Call Me Old-fashioned

I’m used to being called “old.”  Teenage daughters make sure of that.

But I had never been called “old-fashioned.” Until the other day.

I was extolling the benefits of marriage to a young unmarried gal at work. I shared how my husband and I had been blessed with three wonderful daughters and had recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I hoped it might serve as an inspiration, an example worth emulating.

Instead, I was dismissed as being “old-fashioned.”

Ouch.

I pondered her perspective.

To her generation, monogamy is monotonous. Marriage? An archaic institution, a mere piece of paper. Traditional family values have gone the way of land lines and snail mail.

I suddenly felt out of touch and out of style.

Then the Lord brought this verse to mind:

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV)

Commentators on this verse agree that the image here is of travelers who have lost their way. They’re standing at a crossroads, where many paths converge. Which way should they go? The Scripture answers by encouraging weary wanderers to choose the “ancient” paths, the “good” way.

The Hebrew word for “ancient,” or “old” (in the NLT) is defined as: (of) long duration, everlasting, eternal. The word “good” can also be translated: beautiful, beneficial, best.*

Just because something is “old” doesn’t mean it has lost its relevance. God’s principles are timeless, eternal, intended for every generation. Choosing to follow His ways isn’t outdated or old-fashioned.

It is wise.

…look into the Scriptures, they are the best directory to us… (John Gill)

The benefit of sticking to God’s time-tested paths is also laid out for us in this verse: You will find rest for your souls.

I love the way Matthew Poole describes this “soul rest” in his commentary:

…you will find God to stand by you, and be a sanctuary to you. You will find things mend with you; it will be well with you…you will be satisfied and quiet; you will not doubt any longer which way to follow…”

Isn’t this the kind of well-being we’d all welcome? The type of satisfaction we should each seek, regardless of age?

I shared this verse with the young woman the following week. I am praying that she considers it.

Each of us, at various points in our lives, will encounter figurative forks in the road, those spiritual crossroads. Let God’s reliable Word be your guide. Trust that His plans for you are good. Walk in His paths and you will find true satisfaction and rest.

Call me old-fashioned. I don’t care.

His Word is timeless.

His heart is wise.

His ways are best.

signposts

Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation. (Psalm 90:1b, HCSB)

 

*Definitions are from The NAS Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon.

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Bittersweet Blessing

E and M ii

Tomorrow these two will begin a new adventure. They will leave the frozen Wyoming tundra and head to warmer parts. The wooded hills of Virginia beckon. They must answer the call.

We will miss them, accustomed as we have become to the two tall figures who have become a fixture on the worn plaid loveseat in our family room. Countless hours have they spent there, side by side, amusing themselves with videos on their iPhones, completing college assignments on their laptops (that would be Emily) or watching football games on the television screen (that would be Morgan).

“It is bittersweet,” I say to friends who inquire about their imminent departure. We are so excited for them. We are sad for us.

But really, there is no bitter. There is only sweet.

We’ve been so blessed.

If those cushions could communicate, they would tell of the many conversations, laughs, and giggles (that would be Emily) they overheard during the past four and a half years. Indeed, as Chris and I warmed our assigned seats on the adjacent matching plaid couch, we too were privileged to look on with pride and joy as this young couple matured in love, walked uprightly, waited patiently (that would be Morgan), made plans to marry.

There were a few disagreements, occasional misunderstandings, and some tears, to be sure. These are necessary in the forging of a true and lasting union. But even the bitter becomes sweet when Christ is present.* From the beginning they had invited Him into their relationship. And He smiled upon them and blessed them as they occupied their place on that loveseat.

So tomorrow we will send them out with our blessing. We will no doubt shed more tears before the day is done. But we will smile through the tears. We will hold them tight and then force ourselves to let them go. And we will thank the Lord for the time He gave us.

Sweet, sweet time. Sweet, sweet couple.

As our longtime friend John Lamb is fond of saying, Morgan and Emily, “You are good for this world.”

Go now, and be a blessing.

Our couch may be empty.

But our hearts will be full.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

(Numbers 6:24-26, NKJV)

*See Exodus 15:22-25.

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Letter to a Disappointed Bride

Dear Disappointed Bride,

I know you wanted the sun to shine on your special day. Every bride does. We equate sunshine with joy and happiness. We feel like God is smiling down on us when the sun shines.

Of course you prayed for sun.

But instead you got rain. Or snow. (Or a tornado. Or two, like one recent Wyoming spring bride. Her pictures were epic, btw.)

So you had to go with Plan B. If you even had a Plan B.

I understand.

Friday was our eldest daughter’s wedding day. It started out sunny and bright, but by mid-afternoon the rain had arrived, uninvited. During a brief respite, we optimistically seated our guests for the outdoor ceremony, hoping to sneak it in before the next storm front rolled through.

The clouds darkened. Lightening threatened. We prayed.

And the heavens opened.

Literally.

We baptized our guests that evening. They fled for refuge into the barn where the reception–and now the ceremony–was to be held. (Some of them are even still speaking to us.)

Hello, Plan B.

Perhaps, like me, you sometimes find yourself secretly envious of those other “lucky” brides, whose plans to get hitched went off without a hitch. You might wonder why God didn’t answer your prayers in the same way. And maybe deep down you feel that He wasn’t blessing your union quite as much as He blessed theirs.

I’ve got some good news for you.

The superstitious believe that rain on a wedding day brings good luck. Some cultures view rain as a sign of fertility and cleansing. The Bible also has much to say about rain. I found this on a website explaining the symbolic meaning of biblical words:*

Rain:  Something refreshing, delightful.”

I know it didn’t feel delightful at the time. But biblically, rain, not sun, is the imagery most often used to indicate God’s blessing, favor and presence.

So let these truths from His Word disperse any clouds of disappointment still lingering after your storm…

1)  You were blessed.

I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. (Ezekiel 34:26, NIV)

2)  God was smiling on you.

When the king smiles, there is life; his favor refreshes like a spring rain. (Proverbs 16:16, NLT)

3)  He was there, right in your midst.

So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth. (Hosea 6:3, NAS)

And one final thought…

4)  Our Plan B is always God’s Plan A.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21, NIV)

He planned that our daughter’s wedding ceremony would be held in a barn.

He planned that His Son would be born in a stable.

His plans are always best.

Beloved bride, you will encounter storms and disappointments in your married life as well. Your wedding day was good practice in how to handle them with faith and grace. You’re off to a great start.

I hope this helps you feel better about that darn weather.

I know it helped me.

Love,

A Mother-of-the-Bride

P.S. It rained on my wedding day, too.

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(Here is our elegant Emily posing for a bridal portrait in the barn. The light streaming in from the window above was like a spotlight on them during the ceremony. And the glory of the Lord shone all around.)

*www.biblestudy.org

**Huge thank you to Liz Osban Photography for this photo and for so masterfully capturing the warmth and beauty of their special day.

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Marked

Beau marked his “Half Birthday” last week.  And, as if a switch had been flipped in his little doggy brain, he immediately began “marking” his territory.

INSIDE the house.

I was reminded of all the reasons we wanted a female dog.

We in turn celebrated the milestone with a trip to the vet for a few “alterations.”  (Sorry, Beau.)  We’re hoping this will “fix” his little leg-lifting problem.

But I have to share Laurel’s response when we discovered her dog’s newfound compulsion to mark his territory.

“Beau!” she scolded him, “It’s already yours!”

Then she turned to me.  “This could be an illustration.”

“Of what?” I questioned.

She went on to describe how as Christians we often work so hard, trying to gain something that has already been given to us.

She’s right, you know.

When we were adopted into the family of God, what was His became ours.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3, NLT)

There is no longer any reason to feel insecure.  He has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ.  We have a place in His heart forever, and a full inheritance as sons.  We are marked with His seal of approval.

So, RELAX.

Stop strutting your stuff.  Cease striving to prove your worth.  Quit worrying about “making a mark” for God.  (That last one was for me.)

Just live in the joy and freedom of your Father’s house.

It’s already yours.

Beau at six months

(Now let’s pray Beau also figures this out.  And soon.)

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Out on a Limb

I can feel my heart pounding inside my chest.  My hands are clammy as I type.  I’m not a risk taker.  I don’t like conflict.  I’m afraid of being judged.

Yet here I go, out on this limb.  (Deep breath.)

It’s a limb called “Tithe.”

When I began blogging I determined not to use this space as a soapbox, a platform to vent or push my own agenda.  Ephesians 4:29 is written out on a sticky note beside my computer screen, a filter for my words.  Are they Wholesome?  Edifying?  Timely?  Grace-giving?  I pray this post also passes that test.

I love God’s church, the beautiful bride of Christ.  I would never want to do anything to hurt or divide it.  I pray my words build up, not tear down.

But respectful dialogue and a different perspective on a subject can be healthy for the church.  Sometimes we are called to address a potentially controversial topic, to leave the comfort zone, the safe place.  Being out on a limb is scary.  But if God beckons us out there, He will hold us up.

Enough disclaimers.

Our pastor just issued a “90-Day Challenge.”  The challenge is to tithe (give 10% of your income) to the church for 90 days.  If at the end of that time you don’t feel God has blessed you, the church will gladly refund your money.  The biblical basis for this challenge can be found in the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Malachi.  Here God encourages His people to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” and to “test” Him to see if He will not pour out a blessing upon them.

I take God’s Word seriously.  And I certainly don’t want to miss out on a blessing.  But I will not be participating in the 90-Day Challenge, or taking the “Tithing Test,” as it is sometimes called.  Here’s why.

I don’t have a problem with encouraging people to give.  Greed is not a fruit of the Spirit.  We are called to be generous.  “For from him and through him and for him are all things.”  (Romans 11:36a, NIV)

I do have a problem, however, with the way tithing is taught and emphasized in many–if not most–Christian churches.  Tithing has become so widely accepted (and expected) as THE way to trust God with your finances.  It’s just what ‘good Christians’ do.  But I believe it is more of a cultural Christian practice than a biblical mandate.

The “tithe” as we know it today is a far cry from the tithe of the Bible.  Tithing was a part of the Levitical law.  Devout Jews were required to bring a “tenth” of their produce and livestock at various times throughout the year, to help feed the temple priests, its officiants, and the poor.  The tithe was never money (even though currency was in use at that time).  It wasn’t even an actual 10%, but averaged more like 23% annually.  (For more on the historical tithe, check out the link below.)

The fact is, none of that matters or applies anymore.  Jesus’ death on the cross freed us from the demands of the law.  The New Covenant, one characterized by grace and freedom in Christ, is now in effect.  We are no longer obligated to keep the Old Covenant, which includes the tithe.

Christians are most definitely exhorted to give:  generously, cheerfully, voluntarily.*  But do a search of the word “tithe” in the New Testament.  Most notable is its complete absence in Paul’s instructions to the Church.  Believers will be hard pressed to find a command in the New Testament to tithe their income to the local church.  It’s just not there.**

I’m not saying it’s wrong if you prayerfully decide to give 10% to your local church.  Many of my godly friends tithe and I love and respect them.  For some, tithing can be a helpful financial discipline.  But I also don’t think God will punish you or withhold a blessing from you if you don’t.

If you are struggling financially, perhaps you need to hear that it’s okay to just humbly receive right now.  Maybe the church should be giving to you.  I love the fact that our church recently started a Facebook page to help meet practical needs within the church family.  It feels very much like a modern version of the early church.

But as for me and my house, we have chosen not to tithe.  This doesn’t mean we don’t support our local church and other Christian organizations.  We have at times given a percentage of a certain source of income (like our tax refund or the sale of a house) to God’s work.  Sometimes it has been 10%.  Sometimes it has been 100%.  I guess you could say we try to practice “Spirit-led giving.”

We don’t have it all down.  We still miss opportunities to bless.  But the Lord is patiently teaching and gently molding us into givers after His own heart.

A wrought iron sign hangs in a prominent place in our home.  It reads:

“Blessed by the Grace of God”

I love it because it’s a reminder to me that we have most certainly been blessed.  Abundantly.  So much more than we deserve.  And not because WE have done anything.  Simply because of God’s grace, given freely to us in Christ.

So the real test for me is not in tithing, but in trusting that God loves me and desires to bless me, independent of my performance.  Because God’s grace is another limb I am often nervous to inch out on.  It feels risky.  Is it really strong enough?  If I rely on it completely, and not on my own efforts, will it hold me up?

His grace is exhilarating, and it is enough.  I’m learning to rest in it as I rest my full weight on it.  His grace motivates and challenges me to give.  Freely, generously, as I have been given.

“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.  For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17, NAS)

 “…see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7b, NIV)

 

* (See 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.)

** (Matthew 23:23/Luke 11:42 is about the closest you’ll get.  Keep in mind that Jesus was addressing the Pharisees and referring to the temple tithe.)

~For inspiration on giving generously, go to:  http://www.generousgiving.org/

~For an in-depth study on the topic of tithing, try:  http://www.tithing-russkelly.com/ (Scroll down a little to get to the essay.)

 

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Answers and Abundance

Lately I have been overwhelmed as God has answered specific prayers and surprised me with unexpected blessings.  My cup overflows!

What follows is today’s entry from my daily devotional.  I thought I’d share since it echoes my recent experiences and captures the essence of abundant life in Him.  Plus, He expresses it much more eloquently than I can!  Enjoy and be encouraged!

     “I am a God of both intricate detail and overflowing abundance.  When you entrust the details of your life to Me, you are surprised by how thoroughly I answer your petitions.  I take pleasure in hearing your prayers, so feel free to bring Me all your requests.  The more you pray, the more answers you can receive.  Best of all, your faith is strengthened as you see how precisely I respond to your specific prayers.

       Because I am infinite in all My ways, you need not fear that I will run out of resources. Abundance is at the very heart of who I AM.  Come to Me in joyful expectation of receiving all you need–and sometimes much more!  I delight in showering blessings on My beloved children.  Come to Me with open hands and hearts, ready to receive all I have for you.”

(From Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)

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