Saturday, December 4, 2010

Growing in Everything

Growing up is something hard to do. I believe that's the title of a song, but I can't remember who wrote it. However, it's true. Growing up is something we all must do but it's very hard. Some have it easier and some have it harder, but our Father has planned each and every circumstance to make us grow. Grow in trust, love, courage, compassion, sensitivity, etc. Our whole lives are spent growing, either in good ways or bad.

The dictionary defines it first as "undergoing development by increasing in size and maturity." As we grow spiritually our hearts enlarge. Not our physical organs that pump blood, but our emotions and capacity to care about people. As Christians progress along in their lives they become more sensitive to the needs of others and their own need for God. Strangely enough when true Christians grow they actually seem to shrink in some ways. They certainly get bigger hearts that can care more about God and others, but they begin to realize how small they really are and how much they need their Father.

Thoughtful Christians almost always ask another how he or she is growing. This is because being a Christian is never a place you have reached or a level you have attained. This is because Christianity is not something you do, it is a person you know, and a person you become.

Growing in everything. That means being willing to learn, being teachable. If we aren't growing as Christians then we know everything, or at least think we. Recognizing growth in your life is part of humility. If you have a sense that you don't know it all you will be a much better listener and much better at compassionate counsel. That's why in Christian leadership position interviews they will always ask you what ways you are growing. If you can't think of anyways you are growing it's generally because you think you have already grown. Continual growth is an important part of the Christian life. If we are like plants we are dying if we're not growing. Jesus is the Son (or Sun) of Righteousness. As plants basking in the warm light of the Sun of Righteousness we are either growing or withering.

As a homeschooling family we are more sensitive to the learning that takes place in all areas and aspects of life. Notice I didn't say we're exclusively sensitive, just more sensitive. Despite your best efforts there is a tendency to see learning as bound to the classroom (and homework assignments) if you are in school. This doesn't mean that such tendency can be resisted quite well, but that is the tendency.
We aren't perfect by any means, but by God's grace we are a family seeking to learn from God in the smallest circumstance or situation in life.

So growing in everything. Growing from what to what? Growing from sinful to sinless, growing from wicked to wonderful, from awful to awesome, from terrible to terrific, and from self-centered to Christ-centered!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stooping in Love

Too often, we, as christians, make high standards and narrow down to a small box the people who 'fit' our standards, or who we're 'comfortable' with. We become preoccupied with how to become more godly, more like Jesus. Wait a second... isn't that a good thing? Of course it is. Becoming like Jesus is the great aim of life. The problem is when we go about it the wrong way.

The most important part of life is relationships. First and foremost, of course, our relationship with God. And our relationships with the people around us are next on the list. God's desire is for us to be set apart for him, for us to ever be drawing nearer to him. But if we create high standards, which is not necessarily wrong, and refuse to stoop, and interact with those lower than ourselves, that's about as un-Godlike as we can get.

God has high standards. Being a completely holy God, he tells us that he cannot abide our sin. But look at where we are! Out of God's abundant and gracious love, he made us just a little lower than the angels, and called us his very own. He wants to be with us, just because he loves us.

So, if we want to be like him...
It is right for us to have high standards - for ourselves. We should be setting high goals in our life, and our walk with God. But we have no right to demand of everyone the same 'height' of godliness that we have, or that we think we have. That would be like the unforgiving servant. With all that God has given us in his grace -- forgiveness and love -- how can we even begin to think that we must require others to meet our standards?!

I think the first thing we must realize if we desire to broaden our horizon is our need for humility. If we think we're better than so-and-so, or if we just sit around wishing and waiting for others to be as 'good' as we believe we are, there's no way we'll be able to stoop to other's levels. When we realize that God loves the believing friend next to us just as much as he loves us, whether he smokes, or drinks, or uses awful language, it shatters the barrier between us. Is God displeased when his children do not obey him fully? Of course. Is he okay with them just staying in their same sinful pattern of life. Of course not. But try leaving the changing up to God for once. It's not really our place to change others.

Of equal or perhaps greater importance, we must be able to love. If we do not truly love the ones around us who have 'lower standards', if we do it either because we feel it's our duty, or to impress others, than we cannot hope to succeed in pleasing God. And I know it's easy to say, "You've just gotta love," and you're probably thinking, Easier said than done. Well, same here. How does one learn to love? And how do you teach someone to love? The best way to teach someone that is to show love to them. So think about the one who's shown you everlasting love. Learn from the best. Remember how much he loves you, and how lovely he is.

Which leads to something else that I think is vital to this lowering of ourselves. Even in all our unworthiness and filthiness before Jesus rescued us, God said of each one of us that we were beautiful to him. Everyone he chose, he said was beautiful. So if they're beautiful to him, shouldn't they be beautiful to us as well? It is so hard sometimes -- it comes more naturally to a blessed few -- to see beauty in someone who seems so much beneath you. But think back to the humility part -- we have to do as God says and count others more important, and beautiful, than ourselves.
Challenge yourself to daily see little things in others around you -- it can be quirks they have, the way they do things, or a physical attribute they have that you find attractive. Tell them that you like it. Confirming to them that they are beautiful will help confirm to yourself that they are beautiful.

Of course there is always room to grow, in others as well as ourselves. I would never deny that those around you need changing, or that their relationship with God and others can and should be strengthened. But before you condemn them for what you think is sinfully wrong, take a look at yourself first. You'll realize you were just as much in need of a Saviour as they were. The fact that they are not as spiritually mature is not reason to stay away from them -- quite the contrary! We should treat them with greater love because of that fact. The best way to aid someone in his walk with Christ is not always to admonish them and to tell them of their sin. Often it simply takes bringing yourself down to their level, and forgetting for a moment your high and lofty standards. Remember that you are just as dirty as he is.

"I want to, I need to, be more like Jesus." Jesus wasn't afraid to kneel on the ground and wash his disciples' feet. Why? Because he loved them. So go wash someone's feet. And do it because you love them.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crying at the Sad Things

"I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil." ~ Gandalf
"A time to weep and a time to laugh" ~ Ecclesiastes 3:4
"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting." ~ Eccl 7:2
"Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart." ~ Eccl 7:3
"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure." ~ Eccl 7:4

"Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice." - Paul (Philippians)
How do we reconcile these two words from the Scripture? With all that the Bible tells us to be joyful about where is the place for sorrow? Is Gandalf right?

We actually live in a culture that doesn't know how to weep. When someone dies we try to brush it aside and not think about it. When a tragedy happens we rush to the scene with cameras, but find ourselves doing little more than watching with interest.
Weeping with those who weep is hard, often harder than rejoicing with those who rejoice. Someone who is really happy can bring those around him into that joy, but who wants to be brought down into the sadness of another? Who wants to experience a broken heart that's not even his own?
Weeping is a very important part of the Christian life because it deals with cursed life in this world honestly. If we refuse to weep we refuse to acknowledge that this world is broken and not everything that happens is good.
Weeping is humiliating, perhaps that's why we shy away from it. Who wants to be seen as someone who cries in front of all his friends?
Why did Jesus weep in front of Lazarus' tomb? The gospel writers say it was because He loved him. We weep because we are missing something. Jesus missed Lazarus and even though He was about to raise him in a few moments He was so overcome with the loss of this dear one that He wept.
So as Christians, with out hope of the resurrection, we should not be ashamed or admonish others not to weep for the dead. We should weep freely because separation is real and hurt is deep.
It is often said that the more you love the more you are able to be hurt. So how much you weep actually shows how much you loved, for better or for worse. In that sense it is a glorious thing to see Christians weeping at a tomb because it shows their love for the one passed on.
Our family is not one that has experienced much death in our extended family. The older kids have been to many funerals because our church was an old one with many aged members. All the kids have been to at least one funeral, but for the most part our extended family is still with us.
So our crying at the sad things is mostly in the form of sympathy to others.
However, we don't just weep for the dead, we weep for setbacks for the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom is coming but that doesn't mean it's winning every battle. We weep when wicked men are put in places of authority either in this nation or others. We weep when laws are passed that go directly against God's law. We weep and we groan for the King to finally finish His conquest once and for all and restore this earth to what it was meant to be!
We weep, but we weep in hope. Our grief is real, but we know it cannot last forever.
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!"
No matter how long the sadness lasts our God is there weeping beside us and when the joy comes it will out shine the sorrow.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
"Blessed are those who weep, for they shall laugh."

"I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil" but we will say, weep honestly, but in hope.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Laughing at the Funny Things…

Laughter is something our home is filled with. Some kids are funnier than others but all in all we are a family that loves to laugh. We laugh at jokes, we laugh at silly stories, and we laugh at silly things the others do.
The Bible says a cheerful heart is good medicine. Laughter is all over the Bible, even the famous Isaac's name actually means laughter. Abraham and Sarah named him laughter because of the joy they knew from God's impossible promise coming true. They had laughed in disbelief and now the laughed at their unbelief.
We like to think of the beginning of Psalm 126:
When Yahveh brought back the captive ones of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laugher
And our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations,
"Yahveh has done great things for them."
Yahveh has done great things for us;
We are glad.

This is why we laugh, because we are a family whom God has done great things for. We laugh because we love. In a home where the parents have strife and are always arguing there is little or no laughter. However, thanks to God we have a home where His love to us is manifested in our love for each other and so we can laugh with each other. We can laugh at each other without them feeling condemnation. We all know we are loved by each one so even laughter at us is in the context of love.
Another reason we always have laughter in our home is because we have such a range of ages. We have little children who do and say funny things as they learn to mature and we have older children who act immature in a funny way. Little kids act like big kids and big kids like little kids and so we laugh at the irony.

Laughter is used for three main things in the Bible: disbelief, derision, and joy. The laughter that characterizes our family is about joy. The Bible also likes to contrast laughter and weeping. Jesus says, "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." Of course He also follows that up later on by saying, "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." However, in this case He is speaking of a kind of defiant laughter against God and the coming judgment. Those who laugh like fools now will be sorrowful in the day of judgment. We as Christians can laugh now because we have no fear of the judgment. We have been made new and enabled to laugh for the joy of our salvation. We no longer laugh at God but we laugh with God because He has become united to us in love.
Have you ever noticed how laughing with someone creates an instant bond? That's why many times to "break the ice" we will tell a joke or make a comment designed for amusement. Laughter has a way of opening us up. Laughing with another creates an instant bond and is a sign of love. You don't enjoy telling jokes and laughing at things with people you hate. Laughing with an enemy is something distasteful because you don't want a bond with that person and you don't want to be made vulnerable to them. You laugh with those you love, because you love them, desire a bond and do not fear condemnation.

So we laugh at the funny things, not only among ourselves, but we laugh at them with our heavenly Father who has made us able to laugh with Him. Praise be to the one who has made us able to laugh with Him rather than at Him!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Making it big

So it's suppertime. Sometimes that's not so bad. Sometimes it's easy. Unfortunately, tonight was one of the not so good nights. We had to grocery shop before we had what we needed, so that made it late. Then of course, all sorts of things just had to make it later. Mom was talking on the phone, counseling a friend, while making the meatballs. And with three (or is it four?) different diets, we have a gazillion different pots sitting on the stove and counter. And the anticipation of a gazillion dishes to wash once the meal is over. And of course, the youngest kids probably won't like the food... it seems they always find something to complain about. But hey! Little sinner, meet big sinner. Who is complaining? Sounds like we are! It's so easy to go through those moments of frantic hurrying, with phone calls every other minute, and some food getting cold and other food cooking too long, and just say, "Whatever!" And not even care about making those moments count.
It's easy to take those rough evenings and reduce everything that's going on, to just the fact of another rough night in our routinely rough lives.

But what about God's Kingdom? We have to live for that every day, every moment of the day, even (or perhaps especially) when those days and moments are rough. How do you do that? How can we even attempt to make these mundane days and moments for God's Kingdom?

Well, it starts with putting God into it. You have to pray. Pray for the ultimate strength that only He can give. Then, remember the prayer that never fails: Thy will be done. Step back from your life, and remember that God's agenda is so much more important than what you had planned. Remember that the children you are feeding will one day be grown and will leave the home, and that you cannot afford to waste a moment with them. So remember to love them. Even when they're fussing, and you just feel like fussing back, just step back and look at the big picture. God has you right where he wants you, and all you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given you. And the three most important first things to do with the time that is given you are: Remember how much God loves you. Remember to give that love back to him. And remember to let his love fill you up and overflow into the lives of everybody around you.

Of course, it's not always that simple. Sometimes, it takes a lot of stepping back, and a lot of remembering, because you've forgotten for so long how much God loves you, and how much bigger the big picture is.
But sometimes, it is that simple. Sometimes you just have to step back, and remind yourself that you're not even going to remember those rough frantic moments in a few weeks, maybe you'll even have forgotten them by tomorrow. Perhaps God is testing your strength; don't refuse his offer of power through his Holy Spirit. That power is yours, if you will ask him for it. The power to truly love; the power to step back; and the power to think big.

God is a big God. And his Kingdom is huge. So don't settle for something less. Make every moment big.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Beauty In the Little things…

Why does our family see beauty in the little things? Well, because the leader of our family does. Papa never seems to be bored with the little fascinations with nature. I think that's one of the reasons mama married him, because in all his high and precise thoughts he never lost his love of the little things.
We have a lot of kids who are still little right now, but people rarely have trouble seeing beauty in children. Babies are always awwed, ooed, and coooed over for a couple years usually.
However, not everyone sees beauty in the little things of nature or science…a mushroom on a trail, a seed pod on the ground, water reacting (or not) to oil, colors changing in flowers, bees going about their business gather pollen, ants carrying food to their home. Most of us would pass over these and consider them not important, but for us papa has taught us how and why to appreciate them. The primary way he teaches is by his example, he is genuinely interested in the stuff himself.
But he isn't just interested in the things that are small themselves, but also the tasks that we consider ordinary and little in importance. Some dads won't bother themselves about house cleaning, about meal preparations, about everyday tasks, they have more important things to do. They may have very legitimate reasons for doing so, but regardless, our dad isn't. Our dad is interested and involved in everything from making supper (on occasion—not every night), washing dishes, cleaning the house before a trip, helping a kid with his math, or an older one manage his money, editing/grading a writing assignment, etc. This doesn't mean he does all that everyday or all the time, but he is willing. Because of this we are a family who is by and large willing to do even small tasks around the house. We see that there is beauty even in doing the smallest task to God's glory.
Every kid has a slightly different angle on their own cleaning style whether it be Josiah who vacuumed the whole house at age 8 or something, or Zachariah with his "hurrying noise," we all have developed a sense of seeing beauty in the little things.
This doesn't mean that each one of us shares the same passion for nature that papa has, but how those lessons translate to the rest of life have been more or less instilled (and are still being instilled) in each one of us as a family. Mama never seems to tire of putting the kids to bed each night, that small task which means so much to them. Beauty in the small things.
Why do we see beauty in the small things? Well, one reason is that small things add up to big things. Reading to kids and putting them to bed at night is a very small thing, but when done a lot it creates big and lasting memories. What was small added up to something big and important. Papa and mama recognize that material goods are no substitute for quality time spent with children, so instead of showing the kids with gifts they shower them with little presents of their presence.

However, there is a bigger reason to see beauty in the small things and to care about them. One may concede that small things add up to bigger things, but what can possibly be the lasting value of stopping to admire a mushroom? Well, there's actually a very simply answer, our Heavenly Father values it. Did you know that? Did you ever stop to think about all the things God made just for His own enjoyment? When you stop to admire that mushroom, that ant, that seedpod, you are sharing in the delight of your Father. Do you like to watch fish in an aquarium? Think about the "aquarium" God made for His own enjoyment? We are imitating our Father when we enjoy even the smallest aspects of His creation. Sure, it's flawed, but He's going to make it all right some day, and there is still a lot of beauty left in it. Jesus was making a different point when He talked about two sparrows being sold for a penny, but He said very explicitly that our Heavenly Father cares for even the sparrows. The smallest little bird or bug is under the watchful eye of God and He is not only enjoying its beauty but also caring for its well being. A related question to ask is if God cares about the little things in life? Well, how about washing people's feet? Despite the fact that Jesus was making a specific point is washing feet really all that important? But beyond this we have Jesus telling us that even the one who gives a cup of cold water to one of His servants that one will not lose his reward. Jesus cares very much about even the smallest things in everyday life.

We are children of a Heavenly Father who sees beauty in the little things and so we cannot help but do the same. Just as the earthly father of this family has shaped us, so our Heavenly Father has shaped us even more!

God sees the little sparrow fall,
It meets His tender view;
If God so loves the little birds,
I know He loves me, too.

He paints the lily of the field,
Perfumes each lily bell;
If He so loves the little flow’rs,
I know He loves me well.

God made the little birds and flow’rs,
And all things large and small;
He’ll not forget his little ones,
I know He loves them all.

He loves me, too, He loves me, too,
I know He loves me, too;
Because He loves the little things,
I know He loves me, too.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Family Idol

There is a trend these days among evangelicals. It's a reaction against the undermining ideas in our culture but it has gone too far. (Just like a bunch of other ideas we could mention.) It's this idea of the close-knit family. This idea is very good in and of itself, but when lifted up too high, and focused on too much, it becomes disastrous.
One might think we, of all people, would be advocates of this great focus on the close, tightly bound family. However, that's actually the opposite. Because, if having a tight family unit is your highest priority than you won't have 9 kids. No matter how hard you try you can never keep the family together very long. Before the little ones are very old the older ones are going off to college and before the youngest one is in college the older kids are all over the country, maybe even the world. Pretty scary huh?
So why did we have nine kids? Because we believe that the kingdom of heaven is the most important thing on this earth. What's the first thing God said for His people to do to build the kingdom? "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth!"
Having a big family is stressful financially, emotionally,  and physically. With so many mouths to feed you have to trust God a lot that He'll provide all the food and everything else that is required to support a large family. A big family is emotionally stressful because there are kids of all ages trying to get along more or less successfully. Also the more people there are around the more people you can potentially fight with. Big families are also physically challenging because of all the logistics of fitting everyone in the house, or the car, or whatever. More people by definition means more stress.
So why in the world would anyone ever want to have a big family?
Well, the primary reason is because God wants big families. God wants His earth full of people worshiping Him. So if for no other reason than it pleases God—we think that's a good enough reason all by itself, don't you? There are of course tons of blessings that come with big families, but we'll talk about that some other time.
The Bible says that "Children are like arrows in the hand of a warrior, blessed is he whose quiver is full." This sounds like a big family is a blessing, but wait a minute. What is the point of an arrow? Does one shoot it and run back and pick it up? Perhaps sometimes, but usually arrows are shot and never seen again. Does that mean all children must leave home and never connect back with their parents? Certainly not. But it does mean that we should be prepared for our families to split up. Kids are not meant to stay at home and be close to home all their life. God may have that in store for them, but then again, He may have far more.
We don't fill up our quivers with arrows and then lay them on the mantle piece.
The kingdom of heaven is at stake, Jesus' return is what we are seeking, when the kingdom will be consummated! Until then God has called us to advance that kingdom, by having lots of kids (physically and spiritually). That means that having a large family isn't limited to those who are married and able to bear children. It means making friends and bringing them closer to Christ!
If we idolize the physical family we will make it small so that we can all stay close together and be doing the same thing all the time. So if we idolize our spiritual families we will have only a few close friends that we can hang out with and we won't reach out in love to new people.

Having big families is hard, the more kids you have the more heartache you will feel as each one leaves home and starts his or her own life…but…the greater reward will be celebrated in heaven when all are gathered in once and for all to enjoy eternal fellowship forever! Edward Taylor very profoundly and sweetly compared our children to flowers and said this about them:
That as I said, I say, take, Lord, they're thine.
I piecemeal pass to Glory bright in them.
I joy, may I sweet Flowers for Glory breed,
Whether thou getst them green, or lets them seed.

Monday, August 23, 2010


...because perfect love casteth out fear.
It's easy to walk through the clear water, where we can see exactly where we're stepping, and when it gets deep and where it is shallow. What takes courage is walking through the water where you can't see to the bottom. It's dark and murky, and you never know when you might go in over your head.

It's hard to believe that just a year ago, we cried and sent Isaiah off for his first year of college. It seems like so much longer than just a year. But at the same time, it seems barely any time at all since we celebrated Thanksgiving in Chattanooga, and were having a wonderful christmas holiday, and I can hardly believe we're at the end of the summer already. Life is flying by so fast I'm having trouble catching up with it, and yet, the year ahead seems unbearably long.

Life is so full of ups and downs, of joys and sorrows, and so many twisted and confusing emotions. We go so quickly from being happy to being sad, and vice versa. Even when we're happy, the water still seems dark, because we can never have any idea of what is going to happen next.

We have a couple options. We could sit in our comfortable chairs and watch life go by in a resigned complacency, content to simply let things fly past us. Sometimes I'm tempted to go with that option. But think about this...

If perfect love casteth out fear, then the knowledge that we are loved by the very person whose name is Love ensures that we can be fearless. Fearless is not just content resignation: Fearless means being bold, unafraid of what's to come, and totally prepared to face whatever happens. Are we, as the children of the King of Love, unafraid? Are we ready to boldly jump at every opportunity our King puts before us? Are we ready to courageously put God first, and let Him work out the details?

Are you ready to be dragged headfirst through life, fearless? Then let's do it!