Thursday, August 19, 2010

Carried In Vein

You remember when we were kids, our parents would sometimes call us using our full, formal names? Unfortunately, it was usually an indication of how angry they were.

My folks never called me using my middle name... because I was such an angelic, obedient child. *cough*cough* Alright -- I wasn't given a middle name at birth.

It was especially painful when friends overheard the adults calling out that long string of names. I think the parents knew this; it couldn't be a coincidence that a friend was usually within earshot! Either that, or the friends were horrible influences that constantly got us in trouble? Kidding! The friends would stand by as we would "march to our punishment", chuckling and making fun of the embarrassing middle names while we, the ones summoned, trembled in anticipation of the wrath sure to come. OK, so maybe I wasn't kidding about the friends getting us into trouble.

In a way, it all reminds me of when I'm called upon to ask my husband to please not yell my Savior's first and last name when he's angry. As the one who hears the name being called out in frustration and anger, I feel as though I'm the one walking the plank. Let's face it, when he uses both names, he means business... and as his wife, it can be unnerving to know that it's my duty to both diffuse the anger and yet anger him by delivering the message that his words hurt and offend me. It's not pleasant to deliver a message to an angry man who should be crying out to the One who can deliver him from his anger -- the very One he curses!

It helps bring home the importance of teaching the third commandment to my children. I'll be honest -- living in a world where the Lord's name is often taken in vain without thought, the influences on them are strong. I need to be stronger.

There are three words sometimes heard at home that put a lump in my throat and make me skip a breath -- you know the ones... "Oh My G_d!". I have called the kids on it every time I have heard it, correcting, teaching and guiding them not to take the Lord's name in vain. They understand that it's offensive to me, but they also hear this and worse from their father and it makes the heartbreaking habit harder to break.

The children are caught between two worlds, with one parent heartbroken, and another indifferent. They have asked me why, what "the big deal is", why it's wrong... I told them the only thing I knew... it's offensive, and as one of the ten commandments, it's important to honor God by not using His name this way.

Sitting in church studying scripture last Sunday, listening to the Sermon on The Mount series, I received a new perspective and understanding on this commandment. I've been letting it soak in for a few days, hoping the thoughts would form and the words would come.

As a Christian, I am a member of His family, carrying on the family name. I am also a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker... even a blogger, a writer and photographer (sometimes simply in my dreams). I am a work in progress, human, but above all else I am a Christian.

I am a Christian within every role in my life, and with that name a responsibility is carried -- the responsibility of being His ambassador, His servant, His representative.

Even though I am in the middle of two worlds much like my children, I still have a responsibility to eschew the worldly ways and follow only His voice at any cost.

My life, my thoughts, my actions, the example I lead... all have the potential to break the third commandment without speaking one single word.

Even in complete silence, even without anger, I could still break that commandment by not laying my life down for Him, because it goes so much further than not saying His name in a heated moment of frustration.

When my actions don't bring glory and honor to Him, I am making a choice to treat His name casually and without the reverence it deserves, to treat my Christian responsibilities lightly. The consequences impact my spiritual walk and impact me on an eternal level.

Studying this scripture on Sunday led me to look up the meaning of "vain / in vain":

1. Not yielding the desired outcome; fruitless; a vain attempt.
2. Lacking substance or worth: vain talk.
3. Excessively proud of one's appearance or accomplishments; conceited
4. Archaic Foolish.

"In Vain":
1. To no avail; without success: Our labor was in vain.
2. In an irreverent or disrespectful manner: took the Lord's name in vain

I couldn't help but see the spiritual perspective...

"Not honoring God will not yield the desired outcome, it will be fruitless, a vain attempt. Our spiritual life will lack substance and worth. When we are excessively proud of how things look or the things WE accomplish, our conceitedness does not honor Him -- it is indeed foolish. Not honoring His name, not honoring Him, will be to no avail, it will not succeed. Our labor will be in vain."

I thought of the words "in vain" many times of the course of the following few days, and it dawned on me that there is another way to see it, an analogy and a play on words all wrapped up into one.

My heart needs to be filled with Him to the point where it is His blood carried through my veins. He needs to be the lifeblood of my existence. If I do not allow Him control of my heart, if He isn't carried in my veins... He is carried in vain.

I want my Christian life to have weight in this world for His glory. I want my life to point to Him, sing to Him... but the cross is heavy. This is serious stuff. Jesus can't be an accessory to the outfit I wear, can't be the side dish or the afterthought. He's not someone I casually follow on Twitter, I'm more than a follower or a fan. He needs to be my lifeblood, the center of my life.

By nature, we're all torn between two worlds, but we must expect more of ourselves than the world standards, the "norm". It's required of us. It may make our faith seem extreme by comparison, but perhaps it's only because the world's moral decay has lowered the bar. We can't let that discourage us or stop us from seeking His face. We are called to be set apart for Him.

It all comes down to surrender.

Complete, relentless surrender.

Surrendering, dying to self, and replacing the blood in my veins with His blood, His life. The eternal transfusion of Him into my heart, flowing through my veins... so that I do not carry His name in vain.
Monday, August 09, 2010

Change Me Into Salt

Years ago, Clara would pick up her little grandson on Sunday mornings and bring him to church with her. The little boy's parents did not attend church or associate themselves with the church, so for several years, she was the main Christian influence in his life, making sure that he had an opportunity to learn about God. She led him with gentleness but with purpose, leading by example, teaching him to tithe, sharing scriptures, talking, listening, and letting him know that God loved him and longed to know him.

He remembers her very fondly as someone who helped promote peace within the family and who never hesitated to help those in need; a woman of integrity and Godly character. She loved him very much, and cared enough to spend time with him... she was a role model, a positive influence in his early childhood. The salt of the earth.

In his early teens, Clara passed away leaving no one to guide him in his spiritual life. This boy's older cousin stormed in, sized up the boy's life, and decided that he could do a better job than Clara. He'd burst into the boy's home filled with anger, negativity and bitterness, preaching fire and brimstone in the presence of this very impressionable boy. This boy became traumatized by this so-called Christian who claimed to follow God and yet showed no trace of the character of Christ. Years of "you're going to hell, you're a filthy piece of dirt, repent, I'm praying for your soul, you're going to die, you're all going to die, you're listening to the devil's music, you're going straight to hell, do you hear me?" took their toll. He slammed the door shut on his spiritual life, vowing to never speak of God again and to distance himself from those who did.

Through this cousin, that boy saw a whole other side to "Christianity" and swore he'd never become "one of those, you know, Christians... those hate filled, intolerant, holier than thou, judgmental hypocrites." The Christians whose salt had lost its flavor and purpose.


13"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

In church this morning as part of the 12 week Sermon On The Mount series, our Pastor spoke of the importance of being the salt of the earth. He shared a few characteristic of salt so that we'd understand why Jesus referred to it specifically, but it left me wanting to dig deeper and find out more.

While I wasn't surprised that Jesus didn't use the word salt without purpose and meaning, I was amazed by what I learned! Our bodies contain a specific amount of salt, and any significant imbalance can make us ill or even cause death. Ask someone with Addison's disease, and you'll have a perfect example of the influence of salt in someone's life. What about someone with blood pressure issues... what's the first thing that comes to mind? Watch the salt!

On a spiritual level, the characteristics of salt are also of great importance.

  • Being the salt of the earth will help us preserve the Christian walk of others through positive influence and leadership, which enables us to effectively fight against the world's moral decay.
  • Salt is a very influential substance that can not easily be separated from its surroundings, effectively changing everything it touches, just as we have the ability to influence our surroundings by our behaviors. Are we the change we want to see in the world?
  • Salt leads to purification, cleansing and healing, just as it does in a Christian who has died to self and lives for God.
  • Salt adds flavor and seasoning, bringing forth the best of the flavors, just as our lives should bring out the best in others, rather than seeking and bringing forth the worst.
  • Salt has the potential to harm... ever pour salt on a slug? Nasty! (Thank you, Elizabeth!) Even in Biblical times, it was used to prevent the growth of crops and thrown on paths to kill weeds. Spiritually, being the salt of the earth helps put to death the sinful nature of man.
  • Salt promotes thirst... have you ever tried to eat salty foods without a drink to quench the thirst created by the salt? When we're the salt of the earth and living above reproach, it creates a thirst in ourselves and in others to know the source of our peace, our joy, our salvation, and that thirst should point to Jesus. Jesus will provide for the salt of the earth living waters that will cause them never to thirst again.

Remember the reference to Christians whose salt loses its saltiness and in doing so, loses purpose and usefulness? If we're looking at salt from today's perspective, it's hard to understand what Jesus meant by salt losing its saltiness, since today's salt is chemically engineered and can not lose its qualities. In Biblical times, salt was mined from cliffs that bordered the Dead Sea or evaporated from the Dead Sea itself -- it was a very different substance than it is today. When ancient salt became exposed to the elements or came in contact with the earth, it lost its saltiness.

Ironically, that's how Christians lose saltiness too, by becoming one with the world rather than becoming one with the source of the salt -- Jesus.

Even though salt had the potential to be very valuable, salt that lost its saltiness was completely useless and either thrown away or used underfoot as gravel. I'm trying to imagine God looking at my life, and finding that my salt has lost it's saltiness and that my Christian life has therefore become useless to Him. Please, Jesus... let it not be so.


I don't know what became of that boy's cousin, but I know what became of Clara's grandson.

He grew up to become my husband.

The damage that was done by this "well meaning cousin" has deeply affected our marriage. For years Terry felt threatened by my faith and rebelled against it, still traumatized by the character of this cousin, and fearful that I would become "one of those, you know, Christians... those hate filled, intolerant, holier than thou, judgmental hypocrites." I pray I never have that kind of impact and influence on anyone, and that this is never said of me.

If Clara was still alive today, I would have appreciated the opportunity to thank her for the seed she planted years ago.
"Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6
She trained him up.

Her priceless gift is what gives me hope that her influence is still deeply rooted somewhere under the layers of pain, deeply rooted enough that his faith will come back to life with just the right amount of salt. Along with her gift, I wonder... I pray for my children's future spouses... did she pray for the woman that little boy would grow up to marry? Did Clara, years before I even met Terry, pray for me?

More than ever, it has become all too real to me how important it is to be focused on the influence we have on others, to be focused on becoming Christ like, letting go of the anger, bitterness, hostility and intolerance, and clothing ourselves with patience, compassion, humility, forgiveness, love, and joy.

We may never know in this lifetime the difference it will make in someone's life and in His kingdom.