Merka Man and McCrary

As I mentioned last week, I recently returned to my college homecoming. I had seen on Facebook that there was a group planning a get-together before the football game at Van’s Pig Stand, a local and student favorite. I decided to meet up with the group.

I had no idea what I was walking into…

There were several couples with their children who showed up, all of whom had actually graduated before I arrived on campus. (It felt good to be the youngest!!). In addition, Merka Man and McCrary showed up.

Let me take a few minutes to introduce you to Merka Man and McCrary.

Merka Man is from Texas, and he has a personality the size of Texas! He enjoyed his time at OBU so much that he extended his stay to five, six, maybe even seven years. I really think his degree was in Vanology (the study of Van’s Pig Stand). He claims that he saved money by eating there! I am really surprised they don’t have a special addition named after him—or at least his picture gracing the walls with his friend, Alan (who was also present at our reunion with a couple of his kids). He should at least be on their advertising payroll for the number of Facebook posts he makes about Van’s.

Then there’s McCrary. McCrary and I entered OBU at the same time. We both donned our Freshman beanies together. (I will point out, however, that he is also older than me…even if it is only by one day.) McCrary also has a BIG personality. He has spent his entire adult life in youth ministry, which means that he doesn’t ever want to grow up. And, he’s done a pretty good job of remaining a kid, at heart.

When you get Merka Man and McCrary in a room together, it’s going to be loud. It’s going to be unfiltered. There are going to be discussions on theology. There will be more discussions about politics. Nothing will be off-limits. There will be laughter. Lots of laughter. And, there will be reminiscing about our days on Bison Hill.

You know, I spend a lot of time with teenage boys…and their juvenile sense of humor. I find myself writing about loogies and farts. I get lost in conversations that take strange twists and turns to places I never dreamed I’d go. And, it’s very normal in my life.

And that’s why I was so comfortable with Merka Man and McCrary…

Somehow, in the presence of their boisterous personalities, in their love of juvenile humor, my demure exterior faded away. I was lost in the midst of their humor. I was unfiltered. I was queen of the one-liners.

From Clinton era politics to the ills of our local churches… From the sordid details of my marriage to the often strange experiences of the medical field… From our days on Bison Hill to the details of our careers…  From my hunting endeavors to my blog… Nothing was off-limits. Nothing was sacred. Nothing was filtered. Nothing was politically correct.

And I will never live it down.

For three solid hours, we talked and laughed. As I left Van’s that day, I was blessed to have reconnected with these two. I had a smile on my face, and the laughter continued for days. I told them clearly that what happens at Van’s stays at Van’s, but they seem oblivious to this unwritten rule. Instead, they continue to harass me on Facebook as I continue to toss zingers right back at them.

In all reality, these two men are great guys. They love God wholly and completely. They seek to follow God and hold unswervingly to the truth of God’s word. They live their lives for an audience of the One. They walk the talk. They laugh loudly and they love deeply. They live life to the fullest.

And it’s a blessing to know them.

It’s fun to have friends that allow you to let your hair down, to laugh, to have fun. It’s great to have friends who see your heart and allow you to be yourself, to be unfiltered. It’s great to have friends who accept you for who you are.

And Merka Man and McCrary are some of those friends.

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.  Proverbs 27:17

God created us to live in relationship with others. He knows that being around other Christians will strengthen our faith, encourage our walks. It’s important for us to be around non-Christians so that his love can shine through us, but it’s also important for us to be around strong Christians who can sharpen us, even correct us.

My time at OBU was a time of great spiritual growth, in large part because I was surrounded by other Christians seeking God with their whole hearts. It was the first time I’d ever been around so many strong believers, and my walk with God reflected the encouragement that I was receiving. All of those amazing people sharpened me, quickened my spirit, showed me how to seek him with my whole heart.

While social media has its dangers, it also has its benefits. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to reconnect with so many amazing people from my days at OBU. My life is truly blessed.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25

We are supposed to think about ways to motivate one another, to find ways to push each other to be better Christians. We are supposed to spend time together—in church. But, isn’t the church just a group of Christians? Can’t church be conducted at Van’s Pig Stand?

We are closer than ever to the return of Christ. But, are we living as if his return is imminent? Are we motivating one another to walk closer, to seek him whole-heartedly?

When we were together at Van’s as a group of believers, we found ourselves laughing and encouraging one another, even if it was just through the reminiscing of old times in college. I walked away stronger, encouraged, ready to face another day. I walked away a better Christian for having had the opportunity to laugh and be myself fully and completely.

Isn’t that what Christ wanted? We know he wants us to live an abundant life. We know he wants us to live in relationship with one another. Who are you doing life with? Are your friends encouraging you to walk a little closer to God each and every day? If not, you need to find those friends who will. For his return is drawing near.

I wish everyone could find friends like I have from my time at OBU. I wish everyone was blessed with at least one Merka Man or McCrary in their lives. I am blessed to have some amazing friends. I pray that you, too, have a couple of big personalities that bring out the best in you.

Thank you, Merka Man and McCrary, for giving me such a blessing.

 

Zip! Bang! OBU!

It happened again.

I made a last minute decision to attend homecoming at Oklahoma Baptist University, my alma mater. As I stepped onto campus, the steeple of Raley Chapel towered majestically in the distance. The bells began to chime, and the words began to ring through my mind…

OBU! All hail thy name!
Sons and daughters honor thee;
May thy standards green and gold
Lead eternally.

Proudly stand on Bison Hill
‘Neath the wind-swept sky;
Alma Mater we will praise thee
As the years go by.

When the shades of evening fall,
Through the hush of fading day,
Silent voices praise thy name,
Hearts look up to pray.

May thy spirit guide thy sons,
Keep thy daughters true,
Loyal to our Alma Mater,
God bless OBU!

During my four years at OBU, I sang that song many times. For us Bison, it’s hard to sing it as it is written; there are some additional lyrics that are frequently added during the less formal renditions. But, as I listened to the bells chime and the words rang through my mind today, I was keenly aware of what a blessing OBU was and still is to me.

OBU is a quaint little college in Shawnee, OK. We had approximately 2000 students on campus when I was a student, so we at least knew of almost every other student. We had the privilege of developing personal relationships with faculty and staff. We were challenged with a tough educational program balanced by staff who cared about us as individuals–even as they traversed the history and literature of western civilization with us.

Even more importantly, our education had a foundation in scripture. Our required coursework included a survey of the Old and New Testament. Opportunities for Bible study and worship abounded on campus. As I walked across the Oval today, I saw plaques with scriptures embedded in the sidewalk lining the path. What a reminder to everyone who walks across campus that our foundation is in our faith!

As I reflect on my four years on that campus, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to God for the blessing of my OBU family—and we are a family! It doesn’t matter if you were there for one semester or six or seven years. If you attended OBU, if you donned your beanie, you are family! As I flip through my list of Facebook friends, I see a great multitude of amazing Christians serving around the globe. There are ministers and lawyers and doctors and business people. There are nurses and accountants and therapists and social workers. In every walk of life, they serve God—exactly as God has designed them to serve. They seek him. They love him. They reflect him in their lives, to a world desperately in need of a Savior.

Today as I walked across campus and was overcome with emotion, I whispered a prayer for the students there today. I prayed that they would not squander the blessings of an OBU education, but that instead they would grasp the magnitude of the blessing today. I began to wonder how many really understand what an opportunity they have, how many students are really making the most of this time in their lives.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

To the students currently attending OBU, I would like to offer some thoughts on how to make the most of your days. Some things I did well; some I wish I could go back and change. You have the opportunity to do things right. Take advantage!

Study hard. OBU can be tough! It can also provide you with the foundation for a bright future. Make sure that you are putting forth the effort to learn, even to learn how to learn. Dig deeper than what is expected of you. Go above and beyond! Spend time with your professors and pick their brains. Focus more on learning than on a letter grade.

Many of you may earn your degree…and then never work in that field. It’s ok! I have never officially worked in the field of public relations—even went back to school to get a nursing degree. But, the educational foundation that I received has been worth more than money could buy.

Play hard. If there was something I was not very good at it was playing hard. I was studious. I was disciplined. I was scared of getting into trouble. While my friends were painting the Bison and putting bubbles in the fountain, I was focused. While others tried to sneak up the steeple of Raley or spend the night in the library, I was in my bed asleep.

Even as I visit with alumni from my decade (the 1990s…we are old), I hear the stories of their antics. Oh how I wish I had more funny stories to tell! Sure, there are pledging stories and Beach Reach stories. But, I really wish I had been able to loosen up and enjoy myself more. Make sure you take time to play. That’s where you develop relationships that last a lifetime.

Honor those that have gone before you. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those of us who paved the way for you. Our hearts truly bleed green and gold, and today—perhaps more than when we were students—we recognize what an honor it is to be an alumni of OBU. We cherish Bison Hill and all that we learned.

As you graduate, you are inducted into the family. If I meet you on the street one day and learn that you, too, are an alumnus, you can be assured that there will be a special kinship between us—and an expectation that you can go with Ka-Rip! Cherish those of us who walked the Oval before you, those of us who left a legacy for you, those of us who prayed over you before you ever arrived on campus. You have benefited from our time on the Hill.

Don’t take for granted what you have. As you visit with friends who attend other colleges, I am certain that you will realize that you have something they don’t. You have personal relationships with your professors. You are a name. You matter. You have the opportunity to flourish intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, socially. OBU serves to prepare the whole person!

In addition, you are surrounded by some of the most amazing future leaders! Look around. These people will be the legislators, the company presidents, the CEOs, the teachers of tomorrow. You are going to school with many of the future pastors and religious leaders of the state of Oklahoma. You attend class with the doctors who will care for you and your children.

You are blessed to be a Bison, to be in a place that produces leaders who let their lights shine in this increasingly dark and evil world. Recognize the blessing that you have in front of you.

Make your OBU family proud. As you put on that graduation gown and take the final walk to Raley Chapel, you are representing OBU and our family. Wear the family name proudly! Represent it well. Remember that a good name is more desirable than great riches (Proverbs 22:1). Please don’t defame the family name.

Walk in integrity. Walk in truth. Follow Christ. Seek to emulate him in all you say and do. Let your light shine for all the world to see so that others see the Father’s love in you. Be the hands and feet of Christ to a world desperately in need of a Savior. Look after the orphan and widow in their distress and keep yourself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27). Love mercy and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

Lord Jesus, what a blessing you gave me all those years ago to walk the hallowed halls of OBU. What a blessing that there is still an educational institution that reveres your name, that makes you the foundation of life. What a blessing that so many went before me, calling on your name to bless Bison Hill, asking that your favor and grace fall upon that place. Thank you that I was the recipient of that legacy. Father, for today’s students, I pray that they would embrace the opportunity that has been placed before them. I ask your favor on them, that your word would be alive in them and through them. I pray that you would pour out your spirit upon them so that they might have faith to move mountains! Let them know you in all the fullness of your glory and grace! Help them to live their lives with a long obedience in the same direction. Let them represent the name of Christ and the name of OBU alumni well. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

GOD BLESS OBU!

 

 

On Pain and Suffering

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33

I’ve been thinking about pain and suffering a lot lately. It seems that I am surrounded by people who are experiencing immense pain—far more than anyone should have to handle. Just a few examples:

  • A college friend was recently diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer
  • A high school friend lost her only child
  • Two high school friends are undergoing chemo/radiation for cancer
  • A co-worker has lost her 20 year old grandson
  • A relative is facing a daunting financial situation through no fault of his own
  • A college friend’s wife is fighting thyroid cancer

Those examples don’t even touch on the emails and comments that I receive on my blog telling me stories of adultery and divorce, addiction and abuse. My heart aches to reach out, to hug each hurting soul. I long to take away the pain, to carry the burden myself. Of course, I can’t do that.

If these were people who were running from God, living lives of sin, we might be better able to accept their pain. We might view it as the natural consequences of living an unhealthy lifestyle. Right or wrong, it somehow seems that it would be more acceptable if that were the case.

But, it’s not. One is the pastor of a large church here in Oklahoma. One is a light to her co-workers and faithfully ministers to residents at a nursing home. One is seeking to go deeper in his faith, truly wanting to go all in in his faith walk. These people are all Christ-followers, faithfully serving their Savior, seeking to be light in a dark world.

So why are they suffering?

We live in a fallen world, a world overflowing with sin and evil. Unfortunately, we as Christians—even when we are doing our absolute best to walk faithfully with our savior—are not immune to the trials of this life, to the evil of this world. Christ promised us that in this life we WILL have trouble. He followed up with the promise that he has overcome this world. One day, we will be taken to a place where there is no pain and suffering. One day, every tear will be wiped from our eyes. One day, we will live in a place of perfect communion with our savior. One day…

But, what do we do with the suffering in the in-between time?

I lived a pretty blessed and easy life…until five years ago when everything came crashing down around me. I questioned why I should continue to love and follow God if the reward for obedience was a shattered life, a loss of the one thing (my family) I held more dear to me than anything else. Now that I’ve navigated the initial pain and grief, now that I have a clearer view of the beautiful future God has for me, I can begin to understand what God was doing through the pain and suffering. What Satan meant for evil, God has used for good.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all… 2 Corinthians 4:17

In the midst of my pain and fear, I had no understanding of how God was working or what his plans were. However, on the other side, I realize that he was working things into me and out of me.

Throughout scripture, we see references to how pain and suffering is used to mold us into his image. James 1 tells us to count it all joy when we face trials of many kinds because the testing of our faith develops perseverance which leads to maturity. The above scripture tells us that our troubles are achieving an eternal glory that outweighs every pain we experience. In Deuteronomy 8 we read that the Israelites were left wandering in the wilderness for 40 years to humble them, to test them, to prove their character. And then there’s Job, who after losing everything said, “Before I had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

In my personal experience, it was in the darkest days of my life that I saw God so lovingly care for my every need. It was during the days of pain and anguish that I came to know the Great I Am, the one who knows my every need and fulfills it at exactly the right time. It was during the pain and anguish that my Savior lovingly pursued me, running after me as a shepherd looking for the one lost sheep that had wandered away. It was in the midst of my greatest pain that I came to understand the love of my savior, that I realized how much I needed his forgiveness, that I was brought face-to-face with the condition of my heart.

The first sermon I heard after learning of my husband’s affair was titled, “You can’t handle it.” The entire premise was the myth that God won’t give us more than we can handle. In all reality, God never promised that. In fact, the burden is often so great that it is more than we can handle. But, don’t despair. God doesn’t want us to handle it; he wants us to release it to him, to throw it upon him so that he can carry it. He wants us to let go of the burdens we carry and trust him to take us through the fire to the glorious future he has planned for us. 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, “…as a result [of our suffering], we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God…”

Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” Job 1:8

The first time I read this passage after my life crumbled, it was if God spoke directly to my heart: Dena, I chose you for this assignment. Somehow knowing that I was chosen to have my faith tested gave me some hope. God had seen something in me, something in my heart that said I would endure the test. I would allow God to purify my heart, to draw me closer to him through the blessings of pain. I would allow God to work in me so he can work through me.

I don’t know if God had that conversation with Satan. I don’t even pretend to be so special as to have Satan’s attention. But, I know that seeing myself as chosen to be tested gave me a new perspective to get through my trial. It told me that God had a reason, a purpose, in my pain.

Today, I hear stories of Christians across our country having their faith tested. I see the hand of God moving, trying to develop an unshakeable faith in Christians whose hearts are pure toward him. I see God trying to break out of the neat little, westernized, Americanized brand of Christianity we have developed. I see God wanting to show off, to turn loose all his glory and his power on Christians across our country.

But, he needs individuals whose faith has been tested and tried. He needs Christians who have seen his hand of provision in the times of their greatest need. He needs Christians who are willing to believe him to move the mountains in our way. He needs Christians who are mature and complete, not lacking anything.

And, if you are suffering, he has chosen you!

Our country is at a crossroads. We are no longer living in a place that values morality, that believes that God should be central to our lives. Christians are being persecuted around the globe, and that same persecution is beginning in our own country. I believe that in coming days, God needs an army of bold believers who will be willing to stand even in the face of persecution. You can only be prepared for that persecution if your faith has been tested, tried, proven.

So often, I see people crying out to God to go deeper, making that commitment that they are willing to do whatever it takes to have more of him. Be warned: while God always honors that sincere prayer, it is often answered by crisis. And, if there is something you are placing your security in other than God, there’s a good chance he’s going to rip it away. My family, ministry, title were my security. Some place their security in their savings account. Where’s your security? If it isn’t 100% in God, it’s in the wrong place.

You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. 1 Peter 5:9-11

There’s so much more that could be said on the topic of pain and suffering. But, for now, I will leave you with hope. One day, God will have you put together and on your feet for good. He does have great plans for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you (Jeremiah 29:11). He will make all things work for good to those who love him (Romans 8:28). He will use this time to mold you into his image, so that you can be mature and complete (James 1:2-4). He will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5); he loves you too much! He is accomplishing in you things you cannot see or understand right now (2 Corinthians 4:17). He is going to comfort you, to carry you through, so that you can eventually comfort others with the comfort you have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is going to repay every pain with two blessings (Zechariah 9:12).

I can’t reach out and physically hug each of you today, but I can offer my love and prayers.

Lord Jesus, there is so much pain and suffering in this world today. I can’t even begin to express how much it breaks my heart to see my dear friends struggling. I wish that I could take each one in my arms, spend some time listening to their hearts, comforting them with the comfort you have given me. But, I know that your ways are higher than our ways. I know that you are working into each one a faith that can move mountains. I know that you are standing ready to pour out your power and love onto each soul that sells out fully to you. I know that you have great plans to carry us through the trials to the beautiful future you have planned for each of us. Strengthen my friends for the battle. Let them know that your strength is made perfect in weakness. Prepare an eager anticipation to see you step in and take over in their situation. Remind them that they are never alone and you have overcome this ugly, evil world. In Jesus’ precious holy name I pray, amen.

 

 

 

Lessons from a Loogie

Several years ago, I took my kids to the local amusement park. One of their favorite rides is known as the Schooner. It’s a large ship with rows of seats. It swings back and forth like a pendulum, going higher and higher.

My kids love to be in the very top row of seats. On this particular occasion, we decided to split up: the boys on one end with their older cousin, Cassie and I on the other end. By sitting on opposite ends, we could watch each other, make faces, or shout at each other.

We buckled into our seats and the ride began. Higher and higher we went. Back and forth we swung.

At some point, Blake got a brilliant idea. He decided to test the laws of physics and see what would happen if … he spit a loogie. (In case you aren’t familiar with a loogie, it’s a wad of snot that a teen boy sucks out of his nose and into his mouth so that he can spit.) He began to hack up a loogie, and then he let it rip!

One big problem…

He had not quite mastered the concept of physics and the laws of gravity. He let it rip on the way up. And then, on the way down, it smacked him RIGHT IN THE FACE!

He was now wearing his own loogie!

So, you are probably wondering why I am telling you this story. I guess there are two reasons. First, everyone needs to hear this story because it is hysterical! It was even funnier to see the whole thing unfold. Second, when Blake and I were laughing about this epic moment in our history recently, I told him that I should write a blog post about it. He asked, “You mean you think you can get a biblical lesson out of that?” With that, the challenge was on!

Therefore, here are your three biblical lessons from a loogie…

We all spit loogies in this life. I’m sure you can figure out what I mean. After all, we’ve all made poor choices that left us wondering what in the world we were thinking. Perhaps it was a relationship that should have never been. Or maybe it was a decision to go along with friends one night when you knew you shouldn’t. Maybe it was to betray your spouse.

The truth is, none of us is perfect. Scripture teaches us that there is no one righteous (Romans 3:10), that no one measures up to the holy standard of perfection set forth by our Savior. God promises that it is not impossible to get out of temptation (see 1 Corinthians 10:13), but none of us will make it out of this life unscathed.

Thankfully, scripture also teaches us that if we confess our loogies (i.e., our sins), He is faithful and just to forgive us our loogies and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful for the forgiveness and grace of our Savior, for the blood of our Lamb that covers over our multitude of loogies.

Loogies have consequences. Blake’s immediate consequence—other than riotous laughter from our entire family and having to endure the retelling of the story for the rest of his life—was that he had to wear the absolute gross and disgusting results on his face for all the world to see.

No matter what our loogie in life, we will have consequences. Depending upon the choice, the consequences may be subtle or huge. Perhaps that moment of indiscretion costs us the trust of our spouse. Or the continued affair without repentance costs us our family. The night of drinking might cause us a ticket for driving under the influence. Or it might cost us some time in jail.

Had Blake not spit his loogie at the precise moment he did, someone else might have had to pay for his choice. It very easily could have landed on someone else.

Isn’t that the way it is with our loogies? Sometimes the consequences are more severe for those we love the most, for those around us. The pain caused to a spouse betrayed by adultery is immense, unbearable. The pain caused by a car accident that happens while you are driving under the influence could be life-ending to someone else. The bigger the loogie, the larger the sphere of people impacted by the consequences.

In my situation with my husband’s adultery, a church was ripped apart because of its trust in this man who stood before them week after week, proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Some left the church; some left the faith. I don’t think I would want to stand before our Holy God and have to answer for those consequences! Again, thank goodness there is grace.

(And please don’t read that as I don’t have my own loogies in life. I do. I’m just following the theme of adultery because I have lived it and suffered the consequences. Which brings me to my next lesson…)

The trajectory of our lives determines the impact of the loogie. Blake spit his loogie on an upward trajectory, but then he began a downward trajectory almost immediately. If he had continued in an upward motion, he would have never had the full impact right on his face.

Isn’t that the way it is with us? We can be on an upward trajectory, journeying along with our Savior. Suddenly, through our choices, we find ourselves walking away from that intimacy with Him. Perhaps we get lazy in our Bible reading or our church attendance. Maybe we entertain a temptation a little too long, too often. We simply take our eyes off of our Savior. We lose our focus. We get distracted by…life.

And suddenly, we are on a downward trajectory away from the safety of our Savior.

That’s when we get hit by the full impact of our loogies. That’s when the consequences are strong and swift. That’s when the full weight of our sins lands squarely on our shoulders.

But thank God for grace!

When we are on an upward trajectory, seeking him with all our heart, he promises that we will find him (Jeremiah 33:3). He promises that even though we may suffer the natural consequences of our loogies, he will somehow use them for our good and for his glory (Romans 8:28). He promises that the pain we experience will mold us into his image, mature us, perfect us (James 1:2-5). He promises that he will repay every pain with double blessings (Zechariah 9:12).

While I would never want to walk through the pain of adultery again, I would not trade the many blessings I have received—only because I chose to continue (imperfectly) on the trajectory toward God. My relationship with him is richer, deeper. My life is full of amazing blessings. I have seen my Savior’s hand, his provision. I experience his presence, his miracles daily. The joy my children and I share, the laughter we experience, the abundant life we have…it’s all a blessing from my Savior for journeying through the pain and continuing upward. I pray for the strength to continue seeking him daily.

I guess I could add one final lesson from this loogie: It is obvious that I spend way too much time surrounded by teenage boys and their juvenile sense of humor. Yes, I am writing about loogies. If you go back to my archives, you will find that I wrote about farts in the past. Perhaps one day I will have an adult male in my life to help anchor me back to reality. Until then, I will laugh and enjoy every strange twist and turn in conversation, understanding that it’s a blessing that my boys let me be a part of their juvenile humor. Yet another way God has blessed me from the loogie that landed on me…

 

Forbidden Fruit

I remember when my husband first confessed to me that he had an attraction to another woman. I responded, “Temptation is not a problem. It’s what you do with that temptation.”

At that time, we sought counseling. I allowed him to talk about his feelings openly, acting as a counselor to him myself. I did everything I knew to do to help him fight his feelings for this other woman. However, instead of fighting his feelings, he was feeding them—in the quiet recesses of his mind, thinking about her, dreaming about her.

And that was the genesis of his affair…

We all face temptations. Some are the little things that tempt us: just another bite of dessert when we know we are full, an extra Diet Coke when we know it’s not good for us, staying up too late to watch TV when we know we need to be up early. Then there are the big temptations: the adulterous relationship, a sexual relationship when you aren’t married, addictions.

The truth is, there is nothing wrong with temptation. We all face them—even Jesus. The problem comes when we give in to temptation, allow ourselves to fall into sin rather than resisting temptation.

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. James 1:14-15

When we choose not to resist temptation, there will be consequences. Maybe the consequences aren’t immediate; maybe they are. But, James 1 tells us that it is a progression: from temptation to sinful actions to death. Perhaps it’s physical death. Maybe death of a relationship. No matter what sin, you will always experience spiritual death—a distance that develops between you and God, an inability to hear His tender voice whispering to your heart as you quench the fire of His Holy Spirit burning within you.

During the last few weeks, I have been fighting the battle of temptation. I have been separated/divorced for almost five years. I have not dated anyone in over 4 ½ years. I am sure that I could have had dates if I wanted, but I chose to ask God not to bring anyone into my life unless he is the one God wants for me until death do we part. I do not want to give my heart away to anyone unless they have an unparalleled passion for Christ and ministry.

And it gets lonely…

Although I know how blessed I am and although I love my life, I still long for that special someone. I’m tired of being alone. I long to share my hopes and dreams with that someone special. I long to walk hand-in-hand through the mall. I long to have him reach over and put his arm around me as we worship together at church. I long to snuggle up next to him on a rainy night as we watch a movie together. I long for the gentle touch, the tender caress, the simple kiss.

Normally, I’m too busy to dwell on it. But, this summer has been different. My children have been away for nearly five weeks, and it has left me with time that I don’t normally have to myself. I’ve also experienced some relationship fractures because not everyone understands my attempts to walk by faith and not by sight. While a little peace and quiet is a good thing, too much leaves me experiencing loneliness.

And what happens? Along comes a man. A really nice man. A really great single dad. He loves life. He’s a hard worker. Responsible. Enjoys working out. Some absolutely great qualities.

But, is he passionate about God? Is he passionate about ministry? Is he seeking God daily? Does he understand my commitment to Christ, my attempts to walk in all the fullness of God? Is he as committed to purity before marriage as I am?

Honestly, I’ve found myself hiding who I truly am because I know the answers to the above questions. I have not let him know about my blog, my writing, my ministry. He’s not seen me overcome with emotion as I lose myself in worship. He doesn’t know about recent radio interview about how God has carried me through this painful experience. He doesn’t know because I know that he will walk away when he discovers who I truly am—and it feels so good to have male companionship!

The temptation has been growing. I’ve found myself thinking about how nice it would be to hold his hand, to have a hug. I find myself wanting it to progress beyond friendship—and yet I don’t. I know that by giving into this temptation, I will be short-changing myself on God’s best for my life. I know that I might find myself compromising on my values, on what I know God has called me to.

And so, I find myself fighting temptation with every ounce of my being. I cry out to God frequently, asking Him to show me the way out. I beg Him to give me strength to keep this at a friendship level, to show who I truly am. I ask Him to let His love and light shine through me so that I can lead this man to a deeper knowledge of the One who is my everything.

Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. 1 Corinthians 10:11-13

How do I defeat the temptation? That has become the pervading question in my mind. Scripture tells me to stand firm lest I fall. It tells me that God always has a way out. My challenge has been to find that way out, and of course I’ve found a few nuggets that might help.

Determine in my heart not to sin. When Daniel was taken captive in Babylon, he was selected for a special assignment: to become one of the wise men of the kingdom. With the privilege came a very rich diet that would have been counter to Daniel’s religious diet regulations. So he determined in his heart that he would not sin (Daniel 1:8).

Job had a similar commitment. In Job 31:1, he said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust at a young woman.” It was a determination, a plan, a firm commitment. He chose not to be naïve or self-confident. He recognized that he was as capable of sin as everyone else. But he decided, determined, committed not to fall to temptation.

If we are to defeat temptation in our lives, we must set our minds to walking in purity. We must decide that we will not even flirt with those things that tempt us, that we will draw firm boundaries around our lives allowing plenty of safe space between us and temptation. By setting our minds on the right things and creating margin in our lives, we give ourselves a much greater ability to resist.

Use the Word. Temptation is a normal part of life and even Jesus faced temptation. But, He is the only one who successfully navigated all temptations without failing. Of course, we know that in the face of temptation, he always quoted scripture. As it is written… He began (Matthew 4).

A few nights ago, as I was thinking about this temptation, I grabbed my computer and went straight to BibleGateway.com. I began to google temptation in the scriptures. I was amazed at how few times the word temptation is actually mentioned. I began to look at the stories of the Bible and realized how often people fell to temptation. I was searching for clues on how to fight temptation.

And that’s when it happened. As I turned to scripture to understand temptation, all temptations faded from my mind. Turning to the word, filling my mind with the word…the cure for temptation.

Run for your life. Occasionally, even when we set our minds on obedience and fill our minds with scripture, we can still find ourselves in situations where temptation rears its ugly head. Look at Joseph. He was going about his business, living with integrity. That’s when his master’s wife began to tempt to him.

Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man, and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.

But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”

She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible. One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house. Genesis 39:6-12

Joseph could have chosen to sleep with her, assuming that no one would ever know. He could have entertained the temptation. Instead, he stayed out of her way as much as possible. When placed in the most difficult situation, he simply fled.

The rest of the story is difficult to swallow: Joseph was still accused. He spent time in prison. His name was smeared. But, he walked with integrity before his God. He knew the truth. And, he knew that in time God would restore him and redeem the situation—which He did. Perhaps you have fled and have been wrongfully accused anyway. Trust me, I understand. But remember that God sees and knows the truth. In the end, He will use it for His glory.

You know, after weeks of working to overcome… after weeks of crying out to God every time a temptation came to mind… after weeks of searching scriptures… after weeks of setting boundaries… Something happened. I cannot explain it, but I know the explanation.

As I was driving to work earlier this week, I was asking God—again—to show me the way out of this temptation. I was telling Him that I want His plan more than I want the immediate gratification of having someone—anyone—now. I was telling Him that I do not want to short-change His plans for my life. In an instant, without any fanfare or even any gentle whispers, a quiet peace came over me. The temptation faded. My mindset changed. I have a new friend, but nothing more. And I am good with that.

Temptation has been defeated…for now.

Through God’s Eyes

“But Mom,” my son muttered as the tears began to run down his cheeks, “Blake has never made a B. Cassie has never made a B. I don’t want to be the only one who has a B on my report card.”

I am beginning to think that I am not going to survive pre-algebra this year. Every evening, my son and I sit down after dinner and begin to work on his homework. He has never struggled in a class, but for some reason he is having a difficult time this year. While many would be satisfied with a B+, he desperately wants that A. I admire his desire for perfection, his drive, his motivation, but I don’t want him so focused on a letter. I want him focused on learning.

And, I certainly don’t want him to get caught in the comparison trap.

Yes, I have three brilliant children. My oldest is a freshman, and no one has yet to make anything less than an A on his or her report cards. My children strive to be the best. They give their all. They are looking to their future. They have goals, and they strive to meet them.

I know my kids are capable of making straight A’s, but my goal is not perfection. My request is that they give 100%…and as long as they are doing their best, I’m happy. But, my middle child has reached a mountain called pre-algebra. It’s not that he isn’t capable. It’s not that it’s too hard. It’s not that he doesn’t understand. For some reason, he’s not being reached in class. He’s coming home completely confused, and we have to teach him step-by-step every evening how to solve the equations. It’s forcing me to go back some 20 years and dust off my algebra skills! And, they don’t have textbooks! So, for a visual learner (and a rusty mom), it’s been a challenge.

And now, nine weeks into school, he’s lost his confidence. He’s staring at a block test that will determine whether he makes an A or a B. And, he’s psyched himself out. He’s failing to look at how far he’s come, how much he’s learned. He’s looking at a grade instead of focusing on the joy of learning and growing. And, he’s focused on what his siblings have achieved and comparing himself to them.

And that’s a dangerous place to be.

As we talked through the tears last night, I reminded him of all the gifts and talents he has. I reminded him that this grade does not have anything to do with his value or his worth. I reminded him that his brother did not even take pre-algebra at his age (it wasn’t offered). I reminded him that his brother struggled to keep an A when he did take it. I reminded him that his uncle (my brother who he idolizes) was not a straight A student but is now a successful dentist. I reminded him that this grade doesn’t even count toward his high school transcript. We talked and we prayed and we talked some more.

But, the sense of failure and fear welling up inside of him has been overwhelming. When I dropped him off at school for his test and drove away, I couldn’t contain my own tears. The pain of watching your child hurt is almost unbearable at times.

I rallied my prayer warriors around him. We pray for his peace. We pray for his ability to recall the information he has so diligently studied. We pray for success. And, I pray for the ability to accept a B if that is what happens.

He will survive. We will survive. And we will learn and grow. After all, failure (if you can call a “B” failure) is a great teacher if we let it be. We must simply adopt God’s perspective, see things from his view.

As I contemplate this situation, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul. Just this morning I was reading the account of his conversion on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9). Saul (as he was known before his conversion) was out persecuting the Christians, standing by approving of the stoning of Stephen. He was actively looking for Christians to kill! And, in an instant, God’s light shone around him. He immediately repented and turned his life over to Christ.

Suddenly, the man who had been murdering Christians was preaching the name of Christ! Of course, the Christians were leery of him. It took the voice of God to reassure them. But, what I found interesting was this phrase:

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9:15-16

Don’t you think that Paul could have felt so unworthy of serving God? Don’t you think he could have chosen to live in his past, to wallow in self-pity for his poor choices? Don’t you think God knew all about his past—even before it was his past? Don’t you think God saw him standing by as Stephen was stoned to death?

And yet, Paul was God’s chosen instrument.

How many times do we get caught up in our own insecurities? How long will we choose to live in our less than glorious past? How long will we allow our past to hold us back from a future that God has ordained for us?

I know that after the discovery of my ex-husband’s affair, I struggled immensely with self-esteem. After all, I had given my all to this man, dedicated my life to serving God alongside him…and it wasn’t good enough. I was rejected. I hated the person looking back at me in the mirror every single day. I was having a big pity party!

But God…

God reached down and reminded me that I am his treasured possession (Deuteronomy 7:6), his royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). He reminded me that he didn’t reject me; he chose me! He ordained every day of my life even while I was in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:16). I am the apple of his eye (Zechariah 2:8)!

It would be so easy to live in my past, the rejection and pain. I could choose to let it color the rest of my life. But, I made a conscious decision five years ago that my past would not define me. I made the decision to let God use the past to mold me into his image, to let the pain and trials work something beautiful into my life. I consciously decided that I would not be an angry, bitter ex-wife, always looking for a way to get even. Instead, I made the decision to thrive!

It’s only because I know that I am God’s specially chosen daughter that I can put the past behind me. It’s only by taking God’s perspective that I have the vision to move forward. It’s only by surrendering every heart ache and pain, every regret and sin, even every accolade and accomplishment to him that I am useful for his kingdom. It’s by letting go of everything in my past and trusting him to use it for my good (Romans 8:28) that suddenly he can redeem my past, use it for his glory.

Later, after years of ministry, Paul would write to the church at Ephesus.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

I am God’s handiwork, his masterpiece. You are God’s handiwork, his masterpiece. Long ago he chose us to fulfill a purpose. Long ago, he planned good works for me…and for you. He has prepared the path for us to accomplish all that he created us to be and do. Will you let go of your past? Will you trust him to redeem your regrets, your failures, your sins, your accomplishments? Will you allow him to lead you into the purpose he has for you?

After all, he chose you!

A Call to Repentance

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

I am an American. We are one country under God. Our nation was founded by great men, who had a vision for a country where we could freely worship. They risked their lives for something bigger than themselves. Many gave their all so that I could live in freedom.

We are a nation of strength and independence. We are a place of wealth and prosperity. At our very border in New York, Lady Liberty beckons for the tired, poor, huddled masses to come to the land of freedom, and land that offers hope for a brighter future.

I have always been proud to wear the American flag, to celebrate this country and the freedoms and prosperity that we enjoy. I am proud to be a part of the greatest nation on the earth.

But today, my heart breaks.

You see, as a child I remember saying prayers as a kindergarten class. But, that’s no longer allowed. I remember being asked to say the opening prayer before the high school football games. But today, schools are threatened with lawsuits for uttering prayers of protection in public.

Just this week, my daughter was relating to me the events of her day. Surprisingly, the Gideons came to her school and offered a New Testament to each child. No one was forced to take the book, but of course my daughter gladly accepted the gift. At some point during the day, she (and several others) had their Bibles out reading in their spare time. They were ordered to put them away because they might get in trouble.

I went ballistic! I told my daughter that she as long as it is free time and she is not breaking any rules, she has a right to read her Bible—and that I would fight with everything within me to keep that right for her!

My point is, we as a nation are turning as far away from “one nation under God” as we possibly can. The foundations of our culture are eroding away. Whether it is the importance of the church in our society, or the fear of offending someone who has a different belief system, or the erosion of simple morals, our country has undergone a radical shift even in my lifetime. In the name of tolerance, we have become incredibly intolerant.

But that’s not all. As I mentioned before, we have stood in the world as a beacon of economic success, of independence, as a place where one could become self-sufficient—all things that are actually contrary to God’s word. Our pride and arrogance seem to be the light that we are giving off, not a love for those less fortunate.

Today, we are a nation divided.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. Matthew 12:25

I, personally, have never seen a time where we have had such intense division. My parents have said that the division now is even deeper than in the days of desegregation. And, rather than attempting to come together and find common ground, each side simply stands its ground demonizing its opponents. For a country that was founded upon the belief that all sides have freedom to speak their mind, that we can learn from those with differing opinions if we will keep an open mind, we have fallen hard.

It’s election season. That means that for roughly the next month we will be listening to political candidates say horrible, awful, ugly things about their opponents. We will see each person painted in the worst possible light. Facts will be taken and twisted to make it seem that someone is not what they say they are.

And I hate it…

What do I want in a political candidate? Integrity. Honesty. Character. Commitment to the greater good of our country over any ideological belief. A willingness to listen to the viewpoints of others and seek common ground. A desire to put aside political titles, to recognize the value in all humanity, even those with differing opinions.

I don’t know where you stand politically. Honestly, I don’t really care. I love you all the same, even if our beliefs are different. But, I fear for the future of our nation. My heart breaks as we seem to be traveling further from the foundation of our great nation. I fear that our pride, our arrogance, our division will cause us to self-destruct. I fear that my children and grandchildren will not have the privilege of growing up with the same blessings I have. I fear that we are but a short step away from some major changes in our country—changes that will forever alter our course.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18

Why, you might ask, am I on this subject rather than my normal ones of divorce, raising children, walking in faith? Because I just read The Mystery of the Shemitah by Jonathan Cahn, and my mind won’t stop running. Cahn is a Messianic Rabbi and author of the best-selling The Harbinger. His life has been dedicated to the study of scriptures. As a Jew, he understands the Old Testament commands and promises. As a Christian, he understands the importance of following the example set by Christ.

In this book, Cahn examines the ancient Jewish Shemitah. You see, just as the Jews were commanded to practice a weekly Sabbath of rest, they were also commanded to let the land rest every seventh year. There was to be no planting, no harvesting. They were simply instructed to depend upon God’s provision for them, to trust him to take care of their needs. Observing the Shemitah was an act of worship, to rid themselves of the pride that could lead to their fall, to remind them that every blessing is from above.

Cahn walks the reader through the Shemitah and how it applies to us as Americans. His explanation of events throughout history and how they are tied to the Shemitah is eye-opening—really mind-boggling! To read his account, to take a walk into the history of America and the nation of Israel, gives a completely new understanding of the sovereignty of God.

Interestingly, Israel has just entered the next year of the Shemitah. After reading Cahn’s book, I’m on the edge of my seat, wondering what type of major event is going to happen in the next year. While I have no idea what the future holds, I do know one thing: If we as Christians and Americans do not humble ourselves and pray and turn from our wicked ways, the future may not be very bright. There may be a humbling of the prideful, a fall of the arrogant. It’s hard to believe that America could ever cease to be, but how many nations have fallen over the course of history? Every. Single. One.

God always gives warning. He calls his people to repent. He raises up a remnant of faithful ones to carry on his work. I have written often about how I believe God is creating a remnant of believers with faith to move mountains, getting rid of the Americanized, westernized brand of Christianity that boxes him in. I believe with all my heart that as we move forward, we will see God in all his glory. I believe we will see his power and might displayed in mighty ways for all the world to see. I believe that he will call us as Christians to do even greater things than those we read about in scripture (John 1:50). While the future of America may be questionable, our future as Christians is in good hands.

The question becomes this: Will you heed his call? Will you turn over every part of your life to him? Will you trust him with your family, your finances, your future? Will you allow him to penetrate every inch of your heart with his light and his love? Will you commit to walking before him with clean hands and a pure heart? Will you seek him with all your heart because you know he promises to be found?

My God is faithful, and he will never let you down. Give your all to him.