A couple of questions

How do you know if you have made something into an idol instead of just being really passionate for/about it?

It’s a good question, and a friend asked it to me about a month ago.

I’d been thinking about idols in my life for about a month prior, which stemmed from another conversation with two other friends.

I was reminded in that conversation that God is a jealous God. I once heard Oprah say something along the lines that she didn’t want to serve a god who was jealous of her. That is decidedly not what God is saying to us. He is not jealous of us but for us. He wants all of our hearts, not half or three-quarters. All. of. it. He is to be our first love and our greatest affections are to be for Him. And if we ever give something else that love and affection that He only deserves, we should never doubt that He will remind us of it. (For an example, please see the entirety of  Israel’s history in the Old Testament.)

I go back to the first question…had I made this thing in my life an idol or was I just passionate about it, as Jesus was passionate over Jerusalem?

In all honesty (and as you can probably guess) I had made it an idol. But how did I know?  Well, first, people I loved and respected and who always, always, always point me to the gospel, spoke truth in love to me on the issue. They listened to me speak about said thing and then spoke wisdom into the situation, encouraging me to seek the Lord about it, which leads me to the second thing I did to discern whether or not the thing had become an idol. It perhaps sounds cliché, but I prayed about it. And in the end, I realized that the thing was receiving more affection than God.

But again, how did I know that? In this case, when I was asked to possibly give up the thing I said “No.” And not a calm, nice kinda “no”. It was a screaming, kicking kinda “no.” And it was really loud. I said “No” for months until my friends lovingly pointed out my sin to me.

I was so close-fisted that I wasn’t even open to God’s leading or instruction. I put my desires and wants above God but also above the welfare of my family. I was holding on really tightly and I refused, absolutely refused, to open my hand. We have a saying where I come from that says, “She’s as stubborn as a stick in the mud.”

Yes, that would be me…a stick…stuck in the nasty, smelly, yucky mud of sinfulness that was idol worship.

The point of this whole thing is two-fold:

  1. When we are close-fisted with things we better start asking if we have made them into idols.
  2. My repentance and confession and therefore better relationship with Jesus would not have happened had my friends not lovingly spoke truth and wisdom into the situation. The keys to this are LOVINGLY and TRUTH. Nobody will hear us if we speak truths unlovingly. At the same time if we say untruths lovingly we haven’t pointed them back to the true gospel.  In order to do both of these things we should look to the founder and perfecter of our faith, Christ Jesus, and follow his example, seeing confrontation as good and necessary. Loving, gospel-centered (and therefore, truthful) confrontation led me to see my close-fistedness with something in my life that is actually a very good thing, realizing I had elevated it to a status more important than God. As a result, after confession and repentance I was able to put it in its correct place.

I end not with the question with which I started but rather, “Who do you have in your life you lovingly point you back to gospel-centered truth?” I hope you have someone, and if you don’t, I hope you will find someone.

 

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The Challenge of Interruptions in Life

A couple of weeks ago I had a incredibly crazy day stretching out in front of me.. I mean, C to the R to the A….well, you get the picture.

It was absurd the amount of things I needed to get done. I was feeling stressed and I didn’t even have children with me that day because they were at an English camp that this incredibly great team from Orlando was putting on.

I set about my day as soon as I had left the kids at the drop-off zone, said hello and good luck to the team, and kissed my cute hubby goodbye for the day. After a quick stop at the market I headed home to drop off my bags and then head out again to do more errand-running.

On the way home I ran into my friend, Sara*. We chatted for a few minutes and as good Italian manners dictate, she invited me for a coffee, which I accepted. I have to interrupt the story here to tell you what was going on in my head at the moment. If you are a task-oriented, ticker-off-of-list, “if I don’t get all the things done the world as we know it will cease to exist” person then you will understand my next few sentences. If you are a fly by the seat of your pants kinda person, you have no idea what I am talking about unless to are married to the other type of person.

Many thoughts ran through my mind in the five seconds after she invited me to coffee.

“I have too many things to do.”

“A little coffee break could be nice.”

“How will I EVER get it all done?”

“It’ll just be a quick, stand-up coffee. I have time for that.”

“I’ve got these heavy bags.”

“I’d really like to go have coffe.”

“Do I have TIME???”

I went. The bags were placed on the stroller, which contained her sleeping one-year old, and off we went. While walking Sara says, “Let’s sit down.” Oh mercy, this just turned into an event. An event that on one hand I was happy to attend and on the other caused my blood pressure to go up because of the bigger time crunch I’d be under.

We found a nice shady spot and ordered our coffee drinks and began chatting. The conversation quickly turned to more serious matters and I quickly realized  Sara was need of someone to talk to and I was that somebody.

We talked for almost an hour. She talked, I tried my best to understand and then communicate things accurately. Grace is seen abundantly when I am in the midst of hard conversations in Italian. And though Sara is a believer, I was able to remind of things she already knows to be true but perhaps needed a gentle reminder of. After an hour or so, the baby had awakened and could no longer be consoled with the playing of sugar packets. Thus, the conversation ended. But before we left I able to pray for her. Again, God is gracious and though my language during that prayer was HORRID, I left knowing that Sara understood what I was trying to say, but more importantly, God knew.

My busy day had been interrupted by someone who needed a listening and compassionate ear. I was able to check off most of the things on my list, and I felt better about the time I spent with my friend than the checked off list. Again, “list” people will understand the magnitude of that.

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Gingernut has NOT been sleeping at night. Annoyingly so. There is a part of me that sympathizes. Starting in childhood I have had trouble sleeping. I contribute my love for westerns, specifically Bonanza, to sleepless nights spent on the couch with my dad. However, there is a larger part of me that is just annoyed. Annoyed that “my” time is being interruppted. Annoyed that I can’t do the relaxing thing(s) I had planned to do. I’m just annoyed, which leads to irritation, which leads to anger, which leads to unkind words being spoken to a child who in that moment in no way can feel loved.

I will pause to say that I understand limits and boundaries will be tested. The “up-downs” (when children are up and down constantly from their beds) are real and alive and stretch the patience of parents worldwide. When the up-downs occur, discipline enters the scene. Every up-down cannot be cuddled and babied. Children need to have boundaries and discipline when said boundary is crossed. But there are times when they truly do just need another moment of our time. One more cuddle, one more story, one more kiss and tuck in goodnight. It’s our job to know the difference.

I was not seeing the difference. I was only seeing myself and what I wanted…time to myself or with Paul or the list of things I needed to get done. I was being unkind in my words. I wasn’t seeing that Gingernut just needed a little extra.

This hit me one night in particular. Paul was out and I was watching a movie and Gingernut had a bad case of the up-downs. She just would not go to bed. She kept interrupting my movie and I was getting upset. Then it hit me…like a ton of bricks…or maybe more truly it was the Holy Spirit trying to get my attention…what was I communicating to Gingernut in that moment? Did she think that a meaningless movie was more important to me than she was? Did she feel unloved? She certainly could not have felt loved, that’s for sure.

The TV was promptly turned off. I climbed the stairs with my little red-headed sleepy-even-though-she-didn’t-know-it girl. We climbed in her bed and snuggled. And I felt peaceful. I knew this was worthy. I was telling her in my actions that she was loved. And I thought as I laid there holding her, breathing in her scent, that I would remember these moments – cherish them – in years to come when Gingernut would no longer want me to snuggle up with her. Perhaps more importantly, she will remember that moment and ones that will come after it as how her mother did not see her as an interruption but as important, loved, desired.

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While I believe that times of quiet, rest, aloneness, and/or refreshment are good, biblical things, that is not what I am talking about here today.

I’m talking about when we have made time an idol so much that we view people as interruptions. I have made my time my idol. I hold it closed fisted. I have been seeing interruptions as stealers of my time and things I want to do. I have been seeing my alone time or my get-stuff-done time as more important than people. Shame on me. I have missed so many opportunities and moments that I will never get back to be a friend with a listening ear or a word of encouragement or a mom with hugs and kisses filled with love and care and tenderness, wrapping my children with words of Truth or a wife who gives her husband the attention he is needing after a long day.

This idol MUST be sacrificed for I cannot love and serve God as He desires to be loved and served when I am closed fisted with my time – or anything else. I pray that as I move forward I see interruptions as opportunities as John Newton spoke of when he wrote, “When I hear a knock at my study door, I hear a message from God. It may be a lesson of instruction; perhaps a lesson of patience: but, since it is his message, it must be interesting.”

He was speaking of pastoral interruptions, but I think it can apply to life in general, can’t it?

What if I stop seeing every single interruption of my life as an interruption, a task that will go uncompleted or five minutes of quiet that I will not get back, and instead viewed it as a lesson in patience or in selflessness (seeing others and their needs as more important than my own). What if I saw the people asking a question or needing something instead of only hearing that someone needs something from me? What if I saw people as Jesus did, not as interruptions but as people searching for something or in need of something? How many times was Jesus interrupted at a meal, while trying to rest, while on his way to something or someone?

As he walked to heal a man’s daughter, he was stopped by a woman who had a blood disorder and needed healing.

As he was eating a meal, a woman came in and washed his feet with her tears and hair.

While worshipping and teaching in the synagogue he was bombarded with questions from religious leaders as a means to ensnare him in something blasphemous.

While trying to catch up on some sleep on a boat, he was awakened by friends who were scared of the storm that had overtaken them.

While taking the disciples to a desolate place to rest, he was recognized and a crowd gathered to hear him teach.

How did he respond?

He stopped to speak to the woman who had been healed, teaching us all that healing comes from faith.

As a broken woman washed his feet, he allowed her to continue and taught those he sat with the preciousness and significance of what she had done.

While being bombarded with ensnaring questions from the religious elite, he responded in ways that were above reproach, continuing to teach those around him.

When he was awakened by his friends fearing for their lives, he spoke and the storm ceased, revealing  himself to be God to his friends and teaching them not to fear but to have faith.

When overtaken by a multitude when seeking rest, he taught them all day and then gave them more than enough food to eat.

Interruptions will happen. They are a part of life, but I hope and pray that I will begin to see them differently. More importantly to respond to them differently. To see them as opportunities to humble myself, be patient, have self-control, self-deny, help someone, to see people and not a checklist as the most important way I can spend my time. To love as Jesus loved.