Short Thoughts on the Long Game

2 Timothy 2:22 NASB – “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Recently I read this verse and my mind went to the perfect balance in that first line – God is so good to us! He doesn’t only warn and command us to run from something evil – He calls us into the pursuit of something good. I love how balanced it is. He knows how directionless and aimless we can be – how many rabbit holes we run down – and He gives us a clear picture of what He wants us to pursue instead. It would almost imply that there is no middle ground. We cannot only flee from ‘youthful lusts’ – we’re not really leaving until we’re going towards something else. Imagine a football player gets the ball and all he knows is to run from the other teams’ end zone.  He may avoid it but he may never make a touchdown. Having a goal becomes a game-changer. And God knows us, wired us, and made us to need direction and supplies the point for us to pursue. Pursue is such a rich word – it makes me think of a police chase, and the thing about police is, once they are in pursuit, they don’t stop till they catch the bad guy. I think the same idea is present here. We will never “catch” righteousness, faith, love, and peace; we will never see perfection on this side of eternity but we must always be in pursuit of it. The pursuit itself is so important because just like that aimless football player, it gets us closer to the goal and keeps us on course. The pursuit is important because it’s where life actually happens, the journey to the finish line. Some run faster than others, some fumble, falter, fall and then get up and keep going. Sometimes we get overtaken by others; we pass the ball to someone else when we just can’t carry it anymore. But it’s that running to the end that gives the whole thing meaning, the pursuit that gives life meaning.

What is ‘Christian music’ exactly?

Years ago, in a ministry class in college (that sounds ironic to me for some reason), I had the task of writing a paper to dissect what a postmodernist culture was doing to American youth, what their worldview looked like, and in light of that, how to best reach and minister to them. I got a B on the paper. I could easily dissect the layers of belief and see the issues but I either could not understand how to best reach them or could not express it.  I opened the paper by sharing the current #1 pop song and the current #1 CCM (Contemporary-Christian-Music) song. At the time it was “If I Were a Boy” by Beyoncé and “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath – were there ever two songs any more different? While I could point to that as evidence showing how out of touch Christian culture is with world/youth culture, I could not comprehensibly offer a solution.  I still can’t.  I can say this however, that as I listened to the radio just the other day, I remembered this assignment and found myself thinking and wondering – what would the music industry look like today if the Christian music artists of ten or twenty years ago had poured their talent into making excellent music for a lost world instead of Christian music for a saved world? Do we doubt our ability to have any chance to be accepted or be successful outside of our Christian circles? It’s easy to see how quickly Christians in the media can be ridiculed and overlooked – I could think of many examples! But it would not be exhaustive and those examples don’t dictate a rule. In other words it is not impossible for a Christian to have success in the ‘secular’ side of the music industry, just a lot more difficult. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like if we changed the way we did things. It seems as though we have gotten so comfortable with not being ‘of the world’ that we have forgotten the command, yes, command, to be ‘in the world’(John 17:14-19).

Talking about ‘Christian music’ begs the question, what is Christian music, exactly? To be sure, there is a real genre of music that falls here. But have you ever listened to Nessun Dorma and not felt your soul stirred? Ava Maria? We could apply this same question to literature, art, movies and see the conversation become very loose and subjective. Ultimately, it depends on the philosophy of the hearer. That is, is it the experience we bring to the music, as a Christian, that makes it a Christian experience or is it the intention of the author that determines its value on the scale of worldly-Christianese? It’s an important question and it sort of stretches our minds because both realities are inescapable.

Wherever we land, we cannot escape that command – to be ‘in the world’. We have to engage the world and pulling our best talent back into our tight Christian circle communicates a strong dichotomy to the rest of the world – a very “us vs. them” sort of an image. It doesn’t walk out among the people as Jesus did and it is as afraid of touching those people with truth as it is of being touched with sin (as if we aren’t sinful ourselves). We cannot be a people that live in a secluded place away from the world and still expect to have an effect on it. There is nothing inherently wrong with Christian music, obviously. But it cannot become the hole we hide in while the world around us is dead. I don’t know that I’ve come very far from that term paper I wrote years ago – I am still dumbfounded by the hurt and the lostness of the world and still constantly begging God for grace to engage a lost world the way that He would. I do know that while our popular Christian movies and music have value, they are only making what the world produces that much worse. We cannot expect to pull all our best influence and talent into our bubble and then be shocked at what the world produces. Incarnational ministry is the heart of the Gospel and it can inform what we do in business and what the media looks like every day if we are willing to step in.

The Trouble with ‘Loosened’

Have you ever read a verse that just made you mad? There are some parts of scripture that I just honestly find hard to swallow. And they don’t always hit me the first time. Sometimes the weight and truth of a verse just takes a few times to sink in. When I first read Psalm 116 I probably glanced over this verse, but at one point, it just stuck out like a sore thumb.

“Lord, I am indeed Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your female servant. You have loosened my bonds.” Psalm 116:16 HCSB

I got particularly stuck on that word ‘loosened’. Why would God, the all-powerful, prisoner-freeing, all-forgiving God ‘loosen’ our bonds? I had this mental picture of a person standing in yards and yards of rope, just all tangled up, and God comes along, all powerful remember, and all He chooses to do is ‘loosen’ those bonds. I could not get past that. It sort of irritated me. I wanted God to do more than that. I thought and prayed, asking the Lord what it meant and why this was in the Bible. I’m not sure how it occurred to me, but I sat there imagining that person with loosened bonds and what happens? Gravity takes over, naturally. Gravity puts those ‘loosened’ bonds on the ground and therein lays the great opportunity. God loosens our bonds so that we have a choice about them. We can stand inside that tangled rope or walk away. We have this God who forces nothing upon us and asks us to follow and even when He sets us free, He never pushes us to freedom – only invites. In this, ‘loosened’ becomes that opportunity, rather than an obstacle. It also sheds light on Hebrews 12:1 and that famous phrase “the sin that so easily entangles”.

That word – ‘bonds’ – could also mean family or relational bonds. This obviously gives quite a different reading! Can you imagine God “loosening the bonds” with your family so you were able to serve Him and love Him more fully? It sounds so sadistic to me to even say that. It is a captivating thought and one that deserves to be explored. On the one hand, I don’t believe God is asking us to shirk commitment or responsibility to our families in order to serve Him but I also am not saying the opposite. Serving God does not find life solely in service to family. The Gospels are full of controversial sayings from Jesus about this very subject (Matthew 10:37, Matthew 8:21, Luke 8:21). Whatever the meaning in this Psalm for the word “bonds” I think I can say with certainty that our family ties were never meant to be stronger than our tie to Jesus. In fact, I would even argue that by first knowing Him more and loving Him more fully, we serve and love our families better.

I’ve done some research into that word and it is the same word used elsewhere (Isaiah 42:7,61:1) to describe freedom from captivity, literally and figuratively. So I have to go with meaning #1. My husband always says the best commentary we can ever read is Scripture itself, and I would add the greatest teacher of application is the author. I have to ask myself, knowing what this verse means and implies – what is it God has freed me from that I am in danger of being ‘easily entangled’ in? What is it for you?

Movies & Money Changers

I hate writing about hot-button topics. Well, actually I don’t mind that so much. It’s the incredible amount of backlash you get for voicing unpopular opinion that I really hate. I do not have a thick skin and I hate the culture of social media – it’s essentially a stomping ground for opinions. I just have so much in me to say about this subject that I don’t think I can keep quiet about it. Earlier today I shared an article on my Facebook page from a mom writing about the experience of taking her kids to the new Beauty and the Beast movie. It was such a sweet perspective. She talked about all the hype that surrounded the film and her decision to take her kids and mostly, about their reaction to the film when she gave them a unique set of instructions about it. She asked them to “look for God” in the movie. I’m sure she’s not the only parent to give that type of instruction; I know I’ve had conversations with my kids and husband about God-related themes and ideas in movies – I’m sure there are many parents who do the same. I just loved that she shared this particular experience because the conversation surrounding this movie was due for a shift. And this is a perspective that shifts the conversation dramatically – you can read more about it on her blog – sarahcinnamon.com.

It got me thinking about something I remember talking to friends about in college. I remember watching the Disney animated version at home one weekend and getting to the scene where Belle is in the West Wing and the Beast barges in, with all his anger unleashed and kicks her out. It’s a powerful scene. What struck me about it was the moment I saw the Beast flip a piece of furniture, my mind immediately went to the story of Jesus in the temple, turning over the tables of the money changers. Isn’t it so similar? Jesus didn’t barge in – John 2:15 tells us he took the time to make a whip. He had more patience than the Beast. But they were both doing something so violent and at the heart of that action was the desire to protect something important, sacred even. I love viewing this scene from this perspective and reading that story with this scene in mind. It is so angry and vivid, and even necessary.  What would have happened if Belle had touched the rose? Would the Beast be cursed forever? What would have happened if Jesus had let them be – allowed them to continue doing business, bad business at that? God forbid He ever let us continue down a path where we bring destruction on ourselves.  We tend to assume that His mercy and grace should stay His hand but it’s the other way around. It is His mercy and grace that discipline us and even run us out of our sin violently. Thank God He fights for us, sacrificing furniture or our feelings along the way.

The truth is, our culture is so broken, hurting, and lost – we do not have time to be nice and let the world get away with teaching our kids. It is nothing new that Disney has an “agenda” – what’s new is that we are suddenly shocked by it. The world will always present worldly material and if it is not for God it is against Him. So like Sarah says in her blog – we must be proactive – and if Disney is bringing an agenda – have an agenda of your own! Don’t be afraid of hurt feelings and broken furniture. What you are doing with your kids and in your family is so important and sacred that it is worth the mess.

On Oklahoma

On Oklahoma

Here’s to your sunsets
your cowboys and Indians
your unsung heroes
my favorite tree
Here’s to your houses
the one with the tunnel
the one with a cellar
the shaggy green carpet
the cathedral roof upstairs
Here’s to your churches
the friendships that last
the broken, the lonely
embraced from the past
Here’s to the legends
the moments we don’t forget
to 99, to 2013
and to the people
you know the calm after the storm
Here’s to your families
your Sunday dinners
your Christmas Eve’s
your helping hands
Here’s to you, Oklahoma
from me.

$10 at Target

One of the things I found myself thinking about as I looked at 2017 on the horizon was that I wanted it to be the year I relaxed.  I wanted more grace and more room for forgiveness. I wanted less stress and a healthier mindset and lifestyle.  Now that we’re nearing the middle of January I feel like I have taken some positive steps towards a different life. I’ve read helpful books, made my daily Bible reading time a no fly zone, and made some choices to move towards a healthier version of myself.  Today was hard though.  I don’t why I feel compelled to write about it but I do.

It’s so easy to look at people and sort of miss them and look past them but if we can see them, they can see us.

I went to Target today. I had a couple things to return and a few things on my list.  I took both my boys, as per usual.  I saw the familiar face of the manager when I walked in.  I’ve talked to him a couple times and I know we have seen each other several times. I’m a regular at Target (and at the Starbucks inside!).  I know he has seen me with sweet mild mannered children on good days.  He has seen me on the wild, screaming, run-away-from-mom-in-the-middle-of-the-store days too. Because we are a military family we are also nomads.  We won’t be here for much longer.  That said, I only have so many trips to Target left.  And it would be so easy to look at him or any of the other employees and sort of miss them or see past them, but the thing is, if we can see them – they can see us.

Now, keep in mind my grand vision for myself in 2017.  Today I hit a glitch. A sort of catch between who I am-my natural, and sinful, tendencies, and who I really want to be.  I paid for my items and the total was about $10 more than I thought it would be (I should add that I am very careful about adding my items and allowing for tax – it amazes my husband but it’s just sort of a budgeting thing for me – I always know what I can expect to pay).  Because there were several people in line, I didn’t say anything and assumed the mistake was mine.  I got to the van, buckled both my children in, and sat down to check my bags and receipt.  There was not one, but two, incorrectly priced items- exactly $10 difference.  I then had to face the glitch.  Everything in me wants to go give the poor girl working customer service a piece of my mind and show her the sunscreen I bought rang up at regular price even though it has a clearance sticker, then walk her right back to the wall hooks and show her the price on the other item and get that $10 back. But I didn’t. I kept thinking about that manager, about how I would have to get my kids out, about the walk to the back of the store, about stress I don’t need in my life. I sat for a while before I finally called my husband and literally broke into tears over this difficult decision. I am a few hours removed from it now and I am so glad my husband was supportive of me driving away.  It was difficult to feel my instincts telling me one thing but my head telling me another.  I am so glad I chose grace.  I have spent $10 on things that are far less important than my reputation.

I tend to be so sure of things and take things so strongly and want the world to live up to my standard instead of expecting it to be what it inherently is – a lost world.  I am much more at peace in this moment, I believe, than I would have been had I had it out with Target over $10.

Thoughts on Self-Help

I’ve been reading a lot of ‘self-help’ related books lately. Something about the new year, I suppose. It’s been funny because even though they all want the best for you, they don’t all really agree.  For example, on the heels of reading a book about money-management, I read a book about being a confident, empowered mom – one book told me to live below my means and had all sorts of suggestions for doing things cheaply and not falling into the pit of giving yourself whatever yourself wants whenever yourself wants it.  On the other hand, the ‘mom’ book told me to get myself something nice – and frequently!  It can be quite a mess sometimes.

There are so many voices telling us how to help ourselves that we don’t listen to the voice that matters most. In the interest of meeting my own needs and helping our family goals, I write.  But today I wrote right through the time I had to play one-on-one with my oldest son.  Even though I got my writing done and mailed off, his need went unmet.  And here I thought I was multitasking and feeling good about it.  I’m telling you, it’s a mess.

I’m not advocating you stop reading self-help materials – I’m a big proponent of it! I think it’s important to work on our lives just like we work, or exercise, our bodies – with diligence, a little bit every day, and always challenging ourselves. However, I do think we have to take everything in context and bring it into balance. As odd as it seems to have read those two aforementioned books side by side, it was so good for me! I could have easily gone scorched earth and been utterly miserable if all I read was “900 reasons you’re broke” or something like that and similarly I could have very easily over-indulged under a title like “85 things you have to buy to be a better mom” – this sounds silly but this is seriously what’s in the bookstores these days. It can be challenging to find good sources but also to process a wide range of ideas at the same time. Given the example above, I wanted to share what I meant by bringing things into balance. Here’s the thing, I do need to take time for myself, and I do need to reward myself when I accomplish daunting tasks or meet huge goals – for moms it is especially important because we do not earn a paycheck.  It can feel so defeating to not see any reward and it can be so valuable to allow yourself to give yourself a “paycheck” – even if it’s something inexpensive like an extra cup of coffee or $5 towards a pedicure.  It is so fulfilling to enjoy the reward and the natural fruits of the labor (such as a clean house), and it can be flat out fun to talk to yourself, “no, Rebecca, no dark chocolate till that bathroom is clean!” (Yes, I really do that.) And it’s almost as if you are building discipline without punishing yourself.  That’s the kind of balance that comes from reading a well-rounded selection of self-help books. Go challenge yourself in this way and see what happens.  Just don’t forget to listen to that voice inside – the quiet voice of God, who may be telling you when you need to stop working and play with your son, goals are good things but they are things.  Don’t miss your people!