Even if your parents don’t know the Bible, odds are they have quoted it in the course of their parenting: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long…” At least that was the case when I was growing up. I had a real problem with that when I was a child. To say I was stubborn would be like saying the Titanic was a boat! I resisted authority…still struggle with that one. I questioned every decision – and I mean EVERY decision…especially those made by my mom. Why is that? Well, because she was the most present parent. She dealt with all the details of raising the four of us. In the course of the every-day, I learned just how far I could push an issue and I determined to push as much as possible. I wasn’t a bad kid. On the contrary, she was often complimented on our excellent behavior and manners, but that didn’t change the fact that I challenged her. Continue reading 3 Things to Do to Honor Your Parents
The beginning of a new year carries with it the inevitable looking back paired with the hope of a fresh start and second (or third) chances. As the clock moves ever closer to midnight on December 31st, we feel the need to promise to do better than we did last year. We resolve to lose weight, to be on time, to be better with our money…to stop smoking or drinking or swearing. By the time January 31st rolls around, many of us have had a relapse in our resolve.
Part of the reason that we fail to keep these resolutions is that we attempt to tackle them on our own. So, this year, instead of making an individual promise that you’ll soon forget, why not make some resolutions as a family? You help hold each other accountable and can grow closer in the process.
- A Weekly Family Game NightTake one night a week and make it a time of fun! One week, pull out the cards and play “Old Maid” or “Crazy 8’s,” or teach the kids a game you used to play. The next week, make it a Wii™ night…let technology bring you together and show the kids you’ve still got it (or at least you know where you left it). Take a trip to the local bowling alley for a game. Or pile up the board games on the dining room table and have a tournament. The act of playing together fosters feelings of fun and family. Playing board games can teach children important social skills such as taking turns and how to be a good winner or loser. They also learn a lot about interpersonal communication as you talk and laugh together while you play the game. Continue reading 10 Family Resolutions to Keep Next Year
Have you ever been angry with God? I mean spitting nails, fists clenched, foaming at the mouth, screaming at the sky angry with God? I had heard people talk about being mad at God, but it never really made sense to me. As far as I was concerned, I could not imagine what could possibly happen in a person’s life to give them reason to be upset with God about anything . . .
A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling pretty down. I have been out of work for many months, which means I’m spending even more time than usual alone. Then to top it off, I couldn’t afford to pay for television service anymore, so I was left with nothing to distract me from being alone. All this being alone led to feelings of loneliness and then to sadness because I was alone and lonely. So, as I always do, I started to talk to God about it.
As I was talking to God, I began to feel myself getting irritated. Then I would check myself and then continue to talk with Him some more. The more I talked, the more irritated and aggravated I got. Before too long I found myself downright mad! The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Why do I have to be alone, God?”
Me: “Haven’t I done what you’ve asked me to do?”
Me: “Haven’t I been patient?”
God: <insert cricket sounds here>
Me: “Why can’t I have a romantic relationship?”
Me: “What is the BIG DEAL???”
By now, I was yelling! I was literally shaking my fists in the air and pacing all over my house. I was slamming things around. I WAS MAD!!! At this point, I’m glad I live alone, because I think anybody witnessing my behavior may have called the men in the white coats. At first, I kept apologizing to God because I felt hurt and angry. At first, I kept thinking I was going to be struck by lightning (not really, but it sounds better than I thought I might be crossing a line). At first, I thought I was doing something wrong, but a funny thing happened.
As I continued to fume and foam, to cry out and cuss (yes, I did it) to rail and rant I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I felt like God was almost chuckling at me because it had taken me so long to finally feel comfortable with Him. Like a father comforting a crying child, I felt a “there, there” pat on my back and could almost hear God say to me:
“I never said you couldn’t have those things.”
And just like that, I wasn’t mad anymore. Just like that I realized, rather sheepishly, that I had been the one imposing restrictions on myself. It was I who had put myself on this path. I was the one who suffered in silence and watched man after man fall in love with someone else, and
I understood. My whole life was laid before me and I saw the makings of my own loneliness. I heard all the self talk that said I wasn’t allowed to tell a boy that I liked him, because good girls don’t do that. I saw myself putting on a brave face as I fell in love with a friend, and hoped that he would feel the same thing. The conversation continued, bobbing and weaving in the boxing ring of my thoughts,
Me: “I’ll get hurt.”
God: “You’re hurting already.”
Me: “But I’m afraid I’ll be rejected.”
God: “That’s a chance you’ll have to take.”
Me: <insert cricket sounds here>
God: “You’ve been unfair to the ones you loved.”
God: “Every time you’ve fallen in love with a friend, you’ve been hurt because you haven’t been honest with what you’re experiencing. You kept your affections a secret, but you expected them to share openly and reciprocate love that you never expressed. You expected them to arrive at a destination without letting them get on the train. How is that fair?”
Me: “You’re right, God!” (the audacity, I know…but that’s what I said in my head.)
And I was done.
I was done being angry. I was done being afraid. I was done being hurt. I was done being lonely. I WAS FREE. I was liberated from the negative self talk. I was unfettered by the chains of self restriction. Not only was it OK to tell someone how I feel about them, I have a RESPONSIBILITY to be honest with my emotions. Yes, I might have to put myself in a position to be hurt, but the hurt will be on the front end of a relationship when feelings are new. I won’t have to wonder if a man knows I’m attracted to him romantically, he’ll know because I’ve told him.
I realize that most of you dear readers came to this realization back in the third grade with the giving and receiving of the profoundly moving “I like you. Do you like me? Check Yes or No” note. In contrast, the very idea of that was mortifying to me. The joys and the indignities of love that most people face as children and teens, I painstakingly avoided. The fine art of romantic relationships, the give and take, the push and pull – I was too afraid to hazard. As a result, here I am, a grown woman, who is suddenly faced with the realization that I have to go back and start living life in a whole new way. What have I got to lose? Nothing ventured is nothing gained!
In fighting with God I learned not one lesson, but two. Aside from the obvious, I learned that it is not only OK to fight with God, it is necessary. Lest you think me a heretic, allow me to elaborate. A needful component in every relationship is the ability to resolve conflict. A relationship with God is no different. There will times when you don’t agree, and the way you handle the disagreement is an indicator of the relationship’s health. When things are new, you hold back because you don’t know what to expect and you don’t want to hurt feelings, so you make excuses. You say, “Awww, that’s OK.” even when it’s not. Eventually, as intimacy grows, so does the potential for conflict. The deeper intimacy gives way to deeper issues and oftentimes, result in differing views. When the intimacy is deeper, the risks and the rewards are greater. In my life, I rarely fight or argue with people. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in a verbal altercation with someone, and still have several fingers left over. Growing up in my house was a different story. My siblings and I battled over everything. We held back nothing. The difference was intimacy. I knew that disagreements with my family would not result in a permanently broken relationship. I knew that no matter what, we would still be family. That’s the way I felt fighting with God. I felt safe. I knew that I could be mad with Him, and we would still be family – I wasn’t going to lose Him.
In the scriptures, we see an epic example of this in the life of Jacob. Jacob had just swindled his brother out of a blessing, and he had literally pulled the wool over the eyes of his father to get it! He was persona non grata at his house, and he was running scared. We pick up the story where Jacob has taken his wives, servants and children along with all their worldly possessions, and have escaped under the cover of night. Jacob goes back to the camp site alone when
“. . . A man came and fought with Jacob until just before daybreak. 25When the man saw that he could not win, he struck Jacob on the hip and threw it out of joint. 26They kept on wrestling until the man said, “Let go of me! It’s almost daylight.”
“You can’t go until you bless me,” Jacob replied.
27Then the man asked, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel.” 29Jacob said, “Now tell me your name.”
“Don’t you know who I am?” he asked. And he blessed Jacob.
30Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face, and I am still alive.”
Fighting with God has had far-reaching implications in my life and in my relationship with Him. I find that I love Him even more. I feel like He loves me even more, if that’s even possible! It’s like the last barrier to intimacy has come down. I’m certainly not suggesting that you go out and pick a fight with God, but I do recommend being real with Him. But be prepared, because just like Jacob, you will not walk away unscathed. Everyone who wrestles with God walks away a different person! I know I did.
Author’s Note: I recently served on a jail ministry weekend called Residents Encounter Christ. During that time, I led music for a group of male residents at the Sumter County Jail. I was also responsible for one of the 13 20-minute “talks” that took place over the course of the weekend. My topic was “God is Love.” The following is that talk. The content is not intended for children and may be difficult to read. These are my memories and as such are intensely personal and subjective.
What is sweeter than love? Can you think of anything? What does that word, LOVE, even mean? What do you think about when you hear it? I don’t know about you, but when I think about love, my thoughts aren’t always sweet. For me, the idea of love has always been something that seemed unlikely or unattainable. The first love that any of us experience comes from our parents.
When my mom was a young girl, she grew up in a children’s home. Her mom was an alcoholic and married to a man who loved men. My mom and my Uncle, the youngest of the four children, were taken away and placed in the children’s home. After many years of horror and solitude in the system, she lived with her older sister and her sexual predator-former step-father-turned abusive husband. She hadn’t seen love in her lifetime, not really. She only knew neglect and secrets and shame. She sought escape and found it in the arms of a much older, recently divorced man.
After a short period of time, my mom learned she was pregnant at the age of 17. She was not in love, she didn’t know what love was, but she knew she didn’t have it. It was 1964, and the “right” thing to do was to marry, so five-months ripe with new life, she said “I do” in the back of a gas station. This was not the stuff of romance novels or fairy tales. On her wedding day, she didn’t feel love, she felt trapped. She tells me that she cried that day. Not tears of joy, but tears of resignation. What a sad way to start a new life! A short four months later, I was born and quickly followed by two more children in as many years. She didn’t have an example of what love was, so how could she love us? She did the best she knew, and it was worlds better than what she experienced. However the relationship that began poorly only got more strained as the years progressed.
My father was an alcoholic who was verbally abusive and after five years, my parents separated only to reunite when my mother became pregnant with their fourth child. Saying that my home life was volatile would be like saying the Titanic was just a boat. This was my introduction to love: Fighting, screaming, drunken rages, and physical beatings with a few moments of happiness and peace on the rare occasion. Oddly enough, I felt loved, but I also felt that it could just as easily go away – I felt that love had conditions – if you’re good, I’ll love you, If you’re not – I won’t.
As I got older, I learned about romantic love from watching TV and movies and reading books. Nothing I saw in my life was like what I saw or read. What I experienced was sexual abuse and perversion at the hands of babysitters, school mates and even family members. I felt the first flutters of romantic love with when I met my babysitter’s youngest son who was my age. It was sweet and innocent. But to add to the confusion, my sisters and I were constantly bombarded by sexual deviance while we were in their care. At the age of four I was sexually molested by the babysitter’s 18 year old son. So my earliest memories of love are wound up in fear and shame.
When my body changed early, the attention I got from my classmates and from older boys was terrifying to me. At a time in my life when I should have felt excited and exhilarated by attention from the opposite sex, I was paralyzed. The wolf whistles and flirting didn’t feel innocent to me – it seemed menacing because it brought back feelings of fear from my past. What I learned about love between a man and a woman was confusing. I wanted what I saw on TV, but what I saw in my life and in my house was ugly and perverse. So I turned to another kind of love.
I loved food. I learned to use food as a shield, literally. I locked away the body that caused so much trouble to me. I loved music. I turned to music to escape the reality of a troubled home life. I loved church for the same reason. It was an escape. But the escape was only temporary. The food that had served so well to protect me from the unwanted advances of creepy guys eventually became a prison. The music that I loved always ended. And the escape I found in church was short lived, because sooner or later I had to go home. Sooner or later, the concert was over. Sooner or later, I wanted to be attractive and have a guy’s attention. All the types of love I knew were similar in one way – they were all TEMPORARY.
When I was 12, I learned about a different kind of love. Not the love between a parent and child, not the love between a man and a woman, and not the love of a thing. What I learned about was an emotion that had no limits, no boundaries and no conditions. I learned about the love that God had for me, a sexually abused, overweight, dysfunctional kid. Even though I had been going to church for six years, I still didn’t know the whole story. I went to a retreat, kind of like you are on this weekend. While there, I heard about the ultimate example of love.
I learned that I had done things that made God unhappy. I was what the church people called a sinner. You see, even though I had been on the receiving end of some really bad behavior, I had been hateful and I had wished that my mom would die. That was a sin. I learned that sin has a price. When you sin, you earn separation from God. You earn death. So far, I was familiar with this. It sounded like conditions again. But this is where things really turned around because the story didn’t stop there. In my world, that would be the end, but with God, He loved me so much that even though I had done something wrong, He wanted to give me a gift . . . the gift of a life with Him. God loved me so much that while I was in the middle of my worst behavior, God sent his Son to pay what I owed.
Allow me to share a story from my life. I was driving one day when I noticed that I needed gas. I pulled into a convenience store and filled up my tank. When I went to pay, my debit card wouldn’t work. I didn’t have any cash. I didn’t have a checkbook. I had no way to pay for the gas that was in my tank. I was in trouble. Out of nowhere, this woman came up and said, “I’ll pay for it.” I didn’t know her. I had never seen her before or since. She didn’t know me, she didn’t get any gas, she had no reason to do what she did. But she paid what I owed and she didn’t want anything in return. That is Love. To me, that was huge, but what God did for us is so much bigger than that. He gave his LIFE!! Let me summarize a section from the Bible in 1John 4:7-11, 16
Love comes from God. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. 11My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other.
God is love – 1John 4:16 – We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
All of this begs the questions:
• What is your idea of God?
When I was a kid, I thought about God as some old guy with long white hair and a flowing beard sitting up in the clouds. He wasn’t really REAL. He might as well have been Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, but more sinister. I thought He was judgmental and out of reach. I thought I had to DO something or BE someone other than what I was. I wasn’t good enough. That’s what I learned growing up in my house. I learned that if I wanted to be loved, I had better toe the line! But what I found out about God is that He doesn’t love like that. He loves me completely, not because of something I do or don’t do. In fact, I learned that even when I was in the middle of doing the worst things in my life, God loved me so much he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for me. He sent His son, Jesus, to show me just how much He loves me.
• Is Christ worth encountering?
Yes! When you really get to know who God is and what Jesus did for you, you won’t see Him as some far away, untouchable, cloud-potato. He’ll be real and relevant to you. And you’ll finally know what it means to love and to BE loved.
• When I was growing up, I was always in fear that I was going to get in trouble. I was painfully aware that if I did something my parents didn’t like, I was gonna get it. I was going to be spanked or yelled at or I would have something taken away, or the worst was that I would feel that I had let them down. I wanted to please my parents, but the bar for pleasing them was always moving. My first thoughts about God were tangled up in that same idea. I thought He was like a policeman who was setting a trap for me, and just waiting for me to mess up so he could lower the boom. But that’s not who God is.
• God wants us to be real with Him. He desires a relationship with us. That sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. In the book of Acts, Paul is talking to some people in Athens and says it this way:
22 “. . . I see that you are very religious. 23 I was walking along and I saw all your churches, and one of your altars had this saying carved into it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ Well, this God, the One you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and he doesn’t need humans to serve him—for he has no needs. He is the one who gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.
27 “His wants us to look for Him. He wants us to feel our way toward him and find him—even though he is not far from any one of us. 28 He’s the one who gives us life and movement and our very breath! We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Him! Since we are God’s children, we must not think that he is like an idol made out of gold or silver or stone. He isn’t like anything that humans have thought up and made.
The love that I experience from God is real. I may not be able to touch Him, but I can feel the love that He gives me. At the age of 12, I finally saw that God wanted to give me a gift that I didn’t deserve, and I accepted it. I took Him at his word, and I believed that He meant what He said. Since then, I feel accepted. I am finally comfortable in my own skin. God uses His words through the Bible to tell me how special I am to Him and how much He loves me. He uses other believers to show me His love and compassion. He knows just what I need to feel loved.
He knows just what YOU need to feel loved. Every one of us is unique and special in God’s eyes. He knows that I need to hear that I’m needed and useful, so He puts people in my life who tell me just that. He’ll do that for you, too.
• As you grow closer to God, what you know about Him changes. Just like somebody that you’ve known for a long time, you learn more about them, and our knowledge of God is always unfolding and growing. When I was younger, I thought about God like the Father figure that I didn’t have at home. I couldn’t talk to my dad, but I told God everything. I was afraid of my father, but I always felt safe with God. When I needed something, I couldn’t go to my daddy for help, but I knew that God would take care of me. As an adult, and as a woman, my relationship with God has changed. I don’t see Him as a Father as much anymore. The Bible describes the relationship between God and His people in terms of a marriage. And that’s more what I have now with God. We have a much more intimate relationship that only comes from years of knowing each other. I’m not always going to Him and asking for things, now I’m totally enamored. It’s a more mature love. He’s not the old guy in the clouds anymore, out of reach, out of touch and out of sync. He is real and close, concerned and caring.
• The way to know God is through Christ. Luke 10:22 – My Father has given me everything, and he is the only one who knows the Son. The only one who really knows the Father is the Son. But the Son wants to tell others about the Father, so that they can know him too.
The Love that God gives isn’t like human love. Human love is selfish and jealous, but when you know what it’s like to be loved by God, you will want to share it with others. Jesus said it best with a story about loving your neighbor.
Luke 10:25-37 (The Message)
25Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
26He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
27He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
28″Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
29Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
30-32Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest (or we could call him a preacher) was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man (let’s call him a church member) showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33-35″A Samaritan traveling the road came on him (this guy is like a tatted up biker dude). When the biker dude saw how bad off the guy got beat down, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey (er, Harley), led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
36″What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” 37″The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
This isn’t a one-time deal. Another time in the Bible we see that God showed he Loved people by feeding them when they were hungry. He saw what they needed and He gave it to them, all four thousand of them!
Mark 8:1-9 (The Message)
1-3 (Jesus) found himself with a hungry crowd on his hands. He called his disciples together and said, “This crowd is breaking my heart. They have stuck with me for three days, and now they have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they’ll faint along the way—some of them have come a long distance.”
4His disciples responded, “What do you expect us to do about it? Buy food out here in the desert?”
5He asked, “How much bread do you have?”
“Seven loaves,” they said.
6-10So Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the ground. After giving thanks, he took the seven bread loaves, broke them into pieces, and gave them to his disciples so they could hand them out to the crowd. They also had a few fish. He pronounced a blessing over the fish and told his disciples to hand them out as well. The crowd ate its fill. Seven sacks of leftovers were collected. There were well over four thousand at the meal. Then he sent them home. He himself went straight to the boat with his disciples and set out for Dalmanoutha.
So now, what? What do we do with all this new knowledge? How are we supposed to respond?
Matthew 7:7-8 (The Message)
7-11″Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?
• Turn toward God in prayer and love. We just learned about prayer from the speaker before me. Praying to God is just like talking to your buddy. You don’t need any special skills or tools. Just talk to Him. Tell Him what you need. Tell Him what you want. Tell Him what you’re thinking and feeling. And every once in a while, be quiet and let Him talk to you.
• Don’t isolate yourself. God put us on this earth surrounded by other people. That is no accident. We were created to be social. Get with other people who know and love God and lean on each other for support.
• And finally, share what you’ve learned. Just like that lady did with me at the Gas Station. She saw I had I need that I couldn’t take care of on my own. She stepped in and shared with me. That is the heart of the story.
The Most Important Commandment Matthew 22:34-40
34After Jesus had made the Sadducees look foolish, the Pharisees heard about it and got together. 35One of them was an expert in the Jewish Law. So he tried to test Jesus by asking, 36″Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. 38This is the first and most important commandment. 39The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” 40All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets [a] are based on these two commandments.
The ideas I had about love were anything but sweet for a long time. Even though I first learned about God’s love at the age of 12, I learn more every day. With each year that passes, I have more opportunity to experience the depth of the love that God has for me and for others. The reason I’m here is share what I’ve got with you. This weekend, I hope that you will embrace the love that God has for you. That you will take Him at His word and trust Him. The scars from your past and from my past don’t magically disappear. One of the best parts of knowing that God is Love is what it does to other areas of your life. The ideas I had about love as a child have been transformed and so have the relationships of my past. That’s one of the side effects of loving and being loved by God. I still have rough times – I still struggle with intimacy and with food. You will struggle, too. The Love of God is always bigger than we can comprehend and takes a lifetime to learn. I know it’s not always easy, but it is ALWAYS worth it.
- Finding Love: Chasing the Cat (sweet-tea-theology.com)