Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Praising God. . . for forgiveness

No, these aren't my kids, or me, but they could be!
Early this morning, exactly fourteen minutes after I woke my kids up, World War III broke out in my house. The details of it aren’t very important, but the fight started over the boy teen calling the girl teen names, and the girl teen wanting the boy teen to not do something he was doing. Honestly, as a mom these are the moments when I need the wisdom of Solomon—in fact, I need more wisdom than Solomon in these moments. . . really, I just wish Solomon would take over for me in these moments.

However, Solomon didn’t come rushing over to my house, and I have to admit I didn’t handle this battle very well, and instead found myself joining them in the insanity of family wars, and all before breakfast.

Which leads me to another reason to praise and worship my God: forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 tells the Christian what they have to do to obtain God’s forgiveness. It says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So, for a Christian who has a bad morning like mine, the solution is super simple: take a deep breath, turn to God, and be cleansed. It’s as easy as that! Of course I had to go to my daughter as well, and let her know I didn’t handle that very well. But, there’s no more guilt, no more beating myself over the head, no more worrying about it, nothing but clean, clear freedom from sin and guilt.

This too is somewhat different from what I experienced before. You see, before I understood my responsibility to be perfecting myself by slowly but surely overcoming sins like anger, until sometime in the future when I would truly be better and then would truly be worthy in God’s eyes. Because of that point of view when I had a morning like today in my past life, I would be plagued with guilt and frustration at my own inability to perfect myself. I would experience a guilt trip, and in my guilt, call out to God for forgiveness this “one” time, and promise Him that once again I would not do this thing again. . . It truly was a constant pursuit for perfection, and one in which I failed all the time.

The trouble with that point of view is that it makes a person like a rat on a treadmill, running, and running, and running but never really getting anywhere because as soon as they stop they just fall back down to the bottom.

Biblical Christianity however, is based on the God who created us, who knows us intimately and knows exactly how to make human beings into His image. God knew that I would have mornings like this when a battle between children could so easily draw me in. Because of that He didn’t ask me to “try harder” to avoid that kind of situation (when the kids leave for college I might finally get that lesson!), but instead He told me He would perfect me while in this situation by working in me, forgiving me when I fail, and making me into the person He wants me to be.

And you know what? I see that happening. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how and when God changed me, but He has. His Holy Spirit within me works in me all the time. His Holy Word shows me what He wants of me, and when I fail, He speaks to me, showing me that I did, indeed, react in a wrong manner. The proof of that is truly in the “fruit of the Spirit” that I see in my life: more love, more joy, more peace, more self-control, more faithfulness, more kindness, more long-suffering.(see Galatians 5 for what the Bible has to say about the fruit of the Spirit.)

So today I praise God because He is a God who works in His children, changing them, growing them, and most of all forgiving them when they fall.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Praising God . . . for pack rats?

I was thinking this morning more about the issue of praising God. It’s a subject that I used to not understand at all but have come to appreciate so very much. In fact, now it’s not a matter of choosing to, or being told I should worship God, but instead it’s a part of my very being—I can no more not worship God than I can not breathe. This fundamental difference in me has made me think more about what exactly is the difference between then and now.

I realize that then my concept of God was a bit shaky. In many ways I thought of God as a man. Not that I intentionally tried to make him over in my image, but since man was all I knew about, that’s how I saw my God. Of course he was a much bigger man than I was, and much smarter, more powerful, wiser, holier, and well, just much more than I, but still in my thinking he was a man. Coupled with the belief that God was an exalted form of me too was the belief that if I did all the right things, and tried hard enough that I too would/could become a god myself. Both of these beliefs coupled together to form a god image that in many ways really wasn’t worthy of praise—I mean, I could do this, it wasn’t an impossible task—hard certainly, but not impossible.

My image of God now though is so much different. In fact, it’s so big that I have trouble really explaining it completely, and won’t even try to do it in just one blog.

An example of this is my image of God as the Creator of the Universe. Genesis 1:1 tells us that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The verses after this verse describe how exactly God went about that, and it’s interesting to note that in every single instance God said, and it was then created. Thinking about that just blows my mind! It takes me at least a half hour to “create” a simple meal and this is something I do each and every day, and yet God spoke and the world, each and every aspect of it, was created. I can’t even begin to imagine the power behind that, not to mention the knowledge (and wisdom!) that all had to come together to create a world like what we live in, not to mention the rest of the universe.

The bigness of this is one reason that all throughout the Old Testament Israel is pointed back to God as their amazing Creator and praised again and again and again. To see what I mean go to and type in the key word “created” and then read through just a few of the verses. This concept was so big in Jewish thought that it’s one of the major themes of the Old Testament.

Awhile back, I was cleaning up around my mother’s house and the immensity of creation really overwhelmed me with praise and gratitude to my Creator through the nest of a pack rat. For those who don’t live in the desert, a pack rat is a real nuisance. They are rats that live outdoors and collect junk to make their den. You can quickly tell their nests by the garbage collected around, usually a pile of cactus, papers, various seeds, foods, and even scraps of metal and plastic. Here are some photos for the uninitiated. 

Of course for those who dwell in the desert these nests are unsightly, not to mention most people don’t appreciate rats living near their houses. My mother is no exception so I was trying to clean out the rat’s nest for her.

What I discovered though was simply amazing! You see, the organic debris that the pack rat had gathered and made into a nest was degrading: it was breaking down into basic organic material. Those in wetter climates might not find this very interesting, but in the desert the process of organic material degrading doesn’t happen very quickly. A cactus can die and lie in the desert for decades in basically its same form. But, the rats, my mother’s scourge, actually were taking material that might never biodegrade, and making it break down and enrich the soil. (A process that is needed for the next generation of cactus or brush to grow!)

I know this is a small thing and probably not too significant in most people’s eyes, but for me it was eye opening to see that our Creator God had planned (and planted) an animal in the desert that did a whole bunch of things to make the desert more fertile. I didn’t plan that—my mother certainly didn’t (her plan was to kill them all), but our Creator God who knows way, way more things than I do thought ahead and planned it so that the desert could blossom and grow.

From this discovery I was filled with awe for my God—you see, my God is so big, so smart, so wise, that He planned out every single detail of creation. He didn’t just speak and hope things would turn out OK. He didn’t just accidentally create all of this stuff that works out so very well. He didn’t just put a plan in motion and hope it worked out. He didn’t do any of that, but instead He planned for every single intricate detail of nature to work together for His glory—even pack rats!

And it’s just these details about God, my amazing God, that bring praise to my lips and joy to my heart. It comes quite naturally because I see, really see, how BIG He really is, and how very worthy of praise He is.

Where I've Been (for those who were wondering)

I haven’t blogged for a bit because my kids and I took a trip to Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico for almost the entire month of July to help a missionary friend minister in a place where both Tarahumara Indians and Mexicans work making bricks literally by hand and live in pretty primitive housing. My friend, who works out there all year long, taught a month-long Bible course and I had the privilege of helping her by taking charge of the “nursery.” Since the nursery had kids up to eight years old there (anyone who can’t read was in the nursery), we did Bible lessons, crafts, and played with the kids every day. And, in the end the kids learned a few facts about God too!

It was an amazing and exhausting experience and we really, really came to love those kids, and miss them so much. I want to share a few pictures of the kids, and also my kids who were learning how to minister too! 

James worked with the kids, and learned how to encourage them to do their best, even though he's only a couple years older than them. Here he's teaching them how to work a jigsaw puzzle. (Remember he's doing this in Spanish, which is pretty impressive since he hasn't been there for over two years and has forgotten much of what he knew).
Anna absolutely loved working with the babies. This is her favorite, Martin. It was a great help to have Anna take the babies since that freed me up to work with the bigger kids and to help the teacher out.
I haven't had a kid throw a full-blown temper tantrum for years, so this was a good reminder of what it's like to have a two-year-old around. I just held him and loved him and after a bit he finally settled down enough to join us in coloring.
John is not a baby or little kid person, but he pitched right in and helped whereever he was needed. This day he was needed to help with a crying baby. It was a stretch for him, but he did a great job.
This is Ana, our Mexican teacher who we got to know and love while we were there. She was GREAT with the kids and a real blessing to all of us, especially me. Together we made a great combination as I made the plans for the day, the theme for the week, the song, and then she made it actually happen.

Lastly, this is my friend, Tasha, who is a missionary in Chihuahua. She is teaching the kids with a flannel board story here, and will continue to teach these precious children through the year on Friday afternoons.