The World’s Standard is a Set-Up

Soon, I will write a post about our plans for next year’s school/ curriculum plans; it’s about that time, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve already had to think about what changes will occur in our school, and what will stay the same.   For now, however, I am simply enjoying our few remaining weeks, and surviving—not thriving—in the number of interruptions that continue to attempt to overtake our day.

One of my greatest joys right now is the time spent in the Word with our younger two.   I’ve been somewhere between curious and apprehensive about the book of Leviticus.

God is so faithful.  From the first chapter, I knew where we were going: God set a standard.   Before He gave the details on what to bring, how to bring it, etc., He simply states that He wants our best.  Verse 3 of Chapter 1 states,  ‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord.’   Reading this passage gave us an excellent opportunity to talk about how flawed our standards are in light of what He expects.

Often the children will gauge themselves according to how someone else is doing.   Their behavior is good relative to someone else’s actions.   Their performance was good because someone else did not do as well.   While the outside world helps us with an understanding of the norm, there are several problems with this type of comparison.

1) It sets us up for less than our best if the standard is lower.

2) We use external measures for correction rather than internal reflection; the latter often reveals uncomfortable truths that, if we surrender them to the Father, can accelerate our growth.

3) Being satisfied with earthly means and measures of success can often mean that we are out of sync with the will of God (1 Peter 2:9, John 15: 18-21)

As an adult, I find myself making similar comparisons.   And for all the same reasons, the world’s standard is a set-up.   The kids and I even talked about this from a corporate perspective.   I’ve shared in previous posts about some of the programs at our church, and many churches, who have become increasingly seeker-friendly (you can read more about the seeker-friendly church movement here or in tons of other places).    Though we still use common church vernacular (words like ‘sin,’ ‘repentance,’ ‘salvation,’ etc.), we still stand with many congregations that, in reaching out to the un-churched, are losing a generation of young adults and kids who are hungry for Truth.   In short, the world is increasingly loving the church, but is our behavior acceptable to the Lord?

So, as I ask the children when we read the Word together, what does the Lord want us to do?    Well, personally, I thought about an experience I had with the oldest and a substandard midterm.    We went 15 rounds about what I wanted but didn’t explicitly state, and how she performs for others versus her performance for me.   I see now where the Word in Leviticus 1 would have worked–if I’d worked it.   It’s really not about me; ultimately, it’s about remembering who you are and to whose standard you are subject (Colossians 3:23).    My standard should not be the standard for our school; all of our work should be our best, for this is acceptable to God.

How’s the rest of Leviticus going?    The youngest says, “All these  sacrifices sound alike.”    Our vegetarian son summarizes each chapter as “more Old Testament killing.”  This kid and his growing sensitivity to meat and meat products scares me.    I can’t even cook dinner without him saying, “Do you realize how many ______(name your land or sea creature) had to die for you to enjoy those?”   We may not get much more than a new level of expectation out of this one, but that will be enough.

5 Great Lessons after the Exodus

I have been deliberate about making sure our children read the entire Bible after returning home from a children’s workshop in which the following statement was made: the average American who considers him/ herself a Christian has never read the entire Bible.   Not even once.  This statement put into perspective for me so much about why people who are raised in church can operate so differently on Monday-Saturday.   It also was a stark and painful reminder of my own earliest adult years, when it became obvious through my own life that while church attendance is important, it would not, in and of itself, sustain me as a Christian.    Yet, ironically enough, when I began our original study of the entire Bible with the older two, I made very conscious decisions to skip certain portions.    Moses as an author?  Too boring once the Ten Commandments were handed down.  One prophet sounded similar to another, so why cover them all?  Same premise with the Gospels: as an adult I know that the four authors had different perspectives in what they shared and why, but I wanted to press onward.   I say all of this tongue-in-cheek, but my real “eye” for what we covered was, what would keep it interesting/ engaging for the children?   Bear in mind also that the kids were much younger when we began this first journey.   I’ve since realized the arrogance of that decision.   All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2nd Timothy 3:16).   So, this trip around, with the oldest on her own and the youngest in tow, we are reading each and every Word.

We are in the last chapters of Exodus right now, studying the making of the tabernacle—down to the cubit.   After we read, I ask the children, “What is God saying to us today?”   The youngest says some version of this answer: “Well, like we talked about before, the Lord is into details and wants order.”   Her tone says it all: ‘I’m tired of reading about cubits and acacia wood, and if I see one more piece of purple/red/blue cloth…’   I feel her.   After all, it wasn’t too long ago that I chose to skip this portion of scripture entirely.   But, as the Shepherd so often does, He leads His sheep to great places in our studies—if we hang in there with Him.   Here are five lessons that I’ve discovered from our reading—repeatedly–about cubits and wood:

1)      The Lord uses ordinary people and equips them with what they need.   Bezaleel and Aholiab were given positions of tremendous responsibility, but, as the Word says, God filled them with the Spirit (first!), and skills, abilities, knowledge, and all manners of workmanship.  Did they come empty-handed?  No.  Aholiab was a craftsman from the tribe of Dan.   But their ordinary gifts in the extraordinary hands of the Master produced an awesome work.   In fact, Bezaleel’s name is still mentioned in modern-day culture regarding design firms and architecture of all sizes.

2)      The importance of operating in mercy toward one another.   Once the frame for the tabernacle was built, the first piece of furniture to follow was the mercy seat.   I personally think this is significant.   God thought it was most important; we should see it as important, too, and use this lesson as a model for how we treat others.  Mercy requires that we believe the best in people, that we give them the benefit of the doubt, and that we truly embrace James 1:19–slow to speak, slow to anger (please, Lord Jesus), and quick to listen (again, please, Lord Jesus).

3)      There is unprecedented favor and anointing when you operate in your assignment. These two men, Bezaleel and Aholiab, were the lead construction engineers, in modern-day terms.  We never hear from them again.  They might have been called upon as leaders to give direction or expertise, but they didn’t use their influence and sphere of control to try and replace Moses; they weren’t looking to become priests.   They operated in what was their assignment, with marvelous results.   Recently, I have had the opportunity to do some freelance writing that I would have enjoyed, and I thought that because the information was presented to me—indirectly—it must have been for me.   But God gave me a Word through our pastor about the danger of stepping out from under the covering of Christ, even when it appears to be a good thing.   I knew almost immediately that I needed to reconsider.

4)      In all things, God wants our best.   When you read the word gold, there is an imagery that strikes the mind, or at least, that strikes my mind: fancy, elegant, eye-catching, and expensive. This was a portable tent, for goodness’ sake!  Linen can be fancy, too, but what’s with the purple, blue, and red?   Well, our history studies tell us that purple was a very expensive dye color to prepare.   To make it, you had to crack open a shellfish called a trumpet shell.   Because of the expense of this process, purple (and its derivatives, I imagine) was only available to royalty.  Remember that Lydia (Acts 16:14-15) was a dealer of purple cloth, from which you could infer that she had a certain amount of influence in the city.  I believe in part that that’s why her baptism was significant—she was a person that others noticed.

5)      Be obedient to what God places in your heart.   I am often amazed when a person says, “God spoke to me and said…,” or after praying for me, the person will say, “The Lord says…”   I can’t help but wonder how they know it was God who spoke to them.   I have this image of burning bushes or doves or some other miraculous show of God’s presence.   Yet, my own experience with God “speaking” to me is the same as Watchman Nee described in his The Spiritual Man: God speaks through our conscious and our intuition, and even in our subconscious dreams,
confirming it through His Word (which is why it’s sooooo important to actually read the Bible and know what it says).   Too many times, we dismiss what goes through these psychological venues, and it’s how we can easily miss a God move.   In these final chapters, the Lord gave Bezaleel and Aholiab wisdom to construct the temple, but He also gave the people a heart to give, providing for the construction.   That person that we always think about is an opportunity to intercede for them in prayer; that idea that keeps us up at night can be the beginning of a thriving and successful business.  Don’t discount the gentle tugging at your heart to do something; it could be the key to unlocking a blessing.

I know that there are great books out there for children that cover the Bible and have fun activities to help children with learning.   But I struggle with these in the same way that I struggle with many of the bells and whistles that are increasingly becoming a part of our youth and children’s ministry, as well as ministries across the country.  I talk more about that in article I wrote here.   I don’t think God’s Word needs ostentation, and at some point, all the videos, games and toys can be a distraction from the meat of the Word.  In our home, we read, we discuss, and I believe God to grow those planted seeds.   Our closing prayer over our Bible study has been the same for years now, as originally stated by a pastor of ours: ‘May the Lord add a blessing to the reading and the hearing of His Holy Word, and may it instruct and inspire us in both our public and private lives.’   I trust Him to do just that.   And while the kids will prayerfully have many years to read the Word again and again on their own, I do want to model 2nd Timothy 3:16 in our home as training for what they should do in homes of their own.

Can’t wait to see what the Lord does for us when we get to Numbers (yikes).

Training for Every Season

“Just as the high school student must think past seeing Jane run academically, so he or she must think past Noah’s Ark, past David’s slingshot, and even past the work done on the Cross. What of it? How do I apply all that I have been taught (and presumably learned, the difference of which is another post altogether)? This is the time to see what a child believes, and to step back from the memorization of facts–though memorization is still important–and instead watch and learn. As a student ourselves, we are to trust God that seeds were planted on good soil.”

In this month’s Heart of the Matter Online blog, I talk about raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and how their season of growth and development in Christ parallels the classical approach to other subjects.   You can read more here

 

Two Leaders, Two Letters

‘I really want to know you, and I want you to know me—not because I need you to approve of me (nor do I need to approve of you), but because I’ve been where you are, and I think I could help you.    And, I want most of all for you to know that as much as we love you, God loves you more.    I want you to know that He is real, and that you can talk about things that are real to you here and feel safe.    I want you to know that I care, and that the things I say and do are said with your spiritual head and heart in mind, that you might always look to me and see Christ.   We don’t need games or gimmicks, lights, cameras, or action.  Fun is fine, but is most important is you, me, and God’s Holy Word.    Nothing would please me more than if you would communicate with me—start talking and I’ll listen.’

That would be my letter to the groups of kids with whom we interact, primarily our younger teen-aged Sunday School class, if I could pour my heart out to them.    But we are, quite unintentionally, in a camp of leaders very much like us who find ourselves too “uncool” to be relate-able.   As much as we try to grab bits of the vernacular and leave our Sunday best in the closet, donning jeans when we teach so that we don’t come off as stuffy or traditional, we just don’t fit in.   Personally, the kids think it weird that we talk and laugh about being married 20 years; most of them don’t come from that dynamic.   All three of our children belonging to the two of us is perhaps equally strange to them.  Once when we were talking about family disagreements and a student was shocked.   He said, “Wow! I thought you all were just the perfect little family!”    I don’t think we’re alone here, but a part of a generation of leaders who have an anointing coupled with enough years to have been there, done that, and bought a few t-shirts, and we want to keep our younger ones from doing the same.

Then there’s that other camp.   Oh, and by the way, could the fact that I see them as separate and distinct be a part of the problem?   Absolutely.   I just haven’t seen a solid marriage between the “old school,” if you will, and the new.   In the other camp is youth with all its serious energy, equal anointing, and coolness/ hipness—whatever you call it.  They are “down for whatever.”   Their appearance is more similar, perhaps even down to a tattoo and/or an earring or two and dyed hair.    Yet, their life experience has not allowed them to lead kids in a way that works—at least not for me.    Having had a couple of run-ins between dance and church with this group of leaders, I’d write a different love letter:

 
‘I applaud your dedication to the kids, and I praise God for your anointing.  I thank you for showing our kids that you can love God openly and honestly and still be from planet Earth   I think your intent is wonderful, and I wish I had your energy.   But can I ask you something, honestly?    My child doesn’t need videos or games to set the stage for the Word, so what happens to those like them who just want to learn and grow?    Moreover, since our kids don’t fit into the clique of kids that you hang around and that think you’re “the bomb,” should we just go someplace else?   Here are some other thoughts:
 
When you take my kid hundreds of miles away to camp and won’t allow him use of a cell phone, please tell me something beyond “Cool!” when I ask you how he is doing.
 
Though you relate well to the teens, you are not a teen.   Please don’t tell young girls that baring their stomachs “looks hot” in front of my daughter or my son.
 
Just because people are in church does not mean that they have been healed and delivered of all their issues.   Don’t look at me as if something is hanging from my nose when I question areas where I think you are too trusting.
 
I don’t mean to be harsh.  I really don’t.    I’ve just lived long enough to have seen some things, and I don’t want you to unintentionally fall into a trap, nor do I want another kid endangered because of your naiveté.

How do you transform these two “camps” into one?   I’ve not seen co-leadership work well.   I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I’m certainly willing to believe that I could be a part of the problem.   But I want to know, Lord, I want to know, and I’m trusting You to show me a sign.

To Redeem the Time

15 Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity,because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5: 15-16)

to redeem (from the KJV Dictionary):

To redeem time, is to use more diligence in the improvement of it; to be diligent and active in duty and preparation. Eph. 5.

 

This summer has been, for lack of a better word, different.   Normally I overbook our summers with all kinds of activities—camps, programs, trips, summer school—you name it.    This summer, I intentionally enrolled the kids in almost nothing—no expensive, intensive “enrichment” programs.    I had only two desires after the school year we had—to plan and to rest.   With roughly 1/3 to ½ of our school year spent on trips and outside activities in April and May, I recognized early this spring that our school year would perhaps run into mid-June before we reached a place that I felt comfortable in declaring us finished.   (Then again, who am I, right?)    And the Lord proceeded to prove that exact point—that my plans are nothing compared to His.

After detailing what I needed each of the children to accomplish in the final weeks of May and the first couple of weeks of June, I fought with two bouts of cold, cough, and congestion.   This was literally the first time in our 20 years as a family that everyone was sick at the same time.   Consequently, all of that planned attentiveness to building certain skill sets in the kids flew out the window while I struggled just to get out of the bed before noon on most days.    Our “official” end of the school year ended ambiguously, to say the least.

Once we wound down into summer mode, we have focused in on our usual reading and math.    The oldest is volunteering once again at our local cancer center, and is preparing for a national academic competition on next week, plus beginning her college application process.   The younger two have camps with the church at different times this year, and this should be an ideal pace for me to be productive.    But there’s a rub.  

Our youngest is, at least to this point in her academic career, largely uninterested in school.   What this means on a day-to-day basis this summer is that she postpones her hour of reading and her multiplication drills.

Her: “I’ll get it done at 4:00, Mom.”

Me (@ ~4:15): “I thought you said 4:00!”

Her: “Uh, oh, I forgot!   Okay, 5:00.   I promise!”

Me (after losing track of time):   “Okay, WHEN are you going to get your work done??!”

Her: “[the oldest] is enjoying my book.   I’m going to read to her at 8 p.m.” (and by 9-ish, her work is done.    Sigh).

This isn’t every day, but it’s more often than I can appreciate.   And here’s the kicker: as I get more irritated with her, I can’t help but think about my own m.o. as of late.   With a lightened college course load, I don’t have to worry about grading papers and interacting with so many people in a day.   But, I’m still very accustomed to getting on the computer early in the morning for a significant amount of time.   So guess what?   I’m waaaayyyyy more in touch with my Facebook and Twitter buds!   Though I love them dearly, this is truly dangerous for me.    It’s not as if I don’t have things to do this summer.   If the Lord says the same, by mid-August, I will:

1) complete a couple of study guides that I am writing for another company

2) complete a significant portion of my long-anticipated high school curriculum

3) revise my economics lesson plans (listed on Squidoo)

4) develop lesson plans for son’s Swahili studies

5) develop lesson plans for the oldest’s world geography studies  

 6) plan the 1st 6 weeks of everyone’s school days

Each of these items has subset point a), b), etc.   Also, each of these items fall in the category of items I love to do, so you’d think I’d have all of this energy to get going in the mornings, right?   Wrong.   I find myself very much like the 8-year-old, filling in time with I-don’t-know-what and then beginning projects much later in the evening when I’m not at my best.   The end result is that far less gets done, and July and August are like looming storm clouds, reminding me that summer is short and my list is long.   Though I’ve accomplished some tasks, I know that I should be, and I could be, much farther along.

I believe a part of my extended illness was a simple need to rest; I told my husband so when he began planning his summer trips with all the places I could go and things to do  that I know I did the right thing in not overloading our summer as I so often do.   But I also know that I could do something very different with my time on a daily basis.   So I embrace God’s wisdom and pray about redeeming my time.   I believe Him to give me strength over this last bit of a cough such that I can help the youngest be more diligent with her time as well.   The oldest?    Praise God, she’s getting so much better with the self-discipline to complete work tasks, even though she works to the last minute with essays and application deadlines.   I think that by the time we finish reading Huckleberry Finn, Jesus might come and we’ll be able to talk to Mark Twain about it face-to-face.  Maybe after next week’s competition, we can really get after it.

Writing is cathartic, and I’m excited about sharing a progress report in a couple of weeks.   I’d also love to hear of your summer plans with your family.   Any school happening, or are you taking a complete break?   How are you redeeming your time?

Oh, Yeah, About THAT Shirt…

Have you ever seen someone’s outfit, whether a inappropriate choice of clothing, or strangely-colored shoes, or even a hair-do that looks more like a hair-don’t, and you wondered what was the story behind their choice?

I have a number of younger friends on my Facebook  page.  Many are our children’s classmates at the dance center.   I also have several former or current students from Sunday School class.   Out of this special group of youngsters, I have adopted—in my heart, at least—two sons, Zach and E___. E___ now has a Facebook profile picture of himself, a beautifully sketched drawing of him in a T-shirt with a simple message:

F@*!   U

 

I am sure some who pass my page are dumbfounded, if not royally offended, and that, more than once, another friend has asked, “Why would she have a friend who would wear that shirt?!!”   Who knows?   I might have unknowingly been judged, too, for fostering that friendship.

The truth is that E____ was once a Sunday school student in our class.   I’ve talked on more than one occasion about our class of kids with a set of realities that would crush many adults.    These kids are 12, 13, 14, and 15 years of age.   Yet, over the years, we have worked through and  prayed over at least one who found herself in an alternative school after a weapons charge, and a host of student-to-student and teacher-to-student interactions that have gone awry.    We also have been a welcome respite for a group of boys whom Child Protective Services individually removed from homes, only to place them collectively in a foster home where they were sorely mistreated.  My two “sons” were the last two to leave that home, taken away by CPS after some revelation of what they endured while there.    Zach was moved to another foster home; I am not totally certain of his level of care, but I am in contact with him periodically, and we spent a brief period of time (less than 30 minutes) with him on his most recent birthday.

The wearer of this T-shirt, E___, is our other son.  Right before he was moved out of that home, and consequently has no way to get to our church, he told of us the circumstances that resulted in his placement in the child protective process.   He was born into a home where abuse was the norm, and his father, along with other men, were in and out of the home.   As a very small child, he witnessed his father beat his younger sister to death.   By the time he was 10 or 11, E___ was involved in the drugs, both selling and using.   Not long after that, he was sent from home to home.   Somewhere on that path, E___ found Christ, and it saved him from murder and/or suicide.

If my story ended there, it would be wonderful.   But, having left his last foster home, E___ is now back with his birth mother.   He’s also flirting with drugs again, and discouraged by where his life is currently–hence, the T-shirt.    The message, I feel safe in saying, symbolizes his rage.    My heart simply breaks for him, and we stay in prayer.   I also continue to believe God for him, even when God seems far away to him.    I believe that one day that garment will be shed, and the new one will appear that reflects his sorrow being turned into gladness.   I anticipate that day with my whole heart.

In the meantime, E___’s shirt has taught me a valuable lesson about judgment.   In a more Phariseean day, I would have shunned such a friendship that reflected poorly on me and my oh-so-righteous self.  After all, my friends see him in that outfit!   But knowing E___’s story, I can appreciate that he’s seen more of the dark side of life than most of us ever will.   I applaud him, and moreover, the Christ in him, that he’s not in jail, or strung out on prescriptive medications (though “weed” isn’t the answer, either).   He’s one that the church would turn away because of his appearance, and we turn many others away for similar reasons.   That’s worth repentance, because even while we were yet sinners, the Lord loved us.   As for me, I’m learning, through him, not to be so quick to roll my eyes at those who don’t outwardly measure up to my standard; there may be a story there of which I’m totally unaware.   I’m learning to call on the Father more on behalf of those situations and people whom I don’t understand, rather than assume that I know things.   Yep, I’m learning…

God bless you, dear friends.