Sunday, April 29, 2012

Setting Limits

"And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day..."  Genesis 39:10

We are in a study in church on Sunday mornings right now on the life of Joseph.  This morning's message took place when Joseph was in Egypt, living in Potiphar's household.  Joseph had gained the trust of Potiphar because of his integrity.  That integrity was put to the test when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph into bed with her.  Genesis 39 shows us her persistence when day by day she tried to lure him into her bedroom.

Day by day she spoke to him.

This persistence reminded me of a concept I read in the book Boundaries With Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend.  My kids test me with this type of persistence... especially my four and a half year old.  Our conversations sound something like this:

"Mommy, can I stay up until nine o'clock tonight?"

"Not on a school night.  You can stay up until nine o'clock on Friday night when you don't have school in the morning."

"But mommy, I want to stay up until nine o'clock!!"

"Your bedtime is eight o'clock on school nights."

**insert tantrum**

"Mommy, can I say up until eight thirty?"

And on it goes.  He's quite a stubborn little boy... not that he gets that from his mommy!  I have not always been the greatest at holding my limits in the past but I am working on being more consistent in that area.  Every time I give in, I'm teaching my kids that they don't need to respect the rules set for them.  If they beg long enough, they will get their own way.  I may be stopping the whining, but I am doing nothing for character building by giving in.

Kids need limits.  They may not outwardly be able to express it, but kids actually want limits.  Limits make them feel safe.  It shows them that you are strong enough to take care of them and that you love them.

One thing that I am reminded of from the Boundaries book is that I only have to hold out one more time than the other person does.  Just one more time.  When you look at it that way, it seems a lot more do-able.

By setting limits with my kids, they will begin to build character like that of Joseph.  And you know what?  This is learning experience for me, too.  Our pastor reminded us this morning that Joseph decided long before he was presented with the opportunity to sin.  It's my job as a parent to train up my children to become men of great and Godly character.  It's never too early or too late to start.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Psalm 139 - When the Finger Points Back at You

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  Psalm 139:23-24

I read one of my favorite passages tonight.  It reminded me of the first time I remember really reading those verses in Psalm 139 around 2004 or so after my first son was born.  My then-husband and I were dealing with some things and started driving to Harrisburg, PA from our home in Bristow, VA every week or so to meet with a pastor from our denomination there who did counseling.  I remember he had us write out boundaries for each other.  Although, I don't think the pastor/counselor ever really explained to us what a boundary actually was and each of us had drastically different and very skewed ideas of what that term meant.

One of my "boundaries" that I had written out was that I wanted my husband to pray the words of Psalm 139:23-24.  Yes, that's right.  He needed to pray them.  It's kind of like when you sit in church and think of all the other people who would benefit from the sermon being preached and never even consider looking back at the reflection in the mirror.

There are so many things that are difficult to see.  It really takes a lot of vulnerability to pray a prayer like David did in Psalm 139.  There is a reason why we're not always able to deal with our internal messes, and instead cope with them in various ways.  Some things are really painful to see in ourselves.  Things like pride, idols we have allowed into our lives, and grandiose thoughts that we can save anyone or hide from God, among other things.  Keeping those things out of conscious view gives us a sense of safety.  There's nothing (or very little) wrong with me, it's that other person over there who needs help.  However, perhaps by allowing us to see the speck in our friends' eye, God is revealing the bigger plank in our own eye if we choose to see it.

This lack of vulnerability actually creates a false sense of safety.  True safety is found in the way everlasting.  And the way everlasting involves allowing God to search me and know my heart.  It involves God testing me and knowing my anxious thoughts and offensive ways.  That doesn't sound very safe at all, right?  But it is a step towards walking in the freedom that Christ gave us when He died for our sins.

Lord, there are things that I can't or don't want to see in myself sometimes but I pray that You would help me to see and deal with them anyway and lead me in the way everlasting as you did for David.  Help me not to be instantly on the defense but help me to ease into reality gently.  Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Post

About a month ago, I submitted a guest article to the MOB Society (Mothers of Boys) about raising boys and I was so honored and excited that it was chosen to run during the month of March.

From that guest post, a fellow single mom contacted me and asked if I would write an article about being a single parent for her blog.  Again, I felt honored but also a little nervous.  Normally when I blog, I have some thoughts about what I want to write about as they come to my mind, but I don't typically have a specific subject to start with and work forward from there.  While I do have a few years experience being a single parent, what would I say?  I'm certainly not an expert on the subject and sometimes I feel like I just sort of make it up as I go along, changing and adapting to what works.

Some of the things I thought of writing about were: 

Statistics about single parents.  I heard one on the radio a few months ago that said something like only 2% of children raised in single parent households become Christians when they get older.  Yikes?  Yeah, that's what I said.  Talk about creating anxiety and fear in the heart of a single mother trying the best she can and trusting God to make a way.  Not that trying hard is any guarantee of the choices my kids will make as they grow, but I find it hard to believe that the true percentage is really that low.

Things that people say to single parents.  My seperation and divorce was pretty public since my husband was in ministry.  That was good and bad.  Good because I had a lot of support.  Bad because suddenly my life was on display for all to see.  I found that a lot of people wanted to help... but they didn't really know how or what to say.  They would end up saying things like "Call me if you need anything."  That was really sweet, but I never knew what was okay to ask for or what people were really willing to do and sometimes all I really wanted was just a big hug.  But we don't really know what to do or say in situations like this so we just say, "Call me if you need anything" and go on our way.  Other comments aluded to getting married again or God having a plan, etc.

Neither of those topics seemed quite right though, so I just kind of sat on it and prayed about what I should say.  And then it came to me.  I decided to write about the way I always imagined my life would go.  The way it turned out is quite a contrast to what I had dreamed of growing up.  One thing that I have realized about being a single parent is that if there is to be any success at all, I must learn to accept life as it is as opposed to how I always thought it would be.  As my fingers started typing, they didn't seem to want to stop.  I was actually surprised at how much I had to say about the topic.  It ended up being pretty long, so the post was split up into two parts when it ran this week.  This was the final product:


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Giving Match Part 2: Motivation

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."  Matthew 6:5-6

In my last post, I talked about the annual giving campaign at the office that is going on this month.  Each year when the campaign comes around, employees have the opportunity to donate to any number of non-profit organizations.  Each donation is matched by the company at 15%.  Another 5% is also donated by the company to a third part when donations are given through the campaign.

I mentioned previously that I choose not to participate in the campaign because I am opposed to the organizations that the third party contribution goes to support.  Each year during the campaign, the company strives for 100% participation.  There are awards given and bragging rights honored for offices that reach that coveted level.  When everyone else on the team has given and the lacking percentage points directly to one person as being responsible for not reaching the targeted goal... that one person being me, I begin to feel the pressure.  At this stage, questions are asked around the office to figure out who it is that is holding the entire office back from reaching that 100% goal of giving and the pizza party or jeans day that goes with it.

The trouble is, my situation is not unique. The same scenario also plays out in many other companies, organizations and even churches in Anytown, USA. The bigger question that I believe we need to ask ourselves is this: What is the proper motivation for giving in the first place?

I believe there is humility in genuine giving. When the focus becomes a dollar sign or a particular image we hope to portray because of our giving, who or what is really being exalted? That line seems to be blurred more and more in current society. Outwardly we say, "Give to the needy!" Inwardly we shout, "Look how great I am!"

The pressure to conform bothers me.  Do we really want 100% participation in order that a great number of non-profit organizations are able to provide services to those in need?  Or do we want to be known as the organization who gave all this money to help those less fortunate?  If genuine giving is the true motivation, why do we need to put our name on it at all?  I know there are many people who do choose to give through the campaign because in their hearts, they really want to help those in need.  But when the pressure of a number is added to the scenario, it forces me to consider the true, unspoken motivation behind it.

It's not only companies who I believe have blurred this line between giving and a good reputation.  I see it in churches, which is even more bothersome.  Sometimes the focus in the modern church seems to be bigger is better.  The bigger we can do something, the more fanfare, the more church followers (notice I didn't say Christ followers), the more successful.  But how do you define success?  How does the Bible define success?

I found an interesting answer to this question at http://www.gotquestions.org/.  This was the answer they gave:

When King David was about to die, he gave his son, Solomon, the following advice: “Do what the LORD your God commands and follow his teachings. Obey everything written in the Law of Moses. Then you will be a success, no matter what you do or where you go” (1 Kings 2:3 CEV). Notice that David didn’t tell his son to build up his kingdom with great armies, or to gather wealth from other lands, or to defeat his enemies in battle. Instead, his formula for success was to follow God and obey Him.
(To read more from the commentary, click here).

When I take a deeper look at these motivational issues, I think I feel so passionately about it because of something Oswald Chambers once quoted from a preacher he had heard:  "What any human being has done, any other human being is capable of."  In this fallen world, we have a bent towards self exaltation... on having things our own way.  I think of my own life and I think about my love of writing.  I worry about becoming proud and focusing on wanting others to read what I write, checking stats, etc over writing truly from the heart.  Sometimes the enemy even taunts me with that tempting me to give it up all together.  It is a struggle to fight against that because I know that if God has given me this passion for it, then it is because He wants to use it.  Therefore I press on.  Still, I think the struggle is somewhat of a good accountability.

In the end, I think considering our true motivation is good for anything and anyone.  Sometimes there is more there than what we may perceive.  I pray often for God to give me eyes to see and ears to hear His Truth and I give Him thanks when I recognize His answers to these prayers in my daily life.  As the last days approach, there will be more and more things that look good outwardly, but turn sour in the stomach.  Discernment is growing more and more important given our present circumstances.  I am looking forward to the day when I am face to face with my Lord.  We won't have to worry about whether someone's intentions are true and noble or something that just resembles that. These former things will be gone and all will be made new.  Thank you, Jesus.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Giving Match Part 1: Compromise

"Has the Lord as great as delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice..."  I Samuel 15:22

It's that time of year again... the annual giving campaign at the office.  Each year, my company sponsors a month long campaign of giving to different non-profit organizations along with a company matched percentage.  There are hundreds of worthy causes one can donate to, including the 22q organization which raises awareness and offers education and support for families of children and adults living with DiGeorge Syndrome (22q).  I am one such beneficiary of this organization as my son was diagnosed with the syndrome as an infant.

It would make sense that I would give to the 22q organization through the giving campaign because of the company match to maximize my donation.  The problem is, that while 100% of my contribution goes to the charity of my choice along with the company matched percentage, the company also donates another percentage to a third party which funds organizations I am morally opposed to, when I contribute.  That creates an internal struggle for me.

Each year during the campaign, the company strives for 100% participation.  There are awards given and bragging rights honored for offices that reach that coveted level.  When everyone else on the team has given and the lacking percentage points directly to one person as being responsible for not reaching the targeted goal... that one person being me... it creates another type of struggle.  At this stage, questions are asked around the office to figure out who it is that is holding the entire office back from reaching that 100% goal of giving and the pizza party or jeans day that goes with it.

At this point there are questions that I ask myself as I do love my job as well as the company as a whole.  Do I confess that I am the one who did not contribute?  Do I give in and overlook the small percentage that will go to an organization that directly supports things I am morally opposed to in order to benefit an organization that does a lot of good for families of children with special needs?  Do I hold steady to my convictions and I'll admit, a bit of stubbornness, and decide not to contribute through the campaign?

In I Samuel 15, God told Saul to take his army and completely destroy the Amalekites.  So Saul did as God commanded... except.  Saul chose to destroy everything that was despised and worthless, however "Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them." (v9)

It may have appeared outwardly that Saul had done a good thing.  After all, he claimed to have saved all of the best to sacrifice to God.  But there was a problem.  God's command was to "utterly destroy all that they have." (v3)  This willful choice to disobey God had lasting consequence.  Not only was Saul rejected as king, the lineage of the spared Agag went on to produce one Haman, who plotted to annhialate the Jews during the time of Esther.

The thing is, God doesn't need me in order to accomplish His purposes.  While the Lord does use His servants to do His work, my usefulness is not the standard.  Giving doesn't change God.  The Lord is the sustainer of all life and it is He that supplies all of our needs.  I give as an act of obedience and worship of the One who has given me all that I have.  I John 4:10-11 says, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."  In the same way, I can only give anything at all because Christ has first given to me.

Although the pressure is there to conform, whether real or perceived, I must follow my convictions.  Although much good can be done in one area, I cannot ignore my God given conscience even in order to do something that may bring good.  If the campaign did not involve this third party, there would be no issue.  However, since it does, it is something that I cannot overlook.  Instead, I choose to give in other ways as opposed to one being filtered through outside organizations I have chosen not to support.  While my financial contributions may not be matched that way, I know that God desires obedience more than sacrifice so I believe He will honor my decision.  I also know that the Lord is able to multiply my gifts for the work of His kingdom to the infinite degree which is a better giving match than any earthly kingdom could promise.

Therefore... "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart go give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."  I Corinthians 9:7