Thursday, December 13, 2012

Responses to the Redeemer

I love Christmas. It is my most favorite time of year. The glow of the Christmas tree. The smell of hot cocoa and my new cinnamon candle. The wonderful harmonies of The Messiah flowing through my home. The warm, snuggly scarves and sweaters. My two little girls running through the house in their Christmas pajamas and asking repeatedly with much anticipation, "Is it Christmas, yet??" I love it all. I even love the hustle and bustle of shopping for just the right gift. Tis the season.

But if I'm not very careful, I will allow all of these charming sights and smells and sounds to lure me away from the true meaning of this yearly celebration. Christmas is not about going to parties and putting up decorations and finding the perfect present at the best price. As we enter this time of year, we rejoice in the fact that God sent His one and only Son to earth as a baby, in order to live a sinless life and become the perfect sacrifice on our behalf.

Nestled within the account of Jesus' birth in the book of Matthew is the story of the Magi. In Matthew 2:1-12, we are told that these wise men came from the east, asking about the new infant king of the Jews. They saw His star and they wanted to see Him with their own eyes. As they searched for the child, they encountered others that did not seem to share their excitement about this bundle of true joy.

The Magi went to Jerusalem, assuming that the royal descendant would certainly be found there. When King Herod heard of their inquiries, he was immediately troubled by this information. (Matt. 2:3) You see, Herod was both cruel and paranoid. He was so determined to hold on to his crown that he was willing to kill his wives and sons because he was terrified that they would overthrow him. Scripture says that "all of Jerusalem" shared in his distress, for the people were aware of his brutality and they were mostly likely afraid that he would make them bear the brunt of his anger. The truth is that Herod didn't want to worship the Christ child. He wanted to kill Him. Herod responded to the birth of Christ with animosity. There are those today who also respond to Christ with hate-filled hearts. They desire to destroy any and all worship of the one true God. It is becoming increasingly more dangerous to share Christ with this lost and dying world. We must be bold to proclaim the truth.

In the story of the Magi, we also come into contact with the chief priests and scribes. The chief priests and scribes, along with the other lay elders, made up the Sanhedrin, which was the central Jewish authority under Herod's rule. These were the men that knew the prophecies about the Messiah and yet seemed to pay little attention to the Magi and their quest to see the newborn king. Instead of searching alongside the wise men, they fade into the background of the story. The chief priests and scribes responded to the birth of Christ with apathy. Many in our culture have an attitude of indifference about the birth of Christ. Christmas is more about toys and food than about celebrating the Savior. We must focus our minds on Christ and not allow our hearts to be divided.

The Magi followed the star and found "the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him." (Matt. 2:11) These Gentiles, who were considered separate from God, exhibited an openness and a reverence toward Jesus that His own people had not embraced. The Magi presented three gifts to the Christ child - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Some say that the gold represented His royalty, the frankincense represented His divinity, and the myrrh represented His death and burial. The wise men responded to the birth of Christ with adoration. As believers, this season should draw us closer to the heart of God as we remember all that He has done for us through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must offer Him our praise and rejoice in His great love and kindness toward us.

What is your response to Christ this Christmas? Does the season awaken feelings of animosity, apathy, or adoration in your heart? I want to challenge you to truly worship Christ this Christmas and seek to find ways to share the gospel with those around you who may have never heard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Wonder Years

I spent most of the summer dreading August 20th. I worried over it and wept in light of it. I pondered my various options and prayed like never before. I second-guessed myself and struggled to come to grips with the undeniable fact.

Eden was going to start kindergarten.

How did this happen? Wasn't it just yesterday that I brought her home from the hospital and cried my eyes out because I was so happy, exhausted, and overwhelmed? Didn't she just mumble her first "Mama" and take her first clumsy steps as I walked next to her to soften her impending fall? It seems like only moments have passed since she graduated to her big girl bed and f-i-n-a-l-l-y decided it was okay to use the potty. As her mother, I have these memories cataloged in my (slowly deteriorating) brain, like a slideshow of all her significant stages.

And here we stood at the brink of yet another exhilarating step.

When the day finally arrived, it was nothing like I thought it would be. I anticipated much nervousness from my firstborn, and I was sure she would have some tears and fears about being separated from her loving mother. However, this was not the case. She woke early with excitement and hurried through the new morning routine. She squealed about her new stylish outfit and posed for the camera like a model on the runway. As we loaded into the car, Eden declared, "I am NOT going to cry!" And you know what? She didn't. When we got to the school, I grabbed her hand and tried to get a good grip on my emotions as she pranced happily next to me. We walked into her classroom, she quickly put her things away, and she left my side to find her name and get busy with her first activity. As Jason, Caroline, and I walked back into the hallway, I began to shed the first of many tears. (Caroline was sobbing loudly as well.) I couldn't believe it had actually happened. The painful goodbye had passed. And we survived.

As I think of all the anxiety and grief that I entertained over the thought of Eden growing up and having new life experiences, I know deep down that this is a necessary part of becoming who God desires for her to be. As much as I wish that I could freeze time and keep her as a tiny little baby for many years to come, I can't. That isn't the way the Creator designed us. He built us for growth. And if we didn't blossom and grow, there would be major cause for concern.

The same is true for our walk with Christ. If you are a believer, you are designed for growth. As a matter of fact, your growth is essential to the growth of the entire body of believers in Christ. Ephesians 4:11-16 states that...
"he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (emphasis mine)
 How do we grow in our walk with the Lord? By reading and meditating on His Word and allowing Him to transform our wayward thoughts. By asking Him to fill us to overflowing with His Spirit so that we can exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. By spending time with the community of believers and joining with them in worship, fellowship, and service. By pointing the lost to Christ and telling them how He has rescued us from the pit of despair.

I want to challenge to you consider your life thus far as a believer. Are you the same as you were when you first came to Christ? Or are you continuing to grow and change into the person He desires for you to be? I pray that you will be rooted in Him and that you will grow in His fullness and bear fruit for His kingdom. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Mind of Christ


This declaration rings throughout the halls of my house multiple times each day. Even though my daughters are wonderful playmates (until they're not), there tends to be an undercurrent of competition that exists between the two of them. Sometimes it's a race to pick the best Barbie out of the bunch. Sometimes it's a struggle to the perceived goal posts as they push their way out of the front door. Sometimes it's a contest to see who can finish their dinner the fastest so they can get back to more important things like dancing and imagining and coloring. No matter how insignificant it may seem to me in that moment, it is a life or death situation for my sweet, precious little rivals. They fuss. They fight. They scrutinize. They compare. I get frustrated with their disregard for each other, and there are days when I am weary with their utter selfishness.

Then I remember my own.

As I repeatedly lecture my children about shoving their way to the front of the imaginary line, I am struck with the embarrassing fact that I, too, get caught up in the desire to win. I struggle often with comparing myself with others and fight the urge to puff up my own qualities in light of theirs. It's not pretty, I know. It's downright ugly. So what's a hypocritical mama to do?

Yesterday I was drawn to the book of Philippians, and this passage jumped off the page at me.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8, ESV)

My responsibility as a Christ-follower is to put the interests of others ahead of my own. Even when I'm tired. Even when I'm cranky. Even when I've already put their needs before mine many times that day already. In this way, I can have the mind of Christ. Because He made Himself nothing so that He could give me everything. I want my life to radiate with that same humility and love.

Lord, thank You for Your obedience and for conquering death on the cross. Please help me to remember Your sacrifice as I yield my desires in order to "count others more significant" than myself.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Missional Mama

A couple of weeks ago I traveled with thirteen other brave souls to Montgomery, Alabama to serve the at-risk children that are a part of the Nehemiah Center in the Chisholm community. The ladies and youth led afternoon sessions where we taught the children Bible stories, made crafts, sang some songs, and played games with the kids. The men painted, mended fences, and performed other various odd jobs that were needed at the sponsoring church and at the center. We also worked together to prepare and serve both breakfast and lunch for the children each day.

Every time I have participated in a mission trip, I have always returned from the venture with an altered perspective, viewing life through changed eyes. This trip was no different. During our trek back home, my mind was flooded with memories and reflections on the week, and I want to share some of them here with you.
  • When we met the children at the beginning of the week, most of the kids appeared to be wary of our presence. I found it interesting that the older girls, in particular, wouldn't even make eye contact with me. The home life for some was far from ideal. Throughout the week, they learned that they could trust us and that we were there to share God's love with them. As I taught the final Bible story to one of the classes, I was struck by the fact that one of the older girls scooted up next to me, raising her hand to answer questions and giving me sweet smiles as I taught. It was a blessing to witness such a transformation from the first day. Lord, help me to be trustworthy and kind so that I can make an impact for the gospel.
  • On the third day with the children, we accompanied them to a state park where they were able to go swimming and enjoy a nature hike. I must admit that I was not overly excited about hiking through the woods. I am more "indoorsy" and I really, really do not appreciate bugs of any sort. However, I agreed to trek through God's wonderful creation for the benefit of the kids. I'm not gonna was HARD. There were moments when my head started to spin because I was looking straight down the side of the mountain and I have a definite fear of heights. But I loved watching the children help each other (and me) through the tough spots. At one point some of the boys and girls started to run ahead of the group, and I can remember our fearless leader making the statement, "You can't follow me if you are in front of me." Woah. That's one to ponder. Lord, give me the courage to let you lead, so that I can follow Your ways. 
  • I was able to befriend another young mom who worked at the center, and I am still grieving the fact that I didn't have more time to get to know her better. She had the sweetest spirit and seemed to be full of energy, despite the fact that she is a mother of six. (Whew. I am down for the count with just two. I can't even imagine the laundry and dishes from SIX.) I learned that even though we live in different states, we were born in different countries, and we have vastly different backgrounds, there was still a tangible bond between us because of the power of the Holy Spirit. Lord, please help me to look past culture and circumstances to make a connection with those around me for Your kingdom. 
  • The last night that we were in Montgomery, the ladies that tirelessly run the Nehemiah Center invited us to their home for dinner. I was dazzled by their warmth and kindness and overflow of hospitality, even after working hard all day long. They told us story after heartbreaking story of the horrors some of those children face each and every day. I literally forced back tears. And it made me many people in my own city are living in that same despair? Lord, please make me aware of how I can reach out to those in my community that need Your hope and salvation.
Now that I am back home, distracted with my own routine and creature comforts, I find myself contemplating how I can be a missional mama on a daily basis. The gospel should be communicated and shared every single day through both our words and actions. The gospel is not for a privileged few, but Christ extends His love and forgiveness to anyone who will come to Him. The gospel is powerful and active and able to transform lives from the pit of destruction to the peace that overwhelms. I am charged, along with you, to take the Good News of Christ to the nations. Will we be bold enough to do it?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Man on a Hot Tin Roof

I am not a sports fanatic in any way, shape, or form. Athletics have never been my strong suit, although I have a very competitive streak when provoked. But I can recall attending my first and only hockey game with a friend while I was in college. It strikes me as humorous now, seeing as neither one of us had a particular affinity for hockey. I'm not even sure why we went. All I remember is the pure aggression that the players exhibited on the ice. They would glide along, working together with their teammates, when suddenly a fight would break lose. People yelled. Punches were thrown. Heart rates increased. Blood boiled. And then it was over. Someone was sent to the penalty box and the game continued. Until the next brawl.

Sometimes marriage can be just like that hockey rink...minus the ice and the face masks. There are days when we glide along, working together in perfect sync. And then a bad day hits. And then another. And if you are anything like me, my mouth moves faster than my brain. Before I know it, words have escaped my lips, and I desperately wish I could take them back.

I have been reading  in the book of Proverbs in my quiet time, and I came across these verses...

"It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife." Proverbs 21:9

"It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman." Proverbs 21:19

"A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike; to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one's right hand." Proverbs 27:15-16

Do you sense a theme here? Quarrelsome wife = NOT GOOD. Scripture says that our husbands would be better off hanging out on the roof than sharing perfectly good space in the house with their contentious, argumentative wives. The desert seems like paradise compared to spending the day enduring our verbal attack. Trying to restrain our belligerence is like trying to bridle the wind. 

So how ARE we supposed to act?

First of all, disagreements will naturally occur in a marriage because the marital bond is shared by two sinners who sometimes have vastly divergent opinions. The word "quarrelsome" indicates that our attitude has somehow slipped out of line. Remember to respond to your husband with gentleness and kindness, even if you have a ironclad case against him. Proverbs 15:1 says, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." You are responsible for your own actions. Watch your tone.

Secondly, when you do sense that you have taken a simple disagreement and turned it into a verbal boxing match, be quick to seek forgiveness. Apologize. Forgive as you have been forgiven in Christ. How much has He forgiven you? To the uttermost.

My prayer for you (and ME!) is that you would be trustworthy, that your husband would have no lack of gain, and that you would do him good and not harm, all the days of your life. (Proverbs 31:11-12)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Answer is No

The scene I am about to describe plays out multiple times over any given week in my house.

Lights, camera, action...

Eden gets bored with the three thousand toys and games that are piled into the playroom and her bedroom. She approaches me as timidly and humbly as possible and asks if she can please, please, please watch something on TV. I respond by saying "no"and she proceeds to pout for the next ten minutes. Then when I ask her to come to me so that I can attempt to reason with her, she erupts into tears and wails, "I THINK YOU DON'T LIKE ME!!! I calmly reply that I do like her, I think she is the coolest five year old in the world, and I LOVE her more than I can say. She continues to cry for a couple of minutes but eventually moves on to other creative ventures.

End scene. 

I am not withholding TV time because I am mean-spirited and I want Eden to wither away in apathy. I want better for her and I know that she is fully capable of coming up with something to entertain herself on her own. I am loving her by saying no. However, she interprets my actions as hateful and wonders if I even like her. I most certainly do.

Does this scene ever happen between you and God? You pray and beg and plead for something and His answer is no. You pout for a little while, and then you begin to wonder if God is truly wise and kind and loving like His Word claims. Maybe He's holding out on you because of that sin that you committed many moons ago. Maybe He's refusing your desired happiness because you haven't quite grasped the concepts of patience and gentleness and kindness. You speculate about why others seem to be winning the "life lottery" and seeing their wildest dreams come true. You even allow yourself to ponder the thought that He doesn't even like you. I can assure you that He DOES.

First of all, GOD LOVES YOU. Truly. Madly. Deeply. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (ESV) And there is nothing that could make Him stop loving you. According to Romans 8:38-39, neither "death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (ESV) His love for us is unchangeable and unshakeable.

Secondly, GOD HAS A PLAN FOR YOU. He knows you better than you know yourself and He has a purpose for your life. Jeremiah 29:11 states, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (ESV) God created you and designed you, and His plans for you are so very good. When He says no, it's because He wants you to experience the pure joy of HIS perfect plan for you.

Third, GOD IS NOT LIKE YOU. In Isaiah 55:8-9, the Lord proclaims that "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (ESV) He doesn't think like you. He isn't consumed with worry and fear like you. He isn't limited by time, so He can see the beginning, the end, and everything in between. He sees every thread in the tapestry of your life and He knows exactly how to weave your circumstances into something incredibly beautiful for His glory.

So sit tight, my friend. God is in control and He sees you right where you are. His plan is best. Trust Him completely and watch His wonders unfold.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Forbidden Fruit

We have a brand new kitchen floor, and as the guardian of cleanliness in the Fletcher household, it is my duty to make sure that it is well-maintained. When we moved into our house, I was told to use a certain, high-powered cleaner to really make the floor shimmer and shine. But because of the potency of this particular cleaner, I get very nervous about my children pitter-pattering their little feet across the kitchen floor while it is still wet and potentially dangerous to their precious growing bodies.

So the other day, as I began mopping the floor with said cleaner, I gave my "sometimes compliant" children express instructions to stay off the kitchen floor while it dried. They listened with rapt attention as I explained that, under no circumstances were they allowed to cross through that doorway into the temporary danger zone. And while they immediately obeyed and kept their footsies off the floor, I also noticed that they sat right up against the line that divided the family room from the kitchen. Perilously close to the forbidden floor, but not actually touching it.

After a few moments, both of my daughters grew bored with watching the floor dry and ran off to occupy themselves with more interesting things like Barbies and baby dolls. But when they sailed past me to cut through the kitchen minutes later, I had to warn them once again that they had to choose a different route. Eventually, I didn't catch the three year old in time, and she waltzed right through the prohibited area without even blinking an eye. Thankfully, the floor was bone dry by then and the perceived danger had passed.

I wish I could say that the desire to push the boundaries (and sometimes run right past them) is a rare inclination in our household or even in our society at large. But sadly, it is a cancer that infects our hearts as a result of our sinful nature.The book of Genesis paints the glorious picture of how God spoke the world into existence and lovingly placed the first man and woman in a beautifully perfect garden that was fully stocked with all sorts of wonderful plants and fruits so they could fill their bellies to their heart's content. There was only one tree that God withheld from their smorgasbord. Only one. And only three short chapters into the very first book of the Bible, Adam and Eve fall head over heels into sin by eating the only fruit that they were commanded not to eat. But thankfully...and mercifully...the story doesn't end there.

God had a plan. He knew what we were going to do before we even did it. And He sent and sacrificed His Son on the cross to atone for our sins and satisfy His holy justice. Hallelujah! What a Savior! God continues to work out His plan in the lives of those who have surrendered to Him. So even though we still reach for that forbidden fruit day after day, His mercy remains and He stands ready and willing to forgive and receive us back by the power of His unending love. His grace is truly amazing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Out With the Old, In With the New

We recently followed the Lord's leading and moved to a new church in a new area. There are some aspects of moving that are exciting and fun, but from what I have experienced, moving is mostly consumed with hard work and heart-breaking goodbyes. Transitions are difficult, especially for those of us who do not appreciate change. 

In the process of preparing for this move, my husband encouraged me to sort through some of the boxes that were stored in our shed and see if there were things that could be thrown out or donated. This was quite a daunting task, considering the shed contained many boxes that had not been touched since our last move three years earlier. Don't get me wrong - I truly enjoy a good "cleaning out" session. There is something very therapeutic about getting rid of extra baggage and giving yourself a little breathing room. But there were some boxes that held things that were difficult to release given their sentimental value. I won't lie. There were a few tears shed as I reluctantly gave away onesies, bibs, and other baby paraphernalia. Letting go does not always come easily.

You may not have to deal with the perils of moving in your own life, but do any of you engage in that time-honored tradition of “Spring Cleaning”? I know we make reference to it, but do we ever actually follow through and clean out the old to make room for the new? According to Scripture, we are supposed to do a major “Spring Cleaning” session in our hearts and minds when we surrender to the lordship of Christ.

In Ephesians 4:21-24, Paul says, "Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

As believers, we are instructed to put away our old life of sin. This means there needs to be a radical break between who we once were and who we are in Christ. The selfish, sinful life deceives us into believing that it can satisfy, when in reality, it can never fulfill that promise. We must seek forgiveness for the sin in our lives in order to embrace the abundant life that God provides. 

We are commanded to be renewed by the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the agent of renewal in our minds. You have heard the adage that “you are what you eat.” Well, it is also true that “you are what you think.” Every action you take begins as a thought in your mind. So in order for us to live in a right relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit must first renew our minds with the truth of God's Word.

We are commanded to put on the new life of the Savior. If you have asked Christ to be the Lord of your life, then you are a new creation. All those things that you did in your past (and in your present!) are completely wiped away by the forgiving power of the blood of Jesus. Are you living in doubt and despair? You don't have to! We are called to put on the new self that is "created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:24) I don't know about you, but the words "true righteousness and holiness" intimidate me. However, the fact that this new life is righteous simply means that we are now in a right relationship with God through Christ. We are holy because we are set apart for His service and glory. 

You are deeply loved by our incredible Creator God. Putting off the old and clothing ourselves in the new is not about managing our behavior and making ourselves look good on the outside. It's about loving God back and desiring to do all that He has commanded for His glory. It's not about us. It is all about Him.

So what steps would it take in your life for you to throw off the old self and truly embrace the new?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trusting God Through the Turbulence

Our family loves Disney World. My husband is so Mickey-crazed that, as soon as one Disney trip is coming to a close, he is feverishly plotting our next visit. We just returned from our most recent trek to the most magical place on earth, and I feel quite certain he could tell you at any given moment how many days we have left until we are breathing Disney air once again. Mickey Mouse waffles, twirling tea cups, Dole whips, parades, princesses, the Jungle Cruise, Ohana, fireworks. You name it; we love it.

The only downside to our frequent Disney expeditions is getting there. I long for the day when some rocket scientist invents a safe way to "beam" ourselves to the castle. But for now, we must rely on travel by car or plane. Both have their alluring and undesirable qualities. Commuting by car allows for more luggage and more freedom to schedule the trip as you please, even though there are moments when you feel like time is standing still while your children whine and squirm in the backseat. Traveling by plane is (usually) more time-efficient, but you are forced to pack your bags to the gills and operate on the timetable of the all-powerful airline.

For our most recent trip, we chose to fly. I am the worst kind of flyer. I would probably make a very good poster child for Dramamine when it comes to air travel. To make things exponentially worse on this particular flight, the weather was not at its best. As a matter of fact, our departure was delayed two hours or so because our plane was behind schedule as a result of the less-than-suitable elements. I will also admit to being one of the nerds that genuinely pays attention to the flight attendants while they quickly explain the emergency procedures, while praying that I will actually remember to fasten the oxygen mask to my face before frantically strapping it on my daughter. That goes against every fiber in my mommy being.

I was already very nervous about flying in general, but as we were catapulted into the sky, my fears were compounded. Our ascent into the clouds was not as smooth as I would have liked, and there were several bumps and dips that sent me into panic mode. Jason and I had decided before entering the plane that he would sit next to Eden and I would be Caroline's buddy, seeing as there were no rows with four seats all together. This posed a problem for me because, in my terror, I really needed to squeeze the life out of his hand. Caroline was not much of a comfort to me. As a matter of fact, she was cool as a little cucumber throughout the entire flight. I'm still not sure she even realized that she was thousands of miles in the air. All she knew was that Mama was next to her and Daddy and Eden were right in front of her, and that's all she needed to know.

I, on the other hand, prayed myself through the flight. There were several times when my stomach did flip flops and I secretly built my case for renting a car to drive home at the end of the week instead of subjecting myself to more anxiety. I also noticed that I felt much more secure when I could see the landscape beneath us instead of endless clouds. I reasoned that falling from 10,000 feet would be much less traumatic and/or deadly than falling from 40,000 feet. Please don't tell me if I'm wrong.

If possible, the descent was worse than take-off. As we headed back down, the pilot banked left and then right to get the plane in position to land. That was the moment I almost reached for the little white bag in front of me. While the plane was bumping and careening toward the earth, I was gripping the armrests, bearing white knuckles and pleading with God for our safety. I happened to look at Caroline and noticed that she was leisurely glancing through the Sky Mall magazine in the seat next to me. No fear. Not even a flicker of worry.

When the plane finally touched down, Eden yelled, "WOO-HOO!!!" I, however, pondered kissing the ground as soon as we taxied to the gate. Thankfully, the flight home was much smoother. I don't think my heart could have handled much more.

Sometimes life can seem like that plane ride. You feel completely out of control (because you are) and the turbulence caused by trails and tests threatens to send you over the edge. However, in those moments (and sometimes hours and days and weeks) of life "turbulence," we are called to place greater trust in God instead of giving in to fear and worry. God was in control of my life thousands of miles in the air, just as He is in control while I live daily with my feet flat on the ground. And He is watching carefully over my life on the easy, peaceful days, just as He tenderly cares for me when everything is falling to pieces. He has proved Himself trustworthy time and time again. His Word reminds me that "the LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him." (Psalm 28:7, ESV) Lord, thank You for Your power, protection, and provision during the trials and turbulence of each day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Be a Barnabas

A few months ago, Eden was invited to a birthday party that was held at her personal paradise - Pump it Up. She can run and scream and throw herself around and (most likely) not injure herself because everything is inflated with air to cushion your inevitable fall. Of course, Caroline tagged along too, as little sisters often do, but Pump it Up happens to be her own personal nightmare. Unfamiliar people are running and screaming, which seems to cause panic in her heart, and she does not appreciate ground that is unstable. I can't say that I blame her.

Places such as these are quite the social experiment. It is interesting to watch children (and adults) who do not usually "party" together, unite under a common bond to celebrate a mutual friend's birthday. The kids are not sure where the individual boundaries are, and sometimes they are asked to participate in party activities that they don't particularly care for under normal circumstances.

The rock-climbing wall was one of the activities that the children could enjoy. I am not a rock-climber myself. I know that may come as a surprise, seeing as I do not enjoy heights or perspiring. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school I was coerced into repelling down the side of a mountain by my adventurous youth leader and my daring peers, and I was scarred for life. I know some people relish the heart-pounding excitement of virtually, but not actually, falling to their death. I am not one of those people.

I have passed my lack of daredevil spirit on to my cautious but fun-loving daughters. So Eden was not going to attempt to climb that wall even if you carried her up there yourself. But there were a few brave souls who timidly approached the base of the rock and decided to strap themselves in and begin the ascent.

One of those valiant party-goers was a little boy that attends our church. Jason and I know him and his family well, so as he began to pull his little body upward, we watched and cheered for him. There were multiple times when he tried to quit because he thought it was much too hard, or he became intimidated by the amount of rock left to climb. But Jason and I both called out to him and told him he was doing great and assured him that he had the strength to succeed. And you know what? He did. You should have seen the look on his little round face when he reached the top and then floated back down.

A minute or two later, another little boy stepped up to the plate. I didn't know him at all, and I didn't see any other parents paying attention to the fact that he was getting suited up for the climb. He started up and immediately became discouraged. I didn't even know the child's name, so I waited to see if anyone else would offer some words of encouragement. No one did. He made a few attempts but eventually gave up, not even making it halfway to the finish line.

In the New Testament book of Acts, we are introduced to a man named Joseph. The apostles give him the name of Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement." Scripture says he was "a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith." (Acts 11:24) He must have also been a pure ray of sunshine to everyone around him. I'm sure the disciples didn't give him that name because he was the pessimist of the group. He was also the first of the Christ-followers to really accept Paul and encourage the others to follow suit. He even ended up being sent out with Paul on some of his journeys.

Life is much like climbing that rock wall. It can be daunting and exhausting at times. I know what it is like to walk through a fiery trial and feel like life is caving in around you. It is vitally important that we reach out and encourage those around us. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." In that same book and chapter, Paul says, "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." (1 Thess. 5:14)

Is there someone that you can encourage today? Look around, grow sensitive to the needs of others, and be a Barnabas.