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.

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Using Social Media

My husband made an observation some months back while trying to send me an online article for later reading: it is hard to just send someone an article anymore.    The assumption is that everyone has a Twitter and/or Facebook account.    So, very recently, he bit the proverbial bullet and became a Twitter enrollee.    After a few weeks of orientation/ experimentation, he and I recently had a conversation that went something like this:

Hubby: “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.   I can’t get anyone to respond to me!”

Me: “Well, who are you following?”

Hubby lists the few people/ organizations that he follows.

Me: “It looks like you’re following people who don’t tweet that much, or people who only tweet as PR for their jobs.   You might have to back up and just find people who share your same interests, and people who actually tweet.    You might search according to your hobbies or…”

I felt funny advising him as to how to find people and make friends (?) via social networking.    I’m very much a novice, and there’s much that I need to learn.    Initially hesitant, if not outright suspicious, of social media, it took me a while to embrace these tools—and I do mean tools—as being potentially effective.    I never had a MySpace account.    I’ve made conscious decisions not to join Linked In; I don’t “Digg” anything, nor do I “Stumble Upon” anything.    At this point, I am strictly a blog/Facebook/ Twitter person.    

I’ll confess that, when first introduced to Twitter, I didn’t contemplate getting involved that much.    I signed up for it somewhat by accident, but was hooked after seeing how I could quickly keep up with a friend and/or family member or two.   It took me a while to pick up the art of stating something about myself in 140 characters, and then making it entertaining enough for people to actually appreciate it and respond.     It took a bit more time for me to extend myself past people that I knew and learn how to seek out people that had my same interests.

Facebook I gave a lot more thought to before signing up.     I’d heard so much about the privacy issues, and there are some concerns.   I grow concerned each time I sign onto CNN.com and see the articles that my friends recommended: how does CNN know who my Facebook friends are?     I grow concerned when students say to me, “I looked you up on Facebook…”    It’s an invasion of my privacy, as far as I’m concerned, and it makes me wary about employers and others who look and make judgments.

Another point of confusion for me was that no one could tell me how their Facebook account differed that much from their blog.   By that time, I’d put so much energy into developing my blog, and I thought that one more social network would take me totally away from those items that I consider to be more about purpose.   I decided, slowly but surely, to give Facebook a try after several friends in small business endeavors convinced me that I was missing out from a business standpoint by not getting on board.

I probably put more way more thought into all of this than was necessary.   Everything doesn’t have to be a heady exercise in reflection, or is it a life-and-death decision regarding typing a few lines about what’s going in your life.   “Tweeting” and mini-blogging (which I consider Facebook to be) can be fun, efficient, and in its own way relaxing.   I get that.    In fact, I played around in the early stages of watching the Superbowl, tweeting about all my observations.    One of my followers later pointed out that Christina Aguilera’s botching of the lyrics to the National Anthem got more press than the latest news from Cairo (‘good to know we have our priorities straight,’ she posts).    She’s right, but hey, it was funny for the time that I stayed online, and I needed the respite as I watched my Steelers go down for the count.    But in order to be a good steward of the time God gives me, I debated internally, and rather seriously, how I might use all of this to my advantage without becoming a slave to any of it.    I know people who spend a significant portion of their day on Facebook, or blogging, or on some other point of connectivity via the web.   I know some who pay outrageous phone bills just to stay in touch with it all.   I know the amount of time that it takes me to craft a blog entry, which is the reason that I only post, at most, twice weekly.    I just choose to do something different with the time I have.

So, at the end of the day, how do I use social media networks?

Blogging—still my favorite of all the ways to connect over the Internet, I pen my heart and mind in the hopes of ministering to others like me, making real connections, and allowing my customers to meet the person behind the products.

Facebook—FB is great for linking with friends and family and sharing photos and quick pics of life as it exists here.  Its major function for me, however, is to share short stories and links that interest me, to find out more about my FB friends, and to jot down thoughts and happenings that don’t necessarily warrant an extensive blog entry.

Twitter—Twitter is what it is—140 characters to very quickly say what you are doing right now.   For one who talks to herself quite a bit, this is a neat way to get some of those random thoughts down in one spot, and where else can you meet amazing business connections by telling someone how absolutely uneventful your life really is :-)?

Recently in her 31 Days of Blog Ministry, Amy Bayliss posted about blog purpose and niche, and suggested reading Hebrews 13 as a place of prayer and seeking God about your blog’s purpose.    This was a blog-changing, if not a life-changing, exercise for me.    For some strange reason, I didn’t like my blog being labeled as a “marriage and family” blog, as one reader referred to it; I wanted to be something more.    But as I read through Hebrews 13, it began to resonate with me that marriage and family are high callings, and viewing the writing of them as boring was a rejection of the gifts and blessings I’ve been given.    If I can eloquently depict a house where God is first and foremost, where peace exists and health and wholeness reign in spite of all that isn’t here, I am indeed blessed and highly favored.    Many cannot.   Comments and “likes” should never be the concern when we are aligned with God’s assignment for us.   He role models the nature of truly effective ministry, reaching one here, changing the life of ten there, and teaching twelve at a most intimate level.    So, having said that, here are the guidelines I use for how I interact on any social medium:

  1. Make straight paths for your feet…   Romans 12:13 (Bullard living translation: Be clear in your communication)
  2. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without no moan shall see the Lord…Hebrews 13:?
  3. Let brotherly love continue…Hebrews 13:1
  4. The Lord is my helper, and I will fear not what man shall do unto me…Hebrews 13:6
  5. …the fruit of our lips give thanks to His name…Hebrews 13:15
  6. Making you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight…Hebrews 13:21

 

As I stated before, by no stretch of the imagination would anyone call me an expert; I’m still learning so much about how to navigate these networks and how to put them to best use for my wants and needs.    These are simply my ramblings musings, and my own follow-up thoughts from my husband’s tweeting dilemma.   I am curious, though:  how do you use social media?

Sunday School Lament

This has been my schedule over the past weekend:

On Friday, my husband had to meet the day at 5 a.m. in order to attend an early-morning meeting.   I woke up with him (as usual), but couldn’t fall back asleep (unusual).

I had a 5:30 a.m. hair appointment (no, that’s no typo) on Saturday morning.   Saturday afternoon was a training workshop for our children’s ministry at church, followed by errand running and house cleaning.

We entertained guests on Sunday, and I needed to have dinner prepared and not cold before we left for church, so 5 a.m., I was preheating the oven to have everything in place.

On each of these nights, I went to bed at midnight or after.

It occurred to me, in hindsight, that while in college I slept 5 hours and sometimes less as a matter of course.   Fast-forwarding 20+ years, I can now maintain this schedule for about 2-3 days before I crash and burn.   Having said that, guess where I was on Monday?

Actually, I got up at my regular time and ran some errands for the business, then toyed with trying to be one of the first 100 people at a brand-new restaurant in town.   After seeing a line around the building 1 hour before the opening, I came home.   Then I realized that I was nowhere near in shape to begin our school week: I was still very drained, even after a cup of Starbucks decaf (a treat I allow myself when I’m out and about in the a.m.), and I found myself wishing that my head was screwed on such that I could untwist it and, in that way, relieve the booming pain.    In an unusual turn of events, I put my pajamas back on, climbed back in bed, and called off school—sort of.   I told the kids that yesterday was a reading day; this was a catch-up day on all reading assignments for this week.   From there, I crawled back into bed, completing all group and one-on-one reading from there, and getting up only as necessary.   I noticed that when the kids finished what they had to do, they all went back to sleep, too.   I think it’s safe to say that we all needed a rest, and I praise the Lord for growth in making the decision to do what was needed.   It wasn’t too long ago when I would have forced us all in fear of how missing a day might affect our year.   It’s silly to think about, but it’s the truth.   At any rate, we all got up today refreshed, and it shows.  School seemed to zip by, and all of the three of the kids worked quietly and quickly.   I even got a workout in on last night!

Though operating in a renewed body, my mind hasn’t left our children’s ministry workshop on Saturday.   As a bit of backdrop, we have taught an early teens class (13-and 14-year old students) for several years now.    It’s a tough age, and the dynamics under which we’ve taught, described in previous posts here and here, have not eased our burden at all.   Yet, our efforts have been fruitful, and because of nothing short of the good Lord, we have the class that we envisioned when we started: kids that are excited about learning, kids that want to be in class.  Our “alumni” class members still come back, and even sit in, with us fairly frequently to see what is going on during the time.   All of that has changed significantly in a matter of weeks.   Some of it is an annual change based upon what we call “Promotion Day,” when the kids transition from class to class based upon their birthdays.    We also had a major shift to accommodate a new program designed specifically for our 5th and 6th graders.    In a few quick conversations, we went from being teachers of the 13 and 14 year olds, to teachers of the 7th and 8th graders; in essence, we lost our 9th graders—those students who are generally 14 turning 15, who were with us for their final year.   We’re beginning again, with an almost entirely new group.

Change is always difficult, but I am actually looking forward to getting to know these kids and, prayerfully, making a difference in their lives.   My larger concern is the other differences that are taking place within children’s ministry, and not just at our church, either.

Our workshop on Saturday dealt largely with the impact of media—not just television, but also games, video, computers, and cell phones–on this generation’s children.   A number of findings were presented regarding the impact of these tools, and the potential impact to how we “do” church.   It seems that we readily accept the following as fact in the more “progressive” churches:

Adults, much less children, have little attention span for anything that is not highly visual and/or longer than one hour

Children are incapable of sitting down and concentrating on any one thing for more than 5 minutes

A book, i.e., a Bible is totally unnecessary in youth group ministry; more important supplies are games and glitz in order to keep kids entertained

For me, this is the first problem.    I don’t agree that this is normal, and I certainly don’t buy into the fact that I have to cater to this behavior within our classroom.   We’ve attended a number of children’s ministries at various churches, and what I see is disturbing—a lot of flashy light shows, loud music, and constant motion.    Somewhere in there is a brief, video clip-laden Bible study with no flipping of pages.   Worse yet, because the stage hasn’t been set for the children to sit and receive, they don’t.   (I am one generation from a church crowd where, if you got up in the midst of a sermon, you held up one finger and tip-toed quietly—I never figured out what that one finger was for).   Thankfully, there is an altar call and prayer at the end, but I can’t help but wonder what all of this means to someone who is still struggling with a decision for Christ.   In fact, I have read articles that suggest that kids are walking away from the lattes at youth services in search of the truth.   And here’s the kicker—where do you find truth if not in the church?    Here’s another statistic for you: most children leave the church between the ages of 13-18, never to return.   It’s just scary.

I can agree that media is a tool—a tool that we can either choose to use for good or for evil.   I can appreciate that the days of packaged programs with neat, tidy endings don’t always fit the bill for today’s child, who has to deal with issues that never came my way until well into college years.    And yes, teaching Biblical discipleship doesn’t have to be boring.   We can do it in ways that are memorable and that leave kids with something to think about.   However, our oldest came home afterward with a simple, yet profound observation: “There is nothing wrong with just sitting down and opening a Bible and learning from it,” she says.   And though I think my children are special, I also see them as regular kids—self-absorbed, rebellious at times, yet willing to raise their own bar, if someone would just expect more from them.   Also, I can distance myself from some of what is reality for most because of homeschooling.   Our kids get the Word every day—just a Bible, just a discussion, no ostentation.    The words that are thousands of years old still resonate with power, still pierce the heart and mind, even when I’m at my most unprepared and unable.   Praise God that His Word is what it is, sometimes in spite of us.

So, like a number of youth programs that I’ve visited, we now have a mini-skateboard park, we have a night of Christian hip-hop, and we have youth-oriented services that tout game areas and the latest sounds.    What I wish I had is the answer to this question: when do we stop trying to be like the world and get back to overcoming it?

How (Not) to Do It All

It feels as if so much has gone on in the past few weeks until it’s difficult to get my head around it, much less articulate all of it on paper.   Somewhere in the last month,

1)      My husband changed jobs

2)      My job changed, forcing me out of my comfort zone and into new uncertainties

3)      Dance season began, with unexpected investments in time and money

4)       We brought home a puppy (in many ways like having a new baby, I now realize)

Another change that occurred, and I now realize that it was far more significant than I thought initially (since it had become a relatively new habit), was that my MP4 player broke.   The little electronic tool that had become the center of my morning devotional crashed and burned, just about the time that my devotional had become routine, and I had no back-up plan.

 

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, life has happened—school still happens, the house still has to be cleaned and maintained (enhancements are beyond me right now), kids still have to be fed, taken care of, and loved, and a business needs running.    I’m not complaining, just stating that I’m overwhelmed.       Even in the midst of realizing that it is all for my good (speaking primarily about #2 listed above), I’m just plain whipped out.   Seriously.

This week is our fall break after nine weeks of school.   Monday was a field trip for the kids and me that somehow wound up being a homeschool trip for 25 people.   Tuesday, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone during a grocery store visit that lasted 2 hours.   They rearranged the store, so now I’m relearning shelves, plus I took my girls with me, which didn’t help me focus any on the task at hand.    (I wrote that elaborate description of my errand because it is a microcosm of what is happening with my life these days).   Wednesday, I sat down to get a better handle on all the changes, and to figure out what all of this means for me.   Thankfully, the word that has continuously come my way—from a number of angles– is to prioritize.    Thank you, Lord.    So I looked at my schedule in blocks of time and embraced the ebb and flow of work that I’ve often taught to my adult students.    Here’s what I discovered:

The “non-movables” are here to stay: ministry to my family through school time, non-school family time, couple time, and home management.   Since the “non-movables” are a given (thank God), I must submit each day to the Lord’s priorities.  And guess what?   Some days the non-movables aren’t the priority! That doesn’t mean that they won’t be taken care of, but it means that if I believe the Lord has gifted my mind and hands in this way, then I must make the most of His gift.   So, with that in mind,

In the earliest portion of the week (Mondays and Tuesdays), I have time to write, and need to make good, effective use of it.

I have blocks of time later in the week to exercise—a rarity in the house now-a-days.   The running joke of the house is whose Mii is sleeping the hardest—we’ve all been really tired.

I set goals on a number of sewing projects that have hung around for far too long.    The date written down, even in pencil, gives me hope (LOL)

The time between waking up with my husband and actually getting out of bed is my quiet time with the Lord.    However, tuning every other care out in order to focus in is a task for me, and that’s where my player came in handy.    I really need another player.    My devotional time was priceless, and because of the demands of my family, I was ministered to while operating with free hands to minister to my family through breakfast preparation, last-minute school plan adjustments, etc.

 Each day, what God wants, not what I want.    Too often, I want to be Superwoman, or at least some version of it based on the images of a woman who does it all, but looks like she does nothing, that suffocate my sense of self.   I may not get done all that I want, but there is peace and prosperity in accomplishing His purposes.

Finally, I’m not a slave to social media, but as a business owner, I recognize its power to quick spread the word and disseminate information.   I just have to exercise wisdom in being a good steward of when I use these tools and what I use them for.    An angel mentioned HootSuite to me, and it’s been a life saver.   I can quickly access Twitter and Facebook (and three other networks if I had them) at once and do what I need to do without the 4-hours of time on average that I’ve read as being common to most Facebook users.   YIKES!

Okay, this simply scratches the surface of all the places that my mind has been, but just writing it down is energizing.   I promised myself that today I’d catch up on my mending (husband has buttons missing on about 4 shirts), and sure enough, I’ve let the weather change catch me regarding finishing my youngest’s bathrobe.   We had our first day of 60-degree mornings this week, and she had to stroll around in an unfinished robe.  Oh, well!   I’m off to complete it now as I listed my deadline as Sunday!   God bless!