“Vending Machine Jesus”

Entitlement is a pretty widespread problem in our culture. Especially among the younger generation. Almost everywhere I look, I see people upset because they didn’t get what they “deserved” or someone else “owes” them. If you take even 15 seconds to think about it, I’m sure you will recognize this pattern.

“I’m entitled to a high paying, good job no matter my education, experience, or age.”

“I’m entitled to government funds and benefits.”

“I deserve happiness and rewards.”

“I deserve respect even if my behavior is bad.”

“People owe me tolerance, despite my intolerance.”

And worst of all…

God owes me.

Working with youth throughout the years has been a major eye-opener. The aura of entitlement generated by today’s culture carries over into the worst possible place: God. People act like God owes them. I’ve seen it first hand and have fallen into the thinking myself!

That’s why I tend to use the term “vending machine Jesus” with youth. They resonate well with putting a couple quarters in a machine for a sweet or salty prize. Put some money in, and a snack comes out.

But the problem comes when we expect Jesus to operate the same way. Put a prayer in and your way comes out! Put virginity in and a happy marriage comes out! Put a worship song in and a feel-good emotions come out! Put a quiet time in and a pain-free day comes out! Put a prayer of salvation in and Heaven comes out! Put a little money in the offering plate and blessing comes out! Put a Christian retreat in and passion for Jesus comes out! Put a church service in and God’s approval comes out….etc. You get the point…

I’m pained to say that this is the pervasive view of a relationship with Christ among young people. The obvious problem with this way of thinking is undermined grace. If God responds to our “good deeds” and “Jesus suck-ups” then there is literally no point in the cross. Christ going to the cross was superfluous if all we need to do to earn favor is put a few quarters in the slot.

Although that is the obvious problem, it’s not even the one I want to talk about today. It would make a great topic for another time.

What is bothering me is that sacrifice for anything is a dying concept.

Sacrifice for anything is a dying concept.

As hand outs are becoming easier to grab, work-ethic, passion, and sacrifice are harder to find. We have made reward too easy to come by. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about rewarding and giving credit where credit is due…but let’s be honest…the fight for equality (in all spheres) has made credit abound in all the wrong places.

And it breaks my heart to see the youth of today discouraged because they didn’t get what they deserved from God and leaving the faith because they “did the deeds” and there was no reward.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God… Romans 12:1

To experience the reward of a satisfying life with Christ, we have to lay our own selves down. We have to be willing to turn our back on ourselves and make our sole purpose about bringing glory to Him. Not about receiving the handouts.

“Too much to ask” you say? Well, not really. Jesus became the perfect example of sacrifice when He made the ultimate sacrifice for you. Romans 5:8 says He “died for us.”

You may get a hand out trophy for meager participation, or a raise of minimum wage, or free abortions, or a pass on a grade, but I can assure you that God won’t give you the blessings of a relationship with Him if the sacrifice isn’t mutual. And it is wrong to expect him to.

There are incredible benefits of walking through life with Jesus! His grace and mercy is absolutely unbelievable. I literally cannot put into words how incredible God’s tangible love is toward His children. When you do decide to lay everything down for Him? Wow. You won’t be disappointed.

Psalm 51:17 ” The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

In other words, the sacrifice required is repentance that leads to change. Sorrow over sin that drives us to the feet of Jesus and propels a life of faith based in His righteousness alone.

Not do-gooders.

I must be honest. It is easy for me to slip unaware into this trap. For example, I might have a really nice time of prayer in the morning, then experience temptation later and think, “Lord, why would you let this happen to me? I thought I was going to have a good day!”

Ridiculous.

How do you fight entitlement in your relationship with the Lord? And how can we battle the idea of vending machine Christianity?

 

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Step By Step He Leads Me: My Testimony

The Moment

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t convicted over my sin. From a very early age I was deeply burdened and knew that Jesus  – the guy everyone tells me about – died because of my sin.

And it broke my heart.

I remember our family talking about Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and I couldn’t stop crying. I was approximately five at the time and my parents were bewildered by my display of intense emotion and kept asking, “What’s wrong sweetie?” I’m not sure what I told them, but I remember what I was feeling: disbelief and guilt that someone like Jesus would go to a small town like Bethlehem for a person like me.

Fast forward to July 2001. One day I was with my dad at a job site, doing my homework. The homeschool curriculum we used was faith based and in the books were little comic strips. One stands out in my memory. So simple, but the Lord used it. A boy was crying because he wanted to be saved and his mom (I think?) prayed with him. This prompted the question to my dad, “What does it feel like to be a Christian?” I’m assuming I asked this to figure out whether or not I was one.

Well, two and two came together. The Lord opened my eyes to the truth: being sorry for my sin wasn’t enough. I had to follow Him. I prayed and “asked Jesus into my heart”. He came and I’m so glad.

Even as I type this out, I am overwhelmed by God’s grace given to such a young child. It’s hard to believe that I am coming up on my 16th spiritual birthday, praise the Lord.

There was no obvious change or huge transformation. It was just the light bulb turning on for a little girl. It was simply the gifts of Christ’s righteousness, justification, and the indwelling Spirit, bestowed on a little girl who didn’t even understand those words.

Next Steps

God showed His new daughter the next step to take and began a pattern in her life that is still continuing today.

“Ashley, you need to learn about me every day.”

“I do?”

“Yes, that’s why I have given you My Word, the Bible.”

I started reading the Bible daily.

Next step:

“Ashley, are you willing to do whatever I call you to do?”

“I’m a little afraid.”

“I’ll be with you.”

“Okay then.”

Next step:

“Ashley, you need to serve at summer camp.”

“I don’t even like kids. Can you give me a sign?”

“Yes, your faith is small. But I’ll give you a sign and teach you My love.”

Next step:

“Ashley, you need to forgiven those who have hurt you.”

“I can’t. I’m so angry.”

“But I have forgiven you.”

Next step:

“Lord, I have a hard time loving people well. Can you help me see them like you do?”

Look at the cross, Ashley.”

Next step:

“Ashley, I have plans for you at Bible school.”

“But I have plans. And they are good ones.”

“You said you would follow Me.”

“Okay, Lord.”

Next step:

“You need to let go of the things you love too much, Ashley.”

“But Lord! It hurts too much. I don’t think I can.”

“I always have something better for you.”

Next step:

“Ashley, stop trying to earn your salvation. I already love you!”

“But performing makes me feel good about myself.”

“It’s not about you.”

Next step:

“Ashley, can you love your son they way I love my daughter?”

“No, I’m too self-centered.”

“Let Me love him through you.”

Next step:

“Will you endure hardship with joy, Ashley?”

“Oh, anything but that.”

“I will show you how.”

Next (and current) step:

“Ashley, start writing.”

“I’m afraid of not having anything important to say.”

“Write about Me.”

“But I can’t really put the time in.”

“Oh, I can find some dead times. Early in the morning, during Aiden’s naps, in the evenings…”

“But my family needs me.”

“Your family needs you to obey the Lord.”

“What if I fail?”

“You are making it about you again.”

“I guess that is all about me.”

“Remember, Ashley, I am always here to help you.”

“That’s right. Okay, Jesus.”

Now

So this is where the Lord has brought me. He gives me one thing at a time and teaches me step by step how to follow Him. It has been a journey including some painful sacrifices, but blessed indeed. I am thankful to my Lord, who will not let me settle for surviving. He has so much more planned for me than living for myself day to day. And the best part is that is that He is my companion in it all.

Do you know the Lord?

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Loves Average Joes

In order to get noticed, you gotta stand out. Be the best. The smartest. The most athletic. The most successful. The nicest. The prettiest…and all the other “est” words you can think of. A culture of competition isn’t even a bad thing. It’s the way we set standards and make achievements.

But Jesus doesn’t operate that way.

Thank goodness because there isn’t anything terribly remarkable about me.

In fact, the pattern in the Word of God shows us that God likes taking average Joes and totally turning their lives upside-down by using them in unbelievable ways for His Kingdom. He likes using the underdogs with the seeming disadvantages.

In Bible-time culture it was the oldest in the family that always got honored. Yet God chose Abel, the youngest brother. And Jacob – also the youngest. And David, the youngest. And Joseph, the youngest (until Benjamin).

When Jesus was born, God didn’t send the angels announcing the good news to King Herod or anyone of noble heritage. He sent them to the stinky, dirty shepherds that spent more time with sheep than actual people.

When it was time for the Israelites to leave captivity in Egypt, God didn’t pick a man with a commanding presence who could go to Pharaoh and “wow” him with his persuasive abilities. He picked Moses who had difficulty speaking well and needed to take his brother to help him communicate.

And the Israelites! They are a story in and of themselves! God should’ve chosen people who had a homeland and dignity. This group of people was wandering around in the desert after years of slavery. No home, no food, no water with disadvantages on every side! But God used THEM to build His Kingdom and chose THEM to be His people and worship Him.

When Jesus called his disciples he picked fishermen – nobody special. He even picked a tax collector – the social scum of the era.

Today God has chosen us to be His people, bear His name, build His Kingdom, and bring Him glory. But we are a lot like Moses, who upon hearing the calling of the LORD said,

“Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Exodus 4:10

Poor Moses was desperately trying to get out of the task. But God said,

“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” Ex. 4:11a-12

The journey ahead of Moses wasn’t an easy one, but He went on to know the LORD – in such a way that he reflected (literally) the light of God’s glory. I’m sure at the end of his road, Moses would’ve admitted that it was the greatest honor of his life to be used for God’s purposes.

We need to stop telling God what we can and can’t do. And we need to stop trying to convince Him that He made a bunch of nobodies.

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There are no “average Joes” in the Kingdom of God because His Spirit lives inside of us. That is anything but average and leaves us anything but incapable. Romans 8:11 reads,

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.

I am so incredibly thankful to God. I don’t have to stand out to be noticed by Him. I don’t have to “be somebody” to grab His attention. He pours His love out on me just because. He gives me His Spirit just because. He enables me to work for an eternal purpose just because. He chose me just because.

Just because its brings Him glory.

It’s ok to be an average Joe. Embrace it. God likes them.

A Lesson of Love

Aiden wrapped his chubby fingers around the pacifier and inched it toward his face. He attempted to get it in his mouth but missed once, twice…three times…four times. The poor baby just kept on missing.

Listening to Austin and I, you would have thought he accomplished something wonderful. We watched from nearby, commentating and cheering him.

“Oh, watch watch! He is trying again!”

“How sweet!”

“You got it buddy! You are so close!”

Afterwards we kissed our developing baby boy and told him how proud we were. Why were we proud? He grabbed his paci and knew what to do with it, he tried and tried, and he is growing and learning and turning into a big boy. This may be ridiculous to those on the outside, but to his parents this was no little thing. We love our son and his small accomplishments and failures mean something to us.

Sometimes the Lord gives me “wow moments” in parenting. They normally go like this: I’m doing a normal parenting duty, something happens, I react, and suddenly the Lord shows me a beautiful parallel of his love and goodness toward me as my Father.

We need to start recognizing God as our Father. He isn’t some far off being, who is uninvolved and doesn’t care. He is not aloof or unapproachable. He is our Father. Our perfect Father, who makes no mistakes in parenting His beloved children.

I love Aiden. I would give my life for him without hesitation. And I’m just a fallen human being! My love for my son is real, yet tainted by my sin and selfishness. I get frustrated, upset, exhausted, and sometimes just have to walk away. My love for Aiden is so far from perfect.

But the love of the Lord for His children is pure. He loves us selflessly and always has our absolute best in mind. He is never frustrated with us, he is never bored or exhausted by our needs, and he never has to “walk away” in order to keep his cool. He is faithful, steady, and available always.

Austin and I doted over our son for failing. He never did get the pacifier in his mouth, but we loved him for trying.

Don’t you think the Lord is like that, too? We are His kids. He watches us grow and it pleases Him. I just know the Lord has been pleased with me when I was failing, yet trying. When I was growing and learning, but still messing it all up.

I believe God is far easier to please then we think He is. There is an image in our mind that sees God as only happy when we are successful, or witnessing the right way, or reading our Bible with complete alertness, or praying without any distractions, or doing something with 100% pure motives…

But, we can’t ever be perfect.

Neither can Aiden.

I don’t require my son’s perfection, so why do we pretend God requires it of us?

My perfection and righteousness have already been achieved through the blood of Jesus. In that truth I can rest. I don’t have to get the day to day stuff right all of the time. Throughout my life I will get better in areas and will grow in understanding, wisdom, and truth. But that’s a process…it won’t happen overnight

Does the Lord take joy in that journey? I think so.

The Bible School Graduate Syndrome

Homework in the scriptures, scheduled times of group worship and intercession, and classes on the person of Christ make for a wonderful environment of supercharged spiritual growth, but there are some perceived drawbacks many Bible School graduates fall into.

Going into Bible School, especially if you are a pretty young believer, is amazing. It is the perfect springboard into a life of faith in Christ. Teachers are daily pouring into you the Word of God and are assigning homework that requires you to look into the Bible. And unless you want a bad grade, you will do it. The Lord brings you face to face with Himself day after day.

But slowly you may start to build the expectation, This is what my whole Christian life is going to be like.

Personally, there were seasons at my Bible School (the EI School of Biblical Training), I lived in a state of awe-struck stupor. There were times I couldn’t wait for the P.E. section of our day to be OVER so I could go meditate and pray over the things that I learned in classes that day. My social life almost completely died while I was there – because all I really wanted was the truth of God’s Word. I wanted it to get solidified in my heart. I craved it. It fueled my diligence day after day.

Then, I graduated.

I quickly learned how important it is to daily fight the good fight of faith. In a Bible School you may not have to fight so hard. You don’t have to fight distractions to get in the Word because you are ALWAYS in the Word. You don’t have to carve out time to pray – its part of your class schedule. You don’t have to get involved in ministry, because that is part of the curriculum!

The Lord has been gracious to me. I was saved at the age of 7. I became a true follower of Christ very young. So, before I ever attended Bible School, I have experienced the fight. I had already tasted the regret of letting the world creep in and steal away my intimacy with Jesus. When I graduated, I knew what I was up against. The world, the devil, and the flesh are strong enemies. And my teachers were right when they told us it would be harder “out there”.

Unchecked, thoughts like these creep in:

  1. What’s wrong with me?
  2. Why is it so hard for me to stay in the Word?
  3. Why can I not pray?
  4. Why am I not abiding in Christ anymore?
  5. How can I discipline myself?
  6. I miss the way I “felt” before.
  7. Why does God feel so far away?

Every believer sometime in his or her life will probably face these questions. They just happen to be particularly brutal after exiting one of the most spiritually fruitful times of your life. So much so, that the tendency is to romanticize “Bible school” as an “extra-spiritual” place. Eg: “If only I can go back there, I will feel the Lord’s presence again.”

But, oh, the Lord is too gracious to be confined or limited to certain place or time of life. Intimacy is always available for His children and He yearns for fellowship with us.

These are the truths that help combat my wrong thinking.

  1. The Lord is near. Psalm 145:18 “the Lord is near to those who call on Him, to all who call on him in truth.” Y’all we don’t have to try to “regain spiritual ground” to get Jesus to come around. He is already near. Just acknowledge Him.
  2. We have all we need. 2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” We don’t need Bible classes to be what the Lord has made us to be. We have Christ in us! This is literally all we need.
  3. Our own strength is inadequate. “I can do all things through CHRIST who strengthens me” (Phil 3:14). We will fail when we try to do “good” on our own. If it is not fueled by Christ and done out of glory for Him, we are alone in it and it probably isn’t going to work out.
  4. We can have confidence in His presence. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16). We don’t have to feel ashamed to come before Him. Even if you haven’t had a quiet time in months! Don’t let that keep you away. When you come to the LORD, our FATHER, He sees His Son – Jesus! Be bold! Go to Him, anyway!
  5. Fruitfulness apart from Christ is impossible. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If we are just sitting around waiting for stuff to happen…it won’t. We must pursue fellowship with Him in order for there to be an outflow of grace and fruit in our lives.

1 Timothy 6:12 urges us to, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold the eternal life to which you were called…” And I urge you not to believe that intimacy with Christ is “out there” or “at school” or “for those kinds of people”.

You will rob yourself of so much joy.

 

8 Baby Raising Options that Trigger Mom Guilt

baby-784608_1280I’ve only been a mother for 6 months. During this short time, I’ve already encountered challenges I never anticipated and have been forced to make decisions I didn’t feel ready to make. As a mother, you constantly learn on the job because no amount of parenting classes can really, truly prep you for the moment that tiny baby is placed in your arms.

Life as a mother is hard. Emotions rage, babies demand, hormones fly off the charts, your house falls apart, and the worst part is that other mommas constantly boast in their method of handling it all.

You’ve been handed a brand new baby and now the question is, “What are YOU going to do?” Enter stage right: MOM GUILT.

1: Mid-wife or Doctor? In recent decades, this hasn’t been much of a question. The generally accepted, normal answer was allowing an obstetrician to deliver your baby. But now, with more recent studies on medication side-effects and observations of birth around the world, many mothers are choosing natural birth outside of a hospital setting. As a mother, a typical question you might receive is, “Where did you deliver?” Depending on your answer and who is asking, judgments and unwanted advice may ensue. I chose a natural, birthing center delivery which my husband wholeheartedly supported.

2. Breast or Bottle? There are obvious pros to breastfeeding. But if you have ever picked up a container of formula at a grocery store only to be told by the cashier, “breast is best” you are not alone. Breastfeeding advocates can be ruthless. This is one that I personally have struggled with. I went into breastfeeding assuming that I would love it. But I hated it. Then I figured I would like it once it got easier and less painful. But I still don’t enjoy it. I think it is weird and it cramps my style. The Facebook mom groups I am in are filled with mothers who LOOOOOVE snuggling with their babies while breastfeeding and advertise such. In the first weeks post partum I felt guilt over not loving it and failing to experience its apparent “serotonin-boosting” abilities. I wondered, “Should I feel like this? What’s wrong with me?!” I chose to breastfeed based on health reasons, but very seriously contemplated quitting.

3. Vaccinate or Not? Some people get personal with this one. “Oh you vaccinate? Well, we love our children and don’t want them to have autism.” There are studies pro and anti vaccinations. There is no right or wrong here folks. But this discussion is a Pandora’s Box. Tread carefully. And don’t use this as a conversation topic when trying to make friends. I chose selective and delayed vaccinations (basically middle of the road).

4. Cloth or Disposable? Okay, despite the “green” conversation out there, diapers cause waste. You either use a freakish amount of power and water cleaning your cloth diapers or you chuck disposables into a land fill. There just isn’t a non-waste-ful way to get rid of your child’s….waste. On the flip side, cloth diapers are quite hygienic, contrary to popular belief. There are pros and cons to both. I ultimately chose to use disposables. We started with disposables, then did cloth, then did partial cloth, and now use exclusively disposables. I decided the cost was probably worth the convenience.

5. Schedule Feed or Demand Feed? Oooo this is a big one. It can be difficult for those with a set opinion to see it from the other point of view. A decision on this will lump you into one of two categories: 1) a mother who doesn’t care if her baby is hungry or 2) a mother who lets her child call all the shots. Neither stereotype are true. But these are real, legitimate problems in the mind of the opposing party. I chose….yeah, I still don’t know what I’m doing in this regard. Someone might ask, “When did he last eat?” My response: *crickets*

6. Work or Stay at Home? This is a really important option for my husband and I. We believe babies need the stability of a parent at home. But, despite that opinion, I’m willing to admit this choice may not be for everyone. I get that. Totally. It is not easy living on one income in this day and age. If you choose to stay, stay well. If you chose to work, work well. And above all, be available for your kids when you clock out. Many families have two working parents and they are turning out juuuuust fine. Obviously, I chose to stay at home.

7. Sleep Train or Not? Some people “train” their babies to sleep through the night and take good naps. There is the cry it out method, the partial cry it out method, the put-down-pick-up method, the attachment parenting style (which basically caters to the baby’s preferences) etc. Well, this momma has tried all of them and my baby still doesn’t sleep through the night. The guilt in this department has been a battle. Example: “I’m such a terrible mother! I’m SO inconsistent.” That’s a lie. I’m not a terrible mother, I’m human. A human that needs sleep just as much as anyone else. Our sleep saga has caused many tears and has challenged my personal growth more than any other problem I have faced in motherhood. But regardless of which side you take, please avoid making ridiculous statements about other methods. Like, “Letting your child cry herself to sleep causes emotional trauma and is child abuse.” That’s a knee slapper. No, it doesn’t. Those people need to do their homework. Conversely, don’t say, “That baby is two and still sleeps with his parents? I know who the authority is in THAT home!” I have tried cry-it-out sleep training *gasp* and so far it has gotten us the closest to good night time sleeping than any other method. But, I am not hardcore nor super convinced. My best advice to expectant families would be to read SEVERAL baby sleep books BEFORE baby arrives to decide what method you want to try.

8. Homemade Baby Food or Convenience Options? Preservatives in baby food are of the devil…according to some. Make your own, buy it off the shelf, regurgitate like a penguin….whatever. Just feed your kids. And don’t inwardly feel superior to other mothers if you take the extra 20 minutes to prepare your baby’s food. Because I endorse healthy eating, I would like to make my own baby food when that time comes. Will I? Stay tuned. 

In light of all this, a verse comes to mind: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). I am not innocent in the man-pleaser department. So many times I have thought things like, “What will Aiden’s pediatrician say when I tell him we don’t want that vaccination…what will she think when I tell her cloth didn’t work for us…what will my family say if I tell them I don’t want a hospital birth…etc”. The answers to those? WHO CARES!

Mommys and Daddys should make these decisions together and before the Lord. The main-stream opinion doesn’t matter. When I was struggling with breastfeeding, a friend of mine, Lenae, gave me really beautiful advice. She said,

“And honestly, in the long run it doesn’t matter that much which approach we use. If you watch kids at a park you can’t tell who was a c-section or natural birth, who was formula or breast fed, who got homemade baby food and who ate out of those jars. Please don’t make yourself miserable over it. Aiden feeling his momma relaxed and happy is more important than if he’s breast or bottle fed.”

Amen. Mothers have enough stress to deal with. If you are a convenience momma, work it. If you are a momma who likes the added pressure of blending carrots and scrubbing pooh outta cloth diapers, do it! But most importantly, don’t judge your own self-worth based on what you accomplish or how you measure up to the way other people are doing things. It’s not worth it and it will steal your joy.