Thursday, March 23, 2017

Can't We All Just Get Along?

It seems that there is an increasing amount of contention in the world today, fueled by an instant public forum provided by the internet and social media. We can now "discuss" our grievances with the entire world by pressing the "Publish" button, and we're able to do so without the pesky interference of seeing the people with whom we disagree.

The instantaneous ability to impersonally express any and every opinion only increases our need to really consider who's on the other side of the screen, and how we can love them well.

Because, shockingly, a disagreement is not a loophole in the commandment to "love your neighbor". One the flip side, an agreeable facade is also not a biblical expectation of love. In order to love someone you don't have to pretend to agree with them or avoid issues of disagreement like a snotty-nosed toddler.

It is possible, and even necessary, to learn to disagree in a loving way. If we're going to live authentically and honestly, disagreements are going to happen.

Disagreements aren't a problem.

Disagreements are a symptom of sharing life and getting to know another human being, which is an important part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

Disagreements handled without love are a problem.

If we are trying to prove someone else wrong, seeking to make much of ourselves, or if we are fueled by anger or self-righteousness, our mishandling is indicative of a major sin: refusal to love God more than anything or anyone else (like ourselves or our reputation) or refusal to love our neighbors the way we want to be loved.

Allow me to volunteer the fact that I don't have this down yet. I've come a long way in the last four years or so, but I'm not where I'd like to be. Many of the lessons I present below are lessons that I'm still working on, or realize the need for due to my own personal failures, maybe even in the last month or so.

That being said, here are a few ways to season your language with grace, even in the midst of conflict.

  1. Stay away from excessively strong language or absolute language. There's really no reason to say "all" or "everyone" or "every time". For one thing, there's literally no way that you could possibly prove such a grandiose statement. All anyone has to do is find a single exception to prove your statement false, short-changing the value of the discussion. Not only are such statements grossly inaccurate (there's almost always an exception), but they also amp up the intensity of the conversation needlessly.

    The words "heresy", "evil", or "crazy" have a similar impact. Even when I believe that someone's way of thinking is, in all actuality, heretical, it prevents open dialog to call it such. Only people who agree with you are likely to join the conversation once such a term comes flying out. It also lowers the bar from "truth" to "not heresy". We're no longer discussing what is true, but we're now reduced to a conversation about what is even slightly acceptable. We can do better than that.
  2. Don't view a conversation as a competition. There's no such thing as a loser in a conversation. In an argument, on the other hand, both parties typically end up losing something. Seriously, why do you care so much if someone believes something with which you disagree? Why on earth should I be ticked off that you and I disagree on a certain issue?

    If your motive is love and you genuinely believe that a person's false belief is putting them in physical, emotional, or spiritual danger, anger toward that person isn't an appropriate response. Who has ever been berated into safety?

    The goal of a discussion is to get to know the other person better and understand where they're coming from, as well as to express your own view and help the other person understand your take.

    Honestly, this one is my biggest struggle. I love a good debate, LOVE IT! My husband refuses to debate me, even when he's right, because I'm more skilled at the actual debate. But a debate is rarely a wise choice in a personal relationship, unless you're both freaks like I am and relish the debate. They are very rarely a good idea on social media. Actually, I can't think of a single situation when it would be wise to engage in a full debate on social media.
  3. Be very careful about assigning malicious intent. This is the biggest failure that I see in many Christian blogs dealing with social issues. There is a very big difference between being incorrect and being malicious. Once you cross this line, there's no going back. Once you say that a parent is abusive or a pastor is intentionally misleading his sheep away from the Gospel or a politician is corrupt, you've set yourself up as an accuser and enemy to the person you have attacked.

    You can no longer engage in any sort of meaningful discussion with them or with anyone who might agree with them. You can no longer discuss issues or facts. You've made it personal, and it's going to be very easy to come out looking like a bad guy, even if you're right about the issue itself.
  4. Stick to the issues without making it personal. In some ways, this is a way to re-word the previous point, but it has other implications as well. If I really love an author or speaker, and you point out something wrong with one of their teachings, even in a very loving way, my initial reaction is to be defensive. I saw this in a Babylon Bee (a Christian satirical website similar to The Onion) post about a certain women's speaker's use of soaring language. It was comical and somewhat accurate, but her followers took it very seriously and personally. They went on the attack to defend their favorite poet.

    Slow down! Just because you disagree with something someone says, that doesn't mean that they're attacking anyone. Just because you're offended, that doesn't necessarily mean that what was said was offensive. Take a deep breath and consider the actual statement being made.
  5. Be honest in the right forum. If you're offended, say so. Hash it out one-on-one. Don't handle it in the comment session. There's no need to pretend that someone's statement didn't have an impact when it did. You may discover, as I have, that you jumped to an unintended conclusion. If you need to say something of a personal nature, say it in a personal way. Don't just carry around anger and bitterness. Bring it into the light so it can be dealt with. If the other person refuses to discuss things civilly, that's on them, not you. But if you walk around with hurt, believing that they know what they did without speaking up, that's on you.
  6. Remember that people are real, live, breathing human beings with hearts and families. Even if a person is in the public eye, that doesn't give you the right to rip into them as if they're merely a symbol. That person may represent certain theology or ideas held by a group of people, but they're still incredibly valuable to our Father. Treat them as such. Treat them the way that you would want to be treated if you were in their situation. "I would never be in that situation!" Well, pretend that you woke up tomorrow morning in his or her shoes. How would you want someone to speak to you and about you? Now, do that.

    They may be horribly wrong about an issue, but that doesn't give you the right to act unlovingly. People are more than a compilation of beliefs and ideas. We must consider the heart when we choose what to say and how to say it.
  7. Consider your own motivation. I touched on this in the introduction, but it is so very, very important. For a long time, I stayed out of conversations that I thought could be divisive out of fear that I would offend someone. I have come to understand that engaging in meaningful conversation about important issues is an important part of living in community and being a part of society. I've also learned to handle my fear with love by simply handling offenses as they come up.

    You may be silent for the wrong reasons, or you may speak up for the wrong reasons. Consider your own heart carefully when choosing whether or not to join in a conversation. You may have the exact words that someone else needs to hear, or you may just add to the insanity.

    On social media, it is very difficult to know the impact of what we post. Many people are silently watching and following along. Although we won't know the effect of our words, we can know our reason for adding them to the discussion.

    Even if the only thing that our words accomplish is to prove that it is possible to love someone with whom we disagree, that's a pretty monumental accomplishment, and we should strive toward it. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

In the Hallway: Mourning Dead Dreams

The last two years have been difficult and wonderful at the same time. One of my life's longest-held dreams was fulfilled when we brought our precious son home from China. At the same time, I've seen some of my most defining dreams pass by. Unless something strange and miraculous happens, at least one of my dreams is out of reach and quite possibly dead.

I grew up believing that there would come a point when I would find my "niche", and that once I did, the idiosyncrasies in the way God designed me would make sense. I thought that I had found that niche when I had the opportunity to speak to groups of women and teach the Word. I felt more like myself when I was teaching than I felt any other time. I felt more comfortable in my skin and in my personality than I felt at any other time. I came to believe that God would open doors and allow me to teach more often, so I could be more of myself more of the time.

But now I sit in the hallway, surrounded by closed doors on every side. Not only are there no speaking opportunities, there's no potential for speaking opportunities. The part of me that came alive when teaching has atrophied and weakened. It's a part of me that may very well be on its death bed, and I thought that it was the best of me.

It may be a matter of timing or phase of life, or it may be my permanent reality. There simply aren't many speaking opportunities for complementarian women (women who believe in gender roles within the family and church, specifically that a woman is not called by God to pastor His church). It requires a lot of help from others who are more experienced and well-connected, and they really have to see a spark and then choose to fan that flame.

Once I reached out to a more mature woman in our association with a piece that I had written and poured my soul into, and her only response was "I noticed a few grammatical errors. I can help you with that if you'd like." The fact of the matter is that I like starting sentences with conjunctions because it makes writing feel more like a natural conversation, but that's simply a difference in style, I suppose. Others have been much more encouraging, but none have seen a flicker and felt the call to fan it into flame, which is God's territory, not mine.

My style is quite different from typical women speakers (especially those of the complementarian variety). My theology is very similar to the theology of many other women speakers, but it's my personal style that isn't normal. It's just one of those idiosyncrasies that I believed would make sense once I found my place in God's Kingdom.

But that sweet dream has turned into a bitter emptiness.

So I'm sitting in this closed-off hallway, trying to figure out where to go from here. I'm exploring a completely different path through classes in web development, graphic design, and digital marketing. I believe that these skills are an excellent fit for my personality, and a great way to benefit the Kingdom while providing for my family.

But being a web designer and marketing expert doesn't justify God's design, which is what I really want. I want to know why God didn't make me happy to be a nurse. I mean, it's a hugely important job with good insurance and a variety of scheduling options, but that's just not how He made me, I want to know why I would rather study an obscure passage from a minor prophet within a historical context than an old stand-by like Proverbs 31. I want to know why God made me to like football far more than cooking or decorating. I want to know why I speak the way I do, think the way I do, and do the way I do. I want to know what God is up to while I'm sitting in this dark, old hallway.

But here in this hallway, God bends near and whispers, "I don't have you in this hallway for you to know. I have you here so you can trust."

He gently reminds me that His own Son had a dream that wouldn't come true in His lifetime.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:37-39

Jesus longed to take His people into His arms. He longed to make them great among the nations. He longed to bring them blessing and abundance, but His dream wasn't going to happen in His lifetime, but in His death. His death would make a way to build a new Jerusalem from the destruction of its predecessor. His death would pay for the sins committed by those who steadfastly kept their trust in Him, and His death would establish a new nation and a new family that would bring Him the glory that was refused Him by those in Jerusalem who would sentence Him to death by crucifixion.

So here, in this hallway, I mourn for the Hannah that I thought and hoped and prayed that I would be. I mourn for the missed opportunities and closed doors. I mourn for the lost hope and painful emptiness. I mourn, trusting that this mourning is but temporary. This ignorance is short-lived. There will come a day very soon when I will see Him, and I will know why He made me precisely the way that He did, and when I do, I'm pretty sure that I won't care about that at all.

Because in that moment, I'll see Him face to face, my priorities will be set right, and I will know exactly what it means to be justified. I will finally be able to love the way that I was intended to love without fear or self-concern. I will finally be able to serve with all of my abilities without trying to prove a thing to myself or anyone else.

When I finally know what I want to know, I'm confident that will be the moment when I know that trusting has always been better than knowing.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Christians Act More Like Gaston than Belle Because We Forget We're the Beast

Today I spent a special day with my oldest daughter to celebrate her birthday. It included going to see Beauty and the Beast.

It. Was. Magical.

The new, semi-live-action film added songs from the Broadway version of the story, as well as a few helpful plot points, like the fact that the Enchantress placed a spell on the village, causing them to forget the castle and its prince. The combination of CGI and live-action was gorgeous. The story was a bit more complex than the original, and the characters were much deeper and more complicated.

When we got to the end, DeLaynie diverted her eyes for fear that the Beast would die and all of the palace staff would fade into inanimate objects. I leaned over and whispered, "You want to see this. It's the best part."

There it was, the same scene that I remembered from my childhood, from a time when I was even younger than DeLaynie. It was the scene in which the love of a beautiful woman transformed the gruesome beast into his true form- a prince. (If you've never seen the original film, I apologize for spoiling the ending, but seriously. Where have you been, and what have you been doing?)

I once heard Tim Keller describe this scene in a sermon. He explained that for a Christian all art now points us directly to Christ. Our story is woven into every great story. Our Savior's portrait is painted onto every beautiful canvas. The story of the beast is our story.

We were once like him, literally as ugly as sin. Our humanity had been torn from us by choosing our selfish ways over trusting our Creator. We looked to temporal things instead of the eternal things for which we were made. We traded our humanity for an animal-like craving for satisfaction. We no longer looked like the One who created us. We no longer reflected His image the way we were created to.

But then our Beautiful Savior stepped in and He loved us, and He made us love Him. That love transformed us from the inside-out. It's true that our transformation comes much slower than that of the Beast. It takes a lifetime and seeps into eternity to that first moment when we come face to face with our Beloved. But we know that it is coming, and our pending transformation changes us in the here and now.

Yet, we all too often forget what we once were. We take the love of our Savior as a testament to our beauty instead of His grace, so instead of seeking out those who remain in darkness in order to love them with the love that only Christ can give, we live in fear of the darkness. We attack when the darkness around us comes closer than we would like. We seek to destroy those who have not yet been transformed because instead of seeing the ugliness of sin as a cry for transforming love, we see it as a threat.

We've forgotten who we are. We've forgotten what we once were.

Every Christian is simply a transformed beast. 

We needn't fear the darkness. We know that the One who restored us to who we were meant to be will return, and He will restore His whole world to an even greater beauty than the first. Until then, as transformed beasts, our greatest privilege is to reach out to those who do not yet know the radical love of our God that changes us from the inside-out.

We cannot deny the ugliness of sin, or we risk loving without transformation as an end result, cursing those we love to an eternity in their cursed state. We do need to see sin's ugliness for what it is- a curse that can be set right by the love of God, the One who created us to rule beside Him forever. In every beast, there is a potential prince or princess, but denial, fear, or hatred cannot transform them.
Only perfect love can do that.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why I'm Not a Part of "Moms' Groups"

Before we left to bring our son home, I joined a moms' group that was associated with our adoption agency. One day I was debating whether to take our jogging stroller with us to China, so I posted the question.

The response was insane. In. Sane.

"Your child will probably be overly sensitive to stimuli, so he won't be able to handle jogging."

"You're going to need to be flexible to your child's needs. Don't plan on going for any runs."

My personal favorite:

"You're going to have to do what's best for your child and not yourself. Hopefully you can be okay with that."

Somehow, my packing question morphed into a parenting question, and somehow, without meeting my child or me, I was deemed to be a selfish failure.

Because I asked for advice about taking a jogging stroller.

(For the record, I wished I had my jogger every single morning after Gotcha Day. Due to jet lag and an early morning waker, we were up long before the crowds filled the street. Li did just fine in the jogger once I got him home. No sensory issues there. Getting off my running routine needlessly made my life harder and made the jet-lag ten times more difficult when we returned. And I never got back to running.)

Where did it go so wrong?

No one asked any questions. They assumed that my son was just like their child.

But he wasn't. And I knew that because I had Skyped with him, read his file, and talked to him.

They didn't know that because they didn't ask, and they didn't seem to care.

I still don't understand why the sharks circled so maliciously. I eventually unsubscribed to updates on my own question because people continued to pound me with unkind and uneducated answers based on their own experiences that had nothing to do with my situation.

And it quickly became clear that they didn't care about my situation, or me. They cared about sounding smart. They cared about justifying themselves. They cared about feeling superior.

It's a good thing church isn't like that, huh?

Wait, it is like that!

People give you Scriptures about your issue without finding out what your issue actually is.

People pray for solutions to your problem without asking any questions to figure out what you actually need from God.

People knock you down for simply asking a question.

And I'm just as guilty.

I've given easy to remember Scriptures without considering the implications for the person seeking help.

I've prayed for solutions to problems quickly, without asking a single question to make sure that I'm praying for what's actually needed.

I've even embarrassed people for simply asking a question.

I didn't do it on purpose. In fact, I didn't even realize that I was doing it. I was so used to it, I had a hard time seeing that it was a problem. Until one day, when I was leading a Sunday School class, and one of the women had the courage to admit to her prayer group that she was struggling with real, severe depression. The person assigned to pray for her prayed something to the effect, "God I pray that you'll give her to the strength to get through her depression and do what she needs to do."

In that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The glorious privilege of prayer had just been used as a weapon against a tender soul who had finally found the strength to admit her frailty to a group of women she didn't know very well. Instead of praying for a loving Father to bring His comfort to His precious daughter, this unwitting pray-er threw the blame on sufferer and compounded her pain with more guilt. I was very young at that point, and I didn't know how to remedy the situation, but it did begin the very long process of learning to ask questions and seek helpfulness over easy answers.

What you've experienced isn't the same as what I have experienced. You and I have different weaknesses, different struggles, and different strengths. If I love you the way that I want to be loved, that could be very unloving because you're not me. I have to learn to love you the way that I would want to be loved if I were in your shoes. I have to learn to listen. I have to learn to care about you, right where you are, And I have to learn to learn.

I really don't want to be the shark that takes your head off and drives you away from church forever because unlike mom groups, church is mandatory (and overall, a wonderful privilege) for the believer. I really don't want to use a prayer as an excuse for a guilt trip. I really don't want to cut you down to make myself feel big. I really want to learn how to bend down to the broken and the hurting.

I really want to be more like Jesus and less like a moms' group.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

How One Woman's Attitude Toward Her Husband Built an Empire and Changed a City

A new show came on HGTV about two years ago. From the get-go, I could tell that there was something different about the stars of this reality show. So I did the only reasonable thing. I Googled them.

The first search result that popped up was a YouTube video of the wife's testimony. Sure enough, the video confirmed my suspicions. They were believers, and it was obvious in everything they did. It was most obvious in the way that they related to each other, especially the way that the wife treated her husband.

Joanna Gaines rarely raised her voice at all toward her husband. Even when her husband brought home two new puppies without asking or even saying a word (at least not that we see), she didn't speak negatively about her husband to her kids. Instead, she highlighted her husband's kindness as a father. When her husband fell into the lake after repeated warnings from his wife, resulting in a ruined phone and precipitating the need to strip down to his undies on their television show, she just stared at him silently. He knew she was angry, but she never yelled. I've never seen her treat her husband like a child, not once. Even when he behaves with kid-like enthusiasm, she just enjoys his quirkiness and gives him a kiss.

Now, I'm not saying that their marriage is without difficulties or that she has never blown-up at him, but I am saying this: their relationship is just different.

Where most shows find their drama in screaming matches and eye-rolls, Fixer Upper doesn't even go there. Both Chip and Joanna make a point of speaking to and about each other with love and respect, and apparently people really like that. 

When the show was accused of trying to mis-lead its viewers by adding home-shopping scenes to the beginning, HGTV replied with this statement (emphasis added): "'Fixer Upper' fans enjoy the series because it focuses on the playful banter between Chip and Jo, their home renovation expertise, innovative design tips and families who get the help they need to transform a fixer upper into the home of their dreams."

In other words, people like the show because this couple actually likes each other, and they're good at what they do.

Edwin bought me The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna's book, for Christmas. The word "submission" was never used, but the concept was on every page. The book begins with a story about how a film crew went to Waco to get some footage of the Gaines family in hopes of creating a show. Initially, Chip and Joanna wilted under the camera's eye, but before the crew left, a broken-down, mold-infested house boat arrived. Chip had purchased the boat without nary a word to his wife. Joanna was upset, but she didn't throw a fit over Chip making a major decision without her input (and with her money). Because of the way she handled her frustration and looked for a way to change a shipwreck into a dream boat (pun totally intended), the camera crew was able to get the footage they needed of a quirky, industrious, and wildly talented couple, which led to Fixer Upper.

They never did get the boat sea-worthy, but since the show began, it has become an absolute sensation. Before the show, Chip and Joanna struggled to keep all of their investments afloat. Now they manage an empire. Their companies have all taken off and expanded. The city of Waco has grown and developed because Fixer Upper features local artisans and businesses on every episode, Their show attracts visitors from all over the country to their store and bed and breakfast. (Which is booked solid for six months and doesn't accept reservations further out than that, in case you're wondering.) A city that was once known for a mass suicide is now known as the home of Magnolia everything.

Oh, yeah, and Baylor.

But mostly Magnolia.

Now, to be fair, they were in the middle of building an entire neighborhood before the show. That's the biggest investment that they struggled to keep above water. Most of us will never handle enough capital to build a neighborhood, so that's probably not a struggle with which we can empathize. But their lives now are completely different, and their city is completely different.


Because of the way they treat each other.

People are tired of arguing and antagonistic marriages. We're tired of wimpy men and nagging women. We're tired of comedy that depends on cutting other people apart.

There's nothing stranger or more glorious than a marriage in which two people are fighting on behalf of each other instead of against each other.

But here's what I know: most women who love their husbands and show them respect will never see the kind of fruit that Joanna and Chip have received. 

Even as I stand in awe of the blessing that Joanna's basic Christian love has brought on her home, I recognize that many women are struggling to love men who may never reciprocate their kindness. Most women who love and respect their husbands will never get to pursue every dream with their husbands' blessings. Most women who submit to their husbands will never receive the full reward for their faithfulness in this life.

But the blessings that the Gaines family have received is a glimpse into the blessing that God is storing up for his daughters who will trust Him enough to love and respect their husbands. 

Do you really think that the blessings that Chip and Joanna are receiving right now can even begin to compare to the blessings that God is preparing for the wife who loves and submits to a hard, uncaring husband? Do you really think that a multi-million dollar empire is even worth comparing to the blessings that God is designing for His daughters who are faithful, yet never receive the rewards that they earn during this lifetime?

Look at the joy of fulfilled dreams, financial security, a city redeemed, and a family the way that it's supposed to be as portrayed through the Gaines family. Now multiply it times a million. That's what God is working on for us, dear friends.

We need only be faithful to His calling.

I didn't receive anything for this post, not even a free book, but Joanna should feel free to send me a gift card to her shop, if she so desires.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Biblical Argument for Vaccination

At some point I decided that it was okay to discuss controversial issues as long as I do it in love, so before we dive into this touchy subject, let me make a few things very, very clear.

I'm only presenting this as "a biblical argument", not "the conclusive, absolutely correct argument proving everyone else wrong". In other words, I'm not claiming to be right while those who disagree with me are wrong. I don't think this is an issue that has clearly wrong parties and clearly right parties. You may very well disagree with me on that point. I respect your right to have your opinion, so that's cool with me, too. 

I'm not attacking anyone! This ain't mom-shaming, people. If you decided not to vaccinate your kids, I may disagree with you, but I don't judge you. They aren't my kids. Why should I care? (I've never understood why people get so worked up about other people's decisions when they aren't actually effected by them.) If one of your kids somehow gets the measles, I'll still bring you a casserole if you're in driving distance because...

I love you. Hate vaccines and think they're from the devil? Okay. You're made in God's image, so you're really important.  Do you totally agree with me in every possible way? Neat. You are also made in God's image, and you're no more or less valuable than anyone else. God's fingerprints are glorious, aren't they? And what's really wonderful is that they don't disappear based on your opinions, though the way you express those opinions might obscure them. My goal is to respect you, even as I may disagree with you.

Hopefully you now understand where I'm coming from. So why did I decide to write this piece if I don't personally care what decision you make? Because I haven't seen anything else quite like it, but I really have been convinced that the Bible speaks to this decision as I've studied God's Word. 

With the above ground rules in place, here are the biblical reasons why I support vaccination:

  • I consider the FDA and CDC "governing authorities".
    Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Romans 13:1-4

    The FDA was established to protect the American people from dangerous food and medicine. You may not like it, but they are a part of the government, set in place for our protection. There may be corruption at work, but don't forget that Christians were being severely persecuted by the government at the time that Paul wrote these words to the Romans. The FDA has studied the mess out of the routine vaccines administered to children, and they're the ones who approved the recommended vaccine schedule as developed by the CDC. They really would have to be the most calloused and cruel individuals in the world to intentionally ignore clear evidence that vaccines pose a greater threat to children than the illnesses that they prevent in order to make drug companies happy. (Talk to any high ranking employee in a drug company, and they'll tell you that the FDA doesn't strive to make their lives easier or their profits higher.)

    When we returned with our son, we had his blood tested to check to see how immune he was to the diseases covered by his immunizations, and the numbers were extremely low, in spite of the fact that he received all of his vaccinations right on time. Why? It's very common for Chinese drug companies to dilute their products in order to increase their profits. It's normal for a child in other countries to receive medication or vaccines that don't do their jobs because no one is regulating the products. Edwin and I came back with a new appreciation for the ways that the FDA strives to do good for our family.
  • God doesn't give you a snake when you ask for a fish.
    What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Matthew 7:9-11

    How many mothers watched their children die from measles, mumps, or polio, begging God to destroy these terrible diseases? How many mothers had to help their children overcome the debilitating after-effects of those diseases when their children became well, but were never quite the same? How many of those mothers prayed that God would restore their children? How many of those mothers (and fathers) begged God for a world free from those diseases?

    And then God answered! He didn't just heal the diseases. He provided a way to completely eliminate them!

    And here we are with our healthy children, and we call the fish a snake and the bread a stone. We say that God didn't give wisdom to the doctors who created those vaccines. We tell God that His good gift to us isn't a gift at all, but a trick.

    Why? Because it wasn't our prayers that were answered. Why not? We never needed to pray for a world free from those diseases. Why not? Because our children never had measles, mumps, or polio. Why not? Because those diseases are almost completely destroyed thanks to the answered prayers of those who came before us.

    A hard roll looks like a rock to someone who has never experienced hunger, but to a starving man, it's a godsend.

    I sincerely hope that our grandchildren will debate the necessity of a cancer vaccine in a world where the horrors of cancer are as far removed as the terrors of polio are in our world.
  • It's the job of the strong to protect the weak.

    “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’

    “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’  Matthew 25:37-40

    There are some people who cannot receive vaccines because of health conditions. Because of that, it's important that children who can receive the vaccines do so in order to protect our herd immunity.

    "Wait, you expect your infant to take on the job of protecting other kids you don't even know?"

    To be honest, yes. My doctors tell me that the risk of injury to my child is extremely minimal. If somehow one of my children were to experience a severe reaction to a vaccine, I would be at peace knowing that I was obedient to God in trying to protect "the least of these". (Okay, so I may kick myself at times, but overall, I'm good with taking that chance.)

    I should never depend on others to protect me or my children, but I should seek out opportunities to care for others and to protect those who are weak. It's a privilege to do so, and I'm grateful to share that privilege with my children, even in this very small way.

  • There's no actual evidence of danger.Whoever speaks the truth declares what is right, but a false witness, deceit. Proverbs 12:17

    I know that there is anecdotal evidence that immunizations have been linked to autism and other vaccination injuries. I know that there are side effects to every vaccine (and every medication, and even organic treatments, for that matter), and no medical intervention is without risk.

    But there has never been an actual study that has been able to link vaccines to autism or any other life-changing problem. In fact, autism rose at an even higher rate in Japan where the MMR was banned because of the anecdotal evidence. (The difference was almost the same as the increase in the United States in the same amount of time, and it was probably due to under-reporting autism prior to the original numbers, so it has no link to the MMR vaccine, one way or the other.)

    Just a reminder, anecdotal evidence was also used to "prove" the benefits of blood-letting, leeches, and the use of mercury as a treatment for syphilis. I'm not saying that you're a fool if you listen to the anecdotal evidence. What I am saying is that as humans, we have a tendency to put pieces together the wrong way. We love to find meaning and causation, even when it isn't there. That's why the scientific method exists. It isn't to suppress the truth but to find it. As Christians, we really ought to embrace that because we should be the greatest lovers of truth out there.
  • It gives weight to the lives of the children whose aborted bodies were used to develop the vaccines.
    Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Romans 12:21

    The most compelling argument against vaccines that I have heard is that fetal tissue was used to develop the vaccines. I didn't realize this, and it was the first bit of information that almost swayed my opinion.

    It's tragic that these little ones died, no doubt.

    But the babies were not aborted for the purpose of developing the vaccines. Their tiny bodies were donated after the procedure.

    So let's just say that they were one year older than they actually were when they were killed. Let's say that they were murdered after they were born, and their organs were donated to other children in need of those organs. Would the killer be able to defend his behavior by saying that he actually saved many lives by taking one life?

    No. That's stupid.

    But could the parents find a little bit of joy in knowing that their child's short life did actually accomplish great things?


    It in no way diminishes the tragedy of the murder, but it also didn't cause it. In fact, they were two separate decisions.

    I don't like that aborted fetal tissue is used to develop vaccines, but it does give children who have been aborted an opportunity to serve God on this earth by bringing life to others.

    Vaccinating a child doesn't reflect a lack of respect for life. It communicates a desire for all children to remain healthy.
  • In my opinion, it's a matter of trust.

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

    When something bad happens to our kids, we want to find a reason. We would love nothing more than to have someone to blame. We want to turn it into a crusade so we can create meaning in painful situations.

    But that isn't our job.

    That's God's job.

    One of my kids is on the autism spectrum, as I mentioned before. She was different from the moment she was born, so I have never needed to question if vaccination played a role in her differences. I recently read that taking Tylenol during pregnancy was linked to autism. At the time that I was pregnant, Tylenol was literally the only thing I was told was safe to take, so I took it.

    If it turns out that Tylenol did play a role in how my daughter works, it really doesn't change anything. There was no reason to think that Tylenol was dangerous at the time. I listened to my doctors, who are much smarter than I am. They gave me the best advice that they could give at the time, based on the information that was available to them. If those headaches, which caused me to take two Tylenol as directed, eventually led to my daughter's weaknesses and strengths, that's not an issue of fault.

    It's an issue of God's sovereignty.

    He uses everything. Good decisions. Bad decisions. Good science. Bad science. Good governments. Bad governments. Faithful people. Faithless people.

    I don't have to find meaning. He is the meaning. If He wants my kids to have more weaknesses than the average kid, so be it. If He wants my kids to have more strengths, and more responsibilites, than the average kid, so be it.

    My only job is to be faithful. That's your only job, too.

    Whether your kids are vaccinated or not, you can be faithful.

    Whether your kids are perfectly healthy or taken far too soon, you can be faithful.

    Whether your kids are weak or strong, you can be faithful.

    Isn't that a relief?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Don't Try to Take Away Another Servant's Portion

If you've been in church for a while, you've almost certainly heard a sermon (or two, or hundred) on the story of Mary and Martha. If you've been in a women's Bible study of any kind, you've probably studied it pretty thoroughly.

If you haven't, allow me to give you a very quick synopsis:

Jesus comes to a village, and two women welcome Him and His followers into their home. Mary is completely enthralled by Jesus (not in a romantic way, but in a respectful way), but Martha is thoroughly distracted by the concerns of feeding Jesus and His entourage. Martha gets fed up and asks Jesus to stick up for her to her sister, but Jesus speaks instead to Martha, telling her that "one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good potion, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42)

Because this passage is taught so often, you may have already heard what I have to say. If so, awesome! It couldn't hurt to hear it again. If not, that's cool, too. You're going to hear it today.

Martha isn't especially selfish or arrogant, in my opinion. I think that her reaction is pretty typical. I don't know if she really believed that Mary was being lazy or if she saw the joy and excitement Mary was experiencing and got jealous. I personally think it's a great thing that we don't fully understand Martha's motivation because we see both at work within the church.

We see the frustrated church members who are tired from all of their work and who speak against the people in the church who are "lazy" and not doing enough. We also see people who are jealous of someone else's intimate relationship with Jesus who try to defend their own spiritual life by tearing others' down. And if we're being really, really honest, we see the same two motives within our own hearts. We get frustrated with people who don't do as much as we think they should, and we get defensive about the people who are serving better than we think we do.

And, just like Martha, we judge. Instead of listening to what our hearts are telling us, we try to take away the portion that God has given to His servants, whether that is joy in service or joyous intimacy.

Instead of inspiration, we draw antagonism.

Martha isn't our first glimpse of this problem. The same thing happened between Cain and Abel when Abel's gift to God was accepted and Cain's wasn't. Cain gets murderously angry with Abel, but God responds by telling him, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." (Genesis 4:6-7)

Cain wanted to be Abel's master. Martha wanted to be Mary's master. The problem is that they both already had a Master. In both situations, the Master had very similar advice. We can either humbly learn how to love God better by learning from those whose spiritual lives and service make us jealous or frustrated, or we can choose to act as his or her master and separate ourselves farther from them and farther from God.

But here's God's promise and His warning: God will not take away a faithful servant's reward because of our frustrations. We can either choose to share in their rewards by learning from them or we can choose to miss out because of our own arrogance and stubbornness.

Although the story ended very badly for Cain, we see that it doesn't have to. In John 11, we see Jesus interacting with these sisters at a later point, and we learn that Jesus and Martha have become very close. They have a very personal relationship that is marked by Martha's faith in Jesus. She learned from her wise teacher, and the result was intimate relationship with the Lord of Life.

The same opportunity is available to us today. Let's not pass it up!