The Dinner That Almost Wasn’t

Little Bro #1

Little Bro #1

 

You see that cool teenager up there?  He is one of my two (not so) little (anymore) brothers.  That photo was taken a few Saturdays ago at the closest Chipotle to our house.  Do you know what he was up to from 8 am until 1 pm earlier that same day?  Why, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).  Poor guy.

A few weeks prior to that, I told him that I would take him out for lunch after his test at whatever place he wanted.  He suggested Chipotle because it’s his favorite, and I agreed to it, marking it down on my Google calendar.  However, in the days that followed, I must have mentally gone back and forth on that decision about 20-30 times.

Every time I told him to study, and he told me “later” because he wanted to rest, or just flat out refused, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time he didn’t help with the dishes or folding laundry, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time I heard him blasting a song on his iPad that I didn’t approve of, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time my eyes fell upon some new dress in a shop window, and I thought about how I could expand my personal purchases if I just stopped buying things for others, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

I know… I’m pretty twisted, right?

A couple months ago I checked out a study on Romans by John Stott from my local public library.  I had been praying about going over a book of the Bible with the junior high students on Friday nights, and it came down to either Genesis or Romans.  I was leaning towards Romans because of just how much it really goes into the Gospel, but I also like the foundation that gets laid in Genesis (literally and figuratively, har har).

At the very back of the study booklet is a section on “Guidelines for Leaders,” and the very first point under the subsection on “Preparing for the Study,” was this little nugget:

Guidelines for Leaders

Preparing for the Study

1. Ask God to help you understand and apply the passage in your own life.  Unless this happens, you will not be prepared to lead others.  Pray too for the various members of the group.  Ask God to open your hearts to the message of his Word and motivate you to action.

One of the biggest reasons I turned away from my Christian upbringing in high school was precisely because I felt like most of the Christian adults in my life, as well as the youth my own age, “talked the talk” without “walking the walk.”  (Note: Of course I now realize that I was even more misguided.  Not only did I not talk or walk, but in my scathing judgement of those around me, I was failing in Jesus’s command to not judge others, but instead to examine myself and make sure that I allowed Him to help me deal with all of my issues – Matthew 7:1-5).  And yet, it’s still so easy for me when I lead studies, to just let verses concerning God’s commands just fly out of my mouth at other people with the intent of having them learn something.  What I always seem to fail to realize is that God desires that apply those very things to my life first, to struggle in my obedience, to attempt to persevere, and then to come humbly before others with the same passage and lots of love and compassion for the difficulty of what God calls us to do, but encouragement as a sister in Christ who is in this struggle with them.

I’m thankful for Stott’s wisdom in pointing that out very clearly in his guidelines because it’s so important to remember.  As James 1:22-25 says:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was life.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

Not just hearers, not just talkers, but doers.

Last Sunday, the lesson in The Little Oak Grove was on “Barnabus Shares” (Acts 4:32-37).  Here was the Teacher Challenge:

Barnabus Shares

Two lines in particular stood out to me:

1) The new believers in the Early Church shared because of their abandon to God…

2) But remember God’s generosity toward you.

When I first read over the passage, I was honestly a little nervous about coming in to teach the Pre-K kids because, well, 99.999999% of the micro-fires that break out on any Sunday morning concern situations where “_____ won’t share wit meeeee!”  I could just imagine going through the story, admonishing them to share with one another, and either being met with blank stares or resounding no’s.  

I remember waking up that Sunday morning a little panicked, but I just prayed that if I had concerns about just talking about the act of sharing itself, that I be able to get across the reason why we are to share, the motivation behind the action.  It was a bit halfhearted because I still have this funny doubt that God really cares about me and all the little details of my whole little life, but as I made my bed and placed my gigantic Hello Kitty pillow in the middle… Aha!  I grabbed HK and once I got to the classroom, I took up a little baby doll, too.  

After I went through the story of Barnabus found in the illustrated children’s Bible, I held up my pillow and asked if anyone knew who it was.  Almost all of the girls, and a few of the boys, screamed, “Hello Kittyyy!”  I affirmed their answer and talked about how much I really liked Hello Kitty.  I admitted, though, that I often have a bad, selfish attitude about it.  At that point, I clutched the pillow and made a mean face as I said, “This is my Hello Kitty!  I don’t want you to touch her!”

Oh boy… most of the kids giggled at my antics, but one little girl frowned back at me, clearly offended.  Oops!

I asked the kids if they liked my attitude and they, of course, said no.  I told them that God didn’t like that kind of attitude either and instead calls us to share; nevertheless, the reason He calls us to share is not just because He “said so,” but because He is so giving and generous to us.  I asked the kids if they remembered what Christmas was all about and they screamed back, “Jesus!”  Absolutely.  I held up the little baby doll and told them that God had given His precious and only son to us.  Easter was not that long ago, so I asked why that day was so important.  There were blank stares, but after some coaxing, they could say that Jesus died on the cross.  Yes.  Jesus in turn, gave up His life for our sins, so that we could be reconciled to God and live eternally in Heaven with Him.  Even though there was nothing worthy about us, even though we sinned against Him, God in His love and overwhelming generosity, shared His Son who shared His life so that we might live.

I’m not sure how much our kiddos grasped out of all of this, but I know that it’s something that the Holy Spirit keeps bringing up to my mind because if the episode I began this post with is any indication, I clearly still haven’t quite grasped it either.  And even when I do, I allow myself to forget God’s generosity to me.  In Romans 8:31-32, Paul writes:

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him  graciously give us all things?

Father, 

I pray that I would always purpose to reflect on The Gospel, that I would never grow cold and ungrateful to Your sacrifice for me, that I would live with abandon to You, and that Your generous love would flow through me to others.  And this, of course, is my prayer for those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, too, so that we might freely give to one another as we have received from You, that needs might be met and the Body strengthened.  And for those who do not yet know You, Lord, I pray that their lives will be touched and transformed by Your abundant love in Christ, that they would experience true freedom in all areas of their lives.

Amen.

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The Little Oak Grove

Do you know why I love serving in The Little Oak Grove at Regen?  Let me give you 2 + (something worth) 1000 words:

Name Badges –

I mean, the kids are great and all, but those name badges?  #2legit2quit

~

Ok, I realize how easy it could be for a reader to glance over what I just wrote, think I was being serious with my comment about the kids, and feel all sorts of ways about me.  So just so nobody gets things twisted… I’m completely kidding; I consider it a great privilege to spend time with the kids and talk to them about God, the things He has done in the lives of the men and women in The Bible, and the lessons we can hold on to today.

However, they’re not the only draw to serve on Sunday morning.  In fact, being in The LOG is great for a plethora of reasons:

*Fancy-schmancy name badges (What?  They are a factor)

*Access to unlimited noms, read: animal crackers (Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic, no less)

*Singing worship while waving colored scarves and plastic kiddie instruments that resemble maracas and tambourines (that’s right mom and dad, the party is downstairs)

*A designated time for arts & crafts (don’t mind if I do make one, you know, as an “example”)

*Storytime Bible (It has COLOR pictures)

*The Teacher Challenges that preface every lesson outline.

Here’s the one from yesterday’s lesson:

Image

Time and time again, I find myself so blessed in the weeks that I am scheduled to serve.  You see, in the process of studying and preparing to teach the kids, I find myself refreshed and strengthened as I dive into Scripture and experience the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Each time that I teach, God provides me with the very bread of truth that I need to ingest so that I can be spiritually sustained through whatever I’m facing in life.  The story of Jesus calming a storm was absolutely what I needed to meditate on considering the circumstances that my family and I are in.  You see, next Monday, my Dad might be in Chicago, beginning a new contract position there, and my Mom might be with him.  My brothers and I, however, will still be in California.  I say “might” when it comes to my Dad’s situation because I believe that God could very well provide something for him here in CA in “the midnight hour.”  I also believe that God could very well speak and tell my Dad that even if there is no job in sight, that He wills for him to reject the offer and wait here, jobless, paltry savings dwindling with each month that things like rent, utilities, groceries, and other needs fail to cease.  God could also say that even though this job is a contract position that could end abruptly, that He wants the whole family to move (even if it means uprooting my brothers towards the end of the school year, and me from my job).  Or any other number of things, really.

That being said, these past couple of weeks have been agonizing precisely because of the uncertainty, because it hurts to think of our family separated in this way, because it hurts to hold out hope for us to be able to stay together, only to watch as God unfolds His will to be something else entirely.

It’s hard.  It’s really, really hard.  In my flesh, I feel utterly helpless and afraid, and in the midst of those churning emotions and feelings, I just want so badly to blame somebody.  When I mentally assign blame to my parents, it’s easy to act disrespectfully towards them, raise my voice, ignore what they tell me.  When I mentally assign blame to my brothers, it’s easy to seethe with anger towards them, view them as burdens, relate to them as enemies of my freedom and happiness.  When I mentally assign blame to myself, it’s easy to cave to fear and despair, to want to shut people out and run away, to want to give up on everything entirely.  When I mentally assign blame to God, it’s easy to malign His character, distrust His promises, and scoff at His laws.

But the Holy Spirit within me, reminds me that no matter what conclusions my flesh or the enemy might want to draw from my exterior circumstances, that those things by no means dictate who God is.  Whether I am riding high on a mountaintop, or plunged down into a deep valley, God is still God, God is still just, and God still loves me.  The Holy Spirit reminds me that “for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) and that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).  God is sovereign and God desires my good.

I cried a little as I opened the email containing last Sunday’s lesson plan and read over the Teacher Challenge questions and God brought to my mind a number of things:

First, I had allowed this storm to cause me to feel afraid.  I had allowed my eyes to drift and become fixed on the howling winds and the rising waves of panic splashing against me.  Instead, I should have emulated my Lord Jesus, asleep and completely unperturbed because Hewas one with the Father and had complete knowledge of, and faith in, Him.  As one of God’s children, now indwelt with the power of the Holy Spirit, the peace that Jesus had is available to me, but I must have faith in God’s presence and His power.

Second, I had completely disregarded all of God’s past and current faithfulness to me and my family.  In the version of this story that is told in Mark, those with Jesus wake him up and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38)  After Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind and the sea, he says to them, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  (Mark 4:40).  I could imagine Jesus saying the very same things in response to my accusatory question of whether or not He even cares about me and my family.  “Why are you so afraid, Iona?  Have you still no faith?”  I had spent so much time in the past weeks poring over every facet of this trial, enumerating and lamenting over every single problem.  But what if I had instead invested my time in recounting all of God’s work in my life?  Every blessing?  From that standpoint, how, indeed, could I still lack faith?  How could I doubt God’s love for me and His ability and desire to protect and provide?  He who did not spare His own Son?  (Romans 8:32).

I know that this is a chance for my faith to really flourish and grow, and for me to learn to know and trust God even more fully.  I know that this is true for my entire family as well.  I pray that we can all focus on God’s presence and power, His past and present faithfulness to us, and that thinking of these things will propel us towards trusting Him with our future.  I pray that we will so thoroughly believe in God’s sovereignty that even if storms continue to rage around us, that we will not for a moment think that it is because He cannot calm it, but rather, trust that in His infinite wisdom, He sees fit to allow it to remain in our lives for reasons far above our understanding.

I don’t have a clue how this will all turn out.  I just pray that God is glorified as He works out my family’s story, and that we can grow closer to Him and one another.

And I also pray that if there are people within the congregation that could benefit from the very lessons taught to the kids, the simple but powerful truths of our God, then God would tug at their hearts in such a way that they would be brought to find great joy and growth in their own Christian lives as they serve.