Does the Resurrection really matter?

Does the resurrection really matter?

Trust me, this isn’t a lecture about why you should attend church on Easter Sunday or why you should attend church the other 51 days during the year.

The question is: why does the resurrection matter in your regular life? Does it make any difference in your every day, drag-yourself-to-work kind of day that involves paying bills, eating, fighting colds, and visiting the in-laws?

This is the question that will change the destiny of your life, in the temporal sense, as well as the eternal. So let’s get the eternal out of the way right now. That’s easy. Easter is coming, and you’ve got eggs to dye and bunny cookies to make.

The discussion of the resurrection begins with the person who marks the end of B.C. (“before Christ”) and the onset of A.D. Anno Domini (“in the year of our Lord”).

History itself revolves around Jesus, the only human to cheat death of his own free will and power. This is the resurrection everyone must confront at some point in his life–the historical data that there lived a perfect man (who was God’s Son), who died and raised himself to life and returned to heaven.

Mohammed, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul III, Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King Jr. were all spiritual leaders. But they are all dead. They have tombs where their bodies are rotting, and they have remained powerless to stop the process. Jesus’ tomb, however, sits empty. His resurrection power gives resurrection power to everything else in my life (yes, even in my normal non-Easter life).

Belief in Jesus’ resurrection spearheads all other possible resurrections in our temporal life. You do believe in those, even if you don’t believe in Him. Let me explain.

The sun comes up every morning, inspiring us to productivity, yet sets every night, under the equally important light of the moon, which ushers rest into our hurried lives. We couldn’t stop the power of our solar system, even if we tried. We count on it.

Seeds die so new life can grow. Each spring, flowers burst forth anew, trees re-bud and bear fruit, year after year. The food cycle continues, the animal kingdom functions, all in tandem, all in natural rejuvenation. Nature renews itself without our help.

In every family, the elderly pass away, and the young bring new babies into the world, all pink and innocent and full of wonder. Incredibly, new life follows on the heels of death.

Tragedy brings tears, yet laughter brings joy; even midst heartache, a laugh or a smile can chase away pain. How does this phenomenon work?

And let’s not forget the resurrection of the human spirit–the daring challenge of starting over when all seems lost:  the battered wife who breaks free, the broken marriage that repairs itself, the addict who accepts accountability, the slave who escapes, the abused who disarms the power of the abuser. These are resurrections, and they are the resurrections that defeat God’s enemy, just as His resurrection defeated his enemy 2,000 years ago.

A lifestyle of resurrection chooses change when the status quo would be easier. It believes in the unexplainable without embarrassment because it has lived the transformation. It gives when it feels empty. It loves when it feels hated. It confesses when it sins. It believes when life seems hopeless.

This is the power of the resurrection, every day, from now till eternity. And then it begins again.

John 11:25 “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'”

Sue Schlesman

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Planning for the Storms of Life

“Planning for the storms of life”

Plan ahead. Prepare for things you don’t expect.

These are the seeds of wisdom I’ve sprinkled on people for the last 25 years of ministry so they don’t find themselves blindsided by life’s trivial and serious handiwork. I shovel advice like nobody’s business.

Yesterday, I took heed of a weather forecast for “4-8 inches of snow during the night.” I bagged up my patio cushions and pillows and put them in the shed; I pulled out the shovels and placed them in easy reach of the back door. I drove to the grocery, stood in a line with 75 other people, and purchased a half-gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. I was my typically well-prepared self. I could feel the snowstorm coming: the sky was white, the air was cold and chilled, and the world was still.

Except that I really didn’t take the forecast that seriously. I live in Virginia, people. We have highly over-dramatic meteorologists. Three inches, I told myself. Four at the most. I bought milk and bread because I knew everyone else would, and I needed it anyway.

Today I awoke to 7 inches of wet snow covering the world outside my windows, and it’s still snowing 6 hours later. But I was not initially awed by its beauty, as I normally am. Panic gripped me because yesterday I considered taking down the cloth-covered gazebo on my deck, but I decided instead that I couldn’t spare the hour to climb up and down the ladder and carefully dismantle the whole thing. I figured I could just sweep off the top got when I got up this morning.

One look from my bedroom window revealed the results of my casual preparation: the entire structure had caved in under the weight of an accurate forecast. Frantic and close examination revealed bowed support bars, a torn cover, and broken fasteners. A total loss. I have replaced parts to this structure before (that’s another story of stupidity), so I know the cost, time, and unlikelihood of doing it again.

Why do human beings behave like this? Why do we bet on ease when difficulty is predictable?

Jesus warned his disciples in all the gospels to prepare for suffering, persecution, and false teaching so they could meet it head-on. He asked them to plan ahead for the life they were called to live. Mark records his words like this: “Be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.” (Mk. 13:23)

Often, we live our lives in casual indifference to the storms that are coming. We read Scripture about spiritual warfare and the tactics the enemy uses against us through culture and our own lusts. And most of the time, we half-heartedly prepare ourselves. We go to church and Bible study and have 5-minute devotions while we’re eating breakfast or sitting in the bathroom. We’re good. We’ve got the basics done.

We live as if we can’t spare the time—that the total structure of our beautiful lives can’t possibly collapse under the weight of ignored habits and predictable difficulty. We even make the same mistakes over and over. Are we really so naïve? Lazy? Belligerent?

If you’re tired of this cycle, start the New Year with a resolve not to be caught off-guard by the enemy’s attacks. You know they’re coming. Jesus said they were coming. So be on your guard. Get prepared.

If you ready to graduate to a serious Bible study that prepares your heart and mind for the storms of life, look for a study guide that includes:

  1. Reading a Scripture passage in its context
  2. Reading explanation by a seasoned Bible teacher
  3. A place for written responses to questions, notes, and/or personal application
  4. Prayer about what God reveals to you during your study

Then the next time you feel snow in the air, stock the fridge, get out the shovel, and take down the tent.

Sue Schlesman

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How to Have Hope in a Hopeless World

Where do you find your hope?

By the time you read this blog, we will have a new President. There’s at least a 50/50 chance that you won’t be happy.

But will you be hopeful?

Heb. 11:1 explains that “faith is being sure of what we hope for.” Faith is an important commodity in an election year, isn’t it? Candidates taut hope to the yearning masses, making campaign promises, emotional appeals, and sowing fear into the hearts of their listeners. Candidates take credit for economical and political successes and place blame for failures on their opponents. The population is left wondering if life will ever improve and if we will ever have a President we can trust.

David addressed the issue of hope and hopelessness in several Psalms by asking pointed questions. Lucky for us, he also provides the answer. He asks, “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Ps. 39:7) and “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Ps. 42:5, 11, Ps. 43:5)

In other words, “How can I be hopeful?”

Answer: God.

If that’s too simplistic, let’s break it down into a 4-part “formula” for what to do when life seems hopeless:

  1. Remember who God is. Power, love, grace, redemption. He is in the business of drawing people to himself, and he can use anybody and anything to do it. He will stop at nothing—not even the brutal murder of his own Son—to accomplish the task of reconciling humanity to himself. He will certainly respond to those who truly seek his will and his presence. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” (Lam. 3:25)
  2. Take the long look. God is not bound by time. He draws people to himself, one by one, throughout centuries, regardless of government, ethnicity, or religion. We all have the opportunity to be recipients and participants in God’s plan for redeeming the sins of the world. “The Lord is patient . . . not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)
  3. Expect hardship. Jesus promised us a life of persecution for the sake of the gospel. (And he wasn’t talking about losing the privilege to pray in school.) It’s hard to remember that the gospel explodes under persecution. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)
  4. Praise the Lord. Worship reminds us who God is and compels us to trust and accept his will for our lives. Throughout Scripture, when heroes of the faith struggled, they praised God, without even knowing the outcome of their situations. That’s why they were called courageous men and women of faith. They trusted God implicitly. No strings attached. “As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” (Ps. 71:14)

This is how you hope. You choose it. You remember who God is and what God is doing, whether you can envision the conclusion or not. You endure hardship because you know it’s part of God’s greater plan, and you praise him for it. That’s how you glorify him.

Having hope changes everything. 

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” (Ps. 62:5)

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Ps. 147:11)

Sue Schlesman

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What Do You Think of Me?

What Do You Think of Me?

What do you think of me?

It’s a probing, nervous question that kids silently ask themselves when they meet someone new, like a teacher or another child. It really means Am I valuable?

We grow up, yet we never stop asking those questions. We may become proactive; we learn communication techniques and coping skills to make sure we can control situations and present ourselves in the best possible light. But we don’t stop wondering what people think because it affects how we think about ourselves.

We worry about impressions we make on others while we parent our children or while we make presentations at work. We despair over plausible answers when we are overlooked for a promotion or a ministry opportunity. And when we get rejected (because we all will be at some point)—well, that’s when the question gains momentum. A spouse leaves, a friend betrays, a parent disapproves–and we conclude, I know what you think of me now. You hate me. I must be unworthy of your love.

I recently read a different translation of a famous destiny-laden verse, Jeremiah 29:11. Here’s how the New King James Version reads: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

God knows what He thinks of us. And still, He died for us. He listens to us. He intercedes for us, saving us from condemnation. He craves our company. He plans a future of hope for us.

Our sinful mistakes and disobedience don’t confuse God about His thoughts. He still knows what He thinks. Here are some of His many thoughts:

  • You were created in my image (Gen. 1:26)
  • I am following your every thought and action (Ps. 139:1-12)
  • I sacrificed my own Son to redeem you (Jn. 3:16)
  • I am offering you abundant life, if you’ll trust me (Jn. 10:10)
  • I will give you the Holy Spirit’s power if you want it (Acts 1:8)
  • I will give you the ability to understand my expectations (1 Jn. 5:20)
  • I will keep my promises to you (1 Chron. 16:15)
  • I love you in spite of your human failings (Ps. 103:14)
  • I will forgive our sins and chose to never remember them (Isa. 43:25)

He thinks we are worthy of Him. No, He makes us worthy of Him. He looks at us, in all our dysfunction and selfish ambition, and He gives because He believes us worthy.

Question answered.

Sue Schlesman

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What’s The Deal With My Broken Heart?

What's the deal with my broken heart?

My mother passed away this summer after a massive stroke. Each day, every day for a week, I held her hand and kissed her face and sang her favorite hymns. Through tears, I read her Scripture about God’s love—about hope and healing and eternal glory. The words were meant to encourage her during her final act of courage, but I clung to the promises for myself, as well. By reminding her of God’s enduring love, I reminded myself that He loves me, too, even while He calls away the most influential person in my life. By testifying of God’s perfect plan, I reminded myself that His plan was always to bring her home; He had blessed me by loaning her to me.

Yet faith continues to be difficult, because you can never truly prepare yourself for a broken heart.

Many times during the last 2 months since I lost her, I have considered Psalm 147 one of my go-to psalms when life kicks me in the stomach. This passage keeps unfolding new possibilities for me to consider. I used to fix my attention on the “broken heart” section as a way of feeling God’s empathy. Today I saw this passage in a new light. I looked at the scope of its entire message, and it baffled me a little. See what you think.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.” –Psalm 147:3-5

I find the topics in the sentences of these 3 verses rather peculiar because they seem unrelated, especially grouped in the setting of grief. Is this passage an encouragement or a warning? Is it about God or about me? Why is humility entwined with redemption and the broken heart? Why is there a threat of being cast away?

The English word humble in verse 6 is translated from the Hebrew word ânâv, defined in 4 ways in Scripture:

  • poor and weak
  • poor and needy
  • poor, weak, and afflicted
  • humble, lowly, weak

The Genenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon continues the explanation like this: “commonly with the added notion of a lowly, pious, and modest mind, which prefers to bear injuries rather than return them”[i]

If I have a broken heart that craves healing, it seems that humility—an acknowledgement of weakness and affliction—plays a critical role in restoration. The human heart wants only to feel love and pleasure, never pain. We want to resume normal life, to take control, to move on. So whenever brokenness comes, our initial and sustaining response is to ask for its removal and to force ourselves into health. We think that being brave is somehow the spiritual answer to trouble.

But when we are broken—truly helpless and needy—then we seek Him.

We remind ourselves, as God does in Psalm 147, that He knows us each by name. He understands all things. He has a perfect plan that must resume (we insert that wherever necessary) because we can’t abide the thought that God’s plan for us might be pain (although clearly that was His plan for Jesus). We have difficulty accepting that God loves us in our weakness and that He desires our weakness so He can use us.

The English translation of humility makes more sense. God knows that pain brings us to our knees. Pain lowers the shades from our eyes and the wall around our hearts and prods our inner longing to know Him more. That process involves a humbling, a recognition that we can’t fix our own problems, and we might never know why our affliction occurred in the first place. Maybe, just maybe, God’s plan for us all along was to shine through suffering.

Oh, how much we need humility for suffering! This is not the “aw, shucks” humility of a great man fighting arrogance. God’s design for us is a total awareness of His glory, which naturally precludes a complete confrontation of our own depravity and our willingness to bear it. Total humility doesn’t merely recognize spiritual flaws at the church alter. Real humility lives in raw self-awareness and complete dependence on God.

We throw around the word “dependence” at church and Bible study, but none of us actually want to take up residence there. That would necessitate the “reckless abandon” of Jim Elliot and the “to die is gain” mentality of the Apostle Paul. And their lives didn’t end so peacefully, if you remember. They lived lives of suffering and pain, and I’ll wager they carried around hearts that broke, and not even over themselves. Their hearts broke for the world, for the ones whom Jesus loved.

No wonder when King David lay prostrate before God in humble confession, he begged, “Cast me not from your presence!” God throws away the wicked. Lowlinessness—weakness—prepares us for dependence on God.

In our pain, there is spiritual healing from a heart that craves its own comfort first and turns to God as a last resort. I am sure that God desires brokenness and lowliness for me; through them comes the spiritual healing only He can give.

I can’t get this completeness any other way.

Sue Schlesman

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[i] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H6035&t=NIV

4 Lies about Fulfillment

4 Lies About Fulfillment | Liftupyourday.com

The year is already half over. Time to look at my New Years’ goals.

Whoops.

To my chagrin, I remember promising to all my readers that I would blog about the progress of my resolutions. I vowed to undertake and implement 12 new goals. (What was I thinking?)

Written in my journal is this incredibly long and un-checked list. I felt tentative and strangely courageous when I wrote all those things down in January. Now I just feel stupid. They’re not done. (I haven’t even blogged once about them!)

On the opposite page from this list of near-impossibilities are several Scripture verses and my theme word for the 2016: FULFILL. I chose fulfill because I had 12 important things to do this year. I wanted to embark on new ventures, and I wanted to complete the old undertakings that still hang around my neck like a feverish child. I want to fulfill God’s purpose for my life.

That was the intention of the list.

But if fulfillment comes through joy and success and accomplishment, then it’s no wonder I don’t feel fulfilled. I might never feel it. Maybe my perspective is the problem. After all, I can’t find proof for my definition anywhere in the Bible. Instead, the Bible shines a light on the lies I believe about fulfillment. Maybe you listen to these lies, too. It’s why you don’t set New Year’s resolutions anymore.

Lie #1: I will feel fulfilled if (and when) I accomplish my goals.

Sometime or other, you might have heard John 10:10 quoted to prove that God wants to give us full lives. (“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”) The context of this verse follows Jesus’ explanation a thief breaking into the sheepfold to steal the sheep. Jesus declares that He is the gate, the door to good pasture and protection from the enemy. Following John 10:10, Jesus gives the discourse on the Good Shepherd—Jesus is about to die for His sheep. In between both illustrations, Jesus says He gives “life to the full” or “abundant life.” Seems like a strange analogy, if you’re a health-and-wealth guy. Jesus’ goal was the salvation and protection of His sheep from the enemy. He didn’t come to give them a fancier sheepfold.

Truth: Fulfillment comes through God’s purpose for me (which will probably be different—but better—than the one I’ve conceived).

Lie #2: I will feel fulfilled if I’m happy. (i.e. God’s purpose for my life is to make sure I’m happy.)

Ah, the mystery of attaining happiness! This is the lure of the American dream: total fulfillment, followed by utter disappointment. Why are we never satisfied with the things we buy and the goals we attain? It’s because we weren’t designed to be satisfied with temporal things. Our souls are hardwired to desire God and be satisfied with Him. And His ultimate desire is the salvation of the world. Anything less than participating in God’s mission will bring us disappointment and disillusionment. Happiness is fleeting, but joy lasts. And joy is intrinsically tied to elation over the success of something outside myself. Paul explains the connection between joy, suffering, and God’s purposes in his letter to the Philippians. He prays for them “to discern what is best and . . . be . . . filled with the fruit of righteousness . . .” Paul knows what will fill them up. God alone.

Truth: God’s purpose is for my life is to make me a witness (which will be painful).

Lie #3: I will feel fulfilled when I’m handling life easily.

Psalm 57:2 says “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.” Not my purpose. Generally, He accomplishes his purpose for my life through the painful, difficult periods when my attention must focus on Him because I don’t know what else to do. Fulfillment in God is total faith and dependence. Usually that doesn’t happen when life is easy. Fulfillment takes faith. Heb. 11:1 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” We may never see our dreams fulfilled. Faith doesn’t mind believing without seeing.

Truth: Fulfillment occurs when I’m completely dependent on God (because I can’t handle anything on my own).

Lie #4: I will feel fulfilled when I’m confident and determined.

Psalm 145:19 says, “He fulfills the desires of those who fear him.” That sounds more like it. Let’s talk about my desires. But we miss the point here—the end of the verse says “of those who fear him. He hears their cry and saves them.”  We don’t have an accurate word in English for the kind of fear that appears in Biblical phrases about fearing the Lord (yirah in Hebrew). Biblical fear means “fear, dread, respect, reverence, and awe.” All of them. We read these definitions and see a list of positive and negative words, and the combined concept confuses us. That shows how little we understand God’s character. Knowing Him is fearing Him. Proverbs 2:4-5 explains how to do this: search for Him, as for a hidden treasure. Proverbs 1:7 says the “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” The process of searching brings the knowledge, which produces the respect and awe that make God a completely trustworthy source of total fulfillment.

Truth: My fulfillment involves a fear of the Lord (a holy reverence that alters my perspective).

Confidence and determination that come from within myself won’t sustain any measure of fulfillment or joy. The depth and satisfaction with my life will rise only from my intimacy with God.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov. 13:12) I’m created to long for intimacy with God. Any other pursuit will fail miserably.

Kind of like my resolutions.

Sue Schlesman

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Mothering Alone

mothering alone

Today, researchers claim that between 26-33% of children under 21 are being raised by single parents. The majority of those parents (up to 83%) are single mothers. Consistently over the past few years, about a third of mothers with a newborn infant are single (either unmarried, divorced, or widowed).

But statistics don’t really help you feel better about mothering alone.

In addition to the monumental task of raising children and earning a living, there’s the grief, abandonment, bitterness, anxiety, and/or hopelessness of shouldering the massive responsibility of providing a positive culture where your children can grow up emotionally and spiritually healthy.

I am not a single mother, but I was raised by a single mother. In 1969, when my mom was widowed, I doubt if she knew one other living soul who was parenting alone. I was only one of two children in my elementary classes who had a single parent, and both of our parents were widowed. Society then didn’t understand the effects of single parenting on parents or children. (I’m not convinced that the issue is understood any better now, for all the research on it.)

My experience is no longer unusual. If you are a single mother, your children are not an anomaly. You are most likely divorced (only 7% of you are widowed), and you have numerous friends or co-workers in similar situations. So are you really mothering alone?

I bet it sure feels like it.

Here’s some advice for mothering alone, from a kid who grew up without any father figure whatsoever:

1. Find role models and mentors for your children. Give your kids perspective, another voice you trust that’s not your own. For some season, kids will stop listening to you on occasion, so you need to make sure they are listening to the right voice when they’re not hearing you.

In Acts 16-17, Paul arrives in Lystra to preach and meets a godly young man named Timothy, who was raised to believe in God by the influence of his mother and grandmother. His father was apparently an unbeliever. By the next chapter, Paul has taken Timothy under his mentor-ship. Timothy travels with Paul and becomes a leader in the church. Paul calls him “my son Timothy.” In two letters specifically addressed to Timothy, Paul counsels him on his physical, emotional, and spiritual health, as well as his leadership. Find Pauls for your kids.
2. Live in community. Don’t be afraid to socialize with healthy, in-tact families, as well as single-parented families. If your kids don’t see marriages working, they won’t know how to be a married person. I know this is awkward, hard, and undesirable. Watching marriages that work may make you feel angry, bitter, and embarrassed. Don’t be! Find a community to join that loves you for who you are. The best place for this is a good church, because this is how the church was designed to work. The church community should build everyone up. We shouldn’t judge. We should recognize that your situation is our situation.

James addresses true religion and the single mother issue in the very first church, with this provocative command: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (And by the world’s philosophies about single living, I would add.)
3. Get a mentor (or counselor) for yourself. (I know, like you have time for that.) Make time. You need a place to dump, vent, get advice, and get perspective (and your other single parent friends, while sympathetic, will not be able to give this to you). Your soul-mates and confidantes should NOT be your children. Your burdens are too heavy for them to bear, even if they are mature for their age, college students, etc. They also carry baggage from growing up in a single-parent home. They cannot handle your emotions, even though they might want to. One of the most damaging, long-term results of children of divorce comes from having to grow up too early because their parents needed parenting. I can honestly say that my mom never once, in my whole life, complained about being single or shared the burden of being single with me. I’m sure it’s why I grew up without the burden of guilt or bitterness concerning our family culture.

James also reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” (Jms. 1:5) Our trials are producing patience and endurance, if we go to the source of wisdom while we endure the difficulties.
4. Don’t put your kids in the middle of your “ex” relationship. Don’t play tug-of-war. Don’t vie for their affections. Don’t make them chose sides. (I know, this is WAY harder than it sounds.) Take the long look for them—what will help them become balanced, healthy adults? If you have an irresponsible ex, you don’t have to tell your children. (They know.) But they still want a relationship with both of their parents. It helps them to heal. So be the better person. You are modeling for your children how to forgive and thrive (two very valuable life skills).

Ephesians 5 talks about relationships. Paul admonishes believers to choose carefully how to live—“not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:15-17)
5. Be wary of a love life. I’m not saying you shouldn’t remarry or can’t remarry or aren’t entitled to remarry. I’m saying that many a child was wrecked emotionally because a parent remarried too early, remarried the wrong person, etc. (“The Brady Bunch” was written for television. It’s not real life. It’s not that easy, even if you’re in love.)

1 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about the struggle of celibacy and discusses the benefits of marriage and singlehood. The issue for Paul—and for all of us—is that regardless of our marital status, our life’s goal should be “to live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:35) My goal, regardless of my marital status, is to glorify the Lord.

Single parenting is a courageous undertaking. A noble calling. Godly mothering absolutely commences generational transformation.

Paul invested years into developing Timothy into a strong Christian leader, who pastored the church at Ephesus. Yet Paul credits Timothy’s spiritual character to his mother and grandmother. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Tim. 1:5)

God never intended for us to mother alone. With friends and family around us, mothering can yield dramatic and effective change.

Sue Schlesman

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How to Enjoy Other People’s Differences (even in your own family)

family

 

I spent time at my brother’s house this week.

 

We have always been opposites. In fact, everyone who ever knew us growing up would have said so, too. I’m sure the difference in our personalities contributed to our many childhood disagreements. (That’s me pinching him in the picture. While smiling for the camera.)sue

Let me elaborate.

  • He played rough; I played gentle (Well, to a point. I was a certified pincher. Many a wrestling match also ended because I bit him to loose myself from his strong grasp. Not proud of that. Just saying.)
  • He played sports; I played dolls. (He once jammed all my Barbie dolls under their beds, couches, and cabinets of my Barbie house, wadded into uncomfortable balls so I couldn’t find them.)
  • He teased me (once again, the Barbie torture); I took everything seriously. For a joke, he heisted my blue butterfly necklace and hid it in his room; only he couldn’t find it until 3 years later when I was too mature to wear it. I’ve forgiven the poking, tickling, bugs, snakes, whoopie cushions, etc., but I’m apparently still bitter about the necklace. (I did buy it with my own money. On vacation.)
  • He was super messy (hence, the necklace disappearance); I was super neat. (Now we’re both super neat. Crazy how things change.)
  • He went through a green and brown phase (for camouflage purposes); I tried to be stylish (as much as the 70s and 80s and a practical mother would allow). Notice the Native American necklace, also purchased on vacation.
  • He was always late; I was always on time (now the reverse is true).
  • He gave my mother a run for her money; I was a model child (well, other than the biting and pinching thing. And maybe some screeching. And digging in my heels to wear mascara in the 8th grade. It was the 80s, you know–at least I wasn’t wearing blue mascara). Okay, we were both a lot of work for her.

This weekend, my brother asked me how I thought we were different, and surprisingly, I could only recall our similarities. We love our kids and our spouses passionately–we’d rather be with them than anybody else. We value family, loyalty, God, and country. We read voraciously, and we must buy our books. (Borrowing is so much less satisfying.)

We love to travel and learn. We’re both competitive, and we love playing games (fortunately, having kids cured us both of needing to beat each other). We both love being outdoors, although his insatiable appetite for nature supersedes mine. We both want to take care of our mother. We both make her laugh, hold her hand, and take her for walks. We both kiss her even when she doesn’t want to be kissed.

sue1

I think we’ve learned as adults what we failed to learn as kids–that our differing perspectives can work together for a common good. We can’t ignore each other as adults because we both share our mom’s care and everything that goes with it. We enjoy each other’s spouses and kids. We must consider other perspectives, or else everyone loses.

It makes me wonder why so many siblings spend their lives disliking and avoiding each other, just because they’re completely different. (Of course, they are. Everyone who has more than one kid knows that siblings are opposites.)  Many people let varying perspectives cause arguments over inheritance and paternal care and vacations and family functions. Why can’t we look for agreement, even when we disagree?

History. Maybe that’s the problem–so many people have shared histories that hurt, histories they don’t want to remember. I get it. My brother and I share our dad’s death and our mom’s grief. Even there we find similarity and difference. But talking about it gives us another point of connection.

We won’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but our interactions are better when we respect our differences rather than seek uniformity. If there’s one place people should feel grace and respect for their uniqueness, it ought to be within their own families. And what would happen if we gave grace (i.e. overlooking differences and annoyances and choosing to love) at work or at church? What would happen to those difficult relationships?

Here’s my free advice for the day, from someone who’s done it wrong more than she’s done it right:

Find similarities with your family members and cherish them. Give grace. (Grace always costs the giver, but it yields rich rewards for everyone involved.)

If you dwell on your differences, you will go crazy (’cause the other person might not ever change). Joy is a choice, after all. (And family is not.)

Sue Schlesman

Visit Sue @susanwalleyschlesman.com

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How To Find Importance

Importance

Do you struggle with feeling unimportant? Invisible? You love your family, your church, your job. Yet it all feels mundane at times—like it’s not enough. You find yourself frequently disillusioned and pining for more. But how do you find it?

I feel that way sometimes. Even though I know the trap of self-pity and bruised pride, there it is again–the disappointment, the frustration, the loathing at my own failure to succeed and my ambition to do something extraordinary.

Why is my self-worth continually bound up in my productivity and popularity? I blame my culture, of course. The fast-paced suburban lifestyle can steer the best of us toward a pattern of materialism and competitiveness.

No convent or spiritual retreat can rid the soul of the quest to accomplish, to achieve greatness, to pursue and conquer —-what, exactly? Does success make me a better believer or just make me feel better about myself? (Temporarily.)

As a life-long follower of Jesus and his teachings, I know all the correct responses required to fight the battle against low self-esteem and disillusionment:

  • I am created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27)
  • God knew me in my mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13)
  • God created me for a purpose (1 Cor. 10:31)
  • I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14)
  • My body is a temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 6:19)
  • God has a plan for my life (Jer. 29:11)

Okay, okay. I know I’m important because God says I am. He died for me. Then why do I keep striving? Why do I still want to believe the lies of do more, be more, get more.

This age-old conflict has played out since the Garden of Eden: Adam was cursed to do physical labor, which he would never finish; Eve was cursed to strive with her husband, yet she would maintain the desire to control him. While blessed with children, she was cursed with the struggle to balance love with discipline and heartache with delight; she would always desire to do more for her family and always feel like she hadn’t done enough. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Her children would experience the same angst. When God explicitly instructed them in the art of worship—how to have a spiritual relationship with God, Cain and Abel responded differently. Longing for God’s acceptance, Cain brought the best he had produced (not what God demanded, but a lovely accomplishment, nonetheless). Abel brought exactly what God required–a dead lamb, a life sacrificed, with none of his own accomplishments attached at all. God rejected Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s. (Was God showing them that spirituality has nothing to do with what you can accomplish?)

This rocks my world. So it doesn’t matter what I actually do in life? It only matters if my worship is to God? That will make me feel important?

Take notice of some phrases spoken by Jesus when his listeners struggled with their own importance (and I’ll bet they struggled with their activities and ambitions, too!):

  • he who loses his life will find it (Mtt. 10:39)
  • if you want to become great, become a servant of all (Mk. 9:31)
  • the first shall be last, and the last shall be first (Mtt. 20:16)
  • whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Mtt. 23:12)

Here’s the surprising truth: worthiness—fulfillment—importance are all linked to worship of God as the worthy, fulfilling, important one; whenever I serve or worship my own agendas, I experience feelings of unworthiness, un-fulfillment, and unimportance–whenever I lift up what I have done (still a result of God’s grace), all the blessing and all the worthiness leaks out of it; I am left holding an empty trophy, which I will then discard in my quest for another shinier, more valuable prize. You know the rest—no trophy is ever good enough. I am always left feeling empty, even when surrounded by the glitter of my life’s accomplishments.

True fulfillment is only achieved through the process of becoming empty. When I have nothing left with which to glorify myself, I can actually glorify God. And whenever I sit in God’s presence, I will no longer care about feeling important. In fact, I will bask in my own unworthiness and the grace with which He covers me.

Whenever I struggle with feelings of unworthiness and failure, that’s my pride talking, not my humility. Pride is the reason I feel cheated, competitive, unnoticed, or imperfect.

Here are a few practical suggestions for reminding yourself what God says about the issue of importance:

  • Write the verses about your worth (from above) on 3×5 cards and place them around the house; memorize them.
  • When you are deciding where to put your energy and time, ask yourself: “Am I doing this for God’s glory or my own glory?”
  • Ask yourself daily, “Am I satisfied with God and what He’s given me?” Then thank Him for all you have, especially the things that frustrate you.

You are worthy and valuable and important to God. But your life is not about you. It’s about Him. When you keep that perspective, it changes everything you do and everything you value.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”–Phil. 2:5-11

Susan Schlesman

Visit Susan @susanwalleyschlesman.com

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I Don’t Care

I don't care

I have had many conversations over the years–about church stuff, mind you–with church leaders or volunteers who have expressed a perspective that in a nutshell, goes like this: “I don’t care what’s happening in other ministries. I’m only concerned about what’s happening in my ministry.”
Yeah, that’s the Great Commission in action, isn’t it? I don’t care.

I’m busy building my own kingdom over here, and good stuff is going on. Don’t bother me with the larger kingdom. I just read an article today about Lent, in which Pope Francis writes: “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians.

Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Pope Francis’ context for his address involved caring for the poor, a critical issue in the world today. I couldn’t agree more with his statement or his call to care about others. He states that the world suffers from a “globalization of indifference.” I agree. Even the church suffers from it, about the poor and about other Christians.

Indifference comes in many forms. It comes in ignoring need, and it comes in ignoring motive. Indifference is an attitude that pervades relationships and actions and even intrudes on our church lives. After all, church people are neighbors. Co-workers are neighbors. Natives in the Amazon are neighbors. Just read the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Everyone is our neighbor. You don’t get to pick.

Here’s the kick in the pants–We can be indifferent to helping others while we’re helping others! We can be serving others and at the same time, be angry about serving them. We can do good for some people and at the very same time, be rude to other people. We believe we have the right to choose who and what to care about.

We can trample our own consciences by trumpeting our many virtues. And before you know it, the good we do in this needy world is not about the world at all. It’s about feeling good about ourselves. Because charity is a popular pastime, you know. Just ask anyone who puts “feeding the homeless” on her resume. Non-profits profit us givers a good bit.

I suggest a heart check. Why do you do what you do for other people? Or why don’t you do anything for others at all?

Indifference, after all, is just one of the many forms of self-centeredness. (Kingdom-building is another.) I’m only saying this because I sometimes I don’t care either. And that’s a dangerous way to live.

Susan Schlesman

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