Monday, August 29, 2011

Momma Wisen Talk

This is my youngest, Christopher. We dropped him off at college this past weekend to begin his sophomore year. Yes, he is older than this picture, but there's a part of me that always thinks of him like this - big smile, button nose, innocent eyes.

The truth is...Christopher is under attack. All of our children are. It's hard to understand the great benefits that the internet brings to everyday life without addressing the great pitfalls, as well. As a biblical counselor, I have had a front row seat to lives that have been destroyed by pornography, and when I look at my own children, my mother's protective instinct comes roaring out.

So on our quiet little drive to college (he's only about 45 minutes from home), with his father following in a pick-up truck behind (with the couches that every college apartment needs), we had a Momma Wisen talk.

I am famous for these talks. The church high schoolers and college kids can attest to the fact that Momma Wisen talks typically don't avoid the awkward, but are very straightforward and blunt. They are coated with love, but sometimes they can be uncomfortable. But IMHO, life is too short to beat around the bush, so because I love the body of Christ, I sometimes need to have a Momma Wisen talk with someone.

Don't worry - I get the Papa Wisen talk here and there, so I am not without sin or accountability myself. I just have this tendency to mother the world and last Saturday, my son got a small dose of mothering. I mean, if I can't talk with him, who can I talk to?

Here was the gist of the talk:

Three truths about pornography use and college kids:
  1. If you don't look at pornography, you are in the minority
  2. You are not your roommates Holy Spirit, so you don't have to convict them of their sin, but you don't have to participate either - just walk away
  3. Don't let anyone use your computer
Three reasons to keep your eyes pure:
  1. For the love of your Savior - He knows what is best for you and warns all over scripture of the dangers of sexual impurity
  2. For the love of your future wife - pornography has an effect on marriage, even years before that marriage ever occurs. Don't believe me? Then you are fooling yourself...
  3. For the sake of future spiritual leadership and your personal well-being - it is amazing that choices we make as a youth can affect our lives years down the road. I tried to explain to him that the bondage of pornography will disqualify him for church leadership, it will be a millstone around his neck in the form of guilt and it is so addictive it makes heroine look like child's play
Christopher took it very well - we had a great talk, actually. He's growing up, and doesn't roll his eyes and try to change the subject anymore. He's choosing purity and is very aware of the dangers and the consequences. And I love that he's willing to talk about grown up issues - I'm very proud of him!

The Big Point: Parents - don't send your children to college with out having "the talk." Don't let them get back into the high school routine without that "talk" either. And you should probably have "the talk" to your middle schooler, as well. Don't take anything for granted and don't sugar coat the consequences of sin.

Our children are under attack and we have to engage in this battle on a regular basis.

Still Wildly in Love...

...just in case you were wondering...

And yes, those are Chicago White Sox jerseys...


Oh, and they might look like they are sitting, but they are actually lying on their backs with their feet up the back of the daughter, Alex, took this - clever, huh?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Perspective Test

Our nation is bracing today for what is going to hit in the next 24 to 48 hours. There's no stopping her and short of an act of God changing her direction, Irene is going to leave great devastation in her wake. As believers in Jesus Christ, I can tell you that as sure as the sun will rise on Monday morning, we are going to be asked, "Where is your God in all of this?"

So how do you feel about that question? Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you feel embarrassed that God "allowed" this to happen?

We were posed these questions after 9/11. Our God is challenged due to the poverty and starvation of third world countries, and the earthquake in Japan brought the same scrutiny and disdain for our supposed Sovereign God. Just the other day it was thrown in my face that if God created man and man sinned, then God created a faulty product and it's His responsibility that there is sin and suffering in the world, not man's.

I personally believe that our response to these questions is a test of our understanding of God - it's a perspective test. From our human perspective, we have decided that God is like us - what seems right in our eyes must be right in His. From justice to mercy to common sense, we were created in His image therefore we can hold Him accountable for what seems fair and just to us.

(INSERT HERE: Annoying game show buzzer sound)

I'm sorry, folks, but we really have the wrong perspective of God. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8,9) Yes, we are created in His image - with an eternal soul and a mind and emotions, but we are not gods. I am trying to come up with an example and I can't even get close to getting it right, but our questioning of God's actions, His ways, His plan and His will is like a newborn questioning its parents, or a cartoon questioning it's creator, or a cup of coffee questioning the man who invented the coffee machine. It's ludicrous.

So how do we get the proper perspective of God? Through reading His Word. The Bible is God's revelation of Himself to us - it contains everything we need to know about Him. And when it comes to calamity, here are a few things God says about Himself:
  • When Israel was rebellious and continually "did evil" in the sight of the Lord, He "gave them into the hands" of their oppressors and it even says "He sold them into the hands of their enemies" in Judges 2:14 - this is not God "allowing" something bad to happen, but He purposefully acted against His own children
  • Job 1:1-6 paints a picture of Satan needing God's permission to harm Job, and guess what? He gave it...
  • Jonah 1:4 tells us that God "hurled a great wind on the sea..." causing a great storm so that the "ship was about to break up"
  • Do a search on the word "calamity" in the book of Jeremiah and you will see that God over and over talks about the calamity He was planning on bringing upon various people
  • And then there is the infamous verse in Isaiah 45 where God says He causes well-being and creates calamity (v.7)
Now, these are all somewhat negative statements to the mind of humans, and yet this is truth about God. He is in control. He does cause calamity (which is different from creating sin). He doesn't "allow" things, but purposefully acts. Do we have to understand it? No. Do we have to answer for it? No. He does what He pleases because He is God and we are not.

When people question God's intentions or His existence in light of great devastation and calamity, don't get flustered and try to find an excuse to explain away tragedy. Tell them that God is in control, that His purposes are always good even when we can't see them, that you have confidence in every action of God and that we are not in a place of judgment of Him.

And then tell them that you have put your faith and trust in the God of the Bible, Who also loved us so much that He gave His Son as a sacrifice to His holiness so that we could have an eternal relationship with Him.

That last statement alone is mind-blowing.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pride vs. Faith

"Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by faith."
Habakkuk 2:4

When David penned the words, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path," he was describing the illuminating strength of the above lamp and compared it to God's word. Not impressed? Well, as a shepherd living a few thousand years ago, an oil lamp was highly valued to light the way on moonless nights. All he needed was to see one step in front of him and he felt safe. In the pitch dark - that's when it gets scary.

I start this way because I was thinking about this verse from Habakkuk today and the call of the righteous to live by faith. Christianity is a faith based religion. There's no way around it. We cannot see God, we weren't at the creation of the world, we didn't see Jesus raise from the dead and we can't see the Holy Spirit.

By faith, we have to believe what the Word of God tells us. It's a humbling thing to walk by faith and not by sight. The proud one walks by sight and can figure everything out himself. That's why he's so proud, but according to God's word, his soul is not right within him. Why? Well, he can't see his soul so he doesn't see his need.

But the humble man sees his soul through the eyes of God. By faith, he believes that his heart is deceitful and desperately sick. He believes that he is a walking dead man. He believes that God exists and not only wants a relationship with man, but provided the Way to save mankind.

But all these things must be acted on in faith. That's why my mind went to the oil lamp. Oh, how often I wish the Lord would just hit the light switch and light up the path of my life, so that I understood every step from here to eternity! Wouldn't that be nice? But that's not the way He does it. He wants us to be dependent on Him. He wants us to walk in humility, trusting Him for the next step. And we get that guidance from His Word - it is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

So what does this boil down to today? I guess my questions to you are:
  • Do you trust that the Word of God is truly what it claims to be?
  • Do you walk by faith, acting on the Word?
  • Does the Bible truly affect your life?
  • Are you willing to humble yourself and do it God's way, by faith, without understanding or seeing the whole picture?
  • Or do you have doubts that the Bible is truly His Word?
I love this quote on the inerrancy of the Bible from Charles Spurgeon, a British Baptist pastor from the 1800's:

I do not believe that, from one cover to the other, there is any mistake in it of any sort whatever, either upon natural or physical science, or upon history or anything whatever. I am prepared to believe whatever it says, and to take it believing it to be the Word of God; for if it is not all true, it is not worth one solitary penny to me. It may be to the man who is so wise that he can pick out the true from the false; but I am such a fool that I could not do that. If I do not have a guide there that is infallible, I would as soon guide myself, for I shall have to do so after all; I shall have to be correcting the blunders of my guide perpetually, but I am not qualified to do that, and so I am worse off than if I had not any guide at all. Sit thou down, Reason, and let Faith rise up.

Are you willing to have faith like that?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You Are Invited

This year marks my thirteenth year of teaching ladies bible study. It has become a great passion of mine to study the Word and then teach it to willing and open hearts. The Word of God is powerful and life-changing, and I thank the Lord for the front seat He has provided for me to watch His Word work through the lives of the women in His family.

For those of you who have come to my studies, you know that I love to teach through a book of the Bible. I love to finish up at the end of the year and feel like the women have taken ownership of a book because they have simmered in it all year.

This year is going to be a little different. We are going through the Book, not just a book. Does that make sense? Let me explain.

Over the past five years I have had a desire to teach a comprehensive overview of the Bible, but have not been able to find the resources that I felt made it tangible enough to teach effectively. This desire was born out of comments and input from the women at church:

"I am overwhelmed at the size of the Bible - I just don't know where to begin."

"Isn't the New Testament the book for the church? Does the Old Testament even really affect us now?"

"I don't understand some of the terminology of the church - I feel so stupid sometimes."

"I didn't go to Christian schools growing up - I'll never be able to learn all of this."

"I am a new believer and am embarrassed at how little I know."

If you've ever said or thought any of these things, I have to tell you, you are not alone. Most of the women I talk to are intimidated by the whole of scripture. So this year we are going back to the basics. We're starting at the very beginning and studying through to the end. As I have prepared the lessons, I have found that we will be talking through a lot of the old Sunday School stories that we grew up on - but this time, we will be connecting the thread of Jesus Christ throughout Old Testament history and carrying that through to the Church today.

You see, the Bible is His Story - it's all about Jesus. It reveals our Creator and His love for us. Just as Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples and explained how He was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, we will walk that path with Him and see the big picture.

So here's your invitation, ladies - we will meet on Tuesday mornings at Harvest Bible Chapel Spring Lake, from 9:30 until 11:30 a.m. We will have fellowship (treats and coffee!) as well as praise and prayer time, a time of meditation and memorization, and then teaching. We begin on September 13th and will wrap things up in April. It's going to be quite a journey - a survey, really, but when we're done, it is my prayer that the Bible will become much more tangible for you. I hope that you will be moved by the story and captivated by the Author. I trust that you will be inspired to dig deeper and enlarge your understanding of God and His great mercy for you.

Two more things you need to know: If you are a working gal and can't join us, we are offering an option for you. This year we are attempting to podcast and video cast the lessons. If you sign-up at church, we can get a student notebook for you and you can do the lessons at home - it will take about an hour or so of listening and filling out your notes. Then, once a month, I have a friend who has offered to meet with our working gals to pray with them and see how they're doing - basically love on them and let them know we care about them. At the end of the year, we will have a gathering for all of us to celebrate what we have learned throughout the year.

And finally, if you have preschool children - this year we are providing a structured learning time for your children that compliments what the mothers are studying. We have lessons that walk the children through the big picture of the Bible - with crafts and timeline building and bible verse memorization, plus stories, games and songs - your child will walk through the Bible in a year with you! I am grateful for the women who have volunteered to serve our children through this program.

Okay - that's enough. I went WAY TOO LONG, but hopefully you hear my heart for this study. If you are planning on coming, we need to hear from you so that we can have supplies for the women and children alike. You can comment here and let me know how many children you will bring with you, as well as their ages, or sign-up in the foyer at church.

May God bless you as you decide your fall plans!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Too Wonderful for Me

"You have enclosed me behind and before,
and laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me..."
Psalm 139:5

I can remember standing on the risers in high school, my choir director addressing the audience. I was a sophomore and was singing on choir tour. I attended a Christian school and choir tour was the big event of the year for choir members. It was typically a nine day tour and we would sing at least twice a day, moving our way across the country. We'd stay in the homes of the congregants that we'd perform for - back then it wasn't unusual for a choir to come in and sing on a Tuesday night. The church family would come and be blessed, and then bless us with dinner and a comfy bed. Then a school performance in the morning and back on the road.

Anyway, I can remember my choir director quoting from Psalm 139 in a short devotional he gave each concert. When he came to this verse..."You have enclosed me"...he would cup his hands in front of him, as if he were holding a at a time..."behind and before"...and then take his left hand and place it on top of his invisible ball..."and laid your hand on top of me" illustrate the all-encompassing love of our heavenly Father.

I couldn't find a google image for this, so I grabbed my hand models (Nico and Alex) and had them illustrate it above.

Can you see it?

Behind and before.

And laid Your hand on top of me.

What incredible protective love of our Father! Someone once told me that the difference between a father's love and the Father's love, is that the Father never sleeps.

Imagine that - being completely protected, completely encompassed, completely surrounded by the Father's hands. Unfortunately I think we live like the newborn who thinks they are in control, not realizing that our parents are literally keeping us alive because we are helpless without them.

May I encourage you to remember this truth? When you are struggling, when you are ill, when you are in despair - remember you are not alone. Yes, we have to bear the consequences of our sin, as well as the sins of others sometimes, but we never have to bear the punishment. (Thank you, Jesus!) So within the protective, loving sphere of God's hands, He lovingly causes all things to work together for our good.

And now since that truth has brightened your day, here's some icing on the cake:

This is Nor-face, as Aunt Katherine calls her...

...making this one Ash-face...

...aren't they getting big??? They love to play on their tummies, and they roll, roll, roll all over the place! So much fun. Ashley would rather stand than lay, but balance is not one of her strengths yet. Norah loves her veggies and both girls are taking from the spoon remarkably well. They continue to be the apple of their grandfather's eye - when they are around, he spends a lot of time on his tummy, too! It's too cute...

Enjoy the pictures and the up - I'll let you know when study is beginning again...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


"...for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Luke 18:14

This is the final verse from a parable found in Luke 18:9-14. It's the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who both went to the temple to pray, one with great pride in his heart and the other with humble confession.

The Pharisee prayed, thanking God for his consistent law-keeping and that he was set apart from the other sinners. The tax collector, however, beat his chest and was unwilling to even lift his eyes to the Lord, begging God for mercy.

What caught my eye today was the reason that Jesus told this parable - because there were "...some people who trusted themselves to be righteous AND viewed others with contempt." (v.9)

These two things are the crux of man-made religion.

Man-made religion says you can earn salvation - you can save yourself. You can choose God, you can be good enough, you can deserve salvation, you can trust in your own righteousness. Look at false religion - from Buddhism to Islam to even Judaism, and I'll even throw in Catholicism - works-oriented salvation abounds. This is the very message Satan convinced Eve to believe in the garden of Eden and ever since then man has been trying to save themselves.

Man-made religion also views others with contempt, because if you are trying to earn salvation, you are not overly happy with others who aren't trying as hard as you. I hate to say it but the best example of this is within Christianity - denominations don't play nicely together. Why not? Aren't we all sinners saved by grace? But we competitively believe that our way - our beliefs - are right and best, this in turn earns God's favor and so you'd better jump denominations or you may not be safe.

But Jesus taught this parable for those of us who cling to man-made religion. When you embrace God-made religion, or what we call the gospel, you know that you cannot be personally trusted to be righteous - only Jesus is righteous. That's why you rely on the identity exchange He promises us at salvation.

And we cannot look at others with contempt because we understand that without this identity exchange, we'd be just as lost as everyone else. So the end result is looking at others with mercy, with love, and with compassion. It's the same concept found in Luke 7:47 - he who is forgiven much, loves much.

The verse above warns us that if we are exalting ourselves with man-made religion and contempt for others, we will be humbled. But if we humble ourselves with an accurate view of God and man through the practicalities of the gospel, we will be exalted.

Conclusion: You cannot think highly of yourself if you live in the shadow of the cross, yet it is there that you find strength, love, acceptance and ultimately exaltation.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Minimizing the Cross

Do we take the outpouring of God's wrath on Jesus on the cross lightly?

Strange question, I know, but I think it's one worth pondering.

On Sunday, we sang a song that had a line in it that has stuck with me for a few days now - "He never sinned but suffered as if He did." It's from a song by the Desperation Band called "Overcome" and the truth of that statement is pretty foundational for believers. Jesus took on our punishment, though He didn't deserve it.

I have a memory from when I was a young child of sitting on my parent's bed next to my sister and she was in trouble. I wasn't being reprimanded, so I must have been there for moral support. And as the reprimand was coming to its end, I realized that there was a spanking coming.

In a moment of sheer compassion for my sister, with tears in my eyes, I asked to be spanked in her place. Now, before you think too highly of me as a child, or even doubt my story, let me give you some insight to this generous offer. First, I didn't think my dad would spank me in her place, but if I offered, he might forgo it for both of us. Or if he did do it, it wouldn't be nearly as hard as it would be if my sister would receive it. So, either way, it wasn't going to be too bad and it would spare my much-spanked sister from another spanking.

Point of the story? I think sometimes we look at Jesus' offer to die in our place and we assume it wasn't as bad as what it would have been for us. I mean, come on - He was only on the cross for six hours. How does that match an eternity of suffering? And how could He suffer for all people? Is that even possible?

Do you see how easy it is to write off what He did? Bottom line, Jesus is God and His taking on our sin was no light matter. It wasn't a partial or lighter moment of discipline and God the Father did not show mercy on Him. He poured out His wrath and Jesus felt the full weight of His Father's punishment and separation.

And yes, it was an eternity's worth.

It's something that we will never understand because we won't have to go through it and because we are not God. But it was real and it was sufficient and it was worse than horrible.

End of the story? I was dismissed from the room and my sister got spanked. If I had received her punishment that afternoon, I am sure she would have been grateful, but she would have been in trouble again and I doubt I would have offered again. That's the wonderful thing about the blood of Christ - it covers for eternity and even though while here in the flesh we continue to sin, He doesn't continue to suffer. He paid the price, once and for all.

Let's determine to live lives of gratitude to our Savior, Jesus Christ, recognizing the reality of His sacrifice for us.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Inescapable Grace - Part Four

"But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry." Jonah 4:1

So Jonah brings the message of God to the evil Ninevites and they repent. How does the messenger feel? Well, chapter four of Jonah begins with the answer to this question. Take a minute and read it.

Wow. What an ugly statement and yet it makes me wonder, who could repent and cause me to be angry? A terrorist? Hitler? A serial killer? Kathy Griffin? Nancy Pelosi? Jon Stewart?

What about John Lennon?

I read on FOX NEWS this past week that there is evidence that John Lennon was enamored with Christianity in his later years. It's been reported that he was in contact with Billy Graham, as well as Pat Robertson, and that before he died he told someone that he didn't believe in Darwin's evolution.

Do these facts add up to a closet evangelical Christian, as the article suggests? Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I've got to tell you - I wasn't a John Lennon fan and the thought of his possible conversion didn't cause me to leap for joy.

So is there really any difference between Jonah and me? Sadly, we're more alike than I want to admit. I'm really glad that the book of Jonah was placed in the Bible as a reminder of just how twisted sin can be.

And I'm even more grateful that Jonah doesn't drive the story - God does. His loving, pursuing, patient and reasonable conversation with Jonah shows us the heart of a Father who doesn't just spank and walk away. As He draws the disobedient Jonah to Himself, He reasons with him:

"It broke your heart when this plant that provided you shade was eaten, though you didn't plant the seed, water the ground or cause it to grow. Why shouldn't I have compassion on this city that is filled with children, created by Me, in My image, let alone on all the livestock that would needlessly suffer if I destroyed their owners?" (wisen paraphrase)

Jonah doesn't deserve a glimpse into the mind of God. He is selfish and self-centered and like Dave said on Sunday, deserves to be gobbled up by a land shark. But instead, the Father explains to him why compassion comes natural to Him - why He can overlook the sin and love on a repentant heart.

The gospel starts with recognizing our sinful state. In order to do that we have to quit comparing ourself to our sinful neighbors and compare ourselves to a holy God. Jonah didn't think his sin was even a blip on the screen compared to the Ninevites, but compared to God, his sin was immense. When I compare my life's choices with John Lennon's, I can get pretty puffed up. But in light of Jesus Christ's righteousness, my puffiness gets popped and I quickly return to worm status.

That's what makes salvation such good news. God saves sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

Well, John Lennon is not imagining that there is no heaven any longer. He knows that God exists, that heaven and hell exist, and that living for the day doesn't work in the long run. Is he in heaven? I can honestly say that I hope he is, because he, as well as myself, would simply be an eternal reminder of God's inescapable grace.