Day 30 of 31 Things to Teach Your Kids: Teach them how to be set apart.
I have always been a vivid dreamer. When I was a kid, for years I had a recurring dream about a monster in the foyer of our house. As an adult, my dreams are often about hiding from tornadoes or driving into floodwaters with my kids in the car. Every single dream seems so real that when I finally wake up in our cool, dark bedroom with Chad breathing beside me, it’s the best kind of relief.
Recently I had one of my worst dreams to date. Chad and I were on a dark, twisting road high on a mountain. I was driving, and it was raining, of course. I was struggling to see the line on the road through the steady downpour. We came to a sharp curve to the right, and I couldn’t see it. I drove off of the cliff we had been teetering on the edge of. I had the sensation of falling, though we were still strapped in by our seatbelts. We held onto each other in sheer terror, and I kept saying it over and over again: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I was just waiting for the moment of impact, knowing there was nothing more I could do to save us or turn back time on my very, very wrong turn. And, all I could really think about in that terrifying, free-fall moment was how I had ruined everything, and I had taken Chad down with me.
Before you decide that I need to be psycho-analyzed, you should know that I also have quite a few dreams about aliens. So, yeah, probably need to go ahead and make that appointment.
The truth is that this terrible dream is actually a pretty good analogy for a wrecked marriage. We underestimate the weight of what we’re really doing on the day we walk down the aisle. I know when I put on a white dress at twenty-one, I wasn’t all that aware that I was actually taking my dreams, my insecurities, my issues, my fears, my entire future, and I was telling Chad and the whole world that I trust him with all of it. And, the real miracle of the whole deal is that he was doing the same with me. We were willing to lay it all at each other’s feet and just pray to God that we were both trustworthy.
It’s a brave thing, getting married.
It doesn’t take long in marriage to figure out that we are leading each other into all kinds of things, good and bad. We take on some of the same habits. We introduce each other to our tastes, and sometimes, because we are two imperfect people with sinful tendencies, we lead each other into sin. I wonder if we realize on that day at the altar, just how much we are depending on each other for accountability, for encouragement to follow Christ, for a godly example being lived out in our home, day after day?
I wonder if we really understand how sacred the gift of that trust really is?
For Christian people, marriage should be a blessing in our lives that makes us more like Christ. It should be the difference between wandering off the side of a cliff and making it safely to the next rest stop. Seeking Christ is not a singular pursuit in marriage–it’s a joint effort. Yes, we have individual responsibility to study His word and try to know Him more. But, our marriages should make us more holy, not less. They should help us to run the race with perseverance, not distract us to the point of forgetting that we’re even running.
Dear young single Christian, consider this when you are choosing a husband or wife. Really step back and take stock: will this person help you become more like Christ through the years? Or when the steep, rocky, mountainous roads crop up, will they lead you right off of a cliff?
Married Christians, are you being the type of partner who is trustworthy to carry the burden of your spouse’s sinful tendencies? Are you committed to keeping both of you on the road to sanctification, or are you losing your way and taking your spouse with you? In a one-flesh existence, there is no such thing as “my problem” or “your problem.” We are called to share our burdens, and we both have the awesome responsibility of holding tight to each other while we hold tight to Christ.
And the glory of it all is that His grip on us never fails.
We have to start viewing our marriages as fertile ground for growth and holiness. Unless we start taking our own sin seriously, we will fail in our efforts to lead each other in the ways of Christ.
You have so much more influence on your spouse than you know. Where are you leading her? Who are you encouraging him to be? My prayer is that at the end of a long and fruitful life together, Chad and I will be able to approach the throne with all assurance that we helped each other know Christ more.
So, I know it. You guys really, really hate it when I talk about movies. You really don’t want for me to mess with your entertainment or your “guilty pleasures.” I totally get that. I know why you hate it, and I don’t blame you. Because sometimes it’s really a bummer to look at the realities of what it means to strive for holiness. It’s tough to really examine what we look at and what we put in our hearts and minds.
And, I also know that many who read this will claim that watching a movie does nothing to our hearts and minds. That it doesn’t affect us in any way. That we watch it and we walk away and we forget about it forever. But, if you are a Christian and you tell yourself these things, you are letting your heart lie to you.( The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9) The truth is that everything we see is filed away in our minds, ready to replay at any time. You are sure to have some scene in your mind right now that you can recall with no trouble at all. We all do. We have many of them. And they do nothing to make us more Christ-like–in fact, they are a detriment to our spiritual growth.
So, I will preface this post by saying that I am writing this for Christians who are interested in growing in Christ, in dying to self and growing in wisdom and truth. If that’s not you, then this post doesn’t apply right now, although I pray it does sometime in the future.
I will also say that I don’t write this as someone who never watches what I shouldn’t. So, when you are tempted to feel that I am being holier-than-thou, on my spiritual high horse, and all of those other favorite you’re-a-hypocrite phrases, you will know that I’m admitting right up front that one reason I am so passionate about the idea of keeping our minds pure is because it is something that I, like you, struggle with.
The internet is already buzzing with the first photos of Christian Grey as he will appear in the upcoming movie 50 Shades of Grey, which is set to come out on Valentine’s Day. I know that soon many of my sisters in Christ will be posting photos and talking excitedly about going with their friends to see the movie.
But, what if we didn’t? What if we determined that we aren’t going to allow anyone into our relationship with our husbands? Not a fictional character in a book, not an actor on the screen? What if we decided that we will no longer allow our minds to invite a third person into our bedroom? What if we chose to close our hearts and minds to fantasies about other men (who don’t comfort us when we cry, who don’t faithfully support us, who don’t play with our children, who don’t offer advice, who didn’t pledge to love us until we die)? What if we gave this gift to our husbands: being fully present in the moment, completely focused on him and all that we love about him during intimate moments?
What if we decided our husbands and our love for them mattered more than a girl’s night out and 50 Shades of Grey?
And, even more, what if we admitted that watching this movie would be a detriment to our growth as Christians? What if we finally quit worrying about being seen as prudes or as out of touch, and we showed the lost world, in just one small way, that Christianity really does make us different? And, it’s not such a bad thing?
Now is the time to decide that we will not watch this movie. Determine this now, in your heart, and pray that God will give you the courage to tell your Christian friends that you can’t watch the movie, for the sake of your husband and your desire to live in holiness.
We can do this, sisters. Let everyone think what they will about it. We can choose to do what pleases God. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Emerald is twenty-two months old now, and she has really been enjoying following the new cat around. She walks behind the cat, talking all the way, singing, and laughing. When the cat sits down, so does Emerald. She loves to get as close to the kitty as possible, and she kind of goes back and forth between being afraid of the cat and wanting to smother her with an overenthusiastic love.
Sometimes when the cat flops down someplace, Emerald will lie down on her round toddler belly and reach chubby fingers out to pet the her. She really seems taken by that beautiful silky fur, the golden eyes, and the cute pink sparkly collar. Sometimes she goes so far as to follow the kitty on her hands and knees, meowing as if they are sisters.
So far the cat has taken all of this fairly well. She allows the petting and the poking and the loud talking and giggling most of the time. But, there have been a few times when Emerald was in the kitty’s face or petting her a little too vigorously, when the cat just reached out her paw and scratched that cute chubby hand.
Each time it happens Emerald runs to me, crying, holding up her hand for me to see it and kiss it and assure her that the kitty is still her friend. I point out those sharp claws that she needs to watch out for. And each time she gets scratched, she is afraid of the cat for awhile. She won’t get close to those claws, remembering how they hurt her not long ago.
But, after a night’s sleep she generally seems to have forgotten all about the scratches, and she starts in again the exact same way, following the cat around, petting her, imitating her, generally focused on being near her at all times.
While I watched Emerald meowing along behind the cat this morning, I was struck by how her relationship with the cat looks a lot like the Christian’s relationship with the world. We’re attracted to the things of Earth because they’re pretty. They’re fun. They entertain us and give us interesting things to look at and chase after and imitate. So, we bring these things into our homes and we play with them, and sit as close to them as possible, and we giggle and we enjoy them.
And, while we do this, we realize that there are lots of things in the world that are good and virtuous and teach us important lessons that are not necessarily “Christian” things. Art, for instance, books, movies, television shows, music, fashion, technology. It’s okay to like and appreciate and enjoy those things.
But, there is real danger in the things of this world. There seems to be dispute about this among Christians, but let me be the one to say this to you very clearly and concisely: there is no comparison between the things of this world and the things of God. They are not equally beneficial. When we invite worldly things into our lives and the lives of our children, we should do so with great caution and extreme care. Because when the world comes into our homes, we are letting our children play with it the way Emerald plays with the cat. And, it is inevitable that the scratches will come. Some things we invite in–television shows, for example– might cause some pain and conviction in our hearts. But, other things, like unfiltered access to pornography on cell phones and computers, are equal to inviting a full-grown tiger into your home and allowing your family to play with it. And, it doesn’t have to be officially qualified as pornography to have the same horrible effects on the minds and spirits of you and your loved ones. Many things on television and in movies and in books and in music are easy ways to allow your soul to be mauled by the one who, incidentally, the Bible says is prowling around, ready to devour you.
The attitude that “art” can teach us things about God while directly conflicting with His word has got to be Satan’s favorite lie of our day. It’s such an easy way to get Christians to lose focus. Our goal is humble holiness, and there are just some things that this world offers that directly conflict with that goal. When we play with the tiger in the living room, we are going to get hurt.
So, we need to be careful and evaluate with all seriousness the value of each worldly influence we allow into our homes. Many things are beautiful, touching, and interesting. But, we should not be fooled into thinking that an unbelieving world has things to teach us about God. His word is sufficient. Romans 12:2 says this:
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (MSG)
If we want to be changed, if we want to kick the tiger out of the living room, we can do it by fixing our attention on God and responding to His word. This means we have to carefully evaluate what we allow into our homes. Sure, we may be called prudes, but if that’s the worst thing that happens to us today, I’d say we have it pretty good.
And, when Emerald runs to me with her next scratch, I’ll kiss it and hug her and remind her that her friend has claws.
What would Jesus do? Believe it or not, this question, which basically became a joke to most Christians after it graced every t-shirt, bracelet, and bumper sticker for awhile, has now become a serious and essential question of the Christian faith. I’ve seen it asked in all kinds of contexts, and usually those of us who are quick to answer it seem to feel as if we have a direct line to Jesus’ brain that tells us in any and every situation how Jesus would handle things.
The fact is that we can never know with all certainty how Jesus would handle anything because He is God, and the Bible clearly tells us that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways.
Yes, we can see His character played out in Scripture. But, we see Him both rebuke and forgive. We see Him love and we see Him feel righteous anger. We see him humble himself as a servant, and we see Him exalted at the right hand of the Father. We see Jesus eat with sinners, and we see Him meet with religious leaders. We see Him combat Satan in the desert and we see Him stand silent before His accusers in the courts. We see Him healing the masses and we see Him allowing His friend to die. Jesus is a highly complex, completely perfect, holy in every way God and man. He is beyond our comprehension and yet is completely accessible.
But, what Jesus would do cannot be reduced to one simple always-the-right-answer idea. The truth is that Jesus, complex as He is, complicated as His calling is, could and would do any number of things in any given situation. Yet, we talk about Him as if we have a window to His own thoughts.
We would do better to humble ourselves and admit that we might not be exactly sure what Jesus would do in every situation, but we know that whatever He does is good, is holy, and is perfect in every way. Maybe instead of asking what Jesus would do, we should stop dealing in the world of hypotheticals and instead ask the tougher question: What would Jesus have me do?
And, then we start getting someplace in the run toward holiness.
We all have an image of ourselves that we want to project to other people. We want our friends, our family, and even total strangers to think of us in a certain way. In some cases, this is what drives us to be nice, to smile instead of yell, or to put others ahead of ourselves even when we don’t feel like it. Because if we don’t, people will think we’re AWFUL.
And, Christians have an especially strong need to be seen as good. We want people to look at us and think that we strive to be holy, that we love God, and that we care about others. Sometimes we make a whole life out of being the way we’re “supposed” to be in front of a certain crowd of people and being the way we really are behind closed doors. Living life that way is exhausting. To spend more than half of life pretending to be something you’re not is just such a waste of time and energy.
At this point in most blog posts, the writer would now tell you to forget being a phony and just be yourself. Stop trying to hide your true self from the world! he would write. If they don’t like you for who you are, who needs them? she would shout from behind her computer. But, I’m not going to tell you that. I’m not going to give you the kind of advice that the world loves. The kind that slowly wounds your spirit until you are nothing that even remotely resembles who you want to be. Deciding that who you REALLY are, the inferior you, is who you are doomed to be, deciding that the you who is double-minded and weak in conviction is just who you were made to be is a total load of nonsense.
You see, that’s the easy way out.
Might I advise you, as the former President and still sometimes visiting member of the Phony Christian Committee? Here is the greatest piece of wisdom that I have ever come across. Are you ready?
Just become who you want the rest of us to think you are.
Gosh, it sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But, this is an overwhelmingly difficult task. Think of what it means. It means being the same person no matter where you are. And, I’m not talking about that inferior version of yourself that the world wants you to settle for. No. I’m talking about being holy, loving, and godly, whether you’re with a room full of deacons or in a quiet room with your best friend. This should be a major goal of every Christian’s life. The Holy Spirit is continually driving us toward holiness, but much more so when we are reading the Bible regularly, praying, and looking for ways to become more like Christ. I think it’s impossible to read God’s word if you are a Christian and not be changed and affected by it. So, if you feel you’re not growing, if you feel you’re at a standstill in the Christian life, if you feel like you’re the biggest Christian phony on the block, start reading, sister! Start praying, brother! Don’t give up.
Is this way of life something that comes naturally every day? The non-phony, striving-for-holiness life? Nope. Some days it feels like you really do have to fake it til you make it. But, if you keep at it, you will find that you aren’t having to “act” anymore. You will just be.
I remember the day that I understood, as clearly as if God had written it across my forehead, that I didn’t love people. It shocked me. Because, after all, I had been ACTING like I loved people. Wasn’t that the same thing? And it took Him years, and it took loving people being good examples to me, and it took the Holy Spirit shaking me to my core before I finally came to a place where it wasn’t just an act. I really was beginning to care about and love and want to invest in people. Does this mean that I just adore every person I see and want to be best friends? Of course not, but I am so grateful that God took the time with me to painfully draw that phoniness out of me in so many different ways and replace it with genuine care and love.
That’s only one way that God has worked on me in recent years, and boy does He have SO much work left to do. But, it took me waking up to the truth that I wasn’t who I claimed to be. And, I knew with God’s help I didn’t have to settle for the non-loving version of myself. I was tired of the act. Don’t you get tired of it, too?
I have so far to go on my rocky road to non-phony living. But, it is worth it. It is so worth it to just get to be who you are IN CHRIST, without worrying about who hears you or what they think about you. There’s still plenty I say and do that I wouldn’t want broadcast on a billboard anywhere, but God isn’t finished. And, the exhausting part is over. The phony part. The act. Maybe Jesus had the phony life in mind when He said, “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) Striving for holiness isn’t easy, but it is restful. The pressure’s off. Be who you were made to be in Him.
He will give you the strength to give up the act and the power to change. And He will give you rest.