What does this look like?

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  James 5:16 (NKJV)

In the modern-day world, I just don’t understand what the effectual fervent prayer looks like.  In Christian circles we like to talk about being in an attitude of prayer during the day, but is that what effectual fervent prayer means?  I feel I’m in that kind of attitude most of the day.
And if so, why then are my prayers not being answered?  Even the ones I’ve been praying about for years.  I’d certainly classify those as fervent prayers.

“Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”  James 5:17 (NKJV)

How is it that Elijah prayed and no rain fell for over three years, and then he prayed again and rain fell?  Just like that – nothing else to it – just a simple prayer.  Since becoming a Christian, I’ve prayed for rain before, and the rain never came.  Why is it that God chooses to answer the prayers of some and not others?  Sam tells me that it has something to do with the motivation of the prayer, and the righteousness of the man.  This makes me wonder just how differently from Elijah my Christian motivation and my righteousness are before God.  Sometimes I wish I could see myself through God’s eyes so I could know what areas are keeping me from being the Elijah kind of righteous.   I want that kind of righteousness in my life.  Truly.

“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”  James 4:17 (NLT)

I wonder if this is why I don’t see myself through God’s eyes?  I wonder if this is what keeps my prayers from being answered in the Elijah kind of way?  If I take a good, hard, long look at myself I can see that I choose to sin every day.  Most of the time it’s not even consciously.  I can really relate to Paul’s words – I can’t stop myself from doing things I don’t want to do, and I can’t seem to do the things I do want to. What a spiritual quandary this flesh puts me in.  Some day I hope to master my flesh in total surrender to God – there’s another quandary for you – I am perfected only through surrender.  Sheesh, and some people say Christianity is a crutch…seems to me that giving up control is a whole lot harder than doing things on your own.   Well those are my random thoughts for the day.  What are yours?

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What’s in a name

Sometimes I sit and think about names.  What do they mean?  Snappy name combinations.  Funny names.  Things like that – very deep stuff, I can assure you.  For example, if we ever come to own a basset hound I want to name him Wilbur Fawcett.  I think that’s the funniest,  most appropriate name for a basset hound ever.  But naming animals is hard.  For me, I want to name my animals something fun.  Something different.  Something that fits their personality.  And I sometimes just want them to have names that are odd.  After all, Wilbur isn’t a name one hears much these days.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about names, especially since all of our animals are getting frisky.  We know for sure that one, if not both of our goats have been impregnated and will be due about the first week of December.  One of our ewe’s is coming into heat and if she is bred will be due around New Year.  And the donkeys are trying to have a baby too, which means a summer baby for next year.  Oh the excitement of new life.  But what to name everyone?!  I think it would be funny to have a baby donkey named Joash.  Think about that one for a minute…

Recently on Facebook one of my oldest friends posted some class photos from grade school.  I don’t know why I never really thought about it before, but I think he and I were in the same class from first grade up through sixth grade, and we had many of the same classes together throughout Junior High and High School.  What a fun guy, and I’ve enjoyed looking at all the old class photos.  But for the life of me I can’t seem to remember many of my classmates names, which is sad because I grew up with these people!  Thank goodness others have better memories than I do, and they’re willing to take the time to tag the photos.  One of the things I think has been most fun for me though is reading through all the names of my old classmates.  There’s not a Brittany or Lindsey or Paris among them.  We had down to earth names like Leroy and Amanda and Scott and Laurie.  I think I had the most unusual name among the bunch, and as a kid I hated being the odd man out.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to explain that my name is Brittan, and not Brittany.  Eventually I just gave up.  And even to this day I’ll generally not correct people if they get it wrong.  Why embarrass them; I suppose that’s what grace is all about.

As I read through those names and looked into those adolescent faces, I began to imagine what those names meant to their parents.  Why would they choose to name their child what they did?  Were these family names?  Were they names of a best friend who died in some tragic childhood accident?  Or were they just words that sounded good together?  My heart was saddened to see a few of my childhood classmates have passed on already, and I know that their names are even more precious now to the ones they’ve left behind.  And then I began to reflect on the names that I might have chosen if I’d had a child or four…

Names; they’re so very important.  They’re how we’re known.  They’re who we are.  They define our very character.  We don’t get to choose them, but we grow into them, and sometimes even grow to love them.  So what about you?  How did you come by your name, or the names for your children?  Have you ever wished you could change your name?  Or an even bigger question, have you ever wanted to change your child’s name?

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What is this? Ancient Egypt?

I’m currently reading a book called No Other Gods by Kelly Minter.  As you might guess from the title, the content deals with false gods in our society.  And surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), there are a lot of them.  And I’m realizing that there are some in my own life.  *gasp*

“An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as God.  All sorts of things are potential idols, depending on our attitudes and actions toward them…  Idolatry may not involve explicit denials of God’s existence or character.  It may well come in the form of an over-attachment to something that is, in itself, perfectly good…  And idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero – anything that can substitute for God.”  Richard Keyes

I like Keyes definition.  Not because he’s saying that if we love anything more than prayer meetings and revival services we’re enslaved to idol worship, but because he points out that anything we elevate to a place of priority (want) can become an idol in our life.  And I like that he also mentions that idol worship doesn’t involve an explicit denial of God’s existence or of His place in our life.

2 Kings 17:33 says, “They worshiped the Lord, but they also served other gods.”

2 Kings 17:41 further explains, “Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols.”

We’re not so different from the Israelites, you know.   As Christians we take a couple of hours to worship God with our mouths on Sunday morning at church, and then spend the rest of the week in service to our other gods.  Think about that one.  Let is settle into your mind before you just toss it out.  Mull it over for a bit.  I’m not trying to sound judgmental or legalistic here, honestly.  I find myself in this exact same predicament every day.  And most days I find myself falling miserably into idol worship.

But what are idols anyway?  It’s not like as Christians we have little carved statues all over our homes – this isn’t ancient Egypt for cryin’ out loud.  I think, simply put, and idol is anything that we absolutely have to have.  It’s something that we’re sure will make us feel better, or will elevate our status among our peers/friends/family, or is just on our list of must have’s in life.

For example, how many of you just had to have that expensive luxury car that sits in the garage and gets washed every singe week?

How many of you ‘would have died’ if you couldn’t live anywhere than your current home?

How many of you just had to put your kids in that school?

How many of you just couldn’t pass up those overpriced killer shoes or that trendy handbag?

How many of you had to upgrade to a bigger boat/RV/ATV,etc?

How many of you can’t miss an episode of American Idol or The Bachelorette or Survivor or Madmen (or the Super Bowl or the World Cup or ESPN sports, or any number of television programs)?

And how many have said they just had to get a certain promotion or a raise or a job in a certain company?  

And it’s not like any of these things in and of themselves is bad.  After all, the majority of us aren’t independently wealthy so jobs are necessary.  And for most people cars are necessary.  And certainly clothes are necessary.  And schooling for kids is crucial.  And being homeless isn’t a safe or desirable lifestyle.  And having ‘toys’ isn’t sinful either.  But it’s the attitudes that we have toward those things that makes them idols.  For lots of people the belief that driving a certain type of vehicle, or living in a certain size of house (or neighborhood), or wearing a certain brand of clothes, or having a 62″ plasma TV hanging on the wall gives them a sense of accomplishment.  A sense of self-importance.  A notion of life or wealth or status.  In essence, we will literally work our fingers to the bone in order to attain these things.

And another indicator that these things have become idols in our life is the fact that once we achieve these goals or possessions we find that they don’t bring us the satisfaction that we thought they would.  That boat that we just had to have suddenly isn’t fast enough, or shiny enough, or big enough for us and we’re already contemplating a trade up.

The allure of idols is so subtle and so enticing, and yet they’re so completely unsatisfying.  And as Christians we suffer greatly under idol worship.  If you don’t believe me, just read the Bible.  There are many passages in both the Old and New Testament that deal with satisfaction, self-worth, and possessions, and the value we place on these things.  We see a classic example of this in Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Man.  This man wanted more than anything to have an assurance of his place in heaven.  He’d kept the letter of the Law, he was generous, and an all around good guy.  But he had a life filled with idols, and we see that he left Jesus a very disappointed and dejected man.  I’m not saying that wealth is bad – Jesus doesn’t say that either – but wealth buys a lot of comforts and pleasures, and those things quickly and subtly take up a god-place in our life.

And in America we are wealthy.  You might not think it because you don’t have a 6-figure income or live in a mansion, but if you have a television in your home, or a car in your garage, or more than one set of clothes, or a refrigerator with food in it, or a bed to sleep in, or a roof over your head, or a few bucks in change in the console of your car then you are rich.  America is the land of excess.  We’re taught to always want more.  Even in churches there’s always a dream of a bigger building, or more parking, or newer tech equipment, or upgraded seating, or fancier productions – all for the sake of having them.  Oh, we can justify them.  But that’s the point, isn’t it?  If they weren’t idols we wouldn’t have to justify them, they’d be necessary – logical – obvious.

So what about you?  It’s a tough question, I know.  I’ve been rolling it over in my own head for a while now, and it’s scary how many things in my own life I’ve elevated to a position of importance and influence.  There are tons of things I turn to first for comfort, instruction, wisdom, peace, joy, love, and attention instead of to God.  I need to re-evaluate their place in my life, and put God back as the figurehead…and find a way to keep him there.  Think about it, will you?  Pray it over.  Don’t just dismiss me as some legalistic nutter who wants everyone to live a life of poverty and prayer, but really search your own heart and life and ask the Lord to reveal to you anything that you’ve elevated (even unknowingly) to God’s place in your life.  And then ask him to strengthen you as you tear down that (those) idol(s), and help you to build an altar of intimacy and relationship with Him.

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Crazy Love – a book review

I finished reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan about two weeks ago now, and I’ve spent the past ten days or so processing all the information he presented.  I originally choose this book as a possible study for the upcoming ladies Bible study season at church, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to use it.

If you’ve never read the book I encourage you to do so.  It’s an easy read with large print and wide margins.  But be prepared to have your idea of authentic Christianity shaken up a bit.   Each chapter deals with certain misconceptions Christians have cultivated over the past couple of centuries, and he uses God’s word to counter those misconceptions.

Misconceptions such as how/why/what we pray about; how we’re to really love others; what service is really all about; what God really wants you to do with your money (and no, the book doesn’t tell you to give it all to the church!); and what authentic Christianity really looks like in every day life.  In some chapters I found myself shaking my head in total agreement, and in other chapters I was horrified at how easily and blindly I’d fallen into the trap of deception.

For me, chapter 4 was the ringer.  I’ve said many times that I’m a realist, and I don’t have a problem with calling something what it is.  I appreciate honesty more than anything; even critical and hurtful honesty.  In chapter 4 Francis paints a pretty harsh and accurate picture of a ‘lukewarm Christian’.  As I read through the chapter I found myself reflecting on my own poor behavior, attitude, and complacency.  I was mortified…I fit the description of a lukewarm Christian to a T.  Yikes!!!  Chapter 5 was equally as cutting.  I discovered that I’ve been content with serving ‘leftovers’ to God throughout my Christian walk.  In some ways, after reading this book I felt like I wasn’t sure I had the right to even call myself a Christian!  Thank goodness for God’s unfailing grace.

Despite the ‘wounds’ I sustained I’m very glad I read the book.  It has challenged me to think beyond myself and our local church.  It has changed my focus from what do I need/want/deserve in my Christian life to ‘what are the needs of the lost, and how can I meet them?’  I want to be known as an ‘obsessed’ Christian, not just another Christian.  I want to serve the needs of others in a way that really shows them that Jesus loves them and cares about them; and I want them to know that He really does want a relationship with them.  I don’t want the world to see me as just another person who gets up early on Sunday mornings and rushes out the door to sit in a comfy little building and sing a few songs and then come home and forget about Jesus the rest of the week.  I want to really touch the life of someone who might not have ever had the privilege of encountering Christ.  I want to love the unlovable, and serve those who can never return that service.  I want to demonstrate a crazy, unabandoned kind of love for the lost, poor, dying, weak, and hurting.  I’m tired of being a complacent and comfortable Christian.  What about you?

Crazy Love.  It’s radical.  It’s challenging.  It’s real.  Read it.  You’ll be glad you did.

“When people make changes in their lives like this {living Christ instead of just spouting Christian ideals}, it carries greater impact than when they merely make impassioned declarations.  The world needs Christians who don’t tolerate the complacency of their own lives.” (pg. 172)

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Saying farewell to our sweet Dream…

I’m writing this post on Thursday afternoon because I know by Saturday I won’t be able to type out the words.  Even now my eyes are brimming with tears and my throat is tight.  I’ve been choking on emotions for the past three days already, and I know the next several will be even more difficult.   But our decision has been made.  It has been an agonizing one, I can assure you.  Sam and I have both dreaded this day for months – the day we’d have to make the right decision for our beloved collie, Dream.  The deed has been done and she’s finally at peace and pain-free.

Lounging in the sun - April 2008

I’ve posted before the story of how we rescued Dream from a horrid puppy mill while we were living in Maine.  That was nearly seven years ago, and I can say that she’s been the best dog we’ve ever owned.  In a way it feels like we’ve owned her her whole life, and in her mind I believe that’s true.  Certainly the last half of her life has been far superior to the first half and I’m so glad that dogs only live in the moment.

There are so many of Sam and I’s memories as a couple that include this girl.  We’ve taken countless walks with her.  We’ve watched her tear headlong through the woods of our Maine house – searching for skunks and running her legs off in utter glee.  Sam and I were certain she’d run head first into a tree, but she never did.  We’ve taken her with us on vacations.  We’ve gone hunting and snowshoeing with her.  We’ve put her on our Christmas parade float.  We’ve even taken her to the beach to chase seagulls and play in the waves of the Atlantic, which was probably the best day of her life.

She’s been an amazing watchdog and protector, but also a constant and loving companion.  She and I have spent many lazy mornings curled up together fighting over the same side of the bed!  And she’s been my ever vigilant security system during those long, lonely nights when Sam was out of town.  A good dog is always better than a gun, at least that’s what I say.

One day, not long after we’d brought Dream home, the UPS man came to our front door.  This was unusual to begin with because he always delivered our packages to the back door – in fact, he’d usually leave them just inside the door – in our mudroom – since we didn’t have to lock our house (it was northern Maine after all!).  But on this day he was ringing our front doorbell.  Sam answered the door and was somewhat shocked to see the UPS man standing there with no package in his hands.  After a moment of awkward silence the UPS man broke into an apology.  It seems that the day before he’d attempted to deliver a package to us, and as usual he was going to place it just inside our back door.  But Dream wasn’t having any of it.  Somehow we’d left the door that connects the main house and the mudroom slightly open, and when Dream heard the UPS man opening the back door she charged at him and tried to bite him.  To her, he was an intruder who definitely didn’t belong there.  The UPS man on the other hand was happy he had on brown pants that day!  And here he was, standing at our front door apologizing for scaring our dog, who, according to him “was just doing what she was supposed to do.”  He informed us from now on that he’d just leave the packages outside the back door as he didn’t want to have to explain to his boss any further requisitions for new trousers.

So many good memories……

Standing guard - fall 2008

Oh how the years have flown by.  Unfortunately, those years were not kind to our girl – especially not this last year.  In truth it has been touch and go with her now for the past several months.  At one point I solicited a fellow dog enthusiast/blogger friend’s opinion on the matter, and her advice has stuck with me and is partially what helped us to make this final decision.  Her advice was for us to pick out Dream’s three absolute favorite things to do, and when she can no longer do two of the three it’s time to start considering the humane alternative.  In this last year we’ve seen her lose the desire and/or ability to partake in all three of these particular things.  So we knew.  It was time.  Honestly we’ve known for a few months now and have just not been able to bring ourselves to make the decision.  Even though I know she’s in a better place now and not in any more pain I still can’t help but let the tears flow freely.  She’s not just a dog.  She was our dog – our Dream – a genuine member of our family…….and I’m going to miss her terribly.

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An eternal perspective

Last night after dinner, Sam and I and some friends were discussing the eternal perspective of communion and Christmas and Easter.  And all of us came to the conclusion that the eternal perspective is not a point of view that we often think about, or hear about.  Why is that?  As I finished up my tasks for the evening and headed off to bed our conversation made me that much more grateful for the sacrifice that Jesus made.  To think that the Son of God would willingly trade eternal glory for limited glory, all because of love.  I mean, think about how amazing that sacrifice had to be for him.

His father comes to him one day and says something to the effect of, “What am I gonna do about this mess on Earth?  I mean, look at all those people down there, wishing, hoping, working, striving so hard to be my people, and yet all they can seem to do right is sin.  It makes me so mad, and yet sad at the same time.  I can’t believe my creation is so hard-hearted, and headed straight for hell.  I wanted something so much better for them…”

Jesus must have contemplated these remarks for a while – who wouldn’t?   When God talks, most folks tend to sit up and listen.  After a few minutes of consideration, Jesus might have responded with something like, “I see exactly what you mean.  It’s as if their hearts are hell-bent on destruction, and they don’t even know it.  So what can we do in order to make things right?  These humans are like the Keystone Cops of all your creation – they screw everything up.  Even the simple sacrificial system you established isn’t working for them, and I thought that was a straight-forward and fool-proof plan.  What other routes can we take with these people?”

God turns away from Jesus a bit and stares out across the shores of the sea, into the distance; knowing what ultimately has to happen, but will his only Son go for it?  Will he willingly offer himself up for the job?  And how could he even consider asking his only child to become the once for all time sacrifice for this creation of his.  Truly, he could just destroy the whole lot of them and start over again with something that’s infallible.  The tears begin to well up in the corners of his eyes as he see the events playing out in his mind.  The humiliation.  The suffering.  The pain.  The beatings.  The thorns and spikes.  Even though it would only be a few hours of torture for his Son, it would feel like an eternity for them both.  And what if, at the last minute, Jesus decided he couldn’t go through it.  God knew he wouldn’t, but still that thought nagged at the back of his mind….Jesus would be fully human after all, and so often the human composure faltered under extreme pressure.  And this situation he was willing to send his Son into would be a complete pressure cooker for sure.

Turning back toward Jesus he spoke low and slow, “There is a way, but it will be too hard, too painful, too humiliating.  It will require an entire commitment – right to the very end.   And when the end comes, I can’t help in any way, shape, or form.  After the death of the body there will be darkness, and cold, and silence for several days…and I can’t be there either….”

As the Father’s words sunk deep into Jesus’ mind, he knew that there was only one Being in all heaven who could accomplish this task.  The angels couldn’t do it obviously, or his Father would have sent them already.  Even Michael, the great archangel, in all his strength could not carry this job out to completion successfully – for he did not have love for humanity.  Jesus knew there was only one way, one man, one plan.  But could he carry this burden himself?  Could he stay the course if he gave up his celestial powers and put on that same, faulty skin that man wore?  Would he be strong enough to endure the pain and humiliation that was ultimately to come?  And was this sacrifice — this human race — worth the limited glory he’d have for all eternity?  He was after all the very Son of God – God himself – unlimited Holy power, and he knew that if he chose to become this sacrificial lamb he’d wear scars forever.  He needed to think about it hard before giving his Father an answer……

To be continued……………………

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Reading is FUNdamental

Did you know that 50% of American adults are unable to read and comprehend an 8th grade level book? (1)

Or how about this: 46% of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescriptions. (2)  That’s a scary thought….

1/3 of all high school graduates will never read another book the rest of their life; and 42% of college graduates will never read another book after college. (3)

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. (3)

70% of American adults have not been in a bookstore within the last 5 years. (3)

57% of new books purchased are not read to completion. (3)

Of those people surveyed who do read, 53% read fiction, and 43% read non-fiction.   The most popular fiction category is mystery and suspense, which accounts for 19% of all fiction read.  (4)

This one was a shocker for me.  A successful fiction book only sells 5,000 copies, and a successful non-fiction book only sells 7,500 copies.  (5)

Each day in the U.S. people spend 4 hours watching television, 3 hours listening to the radio, and only 15 minutes reading magazine articles.  (6)

There are about 120,000 new books published each year, however of that number 70% of them never make a profit or even enough to cover their advance. (7)

The point I’m trying to make here is that most American’s do not read.  I find that so sad.  And not that I’m a great connoisseur of the written word myself, but merely the fact that we have allowed ourselves to become so uneducated.  For me, the biggest shocker was the statistic that points to America’s obsession with television.  I don’t know what year that statistic was generated, but I suspect the internet would rival at least the amount of time people spend listening to the radio.  Frankly, I fail to see the appeal in television.  We canceled our cable service about nine months ago, and I haven’t even for a second missed it – we didn’t watch it when we were paying for it either.  I find television to be frustrating – too many ridiculous commercials.

As you might have noticed, I’ve added a Bookshelf to my blog – it’s in the right hand column just past my Blogroll.  As I’ve already said, I’m not a great reader.  For me it goes in spurts.  If I find a good book I can’t put it down.  If I find a bad book I won’t ever pick it back up again.  I am primarily a fiction reader – I adore brain candy.  I prefer two types of fiction: mystery and suspense, and Christian romance – more specifically, Amish romance.  I’m a huge sucker for Beverly Lewis and have read all of her books.  In the mystery and suspense category my three favorite authors are Agatha Christie (specifically, Hercule Poiroit and Miss. Marple mysteries), Tim Downs (I can’t get enough of the Bug Man novels), and Patricia Cornwall, although Ms. Cornwall tends to get a bit potty mouthed for my taste at times.  I’ve had to stop reading more than one of her books because the language just got too graphic for me.

But as you might notice from my Bookshelf, it’s not just fiction on the list.  I am also reading Crazy Love, Radical (by David Platt – not the Saul Olinsky book), and Lies Women Believe.  So far, these have turned out to be excellent Christian living and devotional books.  The first two take a fresh look at authentic Christianity; well fresh isn’t quite the right word as the truth they’re touting are actually old – first century kinda truths, but far beyond the bounds and comforts of our modern day Christianity.  And Lies Women Believe has been a profound read into the mind and heart of the very deception and Deceiver who seeks to destroy Christian women everywhere.  I think I’m going to be using this as one of my fall Bible study books for my ladies group.

But enough about me, what about you?  Are you a reader?  If so, what kinds of books do  you like?  Do you have a favorite author or series you just can’t put down?  If you’re not a reader, why is that?  I’m terribly curious.

(1) Jonathan Kozal, Illiterate America  (2) American Medical Association  (3) The Jenkins Group Inc. & Para Publishing  (4) Publishers Weekly  (5) The Author’s Guild  (6) Veronis, Suhler and Associates  (7) Bookwire & Jenkins Group Inc.

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