Christian walk


I sat snuggled up with my children last night watching The Nativity Story.  It has become an annual tradition for us.  Joseph is so often overlooked as we reflect on the birth of Christ yet he is indeed part of the story.  An honorable man who chose to stay with Mary, to adopt the Child who was not his despite the scorn he surely received from friends and family.  The Nativity Story does a good job of portraying the man of Joseph.  And while scripture does not offer many details about him we know he was a man and had emotions as does any man.  With some creative license we see some of the internal struggles Joseph may have had in taking on this role as Mary’s husband.

With some additional creative license we see Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem after dark.  Mary suddenly goes into labor and Joseph runs frantically from inn to inn seeking a place to stay, pleading with the owners as his wife is about to give birth.  We see Mary pray, ‘Lord, will you not provide for us?’ just as someone finally points and says ‘it’s all I can do.’  You then see Joseph carrying Mary past the animal, shooing them out of the way with his foot.

‘Lord will you not provide for us?’

He did provide.  He always provides.

But His provision for His only begotten Son, for the second Person of the trinity, for the Word made flesh, for the One who spoke all things into existence – was a lowly manger.

Of all the births that ever took place or will even take place, this one deserved a grand entrance.  This one deserved the best of everything.  Yet instead it received accommodations that were subpar even for that time.

And yet I (wicked, sinful, created being) have the nerve to grumble when God’s provision and accommodations in my life are not to my desired standard.

A few weeks ago I had a girls night out with my 2 daughters to attend the Glory of Christmas production at a local church.  This year they focused on the birth of Christ through the eyes of the Wise Men as they followed the star.

I was enjoying the production, following along with the story until the end when the Wise Men finally arrived in Bethlehem.  They showed each coming down the aisle of the church one by one with their gift, approaching the Child, kneeling before Him as they presented the gift.  And that’s when I lost it.

I have a 19 month old son. The thought of having anyone, let alone rich, important, learned men come from afar with gifts, bowing before my son in adoration — in the words of Princess Bride – INCONCEIVABLE!  An infant.  An INFANT.  Who would worship an infant?  Why would anyone worship an infant?

An infant is small physically.  An infant is weak.  Totally dependent upon others for care, for food, for warmth, for clothing, for everything. An infant has no power in this world.  No authority.  No control.

Yet, that is exactly how our Lord chose to enter this world.  As a lowly infant.  Helpless.  Powerless.  Weak.  Dependent.  The KING OF KINGS, the CREATOR OF ALL THINGS entered the world as a weak, small, helpless, powerless, dependent baby.

That scene of the Wise Men coming before the infant King of Kings with all respect and humility, honoring and worshiping Him was more than I could bear.  What a reminder of the humility of our Lord.  What a reminder of His care and sacrifice.  What an AMAZING GOD.

We are all imitators.  It’s not a question of whether we imitate, but rather what we imitate.

I’ve had a vivid reminder of this lately with my 2-year-old son.  Part of our daily routine usually includes Go Fish Guys videos on youtube.  It didn’t take long before he began to mimic the fella in the way they sang the songs, danced or played their instruments.  It cracks me up watching him praise the Lord so enthusiastically due to these videos.  In this case, he is imitating good things, holy things, pure things.

Fireproof has become a favorite movie for my kids lately.  They all like the firefighter action, my son especially.  He has begun quoting the movie, ‘never leave your partner behind, ‘specially in fires.’  Well, he does his best.  And mimicking Caleb.

I have a small garbage pail outside our front door to house the ‘stinky diapers’ because I grew tired of our house and then our garage always smelling wretched.  One day as we were getting ready to go somewhere, he was outside throwing the garbage pail against the wall, and then picking up the diapers and putting them back in.  I corrected him, letting him know that was not okay.  It took a few times of this happening before my daughter explained that he was copying Caleb.  Ah, that makes perfect sense.  But uh-oh, he had picked up that behavior too.

Both of these stories have showed me how my children can be so easily influenced by what they see and hear, but it isn’t just kids.

How many of us adults think that we are free from being influenced by the culture?  That we are so spiritual to think that outside stimuli do not effect us?  I would like to believe this, but I know better.

My husband is a restaurant cook, so when Hell’s Kitchen came out a few years ago, he couldn’t wait to tune in each week.  Gordon Ramsey was entertaining, to say the least, and it was neat to watch the action of the kitchen, so I would often tune in with him.  But a few weeks later I noticed I was growing more impatient with my kids.  I realized that I had adopted a few of the mannerisms of Gordon Ramsey.  For anyone familiar with him or the show, that isn’t really a good thing.  More than once I barked at them like Ramsey did on the show, except these weren’t contestants, they were my children, little gifts from God.  I wish I was above being so influenced, but I am not, so I have chosen to tune-out from this particular show.

We are either growing more like Christ or growing away from Him.  We are either imitating our Heavenly Father or Satan.  There really is no middle ground.  There are plenty of outside influences that we simply cannot avoid each and every day. Unwholesome billboards that we have to drive by, cursing coworkers who talk about  their latest sexually immoral fling, etc.  As Christians we are to guard our minds.  We are to renew our minds.  Not with the latest sitcom, but with the Word of Christ.  We are to dwell on that Word richly.

So my brothers and sisters, by what are you being most influenced today?  Who are what are you most imitating today?  Is it your Savior, or something else?

I tend to be a punctual person.  If something starts at 10am, I am there at 9:45.  I strongly and fervently dislike being late.  As a result, my philosophy is that if I’m always early, I’ll never be late.

Have I mentioned that I tend to be punctual.

I had a good friend in college who was the opposite.  He was always late.  You were supposed to meet at 12pm for lunch, he’d show up at 12:20pm, maybe.  It drove me NUTS.

Even today, with 4-kids in tow, I still strive to be early – and usually achieve that goal. Especially for church functions.

Come Sunday morning, I am determined to get to church on-time, at all costs. Recently, I have recognized that the ‘at all costs” is far too great.  My desire for punctuality can rise to the level of idolatry if I am not careful.

There have been days when my desire to get to church on time has led me to be impatient with my children.  In my impatience, I have at times been harsh and unkind.  I have exalted punctuality over civility, thus perverting true godly character.  In my over-zealous desire to be punctual, I have forfeited the greater joy of patiently, lovingly, leading my children.

So, next time we are cutting it close, next time it seems we may not quite make it on time, I am prayerful that I will respond with graciousness.  I am prayerful that I will be able to laugh at the last minute diaper explosion, or the lost shoe, or the temper tantrum.  I am prayerful that I will remember that God has ordained even those delays, and is giving me a chance to grow in grace and godly character.

A while back my Dad to church with me and the kids.  He suffers from dementia, and taking him for a half a day gave my mom and brother a bit of a break.  It was good for the grandkids to have some time with their Pop, and I got to hang out with Dad.  My brother thought it would be good for my dad to spend some time with us and hoped that he would find church ‘inspirational.’

That got me thinking…should church be inspirational?

I don’t think it’s an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

As a believer, I attend church each week to worship my Lord, to fellowship with the family of God, to be fed by the Word.  I hope to be convicted and challenged, exhorted and encouraged.  In a way, I suppose I hope to be inspired, although that is not the word I would use.  But not in the worldly, ‘you can do it if you put your mind to it’ way.  I hope to be inspired to live a godly life and to trust in the promises of God.

My dad is an unbeliever.  Should church inspire him in some way?  I think not.  It seems to me that an unbeliever should have one of two responses when attending a Bible believing, Bible preaching church.  They should be convicted in a way that brings them to repentance, or it should convict them in a way that angers them.

See, the Word tells us that the cross is a stumbling block for unbelievers (1 Peter 2:8). It is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18).  Christ crucified is not some feel good, inspirational message.  It is an offensive message.  It tells us that we are wicked sinners in need of forgiveness.  To an unrepentant sinner, that ought to cause offense. To a sinner who recognizes his or her sin and comes to repentance, then the message of the cross is the most unbelievable, life changing message ever heard.  With either response, it doesn’t qualify as ‘inspirational.’

So if our church services inspire our unbelieving guests, we may need to rethink how we are ‘doing church.’

It’s strange – yet at the same time completely understandable.  I find that life seems so much less complicated on Sunday mornings.  Standing among my forever family, with my children on either side of me, hands lifted, singing praises to our Lord and King…all the problems, worries and concerns of life melt away.  Life seems to simple.  Life is about praising our God.  No stress in that moment, just joy as I reflect on His amazing love, bestowed upon me, in the person of His Son, my Lord.

Why can’t every moment between Sundays produce that same peace?

Oh, how I long for each Sunday morning.  It is indeed the highlight of my week, and I pray that as my children grow they see that joy, and Sundays become the highlight of their week as well.

I leave church on Sunday, and step back into ‘reality.’  Monday rolls around, as do the daily tasks of laundry, homeschooling, cleaning, etc, only to long for the next Sunday to come.

Oh, for the day that Christ returns, and every ‘day’ becomes our Sabbath day, as well dwell with him in Glory – beyond all the earthly toil we now face each day.

 

I often find myself using the phrase, ‘losing my patience’ with my kids.  It’s my way of letting them know that Mama might blow at any moment…as I think about it more, it’s also my way of excusing a lack of self-control.

Just this morning I used that phrase in a conversation with the maintenance man.  After losing our hot water and heat for the third time in less than two weeks, it’s fair to say that we are rather frustrated.  In speaking with the man, I asked him to pass on to his supervisor that we are losing our patience with this issue.  But is that really accurate?

There are times when one may lose all self-control and erupt in anger – but that is an instantaneous event.  It is not generally pre-meditated, it’s not a conscious decision…it’s still sin, and inexcusable, but it is different from the ‘losing patience’ that I often refer to.

When I say I am losing patience, what I really mean is that as the particular unpleasant situation continues, (or various situations combine) I am making a conscious decision to think and act with less kindness, less patience and less compassion.  Under a guise of ‘losing patience,’ I somehow deceive myself into placing the blame outside of myself, rather than admit that it is my own heart issue.

See, if out of no where I simply explode in anger and yell, my conscience immediately reveals that sin to me…but if it is a slow process, then I can excuse my sin and claim that it was the continual action of my children that caused this sin, because they would not stop.  Losing something is not an intentional act after all.

It is amazing how my mind can twist reality to avoid personal responsibility.

I need to change my language here.  Next time I want to think or say that I am ‘losing my patience,’ I think I’ll replace it with some self-talk that goes something like this, ‘Melissa, you are sinning in thought and deed.  You are seeking an excuse to act in a fleshly way rather than to fight this sin of selfishness.’

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