When God Calls You to Love a Jerk

To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you~ Luke 6:27-28 NIV

 Pretty much every Christian I know (myself included) likes to pontificate endlessly on the topic of love.

 Why on earth wouldn’t we?

 In a world that is increasingly more hostile towards Christians and their faith, love is one of the few doctrines left that everyone likes discussing. Sin, judgment, obedience and hell are sensitive, uncomfortable, sticky-wicket kinds of issues that are all-but certain to offend pretty much everyone. However, no one can quarrel with the whole notion of loving people.

 That said, even a hasty analysis of the comments section of any news article or blog piece posted on the Internet clues us in to the fact that although most people love the idea of love, and we adore quoting scriptures concerning the importance of loving people, we struggle mightily with the implementation of loving people.

 The Christian standard of love is outrageously high and almost impossible to achieve, mostly because some people are jerks and God calls us to love them anyway. Scripture commands we love people who do not love us back and those who openly despise us. We are also instructed to love people who make fun of what we believe, insult our intelligence and tell lies about us (Romans 12:9-21).

 This is quite obviously easier said than done.

 There is no question that loving people (even nice people) is a concept that is far less painful to achieve in theory than in practice. That said, it’s easier to love a person when there is relationship in place or an emotional bond that has already been established.

 Showing love to a wayward child or a spouse with a less than pleasant disposition is somehow much easier than trying to muster up some emotional warmth or caring for a heartless, egomaniacal boss or an intellectually pretentious brother-in-law/college professor/auntie/co-worker. The one who cannot seem to stop themselves from insinuating that the only possible motivations anyone could possibly have for voting for a particular political party would be racism, homophobia or a criminal level of stupidity. It’s even harder to muster grace (let alone love) for the media personality who is constantly undermining decency and openly supporting actions and attitudes wholeheartedly contrary to God’s way of doing things.

 Sigh.    

 Thankfully, authentic Christian love is more about making a choice than manufacturing a feeling. We can choose to behave in a loving way towards people we don’t particularly like. In the process we might actually change hearts and minds in a way that hateful and nasty rhetoric or sidelong glances never will.

 Loving jerks needs to begin with some honest self-examination. Sometimes we are the innocent victims of jerks and other times we are the ones acting like a jerk. Even Christians are capable of less than Christian behavior from time-to-time, especially when someone is intentionally pushing our buttons. Any time we feel offended or hurt, it’s a good time to prayerfully evaluate our own actions and attitudes to see if we are doing anything that is contributing to the problem.

 Nothing about honest self-examination is pleasant or easy, however it is necessary if we want to grow and mature spiritually.

 Sigh.

 If after some soul-searching we discover we are indeed part of the problem, then we need to repent. Repentance is all about changing how we think about the person who has hurt us. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t like we need to look for positive qualities. We also need to cease any hurtful actions on our part such as gossip, ugly or passive-aggressive comments, and writing rude things about the person on the Internet. Genuine repentance always includes praying for the person who wronged us.

 Praying for the person who offended or wronged us really does make any repenting on our part that needs to be done easier and less painful, and prayer actually has the capacity to change the heart of the other person.

 Bonus.

 Then God calls us to the truly hard thing, blessing those who curse us and actually doing good to those who have wronged us. Doing good is about more than an absence of malice. It’s about thinking through to what Jesus would do to the person and then doing it.

 Love is an action.

 

Why We Should Stop Telling People to ask Jesus into Their Hearts

When He (Jesus) had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me~ Mark 8:34 NKJV

 Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time will tell you in a state of wide-eyed wonder that evangelical Christianity has changed significantly over the course of the last three decades or so.

 Some changes have been positive and healthy. Changes in attitudes have righted some legitimate wrongs that were shockingly common in some Christian circles, especially in the arena of legalism.

 I have an older Christian friend who told me that when she was growing-up her family had an actual LIST of things she and her siblings were told they could not do if they wanted to be followers of Jesus.

 Among other things THE LIST included: skipping church for any reason other than serious illness, playing card games (because go-fish and Uno are gateway sins that the devil exploits to lay the foundation for future gambling addictions) attending movies of any kind, wearing make-up, going to the beach (because of swimsuits) and of course wearing pants (because she was a girl). Her Pastor also taught that it was possible to lose ones salvation for owning a television, smoking cigarettes or attending a school dance.

 Sigh.

 Thank heaven most of us have chosen to part ways with the pharisaical judgment of the past, and leave it in the past where it belongs.

 However, Christian’s today are far less devoted to their faith than our more judgmental forerunners were. Christians today are far less likely to attend weekly services, honor their marriage vows, observe scriptural commands regarding sexuality, read the Bible consistently (or at all), pray and serve in their local congregations.

 Sigh.

 It would be foolish to argue that the problems vexing the Church are somehow less threatening to Christianity than the sins of the past. The current crop of problems the church is dealing with may be different from the problems of the past, but that does not make them any less hazardous to the health of the average Christian.

 Theories abound as to how exactly we got into this mess. There are some who blame inadequate teaching from the pulpit. Others attribute the problems on an absence of church discipline. Many blame invading secularism and the acceptance of worldly entertainment in the Church.

 Oddly enough, there are even some who believe that it was the demise of legalism that created the problems the Church is now wrestling with.

 No I am not kidding.

 Some individuals actually believe that legalism (strict adherence to manmade rules) made Christians more aware of their own behavior and fearful of the judgment of others. Thus legalism protected the church from the sinful excesses currently devastating the body of Christ.

 Clearly, some theories have greater merit than others.

 However, in my estimation they all miss the mark. The real problem is not with legalism per se. In this case legalism is simply a symptom of a much bigger problem. The real problem lies with how we view the Christian life. If we view the Christian life as a list of rules to be kept then we will eventually devolve into a pool of legalistic goo and destroy the beauty and spirit of grace that makes the Christian life a life worth living.

 Conversely, if we view the Christian life as simply “asking Jesus into our heart” then we will inevitably come to see our relationship with Jesus as something we get to do on our own terms. The Christian life becomes something we do for our own pleasure and to meet our own needs. God becomes the servant and we become the master. He becomes a tool that we use to get what we think we need out of life. If God fails to meet our needs on our terms we leave Him on the margins of our lives or abandon Him all together and go off in search of something that will satisfy us on our terms.    

 The answer is not a return to legalism or even simply ridding our lives of bad entertainment and wrong thinking (although that idea is not completely without merit). The answer is to rethink how we view the Christian life. Christianity is not about asking Jesus into our hearts just so we have assurance of salvation.

 Christianity is about following Jesus wherever He leads and obeying His commands, whatever the cost.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voting for Corruption

 

Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them~ Isaiah 1:23 NIV

 I am an ardent fan of all things political.

 The Presidential elections are my favorite; it actually bums me out that they only roll around once every four years. I look forward to the presidential election season the way some women look forward to a fifty-percent off sale on Jimmy Choo shoes.

 I am a registered Independent and although I cheerfully admit to leaning conservative I am attentive to the goings-on on both sides of the political aisle. I will vote for any politician evidence reveals is a decent human being who can pass a drug test, possess a solid ethical compass and has a working knowledge of basic economic principles.

 This election has been a gloomy one for me. It has challenged my love of politics as well as my faith in the intelligence of the American electorate. Somehow the nation I love has succeeded in picking the two most tragic candidates in the history of our Republic. The out-and-out absurdity of these two choices for President baffles me to no end. My unending irritation over the Republican pick has caused me to say precious little about Hilary Clinton.

 Well, no more.

 Recent revelations have made me so insane with righteous outrage that I can no longer hold back my uncensored opinion on the dangers of a Clinton presidency.

 I will begin with the email controversy.

 It is an irrefutable fact that Hillary Clinton set-up a private email server in a bathroom. She committed this criminal act against the counsel of her staff, proving she is either hopelessly dimwitted or has zero interest in keeping classified information out of the hands of foreign governments. For the record, I do not believe that Hilary Clinton is dimwitted. Nor do I believe she was ignorant the law (as she claims), nor do I believe her emails are so desperately dull that no foreign power would ever be intent on reading them, as she stated in an interview with the comedian Jimmy Fallon. Hillary Clinton is an attorney who has worked at the highest levels of government for most of her life. She simply despises accountability, doesn’t care who she hurts and believes herself to be above the law.

 If the email debacle were the only example of flagrant corruption, I might be inclined to let it go, sadly that is not the case. In 1997 the Clintons created the Clinton Foundation, ostensibly for the purpose of raising money for do-gooder causes. In all fairness the foundation has raised a lot of money for various causes, many of them good. Exact numbers are tough to pin down but conservatively speaking millions have been given to help people around the world.

 That is a good thing.

 What is not a good thing is how Ms. Clinton used the foundation while she was Secretary of State. Credible allegations charge she used the foundation to line her own pockets by selling meetings (to the tune of $156 million) to individuals, corporations and foreign countries in exchange for donations to her foundation. Donors include the Prince of Bahrain who pledged $32 million to the Clinton foundation.

 Doubtless these folks were astute enough to get something in return for the money they paid. Naïve people have argued that there is no actual evidence she ever gave anyone a favor in exchange for a cash donation. Sadly, that unlikely scenario makes the whole situation worse rather than better. It means she and her aides were running some sort of a flimflam operation out of the office of the Secretary of State. Trust me: the crown prince was promised SOMETHING in exchange for 32 MILLION DOLLARS. No one in their right mind pays 32 million dollars simply to meet with someone. He had an ulterior motive and if he did not get what he paid for, he’s seriously furious.

 When her email server was exposed, she blamed her own ineptitude (like that is supposed to make any of us feel better), then she blamed her colleagues. When her colleagues declined to be hurled under that particular bus she blamed COLIN POWELL. Seriously, she blamed Colin Powell for her illegal server, that’s like me blaming the mailman for the sloppy condition of my front yard. When four Americans were killed in Libya she blamed an anti-Islamic video that few people had actually viewed for the disaster. When her husband sexually harassed women he worked with she blamed the women.

 I could go on forever.

 Hillary Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, was born in Michigan but raised in Saudi Arabia. She is the daughter of Muslim intellectuals who have dedicated their lives to spreading the Muslim faith. Abedin acted as the assistant editor for a radical Muslim publication for ten years. The scholarly journal Ms. Abedin edited openly promotes Sharia law, is anti-women’s rights, anti-Christian, anti-Israel and blamed America for the 9-11 attacks. The woman slated to be the next Whitehouse Chief of Staff has close ties to radical Islam. At the very least this fact proves Hillary Clinton does not have the good sense necessary to make her own staffing decisions.

 Any American who is not troubled by Hillary Clinton’s corruption and poor judgment is at least as dimwitted as she pretends to be.

   This is the most depressing election of my lifetime. A Clinton Presidency may very well be unavoidable. However, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. Christians everywhere need to pray. It is not too late for God to intervene. He is in the business of miracles and we could certainly use one right now. Christians also need to vote— the congressional election is critical this year. If conservatives lose the house and senate and Clinton wins the Presidency all will truly be lost. The most openly corrupt person in the history of American politics will control everything.

 God help us all.

The Key to Dealing with Disappointment

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit~ Romans 15:13 NIV

 I will not lie. It’s been a chaotic couple of weeks around our house. We have been in the final throes of the moving process and experienced all the standard drama associated with moving ones worldly belongings across four states and over sixteen hundred miles.

Everything and I mean everything, has taken longer and cost more than we thought it would. The electric company called last week to let us know that our first bill was sent back (they were not amused). A few phone calls revealed that ALL our mail is being returned to sender and a trip to the post office has yet to remedy the situation.

 Our new neighborhood is a place where folks take lawn care seriously and we have not figured out how to make the sprinkler system work. As a result our lawn is turning an ominous shade of brown and the neighbors have begun to cast sideways glances at us. The dogs are troubled by the recent changes and cannot figure out on a consistent basis where they are supposed to “do their business”.

 Sadly, all that pales in comparison to the drama we have experienced with one of our kids. This kid has been what can only be described as a mammoth pain in the backside for weeks now. We have been losing our minds trying to find an explanation for this behavior.

 A long encouraging conversation resulted in no discernable change in behavior. We then attempted some coaching, when that failed we moved on to gentle correction, praying for wisdom, and finally punishing the bad behavior with increasing intensity: nothing worked. We wondered if the disobedience was perhaps a result of homesickness or missing the old school or perhaps even a weird side-effect of getting less sunshine.

 After a number of increasingly more intense discussions it was revealed that at the root of the angsty misbehavior was something more basic…

 Disappointment.

 I am not sure what the kid was hoping for, and neither do they. But it turns out that living in Washington is a lot like living in Arizona only with more rain and fewer swimming pools. They were expecting things to somehow be different, more exciting, and less humdrum. At one point in the conversation they did admit that at the very least were hoping that a change in location would result in a change of expectations. We discussed the issue at length and I am pleased to report that life in Price household has finally returned to something that more closely resembles normal.

 My immediate reaction was relief that the crisis was over; relief was followed quickly by amusement. My amusement faded when it hit me that even many grown-ups have been guilty of the same sort of wishful hoping at one time or another.

 Most of us have irrationally hoped that making an outward alteration in education level, tax bracket, marital status or zip code would somehow alter more than just our education level, marital status, zip code or tax bracket. We believe deep down inside that getting married will fix our relationship problems, moving will transform us into a more interesting person or that getting a degree will give us the sense of belonging or prestige we have always longed for. When we wake-up the day after making the big change as the same person we’ve always been, reality results in…

 Disappointment.

 Disappointment is unavoidable in a fallen world. Few things in life work out exactly as we hoped or even planned they would. If disappointment is not handled properly it can transform into anger towards God. If anger is allowed to fester it will eventually grow into a cancer that always results in either a nasty case of depression or a grown-up version of acting out. We act-out (sin) because deep down inside we feel that our disappointment has earned us the right to take pleasure where we can find it. Acting-out is an ugly thing that never ends well for anyone, regardless of age.

 For Christians the key to coping with the inevitable disappointments of life begins with a willingness to surrender our dreams and desires to God. When we let go of our dreams and desires, we are freed up to embrace the dreams God has for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

When You’re Ready For It to be Over Already

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength~ Isaiah 40:29-31a

For the most part my son was a sweet and obedient little boy. However, there was one area he struggled throughout his childhood. Alex was (and is now) a kid who routinely spoke his mind, irrespective of the appropriateness of the situation.

 When Alex was six my husband took him to a local home improvement store where he saw a man dressed as a woman for the first time. Alex stared at the man for just a second or two, gave a slight nod, as if he had made his mind up about something significant and loudly declared that if men were going to wear dresses they ought to at least shave their legs. Alex charmed everyone within earshot with his thoroughly naïve but straightforward appraisal of the situation, except of course, the man wearing the dress.

 My son’s inclination to boldly speak his mind was not limited to the questionable wardrobe choices of others. Nor did it start when he was six. It started in early toddlerhood. To my utter horror, He would routinely ask total strangers the most personal questions imaginable. He also made a regular habit of informing the parents of other children when he felt their kids were misbehaving. He was notorious for correcting or contradicting any opinion he believed to be based on misinformation. Regardless of the age or person giving the opinion.

 As awkward, embarrassing and downright irritating all that was, nothing matched the level of humiliation I felt when my son would decide was ready to leave a gathering or a play date. Once he made-up his mind that he had enough fun for the day, he would approach me (he never once did this privately) and announce loudly that he was “done” and “ready for it to be over”. Once my initial inclination to hide under the furniture passed, I was typically overwhelmed with a very un-motherly yearning to murder my own offspring. For nearly a year of his childhood most of our outings ended with a lengthy lecture on the importance of not actually saying everything we think or feel.

 Alex’s desire to be done with any situation he wasn’t enjoying anymore was maddening. However, I do understand his feelings. Sometimes even grown-ups are done with a situation or trial long before God has decided it’s time for us to move on.

Lately, I have found myself saying some things to God that sound remarkably like the things my toddler used to say to me.

 It is not as if the trial we’ve experienced has been the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone. We have a great deal to be thankful for. We have a steady income, our kids are healthy, none of them are currently using drugs or openly rebelling against God, we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. My husband and I are healthy and our marriage is solid. In other words all the stuff that really matters in this life is still okay in our world.

 All that said, having a house that has sat on a stagnant market for the better part of a year has been hard. Our lives are currently on hold. The youngest is struggling emotionally. Living apart has been tough (to say the least) and our checking account needs CPR. However none of those issues compare to the spiritual bewilderment we have experienced as we waited for God to act on our behalf.

 There have been many times over the course of the last eight months when I have felt as if we were being tested (and failing badly). I now know I was wrong, at least about the testing part. We have been reading the situation all-wrong. It’s not a test.

 It’s an opportunity.

 Like any trial the last eight months has been an opportunity to learn to love and trust God even when life is a lot less than easy and the answers are hard to find. It’s been an opportunity to trust and to proclaim the goodness of God even when He has felt far away. It’s been opportunity to show the world what faith really looks like (Hebrews 11:1).

 I know this likely won’t be last time I will be given an opportunity that feels like a test. I am hoping and praying that the next time an opportunity disguised, as a misfortune comes around I will have the wisdom to recognize it for what it is sooner.

Weight and Other Creeping Things-

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us~ Hebrews 12:1

 2015 will go down in history as the year that refused to go away quietly. In our family it ended with a rather brutal case of the flu. I got hit the hardest and because I have been blessed with a husband who worries too much, I spent the better part of an afternoon at urgent care.

 I am not a fan of urgent care clinics. Waiting is not my thing and urgent care is all about waiting. It’s just what you do. First you wait to speak with the receptionist. Then you are moved to a reception area to wait some more. Then the medical assistant escorts you to a sad little cubicle with no windows, At that point the waiting begins in earnest. Then they make you wait to leave.

 The waiting aside, the thing I find most troublesome about urgent care is being packed into a room teeming with sick people. I have nothing against sick people per se, but there is something about being confined in an enclosed space with a dozen or more sneezey strangers harboring who-knows-what kind of strange sickness that I find truly unsettling.

 I was waiting in the reception area, attempting to distract myself from thinking about the number of viruses that could potentially be mutating into the next outbreak, when the medical assistant called my name. I was ushered into the back room, where she pointed at a scale and informed me that that I needed to be weighed before I could see a doctor.

 I attempted to resist.

I hate being weighed even more than I hate waiting. I don’t own a scale. I have always thought that voluntarily being weighed is a bit like begging for bad news.  I like to think I’m smarter than that. However, good manners eventually won out over my dread and I eventually stepped onto the scale, but only after removing my shoes and coat. A few minutes later I found myself sincerely wishing that I could have taken off more than just my shoes and coat.

 I will not tell you how much I weighed. In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that it was a large number, one I haven’t seen on a scale since my pregnancy years. After the disturbing weigh-in I was escorted to the cubicle where I had plenty of time to think while I waited for the doctor.

 I was shocked and horrified by the number on the scale. One of the reasons I hate scales is because they don’t lie and they have no way of softening the bad news. But it wasn’t the number that bothered me the most. It was the fact that I didn’t even notice the pounds sneaking on that really bothered me. It’s the sort of thing you would think one would notice.

 Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: weight is not the most dangerous thing we can miss sneaking up on us. Spiritual health is far more important to the big picture and even easier to neglect.

 One of the reasons spiritual health is so easy to neglect is because it cannot be measured by looking at a person or the number of spiritual activities we participate in. Spiritual health can be faked, at least on the surface. A person can look good on the outside, say all the right things, be in church every time the doors are open and even read the Bible daily and still have a sin-sick soul.

 Spiritual health is measured in attitudes and actions, rather than by appearances. One sure sign of good soul health is when we can see and celebrate the hand of God in more than just the times of ease and plenty. Our spirits are healthy when we see people the way God sees them. When we understand that people are, the end, never simply the means to an end. Our spirits are healthy when we are engaged in activities and relationships where God is at the center.

 We know our spirits are healthy when we are content with what we have but are still seeking to grow in whatever calling God has given us. The key to staying spiritually healthy is to stay close to God, to keep Him at the center of every question we have, every concern that comes our way, and every celebratory moment we are privileged to experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing with a Creep Problem

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been~ 1st Kings 11:4

 Our home is currently on the market. Having a house up for sale is a little like being in the final weeks of pregnancy. Each morning dawns with optimism and hope, and the sense that today could be the day. Every evening ends in despondency as you wonder if anything is ever going to actually happen.

 Daily despair aside, by far the toughest thing about having a house on the market is the level of vigilance that must be maintained regarding cleanliness. Realtors will tell you that items a family uses on a regular basis should be kept out of sight and every surface should be tidy and dust-free at all times. The whole idea is to create the illusion that nobody actually lives in your house so that buyers can envision themselves living there.

Maintaining this absurd illusion is even more challenging than it sounds.

 As the process has dragged on, I have learned a few sanity-saving tricks. I keep the ceiling fans running so buyers won’t notice any dirt on the blades. I hide items I don’t want people to see in my husband’s workbench in the garage. I have also cut back on the time I spend doing laundry. I stash our dirty laundry in the trunks of our cars before showings.

 My lack of attention to the laundry has resulted in a rather foreseeable consequence. We are all running a bit low on clean clothes. This has got me searching the darkest regions of my closet for clothing I quit wearing and should have donated ages ago.

 Recently, I pulled out a pair of shorts I hadn’t even looked at in at least two years. They were clean, not horrible looking and all I had left, so they met all the essential criteria. It didn’t take me long for to recognize there was going to be a problem.

 The shorts were, well, a bit snug. However, at that point I was running critically low on options and feeling desperate. So I persevered. I tugged and yanked and sucked in my gut and held my breath and finally managed to get them zipped. After some more effort I even succeeded in getting the button fastened.

 I stood in front of the mirror for a good while debating whether or not I should put on a long shirt to cover my hind-end or go back to my closet for a more suitable option. Just as I concluded that a long shirt would do the job, the button I had labored to fasten popped off with such force that it ricocheted off the bathroom wall.

 I was not a happy woman. And not just because I was faced with needing to do laundry; I also realized I needed to lose weight. Fast.  

 As I pondered my new eating plan (fewer greasy carbs, no more late night nibbles with the dog) I realized that sin and weight gain have more than a few things in common.

No one wakes up fat; weight gain is a process.

 It starts with choosing fries instead of salad. Next you throw caution to the wind and order deep-fried everything and a big messy dessert with one fork every time you go out. The routine of sharing a little nibble with the dog before bed slowly devolves into a carbo-loading frenzy for both of you every night of the week. Before long, your adorable little dog is wearing a jumbo size harness and your buttons are ricocheting off the bathroom wall.

 Sin works much the same way.

Nobody wakes up one morning blindsided by an addiction or just decides to begin an affair. It all starts fairly innocently with a seemingly inconsequential moral compromise here and a teensy little concession to sin there. Before you know it, you are stuck in a shame-spiral due to a deep-rooted habit you can’t break or a relationship that is clearly not God’s best for you.

 Thankfully, issues with sin and weight gain are solved in much the same way. Begin with acknowledging that there really is a problem. Denial is the enemy. Owning the problem is the next step; don’t pretend sin isn’t wrong or fool yourself into believing it won’t eventually kill you.

 Confess it, first to God, then to a friend who cares enough to hold you accountable. Then change as quickly as possible. Cut ties to toxic relationships, go to church this week, sign-up for a Bible study, and reach out to people who want to help you.

 Most importantly of all, remember that the situation, whatever it might be, does not need to define you. You are so much more than a series of bad choices to God. He is ready to forgive and give you the new beginning you so desperately need; all you have to do is repent.

 If only weight loss were that easy.

 

 

 

 

Pride and the Fall

Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice~ Proverbs 13:10

 This month marks the anniversary of an event that has transformed our family drastically in more ways than I can count. This time last year a nine-year-old girl came to our home for a visit and has since became a permanent member of our family.

We have not experienced a dull moment since.

 Integrating a new member into our family has not been easy or stress-free. There has been a great deal of joy but there have also been more than a few tough adjustments on both sides. It is not easy for a kid to adapt to a new family, nor is it easy for a family of (mostly) adults to adjust to the changes and loss of freedom that inevitably comes with a young child.

 All the challenges aside, I can truthfully say that the good has far outweighed the bad. At this point we cannot imagine our family without her. Zoey has brought a whole new depth of joy and laughter to our home. She is a kind, clever, imaginative girl with many gifts and talents.

 Sadly, organization and analytical thinking are not among them.

 In all my years on this Earth I have never seen anything quite like her unique brand of disorder and chaos. In the span of a few hours her bedroom can easily devolve into a weekend cleaning project. She pays zero attention to detail, which causes her to lose as much stuff as she hangs on to and she has been known to brush her teeth before breakfast to save time.

 Her chronic lack of common sense has led the older kids to refer to her as a “Dufflepud” after the sweet but ridiculous creatures in The Chronicles of Narnia books. Dufflepuds boiled their potatoes before planting them so they could harvest cooked potatoes and washed their plates before eating to save time after dinner.

 Thankfully, there have been major improvements in these areas. That said, we still have a ways to go before she becomes the paragon of organization and logical thought that I am praying and believing she will one day become.

 So you can imagine my skepticism when she informed me that I had failed to fill out a permission slip for a field trip properly. To my shame, I didn’t even have the good sense to look at the thing before I launched into a calm but condescending little lecture. I smugly informed her that there was no way I had made an error on something as basic as a permission slip for a 5th grade field trip.

 To her credit, Zoey nodded politely and obediently put the slip into her backpack. As she was heading out the door I decided to give it a second look and discovered that she was indeed correct. I quickly apologized and corrected my error, but not before I made a fool out of myself and hurt the feelings of a sweet little girl.

 Such is the sin of pride.

 It happens to the best of people. It could be argued that the better a person becomes, the more likely they are to become prideful about it. The list of things that causes pride to dominate our interactions is as long as it is varied. Our skills, business connections, education and track record can all become sources of pride. The danger in this type of pride is that we begin seeing our selves as infallible and we resist taking input and advice from others and no one is clever enough to do life all alone.

 Perhaps the most foolish and dangerous type of pride is pride over the things that are outside our control. Pride over physical appearance, material blessings, race and background can lead to every kind of prejudice and social evil none of which has any place in life of a Jesus follower.

 The deceptive nature of pride requires constant prayer and frequent self-assessment. Prayer is indispensable because without God’s help and guidance we may never become self aware enough to want change or empowered enough to make it happen.  

 And change, as difficult as it can be, is essential. Without it, we will never become the people God calls us to be—and we might just drive away the very ones He has called us to reach.

 

 

 

 

 

Stop the Scourge of Useful Idiots

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour~ 1st Peter 5:8

 Recently I had a conversation with a friend struggling with some fairly serious family drama. My friend has been working overtime to repair some damaged relationships and has been baffled as to why she isn’t making more progress. She recently learned that a “friend” has gotten in the middle of some significant relationships and repeated things said in confidence and exaggerated some things that were said.

 My friend is understandably irritated with the situation. She’s frustrated by her own carelessness and because the third party mixed up in the mess (a professed Christian) appears to be ignorant of the chaos she’s created. As the conversation progressed it became obvious to me that her “friend” is a useful idiot.

 “Useful idiot” is a term sometimes used in place of “unwitting accomplice.” An unwitting accomplice is a person who participates in a crime unintentionally—often because a criminal tricked them into criminal activity. Sometimes the poor fool is duped into believing that they are actually doing a good deed as they help the criminal break the law.

 The book of Job describes the devil as roaming the earth looking to cause trouble, and 1st Peter 5:8 describes Satan as one who prowls around looking for people to destroy. Ephesians 6:11 and John 10:10 tell us that the devil is continually scheming up ways to wreck havoc on the lives of people, especially God’s people. It’s a big job and even Satan needs a little help sometimes, and a useful idiot can come in handy.

 My friend’s story demonstrates that Christians sometimes unwittingly do the devils work. Even the best of God’s people can be guilty of helping the enemy steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Christians become useful idiots when:

 They fail to get all the facts~ Proverbs 14:15

 It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of supposing that all our assumptions concerning people and situations are spot-on. The truth is that things are rarely the way they appear and there are two sides to every story. Wise people look beyond first impressions and go to the source to ask questions when a person’s character is in question. Proverbs 14:15 reminds us that only the simple-minded believe everything they hear and take every story at face value.  

 Involve themselves in situations that are none of their concern~ Proverbs 26:17

 There is nothing wrong with listening to a hurting friend or giving counsel to someone who needs it. We cross a line when we allow ourselves to become intermediaries in disputes that are none of our business. It is never okay to repeat something said in confidence and quarreling parties should always be encouraged to work things out between themselves or with a pastor or counselor. Be wary of any “friend” who is a little too eager to involve themselves in your private family affairs; it’s likely this person is a useful idiot.

 When they refuse to forgive~ Hebrews 12:15

 Refusing to forgive leads to bitterness. When bitterness takes root in our hearts, it colors the way we see the world and becomes a corrupting and defiling influence in our lives that negatively affects everyone we come into contact with.

 They allow pride to take over~ Proverbs 13:10

 The devil has figured out that the simplest way to recruit a useful idiot is to encourage pride. Pride blinds us to reality and is at the root of nearly every other sin. Pride is easy to spot in others but hard to see in ourselves because the nature of pride is self-deceptive (Obadiah 1:3). One sign we may be stuck in a prideful mindset is refusal to admit wrongdoing or when we justify our actions because of what somebody else did or didn’t do.

 Spread dissension~ Proverbs 6:16-19

 Dissension is an ugly thing that is spread by planting seeds of dissatisfaction in someone’s mind about a situation or person. Those who spread dissension point out problems without offering solutions, cast blame and repeat things that were said in confidence. It is our responsibility to be forces of good in our world; God’s people are called to be problem solvers and reconcilers rather than faultfinders and troublemakers.

I am convinced that the key to avoiding the trap of becoming a useful idiot in Satan’s schemes is self-examination and honest appraisal of the dynamics of whatever situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes the most loving and wise thing we can do for everyone involved in a given situation is to graciously remove ourselves from the situation and commit to prayer for all involved.

 

 

The One Skill Every Child Must Have to Survive

 Last week marked the beginning of winter semester at the university where my son Alex attends college. He and I caught up after his first day of classes and chatted about his day.

 Just when I thought our little talk was drawing to a close, Alex said something that promptly reinvigorated the conversation. He casually mentioned that he’d had a tough time getting around school that day. Apparently the campus was swarming with parents who were hanging out, introducing themselves to the professors, looking for things, and even attending classes with their children.

 I was suddenly intrigued and bursting with questions…

 Really?

Was it parents’ day? (If so, why wasn’t I invited???)

Was there a problem at the airport, forcing parents to stay in Tucson?

Were the parents actually sitting in on the classes?

Were the kids embarrassed, sitting with their parents in college classes?

Were the professors annoyed?

 My son explained that it was not parent’s day, nor were there any issues at the airport that he was aware of. Some of his younger friends had informed him that not only did parents introduce themselves to the professors and sit in on the classes, but a few raised their hands to ask questions on behalf of their children. Surprisingly, the kids seemed to be perfectly okay with the unofficial “bring your parents to college day” but there was some serious eye-rolling going on among the professors.

 At first I thought the whole thing was a little weird and kind of funny. It simply never occurred to me to attend college classes with my kids. I just presumed that if they were old enough to enroll in college, they were capable of introducing themselves to the professors, finding nourishment, and locating their classrooms without my assistance.

 Later, I was struck by how unfunny the whole thing actually was. This sort of thing is a symptom of a problem that cripples many middle-class kids. Well-meaning parents have become so fearful regarding their kids’ safety, comfort level, and overall happiness that they have gone to extremes to shield their kids from harm or distress. In the process, some have missed the entire point of parenting and failed to teach the one skill everyone needs to survive in this world: Self-management

 Self-managers know when they are hungry, tired, cranky or sick and they understand how to deal with those issues appropriately. Self-mangers are not afraid to participate in life because they know how to recognize and protect themselves from dangerous people and situations. Self-managers take care of their own needs, treat people the way they wish to be treated, problem solve, have common sense and self-discipline, and are capable of healthy communication with other human beings. A child should be adept at the basics of self-management by the time they reach puberty. Sadly, most are not.

 There are three ways parents can teach self-management.

 Encourage children to take controlled risks-

 There is a lot of debate over how many and what type of risks children should be permitted to take. Some believe kids should be insulated from even the most remote danger. These are the people who want to hand out bulletproof blankets to kindergarteners and put helmets on children before recess. Others think kids should be permitted to wander completely unsupervised. Wisdom lies between the two extremes. Children cannot learn to manage risk without taking risks, and they learn by doing. Kids should be coached about safety and then given age-appropriate opportunities to walk to the park alone, pay for things, ride their bikes unsupervised and walk around a store or mall without Mom and Dad by their side.

 Limit the use of technology-

 Good communication skills are essential to self-management. Technology (especially texting) keeps kids from developing the skills necessary to actually talk with other human beings. Kids need face-to-face communication to learn to read non-verbal cues and to understand how their words affect others. If kids are allowed a cell phone before puberty, parents should insist it’s used for phone calls only.

 Do not eliminate negative consequences-

 Consequences are the fruit of choices. We do kids a disservice when we cushion them from negative consequences. If a child is inconsiderate, irresponsible, rude or careless they should be made to deal with the fallout of their choices even if it’s inconvenient or embarrassing for Mom and Dad.

 In the early years, parenting is all about protection and provision. Loving parents do everything within their power to provide for and guarantee that no harm befalls their young child. As kids mature, parenting priorities must shift. If they don’t kids will grow up with all of the passions and aspirations of adults while missing the maturity and wisdom to manage and make the most of those passions and aspirations. The skills gained through the teaching of self-management lay the groundwork for a life of productivity, happiness and holiness. Without the capacity to self-manage, no one—no matter how loved they were in the early years—will ever reach his or her God-given potential.