Archive for October, 2010
Halloween is a very unusual night.Â You never know who you’ll meet roaming the dark streets and lurking around the pond.
It might be a treat, for you may find along your path a beautiful princess:
TRICK OR TREAT!!
After all, it IS Halloween.
A friend of mine, who is very techno-savvy and is becoming quite the online missionary, started a Facebook discussion this week in preparation for our Sunday sermon.Â Her question was:
Have you ever been “judged” by someone? When or how is it wrong to judge?
Over the past few days, there have been a few responses.Â Most have been from a negative perspective, that judging others is wrong, that we need to take care of our own sin before we dare to point out another person’s errors, that only God can judge.
And while there is truth in those responses, and we certainly should take care not to be prideful or hypocritical like the Pharisees,Â we may have taken this perspective a bit too far.Â We may have become complacent and indifferent to sin, far too tolerant of those who use this verse as ammunition against us.Â God prompted me to respond…so here goes…
Oh, boy. This is long. But I’m running on very few hours of sleep, so bear with me….
We are so afraid to use the word “judge” because of the negative connotations. We are so afraid of being labeled a “hypocrite” by Christians and pre-Christians alike. We are scared that we will ruin our witness and be perceived as holier-than-thou.
I’ve got one word for that line of thinking, which Trace will appreciate: Oy.
God has used people – sinners just like us – throughout history to “judge” others. Prophets – both men AND women – were used by God to speak truth to a sinful people, to a nation misguided by wrong choices.
Were those heroes of the faith any less sinful than we are? I’m taking a wild guess here, but probably not. In fact, we all know there is no “grading curve” as far as sin is concerned. If there was an ounce of pride, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, or anger, or bitterness in any one of them…well then they were just as guilty and deserving of God’s wrath than we are.
So how could God use people – like them, like us – to “judge?” Isn’t that contradictory? I mean, we *all* have planks, and if I gotta wait until my plank is gone, well then there’s a whole lotta people who will go to hell or continue to live in separation from God because of that.
But we do need to discern what we’re doing when we judge. God has not given us the power to absolve or punish sin. That is HIS right alone as the true Judge. But He *has* given us the gift of discernment. He *has* given us the presence of the Holy Spirit. He *has* given us the ultimate guide book in His word – His authoritative, definitive, “because-I-AM-and-I-said-so” final say on the matter. He *has* given us a spirit of boldness. Why has He given all this to us? Yeah, so He can use us. To do what? To speak truth. To share God’s truth. To bring spiritual healing where it is desperately needed. To restore relationships between people and God, broken by our own heedlessness and carelessness.
I *have* been judged. I have had my motives handed to me by others. I have had my unspoken intentions spoken back to my face. I have had my well-meaning actions questioned and unappreciated. All by Christ-followers who – in love, humility, and with a spirit of grace – allowed God to use them to judge my spiritual condition and be His megaphone to my prideful soul.
I *have* judged others. I have opened my mouth and uttered words I never expected to hear myself say: words of truth, words of power, words of tough love. God has – in His divine orchestration of time and circumstance – placed me in situations where I was the only voice of truth…and He needed me there to speak on His behalf.
So, yes. God expects us to judge: to call sin, sin. To be that light in the darkness. To stand up for Truth and righteousness. By His spirit, in His power, and with the words He gives us in His word, we have all we need to accomplish this.
I learned last evening that a high school friend of mine lost his father to cancer.Â Just a few weeks ago, another high school friend also lost her dad to the very same disease.Â And while it’s easy to *say* that death is truly part of life, the reality of saying good-bye, of living life day-to-day without those who have been present from your very earliest days is incredibly difficult.
Nearly a year ago, this friend posted a status update requesting prayer for his dad, who at the time was in ICU.Â He had suffered a heart attack and things were not looking good.Â As a Christian, knowing his dad was saved, my friend struggled with how to pray.Â Do I pray for physical healing, knowing that the quality of my dad’s life may suffer?Â Â Or do I just pray for God to take him home, and endure the heartache of losing him?
I’ve been in that place.Â And while I can’t know *exactly* what my friend was feeling, I can certainly sympathize with those questions, because I’ve asked the very same ones.Â Knowing that God allows us to suffer in part so that we can reach out and encourage others, I sent him a message of what I hoped would be interpreted as encouragement.Â And for those of you facing difficult circumstances, when you just don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, I hope it will encourage you as well.
I read your status update and although I don’t know what’s going on with your dad, I can sympathize with the hurt and anguish you’re feeling. I felt much the same way following my dad’s heart attack. I remember sitting there in the waiting room outside ICU, with close friends and people from my parents’ church and my mom’s school, and we all were praying for my dad to be healed. I felt oddly disconnected…because I was praying fervently for God to work a miracle, and WANTING to believe with all my heart that my dad would be healed and restored fully, KNOWING that God could absolutely choose to do that…but in my heart, I knew my dad was already gone. And so I struggled with why do I even pray? HOW do I pray? What do I ask for? And how do I pray for “God’s will” to be done and yet believe that He can do a miracle?
So what I prayed for was peace. Peace for my dad, first of all. I didn’t want to see him suffer. I didn’t want him to struggle and fight. Peace for my mom, secondly. Knowing she was facing the hardest moments of her life, she needed to KNOW – and I mean absolutely KNOW – that God was there for her and that THIS was HIS plan all along. Peace for my brothers, as they were dropping everything in their lives to rush to Dallas to be with him and with us. Peace for our friends and loved ones, who were just as much in shock as we were, and whose hearts were hurting too. And peace for me, just to know that no matter what, God was still in control and He would make things good in the end.
My dad officially died two days later. We waited, in hopes that God would perform a miracle, but when the results showed no hope, we knew that it was over. He was already HOME. He was at peace. And oddly enough, so were we. It was almost a sense of relief. As hard as it was to lose him – so young and so suddenly – it was so evident that God’s hand was there every step along the way…and that He would continue to carry us through our days of grief and sadness.
This is what I pray for you and your family. I’m so sorry you’re facing such a difficult time. Just know that there are many across the country who are lifting you up in different ways in prayer, and that God hears each and every one of those prayers. And I’ll also be praying for a miracle, too…but mostly for peace no matter what happens.
Lately it seems like there’s an epidemic of blessing going around.Â In the past month I’ve heard story after story of one friend after another who’s been promoted, or moved into their dream home, or been healed from serious illness or injury, or gotten that fancy new car, or seen God move and provide in ways they never imagined possible.Â And that’s great.Â Honestly, I’m happy for them.Â I rejoice with them.
But a little piece of my heart still asks, “What about us, God?Â What about me?”
I’m not jealous.Â Really, I’m not.Â I’m happy with my car, I love my house – though if God decided to bless us with an extra $100K to finish the patio, upgrade and complete the landscaping and install a pool, He’d get no complaints from me – I love my family and I love my amazing friends, both those I see in person on a regular basis and those I connect with virtually.Â When I look at what is really important in life, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I, too, am blessed.
But a little piece of my heart still wonders, “How long, God?Â How much longer must I wait?”
It’s not a lack of faith, or at least I don’t think it is.Â I can fully see God’s hand moving the pieces of our circumstances around like a cosmic chess board, playing out His omniscient strategy for the ultimate win.Â And in that, I’m hopeful.Â I’m optimistic.Â I believe that God is ultimately in control, that He knows what He is doing, and that He – and He alone – knows what is best.Â He has promised to complete the good thing He has begun, and I am confident that no matter how difficult the process, that is exactly what He is doing.
But a little piece of my heart still cries out, “This is hard, God.Â This hurts!”
It’s not that I’m not willing to wait.Â I’m not being impatient.Â In the deepest places within me, I truly want what is best.Â I desperately desire God to accomplish what He set out.Â I crave His perfect timing, His perfect plan to be executed, no matter how long that takes.Â I’m willing to surrender – to His leading, His direction…even His correction when necessary.Â I’ve gone down that road where I’ve impulsively or impatiently taken control, where I’ve refused to listen to His direct instruction, where I’ve deliberately disobeyed and rebelled against what He’s asked me to do…and missed out on untold blessings because of it.Â So this time, I’m settling in – gladly, willingly, expectantly – for the long haul.
But still a little piece of my heart still fears, “How far will You take this?Â How deep are You asking us to go?”
And God reminds me: this isn’t just for me.Â This trial, this period of testing, this time of waiting and searching and praying and trusting isn’t just to grow *my* faith.Â God has also begun a good work in Matt and our children, and He has a plan to complete that good work as well.Â God desires to grow their faith, to deepen their walks with Him, to bring them to new places of faith and understanding and trust.Â And beyond that, God can use their testimonies to reach their circles of influence.Â Their lives can become lights and impact others.Â Their experiences can be used to encourage others and teach them about God’s amazing provision and love.Â It’s not just about me.
And so, a little piece of my heart now says, “Yes, Lord.Â I will yield.”
As I lift my hands in surrender, I discover that they are in a perfect position for God to reach down, take hold, and – as the loving Father He is – lead me forward.Â As I open my hands to yield to Him all that I cling to so tightly, I see that those hands are now open to receiving His blessing…the blessing I know is waiting for me if I endure, if I am faithful, if I trust, if I obey.
And so a little piece of my heart waits.Â Because I know the blessing is coming.
Most of the time, I’m a pretty good mom.Â That’s not to say I haven’t had moments of EPIC FAILURE in that department, but my kids will even admit – to perfect strangers, nonetheless – that as a mom, I’m certainly above the 50th percentile.
And then there are days like today, when I totally nail it…and stick the landing, to boot.Â Hit it out of the park.Â Serve up an ace.Â Out-kick my coverage.Â When it’s a slam dunk.Â When I *know* I rocked it.Â When I get to hear things like, “You’re the BEST MOM EVER!” and then get covered in slobbery smooches and treated to great big bear hugs and rib-crushing squeezes.
So what did I do to deserve these accolades?Â What great feat did I accomplish to deserve such raving reviews from my harshest critics?Â What amazing achievement provided this ego-inflating boost and hoisted me to this grand pedestal?
Well, if you’ll allow me a little chest-thumping and swagger-stepping, I’ll show you.Â It’s this:
Yeah, that’s my beautiful, sweet, spirited, precious, amazing daughter.Â I’m always proud of THAT accomplishment, believe me.Â But really, this time it’s not so much about her but rather what she’s holding.Â She is holding her homework project for this week, which she and I spent most of a rainy Saturday and a sunny Sunday afternoon putting together.
It’s her very own Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook.Â I don’t know what makes me prouder: the fact that she made a cookbook, or that it’s all about CHOCOLATE!!
She came home on Monday with a project list based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. One of the projects was to create a Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook.Â I had just finished making a prayer journal at the Christ Fellowship Women’s Retreat (thanks to the creative and uber-organized Renee Lewis) and thought this would be the perfect way to create something very special for Crisana.Â Something that went beyond “just” a homework project, but something that would become a treasured keepsake, something she could enjoy and add to throughout the years, something I could hold on to and give to her as a housewarming gift in her first apartment…or as a gift for her wedding.
I actually purchased the papers and ribbons, but bought a little extra to give her some creative choices.Â She did a great job helping me cut all the papers, run the letters through the Xyron, adhere the cover and binding, and put all the recipes inside.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the miracle “YES” glue that Renee had recommended, so we ended up using plain old Elmer’s white glue.Â And that made the paper wrinkly.Â But if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Crisana thought this was a masterpiece.Â And she absolutely had a blast spreading the white glue with her fingers all over the cover of the composition book.
Inside the front cover, I had every intention of making a Table of Contents or a dedication page explaining when and why this book was created.Â Unfortunately, I ran out of time for this assignment, but when we get the book back, I will be sure to add that inside.Â I want her to always remember the love I spoke to her through every step of this project, and how much I enjoyed the time we spent together making it.
We collected recipes online through email and Facebook, as well as the old-fashioned way, culling through our many cookbooks.Â But I wanted to be sure to include special recipes that our family has enjoyed and that have meaning to her.Â She was so excited to see that we had included Trey’s specialty – these Gobbler Goodies – and the Chocolate Pretzel Rings she helps me make every Christmas.Â She spoke over and over how one day she will tell her children about these recipes and show them what their Uncle Trey looked like when he was a child.
Of course, we were sure to include a bookmark, as well as several recipes from Mom, the Original Chocolate Lover.Â Every recipe is a testimony to the love I have for all things chocolate (except chocolate cake…go figure) but also the love I have for this little girl, who surpasses the sweetness of chocolate, who makes my life far richer than any decadent chocolate dessert, and who fills my heart with far more joy than any candy bar ever could.
I realize the true Impossible Dream season belongs to the 1967 Red Sox.
I realize that the greatest rivalry in baseball belongs to the Yankees and Red Sox.
I realize that the longest World Series drought belongs to the Chicago Cubs, who have been waiting 102 years – and counting – since their last series victory, and 55 years since they last won the pennant.
But last night capped off an Impossible Dream season for our Texas Rangers, whose combined post-season misery and acrimonious trade deals with the Yankees has created an intense rivalry…and whose franchise held the dubious distinction of being the longest-running current franchise without a World Series appearance in their history (think NEVER, in nearly 50 years of existence).
So say what you want, but I’m pretty sure there were very few in the Metroplex who would have predicted this:
I’m fairly confident that going into Spring Training – or coming out of it, for that matter – not many believed we would be seeing this:
And I think it’s fairly safe to say that when the Rangers’ began their “It’s Time” ad campaign, most fans probably smiled cynically, nodded their heads knowingly, expecting the usual post-All Star slump and end-of-season heartbreak.Â But what we got last night was this:
Last night, in a glorious performance by Colby Lewis, the Rangers beat the Yankees to win the AL pennant.Â And, for the first time in Rangers history, we got ourselves a party at the Ballpark in Arlington!
And now, believe it or not, it’s time for this:
Let’s go, Rangers!!
I’m not all that much into chicken soup.Â Don’t get me wrong, chicken soup definitely has its place in the grand scheme of life.Â But for me, comfort foods are more about sweets you can sink your teeth into than watered-down broth with slurpy noodles.
And frankly, Little Debbie snack cakes make me happy.Â They always have.
Something about peeling apart the double layers of the zebra cakes and licking the creamy frosting filling off the top of the bottom layer makes me smile.Â I take great joy in unrolling the Swiss Cake Rolls and scooping out the filling with my finger and licking it clean before devouring the chocolate-coated cake part.Â And don’t even get me started on the gooey, melty goodness that is an oatmeal cream pie.
And so that’s why I get so excited about my Little Debbi Sermonettes.Â Those little nuggets of biblical goodness that make me feel all bubbly and giddy inside.Â Those moments when God whispers a truth in my ear that makes my heart nearly burst with excitement.Â Those “aha!” revelations when my heavenly Father wraps me up in a great big bear hug with a special message of love just for me..but one that I absolutely can’t keep to myself.
This weekend, God did that.Â He sent me another snack cake for my soul.Â The best part?Â It was a TWIN PACK!!Â Two delicious treats of yummy God-created goodness wrapped up together in one package.Â Sweet surprises like that deserve to be shared, so hold out your hand and prepare to be blessed!
You have kept a record of my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle. They are already in your book.Â Psalm 56:8, God’s Word translation
This week, an exciting event occurred in the Speer household.Â For several months, Trey has insisted that two of his upper molars were wiggly.Â Try as we might, Matt and I had a hard time getting those so-called loose teeth to move.Â For one thing, braces kind of got in the way.Â And then there was the retainer, a hard plastic mouth-guard which had to be worn All. The. Time. except when eating.Â And to be perfectly honest, I’d rather not engage in a tooth-wiggling struggle when there is food in the mouth.
But then came the day when the retainer-wearing ordinance was relaxed and we could finally have access to those teeth.Â It wasn’t long after that we discovered – much to our horror – that the permanent teeth were descending ON TOP of the baby teeth.Â With dollar bill signs and thoughts of extra orthodontic treatment looming large in our brains, we set Trey a-wiggling.Â Wiggle in the morning.Â Wiggle in the evening.Â Wiggle in the in-between times.Â Just wiggle, wiggle, wiggle…and get that tooth out!Â On Wednesday, it happened.Â Just after he walked in from school, I saw that tooth dangling, took a firm grasp and with one mighty twist – POP! – out it came.
Though Trey is now officially “in the know” regarding the secret identity of the Tooth Fairy, we still did the whole routine and in the morning there was a crisp new $1 bill waiting for him.Â As Trey collected his dues, he asked me, “What do you do with my teeth?”Â I informed him that Matt has saved every single one of them in a special box in our bedroom.Â “WOW!!Â Can I see them??”Â was the next, all-too-10-year-old-boy question I was asked.Â “Sure.”Â I responded…and we did.Â And he marveled over every single one.
When I read the verse above this weekend, I was reminded of this scene.Â Why, exactly, do we as parents save our kids’ teeth?Â What good reason do we have for holding on to something that is so useless, so worthless, and frankly, so GROSS as old teeth?Â Â Why don’t we just throw them out and move on?Â Because they are REMINDERS.Â They remind us as parents where our children have come from.Â They represent milestones of our children’s journeys from infancy to maturity.
And that is exactly why God collects our tears in His bottle.Â To remind us of what we’ve come from.Â To show us that when we shed those tears of sorrow or grief or loneliness or anger or hurt or disappointment or joy or gratitude that He was journeying through those times with us.Â To show us how far we’ve come in our own personal journeys with him.Â To demonstrate how much He – our heavenly Father – loves us and cares for us as His children.
The next time you feel those tears welling up within you, know that your Father stands close by, ready to catch them with His bottle, so that He can remind you of all that He is…and all you are becoming as you journey to His heart.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.Â Isaiah 49:16
I may be old, but I do remember being in high school.Â And believe it or not, in those days, kids didn’t have cell phones.Â We barely had CORDLESS phones…and I’m still convinced my family was the *last* family on earth to discontinue use of a rotary phone.Â When something important came up during class – like needing a friends’ phone number, or when that cute guy I had a crush on told me to meet him at a certain time in a certain location, or when a bunch of people were getting together for a party or event and I desperately wanted to be there – and I needed to write it down FAST, where did I put it?Â Yep – on the palm of my hand.
I did go to college, too, in those long-ago days.Â I well remember those busy days of classes, labs, student teaching assignments, projects, and crazy adventures with friends.Â When a friend wanted to meet for a late-night snack-shack run, or when a bunch of us made a study date, or when I needed to know that cute guy’s room number or phone extension, where did I write it down?Â Â Sometimes, little post-it notes got lost or misplaced or the sticky just plain wore off.Â Sometimes, I didn’t have any paper with me other than a gum wrapper or the project I’d stayed up all night working to complete.Â You guessed it…I hastily scribbled it on the palm of my hand.
I did manage to graduate from college and get a “real” job in the “real” world.Â My days as a teacher were busy and full.Â Juggling responsibilities in ministry and vocation, all while maintaining some sort of social life kept me going all day every day.Â If I needed to remember to pick up milk and bread on the way home from work, or if I suddenly was able to get a doctor’s appointment changed, or if my singles’ group decided on the spur of the moment to go out for a late-night movie, where did I record that information so I would be SURE to remember it?Â Yep…once again, on that trusty old palm of the hand.
Now I live life as a wife and mother, busy with responsibilities of caring for a family, maintaining a job, and being involved in ministry.Â Some days, keeping my ducks in a row is a harder task than it sounds.Â I shun to-do lists because they overwhelm me.Â I don’t carry a calendar with me because it distracts me.Â So where do I write those important little to-do’s that I can’t forget to-do?Â Yeah…on the palm of the hand once again.
So why would God tell us that He has engraved us on the palm of His hand?Â For the very same reason we write those important notes on our own palms.Â So we remember.Â So we don’t forget.Â Because those people, those things, those numbers or dates or times or grocery items are important to us.Â And in the same way, we’re important to God.Â He remembers us.Â He won’t forget us.
Because you see, there’s one important difference between our hands and His.Â When I write my new friends’ name and phone number on the palm of my hand, I can be assured that at some point it will wash away.Â My hands get dirty, filled with germs, and unclean.Â I’ll need to use soap and water and scrub for 30 seconds under warm water…and that name will be erased.Â No longer visible.Â Forgotten.
Not so with God.Â His hands are pure.Â His hands are clean.Â And you can know for a fact that once your name is written – better yet, ENGRAVED – there, it will NEVER wash away.Â You name is written on His hand for eternity.Â Indelible.Â Inscribed.Â Permanent.Â He will NEVER forget you.Â He will ALWAYS remember you.Â And I imagine that when He looks at His hand and sees your name…He smiles.Â Because He loves you.
I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating now:Â It’s time.
Sure, it’s time for the Rangers to finish what they’ve started in this amazing post-season run.Â But there’s a personal side to this, too.Â And for me, it’s time.
Time to deepen friendships.Â To renew bonds with those I don’t have the opportunity to see except maybe once a week on Sundays, or say a quick hello to as we pass by in the church hallways.Â To connect with the women who will be in my discussion group.Â To find new reasons to love and enjoy the women I will be sharing a cabin with.
Time to have fun.Â To laugh so hard my sides ache and I can barely breathe.Â To talk late into the night and giggle over life’s misadventures and create memories and inside jokes that will make me smile long beyond the next 48 hours.Â To play games and make crafts and relax by the lake and dance with reckless abandon and play beach volleyball.Â To go for long walks or sit on the dock.Â To watch the brave and fearless thrill-seekers whiz by on the zip line.
Time to be still and know.Â To shed tears borne out of a passion and intensity of worship in community that can be experienced no other way, and in no other place.Â To sit at the foot of the cross – literally and metaphorically – in humble gratitude for the penalty paid in my place.Â To spend true quiet time…uninterrupted, undistracted, unhurried…with my God in a place of peace and solitude.Â To be inspired by testimonies of faithful women.Â To dig deep into God’s word with a hunger and thirst to know Him more.Â To come to Him as I am – no pretenses, no facades, with raw emotion and real questions – and hear His voice as He patiently deals with the mess that I am.
Time to be transformed.Â By His word and His teachings.Â By the community of our shared experiences.Â By the encouragement of fellow Christ-followers.Â By the moments He draws near and opens my heart and mind to His truth.
Time to be renewed.Â Strengthened.Â Re-focused.Â Re-energized.Â Oh, yes, it is most definitely time.Â And while I will be rooting for a Rangers win in the ALCS, I know in my heart that this weekend is about more than baseball.Â It’s about having a life-changing encounter with the life-changing God of the universe.Â It’s time…and I’m ready.
When you’re unemployed, all luxury spending gets cut out of the budget.Â No more eating out.Â No more non-essential clothing items (I’m still trying to convince Matt that a new pair of shoes *is*, in fact, essential).Â No “impulse buys.”Â No frivolous purchases at the grocery store, just because “it looked good.”
No, all those fun ways to spend the money burning a hole in your pocket are suddenly frozen.Â You have to be judicious.Â You have to be careful.Â You have to be wise.Â You have to be fiscally responsible.
And sometimes, you have to break the rules a bit.
Like we did, today.Â We splurged – big time – and treated our family to a once-in-a-lifetime event: Game 4 of the ALDS between the Rangers and Rays.Â We attended church first, proudly sporting our Rangers colors, and then headed out to the Ballpark.Â Though we had paid for a parking pass, we arrived too late to use the assigned lot.Â We ended up using our Six Flags parking pass to find a space close to the third base entrance, and were greeted with this piece of fine artwork on the back of the car in front of us:
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as the Rays took us to a Game 5.Â To console ourselves, we took advantage of our great parking (and season passes) to enjoy a few hours of Fright Fest at Six Flags, which made a great ending to our special day.
Yesterday was our neighborhood’s National Night Out and as we always do, we hosted a friendly competition for the food.Â Neighbors bring finger food in various categories and we do a secret ballot to determine the winners in each.Â This year, the kids decided to outdo the parents!
Crisana settled on Black Cat Cupcakes.Â She helped with every step, mixing the batter, baking the cupcakes, and setting them out to cool.Â Even though Mom helped a bit with the frosting and decorating, Crisana was actively involved in the entire process.Â And just look at how cute they came out:
Not to be outdone, Trey made his own special festive treats.Â We first made these Gobbler Goodies 2 years ago for a pack campout, and we’ve ended up making them every year since.Â Each time, he’s taken more and more ownership of the process and can probably make them on his own next year.Â This was probably our best batch ever: