In Over Our Heads

At least two or three times a week someone says to me, “How do you manage with six children? I can barely handle one!” My answer to this question has evolved over time. My initial and somewhat prideful response was, “With firm but loving discipline.” Then with a shrug of my shoulders, the answer became a sheepish “I don’t know.”  Finally, I’ve had to admit with a spirit of dejection, “I can’t do it at all.”

The fact of the matter is, I never could “handle it” — not back when I had one child, not now that I have six. You see, no matter how many children God gives me, I am utterly dependent upon Him to raise them. Parenting requires a love, patience, discipline, endurance and selflessness that I cannot find within, no matter how deeply I search my own soul. I am forced to constantly look to God for grace and strength to meet the challenge. It has simply taken six children for me to realize this in more than a superficial, intellectual way. Now I feel it with every fiber of my being, every moment of my day.

This is precisely where God wants me: dependent on Him, not just for a little help with problem areas, but for the whole nine yards. God is not interested in making me a better parent, but rather in parenting through me. He wants to love my children through me. He seeks to lead them through me. This extends to every facet of my life. He wants to work through me, play through me, minister through me, live through me. He doesn’t just want me to be a better person. He wants to make me a new person. That is, in fact, his desire for each of us, including all six of my children.

Hold Onto Your Seat!

If you get motion sickness like I do, then you’d better take some Dramamine before reading about Joseph’s roller coaster of a life story (Genesis 37-50).  My hills and valleys look like speed bumps and potholes by comparison.

In the beginning, Joseph is daddy’s favorite son, then his jealous siblings sell him into slavery (and I thought our kids got into fights!).  Next, he works his way up to head-slave (isn’t that an oxymoron?), only to be falsely accused by a scorned, would-be mistress and sent to prison.  Finally, by a miraculous turn of events, he springs to second in command over all Egypt, one of the most powerful nations of his day.  Whew!

Once my stomach settles, the first question I ask is, Why did God do it in that particular way?  Couldn’t an all-knowing, all-powerful God have used some other means of putting Joseph into power to save the ancient world from famine?   The answer, of course, is yes; He could have done it differently.  However, He accomplished several things by doing it the way He did.

First of all, God used Joseph to glorify Himself and demonstrate His divine attributes.  Had Joseph slowly risen to power by climbing the Egyptian corporate ladder, his success might have been attributed to hard work, talent, or intelligence.  But God’s way of doing things left no doubt as to whom should receive the glory.  Furthermore, the famine itself was used by God to demonstrate His omniscience, omnipotence, and mercy.  Think of the man blind from birth, not for his sins or his parents’ sins, but that God might be glorified through his healing (John 9:1-7).  It may be that the obstacles we face in life are merely opportunities for God to demonstrate His power and mercy through us.

Second, God demonstrated that doing what is right does not always reap immediate rewards.  When Joseph resisted Potiphar’s wife, no one congratulated him on his moral resolve.  Instead, he found himself thrown in jail.  God, however, was smiling, and Joseph was developing perseverance.  Joseph knew that God’s rewards take time, sometimes all of eternity, to fully manifest.

Which brings up a final observation: Despite his affluence, Joseph remained a stranger in a strange land to the end of his days.  His family had to stay in Goshen to keep from offending the Egyptians.  Eventually, a pharaoh arose “who knew not Joseph”, and Joseph’s descendants became cruelly treated slaves.  It is a solemn reminder that no matter what we have or what we achieve in this life, we will never be complete this side of heaven.

Augustine declared, “Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” Once we’ve entered that final rest, we will see more clearly how God has used all of life’s circumstances for our growth and His glory.  In the meantime, we’ll just have to hold on to our seats!

What Is Your Lentil Stew?

How could anyone be that stupid?  This is the first thing I think when I read the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew (Genesis 25:29-34).  Being a meat and potatoes man myself, I find this account especially dumbfounding; but even if lentil stew were the most delicious meal imaginable, the point would still be clear: Esau had traded lifelong blessings for a temporary benefit.

Now let’s look at a lesser-known, New Testament character by the name of Demas.  Demas appears in the Bible just three times.  The first is in Philemon 1:24, where he is mentioned as a fellow laborer with Paul for the Lord.  The second is in Colossians 4:14, where he is mentioned by Paul only in passing.  The third and final time that Demas is mentioned is in II Timothy 4:10, where Paul says that “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.”

Now let us consider modern times and ask ourselves two questions: First, what is our lentil stew?  Specifically, what earthly, temporal things are we pursuing to the neglect of serving God’s kingdom?  For some of us, this might be our career; for others, it might be a favorite hobby or pastime.  Imagine if we were to study God’s word with the same diligence that we study sports scores, the stock market or even our schoolbooks.  Imagine if we were to take half a day each week to spend in prayer or to volunteer at a local mission.  Many of us spend an equivalent amount of time watching television, playing golf, or shopping the mall, and think nothing of it.

That brings us to the next question: Have we become like Demas?  Are we so enthralled with the things of this world, that the idea of committing ourselves to serving God and pursuing the things of the next world seems ludicrous?  Perhaps we still attend church out of habit or compulsion, we say grace over our meals and even have a bumper sticker of a fish on our car, but the power of God is essentially nonexistent in our lives.  When people observe us at work or at play, they see no difference between our priorities and those of our non-Christian counterparts.

What then are we to do?  First, we must acknowledge that “no man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).   Then, we must begin to store up for ourselves “treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).  For some of us, this may mean giving up a time-consuming hobby; for others, it may even mean changing jobs; but for most of us, it will simply mean recognizing that our life is our ministry. Our co-workers are our congregation.  God didn’t put us where we are just so we could crunch numbers or change diapers or carve out gall bladders.  He put us where we are to be ambassadors for Him to those around us.  Isn’t it time we start living as such?  “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).