to have watched Him sustain you through the “many dangers, toils and snares that have already come.” The gospel has been on display in your life and I’m confident that “grace has brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home.”

I love you, my friend.

P.S.  You can find Ed Welch’s helpful book, Depression: Looking Up From a Stubborn Darkness here.

What is the Church to You?

Gretta was a self-made woman. She was raised by a single mom who had to sometimes work two jobs to support the family. As the oldest of the three, Gretta was responsible at a young age for her siblings. Her upbringing prepared her to be competent and capable.

She went to college on an academic scholarship and graduated with a Marketing degree. Before long, Gretta was working for a large company making good money; far more than her mother ever made. She climbed the corporate ladder while making her way through several relationships until she and Chad married. Sadly, his substance abuse and unwillingness to be faithful to Gretta resulted in a dicey divorce that left her more committed than ever to rely on no one…but herself. Being raised in the church provided her with some security that God cared. But a demanding schedule didn’t allow time for the church thing.

Mostly because she thought of the church as a building decent people should go to once a week or so.

One of the often overlooked aspects of living a Christian life of costly obedience to God is the place the church holds in the equation. Last Sunday Benny preached a message called, “The Church and the Purposes of God.” In it he provided a flyover of the history of God’s relationship with His people that illustrated the theme of his sermon: “God’s eternal purpose is to dwell among a people He has made for His own.” From the Garden through the Old Testament to the time of Christ until He returns to take His chosen to the city He is preparing for us, God has always had a people of His very own. He still does.

The church isn’t a pretty building with a white steeple; an institution; a place people go to silence their conscience or pay God off by putting money in the offering; a social club or Sunday morning ritual. The church is a gathering of beloved followers of the only God who stooped down to die so we could know Him. It’s not an organization but an organism. Alive. Vibrant. Oozing with life, mentoring, service, tears, compassion, wrongdoing, forgiveness, training in godliness, gift deployment and doing life together. And it’s comprised of flawed and broken people like Gretta.

The problem is Gretta doesn’t know she needs the church and it needs her. She needs a place where she can be regularly taught that Jesus Christ didn’t just come down to save and forgive, but resides within to help and sustain. A place she can use her many gifts to help, encourage and mentor others. A spiritual family she can laugh and cry with; brothers and sisters to help bear the burden of sadness over the divorce and check to see how she’s doing after an exhausting business trip. Where friends can show her that loyalty and faithfulness still happen. Where children can sit in a lap she has no hope of filling with someone who looks like her. And where she can risk being open with her temptations to sin with a married man who is giving her the attention for which she longs — but thinks she’s too “used” to get from a stand up guy who probably isn’t out there anyway.

You can be a Christian and not be a part of a church, just like you can be a Christian and not do other things the Bible requires. Once we experience saving faith and have been declared not guilty by God, nothing will separate us from His love. Yet to allow anything (schedule, past negative experiences, flawed fellow believers, work, sleep, kids sports, leisure) to prevent us from consistent involvement in the place God has chosen as a primary means of our growth and connection to other Christians is simply near sighted.

My involvement in Redeemer Church isn’t because my husband is the pastor. Okay, I’ll admit it. There have been numerous times over the years when I would have skipped a meeting or event (or two, or three, or twenty) if pride in my reputation hadn’t made me think my absence might have reflected negatively on my husband. But everyone, not just pastors wives, has to make costly decisions to choose time with the people of God over other things, just like we also have to choose going to work or doing laundry or keeping a dentist appointment when we don’t feel like it.

Going on Sunday mornings, to weekly Community Groups, to picnics and baby showers and lunch after the meeting and worship nights with Redeemer Church is a priority to me because I’m God’s daughter, not because I’m Benny’s wife. It’s also because God has chosen to dwell among His people when the church gathers.

Yes, He lives in each of us individually and we could spiritually survive on a desert island.

But we were made to live in community where love, trust, forgiveness, instruction, worship, service and persevering love gives us the opportunity to be like the triune God who Himself lives in constant fellowship as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. If God doesn’t live in isolation, why should Gretta?  Or me? Or you?

Author and pastor Paul Tripp says: “The Bible speaks of Christian experience as deeply and expansively and comprehensively relational. We were not hardwired to live this Christian experience by ourselves.  If you are going to grow and be the instrument of growth in others, you have to understand that I move toward you not because I trust you, but knowing we’re both broken and this is potentially messy. I move toward you because there is hope for us because of the cross.”

Costly obedience means being willing to agree with God that living in community is His wise plan. It’s a pricey plan. It requires me to say no to autonomy and hiding my sin; to sleep or Sunday morning leisure; and to thinking I can figure out life for myself rather than humbly soliciting the counsel, correction, assessment and friendship of others.

You see, for forty years I’ve been a part of churches where God has used the teaching and relationships to change me. Otherwise, I am Gretta. Without an understanding of what the Bible teaches about the church, I would only selectively open my life and heart to others. I would choose to work through my hurts and temptations alone, opening my heart to anyone only after I’ve come to a solution. I would choose self-reliance over healthy interdependence on other flawed sinners any day if God hadn’t given me a vision for His church.

Costly obedience, though, means I choose to live in community with others. Even when I don’t feel like it.

No Chickens For Me

I’m continuing the series When Obedience to God is Costly this week. Thanks for joining in!

When Benny and I had kids we knew we wanted to bring both the blessings and lessons of growing up into our new family. All four of our parents were believers who did their best to raise good kids. Benny’s parents may have felt like failures when their adolescent son ended up with a rap sheet that landed him on three years probation. My parents, however, didn’t know that their outwardly compliant and obedient daughter’s heart was just as motivationally compromising as kids like Benny who did “bad” things.

Benny and I wrongly and immaturely thought our worldly ways might be directly traced back to parenting. Both sets of our parents admitted mistakes on their part and parenting does matter. But the main reason why we were compromisers is because we weren’t governing our own sinful desires and decisions, which can’t be blamed on Dad and Mom.

When our kids started entering the teen years and we saw some of the same scary temptations and choices we experienced at their age, we were confused. We thought a closer adherence to biblical parenting practices, including helping our kids deal with things at a heart level rather than focusing on mere outward behavior, would protect them from the foolish and selfish choices of their parents.

We were wrong. Gratefully, our teens who did some of the same things as we did are now grown ups who love God and are attempting to raise their children to love Him, too. Of course, we still have a stray “Mom and Dad, did I ever tell you about the time I…” conversations, but unless a big one is still coming no one broke into houses or stole cars like their dad. Yet some of what they walked through was heartbreaking and forced us to admit our wrong “if we do this, God will do that” thinking.

Even after decades of detecting the danger of too-closely relating what we do to what only God can do (like soften, monitor and change a child’s heart!) I still subtly expect that obeying God should result in tangible blessings.

Take the sale of our house. Those of you who have visited this blog over the past year know that Benny starting a new church (which would require the second move in two years) at our age wasn’t on my bucket list. The area where Redeemer Church is now located isn’t where I would prefer to live. Over the past year, though, God has faithfully moved my heart to not just accept that we will have to move, but to actually look forward to it!

As we started researching affordable housing there, my heart was tested. One of the wonderful things about Lake Nona, Florida is that for years it was nothing but farmland. I hoped we would be able to have a roomy piece of property on a country road where I could have a nice garden, room for the grandchildren to run and (shhhh, don’t tell Benny) maybe another dog and some chickens. Oh, and a house of some kind. The rest of the area, however, is so new that most of the communities are filled with cookie cutter houses close enough to see your neighbors brushing their teeth — and where the cops would be called if you have chickens.

My silent whining started bothering me. Why did I think that my willingness to obey the Lord; to bless my husband by willingly doing the hard thing of starting all over in a new church; to leave a home I’ve come to love in the two years since we bought it; and to all this “at my age” would result in a garden and running room for little ones?

Obeying God led Jesus down a road of astounding joys (imagine the thrill of seeing Lazarus walk out of the tomb that day!) and agonizing suffering as He took our place on the cross. As those for whom He died to make us like Him, what makes us think the life He purchased would not include similarly sacrificial obedience to the Father?

Elizabeth Elliot said, “God is God. Because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, a will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.”

I’m asking myself if my change of heart had more to do with thinking another dog and a treehouse for the grandchildren was in my future rather than the pure joy of obeying God?

It’s looking more like I’ll be keeping the blinds closed to avoid watching my neighbor brush their teeth. Until His will is clear, I’m asking Him to help me to find fresh pleasure in the comparitively small sacrifices of following the One who laid down His very life for me.

P.S.  On Friday we learned our home of choice had a contract accepted that very morning. The road to a new home continues — and the test is revealing some not-so-good things in my heart. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday Afternoon Obedience

Obeying God is clear in many situations. We know that adultery, gossip, jealousy, robbery, lust and murder are wrong because the Bible tells us so. When the temptation to sexually admire or actually picture ourselves with someone, to shoplift, or to slander a friend with unkind words comes — even if unconfessed sin has silenced or dulled our conscience — the Bible speaks loudly against such things. But what happens when obeying God just isn’t that clear or potentially scandalous?

maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com

maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com

Throughout my Christian life I’ve been guilty of elevating obedience in the heroic to the neglect of the ordinary. While marveling at how a friend can continue to serve others through cancer or forgive an unfaithful spouse, I forget that God is requiring me to do what is right, day after boring day. Like when:

  • I’m tempted to bark complaints to Benny when he does something irritating or insensitive.
  • My day is interrupted with unexpected things that require me to adjust my plans.
  • Something I did for someone I love goes unappreciated.
  • A conversation turns to accusations rather than inquiring questions about something I did or said.
  • I’m too tired to do what needs to be done.
  • Concerns about a family member or friend morphs into anxiety or fear that tempts me to doubt God’s love, faithfulness or provision.

I’ve been thinking about Jesus.  Before He had healed anyone, cast out a single demon, raised people from the dead or fed thousands with a measly amount of food His Father boldly declared His pleasure over His Son. Jesus was a baby, then a toddler; a boy and then a man. Before He did anything spectacular He did the normal things of life like obey His parents and work hard in his dad’s carpentry business (we assume). In the day-in-day-out happenings of life He honored God one choice at a time.

And because He died and sent His spirit to reside within us, we have the power to do the same.

What happens with obeying God is unclear? When everything in us wants to do wrong even when we know it’s wrong (like last week when I arrogantly fussed at Benny for not doing something I wanted him to do)? When His will isn’t clearly written on the pages of scripture or two Christians interpret what is said differently? Or when doing right is just beyond our strength and we feel powerless to do anything but sin?

At times like this we have to remember Jesus…again. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He always chose to do what’s right. He never lied or was lazy or lusted or selfishly fussed at a family member. And those of us who are Christians have been credited with His perfect life in exchange for our sinful choices. He has given us everything we need “for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3)  — including the ability to obey Him in things big and small.

And when we fail, there is a throne of grace to which we can confidently run “for mercy and help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). That throne of grace is inhabited by the very One who made a way for us to know His will and then to receive forgiveness when we knowingly or ignorantly refuse it.

I don’t know about you but the costs of following and obeying God hit me right where I live on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. When I’m discouraged, weary, self-centered, worried or concerned about what others think of me. When I want to be helped or served and others have needs, too. When I have no thought to kill — but am experiencing the anger that Jesus said would incur the same judgement (Matthew 5:21-22).

Whether obedience is clear or muddy, the throne is always open. And the needy who run there will be met with mercy.

I am needy. Are you?