It’s too hot for that

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 7.00.32 PMI don’t want to alarm anyone, but I just checked the forecast for the next week, and y’all…it’s hot.

I even checked around the state a bit so as not to seem too self-absorbed.  That’s  one reason why I’m writing this blog; from the looks of things, none of us have anything better to do than surf the Interweb and read blog posts.

Clay asked me if I wanted to go see the Astros and Rangers play. I didn’t want to sound dramatic, but I would rather be punched in the face than go sit at a baseball game for 4 hours in this heat. Where I grew up, professional baseball was played in a climate controlled dome on artificial turf, as it was meant to be played.

As it is, I can’t even enjoy an afternoon work break in my backyard blow up pool. About 5 minutes after filling it up, you realize you might as well just go get in the bathtub.

There are certain activities that do not mix with the summer heat. Since you’re probably getting bored reading this blog because it’s the 5th one you’ve read today, and it is List Wednesday, here are a few tips regarding things you should probably avoid for the remainder of the summer.

Amusement parks. Unless its name is Six Flags over Alaska, that is. There is nothing amusing about standing in the sun on hot pavement in line an hour for a ride that lasts approximately 1 minute 37 seconds. Sure, you get lured in by thinking if you get too hot, there’s always one of those water rides where you get soaking wet. But recycled amusement park water on top of sweat is not a refreshing thing.

Chili cook-offs. I’m just trying to help. There’s a reason National Chili Day is in February. In fact, this month, you’re better off avoiding any activity that has the word “cook” in it. You can tell your family I said so.

Camping in Arizona. I should go ahead and admit I don’t like camping ever. But there is no battery-powered tent fan big enough to make August camping sound fun. Personally, I prefer a beach resort, like the one Clay and I went to in Jamaica earlier this summer to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. But at this point, I’m really just bragging.

A Medieval themed costume party. The question I find myself asking is this: What are the fewest amount of clothes I can wear today and still be socially acceptable? Just go ahead and accept it – no one wants to come to your August party unless it includes the words “pool” or “private jet to the Rocky Mountains.”

Thinking about Blue Bell. The urban legends started hitting social media more than a month ago about Blue Bell ice cream. Upon further review, they’ve only started testing the stuff. Who knows when it will actually be in the stores, and if the Hostess Twinkie scare of 2012 was any indication, it’s probably not the best idea to be anywhere close to a Walmart the day Blue Bell does actually return, anyway. But if it does hit the stores soon and you do head to Walmart, pack a Yeti when you leave the house. I’m just saying it’s hot.

A good reason to drop what you’re doing.

Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Matthew 4:20

When I was in college, I had a friend who poked her head in the door of freshman biology, called out my name, and whispered, “Let’s go get lunch.” Class was about to start, but I had no trouble packing up my books and heading out the door. It helped that there were 300 other students in the class. I figured I wouldn’t be missed.

Same thing happened sophomore year one night during finals. My friends had finished their exams and came knocking on the door of my apartment. They were going bowling, and wanted me to come. Again, it took about 2 seconds for me to decide I didn’t really need to study for that political science exam. I didn’t have a particularly strong love of bowling, but I did like a fun adventure. They said, “Let’s go,” so I dropped my books and went.

What I’m saying is I would get it if Andrew and Peter dropped their nets to get out of doing something they didn’t really want to do. But that isn’t what was happening. These guys were fishermen. They made their living out on the water with their dad and their friends. If they were on Survivor, they’d be the most popular contestants; when people got hungry, they were the ones who said, “I’ll go catch some fish.” It was what they did; it was who they were.

We see the same thing with Philip in Acts 8. He was busy growing a megachurch in Samaria. Even the apostles came from Jerusalem to check it out. Then God called him away from that ministry to a desert road, and all the Bible says about Philip’s response is, “So he started out” (v. 27).

I don’t know if that challenges you today as much as it does me, but consider this: God isn’t nearly as impressed or concerned with what you think you’re good at as you are. His plans are not in any way dependent on your plans, or even your abilities; they are dependent only on your availability.

Sometimes following Jesus means leaving your nets behind, even if you’re really good at fishing.

It’s easier to drop what you’re doing when things aren’t going well, you feel unappreciated, unfulfilled, or there is the promise of even better things ahead. Certainly God uses seasons of discontent to move us where He wants us to go, but that’s usually because we were stubborn in the first place.

The greater measure of faith is when we answer His call out of what we see as good places – comfortable situations, successful work, the acceptance, appreciation, and even adulation of people. It’s when you’re not sure how His call will play out. It’s when His call and the opinions or expectations of others are two different things.

In essence, it is the call to trust Him more than you trust yourself.

This is the invitation He pokes His head in the back of the room and extends each and every day. What He asks us to drop is different for you than it is for me, but the question is the same: Will you get up and go?

goodatfishing

4 Reasons You Should Not Let Your Teenager Go on a Mission Trip

Don’t talk to strangers. That was one piece of brilliant advice I gave Abby the night before she headed to Madrid, Spain on a mission trip. We were out eating dinner as a family, a sort of “last meal” for someone who isn’t sure what she’ll be eating for the next 10 days. I thought it was a good time for some parental wisdom.

As soon as I said it, I knew it wasn’t quite right. After all, the whole point of the mission trip is to meet new people and tell them about Jesus. Still, I went with it, because I’m a mom. I followed it up with a quick, “Oh, you know what I mean,” but I really don’t know why my whole family was laughing at me. We’ve all seen what can happen when teenage girls travel overseas without their parents.

Thanks for that, Liam Neeson.

Packing for this trip would be a whole lot easier if you were Muslim. These, too, were exact words spoken by me that night, this time while we were packing. And, upon further reflection, equally misguided. You see, if Abby were Muslim, she would find no need to go on this particular trip. In my defense, the dress code – with Islamic culture in mind –  was somewhat difficult to follow for the typical American female. And probably something I should have considered before the 11th hour.

In all the years we spent in student ministry, I heard lots of teenagers say their parents wouldn’t let them go on mission trips to faraway or unfamiliar places. After considering Abby’s laughter over my stranger danger warning and lack of suitable accoutrement, I might agree…because it’s List Wednesday and all.

4 reasons you should not let your teenager go on a mission trip:internationalbagclaim2

You didn’t get to go to Spain when you were 16. Whatever happened to youth group ski trips, anyway? And trying to make the world’s longest banana split? Back in the day, these were the things that made youth groups relevant. Now, even church camp is fancy with big name bands and lights. Why do they need all that when “Spring up o well gush gush gush gush” used to work just fine? No, your kids can go on a mission trip when they’re older and can better appreciate the simple things in life.

That’s money you could be spending on back to school shopping. And Taco Bell. A friend of mine told me her daughter once came back from a mission trip and didn’t care about name brands or shopping anymore. This is a common post-mission trip attitude. But how are you going to post a picture on Facebook of your kid on the first day of school if she’s going through an anti-materialism phase? Clearly, your time and money would be better spent at the mall.

homefromspain copyThey probably won’t have time or be allowed to use their phones.  I’ve heard the argument that a mission trip helps teenagers meet new people and live with broader perspective. But your teenager already has friends. They’re really close friends, too. You know this, because they’re constantly texting each other. And perspective? That’s what Twitter and Instagram are for.

Teachers will probably make them talk about it on the first day of school. Everyone knows the drill. The question asked on day 1 is, “What did you do this summer?” Teachers might even require a 3-minute speech by that title. You’re not supposed to talk about God at school, so why invite the urge? Think of all the other kids who will find out and want to know details.  I’m sure you can see my point. This is exactly why an attempted world’s longest banana split is a better idea.

Spain

There is a time for everything…except that.

There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven. Eccl. 3:1

Not that Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack in Footloose wasn’t inspiring (clearly, he was), but it’s probably important to note that Solomon wasn’t trying to get the town to let the local high school have a senior prom when he wrote these words.

The context of Ecclesiastes 3 is Solomon’s melancholic realizations about life: we all die, and our pursuits and work die with us. Uplifting, right?

It’s an important point, though. Whether we use our time working, spending, or in a perpetual Netflix binge, we live in time, and time matters. Most of us prefer to live that time on the happy side of Solomon’s list, on the comfortable side of our own lists. Life is easier when you cut loose, footloose, kick off your Sunday shoes. But that’s missing the point.

God created time, and on His never-ending time-continuum, life  on earth is just a blip. It’s a blip, but it’s a blip with immense purpose. So even the downer side of Solomon’s list, the uncomfortable side of yours and mine, is appropriate and ultimately points to a greater reality:

There is never a time for not doing what God has called you to do.

Never.

neveratime500

In Eph. 5:16, Paul took Solomon’s melancholy and put a powerful twist on it: make the most of time, because the days are evil.

Because the days are evil, because sometimes there’s crying, uprooting, tearing down, war, and silence – make the most of it. When you consider He has put eternity in our hearts (v. 11), it is the only appropriate response.

A little over a year ago was a time for me to step away from personal writing. For me, that meant setting this blog aside, along with a few other things. Without going into all the reasons why, it was the appropriate time for that decision. What wasn’t appropriate, though, was that it became a setting aside altogether. Indefinitely.

Other pursuits – good ones, even, that had me using the gifts God has given me, but not in the way He planned for this time – took priority because it was easier, more comfortable, and it felt safer being on that side of Solomon’s list. I was doing good things, but underneath it all, fully knowing it fell short.

I wasn’t making the most of the time.

And now I’m getting back to it. But the challenge for me is the same as it is for you. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a musician, make music. If you’re a speaker, speak. Servants should serve, teachers should teach, hosts should host, givers should give, leaders should lead. Take a break from a particular activity if it’s appropriate for a time, but don’t ever stop living out who God has made you to be in the ways He has made plain to you.

Numb and Number

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things….As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:2,12-14

napkinapptThis past weekend, I noticed I had written a date and time on a napkin on my desk with no other details. Fantastic.

I still don’t know who I was supposed to meet or where I was supposed to be yesterday at 9 am, but if it was you and you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I wish I could say this kind of absentmindedness is an isolated incident. I can’t.

One time I went to pick up a few things at the grocery store and used self checkout. I decided to get $40 cash while I was there. But it seems I never actually took the cash out of the cash dispenser thingy, and didn’t realize it until I got home. Surprisingly, it was not still there later.

My friend Kim took this picture and sent it to me the next day. She thinks she’s funny.

 

Maybe it’s middle-age, maybe it’s all the Coke Zero I drink, or maybe it’s both.  All I know is, I spend a lot of time standing in the middle of rooms in my house trying to figure out why I went there.

What I’m saying is that I lose focus. Day-to-day activities become rote, and my mind grows numb. When that happens, anything that veers from the norm in my routine can easily get forgotten.  If I don’t intentionally set my mind on the unusual tasks and activities in my day, I end up forging ahead with what is usual, instead.

In reading Colossians 3:1-17 and all the other passages about holiness these 3 weeks of New Start ’15, it hit me how the same thing can happen to us in relationship to Christ.

I don’t think any of us intend to live according to the earthly nature. We don’t receive grace and choose to follow Christ and at the very same time think about all the unholy things we plan to keep doing, too.

But we lose focus. Our sin nature is what is common and natural. Immorality, impurity, evil desires, greed, idolatry, anger, lies…these and other unholy things make up our default setting. Unless we intentionally set our minds on things above, we grow numb and just accept the propensity to sin as part of our lives.

I think that’s why Paul said to put the earthly nature to death. He didn’t say put it aside or try to avoid it or even maim it; he said to get rid of the thing. And then he told us how.

The answer that begins in verse 12 isn’t what we might expect. It’s not a list of verse 5 antonyms, like sexual morality and purity. If it were, we might think that our good behavior earns us right relationship with God; that if we walk a certain moral line, we’re holy. It doesn’t, and we’re not.

Instead, we’re told to clothe ourselves with kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness, patience, love…the same things identified in Galatians 5 as fruit of the Spirit. In other words, put to death what is common in your life and in the world, and set your mind on what is uncommon – things above, by daily submitting your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit’s control.

From the Inside Looking Out

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” – 2 Cor. 5:17

During Brandon’s freshman year at Texas A&M last year, he lived in an apartment with some friends. It was nothing fancy, but in my opinion, 18-year-old college boys don’t need a fancy place to live, because A. they’re in college, and B. chances are strong to very strong they’re not going to clean it.

Anyway, the apartment was pretty modest, but more than adequate and definitely no worse than living in a dorm. After being down there a few months, though, he and his roommates started comparing it to the places a lot of their friends were living. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, to hear them tell it, their apartment was like living below the poverty level.

It was plenty big, but the A/C didn’t work great, the sink didn’t have a garbage disposal, the fridge didn’t have an ice maker, and there weren’t any ceiling fans or much overhead lighting. So the guys wanted to move and we told them that was fine, but the cost had to be about the same. You may not be aware of this, but there are places college students live these days that are like Disney resorts. We saw one place with a lazy river. A lazy river, y’all. Besides the fact that we don’t have lazy-river-apartment-for-our-college-kid kind of money, we want him to want to graduate in a timely manner.newstartblog

So the guys found a really nice townhouse. It’s 2 story, 4 bedroom, 4 bath. It has granite countertops, light fixtures, ceiling fans everywhere, a little yard out back, a big kitchen with a garbage disposal and ice maker. It’s a pretty new place, too, so everything looks nice. And it doesn’t cost very much more than the apartment did.

But there’s a catch. These townhouses are right next to a wastewater treatment plant…and it stinks outside. Sometimes pretty bad.

This fact would be a deal-breaker for me, but not Brandon. He was just so happy for the change. On a day the stench almost knocked me over, Brandon, in all seriousness, said, “Mom, I don’t even think I smell it.”  It made me laugh, but the truth of it is that what had changed on the inside impacted how he responded to the smell on the outside. He was so happy about the newness on the inside that what was outside didn’t change his outlook.

Here’s the thing: when the inside is new and good and right, then it impacts our perspective on everything. When the inside is new and good and right, then even when everything in the world around us stinks, our attitude and perspective about our purpose and calling in life remain the same.

2 Cor. 5:17  is one of those verses a lot of us know outside of its context. And honestly, it can stand alone as a testimony of Christ’s redemptive work in our lives. But it is interesting also to look at the context because Paul wasn’t just talking about our eternal condition when he wrote that verse; he was talking specifically about ministry and life.

For Paul, every thought and decision was compelled by Christ’s love on the cross. He’d been united to Christ through His death and resurrection. He was, without a doubt, a new creation. But that wasn’t at all the end of the paragraph. It was only the beginning.

In verse 16, he said, “I don’t look at things from a purely human standpoint anymore.” In verse 18, “Everything is from God.” In verse 19, “God reconciled us to Himself in Christ and then He gave us the message of reconciliation.” In verse 20, “We are ambassadors for Christ.”

The change that had taken place inside Paul caused changes on the outside.

We get it backwards. We try to do better in the new year by fixing up the outside. Maybe we think if we just work harder or be more awesome things will get better.

And it is no more effective than if Brandon tried to fix the smell outside his townhouse by putting a Renuzit air freshener on the front porch or spraying Febreze in the air every day on the way to his car.

2 Cor. 5:17 says in Christ we are a new creation. It doesn’t say in a good relationship we’re a new creation or in a good day at work or in our awesomeness or good ideas or best efforts. It doesn’t even say in a vacation to the Bahamas we’re a new creation. I mean, a vacation to the Bahamas sure can’t hurt, but it’s not the answer. Not really. Not long-term.

What is the answer then? How do we live like a new creation even on the days when everything feels old and smelly and we’re tired of trying? How did Paul keep it up? I mean, that guy had people throwing rocks at his head. He had more hard circumstances to obsess over than you or me (See 2 Cor. 11:23-28.)

How did he not burn out? Why didn’t he ever just start trying to fit in?

When Brandon moved into that new townhouse, he was so impressed with everything. He planned where to put things, he wScreen Shot 2014-12-31 at 2.30.29 PMas excited to have people over, and couldn’t wait to share it with his roommates. He tweeted about it and posted a video tour. His focus for a period of time was completely on the inside of that house.

Paul was like that about Jesus. He was obsessed with the gospel. Throughout the New Testament we see it was his singular focus. So as the year wore on and following Jesus and living a holy life got hard, his outlook didn’t change.

Maybe holiness is something you thought about for a while, but over time it has just gotten easier to fit in. Maybe you don’t see many people around you who are concerned about holiness. Maybe you want your kids to be well-liked, so you found it necessary to erase some lines. Maybe we all do it, but if that’s true then we all need a new start.

When you obsess over the gospel instead of over your circumstances, there is newness and joy every day. When you obsess not over what you do or what happens to you, but over what Christ has done in you, it makes all the difference.

Most of the time, we don’t need our circumstances to change. We don’t need to work harder at being good. What we need is an obsession with the gospel. What we need is to be in Christ.

To me, that’s what New Start ’15 is all about. It’s not about trying harder to do holy things; it’s about looking for the wonder of newness in relationship with Christ every single day. No doubt about it – when that happens, we will be set apart.156004_790520044335093_762884682272431776_n

New Start ’15 Reading Plan

Pray Without Ceasing

I think the reason I waited til the 2nd to last day of December to post this is because I’m a little sad it’s the last column in the series. I’m officially done living through the senior year/first year of college….and then reliving it through writing The Final Walk column for Parenting Teens magazine. Currently, the kid is 3 hours short of being classified a junior. He even put together a resume this week. I had to smile when I read the pull out quote the editors put at the top right of the second page. That right there is 100% truth, y’all.

 

New Start 15

This guest post is written by my friend Kathy Howard, who is spearheading New Start 15. You’ll read more about it below, and then from me again later, but basically it’s a way to connect Christian women together this January to foster a desire for and a commitment to holiness.

I’ll be contributing to the “blog hop” with my own introductory post on January 1 and with another post that goes with the daily reading for January 21. I’m also going to participate myself! I’ll be using the daily Bible reading plan Jan. 5-22 and reading the devotional posts written by other bloggers that go with them (see links below). I hope you’ll join me! The daily readings start on January 5, but until then, read Kathy’s introductory post below, then check out the kick off posts by me and other bloggers on January 1. 

~Cynthia

Want a New Start in 2015?
by Kathy Howard

New-Start-15-400I love the “undo” button on my laptop. You know the one – that little arrow that curves to the left. When you click it, the last thing you did magically disappears.

Sometimes I wish life had an “undo” button. I could click it to magically erase the unkind words I blurted. Or wipe out my selfish behavior. Or eliminate that wrong decision. To “undo” all those things that brought unwanted consequences or now weigh heavy on my conscience.

Yep. In fact, sometimes it would be great to start over all together. To get a clean slate. To get a complete do-over.

Guess what? If you’re a Christian, that’s exactly what you got when you entered into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And sister, if things have gotten a bit off track since then, it’s not too late to undo and start new. In fact, now is a great time for a NEW START.

If you’d like to “undo” a few things or even start new on a bigger scale, consider joining me for “New Start 15.” During January, a few friends and I will be leading a month-long journey into holiness. Together we’ll explore what it looks like to become a “new creation in Christ,” to practically live out the set-apart, holy life to which God calls us.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  2 Corinthians 2:17, NIV

 The “old” life looks like the world around us. And it’s burdened with the weight and consequences of worldly living. But the “new” life is radically different from the world, holy and set apart to God.

There is glorious freedom and joy in living a life of holiness. Freedom from the weight and consequences of sin.  And joy in a deeper intimacy with our holy God.

Do you like the sound of freedom and joy? The chance for a New Start? Our God is the God of second chances, clean slates, and do-overs.

Participation in New Start 15 is simple. Here are a few ways you can get involved:

  • Use the New Start 15 Bible Reading Plan in your personal quiet time January 5 – 23. (Free download)
  • Like the New Start 15 Facebook group to keep up with daily devotional blog posts, get words of encouragement, and share thoughts from your own journey. (You can also download the New Start 15 bloggers list and schedule.)
  • Follow the New Start 15 “blog hop” January 5-23 (weekdays only) as the New Start 15 team blogs about living the new, holy life in Christ. (List of New Start 15 Contributors)
  • Check out the New Start 15 Resources List for books, Bible studies, blog posts, printables and more to help you on your journey.
  • Invite your friends to join you in the New Start 15 journey by sending them the link to this post.

Do you long for deep intimacy with God? Do you desire for your life to please and glorify Him? Do you want your life to point others to Jesus? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then New Start 15 is for you! Join us in January as we dig into God’s Word to find out what He says about living the new, holy life in Christ.

Home – Finally – For the Holidays

Parenting Teens magazine, November column.

It’s sad these monthly articles end next month. I think my LifeWay editors should consider making this a standing column, because there’s so much more wisdom to impart (I hope they’re reading this:).  Just this week, we realized we never covered this very important truth with our college kid: if you leave cookie dough out on the counter when you get home from the grocery store, and then eat that raw dough, you will likely get salmonella. Anyway, he’s on the mend and here’s November’s column. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!