Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Misconception #4: Follow Jesus and You'll Get What You Want.

[This is the fourth in a series of Top 10 Misconceptions some MKs face.]

Psalm 37:4 says "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Of course, we have been taught to positionally know that this means that God will turn our desires into His desires, but practically I find myself thinking that God will really give us what we want. And you don't realize you think that until you don't get something you thought you wanted. Even if what you want is a good thing.

My plan for my life was to be a pastor's wife, stay-at-home mom, and teach piano lessons on the side (out of my home). But what I've learned is that God's plans are truly BEST for us, in bringing glory to Him. There are so many things I can do right now as a single person that I would not be able to do if I were married, such as teaching at the Christian school and playing the piano for church. If I find myself in the process of thinking "why don't I have these things?" what I'm really saying is "I don't trust God to provide for me and to know what is best." If my BIG GOD could lead the Israelites across the Red Sea, save Jonah in the belly of a big fish, and place Esther into the kingdom "for such a time as this," how can I not trust Him in every detail of my life?

I've heard quite a few talks about the "idols of the heart." We do the things that we do because we want the things that we want. Why do I want the things that I want? I have found that it is so easy for my deceitful heart to get in the way. My heart is an idol factory. What is an idol? It is something that I am willing to sin in order to get, or something that I respond sinfully when I don't get. How you respond reveals your heart. My heart is deceitful. It will lie to me. Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." I can be doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

Even if I start doing things for the right reason, it is so easy for my sinful heart to change its motivation mid-stream. Just yesterday I was mowing the lawn, and I like to go over and above by mowing part of my neighbor's lawn. I can do this out of the motive of wanting to share the love of Christ with my neighbor, but it's so easy to slide into thinking, in the middle of doing it, "I sure hope they appreciate the fact that I had to move their trashcan to mow their grass." Once I start thinking that way I've immediately put the idol of pride, or wanting to do things for the motive of being seen by others, on the throne of my heart.

When I was in college, I dedicated my life to be used by the Lord in full-time vocational service for Him. I want my life to count for Christ, but sometimes I know that I lose sight of my identity in Christ. If my identity is found in my role in life, I am doomed to disappointment. I think a lot of people struggle with their identity. I am the same way. I have for years been identified as a preacher's kid, a church pianist, a teacher...and when you are on your own with no dependents it's hard to find your role and easy to think you don't matter or aren't needed. And it's true. God doesn't NEED me. But He does want to use me. It's easy to get a "Martha" complex: "I'm doing all these things for Christ. What is He going to do for me?" Positionally I know my salvation is not based on works, but practically I sometimes still feel like I need to please God by being His "helper." I can become lonely and depressed if I am focused on ME. I need to focus on who I am in Christ, and preach the gospel to myself daily. I am no longer mine but am His who died for me.

Reality: God wants to conform us to His image, and the purpose of life is to bring glory to God.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Misconception #3: The Christian life is black & white.

[This is the 3rd in a series of 10 Misconceptions some MKs face.] 

I wish the Christian life were black and white. When you are growing up in a Christian home it's easy to start to think some things are just common knowledge, and that all Christians believe the same thing. Now I'm not talking about how Jesus is the only way to heaven and how the Bible is true--those things of course are non-negotiable. I'm thinking more along the lines of going to movies, playing cards, what music you listen to, what clothes you wear. Why do we choose to believe the things we do? 

Part of it is the culture in which we grow up. If we want to have an impact on our culture around us, we have to be involved in our culture--"in the world but not of the world." This is a hard distinction to make at times. I see two extremes in the culture: living exactly like the world with no distinction whatsoever or...being Amish. I am not Amish. I am a Christian, and I started to meet other people who said they were Christians but did not draw the "line" in the same place my parents did. So how do we tell and where do we draw the "line"?

I think this is why it is important to teach Biblical principles and the reasons why we do what we do. I think a lot of times, we as Christians are afraid to ask questions. We don't want to hurt someone's feelings. We don't want to cause a rift. But sometimes I think it might be that we don't want to ask the questions because we don't know all the answers. But that's ok. It's ok to not be perfect and to not have all the answers, because we have a BOOK (the Bible) in which God has given us everything we need to know that pertains to life and godliness. If the Christian life were just a list of things to do or not to do, we would not have to be Bereans and search the Scriptures to learn and grow and get to know the Lord in a closer and deeper way. 

Find ways to communicate and respectfully question why we do the things that we do. (Using the four rules of communication from Ephesians 4.) And don't be afraid to BE questioned. When I moved away from home, I moved to teach at a school that has over 70 churches represented. I also get a chance to travel with the Faith Ministry Team (high school ensemble) that visits other churches (sometimes of other cultures) and schools. And I've been privileged to visit churches around the country. We don't all do things the same way.

For example, when I grew up we learned that we didn't go to movies in the theater. I understood the reasoning to be that Christians needed to be careful with who they associated with and what we put into our minds, but honestly I didn't really understand why. And I didn't question the rule. So when I was about 22 years old and was asked as part of a babysitting job to take the kids to the movies, I had to figure out what I believed. Since this apparently wasn't an issue for the people I was asked to babysit, I did my due diligence and researched the movie via Plugged In, thought it was probably a very family friendly movie and I enjoyed the experience. What I learned from that personally was that yes, I do need to be careful with what I put into my mind, but this can happen with a movie I watch in a theater, a movie I rent and watch at home, or a show I watch on TV. The medium is not as important as the state of my heart.  

Reality: the Christian life has a lot of gray areas. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Misconception #2: Follow the rules and life will be easy.

[This is the 2nd in a series on the Top 10 Misconceptions some MKs face.]

I am the oldest of 4 children. I liked to be my parents' helper. I enjoy helping. Partly I think it's because life was easier when you were an obedient child. As I've grown in my understanding of myself over the years, I've discovered that I enjoy being comfortable. (I would assume most people do.) I've also learned that I am a perfectionist, and I like to have a checklist and rules to follow.

I've found that it's relatively easy for me to follow the rules--"do this," "don't do that," check the boxes, do the right things, "don't drink, smoke, or chew or go with those who do" but ultimately I started to realize that maybe I'm doing these things just because life is easier that way. Of course, it is important to train children to do the right things, but ultimately it means nothing unless it gets to the HEART.

God never promised us an easy life. His ultimate goal for our lives is to bring glory to Himself. That may include some hard things. His path for our lives can be filled with hard circumstances, but that's not where our joy comes from. Maybe these hard situations in our lives will reveal a need in our lives that we never would have faced had we not been confronted with this hard situation. As I've heard Amy Baker say many times, "Hard is hard, but hard is not bad."

1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us that man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. I need to be constantly evaluating my heart's responses and question, "Why do I do the things that I do?"

Reality: We need proper heart motivation.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Misconception #1: MKs are unique.

[This is the first in a series of the Top 10 Misconceptions some MKs face.]

Missionary's kids are not different from other kids. Yet in the church it is easy to feel as if people in the congregation, or even our parents, have different expectations for us than "regular kids." The reality is we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Pastor's kids are the same as everyone else's kids. We should all be learning and growing. I should not be expected to obey because it makes my parents look good, but I should learn to obey because I want to please Jesus. Along the same lines, pastor's kids deserve the same grace as the other sinners in your congregation. Sometimes, it can seem to a pastor's kid that their parents are willing to forgive everyone else, but they themselves will not be forgiven. Just like other children, MKs need to feel the unconditional love and acceptance from their family and have a safe place to be pointed to the love, mercy, and grace that come from an understanding of our position in Christ because of the gospel.

On the other hand, there are similarities that MKs share with each other, and it is fun to find those common bonds between other MKs. This is probably one of the reasons I have so many fond memories of our week-long CBM family conferences in Iowa with other MKs.

I had to accept Jesus as my Savior just like anyone else. I was saved at the young age of 4, but I am thankful that I still remember the occasion. My mom must have just started homeschooling me, because I remember I was sitting at my desk in our basement schoolroom, and my mom went upstairs to fix lunch. She told me NOT to move my desk. Well, I remember wanting to move my desk. In that instant I realized that I was a sinner who wanted to do wrong things. I knew I was on my way to hell, and I imagined hell as an evil place with jail bars, and I would be stuck in a roaring fire forever. Right then I prayed and asked Jesus to be my Savior, then I told my parents about my decision.

Reality: We are all sinners.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

CBMK Reunion

Lately I've had the opportunity to think about the impact my family heritage has had on my life. This is in part due to the fact that I was asked to speak at an MK reunion this summer. (MK is short for Missionary Kid.)

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents have been missionaries with Continental Baptist Missions since 1975, which is a mission agency that plants churches in the continental United States. So before I was born, my dad became a pastor in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in the city of Ishpeming. I am the oldest of 4 kids. I have a younger brother and 2 younger sisters. We all grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was born in 1978 (you can do the math and figure out I’m 35 years old), and so I grew up as a pastor’s kid. We were in the same church all through my growing up years. It was (and is) a small church, about 80 people, but I learned a lot from my parents about being faithful to a church and how important it is to find ways to serve in the church. I am so thankful for my godly heritage and I am thankful that God placed me in my family. 

Since I was asked to speak at a workshop this summer, I began to think about what I was going to speak about, and how growing up as an MK shaped my outlook on life. As I grew up and moved away from home, I began to realize I may have had misconceptions about Christianity, and life in general. So I came up with the TOP 10 Misconceptions I had (as an MK) and how I have grown in my knowledge of God and myself.

I will share my top 10 list over the next 10 days. 

If you are interested in some pictures I put together for this summer's CBMK reunion held at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, IA, check out this link

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Be a Spoon

I was asked to give my testimony and an object lesson for a Women of Faith ice cream social on Sunday, July 21. Here's some of what I shared. 

When Denise Fox asked me to speak, my first instinct was “NO WAY.” Speaking is not really in my comfort zone. I love working one on one with kids, I like being a teacher, but speech class was definitely my least favorite class. Give me a piano to hide behind, and that’s a different story. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to share some of my story with you. And the more I thought about what I wanted to say—or what God wanted me to say, I realized I just want to share how God has taught me to be an instrument that He can use for His glory.  

When you are using your abilities for the Lord, it’s amazing how content and joyful you can be. Even though I hadn't planned on being a piano teacher at a Christian school in Lafayette, IN, now I can’t imagine a better plan for my life. I think we all go through seasons of life where we are trying to figure out how we fit in. We wonder what God is doing in our lives. We start looking at people around us, maybe thinking, “I wish I could do what she does.” “I wish I could cook like her, I wish I had her body, I wish I had her kids, I wish I had her home, etc.” But what I want to focus on today is that God is the Creator. He knows best. When I give my desires and talents to the Lord, He can use me.

Now, God has not given us all the same abilities. We can always use more people involved in the music ministry at church, but maybe that’s not where God has gifted you. And that’s ok. We need people involved in teaching, working in the nursery, fixing meals, cleaning, greeting, and a whole lot of things that I probably don’t even know need to be done.

To transition to the object lesson, let's read Jeremiah 18:1-10 (from the Message).
God told Jeremiah, “Up on your feet! Go to the potter’s house. When you get there, I’ll tell you what I have to say.”
3-4 So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.
5-10 Then God’s Message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?” God’s Decree! “Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you, people of Israel.

God is the Potter. We are the vessels, the Creation. I hope you have an imagination, because I want you to imagine something. Imagine God is not only a Great Potter, but also a Great Chef, planning an elaborate meal for all the people on the earth. He’s creating beef stew, chicken & dumplings, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn, green beans, and for dessert: bowls of ice cream of course. He’s got the buffet line ready to go, the people are assembling, and grabbing bowls to start the main course. There is all this scrumptious, calorie-free goodness laid out in front of them. So in this illustration, use your imagination that this food is an example of God’s blessings. His Words. And He wants to give it to us, and make it available. In this wonderful display of food, we’re actually going to start with dessert first. God the Great Chef already has the ice cream dished up into glorious serving dishes, and says go ahead and eat. But it’s just ice cream in a bowl. Something is missing. What do you need to eat a bowl of ice cream? Of course, a SPOON. And He’s also created “vessels” to get this nourishment into our bodies through our mouths.

You may never even think about spoons—unless you didn’t get one with your ice cream!

So in this illustration, I want you to imagine that WE ARE THE SPOONS. God the Potter has formed us and shaped us to be used by Him. He wants us to be His vessels, His spoons, as tools for Him to use. He wants us to be the ones that are bringing encouragement, nourishment, and blessing to each other. (This illustration isn’t perfect, because if we are to be nourishing others logically we’d be spoons feeding other spoons, so we’ll have to use our imaginations and pretend we can morph back and forth from spoons to humans.)

What is the purpose of a spoon? What does it to do? A spoon just brings something from one place to another. It is just the tool that brings the nourishment, the blessing, from the bowl into the place it can be used—the mouth/the stomach.

So I want you to imagine that YOU ARE A SPOON that God has created. Since God is the all-wise, all-knowing Creator, He knows each of us and has created us each for a purpose. There are different spoons for different purposes. Remember that imaginary buffet line? Soup, stew, mashed potatoes, corn. How do we get that on to our plate and into our mouths?

We all know how important it is to have the right tools. What tool do you need to eat ice cream? Just a regular spoon. But God didn’t create us all the same. In one sense, we are all just regular spoons. On the other hand, we can use our imaginations again, and think of the different tasks we can do. God has given us each different abilities. It could be said that we are different types of spoons. Different spoons serve different purposes. If you are eating ice cream, a regular spoon works. However, if you are serving mashed potatoes, you might want a bigger serving spoon (or maybe you want that for your ice cream too). For gravy you would need a ladle. But if you are feeding a toddler, you would probably be better served with a baby spoon.  Soup requires a soup spoon. When you are serving corn or another vegetable, a slotted spoon comes in handy. For picnics, disposable plastic works. And when I make bread, I like to use a wooden spoon. I’m sure you can think of more illustrations that work.

When God is shaping the slotted spoon, He may have to remove pieces that leave holes. It may hurt. It may look like that spoon is incomplete. But when you want to serve vegetables, a slotted spoon is very useful. Maybe the silver spoon begins to tarnish, and God uses His polishing cloth and begins to wipe it away. It may feel abrasive, but if we trust God to know what He’s doing, ultimately we’ll see the finished product: that spoon will shine brighter than ever.

Now the spoons don’t (or shouldn’t) look at each other and say, “I wish I were like that spoon.” But sometimes we do. “How come I look different than that person?” “You have holes and I don’t.” “You’re shinier than me.” “How come my handle is black and yours is silver?” “You’re made of different material than I am?” Guess what? Can we trust our Creator? We are just responsible for the job that God has given us to do. We are not responsible for the other spoons in the drawer. It may be that that “spoon” is serving a different purpose. And ultimately we need to be accountable to the hand that’s holding us—our Creator God who knows where we can best be used.

Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

We all start out as dirty spoons. Maybe even dirty lumps of clay that are NOTHING. Would you eat with a dirty spoon? Of course not. Just as the Potter can shape us, he can remove that dirt—that sin—in our lives. God wants to Redeem us, and take our imperfections, and reshape us into vessels that He can use. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior He makes us clean. We are washed in the blood of Christ. God sees us in the righteousness of His Son, who died on the cross for us. Once we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are instruments that He can use. We just need to be tools that God can just bend and shape to His will.

And a spoon is only as good as the hand that holds it. I have a 1-year old niece. If we gave her a spoon, she wouldn’t know what to do with it. Food would be flying everywhere. As spoons, we want to let God control our lives. God wants to use the talents He’s given us. The talents we have are actually just stewardships from the Lord anyway. I can get pretty proud in my own accomplishments. “Did you see what I did? I fed that Scripture to that person, and now she’s eating and growing?” And we forget that we can do nothing apart from God. Without the strength and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are just spoons lying on the table. We have no power in and of ourselves. Two pitfalls of a spoon can be that first, I can think that it all depends on me ("God has no other spoons in His drawer." Or secondly that I think I’m not needed. ("When God has all these other spoons, why does He need me?") But God is the Creator and He knows what He needs and what my unique purpose is.

As I look back on where God has taken me and led me so far, I am so thankful that I serve a great God who can use me. I need to let myself be used by God for whatever purpose He wants me to serve. I just want to BE A SPOON used by God wherever He puts me, however He wants to use me. So that’s my challenge for you today: BE A SPOON in the hand of your Creator.