Monday, August 7, 2017

Thoughts on These Last Few Weeks

I haven't blogged in almost 2 years! I think it's time to start using this place to put my thoughts into writing. I benefit from it and I don't have to feel bad about writing too much for a Facebook post. :) I realized just now that I have never really journaled any of my thoughts about the upcoming arrival of a baby. Lots of times I've talked about the birth experience, but I think this is important to record and remember, too. I pray that this is encouraging to some of you, as I process through these feelings in the last weeks leading up to the birth of our sweet little baby #4. 

I'm feeling a bit like I'm treading water and starting to sink. God's been teaching me so much, but I am struggling to sort through the lessons and apply them! My prayer is that I will trust Him completely, rest on His goodness and faithfulness, and believe that His timing is perfect.

We are about 3.5 weeks from my due date, and I feel "done" in many ways. My body is not keeping up with my brain and my "to do" list! I did some baby prep this morning for 2 hours and could hardly move afterwards. I'm not sleeping well, for various reasons (not all pregnancy related), so I'm needing to nap daily. I'm trying to plan out the beginning of our school year all while planning for baby and making list after list of things for Derrick to do that I physically cannot do. They are doing renovations on everything but the kitchen sink inside and outside of our apartment building this summer, and I have no idea if/when it will be all done and whether or not they will be in the middle of things when my baby decides to be born (at home). Because she doesn't care if there are workers on staging outside of my front window or if there is a giant hole outside my front door that day, or closets being ripped apart, she's going to come when she's ready! ;)

But PRAISE GOD! He knows all those details. I CAN trust in Him. I don't want this to be a complaint, but rather a true request for prayer that I will lean fully on my Father who knows what I need. That I will realize it will all get done, and we will find our new groove with a baby, 2 homeschooled students, and a toddler. That yes, noisy construction equipment might be right outside (or inside!) during those first few days of newborn fog and that it will all be ok. That this is the life God has given me and He has equipped me to do it...and what I'm not fully equipped for yet, He will prepare me for.

I think I have always worshiped "comfort" and God is truly stripping that from me. And to be honest, He could make things a LOT more uncomfortable if He wanted to, and this stuff is all minor in the grand scheme of things. I can make plans, but I submit them to Him for approval, and He gets the final say. In fact, He already planned my days before I was even born. So it's gracious of Him to even allow me some sort of opinion at all. I defer to my Daddy, the God of Heaven who also created me and knows me perfectly. Having said all of that, it's still a daily struggle to do this.

It may sound strange to say but the fire and great material loss that our dear friends experienced a couple weeks ago has given me this amazing amount of comfort. I can see more now than ever that with Christ, we can literally lose everything in this world, every comfort we enjoy, every keepsake we hold dear, and be completely fine. The temporary is just that...we are not guaranteed that anything will be permanent. Our lives are even fleeting and fragile, so we submit to His infinite wisdom and know that just like He knows the details of our lives, He also is the one who numbers our days.

On another note, related to the idea of comfort...I have always considered myself to be an introvert. I am pretty sure I am, because I have all the classic signs of being someone who is drained easily by spending time with people, especially in groups. I don't like crowds, I like quiet and peace, and I like to be alone to recharge. However...just because these things are true of me, does not mean I need to use them as an excuse! Just because it's how I'm most comfortable, doesn't mean I always get to choose that comfort! I live in a place where there are always people outside. People at our door regularly. Construction workers or other types of workers in and out of our apartment. I don't have the option of peace and quiet all that often anymore. I also don't get to be alone or secluded much, either. But you know what? That is perfectly ok with me! It's fine to acknowledge characteristics that are true of me, and make up who I am, but it doesn't mean I NEED all of those things to happen. I can be pushed out of my comfort zone to spend time with people, even if it tires me out. I can let it go if I don't get the alone time I need to recharge for a few days in a row. Because people, relationships, community...those things are way more important than my comfort. And God has put me here, it's where He wants me to be...and so I had better not just sit around and shut the rest of the world out for the sake of my own preferences! Plus...I'm about to have 4 kids. Who actually thought I'd be able to maintain "me" time with that many little ones around? Haha, I sure didn't! I needed to get this point or I'd be in for quite a disappointment very soon!

These are the things God is working on...see why I'm having trouble sorting through it all and applying it at the same time? I want to learn and grow, but I also keep getting hit over and over with these things. So hopefully I get it together and realize this stuff in the moment. So that when the next "inconvenience" comes my way, I'll be ready. And rejoicing. :)

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Story of Judah Benjamin's Arrival - November 11th, 2015


Several months ago, we had a bunch of very exciting things happen all in the same week. It was Sunday, March 1st, and I found out there was going to be a third Howry baby joining our family! Beyond ecstatic, I had no idea just how much was about to change in our lives! The next day, we had a showing for our house. It was nothing new, we had many showings over the years, but this one was THE one that changed everything. On Tuesday, March 3rd, we received an offer, and the next day, it was under contract. Now we were weeks away from living in a new place, with two small children and one sick pregnant mama. Oh boy, here we go! What an adventure. We found a place to live just in time, the sale of the house went as smoothly as anyone could hope for, and right after we moved in I made these shirts for the kids to wear as we announced our news to the Facebook world. Our family was going to grow yet again! 

Overall, it was a pretty easy pregnancy. I was really sick in the beginning which was difficult with the move, but soon after we settled in, I started feeling better and we began our new "normal". Chloe turned 3 in June and I took on a couple of children to babysit for the summer. We stayed busy, busy, busy! I have to say this was definitely the "fastest" pregnancy I have had yet. I just feel like the time flew by. We were constantly on the go, I stayed really active, and we made the most of the beautiful weather we had. Then fall arrived, and with it, our first real homeschooling adventure...preschool! All the way through September and October, we stayed busy with so many activities. I just wanted to soak up all the time I could with my two munchkins before I had a baby to focus my attention on. These two kids have been such a joy and I adore them...and watching them become older siblings has been an incredible thing. I know they will be great at taking care of their baby brother.

October 14th - Still 4 weeks out from Judah's birth date! 
There's the back story. :) During the month of October it quickly became more and more difficult to function. My belly got VERY big and "pointy" as many people liked to say, but I still felt good and did as much as possible to keep the kids active and busy. Around the end of October, I began with false labor contractions. They would start to get regular, then stop all together. This went on night after night for weeks! It made me think I might not make it to my due date (which of course I was wrong about yet again!), but I was actually very happy to make it to the 40-week mark as I knew this meant the baby was nice and healthy and strong. Another thing that was causing me to feel anxious was the baby's position. His head was down, but he kept moving from posterior to anterior multiple times a week or even in the same day! I was nervous about having a long painful labor and delivery because of that, so I was trying all kinds of exercises and positions to try and help this little guy flip into the right spot and stay there, but nothing I did seemed to change anything. I definitely felt that God was teaching me that ultimately this is not in my hands and I have zero ability to control this. I still felt that temptation and struggle on a daily basis, though. I just wanted to do whatever I could to get this baby here as quickly and easily as possible! As the days past my due date ticked by (I was due on the 5th), I became increasingly frustrated with myself and feeling like I needed to "do something". I have been down this path before with Elijah and I did not mind what the calendar said, but I was getting so uncomfortable that I really couldn't do any of my normal things anymore and I was just tired and ready to be done. I found myself withdrawing from pretty much any gathering of people because, as much as I love them all, I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want all the eyes staring at my belly (because trust me, that's what everyone does when you're that huge!), and I didn't want to answer questions. Because..I had no idea why I was still pregnant either!! I told Derrick that I now understand why cats go off on their own to deliver their babies. There is something so private about the whole thing and I just didn't want to involve the whole world anymore. Don't get me wrong, I was so blessed and encouraged by all the love and support I had from family and friends. I was just worn and emotionally drained. I needed time alone to reflect and pray and come to a place of surrender...it wasn't easy and I wavered many times, but ultimately I knew it was not in my control.

I'd say things began to change on my actual due date, which was on a Thursday. That night I had regular contractions and once again, they went away. But I do remember that they started to feel different. I was terrified that Tuesday would come and Derrick would have to go back to work. I could barely lift Elijah anymore and regular chores were incredibly difficult. I prayed and pleaded with God to keep Derrick home the following week. And then, Tuesday morning at 3:30, I woke up with REAL contractions. I waited about an hour before waking Derrick, but I couldn't sleep. They were real ones, I was definitely in pain, and I knew this was good. But I also knew it could be a long early labor because of how the baby's position had been. So I finally woke him and we decided that I was too uncomfortable to be alone. Praise God! He let me keep my hubby home that day. Nothing was regular, though, and after a whole day, they actually got weaker and further apart. I was so discouraged. My wonderful midwife told me that things would probably pick up once the kids were in bed and I wasn't distracted by them any longer. She was right! They went to bed at 8 and almost immediately, my contractions started in again. But they were still REALLY far apart and I still didn't feel like it was active labor. I fully expected it to be a long night and for the baby to be born sometime during the day on Wednesday. I pretty much resigned myself to this, even though the contractions were long and very painful, some even lasting almost 2 minutes! Finally, around 10 pm, I decided to check in with my midwife again. My contractions were still further than 12 minutes apart at this point, and she didn't want me to keep going like this as it would just tire me out and still not progress things very much at all. She suggested that I do a position technique to try and get the baby to come up out of my pelvis and realign his body to be in a better position for delivery. In my head I seriously doubted this would work, but when I got off the phone with her, I knew I should at least try it! So I did, then laid down for a little while and tried to sleep. Dozing off in between contractions, I started telling Derrick when they were coming and we realized that they had suddenly become regular, but were still only 10 minutes apart. I stood up and felt my belly and realized that now the baby's back was perfectly positioned in the middle, right where it should be! The intensity and frequency of contractions picked up considerably from that point on. Around 11 pm, I was begging God to not let this last all night, because I knew I wouldn't be able to stand it! We still thought I had plenty of time, because they weren't much closer together at all. I labored through them, moved around a lot, and even ate and drank! (Something I had just insisted would be impossible for me to ever do during labor). I stayed completely alert and aware this whole time, which I think made Derrick and I both believe I hadn't progressed too far yet. Usually when things get intense, I'm completely in the "zone" and don't really interact much. Finally, around 12:30, I asked him to at least inflate the birth tub so I could just see it and have some hope. He agreed and got to work. Shortly after that (probably closer to 1), I started saying I wanted Natanya here, so he called her and she got ready to head out. She also told him he should start filling the tub. But at this point, my contractions were still probably 8 minutes apart (or close to that), and it really did not seem imminent. So he told her not to rush. Right after he talked to her, they jumped to about 5 minutes apart. I could barely move or catch my breath. Yet I was still walking to and from the bathroom, trying to sit or stand in different positions to find some relief, and then trying to get ready so I could jump in the water as soon as it was filled. I started telling Derrick that he needed to hurry up because I felt like I was holding the baby in with every contraction! Right when he finished filling it, I felt like I was transitioning because the contractions were back to back and I had no more breaks in between. I even started yelling a little bit through some of them which is also something I've never done before! Finally, the tub was filled and at the perfect temperature. I got right in and had some immediate relief as the water lifted me and helped me relax.

My contractions almost came to a halt. My first thought was, "Oh no, I got in too early, now my labor will be even slower!" But then I just decided I'd might as well enjoy the water as much as I could so I found a good position and just hung out there.



One contraction came and went, but nothing happened. Then another. This time I felt like pushing a little to see if my water would break...it didn't. I think I had been in the tub for about 25 minutes total, if that, when suddenly the last contraction came and that was the moment it all happened! My water broke and instantly the baby started coming out with it! I had been sitting, but jumped up to my knees and screamed, "The baby's coming!!" And there he was, just like that. I think this delivery was even faster than Elijah's. It all felt so surreal, especially since only minutes before this, I had worried that I still had hours left to go. I delivered his head, and the rest of him came out instantaneously. Derrick wasn't close enough to reach him so I had the amazing experience of catching my own baby and bringing him up out of the water. WOW. My baby was in my arms and I had no idea what had just happened.



He was beautifully pink and those lungs kicked into gear right away with nice loud cries. We busied ourselves making sure he was all set. Good color, check. Breathing, check. Crying, yes. Warm blanket around him, good. Oh....what about the gender???? Maybe we should look now! And at the same time we both exclaimed, "A boy!" We laughed (because I was totally wrong about my "gut feeling" that it was a girl) and I kissed our little baby and finally got to name him....Judah.
 Once we assessed that all was well, we called Natanya. She was 5 minutes away. This guy just did not want to wait for her to get here!



She came in and took care of us...seriously my midwife is amazing. She just went right to work and was perfectly calm. Two hours later, she left and I was resting and nursing Judah and we all dozed off for a couple of hours before the kids woke for the day.

Reflecting on this experience, I'd say it was my most challenging labor yet, and also the most rewarding. Having the opportunity to experience this with my husband just cannot be described very well with words. He was amazingly calm, did all the work, and got to be my "honorary" midwife. I already thought he was incredible, but now he's pretty much a rock star in my book!

God has blessed us with another child to love and care for. I don't take this responsibility lightly! We are so thankful for the opportunity to raise up children to know and follow Him. Will we have more? I don't know...but He does. And that's enough for me right now. :)
 


 


Saturday, February 7, 2015

How to Have a PERFECT Marriage......For Real.

Did I get your attention with this? Think I'm just gonna brag on my husband and gush over him for the next few (or several) paragraphs? Well, I do love him, but that's not what this post is really about. So, bear with me as I try to unpack these deep, meaningful realizations founded on God's Word that I think many of you will find encouraging....at least it was for me, so I hope it is for you, too.

I often feel like there is something missing in Christianity. Well, there are a lot of things missing. But one big thing is that we don't talk enough about the eternity that awaits us. You know, the one that will be infinitely longer than the mere decades we spend here on earth. We somehow forget that, as a dear friend once told me, earth is just our "training ground" for the life that is to come. And oh, what a life it will be! Peace, comfort, and unspeakable joy. I mean, we have these things now, to a degree. But it is not without intermittent periods of  sorrow, anxiety, stress, and other struggles. Not there, though. One day, all the negatives will be gone from the equation...and life will be as God designed it originally. It will be His perfection and glory resounding everywhere and in all of our hearts forever.

Catch my vision yet? Hang on, it gets better.

Occasionally it hits me hard that one day my darling love and I will be separated. Temporarily, of course, but still, unless we are ushered into eternity at the same time, we will exist apart someday. Last night was one of those times. That thought usually brings me quickly to the next thought, which is to try to imagine what life in heaven will be like. I know that God's Word says there is no marriage in heaven. But won't I miss him? Won't I long for that relationship we once had? It breaks my heart at the thought of being near him but not being "allowed" to be together. It sounds cruel. It sounds devastating. I was saying all this with tears streaming down my face...until Derrick shattered my thoughts of despair with these words:

 "You won't need me. You'll be complete."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Conviction #3 - Written by Derrick

This post was to go up last weekend; well we never got to finish it on time, so here it is. Sorry for the possible suspense, or anxiety that it may have caused. :) In case you haven't read the first two parts of the series, here is Part One written by Melyssa and Part Two written by both of us.


The last post that went up was not to be an overarching attack on Christian’s celebration of Christmas. I am harboring no judgmental feelings or attitudes toward anyone. I don’t want anyone thinking we are a family of scrooges sitting at home praying for misery upon you and your family. Nothing could be further from the truth. We want to spend time with you and have fun with you, and study the Word with you, we just will not be talking very much about Christmas trees, decorations, or presents. :)


Another thought that people have is: “Well, what do you have against Jesus’ birth??” Actually… nothing. We absolutely love the incarnation of Jesus. His story of entering into time as a man in order to save us from sin and redeem us from death, began in a manger in Bethlehem. It is an amazing story from beginning to end. Our choosing not to celebrate Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus birth as that is an event that consistently leaves us amazed and in wonder.


Also, in case you are wondering, our family is full of joy and happiness. It is simply that our joy has nothing to do with “Christmas spirit” and everything to do with enjoying God. We do not desire to rob our children of fun, nor do we desire to be unhappy, but rather we have found the things we enjoy about this time of the year really have nothing to do with Christmas. We enjoy family; playing in the snow, hot chocolate, making crafts and tasty treats, good food, and great times of worship through song and studying His Word. I still get awesome family time as I am on a school schedule, so I get two weeks off!! We choose to separate the fun and joy from the traditions as we believe that those traditions are not honoring to God.


That being said, the celebration of Christmas is only a small part in what has changed in our lives as God continues to lead us. We used it as an example, because not celebrating it makes us really weird to others, and I wanted to make sure that people knew where we are coming from.


The big issue that has been continually impressed upon is God’s holiness. That is the bottom line here. If I view God as the epitome of holiness, absolute perfection, then what should my life look like. Multiple places in the Bible demand holiness from the followers of God. We are to be holy as He is holy. (Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 2 Tim. 2:21)


So, if God is holy, my life is to be a reflection of that holiness. I am not saved by that holiness, because it does not come from me. I am saved by His grace, and then I am given the ability to be holy as He is holy through His Holy Spirit. (2 Thess. 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2, Rom. 8:1-17)


As we study the Bible, and we have been discussing this on Sunday mornings through Leviticus and studying the glory of God, we see that God takes His holiness very seriously. He is neither to be trifled with nor to be taken lightly. We have numerous examples of people in Scripture who did not respect nor fear the holiness of God and received swift punishment. God is holy and expects holiness among all who are near to Him.


As I said, I have no holiness in and of myself that I can approach God. Christ has taken my punishment and has given His holiness in my place. And once this happens I can stand before God and not have to die for my sins… all thanks to Christ and His sacrifice in my place!


Once I have experienced this amazing salvation, my life no longer belongs to me, it belongs to Christ. That means, all of my desires, traditions, and things that I think are important, are now to be crucified with Christ. So that now what is important to God and what He desires becomes mine. My identity is no longer Derrick, but now a follower of Jesus Christ. When people see me, I do not want them to see Derrick, but rather a reflection of God and His holiness. (Gal. 2:20, Luke 9:23, Gal. 5:24, Rom. 12:1-2)


The only way that we can learn of God’s holiness and what is important to Him is in His word. If we want to grow, we need to be faithful students of God’s Word. We must go to the Scriptures for all things. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us to test everything. Everything that is part of our lives must be tested in the light of God’s Word. Christians today are ok with not digging deeper. We are ok with not growing or learning. But if we are truly followers of Christ, we must be willing to put everything aside for the sake of Christ. He is our life now. Therefore, in order to understand what God expects from us, we must be diligently searching the Scriptures and allowing His Holy Word to guide our lives.


I did not begin to understand the implications until about 4 years ago. Since then, God has impressed His holiness upon me more and more as I have continued to grow in Him. I have a long way to go, but more than ever my desire has been to be molded and shaped by His will. I still fight Him on things from time to time, but I desire to test everything I do, say, feel, and think by the Word of God. I do not want to have things in my life that I hold on to, simply because they are important to me. I want to be willing to let go of all that is not honoring to my holy and righteous, King and Father.


Christmas was something that simply did not pass the test. God’s strong words to Israel about mixing pagan practices with worship of Him finally did it for us. But Christmas was not the only thing to go. Another thing that had to go was my love for sports. I loved watching, reading about, and listening to sporting events. I could recite to you all kinds of stats and scores. But… how was God receiving glory through this? How was I reflecting His holiness in this obsession? Why would I not study His Word rather than study sporting events? Why would I not memorize His Scripture rather than memorize stats? My desire for His name to be exalted in my life led me to give up my obsession with sports.


Both of us can recount multiple areas in our lives that we have laid aside and put to death for His glory. Our plans, purposes, hopes, dreams, children, entertainment, hobbies, and… really everything, has been laid on the altar before God. The more we yield our lives to God, the more we give up and lay aside for His glory. And the more we lay aside, the more freedom we have felt. We can so easily become so encumbered by the worries, cares and traditions of this world. God is calling us to experience true freedom and true peace by separating us from the world and the world’s thinking. This freedom is felt more and more as we die to ourselves to become fully alive in Christ.


So, in the end, I am not that concerned with your stand on Christmas. However, I very much desire for all Christians to understand and experience what true freedom in Christ is like. Christmas has been a big one for us, but the more and more we separate from the traditions of men, we experience true joy and peace that Christmas never brought us.

So, what is it in your life? Where is your life more reflective of the world instead of the holiness of God? We have one call here on earth… to bring God glory. Where are you not reflective of the holiness of God?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Conviction Part #2: Our Story (Jointly Written by Derrick and Melyssa)

In our last post, we talked about how God has been stripping away our own prideful and selfish desires and has been replacing them with the desire to follow Him, completely. This is a process that will continue until we die, but it is a process that we have begun to openly embrace. Where before, we were resistant to conviction and change, now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are open to His conviction and direction. This time around, we are going to look at a specific area in our lives where God has blown up our desires and replaced them with the sole desire to follow Him and worship Him as He has called us to.  Again, this is not out of a desire to bash you over the head in judgment, but rather to lovingly share what God has been teaching us. This is one example of how God has changed us, but there are many more areas of our lives that have changed and continue to change thanks to the conviction from God’s Word and leading from the Holy Spirit.

It is (we think) fairly common knowledge that we don't practice holiday celebrations as a family, particularly Christmas and Easter. If you didn't know that, now you do! It has been a progression for us and definitely not one that we have taken lightly! I can't even tell you how many conversations we have had on this topic over the last 3-4 years. This is our story of discovery, conviction, and change, specifically dealing with Christmas.

Both of us celebrated Christmas growing up, and did so into adulthood. Both of us enjoyed the traditions and sentimentalism of the season, more so Melyssa than Derrick. However, neither of us really had any real understanding where those traditions stemmed from. We were simply always told that Christmas was about celebrating Christ’s incarnation here on earth.

Now, I (Melyssa) really cannot remember what prompted me to do this, but I decided that I was curious about the origins of Christmas and wanted to learn about it. And of course, you can find the answer to just about every single question in the world by Googling it! What I found was shocking to me. I sat there, in my living room, looking at my pretty tree and decorations, and discovered one by one, that all of the things I thought were innocent and lovely were all rooted in the pagan worship practices centered around the winter solstice. Seriously...mind blown. I guess it is pretty common knowledge for most people, so call me ignorant... but I had no idea! I kid you not, my very first thought after reading that was...then why in the world would Christians celebrate it? I was jaded. I did not enjoy much about the holidays after learning this. It was just not the same for me anymore...little did I know that it would change even more as the years went on! But that year, I just went through the motions. I even asked Christians about it and they were like, "Yeah, I knew that, so what?" Once again, mind blown. I was surprised and taken aback by how casually this was viewed by believers.

When the next year rolled around, I decided that if almost every Christian in the world thinks Christmas is good, and holy, and beautiful, then I might as well join them! I explained away all my convictions by telling myself,  "It's been 'redeemed' for Christ!", "We can just make it all about Jesus and God will still get the glory." and "No one really thinks they are practicing pagan worship when they put up a Christmas tree, so does it really matter?" I started listening to Christmas music in October that year (I was pregnant and SO caught up in the emotion of it all!) and went all out with decorating, festivity, you name it. We had a gorgeous tree...I remember it well because it was our last.

After that year was over, we both knew that we needed to stop celebrating Christmas. The more we searched God’s Word, the heavier the conviction was on our lives. We needed to let God’s Word, not our emotions shape our actions. Since then we have strived to be faithful to God’s Word and be loving to others. Our desire now is humility, humility before God, and before others. We do not always say things the right way, we do not always know where lines should be drawn and when they should not… we are still works in progress, as we all are. However, our foremost longing is to see God glorified in our lives, and I know that the more we strive after Him alone; He will help us to work through those details.

We want to share some of the top reasons why we have made the decision not to celebrate Christmas. This list combines things that both of us find important. It also shows things that we have been wrestling with over the last 4 years. Here is our compiled, but not comprehensive, list of reasons why we do not celebrate Christmas.

1.       It is not celebrated in the Bible, nor commanded to be celebrated in the Bible. The apostles never celebrated, nor did the early church fathers.

2.       The origins and most common traditions of Christmas are definitively pagan, there really is no way to get around that. The tree, gift-giving, yule log, mistletoe, garland, caroling, Santa (nope, sorry, not a saint), elves, you name it.  As I mentioned, most think they know this, but most do not know to what extent these traditions are indeed pagan, and most do not know exactly what they were meant to signify. Please, if you are open to this, do some good research on the subject. It may take some time but it will open your eyes to what it is we are using to celebrate Jesus Christ. We must be careful not to allow the traditions of men to get in the way of what God wants. (Mark 7:8, Colossians 2:8)

3.       The pagan celebration was adopted by the church under the rule of Constantine, who “Christianized” the pagan celebrations in an attempt to allow people to become Christians and keep many of the same traditions. It morphed into a Catholic holy day where they attempted to infuse new meaning into the pagan traditions, most of which were retained in the celebration. The Bible speaks pretty clearly on not using pagan practices to worship the true God. (Deuteronomy 12:30-31) For instance, most in the church today would be very oppositional to the incorporation of Buddhist meditation practices into their worship services, even if they gave them new meaning. Yet, this is what we do when we use Christmas and Easter as celebrations of Jesus.

4.       Materialism. This one will probably be one that is a little easier to agree with for some of you. It doesn't take long to look around this time of year and see example after example of greed, materialism, selfishness, all in the name of Christmas. Think about how focused people are on what they are going to buy. How worried and obsessed people get about shopping and getting gifts for their loved ones and friends. How much money is unnecessarily spent on people who already have way more than they could ever need or want? Not everyone does this, and I am glad to see that there is a new trend of simplicity and "less is more". But, overall, this country goes absolutely nuts this time of year with spending. It's out of control. I think gift giving is sweet and thoughtful and something that we should all be in the practice of doing. But, the greatest gifts cannot be bought. The world tells us that they can, and we see ads everywhere we go telling us just what our loved ones "need" for Christmas. I'm telling you, there is only one thing we all need, and it's more Jesus and His Word.

5.       Christmas is always a let-down. It cannot live up the hype. It is so fleeting and filled with unrealistic expectations. Depression is rampant during this time of the year, due to the death or absence of loved ones and friends, or stress from the busyness and chaos. Our children become so hyper focused on gifts that they can think of little else, and then are let down when those gifts do not bring fulfillment. We put so much stock in traditions, that when they let us down, we feel angry and stressed. True fulfillment is only found in God, not empty traditions. (Psalm 63:1-8)

6.       The world celebrates Christmas, in fact the largest Christmas tree in 2010 was in the Muslim country of Abu Dhabi. The world listens to Christmas carols that contain lyrics about Jesus, but are lacking in the gospel. There is no sting of conviction from the true gospel found in Christmas. Most people love the idea of Jesus as a baby… He did not say anything controversial then. Let us be in the world, but not of the world. Let us present the offense of the gospel, the offense of the cross, not a watered down, muddled version of it. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Isaiah 8:14, Romans 9:32-33)

7.       Our Worship of God should be enough. Many people feel they need these special days to “jumpstart” their faith, which it almost always does not. Our worship should be grounded in spirit and truth, and it should be daily and weekly. We do have a celebration given us, the Lord’s Supper. Let us allow that to be our reminder, pointing us back to God.

8.       The final reason is one that has been impressed more and more on us as time has gone on. It has been even more convicting as we have been studying through the book of Leviticus. It is the holiness of God. God is holy and demands worship that is grounded in His word; worship that follows His commands. There will be one more post under this conviction heading, and we will focus on these questions: What is God’s holiness and how should it change how we live our lives? This has been the most compelling reason that has driven the nail in the Christmas coffin for us. We will dig into that more in the next post.


I want to restate, this is simply one of many areas in the life of our family that has changed due to God’s conviction on our hearts. However, it is a very controversial and misunderstood conviction. We wanted to share why we do what we do, that this is not some flippant, trivial decision that we have made. It is made through much prayer, study in the fear of the Lord. We pray that we will be open to searching the Scriptures to discover God’s will on this issue. Do not search or trust your heart or emotions, but rather let your emotions be ruled by His Word. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Conviction

This post is one that I have never wanted to write. But I'm going to do it anyway.

And this is definitely a "joint" post, meaning that Derrick is in on it 100% and may perhaps be writing some of it himself. At the very least, he will be carefully editing my words, for which I am so grateful.

Conviction. I used to think of that as an ugly word. Something I feared. Oh no...I'm convicted. Great. That means I need to either stop doing something I like doing or start doing something I don't want to do. Fun fun. Probably because it wasn't true conviction, but rather it was a sense of guilt and obligation, which is never very motivating.

It doesn't feel that way anymore, though. I find myself longing for conviction, change, and growth. Since truly surrendering my life to Christ about 6 years ago, I have begun to delight in God's Law like David so often talks about in the Psalms. Here is just one of the many examples:

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life! (Psalm 119:33-40 ESV)

I used to think that life could be "in-between". I could have my comforts, my enjoyment, my fun, and also live for Christ. I thought that American culture and all of the material wealth and status that comes with it was some sort of special blessing from God. The whole "American Dream", was good, wholesome, Christian, and worth striving for.

I hope this isn't too shocking to the Christians reading this but....that couldn't be more wrong. Look what Jesus said the life of a believer will look like:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV)

I know it's not an easy pill to swallow...but Jesus is pretty clear about the cost of discipleship. Basically, everything this world tells us that matters, doesn't. And everything that God tells us in His Word that matters, does. The reason I long for conviction is because I desperately want more of Him and less of the empty, vain, temporary pleasures surrounding me.

Before I go any further, I want you to know I speak from a place of love, not judgment. The word "judgmental" gets misused more than any other word in Christianity, in my opinion. I hear it thrown out there just about anytime a person stands for the truth of God's Word. "What? You're saying we need to submit every area of our lives to God? How can you be so judgmental?" Let's take a step back and ask ourselves, "Is it really?" If a person is speaking from a heart that is soft towards His leading and truly desires to grow and possibly help others grow in the process, wouldn't that be a positive thing? Truly sinful "judgment" is when you are holding yourself up with pride while putting others down. If I come right out and tell you that you are a "bad Christian" because you don't do things the way I do, then that is wrong. But if a believer is just telling it like it is, sharing their convictions, and showing that his heart is to bring glory to Christ, there is no need for fear when others make such false accusations. Because God is the true Judge, and His opinion is all that matters.

I think it's important to clarify this before I go any further. Because a lot of what I want to share quite possibly could sound like it's coming from a place of pride. It is my hope and prayer that you will see my heart and know that it is in a place of humility that I bring this to you all. God has done so much in me. I am not the "me" I was, and it is all because of Him. I used to love the world more than Him, but He has done this in me:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

So, I don't speak for myself, as if I were someone special. I speak for HIM, who has given me a heart of flesh. I desperately long for His ways and it is my prayer that all believers will have that same longing.

I'm going to split this up into a few posts. Please, if you choose to read them, all that I ask is for you to open your heart and mind. I do not expect agreement, understanding, or approval. But, as this post is so fittingly titled, I am convicted that I should not keep quiet about some things that are so heavy on my heart. I plan to use a lot of Scripture, so it is more His words than mine. So, take or leave what I say, because I am just an imperfect human being. But, fellow believer, I pray that you will hang on His every word. Because it is His truth that truly sets us free.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

Installment #2 of this "Conviction" series will be published tomorrow. Stay tuned! :)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Philippians 2:1-11 - The Ultimate Example

I am really enjoying typing out my thoughts on Philippians! I also find that it really helps me to focus as I'm reading each passage. Instead of just reading it and moving on, I'm reflecting and trying to organize my thoughts. There is so much we can learn from God's Word. If I did this study 3 more times, I'm sure I could pick out at least that many more topics to write about! And then a year from now, I would probably see completely new things. The Bible truly is alive and powerful!

This passage is definitely one of my favorites. I am just so blown away by what Christ has done for us all. And I love the mental picture I get when I think of seeing "every knee bow" in worship of our great Savior!

In Chapter 1, Paul talked about how there were some who were preaching the gospel out of rivalry, and not out of the right motivation. He went on to say that he wants the Philippians to be "standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel" (1:27).

In Chapter 2, he tells them how they can achieve this unity in spirit: through following Christ's example of humility--

"Do nothing from rivalry of 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." (vs. 3-8)

I have always had a longing deep within me to be a part of something bigger than myself. I believe that this is something most people desire, and that God wired us to want to be part of a community. We need each other! However, too often I have allowed myself to build walls, to remain distant, to just be an "island" and not be truly unified with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The reason? Pride. Exactly the opposite of what Jesus has done. Instead of counting others more significant than myself, I have put my own needs and wants first. Because of that, when those requirements were not being met, I decided that being part of a body of believers was not worth my time and energy. I nursed my wounds and hid in the corner, playing the victim and blaming others for my loneliness. The reality is, I wasn't willing to obey God's Word in this area. I didn't want to put others first. I wanted everyone to put me first! The thing is, we can't read God's Word in order to fix everyone else. James says that it acts like a mirror, by which we can see our own reflection. It is not our job to make sure everyone else measures up, but that we ourselves are obeying and following! This is why obeying requires TRUST. Because we must do as He asks, and recognize that His way is always best, whether things turn out the way we would like or not.

Hmmm, that may have been a bit of a tangent.

Anyway, my point is, I needed an attitude adjustment (and still do, from time to time!). And on a daily basis, I need a reminder to put others before myself. To look at their interests and needs as more important as my own. How do I achieve this? This is not easy, because as humans, we are naturally very selfish. The answer? Jesus. It's always Jesus. His example is so incredible. He IS GOD. That is not something to be taken lightly! He gave up position in heaven to become a lowly human on earth. And, that kind of humility is just unthinkable...but it doesn't stop there. No, he didn't just walk the earth for a few decades, being subjected to sickness, grief, hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. It goes far, far beyond that. You see, He allowed Himself to be put to death by us. The same people who He counted as more significant than Himself. The ones who He came to rescue. We crucified Him and He still did not fight back, because His death is what would save us, and He was putting us before Himself.

So, if you are desiring to be truly connected with the body of Christ, follow His example. And in those times when it seems like you're on the outside looking in, take a look at how you're viewing others. Are you seeing their needs? Are you truly reaching out, asking people how they are doing, and praying for others on a regular basis? Are you inviting people into your home, participating in times of study and prayer? I promise you, if you are doing these things, you will be unified with other believers. It will just happen naturally. And, in the process, you will think less of yourself and more of others, just like Jesus has done when He came to live on this earth. And the next time you struggle to sacrifice yourself for others, think of all He gave up for us. It may change your perspective.