Saturday, August 27, 2011

Deep Thinking

I have been thinking... hard thinking... deep thinking....
Thoughts that go into the depths of the ocean that are unknown to mankind even to this day...
Thoughts so deep that I cannot even begin to fathom the answer to them...
Thoughts all ponderings from the observance of one question.

The question?

Why is it that the words or the very act of "Mom is in the bathroom" means absolutely nothing?

Since the day I became a mother I do not think I have ever made it through one bathroom visit (for whatever the purpose) without someone coming to the door or in the door.

There is the question that must be answered now.
There is the story that must be told now.
There is the fight that must be resolved now.
The tale that must be tattled now.
The thing that must be shown now.

Even our dog now follows me into the bathroom and if I do not make sure the door is pulled fully to, he will bust through it like nobody's business.

And as I recall... I don't believe that my mother ever received privacy in the bathroom either...

Mom is just always fair game anytime and anywhere... and well the truth is as aggravating as that can get... I wouldn't trade it for the world. Somehow it seems to show that they know that nothing that I am doing at anytime for myself is ever really more important than they are in my life.

Whoever would have thought that the personal interest in Philippians 2:1-4 would include a mom in the bathroom :-)

 "Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Strength to Love

My girls and I walked to our Public Library this afternoon. I wanted to get a new book to read while I tag-a-long on my husband's business trip to New Orleans. (I have never been to New Orleans so I am sure I will gather lots of interesting blogging material while I am there. So stay tuned :-)

After spending close to an hour there looking through the book shelves I finally chose two books for the trip. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I never knew that Martin Luther King Jr had a book in publication. This is a man that I truly admire. So when I saw the book Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr, written in 1963, I had to grab it.

One of my constant prayers is that God would teach me to love as He loves. There have been people in my life that I have asked God to remove, but He always whispers in my heart, Nicole, if you can learn to love them, you can learn to love anyone.

If any man can shed some extra light on this subject of loving those that are not so nice to us and help me to learn to live in/with this kind of godly love Martin Luther King Jr should be able to.
I have only thumbed through this book and already I am floored by his words...

Let me share a passage of this book with you:

"I do not pretend to understand all of the ways of God or his particular timetable for grappling with evil. Perhaps if God dealt with evil in the overbearing way that we wish, he would defeat his ultimate purpose. We are responsible human beings, not blind automatons; persons, not puppets. By endowing us with freedom, God relinquished a measure of his own sovereignty and imposed certain limitations upon himself. If his children are free, they must do his will by a voluntary choice. Therefore, God cannot at the same time impose his will upon his children and also maintain his purpose for man. If through sheer omnipotence God were to defeat his purpose, he would express weakness rather than power. Power is the ability to fulfill purpose; action which defeats purpose is weakness.
God's unwillingness to deal with evil with an overbearing immediacy does not mean that he is doing nothing. We weak and finite human beings are not alone in our quest for the triumph of righteousness. There is, as Matthew Arnold wrote, an 'enduring power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness.'
We must also remember that God does not forget his children who are the victims of evil forces. He gives us the interior resources to bear the burdens and tribulations of life. When we are in the darkness of some oppressive Egypt, God is a light unto our path. He imbues us with the strength needed to endure the ordeals of Egypt, and he gives us the courage and power to undertake the journey ahead. When the lamp of hope flickers and the candle of faith runs low, he restoreth our souls, giving us renewed vigor to carry on. He is with us not only in the noontime of fulfillment, but also in the midnight of despair."  

Do you see why I cannot wait to get into this book? I am actually having to force myself now to put it down so that I do not have it read before we leave Sunday. I am already sure that my twitter will be rockin' and my blogging will be abundant as I share all the lightbulb moments.

I also will be reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer this coming week. I am on edge waiting to dive into this book as well :-)

My husband will be speaking at the conference and will be attending workshops during the day so I will have hours of uninterrupted time alone this week to spend studying the glorious Word of my God and reading these two books by some mighty men of God and writing my heart out about what all God is teaching me.

Then the rest of the time I will have the great joy of spending hours of uninterrupted time with my man wondering the streets of New Orleans :-)

I will miss my girls, but they will be being happily spoiled rotten by their grandparents, so I shall not feel guilty about this time of absence from them. I am just going to enjoy the week with my God and with my Husband. I look forward to spending this week growing closer to them both and learning to love them both more deeply...

Hmmmm and also wondering what doors for the Word my God might open for me while I am there to share the Good News of Christ.

Constructive Criticism

How often do we hear, "I'm just giving you a little constructive criticism... after all I am blah, blah, blah"
Then we feel need to respond with, "well I don't mind constructive criticism." or "I know I need to be able to accept constructive criticism."  

The more I think about this phrase, this act, well I have had a little issue here lately with this idea of "constructive criticism". So I thought I might do a little bit of research on this term we so often use.

The word constructive means "building, beneficial to progress, inferential. (Now I had no clue what inferential meant so I had to look that up too, it means "a conclusion or presumption, concluded by reasoning or derived from evidence")

The word criticism means "the act or judgment of a critic and a critic is one who appraises the merit of another's work, usually in a negative evaluation and when one "criticizes" it is usually adversely.

Some of the synonyms for criticize are blame, censure, condemn, denounce, dis, dispraise, fault, knock, reprehend, come down hard on, find fault...

If we put the words constructive and criticism together according to there definitions and synonyms do we not have an oxymoron? Do not the two words actually contradict each other and defeat the other's purpose?

Do you know there is only one place in the NAS translation that we can find the word criticize? (the word "criticism" was not there)

“Those who err in mind will know the truth,
And those who criticize will accept instruction."
Isaiah 29:24

According to the Word of God it's those who criticize that are proving themselves to be the one in error.

Is not criticism, someone setting themselves up as a superior because they have received the praises of man (or even just simply because they have a very high opinion of themselves and the way they do things ) and now they look at you and evaluate your creation, you work, your efforts according to their taste, style, and opinion? And if you do not measure up to them (according to them of course) then you are now considered inferior and your efforts lacking in their eyes.

The more I receive criticism, the more I hate it. Truthfully I had rather not share my work, not put forth my effort, if when I know I have given my best, or am trying my best on what knowledge and skill I currently possess, and then someone comes in and criticizes it and tears that down...
Oh is it not a death blow?

I watch the eyes of others as they receive this "constructive criticism" and there is nothing building up in their countenance. Criticism is not teaching. It is very different. We need to be sure we know the difference. Especially with our children and with our spouses and with anyone who sits under us as a learner in any way.

Believe it or not this term began to irritate me the most as I watched MasterChef with my family. These home cooks prepare these amazing meals that they are so very proud of, these are meals that I could not even imagine preparing myself because there were no boxes or cans of pre-put together ingredients.
They bring these dishes up with bright smiles of pride in what they have accomplished, it most likely is a dish that their friends and family have thoroughly enjoyed as a special gourmet meal, and they present them to these "judges".
These judges then snarl their noses at this dish and pick around it and sniff it and roll their eyes and sometimes even dump this creative effort, this special work, in the trash.

I watched the faces of these cooks this year and my heart broke... and yet most of us (including me before this year) are sitting at home on our couches laughing our butts off at the destructive words coming from this judge toward this person who was so proud of what they had accomplished, to only be told it still was not good enough.
This cook then goes back to their cooking area completely broken down and humiliated and says something like, "I know I needed the "constructive criticism."

I dare say "no, they didn't."

Let me share a few of the antonyms of the word criticize, they are extol, laud, praise...

Hmmm personally it seems to me that constructive praise would be much more building and beneficial to progress. I believe these cooks needed constructive praise not constructive condemning (remember condemn is a synonym for criticize).

I believe we all should have a high standard set for our lives. We should desire to be the best we can be in all things, but I believe we will get there faster through giving and receiving constructive praise, not constructive condemning. 

How does God tell us to build up? To appraise the work and efforts of another? To be beneficial to the progress of another?

Word of God speak...

"And it will be said,
“ Build up, build up, prepare the way,
Remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.”
Isaiah 57:14

"So then we pursue the things which make for peace
and the building up of one another."
Romans 14:19
"This I say for your own benefit;
not to put a restraint upon you,
but to promote what is appropriate
and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord."
1 Corin 7:35

"You are looking at things as they are outwardly.
If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s,
let him consider this again within himself,
that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. 
For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority,
which the Lord gave for building you up
and not for destroying you,
I will not be put to shame, 
for I do not wish to seem as if
 I would terrify you by my letters."
2 Corinthians 10:7-9

"For this reason I am writing these things while absent,
so that when present I need not use severity,
in accordance with the authority
which the Lord gave me for building up
and not for tearing down."
2 Corin 13:10

"but speaking the truth in love,
we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head,
even Christ, 
from whom the whole body,
being fitted and held together
by what every joint supplies,
 according to the proper working
of each individual part,
causes the growth of the body
for the building up of itself in love."
Ephesians 4:15-16 

"Therefore encourage one another
and build up one another,
just as you also are doing."
1 Thess 5:11

I suppose of these Scriptures that I cross-referenced the one that hit the hardest was,

"The wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish tears it down with her own hands."
Proverbs 14:1

Today and from this day forward my challenge is to be a woman who teaches through and by constructive praise not the so called constructive criticism. I have never known criticism to ever build anyone up, only make them more defiant and rebellious and disheartened and determined with the wrong motive... to please man and not God. It also can plant a seed of bitterness in a heart that can take root and grow and completely destroy someone.

I am not to use the authority I have in my home over my children, or the position I have in my home with my spouse, or the places I am called to serve in my church, or my place of business/employment in the world as opportunity to criticize the efforts of another by comparing them to my own personal human standards or ability. If they are trying to give me their best and I know this then I am to build them up, encourage them, and teach them from praise not condemnation.

I am not to withhold grace from anyone (Hebrews 12:15). Is that not what criticism does? Does it not withhold grace from another? Who exactly do we criticize when we criticize the creation, the precious efforts of another human being?

"Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer,
and the one who formed you from the womb,
“I, the LORD, am the maker of all things..."
Isaiah 44:24

"All things came into being through Him,
and apart from Him nothing came into being
that has come into being"
John  1:3

The only thing we as believers are called to judge is sin (sin clearly defined in Scripture as sin by God, not man) because sin is a perversion of God's perfection and it always leads to death.
Yes, we are called to judge sin, to criticize it, to condemn it, but even this we are to do in love, with gentleness, patience, and self-control.
And we cannot leave it at condemnation, but must teach the way of Hope.
I am to remove obstacles, not just point them out. I am to promote what is good, not just point out was is bad. I am not to use severity but kindness and gentleness.

"The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome,
but be kind to all,
able to teach,
patient when wronged, 
with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition,
if perhaps God may grant them repentance
leading to the knowledge of the truth,"
2 Timothy 2:23-25

Oh precious ones, the world may be a place of constructive criticism, but may our homes and our church be a place of constructive praise.

What to do with "constructive criticism" that has added "baggage" in your life.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eat It Anyway

Yesterday was our first day back to school at the Vaughn Elementary Academy. My girls began there day with Bible Study/Quiet Time. This is to be the first thing they do every morning. This is also my number one reason for wanting to homeschool our children.

I had forgotten how wonderful our days of school are. I had forgotten how satisfying it is to teach my children in my lap the Scriptures of God (my Bekah at 7, still needs help). I had forgotten how breathtaking it was to peek into my Shelby's room (my 10 year old) and see her digging into the Word of God on her own and loving it.

I had forgotten because this summer I allowed this to fall to the wayside...

I still had my quiet time, but I let them slide. I allowed them to go straight to the tv all summer long. I did so because I justified that my summer seemed so crazy that I needed every bit of morning I could get to keep my sanity and study what I knew I had to teach and to plan my lessons. What is funny (or sad) is that as I sit here now, I cannot think of one thing that I actually accomplished this summer. I can't recall what it was about this summer that made it such a whirlwind... but still it seems as though it is just a blur.

My Sunday's I remember. I remember what I have learned as I studied and I recall the lessons I have taught... but I cannot remember why this summer was so crazy.

There is no outside tangible thing that comes to mind... it must have just been an internal hurricane. Maybe it was the constant confusion crashes or the waves of worry or the dunes of doubt or the faith freak outs... probably all of the above. Maybe it was just simply that I was not being still and trusting my Jesus to calm the storm as much as I thought I was.

Maybe it was just that my focus was off completely, my priorities out of wack... again, most likely this was it.

"He humbled you and let you be hungry,
and fed you with manna which you did not know,
nor did your fathers know,
that He might make you understand
that man does not live by bread alone,
but man lives by everything
that proceeds
out of the mouth of the LORD."
Deuteronomy 8:3

You see I had forgotten that before I am a teacher to others... I am first a teacher to my children. I don't want them to just see me doing my Bible study/quiet time I want to teach them this discipline for their life. And it is a discipline. It is something we must purposely choose every morning. One of my new favorite quotes from Charles Stanley is "Discipline, not desire, determines your destiny".

My husband got custody of his oldest when she was 12 years old. I often feel as though I failed miserably at being the mother in the home that she needed. She was homeschooled and when we got custody she began school. One of the biggest things I feel I failed at was fitting in a Bible study/Quiet time with her. I can use the excuse of having a newborn and a toddler and not being used to having to be out the door every morning at 7:30am with all three of them... but still it is simply just an excuse.

Just because something is difficult doesn't mean we put it aside.

I believe that I can tell the difference in the temperament of our entire household when we all begin the day in worship and fellowship with our Creator God through the study of His Word.

I hate to cook. It is difficult for me. I can cook, but it is a challenge. I had much rather pour a bowl of cereal or make a sandwich. However, even though cooking is not easy for me and it is a challenge I still do it. I still know my family must eat. I am not going to go all day (and especially not days or a whole week) without making sure my children are getting food to eat.

"But He answered and said,
“It is written,
Matthew 4:4

Our Creator God has made it clear through His Word and through His Son, Jesus, the Word made flesh, that we cannot live on just food alone. I can feed my children on the finest vitamin enriched foods our planet has to offer. I can teach them to eat their greens and drink their milk and I can teach them to dicipline themselves to eat foods they don't particularly like in order to stay healthy, but if I do not teach them to practice this same discipline when it comes to studying the Word of God I am starving them to death.

Child: "But Momma, do I have to eat these? I don't like green beans."   
Mom: "I don't care if you don't like green beans. Your body needs them. Hold your nose and eat them anyway!"

Child: "But Momma, do I have to do this Bible stuff? I don't even like to read?" 
Mom: "I don't care if you don't like to read. Your mind, soul, and spirit needs the Word of God to survive. Put your nose to the page and read it anyway!"  

May we as parents remember this truths of our God, that we do not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of our God. It is after all one of the first examples given to us by Christ as how we are to defeat the enemy of our souls... I probably shouldn't ignore it.

Before He taught us to believe, He taught us to eat.
Before He taught us to pray, He taught us to eat.
Before He taught us to walk, He taught us to eat.
Before He taught us to go, He taught us to eat.

"How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!"
Psalm 119:103

Monday, August 22, 2011

Praying In His Will

In my quiet time with my God this morning as I was praying that God would line my thoughts up with His thoughts and my ways up with His ways and my will up with His will, the Lord took me to the book of Nehemiah. The verse that first jumped out at me was this,

"Then the king said to me, “What would you request?”
So I prayed to the God of heaven."
Nehemiah 2:4

Did you see it?
Did  you see that before Nehemiah answered the question, he prayed to God.
Nehemiah wanted to make sure his answer was in God's will.

As I read this verse I felt as though my Savior whispered in my heart, Nicole, this is how I want you to live. When someone asks what do you want, what would you like, don't answer from you, look to Me. Let Me guide you in your answer. Make sure that the answer to the question does not take you from My purpose and from My protection.

After I read this verse and heard the still whisper of my God I went back and put this verse in it's context. At this time Nehemiah is the king's cupbearer and the king has just called him out because he is obviously upset, and he is not supposed to be upset around the king. The kings question could have meant Nehemiah's very life. So Nehemiah wanted to be sure that God was with him as he answered the king.

How many times does the answer to a question mean life or death to us?
I believe more than we like to admit or even realize.

As a young girl, when asked, "Do you want to go out?" Had I took the moment to pray to God before I answered... well... yeh... how I wish I had sought God's guidance in my answer.

I have spent my entire Christian walk learning how to pray. "God, teach me to pray" is a regular prayer of mine and God has been faithful to teach me. He continues to teach me as He opens up His word to me and reveals Himself to me more and more as I seek Him.

One of the lessons that I have learned concerning prayer is that God simply is not going to listen if we are living in sin and rebellion against Him. The first thing we must do is align ourselves with God. We must first confess our sins. 

Have you ever considered how many of your prayer request are actually a direct result of not seeking God first? How many of those cries out to God come from the consequences of our sinful choices? 

So repentance, humility, must come first.

If you feel like God never answers you when you pray... Have you chosen to align yourself back up with God. Are you living in rebellion against Him, putting your own wants and desires and pleasures before your love and service to Him?

"Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.
But your iniquities have made a separation

between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you

so that He does not hear."
Isaiah 59:1-2

The first thing that Nehemiah asked from God was for Him to hear his confession, not for just his own sins, but Nehemiah interceded on behalf of the entire nation (Nehemiah 1:4-7).

After the confession, Nehemiah goes to God's Word, to the promises He had made His covenant people.

"Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses..."
Nehemiah 1:8

I have learned that for my prayers to be in His will, they must be in accordance with His Word. If I do not know God's Word then I do not really know how to pray and if I do not know God's Word, then I am never going to know if He answered me.

He will answer me according to His Word. He will speak to me through His Scriptures. I will pray and the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance the Word of God that answers me, the promises of God in His Word that strengthens me. Then I simply must wait for God to accomplish His purpose and I must trust Him with the results. Knowing that He heard me and believing that He has it all under control.

If you feel like God never answers you when you pray... When was the last time you studied His Word.

Praying without studying the Scriptures, without seeking God in His word, and getting upset because you don't think He's listening, is like getting mad at someone for not calling you back and then looking down to realize that your phone has been turned off.  

And even if I feel I have been answered, if I have not put His Word in my heart, then how do I know that the voice that I heard, the unction that I received, was from God?
I don't and I can't.
It could have been the enemy of my soul... yes He knows how to talk "God talk".
Or it could have been my own desire speaking.
God speaks to us in and through His word. Knowing His word is vital to us knowing God and hearing His voice and recognizing His will in our lives.

There have been times in my life that I have felt like God was not hearing me, but in reality I felt that way simply because He wasn't doing what I thought He should be doing. My prayer had nothing to do with me seeking His will, His ways, His thoughts. It simply was "God this is what I want and this is how I think you should do it. K. Thanks."

I am learning that when in my prayer God has not given me a new direction, then His answer is sometimes simply to surrender to where I am and trust him here. A lot of times my prayer for a new direction is simply my attempt of running away from what ever situation I am currently in and wanting to put a God stamp of approval on it and be able to say... "Well the Lord just called/led me to blah, blah, blah"  

I am also learning that I should never go into prayer with preconceived notions. Prayer is not for me to stand up and tell God what He is going to do and claim that I am "prophesying".  All I can do is humbly go before God, recall His Word, and ask Him to act upon His own promises according to our covenant. And if I have not kept my end of the covenant how dare I demand God to hear me. I need to be on my face before Him begging Him to forgive me, not obey me.
I think some of us have gotten just a little to big for our britches, as we march around and proclaim what's going to happen in the name of Jesus, when we haven't even asked God what His purpose is in the situation. I have never read of any of the disciples, nor of Christ Himself, speaking as audaciously as I have heard so many do here in our day. Speaking at God as though He should do as they say according to their will and their understanding... 

It's quite scary to me to hear the "prayer talk" of some... demanding things in the name of Jesus, then when their demands are not met, what have they left those around them with... those who heard this? They have left them empty, without peace, without hope... making a mockery of the beautiful name of our Savior by using it in vain.

Not my will, but Your will be done... this is how our Lord taught us to pray and this is how we should pray. In humility and in complete surrender to the sovereign purpose of our Creator God.