Thursday, September 19, 2013

Even if He does not...

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” {Daniel 3:16-18}

This past Sunday, we studied the beginning of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the blazing furnace.  As I reflected on this story prior to the sermon, the overriding theme from my memory that stood out to me was, "Yay! God did it!  Stupid Nebuchadnezzar threw them into a fire and they escaped, without injury- or even the smell of smoke.  Isn't it cool how God shows up in those circumstances?"

But this past Sunday, we didn't get that far.

This past Sunday, we stopped before the three amigos were thrown into the furnace. 

In case you don't know the background of the story, King Nebuchadnezzar created golden idols that he wanted everyone in his kingdom to worship "at the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe, and all kinds of music".  But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego loved God and refused to worship Nebby's idols.  The consequence for such disobedience was clearly described upfront- those who refused to bow would be thrown into a blazing furnace.  So picture a huge crowd of people, bowing and worshiping the idols, yet here stand these three men.  They refuse to bow.  And so, they face the consequence... the furnace.

Just before they are to be thrown in, Nebuchadnezzar gives them another opportunity to bow.  I mean, maybe they misunderstood or didn't take the cue from the multitudes.  But, no thanks, they say.  We won't bow.

Can you imagine what must be going through their minds?  They know they're doing the right thing, refusing to worship idols, but... they're human.  It's going to hurt to be burned alive.  Even if it's for God, and it's right, it's not going to be pleasant to watch your skin melt off.

Yet, they tell Nebuchadnezzar they won't bow.  What's more, they tell him that they don't even need to defend themselves to him because their God is able to deliver them from the fire.  And even if He does not, nothing changes.  They still won't bow.  They will still follow Him.

Even if He does not.

He is able, but that is no guarantee.  What if He doesn't want to?  What if His plans are different?  What if His glory is better achieved by not delivering us from our circumstances?  What if His story is better played out in our struggles than our victory?

What then?

Will I still love Him?  Will I still serve Him?  Will I still trust that His words are true?  Will I still believe that He. is. good.?

You see, I am in a Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego place right now.  I have been trusting, believing, and waiting for God to answer a prayer for three and a half long years.  I know that He wants me to want Him more than I want His provision for my request.  And most days, I live there.  

But what if He never comes through?  

Yes, He is able.  

And yet, I might never "get what I want" from Him.

What then?  

After much wrestling and many tears, I have come to this conclusion:

God is able to answer my every prayer and heart's deepest longings, but even if He doesn't, I will still love Him, trust Him, and believe that He is good.

No matter what.

As I struggled through this, I came across this passage from a book I read a little over a year ago.  I think it speaks to this concept...

I’m not kidding when I say the ‘mess’ of American Christianity.  Prosperity teaching, this moralistic deism, business deal theology has soaked into the very fabric of Christianity somehow.  And... people believe that when bad things happen to them, that God is not keeping His end of the bargain.  That He is betraying them, screwing them over.  This Americanized God wants everyone to be wealthy, happy, prosperous, and well-tanned, and if you’ll just be good, then he’ll keep anything bad from happening to you.  He will make your business prosper.  Your kids will be healthy and cool and successful.  You’ll have designer clothes.  Everything will be comfortable and nice and peachy, your promised land will eventually come.  

But what if your promised land- whatever you think that means- doesn’t come?  What if your kids get sick?  What if you have a nightmare in your past that haunts you?  What if you lose your job?  What if your wife dies of cancer and all of the ‘promises’ come crashing around you?  What happens to you then?

I’ll tell you what happens- you get angry.  You get really bitter deep down.  You feel like you’ve been betrayed.  Like God hasn’t kept His end of the bargain.  That He’s a liar.  Maybe you walk away from your faith.  You didn’t get what you wanted- what you thought you deserved.  So God can’t be trusted, and you’re out.

But what if I told you God never said those things?  That there never was a business deal that would make your life perfect here on earth?  That, in fact, God says that things are going to be hard- really hard.  That there is going to be pain, hardship, suffering, death and sickness and loss.  That this is a desperately broken world because of sin.  That He has promised to restore all things, to wipe sin and death and tears from the world and create a new heaven and earth for those reconciled to Him.  But that time is not here yet! Heaven will never be fully on earth because this is still a busted, sinful place.

There is no quicker way to become angry and bitter than believing things about God that He has never said about Himself.  And what’s worse, when people do this, they are treating God like a genie in a bottle.  Three wishes and He gives you what you want.  It’s essentially turning God into a product.  The cosmic vending machine of the American dream.  A means to an end, a measly errand boy to fetch what you really want.

But He is not a personal magic genie to make you rich and successful.  He is not your rabbit’s foot or your good luck charm or the next product to get what you want in life.  He is God, and you’ve been taught to treat Him like a butler!  A self-help product to get you a better marriage, a better financial portfolio, or a more prosperous life.

And here is the saddest part:  not only are people trusting in lies that will leave them bitter and angry- they are looking right past the real thing to the fool’s gold.  They are missing the truth- You get God!  Don’t you see?  You get Him!  He is the promised land!  He is the reward!  He is the prize!  The giver that people prostitute is the gift!  You get Him... you get Him to be there with you when bad things happen.  You get His peace when you lose your job or someone gets really sick.  You get His presence- His presence that tells you no matter how bad things are, that He is there, that He knows, that He’s got you.  You get to hear Him say that He hates these effects of sin as much as you do, and that He is making all things new.  God offers you something better than that pipe dream- He offers you Himself.  His presence through everything.  There is no promised land without God- you would have every good thing that exists, but you’d still be miserable without Him.  

In the cross, God has proven once and for all that He is good and that He is for your good.  No circumstance of life can ever change that.  God’s goodness is not dependent on your circumstances, and faithfulness does not magically guarantee external blessings or an easy, comfortable life.  It may very well bring hardship and persecution- something the American church knows nothing about. Well-meaning, everyday people... are being misled by these false beliefs.  It’s an epidemic.  An epidemic.  The theology of suffering in most of American Christianity is pretty pathetic.

- Brandon Clements, Every Bush is Burning

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Social Media and Parenting

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about social media and its effect on our lives.  I've come to the conclusion that it's a necessary evil- no matter how much you don't want to like it or choose not to participate in it, it is here.  And not only is it here in the sense that I can log onto Facebook and be filled in on the latest details in the lives of my 531 "friends", but it is also a part of the business world.  From the grocery store's Facebook page or app with coupons and recipes to restaurants rewarding customers who "check in" during lunch to the clothing posting special coupons *just* for its' Facebook fans, social media has permeated our entire culture.

"So what?" you might be thinking.  "What does it matter?" you might wonder.  Especially as a mom, I've been taken aback by the potential impact that all of this technology will undoubtedly have on our children.  As a recent CNN article states, "Children grow up learning that posting pictures of one's self and sharing personal information is typical. We've created a sense of normality about a world where what's private is public. The sense of being entitled to privacy has been devalued.  And our children will never have known a world without this sort of exposure. What does a worldview lacking an expectation of privacy mean for the rest of society?  The founders of our Constitution could not have imagined a democracy in which our physical movements are tracked by cell phones, our personal correspondence is scanned for key words by corporations and we willingly surrender our reading lists and fleeting private thoughts.  It's an arrangement we've made not just for ourselves but for our children, as well."

A couple of years ago, I found myself bombarded with posts on my Facebook news feed filled with complaints.  I remember thinking to myself, "Do these people not know the difference between a status update and a private journal?"  I mean, seriously, most of the people on your friends list don't care about the pimple on your nose, the traffic on the interstate, or the latest drama with your ex.  However, the complaints that stuck out to me were those about children.  Some moms seem to do nothing but gripe about the difficulty of being a parent.  Yes, of course, at first, I felt a sense of camaraderie toward friends who were up all night with a fussy baby or had to leave a restaurant with a too-hyper toddler.  We've all been there.  I think we can all agree that motherhood is not for sissies.  But how much complaining is too much?  How far is too far?  Is there a line out there that should never be crossed?

Yep.  Found it.  Enter the Tumblr, Reasons My Son is Crying.  At first, I laughed a bit.  I mean, what parent hasn't witnessed a meltdown over something we deem ridiculous or petty?  And yeah, we laugh, because often we find ourselves uncomfortable with the intensity of our child's emotions.  What do you do with a toddler who completely loses it because the sky is blue?  But then, I got really introspective for a moment... surely there have been moments when I have been really upset over something that my husband couldn't understand.  Surely I've cried over something that he thought was no big deal.  How would I feel, as a grown woman, if my husband took a picture of me in the depths of my emotions and started a public blog, "Reasons My Wife is Crying"?  And not only that, but tons of people started reading it and commenting about how ridiculous my feelings are?  And then, as if it couldn't get any worse, it "goes viral" and all of a sudden, my husband is being interviewed on Good Morning America, talking about the time I got really frustrated over a stain on my favorite shirt and bawled my eyes out?  How utterly humiliating would that be? 

I think we forget sometimes that our kids will grow up all too soon, and it won't be that long before they have their own Facebook accounts.  We don't think about how it would feel to read some of the things we've posted about them.  Imagine that your mom passes away, and as you're cleaning out her things, you discover an old journal.  You pull it out of the drawer, blow the dust off of the cover, and as you skim through the pages, you find that it is full of things she wrote when you were a child.  Desperate for a connection with your mom, knowing that you are deep in the trenches of motherhood yourself, you sit back and begin reading, page by page.  Only, instead of the endearing remarks about yourself as a baby, you find nothing but complaints.  Oh sure, there's the occasional, "My sweet baby smiled for the first time today," and the, "I love my baby so much," but the overwhelming tone of the entire journal is about how difficult you were as a child.  How many times she almost lost her mind.  How many times she almost walked away and never looked back.  Can you imagine the devastation?  Now, let's bring it full-circle.  Think about your child as a teenager, curious about what the earlier years were like, looking back through the archived status updates on your Facebook page and finding years of gripes and complaints about the difficulty of motherhood.  But remember- it's not a private journal.  It's a public record, posted for all the world to see.  Of course- maybe your settings are pretty private, but it's still been seen by all of your closest friends.  Pretty devastating to a teenager, don't you think?

Motherhood is hard.  Nothing can prepare you for how much it will stretch you.  You might grow up playing house, thinking about how blissful it will be to rock your babies to sleep and play with your toddlers, and take your preteen shopping.  And yes- it is all kinds of wonderful.  But it. is. hard.  The sleep deprivation alone is enough to make a sane woman mad... in fact, you suddenly understand why it's such a useful torture technique.  Here's the thing: if you're a mom, you get it.  You know.  It's not always sunshine and roses and ponies.  There are days when one of my biggest accomplishments is taking a shower and putting on 'real' clothes. Seriously, though- what have we {or our children} to gain by constantly complaining about it?  Venting is necessary, I've learned, and I encourage you to find a few close friends who welcome you to "let it all out".  But don't do it publicly.

By the time our children are old enough to understand, we've already told the world exactly who we think they are with all of our photos and anecdotes.  We unwittingly form shape opinions about them from those who are on our Facebook friends' list.  Do you really want future employers or friends' parents having a preconceived notion that your child is difficult or rebellious or disrespectful? 

After months of this rolling around in my brain, I made a commitment about my social media activity:  I will not publicly complain about my child.  Period.  Not only do I want to focus on the more positive aspects of my child's personality and the blessings of being his mother, but I have also learned a valuable lesson via social media.  Do not publicly begrudge or complain about something that others would give anything to have.  I have to be cautious not to go too far off topic here, because my thoughts could easily fill another blog post.  However, there are so many women who struggle with the heartbreaking pain of infertility, some publicly and some privately.  And, I can say from personal experience, until a woman has walked the path of infertility, it is impossible to understand the pain that is inflicted by seemingly innocent comments.  While I trust God completely with my body, my life, and my desire to have another child, the fact of the matter is that there are days when I feel like a failure because something that comes so easily to others is difficult for me.  I've also been on the side of the equation where I conceived a child without trying.  Prior to my current struggles, I made so many rude and careless comments and likely hurt so many feelings because it just never occurred to me to think about the feelings of other people who might be struggling with something that came so easily to me at one time.  No more.  I will speak with circumspection, which means that I tailor my words so that they are pleasing to the ears {or eyes, as the case may be} of those who hear {or read} them.

So, my challenge, for those who might read this post: Think carefully before you voice your complaints about your children.  In the best-case scenario, they won't even know to thank you for it one day.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: Afloat by Erin Healy

Erin Healy's "Afloat" is easily one of the best Christian fiction works I've read in a long time.  Reminiscent of Shaunti Feldhahn's fiction works, this novel does a tremendous job of taking a believable, "real life" story and mixing in supernatural elements throughout the plot.  The plot, in and of itself, is compelling- a cutting-edge housing development, located on the water, begins to literally fall apart as rain and flooding overtake the entire area.  A group of people, from contractors to investors to residents, finds themselves stranded on the island.  As you learn the stories of this motley crew, you are sucked into their world, plopped in the middle of their disaster, and eventually find yourself taking sides as they argue whether or not to leave the safety of the development.  But there is an underlying plot element that continues to rear its head throughout the story: first a child, then various adult characters come into contact with supernatural beings, who issue warnings and promises alike to guide the people through the disaster they face.  

I will say that this book took me a bit to completely get into.  At the beginning, I had a lot of "HUH?!" moments, but it didn't take long for the elements to come together in my mind, and quickly become a page-turner that kept me up way past my bedtime.  Healy has done such a great job with this novel that I was able to forgive the slow start.  By the end of the book, I was holding my breath and rooting for the characters.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested, and I am so grateful to Thomas Nelson Publishing for the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Stress Test by Richard Mabry

Once again, Richard Mabry has done a great job with a medical thriller that hooked me from the first few paragraphs.  Oftentimes, when starting a book, I have to read a couple of chapters before I can get "into" the story.  Not the case with Mabry's writings- and Stress Test is no exception!

The story begins by introducing the reader to Dr. Matt Newman, a likable, ordinary guy who is in the process of moving to the next stage of his life- a less-stressful job means finally moving forward in his current romantic relationship with a woman who might be "the one".  As Newman finishes up his last shift, he is abducted in the parking garage.  Knowing that the abductors intend to murder him, he risks everything to escape- a move that gains his freedom but results in a cat-and-mouse game which includes his being framed for murder.  He is connected with Sandra Murray, an attorney who willingly accepts the challenge to exonerate him from false charges.  

Throughout this fast-paced novel, I found myself feeling a connection to the characters.  It contains just enough medical jargon to be entirely believable {which should be expected when the author's name is followed by M.D., right?! ;)} and the description of legal proceedings was consistent and accurate.  Excellent job, Dr. Mabry!

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity from Thomas Nelson Publishing to read and review this book, as I have all of Mabry's previous writings.  I was not encouraged to write a positive review- in fact, honestly, I recommend it highly!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Review: A Matter of Trust by Lis Wiehl

I love a good murder mystery, and so when Thomas Nelson Publishing offered me an opportunity to read and review Lis Wiehl's "A Matter of Trust", I jumped at the opportunity.  I was quite pleased with the book, and feel certain I've found a new author to follow.

As you can read in the description, the book is about a prosecutor who faces the task of solving the murder of her closest friend- which she also 'witnessed' over the phone.  Mia Quinn is a likable, believable character who most people can relate to on at least one level.  I found myself getting so "into" the story that I experienced the emotional rollercoaster that Mia rode through the entire book.  

I was thankful to discover that "A Matter of Trust" is a series debut, because there are several characters and minor plot elements that are mostly well-developed, but not fully resolved in the course of this novel.  I felt as though I was missing part of the resolution- then I realized that it might be several books before I understand the introduction of some characters.  

Through the twists and turns of the plot, the "whodunit?" question that keeps circling, and the relatability of this young mom, recently widowed, who must keep too many plates spinning, Wiehl has written an excellent story that kept me interested from the first moments of reading.  I look forward to reading the rest of the Mia Quinn series! 

{Disclaimer: I was offered the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.  Any opinions expressed in this review are mine, and not at all influenced by the publisher.}

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: Prayers of a Stranger - Davis Bunn

As someone who has struggled with infertility issues, I was so very torn on whether or not to read and review this book when offered the opportunity by the publisher.  I knew that it had the potential to either wound my heart or heal it.  After a deep, shuddering breath, I opted to read it.  I'm glad that I did.  I have not suffered the loss of a child, but I know the heartache that comes from longing so deeply for a child and feeling like a failure when you cannot make it happen.

In this story, Amanda Vance struggles deeply after losing a child while pregnant.  She is so deeply affected by her loss that she can no longer work as a nurse with newborn babies.  She plods through life, but each day is a struggle.  Her relationship with her husband suffers as they both experience heart-wrenching grief, and no longer know how to relate to one another.  Then, one day, through a swirl of divinely-orchestrated circumstances, she is invited to travel to the Holy Land.  What happens there forever changes her perspective on God, on life, and on her struggles.  As she helps to heal a child in need, her heart begins a new stage of healing.

I highly recommend reading Davis Bunn's "Prayers of a Stranger"... no matter where you are in life, it will touch you.

{Disclaimer: This novel was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review; all opinions expressed herein are sincerely my own.}