If you grew up eating animal crackers and drinking fruit juice at Sunday School, there’s a good chance you’ll recognize this classic song:
“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord. Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, nod your head, turn around, sit down!”
By that last verse, you’ve pretty much done a 15-minute HIIT workout, but what’s this song even about?
Galatians 3:6-7 says, “You remember Abraham. Scripture tells us, ‘Abraham believed God and trusted in His promises, so God counted it to his favor as righteousness.’ Know this: people who trust in God are the true sons and daughters of Abraham.“
So, Father Abraham is not just a silly song that gets preschoolers to expound vast amounts of energy; it’s scriptural. We are sons and daughters of Abraham, but notice, it’s not our DNA that proves we are true sons and daughters of Abraham, it’s our belief. It’s us trusting that we are made right with God by grace through faith, fully buying into the fact that we can’t work our way to righteousness. Abraham was the first to walk this out, so naturally, he’s referred to as the father of our faith.
The grace message was a hard pill for the law-loving legalists of Jesus’s day to swallow. They wanted to be made right by keeping the law, and they desired to relate as sons of Abraham based on their genetics–their bloodline. So, they went around proudly singing, Father Abraham had many sons, and I am one of them, but it seems as if they forgot that Abraham had two sons.
Ishmael and Isaac.
And that leads me to a question that the Holy Spirit has asked me several times over the past 21 days: Who is your momma?
God promised that Abraham and Sarah, who were childless and beyond their child-bearing years, would give birth to a son. But instead of patiently waiting to see the promise fulfilled, they took matters into their own hands. They decided to do things their way instead of God’s way. They stepped out of God’s will, and Sarah had Abraham sleep with her servant Hagar. Sarah’s faith was in Hagar’s ability to conceive and bear children, instead of in the promise God gave her. Of course, Hagar became pregnant and Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son, took his first breath nine months later.
From the moment Hagar saw the two pink lines on her First Response test, trouble ensued. I can’t imagine the drama in that household. Hagar thought she was better than Sarah. Sarah was abusive toward Hagar. And Abraham was caught in the middle of it all.
Thirteen years later God tells Abraham that Sarah is going to have a baby, and THIS baby, not Ishmael, will be the son of promise. The son born of Sarah would be the one through which God established His covenant, and a year later Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
Father Abraham now had two sons who were 14 years apart. And just as there was conflict between Hagar and Sarah, there was conflict between Ishmael and Isaac. In Genesis 21 Abraham threw a big party to celebrate Isaac being weaned, and during the festivities, Ishmael began to mock his baby brother. Sarah catches wind of this and here’s what happens next:
Genesis 21:10-12 So she [Sarah] turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son. But God told Abraham, “Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.
As a mother, my heart hurt for Ishmael when I read this. It seemed so ruthless of Sarah and Abraham, and it didn’t seem to line up with the character of God. How could they just send this single mother and her teenage son out into the wilderness? I mean I get it, mama bear comes out when someone messes with your baby, but this punishment seemed too harsh.
I wasn’t able to move past it even though I knew if I studied it out I would fall behind on my Bible reading plan. My heart wasn’t satisfied with the mama bear excuse, so I started to dig, and God began to unpack truths that I know I’ll never forget. I hope you’ll stick with me a little while longer so He can do the same for you.
Galatians 4 is where I found all the answers my heart was hungry for. In verses 21-31 Paul contrasts Abraham’s two sons.
Ishmael was born of a slave in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. Isaac was born of a free woman and was God’s own fulfillment of His promise. Isaac was conceived by grace through faith. Ishmael was conceived according to the flesh.
Ishmael represents legalism and our human attempts to attain righteousness. Isaac represents the gospel, the good news that Jesus made a way for you and me to experience the miracle of salvation.
When I began to see that Ishmael embodied our flesh, our unbelief, and us putting our will before God’s will, sending him packing didn’t seem so harsh anymore. My heart no longer went out to him.
You see, spirit and flesh, unbelief and faith, human effort and the miraculous, law and grace, they just don’t mesh. They can’t abide together peacefully and in the same ruthless way that Ishmael was sent away, we must send away our flesh, our unbelief, and our endeavor to complete our Christian duty checklists to get on God’s good side.
Friends, we are sons and daughters of promise and we’ve got to stop feeling for our flesh!
Galatians 4:31 So then, believers, we [who are born again—reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, and set apart for His purpose] are not children of a slave woman [the natural], but of the free woman [the supernatural].
We are free! We have been given supernatural power over sin. We have authority over our mind, will, and emotions. We are the sons and daughters to which God has left a rich inheritance, and it’s time we start living in it! It’s time to be ruthless with our old man, our sinful nature, in the same way Sarah was ruthless with Ishmael.
This is the time of year when most Christians are wrapping up a fast of some sort. Maybe you’ve been fasting social media, coffee, bread, complaining, sugar, frivolous spending, or secular music. You’ve denied your flesh. And perhaps you’re like me, and you’d admit that a few times during your fast you felt sorry for yourself in the same way that I felt sorry for Ishmael at first glance. Maybe in those moments of sympathizing with your flesh you even gave in and snuck a Starbucks on a super stressful day, only then to feel guilty for the next 24 hours. We’ve all been there. Or maybe you’ve been perfect on your fast, but you can’t wait for it to be over so you can get back to giving your flesh whatever it wants whenever it wants it. That’s not the kind of freedom God’s called us to walk in.
We’re the sons and daughters born into freedom not so we can cave to our sinful desires, but so that we use our authority to send those sinful desires heartlessly into the wilderness, far away from the path on which God has set our feet. Sin has no hold on us.
During my fast this year the Holy Spirit revealed so much to me about my heritage. He helped me to see that when I’m tempted to feel compassion for my flesh, unbelief, and the pull to connect to God through works instead of through grace, that somewhere in my spiritual makeup is the power to say NO.
I am not called to make sure my flesh and my spirit live peaceably with one another. I’m not called to a life of comfort, temporary gratification or short-lived escapes from the world around me. I’m called to live a life of ruthlessly denying my flesh, so my spirit reigns the roost.
I want to experience more of the supernatural and less of reruns on Netflix. I want to experience more of the presence of God and less of the same-sounding top 40 songs. I want to experience more of the lasting comfort of God and less of the fleeting comfort of chocolate, caffeine, and long baths. I want to experience more joy and gratitude and less mood swings and complaining.
Whenever we send our flesh and unbelief away into the wilderness, our spiritual senses become more elevated. We can taste and see and hear and feel God all around, not because we’re working some formula, but because it’s part of our inheritance as sons and daughters of promise.
As you head into a new month and close out your time of fasting, continue to remind yourself that Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham, and you are one of them. You’re the one who represents the gospel and the freedom that Christ set you free to walk in.
Don’t catch feels for your flesh, be like your spiritual momma, and stand up for your spirit!
Ah, Christmas break: the one time of year I refuse to set my alarm and allow myself to sleep until my body feels it’s had enough. I’ve been sleeping till 8 am the last few days which may not seem late to you, but when 5:30 am is your usual wake up call, 8 am feels like noon! It’s been a restful and relaxing two weeks, although the achiever in me is officially ready to get back to accomplishing more than binging Netflix’s Manhunt: Unabomber series.
What a fascinating show, though. I had heard of the Unabomber. I remember seeing his sketch as a child, and since my mom worked for the U.S. Postal Service, we paid attention when his devastating crimes were on the news. I knew he mailed bombs and successfully remained anonymous for 17 long years, but I had never heard the story of how the FBI caught the twisted recluse.
The study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language.
FBI profiler, James Fitzgerald relentlessly studied the Unabomber’s 35,000-word manifesto–the structure and nature of his words. He studied how he phrased things, how he spelled things. And based on his language alone, the profiler was able to predict how old the bomber was, where he grew up, that he lived cut off from the rest of the world, and when he received his Ph.D. All of that and more, just based on studying his type-written words.
Fitzgerald believed that if the manifesto were published, someone, somewhere would recognize the language and turn the Unabomber in, and he was right.
A woman read the manifesto and immediately recognized the language from letters her husband had received from his brother. Could the Unabomber be her brother-in-law whom she had never met? She turned him in as a suspect and handed over a box full of letters Ted Kaczynski had sent to her husband over many years. After matching up words, phrases, and timelines, the FBI got their search warrant which led to Ted’s arrest and a lifetime behind bars.
This was the first search warrant in history based on forensic linguistics. Kaczynski was the first man in the history of the United States convicted on language clues.
Language is very much a part of who we are. The words we say and the way we say them represent our age, our ethnicity, where we grew up, and what we know.
I used to confuse my husband when we were dating when I started talking about crayons because I pronounce them “crowns.” He thought it was just a weird Sarah word, but the more he got to know my family, he realized we all say “crowns.” And it doesn’t end there; it seems that everyone who grew up in East Tulsa says it the same way. Josh was a South Tulsa kid, and it’s easy to tell when he says “Cray-ons” all fancy like.
I’m sure you can think of specific words or phrases you say, that would be concrete enough evidence to prove you were a 90s kid, an avid C.S. Lewis reader, a west-coaster or an east-coaster.
But what about a Christ-follower? Is your speech, your writing, the way you string words together, concrete enough evidence to prove your devotion to God and His way of doing things?
Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or SAY, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Whatever we do or SAY. God’s Word is clear: our words matter.
If a linguistics expert were to study you, combing over the 20,000 words you say in a day, would they conclude that you were just like Jesus? Do the words that come out of your mouth or off of your fingertips represent Jesus?
Every word Jesus said was full of truth and grace. His words were deliberate, thought through. Full of hope. He was never talking just to hear Himself talk, but to set captives free.
Every. Moment. Red. Letter.
Everyone could tell He wasn’t from around these parts. He was always talking Kingdom. His words were futuristic and confident, but not prideful. He was honoring–so, so honoring of His father. He spoke love, and he never complained, like ever. He was full of wisdom and perfect advice. He used his speech to encourage.
I could go on and on about the beautiful language of Jesus, but I think this statement from Him sums it all up.
The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. John 6:63
If everything we say is meant to represent Jesus than everything we say should be spirit and life. And because Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to flow in and through us like a mighty river, we have everything we need to represent Jesus and represent Him well!
I’ve noticed when I speak spirit to spirit with my kids it goes over so much better than when I speak from my flesh to theirs. My flesh accomplishes nothing. I can yell and be annoyed and tell them to stop being mean to each other, or I can ask the Holy Spirit to speak through me as I sit them down and purpose to represent Jesus and get to the root of the issue at hand–whether it’s jealousy or someone just being tired and hungry.
When I speak life over my husband, he receives it. He soaks it up. It charges him to step right on into whatever God is calling him to do. But when I speak death the opposite happens.
Spirit and Life or Flesh and Death? You get to choose. You get to decide how you’ll string words together this year. You get to decide if you’ll let your flesh lead the way in your day-to-day conversations or if you’ll allow the Spirit to work through you. You get to decide if you speak death over yourself by agreeing with the lies of the enemy or if you speak life by agreeing with the promises of God. The choice seems obvious to me, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s not easy.
It’s humanly impossible to represent Jesus with whatever we say or type this year, unless, we decide to let Him do the heavy lifting.
Matthew 11:29-30 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.
If you’ll accept this holy burden to speak spirit and life and allow Jesus to be your teacher, you can genuinely represent Him to every person you come in contact with this coming new year. And that’s good news because what the world needs is more of Him and less of us.
Remember, language is very much a part of who we are. The words we say and the way we say them represent our age, our ethnicity, where we grew up, and what we know.
May our language represent Jesus and everything good and perfect that He stands for. Spirit and Life, friends, Spirit and Life!
The American Hospital Association recommends healthcare providers use the following terminology when describing the condition of a patient. Undetermined: The patient hasn’t been diagnosed yet. Stable: The patient’s vital signs are normal, and even though they might be in pain, recovery is favorable. Serious: The patient is very ill, and vital signs may be unstable. Critical: The patient has unstable vitals that are not normal, and could be unconscious. Indicators for recovery are unfavorable.
No one ever wants to hear that a loved one is in critical condition. Those two words carry an awful amount of weight with them. Weight that sends you to your knees, begging God to intercede–to do something–to miraculously change the condition of the person whose life in on the line.
We live in a day and age where we have been conditioned to be critical, and because of this, there are far too many Christians walking around with spiritual condition health charts stamped: critical. Their vitals are not normal. They aren’t showing signs of joy, freedom, peace, and victory like they should be. Many of them are completely unconscious, painfully unaware that they suck life out of people with their steady stream of negativity. And unless things drastically improve, a full recovery is not looking good.
The old adage, “everyone’s a critic,” is truer today than it’s ever been. With just a few taps here and a few clicks there, we can let everyone know what we think about the new restaurant in town or the movie we saw over the weekend. We no longer need Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs; thanks to Facebook we’ve got millions of thumbs to communicate what we do or don’t like. There’s a whole entertainment industry built around judges who get paid millions to sit back and criticize performers. Hear me, I am a huge fan of apps like Rotten Tomatoes and Yelp. I’m an avid Facebook user, and I watch reality TV talent shows too, but if we aren’t careful, the judgmental nature of the culture in which we live can affect our view finder, causing us to focus on the worst instead of the best.
I’ll be the first to admit, I struggle with this. Sunday mornings are game day for me. My husband and I pastor a two-year-old church plant. We’ve put our heart and soul into this thing. It’s not just a hobby or something we do for fun, it’s our family’s mission. Every week we have amazing church services. There are people everywhere, worship is so good it makes you want to literally never stop singing, we have the best volunteers in the world, ministry is happening on every level. But even among all the good, my critical eye can spot something that could be better and sometimes instead of going home praising God for all He did, I find myself consumed with the one thing that wasn’t perfectly executed.
If you are like me, I want you to know that being able to spot things that could be better is not a bad thing. It’s actually a really great gift God has placed in you, and if stewarded well can be used to improve your sphere of influence. But, if the bad is all you seem to focus on, you will lose your ability to enjoy life, and that doesn’t sit well with the One who came so that you might have AND ENJOY life.
I have known a few professional fault finders in my day. They don’t get paid in cash to look for shortcomings in every person or situation they have ever encountered, instead, they get paid with the temporary gratification of feeling a little bit better about themselves when they criticize others. They tirelessly read into everyone’s every word and endlessly examine everything with intent to find dirt so that it makes them appear a little shinier.
I have also known some people who aren’t negative toward others, but they’ll be the first and fastest to point out their own flaws. They don’t want to give anyone else a chance to criticize them, so in an effort to protect their heart, they criticize themselves.
Neither of those kinds of people could be described as joyful because when we spend our days criticizing ourselves and others, or focusing solely on the negative, we negate the cross. We make null the above-and-beyond life that Jesus wants for us here on earth, as it will be in heaven.
So how do we overcome? How do we condition our hearts to see and celebrate God’s goodness instead of being negative?
First, we have to recognize that having a critical spirit is a critical situation. We have to see that it’s hurtful to God, ourselves, and others, and we must earnestly desire change.
You are probably familiar with Luke 6:37, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” But let’s look at in The Message paraphrase:
Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.
This isn’t a suggestion. It’s a command from Jesus Himself. Don’t criticize people. Don’t dig for dirt, dig for gold. Don’t waste your time judging every human’s words, actions, or motives, unless you want your every word, action, and motive to be judged.
In Matthew 14, Mary pours out a very expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ head, and the disciples jumped all over her.
Matthew 14:8-9 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”
I love Jesus’ response in verse 10, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?”
Maybe the disciples criticized Mary because they were jealous. I’m sure the fact that she was able to bless Jesus with such an extravagant gift and they couldn’t made them feel like they were in competition with her. If you find yourself criticizing others, there may be some jealousy issues that need dealt with. Or maybe they genuinely thought she was being wasteful. So what if they did. It was not their place to judge her intentions, and Jesus wasn’t about to let them slide. This is a serious issue to Him, and it should be to us as well.
Secondly, we have to repent.
Repenting is more than saying you’re sorry or asking God to forgive you. True repentance is when you realize that what you are doing is sin, and then you turn away from it. It’s proving that you’ve had a change of heart.
Matthew 3:8 So produce fruit that is consistent with repentance [demonstrating new behavior that proves a change of heart, and a conscious decision to turn away from sin].
How are you going to demonstrate that your critical condition has changed? What’s your plan for producing fruit that is consistent with a repentant heart? If we don’t have a plan in place, I’m afraid we’ll fall right back into our negative ways. Your plan may look different from the plan of the person sitting next to you, but here’s one thing both plans must have in place: allow your Creator to create again.
Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
If your heart is full of negative thoughts toward yourself, others, or just life in general, then it’s going to be difficult keeping criticism from coming out of your mouth every time you open it.
So how do you change what’s in your heart? There are several typical Christian devotional answers that apply here. Read your Bible more, pray more, fast more, go to church more, serve more, give more, more, more, more and while more of these things are always a great idea, I believe in order to overcome a critical spirit, we need more than more, we need new.
Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast spirit within me.
Create and Renew. We need to ask God, like David did, to create in us a new heart that would be, “firm in the purposes of virtue; that would not yield to temptation; that would carry out holy resolutions; that would be steadfast in the service of God” (Barnes 88). We need to ask God to renew a right spirit in us, because even though we are new creations in Christ, wrong spirits still like to hang around.
You can’t change on your own. You can’t, in your own strength, go from a glass-half-empty person to a glass-half-full person. You can’t go from always seeing flaws to always noticing God’s goodness. You can’t create a new heart for yourself. But thankfully, you have a connection. The Connection! You can walk boldly into the throne room and ask Him to create in you a clean heart and to renew a right spirit inside you, and what you thought might take weeks, months, or even a lifetime to overcome, He will change in a moment. Instead of reading and praying to try to run off negativity, you’ll be reading and praying because your clean heart desires to be full of His Word and your right Spirit desires constant communion with Him.
Let’s not be okay with a chart that reads critical. Instead, let God take the places of our hearts that have been tarnished by negativity and allow Him to make them new again. Let’s get our joy, peace, freedom, and victory levels steady again so we can be living testimonies of his goodness.
For a free small group study guide to go along with this article, click here.
Barnes, Albert. Notes, Critical, Explanatory, and Practical, on the Book of Psalms. Vol. 2, Harper, 1869
“The walls of the heart are elastic, and desire expands them.”
That gets my vote for the most eye-opening sentence I’ve read this year.
A few weeks ago, I was on my back on my bedroom floor, trying to catch my breath after a dreaded cardio workout, and trying to hear from God. I knew I only had a few minutes until my kid’s internal roosters cock-a-doodle-do’d and sent them down the long hall way from their bedrooms to mine. I held my phone in the air above my face while I read through a familiar chapter in Romans. A certain verse seemed to stand out from the rest. I swiped over to a commentary and that’s when I read those eye-opening words, “The walls of the heart are elastic, and desire expands them.” That got me off my back. I sat up, and the Holy Spirit started to unpack mountains of truth in the blink of an eye. His message was loud and clear:
Expand Your heart, daughter. Desire more.
The Holy Spirit is an extravagant gift giver. The focus of I Corinthians 12 is all about spiritual gifts. The word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, the gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
Each of these gifts has a two-fold purpose–one: to glorify Jesus, and two: to strengthen and encourage other people.
We are told more than once in scripture to earnestly desire these gifts. In the words of Dwight K. Schrute, “Question…” How are you doing with that? Be completely honest with yourself. When was the last time you were craving, desiring, or aching to unwrap one of those gifts?
Some do not desire the gifts of the Spirit because they simply don’t understand them or have never heard that they should desire them. Maybe you’ve assumed these gifts are reserved for special people on a ministry staff. Others don’t desire the gifts because of selfishness. Most Christians spend more time working on a better “me” instead of looking to build others up.
Think about the purpose of the gifts again: to glorify Jesus and to strengthen and encourage other people. These gifts have little to do with the one who is told to desire them and much to do with others. I wonder if we would crave spiritual gifts in a greater way if they were for our personal gain. #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmm
The call of this devotional is to expand the walls of our hearts with a desire for spiritual gifts, because when we make room in our elastic-lined hearts for the gifts of the Spirit, we will begin to operate in them. Our actions will begin to glorify Jesus and encourage others.
Let’s quickly look at each of the gifts mentioned in I Corinthians 12 in order to create a deeper hunger in ourselves for them.
● Gift of Wisdom: The Holy Spirit working through us so we can hear and speak wise counsel, especially in an important situation.
● Gift of Knowledge: The unique ability to share knowledge that could only be revealed supernaturally and to know what is true.
● Gift of Faith: The ability to fully trust God in any situation.
● Gift of Healing: The Spirit working through us to pray for the sick and see them healed.
● Miraculous Powers: The Holy Spirit working through us to “override” the laws of nature and divinely intervene in situations.
● Gift of Prophecy: The Holy Spirit working through us to build up, encourage, comfort, and strengthen others in a naturally supernatural way.
● Distinguishing Between the Spirits: The Holy Spirit working through us to recognize what is influencing people and to decipher what is of the Spirit and what is not.
● Gift of Tongues: A personal language of prayer given by God, so a believer can communicate with Him beyond the limits of their own knowledge and understanding.
● Gift of Interpretation: Allows tongues to benefit those, other than the one speaking in tongues, by interpreting the heavenly language into an earthly language.
Now, some of you may already be wondering which gifts you have or you’re trying to decide which gifts you want. I know they are in list form, but don’t look at this list like a sandwich bag at Which Wich where you get to decide which gifts sound good to you. That’s the Holy Spirit’s call. More important than knowing the name of the gift that’s at work through you, or choosing the one which suits you best, is the desire to be used by God however He sees fit.
Make your prayer be, “Lord I want to bring glory to Jesus today, and I want to strengthen and encourage others.” Let your desire for the gifts grow and expand the walls of your heart, and as you do that, you can expect that God will give you the desires of your heart. He will begin to use you, and you’ll begin to discover, pinpoint, and appreciate the gifts in operation in your life.
One gift we are told to especially desire is the gift of prophecy (I Corinthians 14:1). Let’s make that our focus this month.
Prophecy is simply allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us to build up, encourage, comfort, and strengthen others in a naturally supernatural way.
That’s one of my favorite phrases ever: naturally supernatural.
We often see the Holy Spirit as spooky, but He’s not. He wants to work supernaturally through what’s natural to you.
If it’s natural for you to text a friend, the Holy Spirit can supernaturally work through a text message. I get supernatural texts quite often. This morning a friend texted me to let me know she was praying for me and that God wanted me to know I was covered and loved. I had no idea, and my friend had no idea, that my afternoon would bring some very stressful things my way. The words in that text came back to my heart and comforted me. The Holy Spirit prophesied to me, through her, via text.
Ladies, let’s desire the gifts. Let’s desire to glorify Jesus and encourage and strengthen others: our spouses, children, friends, our small group, co-workers, people we serve with at church, whoever the Lord brings to our attention. Let’s not make this a “part” of our everyday lives, segregated and compartmentalized, rather, let this be who we are: glorying Jesus and encouraging others.
For a free small group study guide to go along with this article click here.
I am the mom who cries when her babies get shots at the doctor’s office, and yeah, I’m also the mom who gets her kids vaccinated. (Insert shocked emoji face here!) I hope we can still be friends.
When my oldest son Gus was three, I took him to the dentist for a checkup and found out he had eight cavities. Yep, eight. I promise, I take good care of my children, I just had no idea that a preschooler was not ready to wield a toothbrush on his own. #FirstKidProbs. He took the brunt of all our first-time parenting faux pas, but by the grace of God he’s turning out just fine. And you’ll be happy to know my second and third child are filling free. When Gus went back to get his mouth filled with silver, I asked my husband to take off work for the appointment so I didn’t have to see my little buddy all gassed up for dental surgery. I would have been a blubbering mess.
I love the scene in the movie Storks where the little pink-haired baby starts to cry while Tulip, the woman in charge of delivering the pink-haired baby, tries to ignore her. The film cuts to a sequence of caring mommas throughout history protecting their babies all while REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” plays in the background. It cuts back to Tulip whose maternal instincts kick in and she can’t take it anymore. She MUST comfort the crying pink-haired baby!
Mothers do not like to see their children in pain, physically or emotionally. It’s part of our genetic makeup! God could not watch as Jesus hung on the cross. He had to turn His face away.
Like the women in the Storks sequence who were literally shielding their babies, we do our best to shield our kids from anything that might cause their hearts to ache.
Last October I got a fun little surprise in the form of two pink lines. I was pregnant! We had just packed away the crib and decided to wait another three or four years for the final installment of Blount children, so I was shocked, but thrilled at the same time. I love being pregnant, and I love newborns, and I knew our kid’s excitement would be through the roof when we shared our news with them. I took two blood tests to confirm and the doctor said my levels looked great and that he would see me in nine weeks. I was already showing, and I knew I couldn’t wait nine more weeks to tell our friends and family, so about two weeks after we found out, I planned a big scavenger hunt that ended with a little video where we told the kids a new baby would be joining our family in June!
I have NEVER seen joy hit my kids like that before, and you should know they are very happy kids who have had a very happy, Disneyland-filled life. But this was something they had been asking for and praying for and thinking about for a while. Our oldest cried genuine tears of joy. Our middle jumped up and down and squealed for a good five minutes straight. And our youngest just kept hugging everyone because she knew we were all so happy. It’s a moment I’ll never forget even though I totally blew it and did not hit the record button on my phone to capture it all on video.
The new baby was all my kids could talk about. The papers they brought home from school had drawings and notes on the back of them about their new brother, since they had already decided it was going to be a boy. They had to say good morning and good night to my puffy tummy. And they prayed sincere prayers, asking God to help the baby grow big and strong and healthy.
Three days of celebrating came to an abrupt halt after I miscarried. As shocked as I was to find out I was pregnant, I was even more shocked to miscarry. My third pregnancy ended when I had to deliver our son stillborn, and after that I prayed and believed and trusted God that I would never lose another baby again. And I was convinced I wouldn’t. But I did.
Of course I was heartbroken over the loss of life, but the thing that hurt the most was knowing that I was going to have to tell my kids. There was no way around this. I would have to watch their hearts break.
I was so mad at myself. Why? Why didn’t I follow the pregnancy announcement protocol? Why didn’t I wait longer to tell the kids? I could have saved them. I could have shielded them. I could have kept them in their bubble.
I’ll never forget sitting in my kitchen the afternoon of the miscarriage, sorting out Bingo cards for a Halloween party at my kid’s school that I was in charge of hosting later that day, my eyes blurry from all the tears. I knew that in just a few short hours, after school was over, we were going to have to sit the kids down and let them know that life isn’t perfect. As I punched out Charlie Brown bingo markers and beat myself up for seemingly jumping the gun with the pregnancy announcement, the Holy Spirit came and does what the Holy Spirit was sent to do. He comforted me with these words, “You can’t always shield your kids from heartache, but you can show them how to overcome.”
In other words, what’s done is done. You can’t protect them from this one, but you can use this situation to help them see that the greater One lives in them, and because of that, they can find victory in the midst of a terrible loss.
After I painfully smiled my way through the class party and got the kid’s home from school, we sat them down in the living room and broke the news. They wept and moaned and cried for what felt like an eternity. Josh and I cried with them and held them and let them cry until they were ready to talk. They were so confused. How could this happen? Why did this happen? I didn’t feel equipped to answer those questions, because honestly I didn’t know how and why it happened, and I still don’t. It still doesn’t make sense. But in that moment we told them what we DID know: God is faithful, no matter what. God never leaves us nor forsakes us. God will heal our broken hearts. God will turn this sad story into a happy one.
We stayed in our living room for hours that night and talked about heaven and the hope we have in Jesus, and what I thought would be one of the worst nights of my life ended up being one of the best, because that night I got to see that my children’s faith in God was immovable, even in the midst of a storm. Their eight and five-year-old hearts held tightly to the promises of God. The Jesus they have always sung about and read about and talked about became even more real to them that October night.
John 16:33 says, “Here on earth we (me, you, my kids, your kids) will have many trials and sorrows.” But then it encourages us with this, “take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world.”
When our kids are faced with real-life challenges, our tendency is to shield them from as much pain as possible. We don’t want them to ever have to experience hurt feelings, rejection, not making a sports team, the death of someone they love, disappointment, or anything else that would cause their little hearts to hurt, but sometimes we shield them from too much and they grow up never getting a chance to fully lean on God.
Psalm 103 tells us to lean not on our own understanding, but to trust in the Lord with all our hearts. You can’t expect to ever stop leaning on your own understanding if you live in a world where everything makes sense, and I fear that’s the kind of world we try to create for our children.
But what if we let them face some challenges? What if we stop trying to shield them from every single thing and start giving them opportunities to put their trust in the Lord? I think we would raise the fiercest generation of sons and daughters the world has ever seen. A generation who knows how to get back up when they get knocked down. A generation whose faith in God is real, tested, and unshakable. A generation who knows where to turn when the wind and waves come. A generation full of sure-footed, steady-handed, battle-worthy conquerors.
The last thing my eight-year-old said to me that night as I tucked him into bed was, “Mom, this has been the saddest day of my life…but I will never stop trusting God.”
If there are no rough roads to walk, no mountains to climb, and no battles to fight, our children miss out on the God of John chapter 16, the God who has overcome the world.
Mommas, love, protect, and defend your children, but when the Spirit leads you to, lower that heavy shield so God can display His glory in the lives of your children.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
We’ve all heard those four words before, either while watching reruns of COPS or on the other end of the phone after you’ve dialed for help. I’ve never had to dial those three numbers, but I’ve known them by heart as long as I can remember, and I’ve made it a point to make sure my kids know them, too.
But the National Emergency Number Association hasn’t always existed. In fact, there were ninety-two long years between the first ever phone call made by Alexander Graham Bell and the first ever phone call made to 9-1-1. Prior to 1968, if you wanted to report an emergency, you had to dial your local precinct.
Everything changed after 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was murdered while she was on her way to her New York City apartment after a late-night bartending shift. A few weeks after Kitty’s tragic and senseless death, The New York Times reported that 38 witnesses heard Kitty’s screams for help, screams that went on for 30 minutes, yet help never arrived. The number of bystanders has since been disputed, but the fact that several people failed to respond remains.
Where was the breakdown? Why didn’t Kitty’s neighbors get out of bed and pick up the phone to call the police upon hearing her horrific screams? Some claim they did. Some reported they didn’t want to get involved. Some figured someone else would make the call. Some took cues from the other neighbors they observed doing nothing and decided to do nothing as well.
Kitty’s complacent neighbors showcased the need for a central response center, which brought about the 9-1-1 emergency call system we know today.
When I heard Kitty’s story my heart was filled with conviction. I found myself recalling moments when I had acted like her New York City neighbors: hearing cries for help, either through a friend’s Facebook post or a barista’s sad disposition, but ignoring the cries because I didn’t have time to get involved, or I was counting on the fact that someone else would step in. Thinking thoughts like, “Well someday I can respond, but right now I don’t have the programs or infrastructure in place, so it’s just not the right time.”
I repented and asked the Lord to help me change my casual bystander mindset, and He led me to a very familiar passage of scripture and helped me read it with a fresh pair of eyes. Aren’t you thankful for a gracious God who sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and for the Word that is always transforming us into a more accurate image of Christ?
In Luke 10, a religious scholar asks Jesus what to do to receive eternal life. He wasn’t asking how to become immortal. Everyone is born an eternal being; after leaving the earth we either live forever in heaven or forever in hell. What this man is asking is how to receive life that comes from God, an above-and-beyond kind of life that you can live in right now!
Jesus answers the scholar with a question, “How do you interpret the law?” His response became one of the most well-known scriptures in the entire Bible.
Luke 10:27 “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
What did Jesus think of this answer? Let’s keep reading.
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.” Looking for a loophole, he [the scholar] asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus then shared the story of the good Samaritan.
A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was attacked by robbers and left for dead. Luckily, witnesses would roll up on the scene: a priest and a Levite. These men would surely help, right? Nope.
It’s so strikingly similar to the story of Kitty Genovese. Only this story has a happy ending.
Luke 10:33 A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.”
The Samaritan felt compassion for the bloody and beaten man. The scripture says his heart went out to him. How many times do we encounter people on our paths and send our hearts out to them, but stop there? We feel compassion, empathy, sadness, anger, disgust, pity, “all the feels,” if you will, while forgetting that all the feels in the world, without a sacrificial response, don’t amount to anything.
We have to take care of the people God places in our lives in the same way we take care of ourselves. We sacrifice to make sure dinner is on the table for our families. We sacrifice to make sure our kids have incredible birthday parties. We sacrifice to make sure we have a roof over our heads and clothes on our back. But what are we sacrificing for our neighbor?
I know sometimes the world seems hopeless, and it’s easier to keep your head down and just make sure that you and yours are happy and healthy, but Jesus says if we want to step into eternal living right now, we have to move from bystanders to first responders.
Let’s not wait for someone else to make the call. Let’s not roll over and hope someone else steps in. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears. Ask Him for a genuine concern for the ones in plain sight—a concern for both their social and spiritual needs—and then be ready to respond. It could be a phone call, providing a warm coat to someone who is cold, an offer to babysit for a friend, bringing flowers to the gal who does your nails, a home-cooked meal for someone going through a hard time, asking someone if you can pray for them, a hand-written note, spending time at a nursing home or a homeless shelter, or buying lunch for the man carrying the card-board sign on the corner. God’s not asking you to start a global ministry; He’s simply asking you to love Him and love people. Don’t overcomplicate it; see a need and fill the need.
Love wins, but only when we respond.
A visionary is someone with a strong vision of the future. It seems like a title reserved for a select few: people like Walt Disney, George Lucas, Brian Houston, Steve Jobs, or Nelson Mandela. But I believe every born again believer can live in such a way that “visionary” will come up at some point during their eulogy.
God was a visionary. He envisioned the sky with its clouds, moon, stars, and sun. He envisioned the sea with its white waves, jellyfish, and coral. He envisioned the giraffe with its giant spots, extra-long eyelashes and black tongue. And He envisioned you.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.
Before you took your first breath, God had a strong vision for your future. He is a visionary, and because His very Spirit lives in you, you are a visionary.
Don’t scoff. Quit inwardly rolling your eyes. I know you may not feel like a visionary, but if that’s the case, it’s only because you’ve never identified with that part of your spiritual DNA. You were created to have a strong vision of your future, the good hope-filled future that God has prepared for you.
Last October Josh and I were headed to Birmingham, Alabama for a very anticipated ministry conference and three days with no kids (Hallelujah! Can I get an amen?). When we arrived at the airport we found that our flight had been cancelled. Insert devastated emoji face here. We couldn’t get a flight out until the next day, which just wouldn’t have worked. It was drive 10 hours, or don’t go at all. We decided to drive it. We rented the cheapest car we could find and took off. A few minutes into the trip Josh discovered the car did not have a cruise control feature. He was a good sport about it, but I know driving 10 hours without being able to set the cruise control and just…you know…cruise, made the trip more work for him.
Cruise control on a 10-hour road trip is a good, good thing. It’s so easy to pick a speed, pick a lane, get comfortable, and set off to your destination, but visionaries understand that if you want the future to look different, you have to do something different.
If you want 2017 to be more fulfilling than 2016, than you’ll have to turn cruise control off. You’ll have to be okay with uncomfortable. You’ll have to desire different. If you keep on keeping on like you kept on last year, you’ll repeat the same year.
What would 2017 look like if you spent time seeking God and asking Him to reveal His vision for you to you? Remember, He said every stage of our lives was laid out in front of Him before our “birth” days!
He has envisioned what your relationship with Him looks like this year. He has envisioned your marriage. He has envisioned your career, your savings account, your friendships, your family life, your influence, your health, your mornings, your lunch breaks, your world. He’s envisioned it all, now it’s your turn. It’s your turn to kick into visionary mode. It’s your turn to dream about what God has planned for you this year.
Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”
I believe God is calling you to “run with it,” but before you can run with it, you must take time to understand what “it” is. Sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and let God start to reveal His vision for you to you. Make it plain, easy to understand, create a timeline, think through practical steps that will make the vision become a reality. Write those steps down, and then read what you wrote and read it often. Keep it in front of your eyes, and then you can run with it and live out the life God has envisioned for you.
You are a visionary.
I’ll just come right out and say it. I’m not a fan of talking on the phone. I used to like it. I liked it so much that when I lived at my parent’s house they got me my own phone line so I wasn’t always tying up theirs or making it impossible for the dial-up modem to connect to the Internet. But that was before I owned a cell phone. More importantly that was before I owned an iPhone.
My dislike for talking on the phone came when I got one of those bad boys. It was just so much simpler to text than it was to talk; especially with a 2-year-old running around. Now, I have three children at home and I rarely answer my phone. I’ll answer a text pretty quickly, but if you call me, you’ll have to wait until the baby goes down for a nap and the big kids are being entertained by a monkey and the man with the yellow hat before I call you back.
Since I communicate so much via text messaging I’ve come to appreciate Auto Correct. This is a handy software feature that automatically replaces a word or suggests an alternate word, if the word you type does not appear in the built-in dictionary on your phone.
For instance, if I had too much soy sauce with my sushi, and my extra-puffy fingers accidentally text, “I kovr sushi,” Auto Correct knows that kovr is not a word and what I meant was, “I Iove sushi,” and automatically changes kovr to love—so smart!
Your phone will also train itself to recognize certain words that are not in its dictionary, if you text them often enough. When I first had my daughter, Beau, her name was not in my dictionary, and Auto Correct was always trying to change it to something else. But after I declined the word replacement suggestion enough times it learned that Beau was what I was actually wanting to text. It even learned to automatically capitalize it.
I was texting my husband the other day and watching all the words I mistyped transform into the words I meant to type and I thought to myself, we need Auto Correct on more than just our phones, we need it in our minds.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every time you started to have a wrong thought, your mind would auto correct and replace that thought with a right one? Imagine what kind of effect that could have on your life. If you are thinking right, you are talking right, making right decisions, producing the right kind of fruit, attracting the right kind of relationships. All would be right in your world if you could only program your mind with an Auto Correct feature.
I’ve got good news. You can. You don’t have to hire a computer programmer or a brain surgeon. You don’t have to pay a fortune. You don’t have to take special vitamins or eat a certain diet or be a part of Mensa. All you need is a Bible.
II Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
The Word of God, when mediated upon, has the power to auto correct your thoughts. When you study and memorize scripture you are downloading information into your mind and spirit that will override and correct any wrong information you’ve been programmed with, so you can be equipped to do all that God put you on this planet to do.
You may have programmed yourself to think that stress is a normal part of life and something that you just have to deal with. You may even start certain days proclaiming, “This is going to be a stressful day!” But if you study the Word you’ll see that that way of thinking is wrong. The Bible says not to worry about anything. The Bible says Jesus came to make our burdens light. The Bible says Jesus is the Prince Of Peace. If you make those truths a part of your life, they will auto correct your thoughts when you begin to feel stressed or overwhelmed. They will change your proclamation from, “This is going to be a stressful day,” into “This is the day the Lord has made. He’s going to carry my burdens! He’s going to command peace over my day. He’s going to lead me beside still waters. He’s going to calm my storms.”
You may have programmed yourself to think that your dream is too big. You find yourself doubting the call God has placed on your life or trying to figure out how you can make it happen in your own strength. But if you study God’s Word, and the lives of men like Noah and David, you’ll reprogram yourself to correct those thoughts with things like, “My God is faithful! He who started a good work will finish it. He makes all things work together for my good. His ways are better than my ways!”
We all live in the same fallen world and we have all been programmed with thoughts that do not line up with the Word of God, but we can train our minds to replace those thoughts—to correct those thoughts—by filling our inner dictionary with promises and principles from God’s Word.
It may not happen overnight. Just like it took several times of me declining whatever word my phone suggested, when I typed Beau’s name. It may take you several times of declining whatever wrong thoughts pop into your mind first, but eventually if you keep putting the Word of God in your spirit, it will stick. God’s Word will be the first suggestion that pops up in every area of your life. Truth will override everything else and all will be right with you.
Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (II Tim 3:17, MSG)
Christian Kids In Public Schools
I love this time of year. Giant pencils hanging from the ceiling at Target, directing me toward the school supplies. Tax-free shopping for new shoes and skinny jeans, for my pride and joys. The anticipation of getting back into a routine.
On Thursday, my firstborn will have his first day of first grade. This time last year I was gearing up to send my little guy to kindergarten at—dun, dun dun—public school! I was kind of a wreck.
I grew up in public school. A big, 6-A public school. I was a Union Redskin from kindergarten until graduation day. I loved it and I turned out okay, right? So why was the thought of sending my son to public school so hard to wrap my mind around.
Maybe it’s because in 1990, when I started kindergarten, things were different. There were no 5-year-olds with their own iPads. Christmas break was called Christmas break instead of “winter” break. I could walk to school with my older brother and play in the front yard when I got home, even though my mom wasn’t home from work yet. School shootings were unheard of. No one knew what the Internet was and my teachers just stuck to the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. There was no need to discuss same-sex marriage and gender-identity curriculum didn’t exist yet.
Don’t get me wrong, I was exposed to all kinds of things in public school, but times have really changed over the last 25 years and there’s no denying that Jesus isn’t welcome at public schools anymore. So how could I send my little boy into a place where Jesus wasn’t welcome? Well, I had no choice. Christian school, where we lived, was too expensive, and I didn’t feel like I was called to home school.
I really needed peace about this, so I brought it to the Lord, and He delivered.
In the second chapter of Exodus you can read about the birth of one of the greatest heroes in the Bible, Moses—and his amazing momma, Jochebed.
A few verses before we read about Moses being born, we read about Pharaoh ordering every newborn boy be thrown into the Nile River. Pharaoh was inexplicably evil, willing to murder precious baby boys so that the Israelites would not grow to outnumber his people.
Can you imagine the horror Jochebed felt when she delivered Moses and her midwife whispered in her ear, “It’s a boy.” You know for nine months as she carried him she hoped and prayed that she would have a girl, for a girl she could keep. But God gave her a son, now what was she going to do with him?
The Bible said she saw Moses was special. She could see God’s hand on this baby boy’s life, so she kept him hidden for three months. I have three children and let me tell you it would be very, very difficult to keep an infant hidden for three months. I’m guessing she never let him “cry it out” to get him sleep-trained. She probably couldn’t let him cry at all. She was probably with him every waking minute, and I’m sure her bond with him grew stronger each passing day, but the time had come when she realized she couldn’t hide him any longer. She made a basket for him, lined it with his favorite blankie, put him in it, and left the basket near the river in some tall grass. She had to be terrified, right? Wrong!
Hebrews 11:23 (NKJV) By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.
This verse tells us she was not afraid. Moses’ parents hid him not out of fear but out of faith! When Jochebed left her baby in the basket that day, she was showing God she trusted Him to take care of her son. She stepped out in faith and God followed with favor. God not only took care of her son, but He made a way for Jochebed to continue to mother her beautiful baby boy.
As a Christian mom sending my child to public school, I felt a little like I was putting him in a basket in the Nile River. I had to choose: fear or faith?
After reading about Jochebed, it was easy to choose faith.
Jochebed sent Moses into a land where God was not welcome and just think about how mightily the Lord used him! God had a plan for Moses; He has one for my kids, and your kids, too!
When I dropped my son off last year, I didn’t shed a tear. I wasn’t sad or fearful, but full of faith. I believed that like Psalm 127 says, he is an arrow, an arrow we had spent the last five years sharpening, an arrow that would go out and fulfill His purpose. I believed that the Holy Spirit would guide him and lead him when choosing friends. I believed that he would be a light and a leader. I believed he would have favor with his teachers. I believed God would protect him physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually and that no evil could befall him or come near him. I believed that God would use him mightily! Glory to God, he had a great school year! As we gear up for first grade, I am believing the same things.
Jochebed, a wife and a mother to three children, made a decision to have faith instead of fear, and her faith changed the course of history. Whatever your plan is for school this year—home school, Christian, private, or public—don’t be afraid. Launch your kids into their best year yet, full of faith in our great God!