My Brain, The Trampoline

14 02 2012

The message these days is that we are all too hard on ourselves and it is true on some level. Since the invention of the mirror we have gotten far too close a look at our image and it has left some of us oozing with pessimism about our prospects, constantly critical of ourselves, resigned to fail; it’s a problem. All that self-examination and self-absorption has hijacked our ability to see what God sees and has produced far too many Eeyores (described in Wikipedia as a “pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonic, old grey stuffed donkey”).

 

Why am I thinking about this? I’m just so interested in how Jesus talked to His disciples in Mark 4, probably because I am one of those people sensitive to tone of voice and choice of words and timing (wow, that sounds high maintenance); I think I would have bristled at how Jesus challenged His friends at points. Mark isn’t a wordy guy, so maybe his style of writing makes it even more pointed, but in verse 13 he records Jesus saying,  “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” And a little later in verse 24, “Pay attention to what you hear.” Bam!

I have a sneaking suspicion, were Jesus to come hang out with us Christ-followers in Canada He would have a comment or two about our inability to hear and receive straight talk, particularly around the reading, understanding, and applying of the Bible.

  • I wonder what He would say, when we say that we just can’t read our Bibles because we don’t “get it.”  (As noted above, verse 13 and 24 would likely be His response)
  • I wonder how He would handle our repetitive questions (“Didn’t I already tell you that? Pretty sure that is in Galatians. You’ve read it before.”)
  • I wonder what He would do with our blatant disobedience to some of His favorite passages having to do with loving God, loving people and living lives on mission (a variation of “smarten up” perhaps).

See, we don’t want to be “hard” on ourselves, but can we at least be honest with ourselves? We talk about how we only use 10% of our brains; maybe we have chosen that. Maybe that’s just lame. Maybe Jesus was challenging His friends to break the brain barrier and tap into the other 90%. It seems He believed this was possible. It was possible to understand His words, if only we would pay attention.

When I look at my week, I see how lazy my brain can be. I can stare at God’s Word or hear a message or even know what I should do and my brain is like a trampoline for words and ideas and instructions that are actually supposed to land and stick (boing…boing…).

I think I know what Jesus would say to me: engage. One of the “love Me with all your…” verses, is “Love me with all your MIND.”  There are lots of days when Jesus would call me to engage my MIND in loving Him.

Come on Teresa, lean in this morning; be sharp. Think. Process. Figure it out. Don’t just close the book because you don’t immediately get it. Dig in. Read it. Understand it. Apply it.

Not everyone is a scholar, but everyone is a student. We might be a slow student, an easily distracted student; we might even be a student who was held back a while during a rough patch, but all of us can, with the hands on help of the Holy Spirit, have ears that hear, minds that understand, and a will that resolves to follow His.

There is a difference between being hard on yourself, and doing something that is, at times, hard. Jesus called His friends to pay attention and to understand; really think, don’t let yourself off the hook, and grapple with it. He wouldn’t ask any less of us.

— Teresa Klassen

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5 Practical Parenting Ideas: A Few Things That Worked Well (Wait…6)

27 01 2012

After I posted, “Before Discipline,” the other day, I was thinking about some things we did from the start with our kids that I feel really good about; these are things that proved to be effective over the years and are probably things that could be used and customized by other families. So here are 5…

1. Family Values

Early on we established a list of family values for a few reasons. First of all, it is really good to know who you are as a couple and as a family and to agree on those things. What are things that are really important to you? What are things, if violated, would feel wrong in your family?

The great benefit in defining these is that when you correct your child, you can appeal to something deeper than simply an “off behavior.” Instead of saying, “Don’t say that!” You can say, for example, “You know that as a family one of our values is that everyone will be respected. How you just spoke, showed a lack of respect for one of us, and that isn’t who we are. This is supposed to be a safe place for everyone and so speaking that way is just not acceptable here.”

It gives you a platform to speak from that is from the heart, and shows that you are protecting something that is core to your community. It is to their benefit to correct their behavior because they are part of the community you are guarding.

We have condensed our family values to 3 things:

1. Jesus Centered Home – Josh 24:15
As for me and my house we will serve the Lord

This doesn’t mean we are telling our kids what they have to believe. It is telling them what we believe. As long as they are with us, under our roof, Mike and I submit to a higher authority who greatly affects how we raise our kids. Kids will always compare your home to someone else’s and having this value has given us the chance to say, “That’s great. But this is how we run our home…”.

Our kids are teens now and they are trying to figure out their own faith. We leave a lot of room for our kids to do that, but we are sure going to show them the way rather than hope they stumble across it. We are presenting it, being authentic in our own lives, and trusting that God loves them even more then us and will make Himself known to them as we raise them in a house that serves the Lord.

One of our values is that one day a week we gather with others as “the church.”  This is not about religion, but about relationship. Even if our kids choose to not embrace this as a part of their life, we want to set a good foundation for them, to show them the value of this. We have said, “Even if you don’t know what all of this means for you right now, this is a positive, healthy place for you to be, among people who love you and care about your story. ” And don’t we all need that in our life?  It is one day a week to reconnect and recalibrate – to learn about the love of Jesus, to serve others in loving relationships, and to find out who they are in the bigger mission of life.

2. Love and Respect for everyone – Eph 4:32
Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another

This is a huge part of day to day life.

  • If someone does something to make another person in our home feel less valued
  • If they physically or verbally hurt them
  • If they are holding grudges
  • If they are dishonest

That’s a huge violation of what we are about. The home should be a refuge. The safest place for everyone who is a part of it.

3. Generous in all we do – Acts 2:46
Sharing with each other with glad and sincere hearts

If I ask my kids to empty out the dishwasher, should I really be met with a huge sigh and complaints?  The fact is,  generosity and helpfulness is a value in our home. It is easy to speak to when the value is made known.

If a child needs help and another refuses to help them, that is absurd. They are breaking one of our three values and it stands out! This is a hard value to hold them to, because they (like us) are naturally self-serving. But we keep waving the flag; it’s that important.

And this value extends outside of our home too. We don’t just do things for what we gain from them, we do things because we are called to be generous; that’s our value. So if someone is all whiny because they actually have to spend some time doing something practical for someone else? Come on — our value is generosity, live up to it.

p.s. if your kids are pre-teens, get the book “Do Hard Things” — it will really change your mind about what kids are capable of. Sometimes our expectations are so low, all we end up getting are lazy, uncompassionate, selfish teens. They are capable of so much more, and we need to give them opportunity to be more!

2. Family Meetings

We always held “a meeting” at the front end of the school year, for a time to remind everyone about how things would work in the Fall, and to be able to encourage each child in “this next leg of the journey.” And we would call meetings throughout the year to address random things as well when we found

  • Sometimes we were saying the same things to our 4 different kids in 4 different ways…repeatedly. When we saw this pattern happening, we knew we all had to get together and get on the same page.
  • Sometimes we found our values slipping and we knew it was time for a review
  • Sometimes we saw an issue happening in our outside our home that we knew we had to speak to and it would be good to do it all together
  • Sometimes our kids were having issues with one another, and it deserved a public forum.

We addressed things like friendship circles, internet use, the way we were relating to one another, things that were going on in our world as parents that might be raising questions with the kids, frustrations I was experiencing as a mom in our daily life, etc.

Mike and I came prepared to the table with a list of things to discuss, and sometimes we planned things out word-for-word when we knew we were hitting a contentious issue (maybe I will find one of those talks and print it out in the future). It gave Mike and I the chance to have a united front, and it also left room to have a great discussion with our kids (we would tell them ahead of time that a meeting was coming and they could also bring things to the table if they had something to raise).

Family meetings stopped everything for an hour; slowing things down made what we were saying important and gave us a forum to bring a course correction to the “whole organization.”

2. “The Book”

This, by far, was my favorite form of “discipline” with the kids and my only regret is that I didn’t start doing it sooner with all of them. It grew primarily as a response to the boys misbehavior’s. You know when your kids say “sorry” and it doesn’t mean anything? They rattle it off and walk away and you know they have found the legal loophole to just move on.

One day, in a moment of inspiration (or frustration, I can’t recall) I took out a notebook and wrote out 4 things:

1. What I did that was wrong

2. Why it was wrong

3. Apology

4. What I will do differently next time

A little note about discipline: if a child doesn’t feel something, it probably isn’t going to work. Low grade pain, if we are wise and pay attention, will save us from devastating pain down the road. Discomfort, from the hand of a parent passionate about their child, is a gift.

Writing, for many, is not a form of punishment. For my boys, however, it was. If I told them they had to write out a paragraph, you’d think I had sent them to the Tower of London.

The requirement was this. In an exercise book (you know the kind that is about 8 inches tall), they had to answer my four questions, writing one full page, single spaced, neatly. Titled, dated, with their name. I didn’t care how long it took, it had to meet those requirements. And if they turned in something that was not thought through, I would make them do it over. Mean, hey? 🙂

My goal: to get them to THINK. I wanted their “sorry” to go from their head to their heart. I wanted some understanding to come.

When they were done, we sat down and we talked it all through. It was the talking that brought the win. It is always the talking that brings the win. Ah, but this takes time. Do you have the time?

If I had a do-over, I would start with the book as soon as they were old enough to have a “reasoning” conversation. I would write for them, I would ask them questions to get them to think, but I would get them to think! I would get a nice, hardcover book because I am telling you…what kids confess is actually hilarious and their little “book of sins” becomes a pretty great keepsake. At the time, it is serious, but down the road, when they are older, you are like, “Haha, remember that time you pushed your brother into a ditch?”

Also, because this was a new idea to me, my boys found pretty funny loopholes to my requirements. For example, what if in the apology part you wrote out “Sorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” with about 50 “r’s” to take up space? I never specified that they couldn’t do that…and, in the end, I had to admire their creativity.

3. Mental Health Days 

We will never win the prize for “Perfect Attendance” at school. We have been pretty generous with pulling our kids from school and there is nothing better than a day you drive past the school instead of to the school to take your kids out for breakfast. There is nothing like telling your child who is having an emotional day, “I think you need a mental health day” (as we call it).

Breaking the rules gives you huge points with your kids. Take the time on that day to really connect, to listen to them, to speak into their lives; to love them.

p.s. And I should add, have a great relationship with your kid’s teacher. Do your part to catch up on work missed and don’t create extra work for them. And honestly, if our kid got a lower grade on something, but we had a phenomenal day to put in our memory bank and they learned a ton about life and relationships that day…so be it. We would take a little time to study what they missed and… alls well.

4. Change In Your Pocket and other word pictures

There is this thing called “change in your pocket.” If you are just correcting, correcting, correcting your child, you need to stop everything and put some deposits into them. Every time you feed your child with encouragement of some kind, when you help them, when you work out a problem with them, when you listen well, you are putting change in your pocket.You need change in your pocket, parents, because at some point, you will with certainty, spend it.

Parents can easily think because “I am the parent,” investment doesn’t matter that much. But that kind of controlling attitude only works so much. Yes, there is a time to put your authoritative foot down, but that is the exception, not the norm. You need change in your pocket with your child, like you do with your spouse, like you do with your friends.

When the tough conversation has to come, a few coins from that pocket are spent, but you have invested well in your relationships, you still have lots more left, so it isn’t like your relational bank has been drained.

We use that analogy a lot because kids have a pocket too. If they are just taking from you and not giving back, help them to understand this: they are responsible, if this is one of your values, to give back too. If they have been pushing it hard, they need to know that they have taken all the spare change, so if you are drawing some hard lines at that point, they can see what their behavior has led to.

Change in the pocket: it goes both ways. It is a word picture that has helped our see the taking and giving side of relationships. It is also a great picture to use when you talk about building trust with one another.

Another picture we used with our more sensitive kids was a big ball and a little ball. Sensitive kids need to know that they are AWESOME but that there is still room for them to mess up.  Sensitive kids need to know you love them like crazy, but part of love is also bringing correction.  So…get the biggest ball you can and tell them that this represents all the things they do right. Then grab a ping-pong ball and say, “but this is something that you haven’t done right and I need to speak to you about it.”  Giving them a visual, helps them put it into perspective.

I found, when bringing correction, if I took the time to try to paint a word picture for them, or to actually have a “visual” to use…it helped them connect with what I was saying.

5. The Projects

One thing I feel really great about, looking back, is how Mike and I partnered in tackling “issues” with our kids. We would get alone in our room and one of us would raise an issue and we would talk about it until we were in agreement with how to handle it. Sometimes it was just about the right course of discipline, or discussing what we thought was going on in someone’s head (comparing notes, so to speak) and other times we would decide that for a certain period of time, we were going to hit an issue as if it were a project; it was he and I as a united front, and we were all in for a period of time that we set.

Let me explain, sometimes we ran up against a pattern with one of our kids — maybe it was “being rough” when they were little, or maybe it was pouting, or maybe it was an attitude later on…whatever the pattern was, it wasn’t going away. That’s when we made it a project.

The best time to hit a project is when you can have a few days off, so maybe a long weekend, for example. What you do is zero in on a bad behavioral habit, and you both are eyes and ears to that issue for several days in a row. I find that, as the mom, I am often the one who is dealing with these things as I have more time with the kids. But there is something GREAT that  happens when a dad is all-in too. When dad picks up the project, and you are unified, the child gets the point.

I know this takes energy and commitment (what else is parenting other than energy and commitment?) I know you might want to just come home and not deal with it…but you will deal with it, by choice or through the consequences of not having made the choice to.

When I look back at our “projects” I always saw such good results and it made our home a much better place to be when the project was over.

If you are single parent, this is a tough one for you; it can still work but I can imagine that it is hard to find that “reserve energy” to really lock onto one issue or to find partnership in doing so. For you it would take a more creative approach, maybe pulling in a grandparent or uncle.

Those are 5 things we did that I feel great about; it is good to be able to reflect and pick out five because I’ve done a lot of things I DON’T feel great about, in the heat of the moment. For that, the greatest tool a parent has is two words: I’m sorry.

Ah…maybe this is the 6th thing I feel good about

6. You Can Take Another Run At Things

It’s ok to admit you blew it. You are just human, and you don’t have all the answers immediately. Whoever says you don’t get to redo things was wrong…you do. Kids are very precedent setting, I find. They say, “But you said…” or “But you let them…” and you feel like you have been pushed into a corner.

Be humble and admit that it wasn’t the best decision you made and that you, like them, make mistakes. Tell them, “It’s hard being a parent, it is hard always figuring out who was right, who was wrong and what the best thing is to do. When you are a parent, you might choose to do things very differently than I have. That’s your choice. As for me, I have to do my best and so, I am taking another run at this…now…” paint the picture for the new reality and don’t let them blackmail you 🙂

Be creative. Be courageous!

— Teresa Klassen





A Day In The Pool (of self-pity)

3 05 2011

The Bible doesn’t let you get away with anything; anything hypocritical that is; this is what I am learning. The minute I say, “I’m good,” God’s Word has an uncanny way of showing me where I am not. This is one of the things that bugs people. They want to hear they are good. I am here to say, it is actually quite freeing when you come to embrace the fact that you aren’t because it leaves a lot of room for improvement. When you realize you aren’t good, but you want to be, you don’t resent help. Not that I am there yet, because quite often I still think I am good, and think God should move on down the road to point out someone else’s issues.

Take pride. It is easy to look at the word “pride” and say: “I am not prideful. Look at me,” one could say, “Look at my world, what do I have to be prideful about? Everything I could have bragged about is no longer in my possession; I have been humbled. In the area of pride, I’m good.”

Not so fast, says John Piper. I am reading John Piper’s book “What God Demands From The World.” I am reading a little chapter a day because it is enough to chew on. The chapter on pride/humility is a killer.

Piper states the obvious: “The root of hypocrisy is pride” (125), which you probably already know. But try this one on:

Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much.”

Piper goes on to say that we don’t think of self-pity as pride because it “appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego…” (126). Self-pity calls attention to itself: “It is the response of unapplauded pride” (126). This kind of pride that sets itself up as self-deserving, “the sense that one deserves something good from God” (127).

This chapter really stopped me in my tracks because I have never thought of self-pity in terms of pride. Hm, self-pity is an act of pride is it? And it made me think of the tipping point (and would I recognize it?) where feeling legitimate hurt now crosses over to nursing pride in my life through self-pity.

Here is more of what Piper says that pride is multi-layered:

At the bottom of it is a complex disposition of self-rule, merit, and pleasure in feeling superior to others…

Pride is actually defiance against God, it is the feeling that we deserve better treatment, and it delights feeling above others. Yet none of these are blatantly obvious when pride comes in the form of self-pity:

A person can seem to feel unworthy by constantly deprecating himself in public, but all the while feel angry that others do not recognize this as a virtue. (126)

Piper says, “There are a hundred ways pride positions itself” (128) and the issue always comes down to what you love. Pride always seeks attention either because it displays itself as being “great” or through displaying “self-pity” as a means of being honored or sympathized with.

So we are taught not to brag, not to show-off, not to self-promote…all these things, but what about the flip side. What about the sob story, what about our tales of woe, what about our quiet and supposed “self-sacrifice” that we are hoping others will notice? Wow, is it hard to be pure. Piper says pride demonstrated through self-pity doesn’t “lift a finger to show the repentant sinner how Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light…because they do not experience it as easy and light…if it were easy and light, where would be the boasting?” (128)

Humility and servanthood are tied together for this reason. Humility leads to “joyful readiness to do lowly service” with a childlike trust in God’s grace. Childlike trust keeps us from complaining, from drawing attention to ourselves through our complaints. It removes trust from ourselves and happily assumes the position of unworthy servants. Piper points out that it changes our mind about what we are in the middle of, that everything we receive from God is a mercy: “The joy of the humble does not reside in being deserving, but in receiving mercy” (129).

I think when we begin to ask ourselves questions about what in our life smacks of the pride of self-pity we will put on the table our hurts and say, “what about that?” and instead of wallowing in it and enjoying what it gets us, we will instead seek actual healing. I think we will not want to rehearse our pain. I think we will not want to carry resentments. I think we will not want to find sympathy for what we feel was so undeserved. I think we will seek in earnest to deal with our bruises and then ask for further instructions which might sound an awful lot like, “Now get on with it.”

Sometimes I haven’t known what to do with wounds, and like physical wounds some have just gotten infected, I think. Emotionally, I see, that infection can look like bitterness — that one I have been aware of — but self-pity is something I need to think more about. I know its not just a matter of saying, “buck up” and “forget about it.” No, it has to be more thorough then that, and I have to approach those realities more as a child before my Father, then as a grown-up muscling through.

Changing our thinking means we need to, once again, change our position. We need to change our position from thinking about what we “deserve” to what we owe.

Jesus says in Luke 17:10, “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

— Teresa Klassen





Seven Wise Counselors

20 08 2010

I have come to realize something about myself, I don’t like researching things. Research is like opening up Pandora’s box. One question branches out into a family tree of questions and before long I find myself lost in details I didn’t know I didn’t know.

Take cellphone plans, for example, if you have ever thought, “Maybe I should change my cellphone provider/plan,” buy Advil first. There are few things as frustrating as figuring out cellphone plans.There are so many options now and the options have options, variables, fine print, contracts and no contracts, and so many details and exceptions to these that, after a while, I feel like I am losing my mind! I think “they” do this purposely so that after a while people will say, “Enough!” dip their hand into the cellphone sea of information and go with whatever they pull up.

As soon as you start researching things you enter a maze where figuring out one thing, leads to something else you don’t understand. I started looking for a simple cellphone plan, the most inexpensive, no-contract one with a good texting option and I ended up trying to figure out the world of GMS phones and SIM cards, unlocking phones and what is “jailbreaking” a phone? Agh! Why can’t it be simple: one, two, three, make a decision, done. Well, it can, but then you don’t always get the best deal.

Proverbs 26:16 is an interesting little verse on this topic, “Lazy people consider themselves smarter than seven wise counselors.” As I was digging into the meaning behind this verse, I thought this was an interesting note:

“The lazy person thinks he has life all figured out and has chosen the wise course of action, but he is simply lazy. J.H. Greenstone says, for example, ‘Much anti-intellectualism may be traced to such rationalization for laziness.'” (Notes on the verse from bible.org)

When I go to the shelf and buy something without researching alternatives, I am doing so because it is easier; I don’t have to expend any mental energy on it. I am doing what Proverbs 26:16 is describing. By choosing not to think, I have taken the sluggard’s course of action.

The thing is, cellphone plans are not going to make or break my life; but some things will. Huge, life altering decisions are often made without “seven wise counselors.” Sometimes we endure years of pain and heartache because we get all Frank Sinatra and just do it our way. It seems our default button is “I’m right;” we have such a tough time being a student. This isn’t smart; it’s anti-smart.

I want to be wise about the decisions I make, but, oh, my head gets tired sometimes. I get tired of figuring new things out; especially things that are hard to figure out. I would like it if things were a little more compartmentalized, you know, deal with one thing and then deal with the next. Some days I don’t have the energy to spend more time on yet another thing. As I am listening to myself I am thinking about the danger of making decisions when I am worn out or under pressure. Careful. Then, especially then, I need seven wise counselors.

I am really not an expert on anything; I need all the help I can get, so I have come to really respect good researchers. One good website comparing 15 plans, or one really smart friend who has done the work ahead of me, and things begin to take shape for me. I know a few people who LOVE researching things; anything!  Mike and I have phoned them more than once and asked them if they know something about a pretty random thing we are learning about. Inevitably, they do and they are more than willing to share their wealth of information. It is like seven wise counselors in one shot! AWESOME!

— Teresa Klassen





Consider: The Plan

30 07 2010

Part 5 of  “Consider This”

“…describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider the plan, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design…”(Ezekiel 43:10)

When I first read this, I got hung up in the middle, right on the word “ashamed” and didn’t really feel like blogging about it; but the more I looked at it, the more God revealed to me the beauty of this passage; the beauty of what He was revealing to Ezekiel. I am seeing that this is a “get it, got it, good” kind of verse; but to arrive at the good part, you have to get it, got it?

Do I get it about my sin or I do I think I am pretty OK with the occasional deviance. I want to say that I really get it about my sin; sometimes I do; but there are many days I think I am pretty OK (that habit of always justifying, you know?) Being that I don’t have to go and sacrifice a bird or animal for my sins, getting blood on my hands, seeing the destruction of a living creature for my wrong-doings, has made me pretty casual about my sin. I can sin against God and man and drive on; sin being a hardly noticeable speed bump: what was that? Oh, nothing.

Because I don’t usually have to confess my sins out-loud to anyone, I can mostly tiptoe into my room and whisper an “I’m sorry” to God and I am good to go. What must it have been like during the “time of the sacrifice” in Israel with all those sinners walking around, carting their offering for only one reason: they sinned? There was no sneaking into the temple. We are the same sinners today; it’s just that only a few of us have to go public. 

In the passage in Ezekiel God is speaking through him and saying I ought to be ashamed of my sins, ashamed of what I have done. To be ashamed is to feel shame, guilt, or disgrace. In the Biblical context (as used in Ezekiel 43:10) another way of saying it would be “to be humiliated.”

Wordcentral.com gives a good “word history” of humiliation:

In modern English we sometimes say that a person who has been criticized or humiliated has been put down. We speak as though the person had actually been forced to the ground or made to bow down in front of someone else. The origins of the word humiliate itself also suggest the idea of physically putting someone down to the ground.

Who chooses humiliation? Not I. I also don’t like the idea of someone physically putting me down to the ground and forcing humiliation upon me.

I may have mentioned this before, but a while ago I was reading a book (Excellent read: Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths) and the author pointed out that the word “humility” comes out of the word “humiliation.”  In other words, really understanding humility usually requires humiliation. At the time, I was walking through a difficult situation and the last thing I wanted was more humiliation; I wanted validation; I wanted relief. But the truth of that statement just landed on me; I know it is true.  Arriving at a place of humility isn’t something I could just decide to do or not to do; if during a time of humiliation my hands remain open to God, humble is something I would be a little more of afterward, naturally.

You have to know, I don’t like anything about that process. But after, after there is something I haven’t expected: actual acknowledgment and then, freedom. There is one less thing to try and prove, one less thing to try to impress people with, one less hidden thing, one less layer; I have found, after, that I am standing before God, agreeing with Him about me: “Yes, this is really all there is.” His hand is on my shoulder, and we carry on.

Can I be ashamed of my sins without God being heavy-handed with me? I am thinking about this and realizing yes, I can, but it takes practice.  Confession and repentance are both “action words” and I tend to be a lot less action-oriented about my sin. The parenting parallels are amazing.  When do you get to the point where you don’t have to tell your child, “at this point you should say, ‘I’m sorry’.” Every time I have to say that, I have just removed the opportunity for sincerity. Shame is not a “repeat after me” scenario. True shame comes from a heart that has felt the cause and effect of sin and is broken up about it. True shame comes when having a right relationship really, really, really matters; it matters more than anything.

Being ashamed/humiliated clears the way for God’s plan to be seen.  Looking back at Ezekiel, God has this amazing plan for how everything could work, how everything could look (if you just flip back a few chapters and even just scan the titles you can see how detailed God’s plans are; amazing). He has it all measured out, the vision is so clear in His mind.  I believe He has one such plan for me, an ideal future that looks like me following Him and us engaging in something above and beyond the drudgery and pointlessness of a self-serving, sin-filled life.

This is what is encouraging about today’s passage.  I think God is standing by and saying, “Just admit it.” As soon as we do so, with humility, He is rolling out the blue-prints to show us what is next.  It isn’t that our sin doesn’t matter, that there are not consequences, but God factors those in. He hasn’t given up on us. He doesn’t say, “Once the heat is off, come back and talk to Me.” God walks with us, among our ruins, saying, “Picture this, we could put this here and that there, and you could use this for that…”

God is always wanting to make known to us the design.

— Teresa Klassen





Consider: The Word of the Lord

29 07 2010

Part 4 of “Consider This”

“You of this generation, consider
the word of the LORD…”
(Jeremiah 2:31 NIV)

My first Bible had a bright red cover; it was thick and heavy, both in weight and content. I didn’t really read it; I just looked at it.  I liked the small letters and the tidy columns; I liked the way it sounded when I turned the onionskin pages. There was a feel about it, like it was important, but I didn’t know what to do with it.

This is how it was for many years. Even when I was old enough to understand what the words meant; even when I could find my way around a Bible, I didn’t love it. I loved God, and I lugged around His book, but I could put it down.

Something changed; the word I would put to it is “want.”  I suddenly wanted something from that book. I began to look at my Bible as something to be unlocked. I took out some paper; just plain lined paper. I read a verse and decided to talk about it and ask questions of it and write down my prayer related to it. I didn’t exactly address it to anyone but I could see that a conversation had begun between God’s Spirit and mine, and this began to change my mind about the Bible, and it began to change me.

Many years have passed now, and that conversation continues. I can’t explain it but there is something about the pen hitting the page (or my fingers hitting the keyboard) that opens up something in me and allows God to speak to me through His Word, the Bible, which I have come to love.

I never know what I am going to get when I read a verse or a page of verses. Sometimes I think, “There is nothing here for me today,” and something in me responds, “don’t give up so easily.” So I press in and I ask and I think and I pray; I am curious enough (desperate some days) to see how God will show up in places I can’t see Him and then suddenly, there He is; there is the lesson; there is what He wants me to hear.

A lot of people hate writing and the good thing about this whole “exercise” is that it isn’t about the writing, the sentence structure, the perfect paragraph with the beginning, middle and end. It is about what is happening, what is going in to your heart and what is coming out of your thoughts. It is about seeing the thing you didn’t see before, and that only happens when we slow down and write down what we are thinking about.

The precedent for this is all over the Bible:

  • As God was passing instructions down to Moses He said, “write these words down.” (Exodus 34:27, 43:11)
  • God told Habakkuk to write down the revelation he was receiving (Habakkuk 2:2)
  • God told John, when He was describing everything that was to come, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

Of course, the biggest example is the Bible itself. It is the written down interaction between man and God in 66 books that we wouldn’t have if God had not nudged people to write it down.

I have a collection of pages now, my pen hitting the paper, the zig-zagging plot of my life companioned by God’s words. The word of the Lord has met me, guided me, saved me, stopped me, affirmed me, chastened me, warned me, and envisioned me “for the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

I want to paint a realistic picture for those who might read these words.

  • I do not rise at 4 and find an aesthetically pleasing corner to meditate and contemplate life and the meaning of it (although this sounds nice).
  • I almost always sit down in the morning at some point (because the rest of the day is crazy) and sometimes I don’t. I try to be disciplined about it, but I am not always.
  • I usually follow a reading guide (because I like to be forced to look at books/verses I might not naturally choose to read and I love that God knows that I am going to be reading it and has already planned something for me).
  • I ramble.
  • I have the messiest handwriting on the planet.
  • I don’t always finish my sentences.
  • On some pages in my journal (looking back) I sound like a real idiot. So what. That’s the whole point of the exercise, to see this and to let God lead me to a better way.

Sometimes my times with God’s word is brief and to the point. Sometimes they are long and rambling. Sometimes what I end up with is really beautiful. Often what I end up with makes me realize how much work God has on His hands.

God calls this generation to consider the word of the Lord mostly because the word of the Lord considers us and shows us what we cannot see about ourselves. The word of the Lord is also the way we understand the will of the Lord. God’s word points to what matters to God in every situation and gives us half a chance of actually becoming a little bit of what Jesus desired when He prayed, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6).

We so often say, “what does God want?!?!” I picture God saying, “I already told you!”

Consider the word of the Lord.

— Teresa Klassen





Consider: The Great Love of the Lord

28 07 2010

Part 3 of “Consider This”

We took this picture in Mexico; a tree growing out of nowhere; so out of place. I am sure no one was crazy enough to actually plant it there; it just decided to make something good out of a bad situation.

On another note, it is easy for me to claim, “God is good,” when times are good; maybe God is good, or maybe I just got my own way. What about on a really bad day, is God as good then? This may sound like a rhetorical question; maybe I can’t quantify when God is “the most good,” but Psalm 107 has me thinking. Verse 43 says, “Consider the great love of the Lord;” it happens right at the end of a Psalm that is largely about hard things; a whole list describing very bad human experiences:

  • The Psalm says there are those who will find themselves in unfriendly spaces;
  • Some can’t find home;
  • Others hunger and thirst.
  • There are those who feel their lives “ebbing away;”
  • Some find themselves in very dark places;
  • Others find themselves in a state of deep depression.
  • There are those who find themselves prisoners;
  • Some in a bitter line of work;
  • Others are just rebelling, and life is bad because of it.
  • There are those who are in a bad place because of bad choices;
  • Some are closer to the grave then they ought to be because of foolish living;
  • Others are in perilous positions.
  • There are people in actual, physical danger;
  • Some see no alternatives to the distressing place they find themselves in;
  • Others who were successful see success fall away.
  • There are those who are humbled and humiliated;
  • Some experience actual oppression;
  • Others one calamity and sorrow after another.

There is so much pain in this Psalm, summarized for our convenience. Just take one and add real life to it and it stretches out for days, a year, many years; is God good then? Yet, read the Psalm; for every one of these hard things is God’s merciful response.

Psalm 107 seems to be saying, on bad days, in the middle of a mess, God’s goodness is all the more “divine.” His presence in our aloneness is an inexplicable and totally undeserved comfort. His loyalty to us when we have been betrayed, or when we have been the betrayer, is there beyond reason. Verses 1 and 2 say that God is good and His love endures far beyond our current circumstances into the incomprehensible “forever.” These “redeemed,” the one’s who get it about having nothing worth offering, see God’s goodness the most in His forgiveness and in His favor “in spite of” not “because of” our own perceived goodness.

On sunny days, when we are decent people, experiencing our favorite mountain-top, we feel good because we feel good. I guess it could also be said, we think we feel God because we feel good. I am not saying our worship of God is invalid during these heights of inspiration, but the depths prove everything we have read.

Contrary to what I think we think (“hard times test our mettle”), the dark depths aren’t the place where we show up, but where Christ shows up. On these days we cry and finally cry out (see verses 6, 13, 19, and 28); bad days cast a shadow over the stars in our eyes and leave us emptied, staring at what we’ve really made of things; but wait! Bad times allow us to understand something that Job knew, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)

God joins us so tangibly in our most desperate times. He may seem blurry (what with the tears) but God is in the room; He is rescuing what others see as beyond rescue.  He is saving what seems beyond saving. He is using what seems unusable. He will do what He has promised and take possession of every circumstance for His ultimate good purposes. He always has the last word.

Psalm 107 ends by inviting those who want to walk wisely to take note of God’s love from this lens so we really get it about the great, and some versions say the loyal/steadfast/faithful, love of God. The Psalm says, to those of us who have limited experience with very bad days; those of us who have only dipped our toes in the ocean of suffering ought to consider that God’s great love is only made greater on impossibly bad days. Don’t forget.

Here His perfect love sharply contrasts what’s fickle and faulty about us. Here is when we “get it” about our lack of options and offerings and we can receive from Him. Here His goodness comes into clear focus: the green tree growing out of the bare cement wall.

— Teresa Klassen