Our Passover dinner

WP_20150402_012[1]

This is my oldest son, sitting across from me at the dinner table on Thursday night.

The night before, we had read in our Bible the story of how God has rescued his people from the hands of the Egyptians by sending ten plagues. The last plague, the death of the firstborn, passed over the Israelites, because each household had slaughtered a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their home. When the destroyer visited Egypt that night, he saw the blood of the lamb, and did not come for theirs. Afterward, they would always remember that night, and celebrate their deliverance as the Passover.

When I tucked Caleb into bed after the story, he quietly asked, “Mommy, could we have a Passover sometime?”

I said, “Sure. How about we have one tomorrow?”

So on Thursday, we went to the store and bought costly lamb, bitter herbs, and whole wheat flour. We spent the rest of the day cooking and cleaning, making preparations for our Passover. The boys were so excited. We found a recipe for roast lamb and got it into the oven. They helped me make bread without yeast and pierce it full of holes. We mashed up potatoes and chopped some apples and raisins. We even painted sheets of paper red and taped them to the trim around our doors. WP_20150402_003[2]WP_20150402_001[2]WP_20150402_015[1]

When it was ready, Jason and I sat down to eat our meal with our little disciples, just as Jesus had done with his on the Thursday of Easter week so many hundreds of years ago. We talked with them about what the elements of our meal meant to the Israelites, and what they meant to us as people who believed in and followed Jesus. We talked about the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai, and the new covenant God made with us through the body and blood of Jesus. We ate the bread and drank the grape juice and proclaimed the death of our Lord together.

And I sat across the table from my Caleb, my firstborn son, I was overwhelmed by the weight of what God has done for us. I thought about all those Israelite mommas, sitting down to that first passover dinner with their boys, and how thankful they must have been when their sons were spared from the plague. And I thought about God in heaven, who did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us, to be sacrificed like a lamb.

I still have the red taped to my doors. I think the boys like seeing their handiwork on display like that, but I love it even more for its constant reminder to me: the lamb died instead of us. The lamb of God, God’s best priceless gift to us, was offered up for our sake. God’s judgment has passed over us, and he has made a way for us to leave the bondage of sin, and go to the glorious mountain where his presence dwells.

And as I sit here in the not-quite-light wee hours of Easter morning, I am reminded of one more amazing truth: the lamb that died–Jesus–could not be held by the cords of death. On a morning much like this one, a grieving momma who did watch her boy die went to tomb where he was buried, and heard the greatest news the world has ever been given: He has risen! He is not here. (Mark 16:6)

The lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world is alive, forevermore.

Happy Easter.

The Epidemic of Immature Believers

Jason and I had a rare date night recently, and when we ended up with a little time before our dinner reservations, we popped in to a local Christian bookstore to look around. As a reader, I love browsing bookstores. On this particular occasion, I spotted several books I wanted to add to my reading list.

But I also spotted a lot of books that (based on the titles) seemed to me to be missing the point. Jason and I have often wondered what a foreigner or alien would think the church believed if they simply judged us on the books we buy and sell. As I walked through the aisles, I started to worry that they would perceive a church that is weak and powerless, so consumed with our own needs and self-esteem that we constantly battle the same issues, and never become effective agents of God’s mission in the world.

The writer of the book of Hebrews had the same concerns for the people of Israel who had turned to Christ:

“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14

Are you an infant? Or are you a mature Christian?

Sadly, may of us in America are “grown up,” in that we’ve been serving Christ a long time, but we have not yet reached maturity. Like it says in Hebrews, we should be teachers, but we need someone to teach us the basics over and over again. In his book, Cultivating a Life for God, Neil Cole says this about the current state of the church:

“We are the most biblically privileged generation in all of human history! We have more Bible translations, helpful study tools and mountains of scholarly information than any previous generation in all of human history. Nevertheless, we are also the most biblically illiterate generation this nation has ever seen. In other parts of the world and in other [times], people willingly gave their lives for free access to God’s word, yet her in the Western world many of us have several unread volumes in a variety of translations collecting dust on the shelf” (p. 64).

And later:

“Most of us would be ashamed if compared the amount of books, magazines and newspaper articles we have poured into our minds with the amount of God’s word we have invested into our souls. Doesn’t that tell us that we really value the world’s philosophies more than God’s?” (p. 87).

That’s the heart of the issue right there. How we spend our time reveals our priorities. And I’m not exempting myself from this scrutiny, either. I am appalled at my own heart’s willingness to set aside God’s word for the words of the most popular Christian author, or even for a few hours of reading a bestselling novel or watching television. I don’t have a lot of solutions, other than to say that we need to set those things aside and pick up our Bibles instead.

Practically speaking, for my own life, what this has looked like recently is to camp out in a single passage of Scripture, instead of taking in more and more and more without actually applying it to my life. I have read Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) nine times this week, and I am still so far from really truly grasping what Jesus is asking of me. The Bible is comprised of 66 books, and these three short chapters are such a small fraction of that. And yet, look at all the many things Jesus commands in this sermon:

  • Let your light shine before men. (5:16)
  • Teach God’s commandments to others. (5:19)
  • Be more righteous than the Pharisees. (5:20)
  • Devote yourself to reconciliation with fellow believers, to the point that you would be willing to interrupt a worship service at church to make things right with someone who was upset with you. (5:23)
  • Cut anything out your life if it causes you to sin. (5:29)
  • Be so true to your word that it is unnecessary for you to make promises or swear oaths. (5:37)
  • Be overly generous to people who seek to take advantage of you. (5:40)
  • Love and pray for people you do not like. (5:44)
  • Give to the needy, but not so as to be recognized for your generosity. (6:2)
  • Pray faithfully, but not so that people will think you are very spiritual. (6:5)
  • Fast, but don’t draw attention to yourself while you’re fasting. (6:17)
  • Store up treasures in heaven, not on earth. (6:20)
  • Don’t worry about your food or clothes. (6:25)
  • Judge other people with the same standard you would use for yourself. (7:2)
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated. (7:12)

I don’t know about you, but I could strive for the rest of my life just to live out the truths listed here. And it’s important to remember that these truths are meant to literally change our lives. Jesus shares this right at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27)

I want to be wise. I want the things I build during this life to stand. I want them to be built on a firm foundation. And after taking an honest look at these three chapters, I recognize that I have a long way to go. I wondered last night – what if I just kept reading these three chapters until my life started to look a little more like what Jesus is describing here? What if I continued to meditate on this passage alone until I saw fruit of it in my life?

I’m not saying I would ever get it perfectly, and it’s only by God’s grace and through His work in us that we are able to become more like Him. And of course, I want my study of God’s word to be balanced and comprehensive. But neither do I want to glibly assume that I am already being obedient to everything Jesus asks of me here, because I know that is not the case. So I’m going to keep hanging out with the crowds who gathered to hear Jesus speak on the mountainside. I’m going to lean in close, and let his words change me.

And I challenge you to do the same. Spend some time next week reading and rereading a single passage of Scripture. It doesn’t have to be the Sermon on the Mount. It could be the book of James. Or Hebrews 10-12. Or the letters to the churches in Asia in Revelation 2-3. All Scripture is God-breathed. But whatever you pick, don’t just read it once and let it go in one ear and out the other. Dwell in the words of God, covering yourself in their truth, and reminding yourself over and over again what He says.

Let’s not be a church of immature believers. Instead, let’s really read God’s Word, aiming not to acquire knowledge, but to transform our minds and conform ourselves to the image of Christ.

Morning Prayer

Dear God,

As I begin this day with my little ones, please help me to remember that they are children, and that I am the grown-up.

Help to expect and embrace that they will be childish because they cannot help it.

And help me to repent quickly of that behavior when I see it reflected in my own heart.

Give me the perspective to see that my tantrums and pouting set a bad example, and that I am the one who is old enough to know and do better. 

Grant me eyes to see them as the blessings you say they are in the midst of their toys on the floor, their dramatic tears, their silliness, their overreactions, their noise, their neediness, and their immaturity.

Let me not grow weary of answering their questions, or bending to lift them up, or helping them do things that are too big for them.

Help me love them as you love me, patiently, tolerating my ignorance and faults, and forgiving me immediately when I repent of my sin.

Show me, in the way my boys play today, the spark of the men they will be when they grow up, and help me to encourage and nurture that in them.

But help me not to overlook who they are right now, at this exact moment.

Keep me from allowing my so-called “maturity” to diminish their wonder, zeal, and faith.

And remind me that you said I need to be like them to enter the kingdom of heaven, not the other way around (Matthew 18:3). 

Be with us today, Lord Jesus.

Amen.

My husband is not my third child

Jason and boys

I am a mom to two preschool-aged boys, Caleb and Garrett. They are wild and crazy and caring for them occupies a lot of my time and energy.

I am also wife to Jason, a wonderful, crazy, goofy man who makes me laugh and loves me deeply.

But sometimes, when I talk about being a mom, people jokingly say something about me really having three kids – my two littles, and Jason. I don’t know if it’s because he has a silly bent that they joke about him being a child, or if it’s because they feel this way about their husbands. But it bothers me.

When somebody calls Jason my “third child” I usually will politely chuckle or smile uncomfortably and look away and say “yeahhhh…” quietly, because I’m not very confrontational by nature, and in the moment I never know exactly how to respond to those accusations. But inside I’m irritated, and sometimes even angry.

Because my husband is not my third child.

If I was great at thinking on my feet in uncomfortable situations and bold enough to correct someone who tries to get a laugh by belittling my husband, this is what I might say:

I have two children. When they have to go to the bathroom, I go with them and help them with the tricky snaps and buttons on their clothes, help them wipe their bottoms, and lift them up to flush the toilet and wash their hands.

When they need to eat, I fix them a meal, cut it into little bites, remind them over and over to sit down at the table, and sometimes feed it to them when they need extra motivation to finish.

When we have to go somewhere as family, I help them find their shoes and put them on. I get their coats out of the closet, hold out the sleeves while they shrug into it, and zip it up for them. I lift them into the car and buckle them into the seat.

When it’s time for bed, I brush their teeth, read to them, and tuck them in.

My husband, on the other hand, manages to do all of those things for himself.

Now, I do take care of Jason in other ways. I make meals and wash clothes. I buy stamps and schedule appointments and give advice when he asks for it. And if I were not around, he might struggle to manage our household the way I do. As far as I know, he doesn’t know how to bake bread or use the sewing machine or have any clue where I keep the snack schedule for Caleb’s school.

He might very well be hopeless at accomplishing many of the things I do as a wife and mom if they fell to him. And this is because I contribute to our household by offering the work that falls within my skill set and available time.

Jason, as the other half of the marriage that underlies our family, does the same thing.

Just as he cannot do everything I do for him and our kids, there are tons of things he does for our family that are beyond me, or at least outside of my everyday contributions to our household.

I could probably manage paying our bills if I had to, but I don’t know all of the account numbers or when they are due like Jason does. I’m not sure I could ever learn how to change the oil in a car or have the upper body strength necessary to change a flat tire. I don’t know how to work our lawn mower or run a computer clean-up program. (Defrag something-or-other? I am clearly so far out of my element on this I don’t even know what I’m talking about here.)

These are the the things he gives to our family, without expecting me to help.

Of course I take care of my husband. And of course my husband takes care of me. That is what marriage is. And neither of us cares for each other in the same way we care for our children.

So stop calling my husband my third child, please.

Why Entitlement Has No Place in the Church

Sometimes, I think we get this crazy idea in our heads that church is somehow something we deserve.

We grew up under America’s stars and stripes, and Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words insisting that we all should be granted the right to life, liberty, and (here he changes the words of Locke) the “pursuit of happiness.” Which of course, we have now twisted to mean that anytime there is something that would make us happy, then it is our right to have that thing.

That sense of entitlement has permeated the church.

There are things in the church that would make us happy. So we think they are our rights. That we are somehow owed them, just by the nature of who we are, or most definitely based on the virtue that we too are Christians.

So we go to church and we expect to be comfortable. To be entertained. To be handed a free cup of coffee. And for qualified people to entertain and educate our kids for a couple of hours for free.

It’s ludicrous when you really think about everything we expect when we go to church. Where else would we bring those same expectations?

But this is not our worse offense. No, the worst thing we do is when we bring this sense of entitlement into the presence of God.

It’s not okay for us to expect other people to cater to our needs, but it’s understandable because people are our equals. When we come into the presence of God, all that sense of equality should completely disappear.

Yet oftentimes, it does not. We come into to church, and we sing songs that tell God how great we are. We tell him how massive our love for him is, as if we are doing God some gigantic favor by taking a couple of hours out of our week to come into the church building and grace him with our presence.

We have it completely backwards.

We are in 1 Samuel in our Bible reading plan, and recently read the story of when the ark was captured from the nation of Israel by the Philistines. In those times, the ark was a tangible symbol to the Israelites of the presence of God in their midst. It was housed in the innermost part of the tabernacle when the Israelites were in the desert, and later in the innermost room of the temple. It was gold-plated all over, and contained some of the most important objects in Israel’s history as a nation: the tablets with the 10 commandments, Aaron’s staff, and a jar of manna.

Above the ark were two golden angels, whose wings were spread out over it. This is what comprised God’s throne on earth. He told Moses, “There above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25:22).

The ark meant God was with the nation of Israel. And it was captured by the Philistines.

I love this story because of what happens next. Not knowing where else to put such a sacred and obviously important object, the Philistines stick the ark in their temple. Inside the temple was a statue of their pagan god, Dagon, and when the Philistines come back the next morning, they find their god laying prostrate before the throne of the one true God. Assuming it’s a fluke, they reinstate their god into his place. But the next morning, they find him on the floor as before, and this time his head and hands have broken off.

What a stunning image of the supremacy of our God!

After the statue breaks, the Philistines in Ashdod, where the temple was, suffer a plague of tumors. They realize the ark of God is not something to be trifled with, so they send it to another town. The same thing happens there. So they send it on to another town. Wherever the ark goes in their kingdom, destruction follows.

Finally, they decide that they cannot keep the ark, and they put it on a cart with some offerings to appease God. They hitch up a couple of cows and hope that the ark, by the hand of God, finds its way home.

It does.

The people of Israel cannot contain their joy. And then right before the Bible moves on to the next chapter in Israel’s history, it makes this interesting note: “But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, ‘Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?’” (1 Samuel 6:19-20)

I was thinking about this story during worship at church a couple weeks ago, as I sang about the greatness of God and the great things that he has done. When it comes down to it, God is terrible in his mighty, awesome power.

In this story, everywhere God’s presence went, death and destruction abounded, even in Israel. This happened because God is holy, and glorious, and all-consuming, and we are only sinful humans. And but for Jesus, our approaching the throne of God would result in the same death and destruction that it meant for the Philistines, and those who arrogantly looked into the ark.

But for Jesus.

Church, our sweet Jesus has made a way for us where there was no way – a way right into the presence of our majestic God. When we think of the great things that God has done for us, what even comes close to comparing to this?

And when we approach God with anything other than humility and awe at his grace and his love, are we not acting like those seventy men who were struck down in Beth Shemesh? We have no rights when we stand before God. And yet, he bends his ear to listen to our complaining, and our requests, tolerating our short-sightedness as we build our own kingdoms instead of His.

We must never lose sight of the awesome reality of who God is. Every Sunday, when we come into church, when we dare to ask God to show up in our midst, God has every right to strike us dead where we stand for our audacity in expecting to experience his presence.

Instead, he allows us to clothe ourselves in the blood of Jesus, and experience his nearness to us.

As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have the confidence to enter the Most Holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart.” (Hebrews 10:19-21)

We can draw near to God. What a privilege! Let’s come to church with that on our minds.

Why I’m Okay with Not Doing Big Things for God

I posted this quote from Phil Vischer on Facebook yesterday:

“If I am a Christian–if I have given Christ lordship of my life–where I am in five years is none of my business. Where I am in twenty years is none of my business. Where I am tomorrow is none of my business. So our plan… is to make no long-range plans unless God gives them explicitly…. Just a bunch of people on their knees, trusting God for guidance each day. Holding everything loosely but God himself” (Me, Myself, & Bob, 248).

I started Phil’s biography the morning of January 1, and found I couldn’t put it down. I was done with it before the first day of the year was over.

This quote appears towards the end of the book, after Phil tells the story of both the growth and the failure of his company, Big Idea Productions. He felt like the dream for that company, for the VeggieTales films, had been given to him by God, and then he failed. And he could not fathom where God was in the midst of that.

Then he takes readers through his journey of learning to let go of everything but God himself, to love nothing more than God, and to let God lead him.

The whole thing resonated with me a lot more than I expected. You see, I really want to do something big for God.

Last year I read this book, Anything, by Jennie Allen. It was one of my favorites from the year and after I read it, I found myself praying the same thing Jennie did: God, I will do anything. I didn’t have any idea what sort of anything God might ask me to do, so I started throwing things out there, bringing every aspect of my life that I could think of before the Lord. My prayers were something along these lines: I’ll go to a foreign country if that’s what you ask us to do. I will sell everything I have and move into an even smaller home. I’ll adopt a baby. I’ll quit my job. I’ll go to work full-time. I’ll go back to school. Whatever it is you ask of me, I will do it.

The more I threw out big things like that, the more silent God seemed. I would do anything for him. Didn’t he get that? Didn’t he want me to do something big and audacious for him? Something that would make the world sit up and take notice?

After weeks of praying like that, I finally got desperate. I kneeled down beside my bed, and wept before the Lord. “God, I really will do anything. Just tell me – what do you want from me?”

In that quiet moment, the Holy Spirit whispered to me the one thing I had not considered: What if I ask you to simply remain exactly where you are and stay faithful with what I have already given you? Would you do that?

Would I? Did I have a choice? I had already told God I would do anything. But this was not the anything I was expecting. I was not even sure it was the anything I wanted. It did not sound splashy or exciting. But it was what God was asking of me.

I could try to do something really big for God this year and completely miss what he wants from me. He doesn’t want me to decide for myself what is important for his kingdom. He gets to decide where to use me.

Phil Vischer came to the same realization: “I started to get it. The Christian life wasn’t about running like a maniac; it was about walking with God. It wasn’t about impact; it was about obedience. It wasn’t about making stuff up; it was about listening” (p. 243).

I still want to do something big for God. I always have. And I still believe that believe that maybe someday, I will.

But for 2015, if the most meaningful writing I compose is a note to a friend, that is okay. If the most important words I speak are to a single person in my church instead of a huge crowd, I will speak the words God gives me. If the most Christ-like service I accomplish is wiping a dirty bottom, or cleaning up my kids’ messes, or folding yet another load of laundry, I will do those things in Jesus’ name. I will let God decide what my contribution to the body of Christ needs to be.

I will do whatever Jesus asks of me. No matter how big. And no matter how small.

The best books I read in 2014

Another year is in the books, or it will be in about 9 hours, and I just finished the last title I’m going to check off my list for this calendar year. According to Goodreads, I read 122 books this year, which sounds like a lot, even to me.

If I’m being perfectly honest with myself, I recognize that there are times that I was reading when I probably should have been doing something else. In 2015 I really want to get better at stepping away from a book when I’m using it to escape when I should be engaging or to cope when I should be going to Jesus. But I imagine that even if I get good at that stuff, I will probably still read a lot in 2015. If I read every day during the boys’ nap, even if that was the only reading I did, I could easily log 700 hours in a single year, which is more than enough to finish a whole lot of books. And I have some really good ones on my list that I’m looking forward to reading.

But since it is still 2014 (at least for a few more hours), I thought I would share some of the books I most enjoyed from this year’s long list. Not all of these were published this year, but I read them all for the first time at some point over the last twelve months.

My favorite books from 2014, in no particular order, are:

Cinder, Marissa Meyer ($2.99 for Kindle right now!)
This is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles, a series of re-imagined fairy tales with a sci-fi element. I love fairy tales, and while I wasn’t so sure about the sci-fi part, the series gets better with each book. There are three out already: Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, and the 4th book, Winter, is set to release next year.

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
This was a suspenseful, impossible-to-put down novel. I’m worried that if I say any more I’ll give away the ending, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

If I Stay, Gayle Forman
Imagine losing your whole family in a car accident, and having an out-of-body experience while in a coma yourself, realizing that you have the power to decide whether or not to fight for what’s left of your life or join your family in death. Such is the position Mia finds herself in. This book intersperses flashbacks filling in her story with an inner monologue as she wrestles with her decision, and I found it wonderful and compelling. Heads up: there is some pretty strong language in parts. (This came out as a movie this year, too, but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say anything about it one way or another.)

Where’d You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple
Once upon a time, I really wanted to be an architect. The eccentric mom in this story is eventually revealed to be a brilliant architect, who at one time had received the MacArthur genius grant. It’s a light-hearted and quick read, perfect for a long summer weekend, which is when I read it.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
I explained this to someone recently this way: If Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory wrote a book about falling in love, it would be a lot like this. The sequel, The Rosie Effect, came out yesterday, and I can’t wait to read it.

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarity
The newest title from the author of What Alice Forgot. Brilliant book about the complicated relationships between moms of young children. It opens with someone dying at a school charity event, and you’ll race through the whole book trying to find out who died and who did it.

The Blue Castle, L. M. Montgomery
I loved Anne of Green Gables when I was younger (Jason bought me this copy for Christmas, and it’s beautiful), but I just recently discovered that Montgomery wrote other books. I read Emily of New Moon last year, but I liked this a lot better.

Anything, Jennie Allen
I devoured this book, and keep turning its concepts over in my mind. The basic tenent for this book is my prayer for 2015: God, we will do ANYTHING you ask of us.

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, Sarah Mae ($2.99 for Kindle right now!)
This is by far the best parenting book I’ve read in a while. At once practical and incredibly encouraging, from a mom who’s had those pull-your-hair-out moments. I got it from the library, but my own copy is on its way to my house now thanks to Christmas money and Amazon. A group of moms I get together with regularly will be going through this next year, and I can’t wait to read it again, and really take my time with it.

Cooked, Michael Pollan
Jason probably got tired of hearing me go on about this one, both while I was reading it (every few pages I would turn to him and say, “did you know…?”) and every time I recommended it to someone at all of our various gatherings of friends and family over Christmas. It’s pretty academic, but I thought Pollan did a good job of making complicated science and detailed food history really interesting.

Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull
Absolutely a must-read for anyone who is in management and wants to create a collaborative culture in the workplace. Or for anyone who loves Pixar movies and is interested in the behind-the-scenes of how they were made. I might buy this one. That’s my list. Happy New Year, and happy reading!