Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Struggle with Selfishness

The struggle with selfishness starts early. Before we can talk, really. As soon as a baby starts becoming possessive of her toys, we, as parents, start thinking about the best way to teach her to share. Do we take it away? Do we let her feel that sense of ownership? Do we start the battle now or when she’s older and able to be more reasonable?

Then she becomes a teenager (or at least starts acting like one). She may be compassionate and giving and sweet… she may be moody and sassy… she may be diligent and hardworking… she may be funny and confident and outgoing… but she, just like you and me, will struggle with selfishness to some degree for the rest of her life.

I was recently reading Acts chapter 7. Stephen is testifying before the Sanhedrin and summarizes the story starting from God telling Abraham to “leave your country and your people and go to the land I will show you,” through Joseph being sold as a slave by his brothers, to Moses  leading the Israelites out of Egypt and away from a life of slavery, sent by God Himself! Verse 36 says, “He led them out of Egypt and did wonders and miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert.” The Israelites experienced some pretty amazing things and were well take care of, yet they continued to grumble and complain and forsake the God who brought them out of slavery. In verse 41, Stephen continues by saying, “That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honor what their hands had made.”

They “held a celebration in honor of what their hands had made.” This hit me like a brick… or maybe it was more like a load of bricks. Either way, it hit me hard! How often do we do that? How often do we celebrate our accomplishments and pat ourselves on the back and say, “Look what I’ve done!” We celebrate promotions, graduations, good grades, buying a home or new car, our creative works… We give ourselves glory and take pride in what we have done.

This is what I finally realized. I’ve spoken this before, but it’s taken a long time to truly grasp it… everything I do is only because God gave me the gifts to do it. Everything I have is only because God gave me the ability to make the money to buy it. Nothing is mine. But so often I treat it as though it is.

A few weeks ago my daughter told me she should be able to do pretty much anything in her room because it was her room. I corrected her and told her this was my house and, therefore, it was my room. End of discussion. As I was walking away, the Holy Spirit hit me upside the head. DARN IT! I’m teaching my daughter how to be selfish. In that one moment, I was showing her that these worldly possessions have a hold over me and her and our family.

I turned around and headed back to her room. I apologized and told her I was wrong. I told her that the house we live in doesn’t belong to her, me, or even daddy – our house belongs to God, and He has entrusted us with these worldly possessions. Our house, cars, furniture, clothes, food – it’s all blessings from a God who loves us more than we can imagine (unless you can imagine giving up the life of your child for the sake of another… personally, I can’t).

I like to think that I’m not a selfish person. I give of my time and treasure, I make meals for friends, I let people go ahead of me in the grocery line, I donate to missionaries… but every time I think of something as mine – like I deserve it or have earned it – I’m not giving God the glory He deserves, and I’m not teaching my daughter the right lessons. I know I’m not the only reason she struggles with selfishness – it’s part of our innate sinful nature; but I know I can be a better example.

Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

My prayer is that I can be an example to my daughter of a woman who seeks and stores up heavenly treasures, not selfishly holding on to those earthly possessions. While I want my daughter to be able to enjoy nice things and special comforts, I pray that those earthly things never become a treasure to her and that she looks upon those things as great blessings – not as things she feels she deserves or has earned… because if we truly got what we deserved, there would be nothing heavenly about our existence. Here’s the thing… Jesus didn’t deserve to die. He took our place, took on our sin (being sinless himself), and died so that we may live. There was nothing selfish about that.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

You Do Mean the Maypole, right?

While this is an extreme example, I was shocked
to find this photo online. Do they really make
fishnets for babies?
A recent controversy making headlines regarding a new exercise class available to children in Canada has captured my attention.  You’re probably wondering how exercise could be bad for our children. Exercise is good, right? Heck, many of us often encourage our children to exercise. “Go out and play!” “Go ride your bike.” “Take a hike!”  (Well, the last one might not necessarily be referring to exercise…)

What I’m talking about here is pole dancing for kids. Yes, you read that correctly - an exercise class to teach pole dancing to kids. What kinds of pictures does that conjure up in your mind? It can’t be good, right?
I know that pole dancing classes for adults have come into popularity over the years, and they claim it’s a great workout to build upper body and core strength. While I don’t doubt this is true, I honestly can’t believe that most women (or men) would take this class simply for that reason (if they are being completely honest).
Let’s keep in mind that I’ve never seen pole dancing in person. The only images I have of pole dancing are the ones I’ve seen in movies and television shows where the guys are hanging out in a strip club.  That statement right there shows that I have a skewed view of this activity. To me, pole dancing is overtly sexual in nature; an activity to objectify women for the sexual pleasure of men. So, why, then, would I want to encourage my child to participate in this so-called exercise?
Out of curiosity, I did a Google search for pole dancing.  The first link is to Wikipedia where it gives the definition as follows:  Pole dance is a form of performing art, a combination of dance and gymnastics. It involves dancing and performing acrobatic tricks with a vertical pole and is an increasingly popular form of fitness and dance, practiced by many enthusiasts in gyms or dedicated dance studios.”  Is this the first vision that pops into your head when you think of pole dancing? Not mine. And it still doesn't convince me it's a child-appropriate activity.
The second link was a little bit more of what I expected… a link to a video of a scantily-clad woman promoting her pole dancing proficiency. While her physical abilities were impressive, her appearance and overall demeanor was anything less than wholesome.
At this point I switched over to the images portion of Google to get quick overview of what the general population will see if they wanted to get a look at pole dancing.  Needless to say, the large majority of images were sexual in nature. And even if they weren’t truly meant to be viewed that way, you can’t tell me a guy is going to look at a girl wearing VERY little hanging from a pole and admire her for her physical ability and strength.
OK, here’s the thing...
It seems to me that society in general has bought into the whole idea that objectifying women is OK. We find clothing and undergarments geared toward young girls that are made to draw attention to the rear end or the chest. We find push-up bras for tweens; short shorts with “sassy” scrawled across the booty; shirts shouting “naughty” or other such sayings across the upper body. Now, someone got the "bright" idea that pole dancing is a normal activity in which children should participate. 
When our girls actually do start to truly develop into their God-given, womanly shape, we’re surprised when we see them bending over their webcam in their bedroom taking a picture for all to see with their cleavage exposed. Well, there may be parents who aren’t so surprised… or upset.
I actually know parents who encourage their girls to dress in ways that I, personally, would consider provocative (I dare say Jesus wouldn’t find it too savory, either, but I’m just guessing).  Short skirts or shorts, tight, low-cut, cleavage-exposing shirts – all for the sake of fitting in or wanting them to look “feminine.”  I had one young teen tell me her father actually encourages her to shop at Victoria’s Secret, because he wants her to look feminine.  To me this just shouts, “I am an object! I am not to be respected!”
As parents, shouldn’t we want our daughters to be cherished and respected? Admired for their heart and character? Or do we want boys (and men) to look at them with lust?
Fathers – do you want your daughters to be the object of a boy’s physical desire?  Hello? Do you remember being a teenage boy? Or would you rather a boy be attracted to her for her character and desire to serve God?
As Christian parents, should we hold our children to a godly standard or to a worldly standard? What eternal sacrifices are we making for the sake of being accepted by the world?
1 Peter 3:2 says “Let them see how pure you are. Let them see that your lives are full of respect for God.  While this is directed to wives, ultimately, shouldn’t we be showing this to our daughters? Should our daughters act one way when they are single and another when they are married? Are we, as mothers, setting the right example for our daughters?
It comes down to this. Whether it is pole dancing, hip-thrusting cheer moves, or low-cut shirts with pushup bras, it all leads to the objectification of women and girls which is then followed by a lack of respect. God created both man and woman in His image. He created woman as a “helpmeet” – a helper and a partner. He did not create women to be the object of many a man’s desire.
I’ll end with this:
1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Breaking down the walls... literally!

I've been a blog slacker. I know. I can't help it. We have some issues with the house that I'm trying to tackle, and it's been a bit of a challenge.

This is my bathroom... well, actually, bathroomS.  This view is from one bedroom through one bathroom into the other bathroom.  We had a long-term, rather significant leak in the wall where you can see the knobs, and it saturated the floors in both bathrooms. AND there is a leak in the other bathroom, too.

Anyway, with each piece of wall I take down, I find mold and rotted wood.  So, what was going to be a "simple" floor replacement is turning into a complete gutting of both bathrooms from floor to ceiling.  We have to take out walls and replace them, replace plumbing, electrical... UGH!

Oh, and did I mention we have termites? Not in the house, thankfully. They have invaded our backyard and are eating the stumps of some trees we had cut down. Next stop?  The house. (Yes, we're going to get it treated to protect it.)

In all of this, I'm trying hard to remain thankful and positive, and I'm praying for some sort of miracle. Seriously. I don't know what kind of miracle, but something. A money tree? Super hero home improvement abilities? A wrecking ball?

Do you think I could go from the mess above to the beauty in this picture?  Probably not on our budget, but almost anything will be better than how things look right now.

OK, here's the thing...

Please keep me and my family in your prayers as we continue with this project. We're asking specifically for good health and a wise use of the resources God has provided for us. Oh, and no more surprises!!

I think this is also a good time to throw in, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13. (Too bad this isn't referring to muscles, too!)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Are Your Fears Holding You Back?

Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Candace. I have known Candace since she was in middle school. She and my son are the same age and came up through the middle and high school ministries at our church together. She is sharing her journey of facing her biggest fear. Her fear? Public speaking. Personally, I find that a little ironic, because Candace has been getting up and singing in front of people as long as I’ve known her. She’s no stranger to being in front of a crowd, that’s for sure!

As my daughter enters middle school, I felt led to essentially move up with her and serve in the middle school/youth ministry. Along with that came my first trip to camp with the youth. At camp during one of our morning sessions, Candace was our speaker. Her presentation on facing fears truly spoke to my heart, as I, personally, was dealing with the fear of leaving my full-time job and going part time to be at home more with my family.  God put her in front of me at just the right time.

Candace is a young woman who is a tremendous example to our youth, and our church is so blessed to have her serving as an intern. Is she perfect?  No. She’s just like you and me – fallible, imperfect, a sinner. But every day she is seeking God and growing in Him and turning to Him with her triumps, failures, and fears.

Hello! My name is Candace, and I am just another girl trying to follow the Lord. Many times, I fail miserably, but Mrs. Mary caught me at one of my moments where I blindly stumbled into what the Lord told me to do; and somehow, because of His amazing grace and love compensating for my weakness, everything turns out better than I could have ever imagined.

Before I share, here’s a little background.  I am 20 years old, and ever since I was old enough to stand, I was afraid to speak in front of large groups. There were few things that created more panic and fear in me than the two words, “public speaking.” High school was when the fear really took hold of my life. A specific example was in my sophomore English class. After butchering a three-minute speech, a girl beside me leaned over and asked, “Are you OK?” Confused, I answered, “uh….yeah?” She then responded, “Oh, ok, ‘cause you sounded like you were crying the whole time!” Thanks for the encouragement, right?? So you get the point. I was TERRIFIED. This fear literally took over my life. I was so bound by the fear of speaking in front of people that even if the Lord had told me to my face to speak for some event, I probably would have pulled a stunt like Jonah and ran as far away as I could get.

So after I graduated from high school, I was home free and never had to speak in front of people again, right?! NOT. The utter horror I felt when I read I had to take Coms 101 (public speaking) in order to graduate from Liberty University was unimaginable. If you are or were afraid of public speaking like me, you’ll understand how terrifying it is to think of taking a semester-long class dedicated to the one thing that you fear more than anything else. So naturally, I frantically looked for ways to escape that dreaded class, and I soon found that I could take it online! This however, was not God’s plan for me.

During my freshman year of college, one of my closest friends was taking Coms 101 and told me how happy she was to be overcoming her fear. She was so happy, and I was so jealous. After much praying, I decided to take the class my sophomore year. From day one, the Lord was working on my faith. I had to give devotions in front of the class, give four speeches, and go up in front of the class to speak almost every day. I ended up with an A in the class and the Lord completely changed my perception of public speaking.

Fast forward to this summer.

I am currently an intern at Atlantic Shores Baptist Church working with the middle school youth group. Each year, we have a week-long summer camp with the high school and middle school groups together. So, as an intern, I was asked to speak in front of not just the middle school students, but the ENTIRE group including the camp staff, our church’s leaders, and the combined high school and middle school groups. Talk about facing fears! So, what does God give me to speak about? Overcoming fear. Of course. That’s just how God is. He loves to be ironic. So here I am, barely able to celebrate my victory with the Coms class, and God dumps another hurdle that requires SERIOUS faith. But this time, I was ready. I knew God would come through for me.

NOTE FROM MARY: I know gang – it’s a somewhat long post. But stay with us!  It is definitely worth the read.

Here we go! I spoke from Jeremiah 1:4-19 where the Lord called Jeremiah to be a prophet to Israel. Verses 4-5 are God’s call to Jeremiah. Like many Bible characters we read about, Jeremiah throws around a bunch of excuses as to why he can’t do what God just told him to. God tells Jeremiah that he was chosen for this job before he was even born! How cool is that? And what does Jeremiah say? He basically tells God He’s wrong!  When Jer, (let’s refer to Jeremiah as “Jer,” shall we?) says, “Ah Sovereign Lord,” he’s sighting God’s sovereignty, which is God’s ability to be in control of everything. So why would he say that God is wrong? If God is sovereign, shouldn’t He know if He got the right guy for the job? The answer is “yes.”

In the next few verses, Jeremiah makes two excuses, which I believe are the two excuses that many of us use when we argue with God.

1. I am not qualified.
2. I am too young.

Both of these are excuses that Jer uses to cover up the real reason why he is saying no to God. He is afraid. The root issue of almost every one of our excuses is fear.

I once heard Priscilla Shirer speak at Liberty University’s convocation, and she said something that I will never forget. She said something along these lines: The best way that Satan can keep you from doing God’s will is to make you afraid of it.  If you have a serious fear of something, it will most likely be something that the Lord is calling you to do.

That is so true if you think about it, because we, as humans, are wired to protect ourselves.  Why would we willingly submit ourselves to humiliation and failure? Truth is, we wouldn’t. But we don’t take into account God’s love for us and His ability to work all things for our ultimate good. Now back to the Bible.
In verse 8 God tells Jer not to be afraid. After that we don’t see any more excuses. Why? Because God hit the nail on the head. He always knows the root of our excuses. We can never fool Him.

After Jer accepts the Lord’s call on his life, we see that God equips him, He gives him power, and finally, He tests Jer to see how committed he is to his calling (verses 9-13).  In verses 12-13, God asks Jer to tell Him what he saw in the vision the Lord gave him. After Jer answers correctly, God tells Jer He is watching to see that His word is fulfilled.  So when we say yes to the call God has on our lives, even if we’re scared, God watches to see that we are faithful. We can’t half-heartedly follow the Lord, we have to go all out.

Jumping forward to verse 17, the Lord tells Jer not to be afraid of the people he must speak to, or He will terrify Jer before them. I asked my mom what this meant, because she, like most moms, knows everything! She said that if we allow ourselves to be even a little afraid of people and their opinions, then that fear will take us over, and we will be terrified before them. At that point, the Lord can’t help us, because we have chosen to place more focus on our fear of potential failure than we put on God’s ability to bring us through.

Verse 19 ends with a promise from the Lord that people may come against us, but through God’s power, we can overcome fear and trust in the Lord for our strength.

In the end, the Lord brought me through my talk and COMPLETELY took away my fear and any nerves that I had before going up in front of everyone at camp. I am here to testify that God is ALWAYS faithful.

I know how it feels to be paralyzed by fear, and it’s awful. But I also know how it feels to be living in faith day by day and saying yes to the things God gives me to do even though I may be afraid.  And it’s amazing. The whole point of this post, if you missed it, is that the Lord loves to be made strong in our weakness, and He loves to use underdogs. So let Him use you! Don’t let Satan hold you back because of fear! He has no power over you if you are a born-again believer in Christ. Claim your status as a son (or daughter) of the living God, and step out in faith even if your fear tells you not to. The Lord will be so pleased, and you will be on your way to overcoming the fear that has tied you down and held you back from your full potential in Christ!

Just to top things off, I'm going to share this video of Candace that I saw on her mom's Facebook page.  It's Candace and a crew of Liberty University worship leaders singing at Thomas Road Baptist Church. You'll see Candace enter from the left.  This will give you "chicken skin."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Life Lessons with Toddlers and Tiaras

"...The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

Yesterday, my 11-year-old daughter was watching Toddlers & Tiaras out of sheer boredom.  I was so disturbed by what I saw, I have since banned the program from our house.

I came in as one mom was gushing over how proud she was of her two daughters who appeared to have won their divisions.  In the same breath, she was thanking God for her girls being so blessed.  Don't get me wrong. I think it's great that she recognized that God had something to do with it. I'd really like to know, however, how she feels He has blessed them. Is it because they're beautiful by the world's standards? From what I've seen, these competitions are merely a way for the world to "judge a book by its cover."  There's a brief talent division, but the talent often includes a three-year-old toddler thrusting her hips to an Elvis song or walking across the stage and waving while wearing a themed costume. I'm sure there are skills involved in being able to maintain a perfectly coiffed hairstyle and not allowing mascara to run, but I digress...

After turning off the show, my sweet girl and I talked about how we have been so programmed with the world's view of beauty that we often forget about what God thinks. While God wants us to take care of our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), he wants us to spend more time caring for what's inside. Our character, how we treat others, and our relationship with Him are what matter most (just to name a few).

We also talked about her cousin - a sweet, red-headed young lady who is mildly autistic. I asked her how she felt the judges would rate her on their beauty scale. She couldn't really give me an answer. This is the problem with the world's beauty expectations. This cousin is one of the most amazing, loving, smart and naturally beautiful girls I've ever met. Yet in a competition based on worldly beauty standards, I'm afraid she wouldn't fair so well. I can't see her being interested in piling on loads of makeup and spending hours curling her fiery locks or trapsing around in a skin-tight, sparkly ensemble. She would, however, love to talk to you and tell you about the stars and constellations or what belt she has achieved in karate...Those judges seriously have no idea what they're missing!

OK, so, here's the thing...

My heart hurts.  It truly breaks for the girls who are growing up trying to keep up with the world's beauty standards. It breaks even more for the girls whose parents encourage these worldly standards. So many have turned a blind eye to the characteristics that are most valued by God. It's no wonder so many of our girls are suffering from depression and eating disorders and are the victims of bullying (or the instigators).

This is one of my very favorite Bible verses, and I have this verse taped to every mirror in my house:  "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful. I know that full well." (Psalm 139:14)  I put it up at least five years ago to not only remind my daughter that God created us and loves us as His wonderful creation, but to remind ME, too. I'm going to be one of the greatest influences in my daughter's life. Does that mean I'll always be a good influence?  Oh, heck no! But I'm really, really trying. My own body image is a work in progress and has been as long as I remember. Thankfully, God has been at work with me and my daughter, because she is an amazingly confident young lady. This is truly a God thing.

Chances are if you're reading this, you care about this subject, and you care about the girls and young women in your life. Take some time today to compliment one of these lovely ladies on one of their beautiful inner characteristics. And pray. Pray that she will see her worth as glorious creation of our precious Father - regardless of her weight, her height, her body shape, her hair color or the color of her skin.