Lately I find that I have been battling against other people’s expectations. Sometimes I remain confident in what I’m doing, and in other moments I wonder if I need to adjust.

There’s the homeschooling expectations, which are residual from being in America. When we began the huge task of packing, housecleaning, and moving to Africa (not to mention the transition of the move itself), we only “officially” took about two weeks off of schooling, but we were pretty hit-or-miss when we did do academics. We consistently did math and language arts daily, but electives were…elective. Even now that we’ve been in Africa for just over three months, we have not done as much as I would normally expect for a day of schooling. It seems our day’s work is such “work” that schooling is secondary. I still consider it a day if we just accomplish language arts and math. I’m feeling slightly guilty about that, but…that’s been life. Frankly, I think moving to Africa, learning about a whole new culture and way of life, geography, language, and so on, is plenty of “social studies” for now.  Music and art have been virtually non-existent, with craft items in short supply (or unavailable) here, all of our books still in transit in a crate, and our Internet a challenge to use even for email, never mind surfing or video-watching (which is how we often integrated the arts into our school day). So, the expectation battles the reality.

Let’s move on to the garden…

We arrived right in time for planting season (which was a consideration in our plan, actually) but we discovered that without many of our American conveniences (such as rototillers, long-handled hoes, and so on) farming is hard work. Not to mention, we had to learn about a whole new way of doing things (what to plant when, what fertilizers to use, and what needs to be started in beds and transplanted). The learning curve is huge and Marc has been so busy and away so much that we’ve out-sourced a lot of the work (i.e., we’ve paid locals to do it). Not what we expected, but that’s been the reality. My challenge has been that here the work of farming is relegated to women–they are out in the fields hoeing, seeding, and weeding IN ADDITION TO doing wash, keeping house, and feeding the family. It’s a lot of work. I feel that many days I barely accomplish the necessities; gardening as well?? Not a chance! (Not to mention that Marc has always been much more gifted in that area anyway–I have a “black thumb.”) So when we’re hiring a local woman to till our garden, which she does in addition to her own and everything else, with her 13-month old daughter playing in the dirt beside her…I feel slightly guilty and inadequate.

And shopping?

That’s something else that a woman here accomplishes with ease, no matter how far the walk to market or how many children she has. Thing is, homeschooling is unheard of here, so a woman has her independence all day while her children are at school, to accomplish whatever needs to be done. And even if the children are at home, there’s not a thought in her mind against leaving them to fend for themselves while she attends to immediate needs like food-fetching. We have no one that we would leave our children with, nor do we necessarily feel comfortable with leaving all eight of them home alone (for various reasons). Not to mention, it would take me some time to feel confident about traveling into town and shopping solo, anyway. For all these reasons, Marc usually picks up a few things when he goes into town for other reasons, or the boys bike to market and get some stuff. Before we felt comfortable allowing the boys to go on their own, we were paying our neighbor, Jane, to do the shopping for us. This is yet another area where I know that the locals have certain expectations about how things are done, and we’re just not the norm. And again, I feel slightly inadequate. Just being real here, folks–sometimes I just feel like a spoiled mzungu.

But what they don’t see is that I am usually up at 3:30 or 4:00 to feed the baby and have my quiet time (which is, quite frankly, the most important item on my “to-do” list). By 6:00 I’m dressed and ready to meet the day, having started the laundry and made sure we have something for breakfast. I get everyone going and we have our family devotions. Then we do our morning jobs (which require a lot of “management” on my part) so I might just be hanging out my wash at 10 AM, while the mamas next door have already put theirs out at 8:00. Makes me look lazy, but I feel anything but. The rest of the day is spent overseeing whatever we do manage to accomplish for schooling, doing the housekeeping (which has developed into an OK routine), visiting with unexpected guests, and working to prepare our daily bread. I don’t know how these African women “do it all,” but they  do!

I’m quite sure all the folks here have certain expectations of how things should be and what we should be doing, and lately I’ve been catching myself frequently wondering how we measure up. Then I have to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter. Other people’s expectations never really matter–only our faithfulness to what God has asked us to do. And on that score, I guess we’re doing just fine. So I’ve gotta keep pressing on, remembering that that is the most important thing.


Whatever is Praiseworthy…

Every day I expect to do at least two loads of laundry–one mixed, cold water wash and one hot water wash of diapers. Sometimes, like today, I have to do a third load. When that happens, I’ve been known to get a little irritable. Not just because I’m doing a third load of laundry, but because I’ve been up since the baby’s early morning feeding at 4 AM, don’t have breakfast ready yet and am hearing nothing but “What’s for breakfast?”, “What are we having to eat?”, “When are we eating?” and so on, from plus or minus seven children in turn. Not to mention that as I’m scrubbing over the tub, everyone has already gotten water or finished their morning jobs and really needs some direction in at least starting their school work, which I don’t really want to take a break to provide. Because if I don’t get the laundry done it won’t get hung out in time to dry before the afternoon rains come. And that would be terrible, seeing as how I really only have enough cloth diapers to get me through ONE DAY. (“Give us this day our daily bread…” or clean diapers, as the case may be?)

So. When I have a third load of laundry to do, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But it’s not all about the laundry. I’m sure you can relate.

Today, the baby woke up with a total diaper blow out, which necessitated changing the blankets in the Pack & Play. My four year-old decided to have another go-round with the amoebas and threw up all over himself and the couch, too. So not only did the third load of laundry come into play but also I felt bad for the sick littles on top of it all. However, there was much to be thankful for in this morning as well…

A nine year-old who is happy to read and “do school” with her four year-old brother. A baby who is content to play with a cooking stick instead of trying to drink my wash water with his fist (like usual). A seven year-old breakfast-preparing helper. TWO clothes lines to keep up with the demand in clean laundry.  AND, a new gutter system and holding tank which, coupled with the afternoon rains, means many fewer trips to the spring to collect water!

A verse we’ve all probably memorized or meditated on in this regard is Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” I have to remind myself, though, that thankfulness isn’t just about enjoying good circumstances. That’s a lesson that keeps repeating itself lately. It’s necessary to be thankful for the good, but even more important to praise God for the not-so-good, too. His ways are higher than our ways, and He works all things for our good and His glory–even if we don’t see it as we go through it.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

When You Feel Miserable, Stop and Ask Yourself Why

“[Jesus] said, Blessed (happy and to be envied) rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey and practice it!” (Luke 11:28, AMP)
Some time ago, when it seemed like all the children were doing was bickering and grumbling, I asked them how their behavior made them feel. They all admitted that they were pretty miserable. After reading Luke 11:28, I presented them with a challenge: “If you are feeling miserable, just stop and ask yourself why.” After analyzing some of the more recent circumstances, we could see that, almost without exception, feelings of misery resulted from not walking in obedience to God’s Word.
Interestingly, I have been reading The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchangeable Person by E. Stanley Jones (written at the ripe old age of 87), and his life-conclusions about the Kingdom of God have been enlightening and encouraging. As I read his opinion about how we, as people, were actually created to obey the Kingdom laws, I recalled the conversation that I had had with the children, and could see how this was so. He says,
Tertullian said the soul is naturally Christian. Reinhold Niebuhr says the soul is naturally pagan. Dr. Walter Horton says the soul is naturally half-pagan and half-Christian. I vote with Tertullian. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Why? Because he puts nothing on you? On the contrary, when you follow him he dumps the world and its troubles into your heart. Then the Christian way is the hard way? No. What is the law of happiness in the world? It seems to be this: The most miserable people in the world are the people who are self-centered, who won’t do anything for anybody, except themselves. They are centers of misery, with no exceptions. On the contrary, the happiest people are the people who deliberately take on themselves the sorrows and troubles of others. Their hearts sing with a strange wild joy, automatically and with no exceptions. We are structured for the outgoingness of the love of the Kingdom. It is our native land.
And further,
So the starry heavens above and the moral law within speak of the dependableness and utter surety of the Unshakable Kingdom. And that kingdom is without us and within us—“the kingdom of heaven is within you”—therefore you break its laws written within you and you get broken. On the other hand, you obey its laws and its principles and its attitudes and at any period of life, in any circumstances, you can say to yourself, “What a life!”
I’m trying to apply this conclusion and this challenge to my own life, moment-by-moment. Historically, my tendency has been to blame others, or circumstances, for my own lack of joy; I’ve made progress in this area but…I can always do better. Sometimes I fail to be thankful. Other times it’s my selfish desires that get in the way. Or my attempt to control a situation is what brings misery. No matter what recent (or past) instance I analyze in light of this Kingdom-living-and-joy paradigm, I can honestly say that my feelings of “miserableness” do always seem to have a root in my failure to live as Christ, by His example and His Kingdom principles.
If we’re not experiencing joy, let’s stop and ask ourselves honestly, why? If we’re not in line with God’s Word or Christ’s example, let’s simply repent…change direction…and get in line with where God wants us to be. Will you take this up this challenge with me?

When You Feel Like Banging Your Head Against a Wall…

…yeah, that’s a good way to describe how I felt yesterday. Ever have one of those days?

The past few months have been particularly challenging for me. Marc went back to work full-time after working from home for most of the past 4 years. Not only that, but he has a 3-hour, round-trip daily commute and so is gone for at least 12 hours. For many of you, that’s reality…and I’ve gotten used to it, but it was a difficult transition given what our situation had been.

Right at the same time, I was experiencing my first trimester of pregnancy, with extreme tiredness and day-long nausea unlike any of my other previous pregnancies. Again, not something that other ladies don’t go through, but combined with the transition to “solo” days with our brood of seven, I was pretty exhausted and drained.

Then Marc and my oldest son went away for three weeks to Kenya. I praise God for everything that was accomplished in terms of training and Kingdom Expansion while they were there, but…that was a l-o-n-g three weeks.

I figured after the holidays things would normalize. But I forgot how active my children are, how much they love to be outside…and how STUCK INSIDE we all are during winters in Indiana. Our 1400 SF house seems smaller than it used to. And it’s loud.

With all of these transitions, and with my sickness and tiredness, I haven’t been as consistent as I both want and need to be in the discipleship of the children and in relationship-building. I can see that some things are suffering a bit as a result, although I am thankful for the Lord’s grace in enabling me to “persevere” and actually come out of a trying time on a pretty good note overall. Still, we’ve gotten into some habits that need to be reversed or replaced, and that will require yet another period of transition for all of  us. I’ll be honest, I want to see better fruit but the amount of effort that I think it will require is a little intimidating.

I was a little discouraged in contemplating all of this yesterday, after an unexpectedly overwhelming afternoon. However, I had the pleasure of reading this morning from Habakkuk 3:17-19:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,  he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

This verse reminds me that even if we don’t see the “fruit” we desire..even if things are challenging…we can and should still rejoice in the LORD. He is our strength. Let us persevere in Him!

Cover up or Clean up?

In order to protect the innocent, I’m not using real names in this story…but I want to tell you about a man named “Fred.”

Fred grew up in a home where his mom and sisters were in charge of the domestic sphere. In other words, the boys did “guy” things and the girls cooked and cleaned. Not surprisingly, Fred views housework as “women’s work.” Not a problem for Fred…he got married and his wife took on that role. That is, until they divorced. So what did Fred do? Not much. He cooked some simple meals because he got hungry, but otherwise the house just followed the natural order of things, moving from a state of order to disorder. He had a couple of boys  who did dishes and occasional chores, just to avoid total embarrassment if their friends came over.

Now the boys are grown, so what does Fred do? He lets dishes pile up in the sink. When he needs one or two, he washes them. It’s rare that he washes the whole sink full; just the ones he needs will suffice.

Fred’s sheets and mattress start to get a little smelly. What does he do? Sprays some extra strength Febreeze, of course.

And those flies continually populating around the garbage can and open containers of recyclables? Spray them with Black Flag flying insect killer!

Running out of clean clothes? It’s easier to just buy some new ones.

When it gets bad enough, the solution? Hire some help; get someone else to deal with the overwhelming mess!

No, this isn’t an indictment against Fred for laziness or even for what some might consider “chauvenistic” views on the roles of men and women. Instead, I want you to think about how you responded to Fred’s “solutions.” Did you think to yourself, “Why not just keep the garbage area cleaner if you want to eliminate pesky flies?”, or  “Spray Febreeze on dirty sheets! How disgusting! Why not just throw them in the washing machine?” Easy enough, right?

But how often do we all follow a similar pattern in our own lives, about things perhaps less obvious? When our children are disobedient, instead of correcting them and teaching them how important it is to obey God by obeying their parents, we make excuses. (“Oh, he’s been a little sick lately. He’s really not himself.” “We’ve been out of our usual routines, so she’s really acting up.”) Why do we do this? Sometimes it is a result of laziness. Or, we think these are just “little things” and we don’t want to make a big issue out of them. Trouble is, it’s like piling up garbage and half-rinsed recyclables. Eventually the flies start populating the kitchen and we find ourselves getting out nasty chemicals when all we had to do to avoid it was to keep up with the mess, little-by-little.

Or in our own personal lives, we allow little sins to creep in, which become like dirty sheets becoming smellier and smellier as the little sins snowball into bigger ones–all easily excusable until the stain and odor become overwhelming. Maybe we start by allowing ourselves to express our irritation by speaking harshly to the children. Soon, we are raising our voices and yelling. Then, we become angry and snap, “Are you stupid?” to a child who accidentally spills the milk or makes some other inconvenient mess. Little by little we have justified our actions and covered up these steps of sin, and yet now the words of Jesus remind us,

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22)

So instead of “covering over” our sins until they become a noisome stench, why don’t we just repent? Moment-by-moment, confess those things which are displeasing to God. Seek the grace of God that He gives so that we might grow in holiness and do the things that glorify Him. Let’s toss those proverbial sheets in the washing machine instead of spraying the Febreeze and hoping no one will notice.

I am striving to stay “clean,” not just in my home management but in my spiritual life and parenting as well. Instead of letting things pile up, I’m trying to do regular maintenance to avoid those radical “solutions” that really just amount to putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. This means being consistent in discipling (“discipling,” not just “disciplining”) my children; being proactive in maintaining relationships; and especially abiding in Christ–seeking to walk in a manner worthy and repenting when I realize that I have fallen short.

I just want to encourage you today…don’t be a “Fred” in any area of your life! 🙂

Words of Life or Death?

Last night at Bible study, Marc made a comment which we all discussed for some time. He said, “The Words of Jesus bring both life and death…life to the Spirit and death to the flesh.”

As we strive to glorify God and walk in the commands of Christ, by necessity we put to death our flesh. It is painful. We often have to give up things that are near and dear to us; sometimes relationships with family or friends are severed, other times we have to give up worldly pleasures, ideas, and even allegiances. We also have to put behind our sins and pursue holiness. We may be misunderstood, excluded, and even persecuted.

But of course we know where the death of the flesh leads…to the Life that is truly life.

“‘You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'” (John 6:67-69)

Missed Opportunity

I always assumed that if God had prepared good works in advance for us to do, it was a given that we would accomplish them. As of yesterday, I’m not so sure.

I was running errands and ended up thinking I was going home before I was actually ready to go home, so I got on the highway going the wrong way. I got off the next exit to turn around, and there was a man there holding a cardboard sign that I couldn’t read. Whether he was homeless or out of work and in need I couldn’t tell (traffic was moving and the sign was small) but I felt a burden to do something. However, we don’t necessarily give money in such situations, and I didn’t have food or even our usual New Testament or Keys to Kingdom Expansion in the car. I was turning around to go back to Wal-Mart, though, so I figured I’d get something there and come back to the same spot on my way home.

At Wal-Mart, I picked up a deli sandwich, a couple of bananas, a few snacks, and a cold drink. I even threw a really-bad-for-you cookies & cream freezer shake into the cart. I couldn’t imagine standing outside on such a miserable, hot day. (It was 90 degrees at 10 AM and the humidity terrible!) I did the rest of the shopping I needed to do within about 30 minutes and hoped that the man would still be there when I got back.

Despite my feeling of hurry, I began to dawdle. I was without children–a rarity–and so I began to look at the Back-to-School supplies. I didn’t think we would need anything, but…you never know. On my way up to the register, I passed by the appliance section and wistfully thought about my Bissell Perfect Sweep that had recently broken…I really wanted to replace it. So I looked at all the different models of floor sweepers. And, yes, I suppose I was coveting them. Did I even plan on buying one? No, it wasn’t in the budget and I supposed I could do without a replacement. Then (still on my way to the register), I passed by the clearance aisle. I stopped to look. Of course, I didn’t buy anything, but you can’t pass by a good deal, can you?

Now it had been over an hour, a lot of that time taken up, quite frankly, by my own selfishness. I was enjoying the time to myself…looking, planning, and (yes) coveting…and really just wasting time. And, as it turns out, wasting the opportunity.

By the time I got through the line and got out to the car, hunted up a pen to write a note and some Bible verses to put in the bag, and went back to the original spot, the man was not there. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised. I drove around other places in that area where we had seen homeless folks, and there was no one.

The Lord convicted me that I had totally failed to redeem the time and make the most of the opportunity that I knew was there. Instead of being obedient to do what was of eternal significance, I squandered precious moments on my fleshly desires. Of course I had to repent.

And this morning as I was somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, the Lord put this Word on my heart: “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God.” So I opened my Bible there to read this morning:

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:1-3)

Ouch! I wondered how many other opportunities I have missed to do good and glorify God…things that He has intended for me to do that I have messed up by following after my selfish desires. Opportunities to disciple my children, gone as I sit in front of the computer, perhaps? Opportunities to minister to folks in our community by inviting them for a meal, ruined by my grumbling and bad attitude as I clean house in preparation? I would like to say that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (which is true) but, that Scripture in its entirety says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) And I know in what manner I was walking yesterday.

Dear friends, let us strive to make the most of every opportunity today, to glorify our Lord!

A Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

One night about a week ago, Marc and the older boys were out for men’s Bible study, so I was sat down for evening devotions with the younger children. I had just been practicing sewing with the girls, so I thought it would be a good time to read and discuss the story of Jesus and the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30:

16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
18“Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”
20“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

We focused on Jesus’ statement, ” it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” because we had just been sewing and I thought it was a good object lesson. I asked, “How easy was it for you to put a small piece of thread through the eye of the needle?” (Not easy–they still needed some help from me!) So I asked, “How easy do you think it would be for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle?” (They simply laughed at this idea.)

Going deeper, I asked, “What do you think it means to be rich?” And my five year-old very quickly replied, “It means to have a lot of stuff!” After another few seconds of thought, she waved her arms emphatically to show all that was in the living room and said, “You know…like US!”

Now, I don’t consider us rich. At all. We are nine people in a 1400 square foot house, and we intentionally sold many of our possessions last year when we moved into this home, pretty much in obedience to Jesus’ teachings here. I know we still have a ways to go…and, I know that we are filthy rich compared to people in other parts of the world. So it was a little convicting for my five year-old to say that she still considers us rich. As we continued to talk about Jesus’ words, we were challenged by the thought that our accumulating material possessions could keep us from entering the Kingdom of heaven.

It’s easy to justify accumulation and materialism by saying, “It’s not what we possess, it’s our heart that counts.” Or, “it’s OK to have things, as long as you’re not attached to them.” But what happens if we take Jesus’ words at face value?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)

Home Sweet Home: Creating a Joyful Home Atmosphere (2)

(Excerpted from Home Sweet Home: Creating a Joyful Home Atmosphere; available in paperback or on CD)

[I]f you have gone through the last session and can honestly say that you have repented and have a desire to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord—for yourself personally, for your home and family, and for all the purposes of God that will be fulfilled as a result—now you must understand why. Our salvation is not a gift that we selfishly hold. It’s the outpouring of God’s grace that must be shared. Whether we multiply it two times, five times, or ten times, is irrelevant; but if we are not sharing the truth and the love of God consistently with others in our circle of influence, we misunderstand our role in living life for the glory of God. . . .

In contemplating how my life measured up to God’s standard of holiness and how well I embraced the vision of glorifying God, I knew that I, once again, fell miserably short. As I said in the last session, I did many things in His name, and although not all of it was of my own making or in my own strength, I really did not have an adequate understanding of what it was that God wanted from me. He didn’t just want my works and my “doings,” He simply wanted my complete surrender so that He could lead me in living a victorious life and use me as He wanted, for His glory.

My husband, Marc, explains it like this in his book, Keys to Kingdom Expansion (available as a free ebook on our site, www.valuesdrivenfamily.com):

Why do so many people join the Reserves? Is it love for country, commitment to defend freedom, chivalry and public service, a sense of duty and sacrifice? Certainly many do join for such noble reasons; however, numerous other young men and women simply join for the benefits, such as college tuition and other signing bonuses. It may not sound very nice to say it, but let’s be honest—if they would serve without the benefits, would the government even offer them? Absolutely not! However, the government knows that to entice a sufficient reserve force, the benefits are necessary.

When those who have signed up with selfish motivations are deployed to the front lines of battle, do you suppose they really want to be there? When they signed the dotted line, we can only wonder if they really counted the cost. Is college tuition a fair trade for the ultimate sacrifice? Without a commitment to the vision (freedom) and the mission (defend and protect), no amount of compensation is worth dying for; but with a sense of duty, honor, and sacrifice—no price is too high. In fact, dedicated soldiers yearn for the front lines.

We can see a fitting analogy. Numerous believers have joined the kingdom “reserves” based on the benefits. They wanted freedom from the penalty of sin and a free ticket to heaven. They may even believe signing comes with others benefits such as health and wealth. Sometimes they reluctantly sign up, almost as if they are doing their recruiter a favor. However, do they really know what they are signing?

Do they know that they are asked to surrender everything to God for the mission? They are told to end all other allegiances: to the world, sin, wealth, pleasures of life, self, the flesh, family, possessions, and to be prepared to even give their very life for the cause. When they sign, they give up all personal rights and privileges. They must obey all orders. In fact, their failure to comply makes them a traitor, and subject to judgment. They not only fail to promote the cause, they hinder it by serving the enemy’s commander.

Do we present the truth and the necessity of counting the cost? Do those in our camps know that when they signed up, we were not at peacetime, but in the throes of battle? We are at war. The enemy has not let up. Why have we? Why are all our troops AWOL? Where are their commanders? Are we AWOL, too?

Recognize that we are at war. Millions are dying without salvation. The main reason is that we recruit our reserves, but don’t give them deployment orders. Even when American soldiers sign for selfish reasons, they still receive the same training as those who sign with more noble intent. They learn the art of warfare alongside the visionaries. And when they are deployed, they are ready to fight with valor and precision. Whether from false motives or true, they are on the mission.

We must learn from this analogy. I don’t care why or how these reserves joined our ranks. However, they need to know that we are at war NOW, and receive their training and deployment immediately. They must be shown the vision by our leadership. But, for them to catch the vision and get on mission, we must recognize we are at war as well, and be willing to count the cost.

Let me ask you—or rather, answer the Lord: have you counted the cost? Would you give up your possessions for Christ? Your comfort? Your freedom? Your wealth? What about your pride? Would you give up your home? What about your family? Now it’s getting tougher. Would you surrender your title? Your pleasures? Your fears? Your hurts? Your sin? What about your very life?

Ok, if you’re still with me, you can rest assured that God does not want you to sacrifice everything on this list right now. There is a better picture of what He wants from you. Just get a blank piece of paper. Now sign on the bottom. He will simply fill in what He wants you to give when He needs it of you. Will you sign the blank piece of paper?

Until we are ready to sign this document, we are not fit to serve in His Kingdom. Signing this document will lay the foundation for His service, and qualify us to train the reserves for the mission. The reserves will not follow us into battle until we take the flag and run headlong through the incoming fire. Reflect upon this.

When I sincerely “counted the cost of being a disciple” (as we are challenged by Jesus in Luke 14) I knew that, although I had prayed a prayer and said I wanted to serve God, I was not prepared to give up everything. I wanted to do the things that seemed good to me; I wanted to hold on to my comforts, my possessions, the security of the world and its systems, my children, my life…and even the less-obvious things like the secret hurts that somehow justified my sins and the selfishness that led to so much of my frustration. Yet, Jesus says, “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

So, I urge you to count the cost and examine yourself. Could you—or did you—sign the “blank piece of paper? Would you be willing to give up your marriage if it served God’s purposes? How about your precious children? Your home and its comforts? Would you willingly undergo persecution, as so many in the world now do? Torture, inhuman treatment, even death? It’s easy to give intellectual assent to these things, but what if God really asked it of you? Examine your heart.

Can you give up the things that come between you and God? Perhaps it’s the bad habits of eating which are really your way of trying to control situations, instead of walking in the Spirit and allowing God to lead. Maybe it’s the petty irritations that you accumulate against the children or your inability to forgive their childish misbehaviors, so that you eventually rage against them in anger. Or it’s past hurts that you stubbornly cling to because by them it’s easy to excuse your present sin. I suggest these things because I know about them–I have struggled with them, too. And in all honesty, I had to say that signing the blank piece of paper was more difficult than praying that little, private prayer I prayed twelve years ago in the church pew. However, this is a necessary first step if you are going to take the next step, which is the Spiritual Inventory. You must first clean the house, as we talked about in the last session, and then transfer authority of everything to God, which effectively locks the door against satan and sin. All for God’s glory! And, yes, you will most certainly experience a “ripple effect” in the atmosphere of your home as you commit (or re-commit) yourself to glorifying God.


Post-script to this session–this is a neat email that I received from someone who had listened to the audio series:

“You must be a kindred spirit because I personally related to
almost every struggle you spoke about in the 4 sessions I listened to.
Thank you for being faithful to share your journey with others, like
me! Now I know I need to sign the dotted line at the end of the blank
piece of paper. After 11 years of being born-again, I finally know
what I’m missing. :)”

I pray that each one of us as women would continually invest in our own spiritual health and well-being so that we can have the joyful and peaceful home atmosphere that God intends for us!

Home Sweet Home: Creating a Joyful Home Atmosphere (1)

(Excerpted from Home Sweet Home: Creating a Joyful Home Atmosphere)

I once heard taught that “The woman sets the tone for the home,” and I believe that this is, in large part, true. Though a husband’s leadership affects much and children’s behaviors are unpredictable, it is how we, as women, respond to these things that dictates what our home atmosphere will ultimately be like. We are the managers of the home and usually the primary caregivers, teachers, and trainers for our children. It is our domain! So of course, we have a great deal of influence on the atmosphere of our home. For this reason, you will notice that in this [seminar series…or paperback book, coming soon!] we will focus on ourselves, as wives and mothers. …

A joyful home all comes down to attitude, and most especially OURS! Whether our house is messy or clean, we determine how we will respond. When our children are whiny, will we encourage them lovingly? If they have misbehaved, will we correct them gently? If our husbands aren’t taking the leadership role that we’d like them to, will we harbor resentment or seek to build them up in love, submitting to them as unto the Lord? I want to emphasize that attitude is a choice—and the Bible says,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature 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! (Philippians 2:5-8)

Is your attitude like that of Jesus? Do you willingly humble yourself to receive from God’s hand whatever HE has ordained for your day? Personally, I was more prone to planning my own schedule and then refusing to bend to the work of the Holy Spirit in changing it—or I would give in, but with complaints and frustration. I had my own ideas about how the house “should” look or how the children “should” behave…but God’s standards for these external things often differed from my own. Eventually, God showed me that, very often, the heart of my bad attitude was my own pride and desire for control. And James 4:6 tells us that God actively opposes the proud, but gives His grace to the humble. No wonder I felt like (and often said!) that getting things done around the house was like pulling teeth! I was seriously missing out on the grace of God, which He gives us to make us able to do His will.