Thursday, May 31, 2012

Safe or Sanctified

(I am going to do a little preaching to myself here, so recognize that I speak as one who is still learning, and doing much of my learning in this public way).

American Christians worship the god of comfort. We base many of our decisions on comfort...decisions on preferences like where to live, where to work, what to wear. Decisions on convictions such as homeschooling or public schooling, birth control or no birth control. And we seem to have a deep belief that we have a God-given right to comfort. But I don't see this in the Bible. Yes, I see that God wants us to be happy, but so often I see that His way of bringing about our ultimate happiness is often not anything of which we would ever conceive.

One thing that impresses me about times past is the depth of those Christians' faith and devotion to God. Compare yourself to a John Bunyan, Susannah Wesley, or William Tyndale and you will probably find yourself falling shamefully short. Certainly being tortured, imprisoned, and martyred for the faith would lead to sanctification, but even those with "normal" lives seemed to have so much spiritual depth. I often wonder if the "normalness" of discomfort in that time played the major role in many of our Christian heroes' sanctification. So many women struggled just with the simple daily chores. Laundry was real work. Eating required far more reliance on things beyond human control, such as weather conditions in order to grow the food, health in order to harvest it, and time in order to prepare it. God had a part in the process, and faith was exercised regularly. Today, we open the freezer, pull out a bag of peas and dump it in a pot on the stove. No peas left? No problem. Having "faith" that the grocery store will be well-stocked, we hop in our cars to make the quick trip up the road, swipe a piece of plastic to "harvest" it, and return to slave for a full 10 minutes to heat them on the stove.

And food was just one aspect of faith-stretching that these Christian giants of the past faced. What about childbirth? Women got pregnant often, and there was no guarantee that the delivery would be safe and easy. In fact, very often it was not. It was a fairly common occurrence for a woman to die in childbirth, leaving her husband and little ones behind. Today, it is almost inconceivable to our weak spirits. Women hear from their doctors that they may face death if they refuse to prevent, or worse abort, a pregnancy. So they opt for "safety". Sure, no one wants to face their mortality, especially with so much earthly treasure to lose. But treasure, whether it be material or familial, is still just temporal. Eternal riches are gained only through sanctification. And women of those days had no choice but to accept God's path to sanctification, whatever it brought along the way. In having to accept it, they faced their mortality with faith in a loving God who was sovereign over all, and hope in an eternity filled with greater riches than earth's.

Schooling, too, was an issue of discomfort at times. Imagine not only having the daily work load to bear, but also having the responsibility of educating and discipling your children, who were often numerous, due to no birth control options. One of the biggest reasons (or excuses, if we are to be completely honest) I hear from a person who chooses not to homeschool is, "I just don't have the patience." Really? You don't have patience for your own child? Don't get me wrong. I have days when my humanity is blatantly evident. To put it another way, I yell at my kids too! But what about sanctification? If you do not have the patience, would you be willing to put yourself in a position of discomfort in order to gain that quality, which is directly related to love (1 Cor. 13)? Back then, homeschooling was the common practice and parents had to have patience or learn to develop it quickly!

As you read this, you may be counting your blessings, feeling grateful for our modern conveniences and societal advances. But are we really better off?

You see, this life is not about comfort. If we constantly take advantage of our many modern "perks" by making our choices based purely on what is "best" according to personal comfort, and then dismissing the issue with two simple words (Christian liberty), then we have missed it. We should not ask ourselves which decisions or convictions are most comfortable, but rather we should ask ourselves which decisions will most pull us out of our comfort zones and cause us to rely on the Lord the most. Which options will grow us in our faith? We should not ask which options are safest, but which have the most potential to cause sanctification. Isn't spiritual growth more important than life itself? Likewise, isn't obedience to God more important than anything, including our own mortality? If in our eternal life we have nothing to show for this life, were all the comfortable decisions really best?

Once identified, we should ask the Lord if that uncomfortable, dangerous, sanctification-producing decision is truly what He wants for us individually. And not just pray, but plead for it for the growth it can bring! I think more often than not, He will direct us down that narrow way. Or, as Robert Frost put it so well, "the road less traveled by". And that, my friends, will make all the difference!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance is my Best Friend

I posted this little statement as my Facebook status update earlier today: Cognitive Dissonance is my best friend, as long as she doesn't stay as a guest too long. It really sums things up for me. But what I hate is when I can't seem to work it all out in my head...when she decides to take up residence in the guest room of my mind and outwears her welcome. I'm feeling that way about a lot of various things these days.

I guess that's where we have to have humility to recognize that there is a certain amount of mystery to this life and to our spirituality. And all our ponderances...all our "musings and puzzlings" if you will...may not be entirely answered this side of eternity. It's okay to suffer through a little...or a lot...of cognitive dissonance. Maybe at some point we just let go of it and give it to God?

So, what is my brain driving me crazy over? I'm not sure I want to go into every nuance and detail here at this point. It isn't overly private, but I think I just want my brain to have a little more time to chew on it all. I think, also, I am a little too tired to do any more mental chewing at this time. A fresh day and some rest would put me more in the mood. Not to mention the fact that I have chewed on it for months and seem to go in circles and it is a subject that I don't think is answered very simply, in fact. Sometimes I think I know what I think and then I find another angle, another hidden facet that I hadn't spied before. And sometimes that hidden facet leads me to still other topics and angles that need conquering.

So, about this time, maybe you are wondering why I am even sharing this. I think I may be wondering that a bit, as well. But I suppose I just want to encourage you to be okay with your own cognitive dissonance. Be okay with not having all the answers worked out. Too many people in this world already know everything. And I think we miss out on exciting discoveries when we are not human enough to admit that maybe we don't have the answers we thought we did.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I once heard of a psychologist who had "discovered" the cathartic experience of telling the truth, even when it was most difficult. He started a whole practice based on the idea that it is always best to always tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or painful. It intrigued me because...well, because of the truth of it! We read in John that the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

Yet, most of us don't really believe it. At least, in practice we don't. I consider myself one of the few fortunate women to be married to a man who always tells me the truth. I may not want to hear that my rear end is getting larger or that I really need a shower to get the stink off me, but you know what? It is unbelievably freeing to never have to doubt the words of the one who is dearest in the world to you. It takes away the insecurity and suspicion. Is he just saying my butt looks good because he knows that's what I want to hear or does it really look the same size as before I had three children? Does he really like that meal that I made? Am I really a good writer, mother, wife? Hearing honest answers to these questions allows me the opportunity to truly grow and become a better person. And in seeing the benefits to our truth-based relationship, I have become more comfortable with simply answering questions truthfully myself, rather than participating in social lies.

But there's a catch. Part of the downside is that I sometimes truly forget the "social norms" of our culture. I forget that not everyone wants to hear the truth when they ask a question. This is a warning to you. Do not ask me questions that you really don't want answers to. Ladies, seriously...When you are nine months pregnant, you are huge. Just accept it and move on. I mean, you have another whole person inside of you! I am not saying you are huge and ugly. Do not assume that "huge" means "fat". In fact, I think pregnancy is beautiful, large bellies and all. And even if you do look puffy and strange, I promise not to tell you that you look puffy and strange...unless you ask me. So, please, don't ask me. But if you ignore this warning, I'll probably try my best to nicely deflect the question or dress up my answer because I also believe in doing to others as I would have them do to me. (Nothing is so frustrating as wanting reassurance from my husband only to get the harsh ribbons, bows, or glitter included. But of course, those are the exceptions, not the rule. He understands I still need a little glitter on the ugly truth from time to time)!

So, if the truth will set us free, then I believe it will set us free in all areas. If I don't fit in because of it, then I guess that's okay, too. Maybe more can join me in the quest for being completely truthful so we can all be odd specimens of society together!

Unity in Disunity

So often lately, as I've become more and more controversial and outspoken with my convictions, I've felt the tension both internally and externally, to keep my differences silent and just abide by a "live and let live" attitude. After all, aren't Christians called to unity? Aren't we supposed to focus on our similarities, not our differences? Paul even says in Ephesians 4:1-3 that we are to seek unity among our brothers and sisters.

But wait a minute. Aren't we also challenged to sharpen one another (Proverbs 27:17)? And how can we sharpen one another if we are too afraid to get a little "controversial"? How can we sharpen one another if we are afraid to offend? I don't believe any of my Christian friends would need me to sharpen them on core doctrines...those things upon which we can all agree. It is the "gray" areas that become difficult to navigate at times. But the Bible gives us direction for all areas of life (2 Peter 1:3). And in our modern culture, it seems there are so many "new" things that the Bible does not specifically address. Yet, the Bible does in fact speak to all these things, as we are told in the passage in Peter.

So, it seems we are called, to some extent, to challenge one another in the uncomfortable things...The things that make us defensive, nervous, and perhaps even angry. And we don't do it because we want to stir up trouble. We do it because we love the brethren (1 Peter 1:22) and are called to be challenging one another, no matter what our culture preaches about unity and getting along.

No, the call to Christian unity does not mean that I keep my personal convictions silent. It means that I share them with love, not harshness, for the sake of edification. And it means that Christians don't get so offended when a brother or sister in Christ does this. We seek unity, even in our exhortation. We seek to find common ground, yet be open to exploring our differences with an open heart to what God may show us in order to grow us. We can all learn from each other, whether or not we ultimately agree or disagree. And, hear this, disagreement does not equal disunity. I disagree with a lot of my friends on things I find very, very important. Yet, I still love them and consider us unified as Christians because we are unified in Christ.

You see, sometimes I think the problem is not as much with those sharing their convictions as it is with those who are listening. If we all truly want unity, we will be willing to listen, rather than expect others to simply be quiet. We will be willing to then offer our own convictions in return. It is an "iron sharpening iron" process, not a knife throwing contest (with the target being each other). And this Biblical process is beautiful when done in love! What are we so afraid of?

So, please forgive me when I offend. It is not my heart to offend. And please sharpen me, as well! But seek unity, as I do, in the sometimes painful sharpening process. It is a process of friction and removing tiny pieces of the knife in order to sharpen. It requires an open spirit on both sides, one that is willing to deal with the friction and the possibility of losing something, for the ultimate goal of sanctification. Because the key to sanctification is a love for truth more than a love for being "right". And one of the most beautiful testaments to the power of the love of Christ is our Christian unity despite our differences of conviction. The world will not see that if we are too afraid to challenge one another in love.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Sheltering". . . or Protecting?

Of all the tired stereotypes about homeschooling...and there are that has become quite tiring to me is the idea that Christian homeschooling parents have made the decision to homeschool out of some kind of paranoid fear of the world and a need to "shelter" our children. This misconception does have some valid roots. After all, many homeschooling parents, myself included, are concerned about protecting their children, and wish to minimize the influence of the world. However, the implication of this stereotype is that we have a fear-based form of parenting and are not trusting God. This is simply untrue for the majority of homeschooling parents that I know.

To start, let's ask ourselves if "sheltering" our children is an automatic indication of fear or not trusting God. Is "sheltering" truly a bad thing? I contend that it is all a matter of how it's packaged. When a person uses the word "shelter", instantly images of drawn window shades and shy, fearful children are brought to mind. It is a word with a heavy connotation. And, in my opinion, it is rather unfair to use it so copiously when referring to homeschoolers as a whole. So, let's use the word "protect" instead. Now that we have substituted a word that more fully conveys the truth of the matter, let's ask ourselves if "protecting" our children is a negative thing. I think the obvious answer is "no". One of our very jobs as parents is to provide protection for our children. In fact, in Mark 9:42, we are told, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea." Pretty heavy words! And if we take this warning seriously, it may lead us to take so-called extreme measures to avoid putting our little ones in danger of being led into sin.

Now, in all fairness, every parent must use discernment as to what they will guard their children from. We protect our children from many things on a daily basis. Some are obvious dangers. Some are more subtle. Perhaps to many parents, school seems to be something from which parents should not need to protect their children, and homeschoolers seem to be acting out of paranoia and fear. Schooling seems to be an amoral issue in and of itself. But I would argue against this notion and further point out that not all parents have felt this way throughout history. In fact, when public school first became compulsory in 1852, citizens actually met the local officials with guns drawn! It seems they found the idea of sending their children off with strangers for seven hours of the day a bit too radical! Today we have grown accustomed to the idea, and the court of time has rendered it innocuous in our minds. This is our "normal". But could it be that it is not so normal after all? Could it be that we have just learned not to question the status quo? Could it be that "this is the way we've always done it" has become good enough for us?

Whether you see a danger in the secular institution of public education and the influences of often godless peers and teachers or not, homeschoolers frequently do. (Disclaimer: I know there are some godly teachers who are trying to make a difference. I commend them, though I personally feel the foundation is such that a Christian cannot truly effect lasting change in the system. But that is a topic for another day and another blog post.) And if I, as a parent, see a danger to my children, should I not do what is necessary to protect them? And, to take it further, should I not warn others of the danger I see? I recently heard the argument that God protected Daniel in the lion's den, implying that we should trust that He will likewise protect our children from harm within the public school. First, though the passage does deal with God's protection, I would argue that we should be careful drawing such a conclusion from a Scripture that has nothing to do with education. I don't believe that passage is addressing our schooling choices. But, if we were to apply it to the topic at hand, I would agree that God certainly can protect them. He is sovereign and in control of every aspect of our lives. However, I would make the point that as parents, we don't generally throw our children into the lion's den and then ask God to protect them after we have personally put them in harm's way. This is presuming upon God's mercy. Life is dangerous, yes, but that is all the more reason to be vigilant and carefully consider how much time we will invest in discipleship ("schooling")!

So, are we homeschoolers choosing our path out of fear? Or is it out of a deep conviction to protect our children? I propose that it is the later. And it is my heart's burden that many more parents will take a fresh look at something we've all come to take for granted as normal. I share not with a heart to put myself or my "superior" Christian parenting skills on a platform, but out of a sincere hope that more parents will start to see the dangers of allowing others to spend the majority of the day with their children, the children with whom God has blessed and entrusted them.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Put on Your Steel-Toed Boots, I'm Stepping on Toes

I'm going to step on some toes...hopefully not stomp on them too hard, but lightly step. I tend to avoid doing so when possible, but the time has come when I believe Christians need to wake up and sometimes the only way to rouse a person is to cause a little pain to jolt them into awareness. And so, in advance, I apologize if I step too hard. I will try to step lightly.

It concerns an area of conviction. It seems to me that where the Bible is silent, Christians are a bit schizophrenic. In certain areas of silence or where the Bible does not make an explicit command, we have no trouble saying overtly that such-and-such an action is wrong. For example, I don't believe I've ever heard a pastor preach that taking a second wife is okay, yet I can't find a verse that explicitly condemns the practice. However, despite the lack of a “thou shalt not...” verse, Christians turn to other passages with principles to back up their condemnation of polygamy. I also don't believe I have ever been taught that illicit drugs are fine in moderation. If cocaine were legal, would pastors sanction doing drugs in moderation? There is no verse that condemns taking drugs, yet we turn to other passages to support the assertion that this is wrong. There are principles in the Bible that provide clear guidance in areas where the Bible is not specific.

So, I'm not sure then why other issues are not treated in the same manner. With other issues of conviction, it seems we are told that the Bible has no bearing upon them. Further, one cannot share his or her beliefs as to the Bible's influence without the instant assumption of condemnation. Some matters of conviction are simply taboo and we are told that the Bible has no input on those issues. But doesn't the Bible speak to all areas of our lives?

Take homeschooling, for example. While there is no verse that specifically states, “Thou shalt homeschool,” there are plenty of verses that Christians have used to support the idea that this is God's best for the vast majority of parents. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, for example, commands us to teach our children diligently and to do so constantly. Many Christians believe that this command is much too difficult to accomplish when the majority of most days are are spent running around, working, etc., while our children are spending the day being trained by someone else. And yet, it seems that if a Christian tries to gently share his or her conviction with others, they are met with an instant and usually incredulous defense and reminder of “Christian liberty”. It does not seem to matter whether the sharing is done in genuine love and concern. It seems to always be met with offense and the assumption of condemnation. Schooling is the sacred cow of Christianity.

Perhaps this should not surprise us. First of all, the issue deals with people's children, a subject that is so close to the heart that it is nearly impossible to evaluate without emotion. No one likes to hear that they may be wrong on such an important issue as who spends 7-8 hours per day with their child. No one wants to evaluate an area of their life that could have possible life-altering ramifications and could induce lasting guilt for having made the wrong choice for so long. It is certainly much easier to convince a parent of young children of the Biblical basis for homeschooling than it is to convince a parent whose children are nearly grown and have been in the system for the majority of their schooling. The admission of having made the wrong choice for so long about something as precious as their very own children is sometimes too much.

Secondly, there have been those in Christendom who have taken the truth and slapped their brothers and sisters across the face with it. Those who are very conservative can sometimes tend to be unloving in how they approach others and how they communicate their convictions. This is unfortunate, but it is just as unfortunate that the less conservative make such an assumption of everyone with such convictions based merely on that fact. It is a stereotype that should be avoided.

Furthermore, education has become our modern Baal. We idolize those who are intelligent and put those with high I.Q.s on a pedestal. Science and statistics are our gods. So, rather than evaluating the choice of how to educate our children by the Bible's standards, we are looking at the choice through the light of the world's lens. We forget the sovereignty of God...that He will train our children adequately for His work, regardless of our own inadequacies...and we want to make the schooling decision based solely on our own evaluations and the “way that seems right” (Proverbs 14:12).

To be sure, not everyone can homeschool and not everyone is called. There are single moms who cannot make it work and there are rare children of such strength of faith and character that they are specifically called to be a light in the darkness of a public school. I have heard of a homeschooled young man recently who prayed earnestly, along with his parents, and felt called to be a missionary to the public school. God has worked powerfully through him to bring many kids to the Lord and he has been a real instrument of revival. However, the number of such missionaries and such hard cases is, in my opinion, likely so small that I'm not sure what we are doing as Christians using that as our blanket excuse? I believe the majority of parents who have used this “missionary reasoning” have children who have actually done more damage to the name of Christ than good. We underestimate the spiritual battles Satan has raging in the public school (and even Christian schools) and the amount of pressure under which our vulnerable and impressionable children must stand firm in their faith.

Ultimately, just because we can do something does not mean that we should. Just because there is no “thou shalt not” verse, does not mean that we should not carefully evaluate each and every decision in light of Biblical principles. Christian liberty is not our excuse to put our brains into “cruise” and simply do what everyone else in the church is doing. It should spur us to evaluate why we have made the choices we have made and encourage us to find scriptural support for everything we do.

I hope I have not come across as judgmental or harsh. It is not my heart. But shouldn't we challenge each other and stretch each other spiritually in all areas of life? Isn't that what the Christian walk is about? Shouldn't we have open minds to consider all areas of our life and whether or not they are in alignment with the Bible? I still have room to grow and change and I'm sure you do, too! Or are there some topics that are just off limits? Are there some topics that are too personal for Biblical insight and accountability from others? Ultimately, we may not all agree on what the Bible says concerning this issue, but I hope we can at least start to have the discussion without the assumption that people such as myself are simply being judgmental and narrow-minded. On the contrary, I care too much to continue to keep my feet to myself! I just hope I didn't stomp too hard.