Mea Culpa

February 26, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

“Miss, I think I’m going to cry.” These words from a proud, young athlete drop into the silence around my desk. He’s here to practice one of the human race’s favorite strategies—guilt manipulation.

It’s the day after grades have been turned in, but I can make a few last minute changes in extenuating circumstances. Our students have deduced the true deadline to the last second. This procrastinating teenager has a sixty-eight and has come to beg for two points.

He has made his case, and I have turned him down. Lest you think I am heartless, let me point out that he has a zero for cheating on a test and a fifty for incomplete work even when he knew his grade teetered on the borderline of passing. His pitiful claim hangs in the quiet, disturbed only by my clacking computer keys. The awkward silence stretches over several minutes.

I waiver.

I like him and I don’t want him to be miserable. I bolster my melting heart. This is a relatively painless way to learn an important lesson. Not to mention that a part of me cries, “Unfair!” at the exploitation of my sympathies.

Stopping my work, I break the tension. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“I don’t know what to say either, Miss.” Still, he lingers, hoping against hope I’ll crumble. The uncomfortable moment lengthens until he finally drops his shoulders and drags himself away.

Torn, I feel his pain, but I’m also proud that I stood firm. Many a time I’ve ranted against fictional characters in books and movies who let themselves be manipulated into pandering to someone’s whims. My righteous indignation has spread to live victims, too—friends maneuvered by spouses, parents beguiled by children, administrators hoodwinked by students.

Yet again, however, God uses his still, small voice to draw me up. One of this week’s SAT vocabulary words is hypocrite. Did I not just knead my daughter’s conscience to get my way over her lack of special Easter clothes? I just couldn’t let it go. Even after excusing her for forgetting, I had to get in a couple of digs. Just like the oh-so-irritating mother-in-laws on television.

Guilt and fear of punishment work as motives, but they are not the motives God desires for us. Nor are they the motives we should thrust onto others. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18 NIV).

Comment prompt: Share stories where you’ve realized your own manipulation of others so we can all ask forgiveness together.

Longing for a Better Country – A Heavenly One

February 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen –

A man, a stranger, sat himself at our table. I was drinking a cappuccino and playing speed scrabble with two good friends. He started talking, sharing life stories, then shifted into telling Bible stories. He wanted to be sure we knew Jesus. He left our table. I eyed him as he moved thru Barnes & Noble bookstore, wondering who he was. He came back and told us there was something more to say. “Jesus is coming soon,” he said intently. Before leaving, he instructed us to tell others, and to live as if this were our last day. Squinting at my letters, I tried to separate my thoughts from the stranger’s thoughts. There was something unsettling working at the back of my mind. I continued to mull over his words, demeanor, and intensity. I began to pray as I fiddled with my tiles, resigned to an inevitable loss.

For days, I replayed the conversation, examining the way I spent my time. Wondering if the things I pour myself into have value. We live in strange times, quietly assaulted with horrific stories of brutality, decadence, and greed. There are others who believed they would see Jesus return, maybe for the same reasons we believe. But the stranger’s thoughts stirred me. I cannot recall every word he spoke, but the words I woke to at night were these two: stay awake. So I called a few friends, read scripture, and tried to understand what it looks like to stay awake. And I began to implore the Lord during those quiet periods of lying wide-eyed. And He unfolded scripture. Timothy 5 says a widow living for pleasure is already dead. She is contrasted with one who puts her full hope in the Lord, and calls to Him day and night. Waking up means dropping the self-reliance. Everything holds together because God has decided to let the Earth continue for another day. He is the first, last, and only hope.

The Lord alone knows the timing on the eternal clock, but I can tell you that I am carrying my pack and setting my heart on pilgrimage. This is not my home. I am looking for a new country: eager to live in a better one, a heavenly one. I know God has prepared a city. I am at the back of the line. Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Enoch, Abel and thousands of others have already traversed these earthly roads searching for heavenly ones. They lived faith. There were promises they never saw filled, they held on anyway. And so God was not ashamed when they called him their God.

As I wait for my bridegroom, I do so acknowledging that I am poor, pitiful, blind and naked. So I ask for refined character, salve so I can see, and to be clothed in white. I want to be awake, watching the sky as my redemption draws near. Come soon Lord Jesus!

“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3:2-3 NIV).

Surprise Gift

February 14, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Diane Mayfield –

I read Jarrod Spencer’s article “Surprise Me, God” and thought that was a great thing to ask God for each day, sort of like daily gifts. Being a girl who likes surprises, I asked Him, “What surprise do you have for me today, God?”

Then it happened. I rushed to get ready for my morning meeting. I stepped out of the shower, bent over to wrap a towel around my wet hair and felt a piercing shot in my hip. Then my legs tingled and almost went out from under me. I gasped with pain and managed to sit on my stool. It took my breath away and I was afraid to move. Was that my surprise?

I gingerly managed to stand. Back pain is not new too me but this sort of pain was. I thought if I could sit here, I might be able to finish my make-up. I wish I could say that I prayed at that moment, but I don’t recall if I did or not.

I was hosting my small group that night. Fortunately, all the preparations were made ahead of time. Don’t ask me why. Let’s just say it had to be God’s provision. I canceled all my appointments for the day, took massive doses of Advil and laid on an ice pack with my knees bent.

I tried get up for small group but the pain was too intense. I could only sit for a few minutes at a time and the pain drained me. So to the bed I went. I heard the hellos and laughter as the group arrived. I was missing out on the fun and I hated that.

Suddenly my bedroom door opened and in walked my sisters in Christ as I lay flat on my back with my knees on a pillow. I was not at my loveliest to say the least. Here’s the surprise gift. They all gathered around me, touching me wherever they could and prayed. They prayed for my healing, for the correct doctor, for my ability to rest in His care and for God’s will to be done. We joked that now I should get up and take my mat. That didn’t happen but my soul was totally uplifted, deeply touched and encouraged. My spiritual family surrounded me with loving kindness and care, refreshing my soul with their prayers on my behalf, touching and nurturing me.

I was the one who was to be the hostess that night, the giver and the nurturer. Instead I was the receiver. And quite honestly it’s not a place that I like to be. That was my surprise gift. In my humbled state, flat on my back, I felt so loved and cared for by Him through my sweet sisters in Christ.

Now, I didn’t really fully get all this until the next day when I recalled my prayer for a surprise. Then I was struck with a pinched nerve. You might wonder if that is the way God answers prayer. Thankfully I did not go that direction, although there have been times that I might have. No, His surprise was that instead of my doing, I was to receive His love from the spiritual family that He brought into my life. I had to be still first to receive His love from others. Many times wonderful gifts come from being still.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NIV).

Mercy Me

February 3, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

“Do the work or pay the consequences.” So reads one of my favorite parent e-mails. I wrote to let a father know that his child had blatantly refused to do an assignment. As per usual, I asked that he encourage his child to take advantage of the late work policy since this was a major project. This supportive dad let me know that he had no patience with a child who had the “gall” to tell me to my face that he had no intention of writing his paper. (Believe me, an atypical reaction.)

When I received this response, I practically shouted “Hallelujah!” at my desk. I hustled next door to report to my fellow teachers. We all said amen with great enthusiasm.

My daughter Meredith must write her own assignment—about a community issue. She came to me for advice. With this incident in the forefront of my mind, we discussed the prevalent tendency to make exceptions for and accept excuses from students. We bemoaned the state of education and our society where these overly merciful policies seem to be destroying our culture’s sense of responsibility.

Another incident from earlier in the year popped into my memory. Policy dictates that failed tests may be retaken, usually for a maximum of seventy, but that is left to teacher discretion. I had caught a girl cheating on her test—red-handed with crib notes.

Automatic zero, no retake.

However, the next morning during my prayer time, I became convicted that I needed to offer this student mercy. I pulled her aside and told her exactly that. Very appreciative, she promised to study and come to tutorials to take the makeup test.

She never showed up.

Indignation rumbled through my soul. Talk about nerve.

So, yesterday I mulled over these issues as I brushed my teeth. I planned arguments and logic to share with Meredith. Righteous frustration welled up in me again. A sense of entitlement is running rampant, not only in my high school’s students, but in our nation. Someone (me?) must develop the courage to stand firm. Let them suffer the consequences. Without consistent penalties, they’ll never learn to be dependable; they’ll never develop a work ethic.

As I continued my mental rant, I notice something in my eye in the mirror. Was that a splinter (mote)? Surely it wasn’t a plank (beam)? Do you recall Jesus’ story of the person trying to get a mote out of someone’s eye when he had a beam in his? (Matthew 7:3-5)

Don’t I know better than to commit the sins I commit? Yet I not only desire, but have come to expect, God’s mercy. God has given me and every sinner chance after chance after chance. And some of us tend to develop that sense of entitlement. We expect more chances—and He gives them. Does he feel the same frustration with me that I’ve been harping about? Praise God, that if He does, He sets it aside and keeps forgiving me! Thank God that his mercies are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23a NIV) and that He gave us the story of Hosea to demonstrate his continuing compassion.

Comment Prompt: Share stories where you’ve shown mercy or how you appreciate God’s mercy.

Learning to Wade

January 23, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen –

My first fly-fishing adventure was in the cool, hauntingly still Blue Ridge Mountains. Small shantys scattered along the dirt road followed the bends and twists of the stream, and had their own slow Southern drawl. It would not have been a surprise to cast in time with an impromptu fiddler. Or find myself trailed by an old, mangy mutt.

Yet here, clotheslines flapping, corked moonshine resting on wooden porches, I found a new kind of appreciation for my Maker. My hubby led me straight into this wonderful world of trout and entomology. He had me crawling on hand and knee to the banks so we would not spook fish out of a run. He had me flipping rocks and taking pop quizzes on what insect life I was beholding. And then he would take out a fly he had tied with feathers and thread designed to replicate the insect we looked at, tie it on, and catch a brightly colored Brook Trout.

If I did wade in to release a fish, or to climb one of the enormous boulders that shaped the stream I would be not much deeper than my knees. The river had deeper pockets but they were easily avoided. It was the perfect environment to learn: peaceful wading and stunning scenery.

But the day came when we would leave the South and fish new, fast flowing rivers and my belly kept me off balance. Seeing where I was placing my wader boots became tricky. One hand carried a fly rod the other protectively swaddled my unborn baby. And it felt new and scary and I stepped off a ledge. I bobbed around trying to get my footing. My husband’s ashen face as he ran down the bank trying to rescue me is as sealed in my mind as my own panicky thoughts. Months and an infant later I felt brave enough to try again. The waters were deeper, unfamiliar and fast. I knew I wanted to know how to maneuver through them, but I understood how fast they could take me down.

Jesus invited His disciples into a boat and into a storm and went to sleep. The waves rushed over and they woke Him and asked if He cared that their lives were in jeopardy. I know how those thoughts come when life seems to take a misstep and you fall off the ledge and cannot seem to find your footing. I have laid on my face seeking. Jesus knew there would be a storm. He speaks; the storm ceases. He questions their fear and faith. Wide-eyed and afraid the disciples question, “Who is He?”

And it all comes back to that. How deep I’m willing to wade, the lengths I’m willing to run, the journey I’ll follow Him on will flow from who I believe He is.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1 (KJV).

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