What I Really Want

What I Really Want

It’s RARE I have a morning alone.  But today is one of those blessed days.   I mean, I love my kiddos and my man — don’t get me wrong — but the kids spent the night at Aunt Jessica’s (after a day of negotiating and some serious 10-year old manipulation.  That kid should be a lawyer!), and the husband had an early morning appointment with a pool.

So, I’ve had some time to study and plan and reflect (and clean) and the Lord has softly spoken to my heart and asked me to share.  I’ll make this quick because the troops will march back home any minute.

Jesus is my first love.  I don’t understand exactly how He has won me over, but He has.  By His grace.  Because heaven knows I’m self-centered and arrogant and without the grace of God I’d be a hot mess.  But His pursuit is real and the more I surrender, the more I change.  And this morning I can honestly say that more than anything in life I desperately WANT EVERYTHING God has for me.  I want to know Him.  I want to be used by Him.  I want to make a difference in the lives of people around me for His glory.  I really do.  My heart aches toward that goal everyday.  And I’m asking Him for it.  Finally.

Everyday.

I don’t always obey.  I don’t always get it.  I fail more than I even want to think about.  I’m so far from perfect and so far from being like Jesus I don’t even know how any of it is possible, but it IS what I want.

Here’s what hit me as I was watering some plants on my balcony: MOST people don’t.  My heart physically hurts this morning, burdened by the reality that most people I interact with on  a daily and weekly basis, at their core do not care about what God wants for them.  At least not enough for it to matter.

Many of them are Christians.  At least they say or think they are one.

It makes me so sad.  Sad is the best word to describe it.  Not like a “You’re so sad you make me sick” attitude.  No.  A genuine sadness born out of God’s love for others.  He so beautifully and willingly wants people’s hearts, wants to bless, wants to give, wants to have a relationship with them, wants to change them, wants to heal them, wants to give them a life of purpose and abundance, wants to LOVE them — but no.

People don’t want what God wants.  People don’t really want God.  They may want the blessings of God, but they don’t really want Him and they don’t want more than anything else the things He wants.

And I’m guilty too.

Which also makes me sad.

There are days that I MORE want success in business, affirmation from people and security in life.  Safety.  Comfort . The American Dream.  I want those things sometimes.  But, once God gets a true hold on your heart and His truth has penetrated your mind, you can’t really stay there.  You go back to Him and slowly but surely your desires change and you just want Him.

I don’t know how it all looks.  I don’t know how it all will work itself out. I just know that with every fiber of my being I want all God has for me and I want it for you too.

What do you really want?


4 Tips for Christian Parents with Public School Kids

Parenting is a tough job.  Throw in school, homework, sports activities, PTA meetings and extracurricular clubs and life can get wild!  It seems there are posts by the dozens for Christian parents who home school (as many of my friends do) and many posts about common core and all the issues surrounding education, but not much is out there encouraging the Christian parent who has children in public school.  So, these thoughts have been on my mind for quite some time, and I finally have a few minutes to share what’s on my heart to encourage you to stop living in survival mode when it comes to school and begin to thrive!

Here are 4 things to consider: (in completely random order)

(Massive Disclaimer:  I am so not even close to the perfect parent.  My son is starting third grade and my daughter is starting first grade.  So, I’m learning too.  I will say — so perhaps you’ll keep reading — that I have had the opportunity to speak to over 100,000 students and several hundred teachers in public schools throughout the mid-west over the last few years, so I have had a great deal of experience interacting with all kinds of different schools, administrators, counselors and students.  If that helps!)

1) Set-and-Stick-to Realistic Boundaries – The idea that you and your children can “do it all” is a lie.  I am amazed by how many parents are running themselves absolutely ragged and nearly killing their kids in the process.  OK, that may be an exaggeration, but seriously.  We need to prayerfully consider each decision we make in terms of the activity level for our kids.  Is there time for homework?  Is there time for family?  Is there time for devotionals?  It’s our job to create margin in our schedules so that priorities remain priorities and our kids aren’t so exhausted they can barely function, much less learn well and excel.  So, how do you do that?  Well, in our house we set firm priorities and make decisions about our schedule based on those, usually seasonally.  For us, being at church and having time to study God’s word is A-number-1, so activities that would infringe are out.  If we are going to be too tired to attend, something has to go; but it’s not going to be Bible study or church attendance.  Time as a family unit is important.  If we are always split up running from activity to activity, something has to go.  Bedtime and sleep are important.  We know our kids and we don’t ignore the fact that they need downtime.  They NEED good sleep and un-rushed bedtimes to talk and read and pray and reflect.  It is our responsibility to make sure the schedule doesn’t prevent this from happening consistently throughout the week.  Don’t ignore your child’s limits.  They may be awesome, but they are still kids.  If you fail to set boundaries, you and your kids will both be overwhelmed and no one has any fun.  And that ain’t no way to live!

2) View School as a Tool – As a Christian parent YOU are instructed to teach your child.  You are responsible for their learning.  So, have a proper perspective about the role school and your child’s “teacher” has in the educational process.  I am so grateful for the school my children attend.  They learn like little sponges that can’t get enough.  My children have both had and are getting ready to start a new year with teachers who are amazing people and so, so good at their jobs.  I admire and respect what they are capable of immensely.  But, I’m not counting on them to make my kids smart.  I’m not counting on them to make sure they can read and write and do math and understand science.  No, no, no, I’m using them to help me.  (sneaky huh?) I’ll make sure they get it.  I’ll work alongside educators, as a team, to make sure my children are educated and educated well, but I won’t fall into the trap that THEY are responsible for my children’s success or failure.  That’s on me (and Daddy).  This makes relationships with teachers so much easier.  (They’ll love you for this.)  I encourage you to spend some time learning about the school your child attends.  Talk about amazing resources!  They have so much to offer your child; and, trust me, the SCHOOL WANTS YOU to be a huge part of your child’s education.  You’re not just turning them over to the system.  You are actively a part of what goes in each kid’s brain.  Teach.  Do homework together.  Read together.  Be hands-on and involved in projects.  Enjoy seeing your child develop and learn new things.  It is SO EXCITING!  Your kids will thrive as you grow and learn with them.  (And, hey, chances are they’ll even love school too!)

3) Live on Mission – A huge part of the decision to send our children to public school is this:  we are on a mission.  Public schools need Christians because people need Christ.  As a Christian parent you have a unique opportunity and command to BE LIGHT and to share the gospel as you go.  The best way to do that and to have influence is to BE INVOLVED.  Attend meetings when you can, volunteer when you can, go to the class parties, meet other parents and be known for your faith.  (Of course, your availability will depend on your success with number 1.) There are endless and countless opportunities to be light in a sometimes dark place.  So many children walk through those halls everyday who need a friend, who need a hug, who need a safe place and an adult who is honest, polite, warm and loving.  You can be that person.  You should be that person.  Be encouraging to the teachers and administrators.  Be positive.  Take time to have conversations that matter and build relationships.  Ask God to give you chances to talk about Him and to share His truth.  And at the same time, teach your child to do the same.  Our children are to be light as well.  Teach them, by example, to be an example.  As you instruct them at home on kindness and love and grace and service, they will have the opportunity every week to put those lessons into practice.  Talk about training ground!  Put your faith into practice by being on mission in school.

4) Pray like Crazy – Not one single thing about this is easy.  There ARE many challenges you and your child will face in public education.  Pray.  Pray for wisdom and discernment.  Pray for protection for your child. Pray that God would keep them from the evil one.  Pray that they will in fact remember those spelling words!  Pray. Pray. Pray. and then don’t worry.  Trust that God loves your child more than you do and that He is there, everyday, caring for them and meeting their needs.  Be in constant communion with your heavenly Father and experience the joy of seeing Him at work in the life of your child, in your home and in you!


What Boldness is Not

I want to be bold. You know? I want to live a life that makes a difference and one where people don’t have to wonder who I really am or what I believe. I think that’s good. Right?

Lately, as I study the scriptures, I have been encouraged by the boldness of Jesus and His followers. Interestingly, what is standing out to me is what boldness is not.

As a personality expert, I spend an abnormal amount of time analyzing my personality type and it is, in most every way, bold. I’m not afraid to speak my mind (which does come in handy since I am a speaker), wear loud clothing or make decisions and stand by them. But, I’m slowly realizing that a big, loud personality is not the same thing as boldness — at least not boldness that is effective.

So, here are the top 4 things boldness is not:

1) Boldness is not arrogance. If I’m not careful, I can really twist this up. All it takes is a moment of self-righteousness and an attitude that says, “I am right. You are wrong,” to come off as arrogant. Even if those words never come out of your mouth, the attitude of your heart is always evident to others.

2) Boldness is not jumping up to be heard. When I try to visualize what boldness looks like, I see a brave — loud — person standing up in a room full of people and making some controversial, but important statement. Others applaud while some mock or get angry and, I cheer them on. Why? Because I like their courage. (It’s my personality’s issue, again.) But the kind of boldness that matters does not demand a crowd.

3) Boldness is not creating your own flashes of glory. Effective boldness waits and intently watches for opportunities composed by God as grand and divine appointments. Then seizes the moment. It’s more about being obedient and following the leading of the Holy Spirit than trying to manufacture times of intervention.

4) Boldness is not kicking opponents to the curb. Too often, we want to draw lines and pick fights in the name of boldness. When others don’t agree with us, we may think we are being “bold” by taking strong stands and sending challengers packing. We may feel better about ourselves for being so “strong,” but what we haven’t done is made any kind of difference.

So what is effective boldness then?

When I wrote King Hezekiah, Examining a Life of Bold Faith, I discovered a few insights about boldness. Hezekiah was one of the boldest people I’ve ever read about, but he wasn’t arrogant, he wasn’t just trying to make his point — he had to wait on the Lord to put him in a position for effectiveness, and he understood his opposition.

Let me tell you what he was that was so effective in turning the hearts of people: honest.

As soon as Hezekiah was crowned king, his first priority was being honest with the people. He neither sugar coated the mess they were in nor dwelt upon it. Later, when he found himself in desperation, facing death, he was honest before God in prayer. He held nothing back. Later yet, when he faced serious threats from a ruthless enemy, he was honest before God and his people about what could and should be done in order to be victorious. It was his ability to speak truth about circumstances and about God that made him so effective as a leader and as a king. Hezekiah was not perfect, nor did he always do the right thing, but he was truthful before God and before his people, and I believe God honored the integrity of his heart.

That is what boldness means. It means honesty with yourself, with God and with others. It means you have integrity in your heart that produces truth from your mouth.

A young lady I mentor sent me a podcast by Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar, Mo. this week. To my delight, the speaker addressed this issue of boldness. He stressed the point that the biggest differences are made in the lives of others through the small moments when we speak the truth. We don’t need to be scripted, calculated or even prepared. We just need to tell the truth.

For example, when someone asks you how your day is going, tell them the truth. When someone asks you what you think about a controversial issue, tell them the truth. When they want to know how you do what you do and stay happy or sane, tell the truth. In doing so, the true believer and follower of Christ will always point back to Him. Watch this:

How am I doing today? Better than I deserve because God is gracious.

How do I do it? I depend on God for everything. He is my everything.

What do I think about that issue? Well, I do my best to know and trust God’s word and I’ve surrendered to what He has to say about it.

See how that works?

Perhaps if I would shift my energy from trying to impress, remain neutral, be inoffensive or from being fearful of rejection, I could reroute that energy into focusing on simple honesty that points to Christ. That’s bold.


The Curse of a “Good” Life

I’m sure your life is good.  Normal.  Your life is a perfect picture of someone living out the American dream.  Life is not perfect.  You have your ups and downs.  But, you have a family and have landed a decent job.  Fun, social events and day trips fill your calendar.  Maybe you even attend church sometimes.  Anyone observing your day-to-day activities would conclude that things are, well, good.

Tonight as I sat in my living room floor, Bible open, King Hezekiah study on my lap and listening to a young woman who attends our weekly gathering talk, I realized something.   She was right.  While I don’t think she’d mind, I’ll keep her name to myself, but she said, “I don’t think most people realize how miserable they are.  They have nothing else to compare their life to.”  She went on to explain that before she started following Christ, she thought she had a great life.  She wasn’t unhappy.  She wasn’t depressed.  She wasn’t even looking for something different.  She was normal.

I pray someone reading this right now feels that same way — good and normal.  You are whom I’m talking to today.  Have you ever considered that there is more?  Have you ever wondered why “radical Christians” act the way they do?  They commit their lives to serving a God they can’t see, are passionate about church activities and Bible study and they do some weird things.  Perhaps they go out of their way, unnecessarily in your opinion, to take strong stands on issues and you feel sorry for them when they get slammed with the “don’t judge me” card.  Why do they care so much?  You don’t get it.  You respect it, but you don’t get it.

May I challenge you with something?  What if for one year, 2014, you determined to explore what they seem to have found?   What if you joined a Bible study and went to church regularly?   Not a church where tradition reigns.  Go to one where Christ is King and everyone knows it.  Go to one where the Bible is read and taught and God is praised.  Go to one where people are focused on sharing the good news of salvation around the world.  Participate in the classes and learn the teachings.  Ask hard questions and as you grow in knowledge continue to consider  “is there more?”

What might your life be like in a year if you did that?  Is that too weird to even ask?

When my friend started paying attention to God and began to understand what it meant to be a Christian, her life didn’t really change.  Same family.  Same job.  Same social events.  But she changed.  Her heart changed.  Her mind changed and eventually most everything else did to.  She found truth, joy, peace and purposes she’d never known existed.  She learned of God’s love and began to desire His best.  Soon, the old life…you know, the normal, good one…was no longer appealing and it certainly was no longer enough.  She tried to go back, but she couldn’t.  She was miserable in the life that used to seem so good.  She had to move on with Christ.

Over and over again I’ve heard stories so similar to this one.  I call it the Jesus effect.  Having a relationship with Him changes people…. as it should.  HE CHANGES PEOPLE. The beautiful thing is that it is always for the better.

Could it be that you presume your life is good because you’ve never experienced God’s best?  Once you taste His goodness, nothing else satisfies. Every time I’ve been tempted — and I have — to abandon my faith and walk away from my beliefs, I’m left with nowhere to go.  Who can compare to my God?  What other truth can I stand on?  What else can I build my life on?  To whom shall I go?  Better is one day in the courts of my God than a thousand elsewhere.

If I sound crazy, you’ve been cursed with a good life.

I dare you to come and see.


Quote that Scripture (Secretly…)

Believe it or not, I have found that most non-believers agree with almost all of what the Bible says – especially when it comes to the pitiful state of humanity and the need for transformation – as long as they don’t know that the Bible says it.

For example: Take anyone struggling with any kind of addiction or self-control problem. Chances are if you said, “I know what you mean, it’s like that which I want to do, I don’t do and that which I do, I don’t want to do!” they would say “exactly.” You could then follow up with something to the effect of, “wouldn’t it be great if we could just be totally changed into a new person, almost like being born all over again with a second chance?” Likely, you’ll get a positive response. And if that person seems to be jiving with what you’re saying, you now have a perfectly open door to humbly, gently introduce them to Jesus with a “you know, that’s what my faith is all about – being made new.”

I could give 1,000 examples like this, and not one of them might fit a situation you know of. However, I’m sure you have someone on your heart that needs to hear the Truth of the Word. Just remember that the power of God’s Word isn’t dependent on making sure someone knows that they can turn to page 2,597 of the KJV to read it. God’s Word is powerful. Period.

In I Cor. 9:20-23, Paul talked about adjusting his approach of sharing the gospel so that he could be as effective as possible and not needlessly offensive.
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (ESV)

Last week, I wrote about how the Bible stands the test of truth and relevancy, regardless of whether a person thinks it is of God or not. This should give us confidence to use the messages of the Bible in “normal” conversation. If we are going to become weak (and I use the word “weak” here to describe not physical weakness, but spiritual or emotional weakness) in order to win the weak, we need to meet the weak humbly, and on their level.
When a person is struggling with life, family, spiritual or other problems and you have a chance to comfort or counsel them, it might not be the best idea to lead off with “Well, the Bible says…” Some people aren’t always ready to hear that. Some people have been hurt by Christians, others might be skeptical and others might just want to feel like someone is actually listening and cares for them and isn’t just trying to convert them.

This does not mean we can’t share the truth of the Word with them. In fact, you can still quote relevant Scripture, just don’t give a reference immediately. Have you ever been reading your Bible and come across text that all of the sudden is in a completely different font and format? Chances are, you’re reading a Biblical author quote another part of Scripture, but they might not give you the reference for it and you’ll have to look at the footnotes to find out where that quote comes from. It happens a lot in the Bible!
We need to be able to help people understand what the Bible says – this idea fits with the very nature of the writing of the New Testament itself!

Jesus spoke primarily in Aramaic. I’m sure he spoke Hebrew and probably some Greek and Latin as well. However, the entire New Testament was originally written in Greek! Why? Because it was the lingua franca, the common language, of the world the NT writer’s lived in. When translating and telling of all Jesus said and did, it would have been impossible to translate everything from Aramaic to Greek in a 1-to-1, word-for-word basis. But it was definitely possible to convey the meaning of all Jesus taught in one language, to another, and the disciples and Paul wanted as many people as possible to understand, not just know the good news. We know that God’s Word does not “return void,” (Isa. 55:11) but does that mean that if we walk into downtown Little Rock quoting scripture in Norwegian, and nobody around speaks Norwegian, that it will produce an abundant harvest?

I am convinced that memorizing Bible verses is important, but not nearly as important as grasping the concepts and principles they convey – and those principles are universally understood by the human heart.