Twenty years ago this week, Dave brought me home for Christmas. Except that he didn’t tell his parents we were dating. He hadn’t even told me we were dating. We had, in fact, been “hanging out” for about six months (yep, that’s months) and he had yet to declare his intentions. But there I was, at his parents’ house in Long Island.
Let me give you some background: David McGee is one of the smartest guys I know. He is also one of the godliest. And he never makes rash decisions. He’s researched cars for close to a year before making a purchase. When he was choosing a seminary, he poured over pamphlets, spoke to every seminary graduate he knew, seeking advice. Whatever the opposite of “spontaneous” is — that’s Dave. And it’s a great thing. God made him cautious, wise. And we balance each other out well because I hardly every think before I make a decision. My gut and a credit card is all I need!
So when we met, Dave was attracted to me, but he was cautious. I was only 19 – a baby. He was 25 – a college graduate. He knew 19-year-olds tended to be fickle and immature. He was at the point where he was ready to find his future wife. And he wanted to be sure he made the right decision. So he watched me. All summer. We worked together at a youth camp. He was one of the Unit Leaders (in charge of a group of counselors), and I was a counselor (not in his unit). His sister conspired to get us thrown together in some activities. Shoot, the whole camp worked on throwing us together. I wasn’t sure I was interested in someone that old, but I had to admire a guy whose Bible was so worn it was held together by duct tape!
That fall, he decided to go to the Word of Life Bible Institute’s (WOLBI) School of Youth, Ministry and Evangelism. He had finished college and he had attended WOLBI’s one-year Bible program the year before me. But he felt God wanted him to study the Bible more, and so he came back. With me. And we hung out. Now WOLBI is super strict, so no couples are allowed to go off campus together or touch at all — not even hold hands. So we spent that fall talking. A lot. That’s a good thing. We really go to know each other – what we liked and didn’t like, what we believed, what we thought God wanted us to do in life. But we didn’t
talk about “us.” Didn’t call each other “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” or even (a WOLBI favorite) a “special” friend.
I was getting a little impatient. I mean, we met in JUNE and it was DECEMBER. I understood cautious, but this seemed excessive! And then he asked me to come home with him. I was so excited! That meant something – we were ready to put the “special” in front of the “friends.” And then he told me he had invited someone else home, too- a friend from school, John, who lived in England and couldn’t go home for the holidays.
“So,” I tried to be as diplomatic as possible. “Do your parents know anything about me?”
“They know you’re coming.”
“Do they think I’m with John or with you?”
“We didn’t talk about it.” He said. “It doesn’t matter.”
It doesn’t matter. Right. But then he said his sister, whom I had known from camp that summer, had been talking to their mom, and she filled her parents in on who I was. Nice.
So I was in Long Island with a guy I was falling hard for and I wasn’t even sure if his parents knew who I was.
Why would he do this? Because I had gotten to know him, I knew it was because he had gotten hurt in the past. He had dated girls and had his heart broken, and he didn’t want that to happen again. His mom had gotten her heart broken, too, when Dave was hurt. So he didn’t want to bring any but “the” one to meet his parents. I knew him asking me to come home was a big deal. But I also knew it was scary for him.
The week ended up being great. Away from the rules of WOLBI, we sat close on the couch, held hands (!), and just had fun. By the time I left, we were “official”. I think I could have flown home without the aid of an airplane!
Now, twenty years later, it is a fun story, one we laugh about when we tell our friends. But, I have to say, as impatient as I was, I am glad Dave was so slow. In a time where life is fast, girls and guys are fast, being slow has major advantages. We spent a long time building a foundation of friendship before we began speaking of love (that was still several more months after this story!). That friendship, built on Christ, is what has sustained us for the eighteen years we have been married, through global moves, heartache and hard times. It has allowed to stay together “For better or for worse.”
And now, twenty years later, it is still one of my fondest Christmas memories!
“Doing Good” is part of almost every religion, part of groups on every side of the political landscape; it is part of slogans and campaigns. It is everywhere. Christians don’t have the corner on the “Good Deeds” market. But we do have a reason for doing good that is different than anyone else’s. Or, at least, we should.
In one of Jesus’ most famous sermons, he said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16) So why do we do good? To glorify God and point people to Him.
But, sometimes, I think even Christians forget that. In fact, sometimes, I think Christians fall into the trap of thinking doing good for others means that good will happen to them. They take the idea of “karma” from eastern religions and believe that is a biblical idea. That God will bless you with material things or no disease or no pain if the good you do outweighs your bad.
But that idea cannot be supported by scripture or by experience. Jesus himself was the best man to ever walk this earth. He was Emmanuel – God with us. If anyone “deserved” good, it was this man who healed the sick and cared for the lepers and ate with the outcasts. Yet he was killed. The disciples all faced horrible ends. These were men who loved God and served others with everything they had. I can think of half a dozen people I know, right off the top of my head, who are amazing, wonderful people, people who “deserve” good things. But these people have lost children, lost parents, lost homes, suffered deep hurts, emotionally and physically. All the good these people did did not protect them from hurt and pain.
So why do good? Because it honors God. Because it points people to Him. Because we were created to be part of a community of people who reflects Christ. And what do we get out of it? Wealth that cannot be measured by anything on this earth: Peace that passes understanding. Uncontainable joy. Faith that can withstand storms. Hope in a future that is infinitely better than even the best days we have in the present.
Teens today are having sex. A lot. Studies indicate that at least half of all teenagers are sexually active in high school. Personally, I think that number is conservative. It is as casual a part of many relationships as the goodnight kiss was back in the “old days.” It isn’t a stigma, isn’t embarrassing,isn’t shameful. It is considered a natural part of adolescence, necessary, even beneficial.
Those who disagree with this view of sex are seen as ridiculous prudes. We are mocked on TV shows, movies, even Broadway musicals. “What is the big deal?” They say. It’s a primal need, an itch that needs to be scratched. Monogamy in general is hopelessly out of fashion, even within marriage. So abstinence before marriage?? Laughable at best; harmful at worst.
Christian parents have an increasingly hard time with this issue, as well. Some don’t ever want to say the word. It is NOT a discussion they want to have with their “babies.” Other parents focus on just the negatives: teen pregnancy, STD’s, heartache…have sex and your life will be ruined. Some, who made mistakes in their own teen years, feel hypocritical telling their children to abstain when they chose not to.
Those of us – parents and teens alike – who hold to the Bible as our foundation must recognize two things:
1) Sex is a good thing
2) Sex is entirely reserved for the marriage relationship
We hear a lot about the second point. And, while people may not like it, there’s no getting away from the fact that sex is for marriage. Period. Not for people in a non-married, but committed, relationship; not for people planning to get married. Sex is for marriage.
Because of reason #1 – it is a good thing. It isn’t terrible, evil, scary, or disgusting. Sex is a gift given by a good God for our enjoyment. Within marriage, there is guilt-free, committed, life-long enjoyment of each other. It is part of the “one flesh” relationship God grants to the children He loves so much. It enhances a marriage, helps couples remain connected, provides a level of intimacy that, hopefully, carries over to all other aspects of marriage. Couples with healthy marriages have healthy sex lives.
It is because of how good this gift of sex is that we should guard it and protect it. While the desire may be there long before we can satisfy it, we are not powerless to give into it.
Teens, you don’t have to be in the half that chooses to give this gift away. Stand strong, even when everyone around you is falling for the world’s lies. God has something great for you – don’t miss out on His best.
Parents, you HAVE to talk with your kids about this subject. Not just once. Often. Pray for them. Pray for their future spouse. Model a healthy marriage for your kids. Don’t just kiss with the bedroom door closed. Let them see you kiss, give little tush-grabs. It’ll gross them out, but that’s all right. They see it with non-married couples all the time. They need to see it within marriages.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” ~I Thess. 4:3-5
I have several talents I am grateful for, that I hone and try to improve, that I practice alone and with groups. But I have one particular talent that brings me far more shame than pleasure: speaking without thinking.
I have used this talent in far too many places with far too many people to far too disastrous results. It’s not always end-of-the-world stuff. But it is always annoying at best and damaging at worst.
When I was in college, my friends would laugh at me because, no matter what was being discussed, I’d have a story for it. Rather than listening to what others were saying, engaging them, asking them questions about their story, I sat waiting, mentally preparing for when I could speak and regale the group with my story. Looking back now, I realize how incredibly self centered I was. And how incredibly gracious my friends were: They just let me talk, rather than turning to walk away because – invariably – I would be telling a story they’d already heard.
And that’s a more positive example. Let’s not even talk about when I yelled at a good friend, calling her a selfish jerk in front of a whole crowd of our friends. Or when I told a young man, in a very unkind manner, that he was not worthy of the girl he was dating. Or when I completely lost it in front of the entire cast of a play I was directing (more than once, for more than one play).
In every case, I let my mouth run while my brain raced to catch up. By the time I realized how ridiculous, rude, and/or arrogant I had been, it was too late. The damage had been done. What I needed to do, in every case, was to just shut my mouth.
I am going to get frustrated, I am going to get angry, I am always going to think of stories I could tell. But that doesn’t mean that I need to say everything that pops into my head. I need to think over what I am going to say, I need to make sure that what I am saying is kind, beneficial, necessary. I need to guard my mouth so that what comes out builds people up and doesn’t tear them down.
“The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak what is just.” ~Psalm 37:30
“You’re going to test us over EVERYTHING we’ve learned this whole semester?”
Semester exams are just a few weeks away and students who have barely said a word for the last few months are suddenly wide awake and quite vocal. “But why??” “We can use notes, right?” “You don’t mean everything do you?”
I used to be super easy in my semester exams. It is a lot of material, and the students do have several other classes to keep up with, and, yes, you can successfully navigate life without being able to identify a predicate nominative or explain the theme of “Tell Tale Heart.”
I have changed, though. Now, I do test over everything, and I do expect my students to be able to identify a predicate nominative and explain the theme of “Tell Tale Heart.”
Do I hate my students??
Do I think they’re all going to be English majors?
I always hope for a few. But, no. That’s not it.
It’s because of my “semester exam principle”: Retention of information is crucial to success in every facet of life.
Students today have SO MUCH information that it all ends up just crashing over them like a wave. They are drenched with information, but then they “dry up” and get ready for the next soaking. Nothing sticks, nothing lasts. I see students cramming for tests every day, stuffing information in their brains just long enough to get a good grade, then forgetting it.
What would happen if our doctors did that? Our accountants? Our pilots?
And though students think it doesn’t matter right now, those of us “older” folks know that the habits we develop in school carry on through college and into our careers.
But even more important than our grades or career, this principle applies to our Christian life.
A quick search of the word “remember” in scriptures yields 231 results. Several of those verses refer to God remembering his people and his promises. Many are commands for believers to remember God’s commands. Over and over again, we see the prophets lamenting the fact that the people of God have not remembered His faithfulness. We see the writers of the epistles challenging the readers to remember what they have been taught, what they have seen, what they know to be true.
So don’t let all that information just wash over you. Soak it deep into your pores. Drink it in.
There’s a new 4-letter word these days: a word that causes chaos in checkout lines and rages at red lights, a word whose very syllable makes us cringe in horror. We hear – or experience – this word and our entire day can be ruined. That word?
Move small children away from the screen….
We used to have wait for stuff all the time. I waited for “Wizard of Oz” to come on TV (once a year, at Christmas, right after “Sound of Music”). I waited for cartoons on Saturday mornings. I waited to get my film developed to see what my pictures looked like. Later, I waited for Dave to get off the phone so I could get online. Then I waited for the dial-up internet to pop up on my huge desk top computer.
Waiting was part of life for millennia.
Not anymore, though. We – and by “we”, I mean “I” – no longer accept waiting. Food should be fast. Information should be faster. Want to watch “Wizard of Oz”? Sure! On your tablet, your phone, or your TV? And waiting for pics? What?! It’s actually kind of sad that we have no more terrible pictures floating around. Unless someone screen shots a Snap chat…
I am a big fan of technology (she types on her blog, attached to her social media sites…), but I recognize that we have lost something precious as we have gained all these cool gadgets. We have lost the discipline of patience. We have lost the gift of a gentle and quiet spirit. We are so desperately trying to keep up with all the things we don’t have to wait for that we no longer have the ability to enjoy the silence (what is that??).
Patience is a virtue, it is a gift, it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. And patience is developed by *gulp* waiting. So don’t see it as a bad word or an inconvenience – waiting is an opportunity for God to speak to you, to be real to you, to develop patience in you. It really isn’t a 4-letter word. Except that it is. But you know what I mean.
So hurry up….and wait!
God has been working on me, lately, in the area of hating sin. We hear this a lot in reference to others: “Hate the sin, love the sinner” and all. But adages like that tend to make me even more self-righteous than I already am. I need to focus far more on my own sins than the sins of others.
I was reading part of A.W. Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God (free on Kindle!), and was hit pretty hard with this discussion of our sinful nature:
“The tough old miser within us will not lie down and die obedient to our command. He must be torn out of our heart like a plant from the soil; he must be extracted in agony like a tooth from the jaw. He must be expelled from our soul by violence as Christ expelled money changers from the temple. And we shall need to steel ourselves against his piteous begging, and to recognize it as springing out of self-pity, one of the most reprehensible sins of the human heart.”
I have had more than my fair share of dental work in my lifetime, so the image of ripping a tooth from the jaw really resonated with me. When I have had an infected tooth, I HATED it. I wanted that thing out. Now! Whatever it took.
But have I ever viewed sin like that? Take gluttony, for instance. I know it’s a sin. But since my weight is within the “normal(ish)” range, I figure it’s no big deal. Eat that second donut, that handful of leftover Halloween candy…Even though I know I don’t need it. And what about laziness? Also a sin. But, again, I have grown accustomed to it. I know I should clean up, but I’d really rather read. Those dishes will still be there tomorrow. No big deal.
But Tozer reminds me that sin IS a big deal: Jesus had to die because of our sin, because of MY sin. Yet, daily, I squander the amazing gift of salvation by willfully choosing to sin against the God who loves me so deeply.
God doesn’t ask me to let go of sin because He wants me to be miserable, but because He wants me to soar. He knows I can know Him better, serve Him with greater passion, minister more effectively to others when my mind and heart aren’t weighed down by sin.
So I want to hate my sin and love my Savior. I want these “entanglements” gone so I can “run with endurance the race marked out for” me (Heb. 12:1).
I was reading an article today about the young terminally ill woman in Oregon who chose to end her life last weekend. The author, Joni Erickson Tada, gave her perspective on the controversy. I thought it was a gracious and well thought out discussion of a complex issue.
But many readers did not think that. In fact,as I scrolled through the comments, I saw that several readers were angry – VERY angry. And they weren’t just angry that Christians are giving opinions on this matter, they are angry at Christian opinions in general. They are angry that we hold to scriptural principals. They are angry that we believe the Bible. They are angry that we think we’re right about what we believe. So. Very. Angry.
Part of me wanted to just exit out of the site. I only like conflict in fiction. I hate it in real life. Another part of me wanted to respond to some of the comments, so I could convince people to like us. I don’t want to be hated.
We can all see that America is far less “Christian” today than it ever has been. Being a believer used to be totally acceptable, popular, even. But that is changing, and we Christians don’t quite know how to handle it. Some are holing up and avoiding the world all together; some are trying to win the world back to Christianity by accepting sinful actions and attitudes; and some are lashing out, spewing out toxic words and actions, and pushing people even farther away from the Truth.
But the bottom line is that this is what it means to be a Christian — we will be hated. We just haven’t had to deal with it much, as Americans, until now. Ask believers in other countries. They know. They’ve dealt with it for centuries.
As much as I want to be liked, I have to be careful not to let that desire override my desire to be like Jesus. I must love, yes. Deeply and passionately and sacrificially. But I must also stand up for what is right, without compromise. I must be willing to be hated. I must love those who hate me, forgive them, pray for them. But I must not allow their hate to change who I am and what I know to be true.
Brothers and sisters, there are worse things than being hated by the world. Let us not fear it, let us not be surprised by it. After all, ” If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” ~Jesus (John 15:18)
“How do I know what God wants me to do?” This is a question that people of all ages ask – from teens finishing high school to retirees finishing their careers.
First, God has called all of us who are believers in Him to do the same thing: live a life that glorifies God in all that we do. This is of primary importance. I have had several different occupations in my life – day care worker; bank teller; stay-at-home mom; missionary; teacher; writer – but in every one of those jobs, I was first and foremost a follower of Christ. If you aren’t seeking Him in ALL you do, nothing you do will be truly satisfying.
If you are seeking Him, and you’re looking to begin, or maybe change, a career, here are a couple questions to ask:
“What do you like?” God won’t call you to something you hate. He might call you to something you’ve never thought of, or never imagined yourself doing. But it won’t be a job you hate. So think about what interests you: My love for reading led me to major in literature, which ultimately led to my jobs as both an English teacher and a writer. My husband’s passion for the word of God led him to seminary, where he trained to be a professor of the Bible. One of my favorite former students, Janell, took the love she’s always had for science, combined with her deep compassion for others, and chose a career in the medical field.
The second question is, “Where does God put you?” For me, from the time I turned my life over to Him, God kept giving me opportunities to teach. From VBS to Sunday school to Bible studies…age sixteen on, I was thrown in situations where I needed to teach. I didn’t see it at the the time, but looking back, I know it was God preparing me, showing me what He made me to do and helping me to get better at that. So where does God put you? Are you often asked to help organize events? To care for the hurting? Do people always come to you for advice? Consider the places and situations God places you in, in the present, and evaluate what that may mean for your future.
Don’t be among the people – young and old alike – who choose a job because of the prestige it may bring or the salary it may pay. Seek God’s direction. He knows exactly what you should be doing.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11
Jesus, in Matthew 5, tells us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Sometimes, though, as we go through the Christian life, we lose our “shine”. We get dull. Rather than being a light to point people to Jesus, we blend in to the world around us.
I was thinking about “shining” on Saturday night. My daughter, Emma, and her friends went bowling after Homecoming (yep, not much to do in Largo, FL…). I almost turned around because the bowling alley looked deserted from the outside. But we walked in and realized it was because this was “midnight bowling” where the florescent lights were turned off and only black lights were turned on.
As Emma got deeper into the bowling alley, she got brighter. Her neon-coral dress glowed under those lights. It was pretty funny.
As I walked out, I thought about how, though Emma’s dress was bright, it didn’t glow like that at home while she was getting dressed, at the pictures before Homecoming, or at Homecoming itself. Nope, not until she stood under the black lights did that happen.
In the last two to three years, Emma’s relationship with God has grown steadily. She wakes up every morning and reads her Bible, she seeks out other believers for fellowship; before we moved here, she led a girls’ Bible study and was being mentored by godly women at our church. But, in those two to three years, life had been fairly easy for Emma. She was known at church and school, she was comfortable there. She had good friends and a familiar routine.
The move was tough on her because she had to leave so many amazing friends and influences. She left a school where she had a fabulous group of long-time friends, a church where she was plugged in and involved. She could have easily gotten angry at us – and God – for taking her away from all that. But, in what has probably been the “darkest” time for her personally, Emma has chosen to shine. She has chosen to cling to God even through the tough times. And God has blessed her for it – not just with tangible blessings, although there are those, but with internal, soul-deep blessings that will last for eternity.
And, sometimes, that’s why God allows us to experience difficulties: He wants to strengthen us, to grow us, refine us, bless us, so we can shine even brighter for Him.
So if you’re like Emma, and going through a “dark” time, don’t hide in the shadows, don’t allow the darkness to win. Stand under the “black lights” of your trial and SHINE!