Isaiah For the Rest of Us

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Last year I read through the entire book of Isaiah.  I had attempted it before and gave up somewhere in the middle because I had trouble really seeing where I fit into the whole picture.  It felt like the same pathetic story over and over…Israel messes up, God punishes them and then everyone moves on and it happens all over and again.  I found myself shouting at my bible on many occasions, “Ahh, you idiots! Don’t you remember what God did for you? Why did you keep doing such stupid stuff?!” In an effort to move through the book quickly, I lost sight of the deeper reflection that exemplifies the overwhelming difficulty that comes with persevering through the Christian life and the amazing grace that is bestowed upon our lives as we trudge forward.

As I poured over the book of Isaiah, with a more thorough inspection I began to see myself in the pages.  I began to see my mistakes, my idols, my complaining, and my ungratefulness.  I saw my need for recognition, my desire to be secure and my trust in other people instead of God.  Somewhere within the pages of this old story, I found myself.  And as I put myself in the place of the Israelites I began to see how easy it was, even being the chosen people of God, to get distracted, confused and frustrated when life gets hard and suffering lasts longer than you expected.

In the weeks to come, I want to take you back through the journey I traveled last year as I sought answers from one of the most challenging books of the Old Testament.  I will be taking a much more laid back and application oriented approach since I am not at all a theologian or a bible scholar.  So…here we go with Chapter 1 verses 1-20

Isaiah is a prophet who is completely upset over the state of the nation of Israel. God has given him a vision of the terrible mess they are and will be in.  In the first few verses Isaiah begins to describe the complete treason that the people of God had committed.  God created them, raised them and cared for them and yet they act as if they do not know Him at all.  Even animals know their owners and respond to their voice but the people of Israel were deaf to the voice of God because of their rebellion. It is here that I began to reflect upon my own inability to hear God.  I had often blamed it on God’s silence and His disinterest in my life but it was at this point that I began to contemplate…Am I not hearing God because I am not following Him like I should? Do I have rebellion in my heart? Do I long too much for this world? Have I, too, turned from the one who made and sustains me? Do I even want to hear what God has to say?

The prophet continues by describing the deep affliction that has overtaken the nation in his vision.  Using a picture of a battered body, he describes how the nation is railed on, beaten and nearly destroyed and yet they keep coming back for more because they cannot see the horrible state that they are in. Fire has burned their cities and people from other nations have stepped in to take what doesn’t belong to them. In the broken shambles of Israel, I see my own search for answers over the problems I have been facing but my unwillingness to actually seek God for healing and restoration.  When I have felt rejected, ignored and completely crushed by people,  have I leaned on the everlasting, understanding, all-consuming love of God or have I been consumed by my own self-pity and self-loathing? When my health wasn’t all that I hoped it would be did I search for a way to glorify God and trust Him more or did I fall on the words of doctors and long for the answers from the next medical test?  Did I keep returning for more afflictions because I hadn’t cast myself on the only one who could free me?

In verses 12-17 the people of God are called out for their lack of connection between their actions and their heart. They acted religiously without true worship. They took part in sacrifices, gathered for religious celebrations, and even recited prayers but their hearts were not turned to God.  How has my life mirrored this false worship? Have I turned church into a ritual? Do the praises I sing have little meaning because my heart is not focused on God? Have I performed rote prayers before a crowd, thinking only of how I sound?  Isaiah presents a remedy for this false worship: cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. What have I done to fight evil in my life and to seek good? Do I seek justice and attempt to correct oppression or do I turn a blind eye because I’m afraid to step up? Do I help the fatherless and the widow’s or do I selfishly seek my own comfort? Looking outside myself and following the cause of Christ is the only way to bring true worship and break the cycle of actions without heart.

But thankfully I am not left to beat myself up with how wicked my heart is and how much I have failed.  Verses 18-20 sum up the wonderful grace of God that we can all experience if we turn to Him.  My sins were a horrible stain upon my life that I could never remove. But God has removed those and made it so I don’t have to dwell on what I have done wrong.  Because I have come to Him with a willing and obedient heart, I can repent and leave the whole mess behind. God requires obedience but he also gives abundant grace.

Fashion on a Pastor’s Budget

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Sitting around after bible study one Sunday evening, the lingering group of ladies began a discussion about shopping…I know, a shocking topic to arise at a women’s bible study.  Considering all the young women are either college students or young mothers there was a common voiced frustration about the lack of funds available to buy nice clothing.  “Well, I don’t know how anybody can afford to buy anything at the mall at full price.  I will never buy something unless it is on sale,” began one student.  “Yeah, and I can’t really buy much even when it is on sale.  I don’t even really know anyone who buys the full price stuff…well, except maybe Krista”, another student said with a teasing giggle.  I shied away in embarrassment for being pointed out but in my mind I was thinking…My secret is safe.  I shop Goodwill and eBay and I wear hand-me-downs and I borrow things and I have fooled them into thinking I shop the racks at Banana Republic, GAP and Anthropologie.  In that moment I felt like a true fashion queen.  And I kept my lips sealed.

But as time has gone by I feel a need to share my resources.  Through 8 years of marriage and experimentation with budgeting and saving money, God has given me opportunity to learn how to give to others and give to the church and then be able to clothe myself in a way that is fashionable and affordable with a portion of what I have left.  Here are some of my best shopping tips…I may regret this later when the racks at Goodwill are completely picked over at my next visit.

1. Buy name brand but don’t pay name brand prices.  My bible study ladies were on to something when they made this poignant observation.  The prices are always too high when items are first placed on the rack in anticipation that they will have to go on sale later.  So if you are on a tight budget, wait for sales! Shop online and search for coupon codes. Wait til the end of the season and stock up for later.  Sign up for e-mails from your favorite stores and they will send you coupons and keep you informed of sales. But in my opinion, the sale prices are still way too expensive so I pretty much never buy anything at the mall….unless I have been given money by a generous relative or Forever21 is having their BOGO sale.

2.  Shop thrift stores.  I own plenty of GAP, The Limited and Banana Republic clothing but I didn’t pay more than $5 for any single item.  I shop every thrift store that I can find and I visit as often as I can because the merchandise is always shifting.  Some thrift stores even offer discounts to students and will give you punch cards to earn discounts on future purchases.  I will admit, it is incredibly time consuming and often frustrating when you have to walk away from a store with nothing. But it feels so rewarding after digging through piles and racks of junk to find one shining treasure.

3. Ebay can be your best friend… or your worst enemy.  I have become addicted to eBay shopping.  I started selling some of my old junk to get rid of clutter and to make a little extra money.  But as I saw my Paypal account accumulating unused funds, the possibilities began to formulate in my mind.  So I shopped around and placed a few bids, but it wasn’t until I actually won a pair of $100 flats paying only $12 for them that I was completely sold on this method.  So now, at the beginning of every season I make piles of clothing that don’t fit, are out of style or that I’m simply just tired of and I sell them.  Then when my sales are final I use the money I made to add to my wardrobe for the season.  It is basically just like swapping my old clothes for new ones…with a little extra work in the middle.  But I will warn you…it is addicting and a little nerve racking to constantly be waiting for auctions to finalize.  And selling can be an arduous process…figuring out what an item is worth, deciding on shipping costs, getting people to pay, dealing with disgruntled customers.  I have had plenty of moments where I have thrown up my hands in frustration and vowed never to return to eBay again.  But I always come back.

So, stay tuned for some more tips from this budget friendly pastor’s wife…and you may even get a peek at my closet (as soon as I fix the damage done by an unfortunate clothing rack incident)

 

The Choices That Make Our Family

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What started as a few simple choices have turned our family dynamic into a new and interesting jumble of activity.  We are now the family that I knew we would eventually become…two working parents, kids changing hands multiple times, running from dance class to bible study, eating dinner at different times, making schedules of who takes which car, and weekends full of volunteer work, social events and a Sunday church marathon.

My husband decided at the start of the semester that not only was he going to take on his original course load at the university, but he was also going to accept a privileged invitation to teach a New Testament class as part of a new program being offered.  Though it meant he would be gone an extra night during the week, there was no way I could talk him out of it.  I had finally caught a glimpse of the excitement that I had always hoped he would find in a job. The choice was easy.

After a tumultuous year of preschool, I made the choice before the school year was even over that I was going to keep the Princess home with me this year with plans to ready her for kindergarten by my own means.  I had made lesson plans and tentatively scheduled field trips but after an unexpected shift in our financial stability and the blessing of a coincidental opportunity, I chose to take a part time job. I had been longing for a chance to switch up my routine and it all seemed to fit so neatly into our schedules.  The choice was easy.

The choice to put the Princess in dance class was an easy one.  She has had rhythm and natural flow of movement since she was a toddler.  The choice to continue my small group was easy.  I love spending time with my Christian sisters.  The choice to snuggle my kids at night is easy.  I miss them when I’m gone all day and their sweet smiles give me joy.  But these easy choices create powerful ramifications for our future.  It is all the simple, every day choices that build the life that we live.  The choices that I have seen as mundane are what have formed our family and continue to build our life together.

Jeremiah 17: 5-8

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I found myself in the last few weeks contemplating the place that people hold in my life.  I have relationships that take, relationships that give and relationships that are somewhere in between.  I have those I don’t see very often and those that are in nearly every second of my existence.  There are those that I love so dearly that my heart aches and then are those that I have difficulty loving at all.  I have friends who have stood up for me and a family who loves me no matter how weird I am.  But in all my pondering, I have found one thing to be true.  God is, and always should be, the only one that I trust with my life.

Through the last eight years my husband and I have been in a constant turmoil of trying to find a financial situation that works for us.  He takes each job he obtains in stride, knowing that there is an expiration date on each one.  It seems that we have been led by God through a maze of instability, a never ending trail of temporary jobs with contracts that have a definitive end.  And through it all I have found myself to be frustrated and angry at my husband for not giving me the stability that I crave.  I have jeopardized our relationship because I was putting him in a position that wasn’t his to possess.  God is the author of our story.  God is the ultimate provider.  God never changes.

As I have been experiencing some difficult struggles with my health in the last year, I have often become bitter about how alone I feel.  It didn’t matter that I had people praying for me and asking about me at church.  It didn’t matter that my mom called almost every day to check on me and would drop everything to bring me a package of toilet paper.  It didn’t matter that my husband is there for me every day, taking me to doctor appointments, crying with me when I’m frustrated and taking over responsibilities that I could not physically accomplish.  The problem was not in the other people.  It was in me.  I had put them all in the position to take care of me and to fill every moment of my day with encouragement.  God is the healer. God is the comforter. God is the encourager. And thankfully God even loves us when we are needy and selfish.

Then I came across this quote in the Bible study I had just started (Seeking Him by Nancy Leigh DeMoss & Tim Grissom) “When we find ourselves trusting in people instead of the Lord, this indicates that our heart’s focus has shifted from Him”.  This was a hard message for me to hear.  I had recently been disappointed by some people who I really looked up to and trusted, and in my heart I wanted to be vindicated for the anger I felt.  But reading those words brought to light a heart issue that I had been brewing for years.  I had allowed all my trust, all my comfort, all my security, all my confidence to be placed in people who are unstable at best.  Life had become difficult not because people were not fulfilling their roles, but because I had given them roles that should have only belonged to God.  My heart had certainly lost its focus and my life was displaying the parching effects of trusting people instead of God. In Jeremiah 17:5-8, God says,

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.

 He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Summing Up the Summer

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Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer.  The school year is in full swing.  Tempting dreams of cool weather and crunching leaves linger in the back of everyone’s minds.  White is no longer a fashionable option.  And reflections of a relaxing summer suppress the frustration of a new, stressful routine.  As I ponder the events of summer, I can think of a few words to describe this season in the eyes of my family.

Family: Because David didn’t have any classes to teach for the summer, things were very different around our house.  The kids got very used to seeing Daddy and we were able to plan a lot more small family outings.  We got to go shopping in Columbus and we finally got to take the Princess to the beach (granted, it was a lake beach that is only about an hour from our home…but she was in heaven and had no idea that soft sand and clear waters exist)

Swimming: This was definitely a summer for desperately trying to stay cool.  As the temperature reached over 100 at times, we spent a lot of time in Nana’s pool.  The Princess gained courage in the water and learned how to do flips, swim without floaties and swim from one side of the pool to the other.  The Little Dude on the other hand, still refuses to enter the water unless accompanied by a preferred adult (which is never me….because as he often said while swimming, “I don’t like Mommy.”  Apparently I sent him under the water a few too many times)

Good-byes: This summer also marked big changes for some of our friends.  David’s best friend and mentor got a job in North Carolina in order for he and his wife to be closer to their new grandson.  And our close friends, the Caytons, have left for Chicago so that Kyle can attend seminary.  We have been through many  tough and happy times with both of these couples and it is painful to see them go.  But at the same time, we rejoice with them as they seek God’s will in their lives.

Decisions: Life is full of choices but it seems like the later part of this summer was full of big choices and confusion over God’s plan.  As the fall begins, we trust God will bring rewarding and exciting new events as we embark on new classes, new jobs and new routines.  I have decided to take on a part time job which excites me and makes me nervous at the same time.  I haven’t had a job in six years so it is a little daunting to imagine a change in routine.  But at the same time, I want to serve my family as best I can and this seems to be the best option for us at the moment.

Relaxation…or Laziness?:  The last few months were a great time of calm and relaxation.  I enjoyed getting up late and staying in my pajamas all day.  I loved not having anywhere to be so I could move at my own pace.  But as the weeks wore on, I have gotten bored and my kids have gotten restless.  Laziness has sneaked in very quietly and now I find myself in desperate need of a new routine and things to keep me busy.

**Feel free to share a few words that sum up your summer experience**