8/31/11

God Doesn't Waste a Thing!

Every once in a while, I need to read a "kick in the pants" book ~ something that reignites my dreams and helps me focus on worthwhile goals and priorities. Kathi Lipp's book, The Me Project, just did that for me. (1)

I'll have a drawing for a copy of the book on September 3rd. Share a comment about why you think you need a "kick in the pants" to accomplish one of your goals, and I'll enter you in the drawing! [Note: The Bliss Family won the book!]

When I first saw the title, I've got to tell you, I thought, "Hmmm... it can't be that godly, all the focus on 'Me.'" But then I read why she wrote the book and I "got" it. It's not all about my self-actualization; it's about discovering and embracing the unique plan God has for my life, and then changing things and kicking my life up a notch so that I cooperate with what God is doing.

And then I realized that Lipp was serious when she used the word "Project." This is no quick read. It's a practical, biblical plan that unfolds as we determine to follow and obey God. It's not a book about having and doing it all, but rather, focusing in on the life God has designed for each one of us. It's about becoming "an expert on your life." And along the way, life gets a little messy as we work through the uniqueness of our roles and calling.

Lipp begins by challenging readers to work through "Nine Quick Steps" to prepare for the project, practical things like choosing a goal, getting a journal, and finding friends to work through the projects with us. And this is where it gets fun. The "goal" we choose can be almost anything ~ not too hard, not too easy, and something requiring a dream. It can be as simple as learning to decorate cakes (did I say simple?) or as challenging as learning to lead a Bible study.

From that point on, the book is full of insight, wise advice, practical motivation, humorous examples, illustrations from Kathi's life, creativity, and encouragement. Each chapter is like a flower bud, opening up at just the right time; and when the truth of who a woman is begins to blossom in her heart, the fragrance is lovely and sweet.

There is no way this review could cover all the book's concepts, so I will just share one of my favorite chapters. In Week One, "Getting Down to Business," Project 4 encourages women to embrace their past. This project, titled "Pixie Cuts and Other Bad Decisions," got my interest because I'm "into" just about every angle of the topic, "Choices." Lipp talks about a "pixie" haircut she got in the fourth grade. The wedge-shaped "Dorothy" haircut ~ patterned after Olympic skater Dorothy Hamill ~ was the source of many bad haircuts and school portraits in the 70s, she said.

The unkind cut Lipp wore for a while upset her for many years ~ every time she looked at old pictures. She discovered that "just because a haircut is popular doesn't mean it's going to work on you."

Then Lipp shared some far more painful "mistakes" she made in life and stated the obvious. Bad choices can be devastating. "But what is often more tragic than making mistakes," she said, "is the woman who will not learn from them."

"Too often women make the same mistake over and over, and instead of changing what they're doing, they spend all their time making excuses about why things can never change."

We're all going to make mistakes ~ lots of them ~ and unfortunately, most of us don't learn much except through the painful lessons of our mistakes. We shouldn't spend time wallowing in the pain of our mistakes, but rather, learn from them (and repent if the mistake involves sin) ... and then move on. We can be transformed as we make course corrections, applying the truth of God's Word to our lives.

Lipp used a story from my own life to drive home this point:

"I went back to finish college when I was 48 and graduated at age 50. Algebra was tough. I took it by correspondence from a Christian college. Though I knew enough to get an A, I wanted a higher A and I cheated. Afterward, my personality changed. I knew I'd sinned, but I didn't deal with it for almost a year. I found that I did everything that year totally in the flesh. God broke my heart at a revival meeting, and I confessed to Him and wrote the school to confess, too. Everyone sitting under my ministry told me that I had new freedom in my speaking after that.

"I learned that integrity matters more than results. That is a hallmark of my ministry with women as I speak to them about the choices in their lives. ~ Dawn"

It was a tough way to learn, but I discovered that God can take our mistakes, our bad decisions, and our sinful choices and turn them into "lessons" for our good. As the scripture says, "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28, HCSB) And not only that ~ when we surrender it all to Him (the messiness of our lives) He can redeem it all.

As Lipp says, "God doesn't waste a thing."

(1) Kathi Lipp, The Me Project: 21 Days to Living the Life You've Always Wanted (Harvest House Publishers, 2011), pp. 77-82

8/23/11

Think Biblically about Having Children

In July, I just missed the opportunity to meet one of my favorite television families, the Duggars. I was interviewing someone at exactly the same time the Duggars had their press conference concerning their new book, A Love That Multiplies.

They appear on TLC's hit show, "19 Kids & Counting." Michelle and Jim Bob share their homespun tips for raising children, strategically dropping in truth from the Bible.

To some, the Duggar family is an oddity. Others are critical about their standards and choices. One blogger wrote in "The Duggars Make Me Sick" that she was really annoyed by this family. Not only was she annoyed that there were so many children and that their names all start with the letter "J," but also that "everything, EVERYTHING, they do and say in life is about their belief in God." [That's exactly what I like about them!]

What seemed to bother the blogger the most in her scathing article is that they were too restrictive in their teachings on sexual purity and abstinence, but seemed to not know how to "abstain" from sex themselves.

The Duggar's daughter-in-law, Anna, wrote on their website a statement that sounds much like ones I've heard from Michelle, the matriarch of the family. Young Anna wrote: "The decision to trust God with our family size is based on our desire to serve God with every decision of our life." Talk about a strong foundation for choices!

But this made me think. I wonder how many people actually pray about God's will regarding the size of their family.

In the booklet "Turning the Tide: Having More Children Who Follow Christ" author Holly Elliff ~ who wrote the booklet with her husband Bill ~ shares the scriptural truth and principles God used to help her think through this personal issue.

She quotes statistics that show America's birth rates are hovering just below replacement levels. Whereas in the late 1700s, there were almost eight children per woman, now the number of women who have had no children by the end of their child-bearing age is clearly on the rise. Then she urges readers to consider the far-reaching impact of what happens in a culture when believers choose to have fewer children (or no children).

"Benjamin Franklin once wrote that children swarmed across the countryside like a wave of locusts," Elliff wrote. "Now, in our nation, our children are outnumbered by the television sets in our homes...."

Elliff grieves that Christians have forgotten that children are "gifts" and a "reward" from God (Psalm 127:3-5), and that the Father's plan has a "generational nature" (Psalm 78:6-8)

She writes, "As believers, we are to be intentional about thinking biblically. That requires making choices 'so that no advantage [will] be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes' (2 Corinthians 2:11)."

Satan's priority, she says, is "to stop man from living out God's priorities." Biblical priorities for the family include a husband and wife committed in covenant marriage who receive God's gift of children and raise them to love God in order that His redemptive plan can continue to be proclaimed throughout the world in every generation.

Not everyone will agree with Elliff's conclusions, I expect, but she makes a powerful point. "Since the enemy couldn't stop Christ at Calvary, he had to resort to other strategies for making headway in his plans. What better way to subvert God's design than for Satan to weave his agenda into the fabric of our lives?

"So, he [Satan] promotes a philosophy that 'smaller is better' when it comes to family size," she said, "in order to eliminate potential challengers to his kingdom before they are even born." (all emphasis in italics, mine)

Elliff gives some practical advice when considering God's unique plan for individual families. But first, she says, pray and seek God's direction.

"The issue is coming to grips with God's right to be sovereign over every aspect of life," she says. "How tragic if you were to spend more time doing research about the flat-screen plasma television you're thinking of buying than you spend seeking God's plan for your family!"

She offers these questions for thinking through this important issue:

  1. Spell out what your belief system is in regard to children has been.
  2. Think through this list, and consider ways your thinking may have been more influenced by tradition, selfishness, this world system, or the enemy than by the Word of God.
  3. Answer the question, "Have I ever really studied this topic in Scripture? Why or why not?
  4. Write out the battle in your mind and the concerns in your heart.
  5. Write a brief prayer expressing what you believe the Lord is saying to you.
Elliff urges care and patience if a mate does not agree ~ speaking the truth in love, praying, and giving God time to work. She adds, "Releasing this area to the Lord does not automatically guarantee that you will actually have more children." Praying about having children also doesn't mean you'll end up with 19 or 20 or more children (like the Duggars) ... unless that is His will for you ~ and God's will is always a good thing, even if it is difficult at times.

"Only the Father knows how many children your family should include," Elliff says, "But the question to ask yourself is, 'Do I have the mind of Christ in this critical area of my life?'"

The rest of the Elliffs' booklet is dedicated to the legacy of motherhood and ten tips for raising godly children... so much truth in a 30-page booklet!

I wish that I had read her book years ago, when my husband I planned our family. To be honest, I really didn't ask God for HIS plan (and I don't know whether my husband did, either). I originally wanted five children, and I wonder where that desire got side-tracked. Was I listening to the voices in the culture, well-meaning friends, or even my own selfish thoughts, instead of the voice of God? Did I operate out of fear or faith? Unfortunately, this is one of those decisions where I can't get a "do-over."

I'm not trying to manipulate people's thinking here, or even to suggest there is a one-size-fits-all philosophy for having children (even for Christians), but I do think that more Christians need to take time to listen for God speaking to their hearts in this important issue.

8/17/11

Worldviews and Government

I have to admit it ~ I'm a political junkie. I love everything about the crazy season ~ the year or two before national elections. I watched the recent Republican debate before the straw vote in Iowa like an Australian Sheepdog eying a flock of unpredictable sheep.

I long for some discernment in my "addiction," so I searched the scriptures, looking for wisdom and clarity.

I discovered that government is not evil, as some people believe. It was God's invention, established after the Flood (Genesis 9:6). He also gave guidelines for the theocratic government of His covenant people in the Old Testament.

In the last decade, I've come to realize that one's worldview determines his or her behavior, and also has much to do with a person's political perspective.

In my search, I considered some online sources. One that resonated with me was written by Kerby Anderson, national director of Probe Ministries. He wrote in "Christian View of Government and Law" about two elements of human nature. First, he said, Humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and second, they are "able to exercise judgment and rationality." However, as fallen creatures, they need civil government to control their evil behavior," he said. *

A Christian view of human nature is the basis for judging various political philosophies. Christians must "reject political philosophies which ignore human sinfulness," Anderson said, as well as a Marxist view of government, because "Karl Mark believed that human nature was conditioned by society..... His solution was to change the economy so that you would change human nature."

"The view of Karl Mark," he explained, "contradicts biblical teaching by proposing a new man in a new society perfected by man's own efforts." This is contrary to the Gospel. People become new creatures through conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17); but the truth is, this side of heaven, man continues to sin, and a change of government does not insure a change of heart.

Anderson teaches that civil government is "necessary and divinely ordained by God" (Romans 13:1-7). Therefore, we are to submit to civil authority (1 Peter 2:13-17), although we don't give "total and final allegiance" to the government. The Christian's final loyalties must always be God-ward (Acts 5:29).

Still, Anderson's encouragement to Christians is that they "have a responsibility to work within government structures to bring about change." Christians are to be salt and light, even in the political arena.

Just because government may at times be unjust or make foolish decisions, that does not excuse Christians from continuing to seek the best in government and call political leaders to integrity and strong moral leadership. We have a voice and a vote ~ and we need to use both! We need to call America back to her biblical heritage in law. [Note: Faithfacts.org has a chart that illustrates the biblical principles that were and are the basis for America's laws, both from America's foundation and through the years.]

While he explains the importance of government, he also addresses the need to place checks on governmental authority to protect against abuse/misuse of power.

And a key difference for Christians is the understanding that God has ordained other institutions, not just civil government, to exercise authority ~ the church and the family (and parents are also charged with their children's education) ~ and there is sovereignty in each sphere.

"In a Christian view of government," Anderson said, "law is based upon God's revealed commandments ... not based upon human opinion or sociological convention." While law in the Christian view is rooted in God's unchangeable character and revealed moral absolutes, Humanist law, he said, is "rooted in human opinion, and thus is relative and arbitrary."

So when Christians consider candidates in different political affiliations (and there are no perfect candidates), it might be wise to consider their basic philosophies and determine whether they are advancing a worldview that is opposed to the governing truths of the scriptures.

I need to remember that legislators will naturally tend to lean toward legislation that supports their personal worldview.
I need to be prayerful and careful, and ask God for discernment.

* [Anderson believes government would have existed even without the Fall, since there seems to be a structure of authority in the Garden of Eden and among the angelic host; and the rest of creation is governed by instinct (Proverbs 30:24-28) and God's providence.]


8/10/11

A Plea for Modest Dress in the Church

The topic of modesty today invites three basic responses: rolled eyes, rationalization, or an emphatic "yes!"

David and Diane Vaughan discuss this topic in their book, The Beauty of Modesty: cultivating Virtue in the Face of a Vulgar Culture (Cumberland House, 2005). The Vaughans are bold and clear as they take on the problem of immodesty in the culture, and especially, in the church.

Beyond dealing with immodest dress and actions, the Vaughans point to the source of the problem, the heart condition, and they approach the topic in a positive way, not with a judgmental attitude, or through a lens of legalism, pietism/subjectivism, relativism, or parochialism. They don't make the mistake of creating an old-fashioned perspective of modesty, reaching back to the Victorian era, for example; rather, they show that modesty is based in the timeless and timely scriptures, and a principle of behavior for every generation.

The real problem, they say, is the struggle in our culture between secularism/paganism and Christianity ~ opposing worldviews. And it is one's worldview that is reflected in behaviors and choices.

Although the book discussed the need for and nature of modesty in men, children, and especially in "women professing godliness," the chapter that broke my heart in this book was Chapter 3, "The Cultural Captivity of the Church." The church is losing its saltiness, the Vaughans explain, and is intellectually lazy and morally flabby. When the church justifies sexual sins, it adopts an "alien worldview."

Later in the book (Chapter 10, "In the Courts of the Lord"), the authors deal with church order as it relates to modesty ~ how women behave and dress in church (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Female followers of Christ, they say, must "develop the virtue of modesty." Paul's admonition to women in these verses was presented in the context of corporate worship, suggesting that a person who dresses immodestly in church is trying to get attention, rather than promoting the praise and worship of God.

There is great liberty in the body of Christ, but not license to dress immodestly, or to entice others to sin. It's a matter of choices for personal purity, based on biblical truth and the truth about how God created men and women.

I recently heard a woman, clearly dressed immodestly in a short skirt and see-through blouse, citing her liberty in fashion. The men in the church "are the problem," she said, with their lustful hearts. Men do struggle with lust, but women are responsible not to incite or inflame that struggle. The human body is good and beautiful as a creation of God, but "Modesty serves to accentuate moral beauty over physical beauty by averting our gaze away from the body," the Vaughans write.

The Vaughans also note that the grand rule of Christian fellowship is love (Romans 14:15). "If your brother is grieved by your clothing, and yet you insist on dressing that way, then you have demonstrated that you do not love your brother. You really love yourself," they write. "What is more important, your hot clothes or his holy conscience?"

Though a woman may profess godliness, if she is causing (through her own choices) a brother's stumbling, she is not acting according to the principles of godly behavior.

Sadly, in many churches, a woman's wrong thinking is never addressed. Church members should care enough to speak the truth (and confront or warn) in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to stir up love and good works in the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:24). And within the culture of the church, staff members must provide the example of modesty. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

"It is a holy God who walks in our midst," the Vaughans write. "We must be holy for Him. And our holiness will be reflected in how we worship, how we pray, how we serve, and even in how we dress.

"In the presence of the Holy, we cover ourselves."

8/3/11

Desperate for God's Glory

Cindi McMenamin wrote a powerful book to encourage women who feel desperate for change and direction, titled Women on the Edge: Turning Desperate Times into Desire for God (Harvest House Publishers, 2010). She tackles the desperate drives that can devastate ~ desperation for more, for control, for fulfillment, for change, for love, etc. ~ and she explains how to survive these drives and lean hard on the Lord and His Word.

But then McMenamin discusses the positive drives that can liberate us and help us thrive. She talks about the desperation to obey God and to serve Him. She explains our desperate need for God's touch (to be complete in Him). Then, tucked at the back of this helpful book, there is a chapter that spoke to my heart.

We must be desperate for God's glory, McMenamin said, and desiring nothing else. It's natural for most of us to protect our own reputation and image. Sometimes we do this to the neglect or hurt of God's reputation. Like many Christians, I say my heart's desire ~ what I want above all else ~ is for God's name to be honored and magnified (Isaiah 26:8). Yet that holy motive mingles with more base desires: We want to be admired, noticed, praised.

The root of this problem is pride. We're all about our own glory, not our Master's. McMenamin quotes author Richard Foster, from his book A Celebration of Discipline: "A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image," Foster wrote. "We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding." (1)

Foster's recommendation is that we choose to be silent, stopping our foolish self-justification, and allow other to see that we believe God can take care of everything that concerns us, including our reputation.

McMenamin describes ways that we undermine God's glory ~ simple actions born in attitudes concerned more about ourselves than God ~ and then she suggests ways that we can respond to God so He is glorified ... so His glory is showcased. (Get Women on the Edge and read this powerful chapter for yourself.)

One part of the chapter explains my struggle with this issue. Earlier in the book (pages 96 and 120), McMenamin shares two other vignettes from my life, but in this chapter (page 196) she explains the day when I realized I have "No Time to Waste."

My friend mentioned the stress I was undergoing a few years ago when I ended up in the hospital. I was trying to make my life work, and it wasn't working. Finally, I put my hands out in front of me and said, "Lord, my hands are open. You can take from me or give to me as You will." It was a pivotal time of surrender, one of the wisest choices I've made.

Today, I ask women who they want to be, and how those desires line up with God's heart. "Those are questions we must ask," McMenamin noted, "if we want to be desperate for [God's] glory."

The older I get, the more I realize that I don't have time to waste. I don't want to mess around. I don't want to play it safe. I want an adventure with God and I want my life to count for Him. I want everything I do to showcase the glory of God.

Some years ago, Life Action Ministries evangelist Del Fehsenfeld, Jr. wrote, "Practically, God's desire is to manifest His holy life through the lives of His people, in order that His glory might be seen to be great in the church, and in the world. He chose us, justified us, redeemed us, and forgave us 'that we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted Christ' (Ephesians 1:12). We are to be "jealous for the glory and reputation of God and eager to please Him," Fehsenfeld wrote. (2)

I don't know that I'd say I'm fully desperate or jealous for God's glory yet, but I do know that I want to be bold and courageous in seeking it. For me, it's all wrapped up in the choices I make every day to shine for the Lord. His Word says, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" Matthew 5:14-16.

The bottom line is, we are not to boast in ourselves; we are not to glory in others. We are to "glory in the Lord...." (1 Corinthians 3:5-7) and bring attention to His magnificent character and glorious being. Let's get about that business.

(1) Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1998), p. 101 [Quoted in McMenamin's book, p. 188.]

(2) Del Fehsenfeld, Jr., Separation: Biblically Defined ~ An Appeal for Biblical Balance (Life Action Publishing, 1981), pp. 13-14.