So, I pulled up Bible Gateway this morning, and I see the verse of the day listed as Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 which reads, “This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland’” (New International Version). This sounds like an appropriate and motivational message to focus on for the New Year, right?
Part of the problem we have in western society is that we have developed an incredibly short attention span, and don’t read things in context. We want bite-sized nuggets of wisdom that make us feel good for short periods of time. We don’t bother to memorize anything or seek real wisdom because we can simply “Google it” when we forget. Personally, I cringe every time I see those commercials where a dad is reading a bedtime story to his little girl and she asks him question after question about something in the book, but he doesn’t know, so he has to ask Siri. If I were that kid, all that would teach me is that my dad doesn’t know anything and I should ask a robot instead. But I digress…
If you read Isaiah 43 in its entirety, the Lord is indeed telling them to leave the past behind and look forward, but there are some critical details missing if you only extract the above segment. First of all, God is speaking to Israel, America does not exist at this point in history. Secondly, what was in the past that they need to forget? The previous chapter explains that Israel has been blind and deaf and embroiled in war, but “did not understand…they did not take it to heart” (Is. 42:25). Chapter 43 is not so much about trying to comfort Israel after-the-fact, but it is about reminding them of who God is – “I have redeemed you…I have summoned you by name…I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…I am with you…apart from me there is no savior…from the ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” As a parent, I’ve have a few conversations where I’ve reminded my children that I am in charge of the schedule, resources, and provisions. And it is often a poignant reminder to me of where I’ve fallen short in my relationship with the Lord! For example: Say that Kid D wants to get together with friends and tells them that she’ll be there on Saturday at 11am, but didn’t ask ahead of time, and I had somewhere else she needed to be that she’d forgotten about. While she’s busy considering plans she wants to make, she’s not stopping to consider the bigger plan. How often do I do the same thing to God? I make plans and organize schedules for the four kids that we home-school, get people to and from soccer, tennis, gymnastics, taekwondo and teach a few classes a week all while working on my 2nd master’s degree. Insane much?! Yep! When carrying a lot of little things, they start to pile up to your eyeballs and then you can’t figure out which one to put down first without dropping the whole pile of stuff. Just like my kids not putting the family schedule and my relationship with them first, I can get so wrapped up in my own business that I don’t stop to ask God about His plan! People are self-consumed creatures that have to be reminded of their relationships and responsibilities to authority figures.
By taking this verse out of context, there is a third element missing: What is it that He is making new? God explains that He has not placed harsh requirements or demands upon Israel, that He has protected and provided for them over and over. Verses 14 through 28 illustrate God’s faithfulness, even though Israel has not been faithful in return to follow simple instructions. Even though they have been dishonoring Him, they still burden Him with their sins and offenses. Again, He demonstrates mercy and gives them another chance. What is “new” is the understanding that Israel, and indeed the whole world, will gain at the coming redemption through Jesus. All of Chapter 42 is a description of how to recognize the Deliverer when He comes! Based upon the many foretellings of Jesus, He should have been easy enough to recognize. “Do you not perceive it?” But we are blind and deaf even today! The wilderness and wasteland may be literal in some cases, but here it is also a metaphor for the human heart. God is not telling us to forget the lessons learned in 2016’s modern-day America, and look forward to health, wealth and prosperity in 2017! He is telling us that whatever you owed for your past sins has been paid in full by Jesus, and that our “new” future is focused on Him as the tangible image of God! You can move forward, and not dwell on the past, if you will focus your eyes upon Him. You are not in charge of the schedule. You are not capable of removing your own soul-blemishes. You do not have the authority to pardon yourself. Jesus does all of that. The focus for 2017 is not about you “making a way in the wilderness,” but about learning the path that Jesus has already laid out. And for some of us it also means putting our bundles down so that we can see that path clearly, hear His voice, and follow without turning back.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” or would it? Five Japanese people are suing their government over an 1896 law that requires them to take the same surname to legally register their marriage. One of them argues that, “By losing your surname…you’re being made light of, you’re not respected…It’s as if part of yourself vanishes.” A Japanese constitutional scholar contends that, “Names are the best way to bind families.”
I would like to offer that both perspectives fall short of convincing. While family heritage plays a large role in our identities, the surname itself is always borrowed from another relative. Sure, you can blend and hyphenate names, but how long does the name become in order to identify oneself fully? If marrying someone causes you to feel disrespected, then why are you getting married? If you are partnering, “becoming one,” with another person, but don’t want to share their name, is it not an indication that you are rejecting their family and heritage? On the flip side, simply suggesting that it is the “best” way is also a statement of opinion, along with fears of “destroying social stability, the maintenance of public order and the basis for social welfare.” How, exactly, are either positions to be quantified, or reconciled?
I know of only one way…When God created man and woman, He did not give them separate names. “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). They were collectively named “Adam,” meaning mankind. It was the man who gave the woman a different name, “Eve,” and defined her as the “mother of all the living.” So the idea of individuality is coupled with separation – distance.
If people are wrapped up in the idea of being their own person and separated or distinguished at a distance from their spouse, then what is the point of being married? Is it not entirely, then, a self-serving enterprise? How well do those marriages generally turn out? When two people desire to come together, the goal is not individuality, but oneness. Each brings their own uniqueness and heritage to the table and creates a new entity, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family” (Genesis 2:23-25).
Personally, I have dealt with divorce and remarriage, and the surname issue was a big deal for me. In my first marriage, I did not wish to entirely take on his name. I didn’t want it hyphenated, so I kept my maiden name as a second middle name, but made certain it was written on everything. It didn’t take me long to understand that my hesitation and uneasiness was because something inside me didn’t trust him or respect his leadership. After divorce and reconnecting with Jesus Christ, I set my focus on following Him, and He brought into my life the man who would become my second husband. This man also shared the same direction and desire to follow Jesus, and I trust him implicitly. He leads where I am weak, and is willing to be submissive to my strengths. I had no doubt that I wanted to take on his name. Though our relationship hasn’t always been easy, it has grown me and strengthened me more with each passing day. While it was his name from birth, I proudly claim it as my own, and I am closer now than I have ever been to being the woman that God made me to be – the woman I want to be.
Regardless of earthly names, titles, labels, roles or relative position – first and foremost, my husband and I are children of God and carry His name. We are His ambassadors, sent to share the love of Jesus and to testify to His kingdom. Our goal and desire is to be unified and of one mind with Him. My perspective will be different than those who choose to follow any other path, because we have a different filter and focus.
Marriage, for me, is not about a political or social movement, a whim, a flight of fancy, or romantic notions that any other human could “complete me.” As a follower of Jesus, I can call my marriage (oneness, unity, relationship, etc.) by any name and it will still be as sweet because it is defined by the One who created my identity.
Reference article: “Debate on separate spouse surnames heats up before Japan court ruling.” By Elaine Lies. Reuters, December 10, 2015. http://news.yahoo.com/debate-separate-spouse-surnames-heats-japan-court-ruling-002048548.html
Photograph courtesy of Rebecca L. Jordan, 2015.
I have often told my children, “Don’t expect people who don’t know the Lord to act as if they do.” People that know the Lord have a hard enough time acting appropriately as His ambassadors. It makes it far easier to be loving toward others when we’re not focused on their actions as being prerequisite to our willingness to extend grace. After all, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While it’s been relatively easy for me to teach this lesson to my children, and to live it out generally myself, God has found someone to test me in this. There is a member of my family that knows all the right things to say regarding faith and was brought up in church, yet has no understanding or interest in what it means to follow Jesus as Lord. I have never encountered an individual that is more self-centered, inconsiderate, and all-around toxic than this particular person. At Bible study, the question was asked, “What distinguishes a “good person’ from a Christian in the eyes of unbelievers? Is there any difference?” The difference is Jesus, but what does that look like? First of all, Christians are not perfect – let’s just address that myth right now. We are hypocrites, broken, disturbed, incomplete people in need of spiritual guidance, and love – the same as everyone else. The difference is that we follow Jesus because He knows how to take care of all those ailments. Not all hurts will disappear this side of heaven just because we begin following Him either – we still live with the consequences of sin, our own and others. But He shows us how to live and grow and love in the middle of the struggles. And today, He’s working on me.
I was self-centered, but He loved me selflessly.
I was concerned with personal gain, but He gave to me without restraint.
I was consumed with my busy schedule, but He pencils me in without appointment.
I made mess after mess, and He cleaned them up for me.
I was ignorant of His presence, but He knew right where I was.
I tried to ignore Him, to run, but He stayed right by my side.
I was harsh and irritable, but He is patient and gentle.
I asked Him why He’s so willing to deal with fools (temporarily forgetting my place), and
He reminded me, “I get the last word.”
“Lord, help me to love this unlovable person the same way that you’ve loved me. Help me to extend grace in the face of indignant arrogance. Teach me to give with no thought of return. Help me to forgive foolishness the same way you’ve forgiven mine. You willingly went to the cross, were beaten and bruised to carry a punishment that I deserved. Then you looked down from that cross as I sat there in judgment, and said, ‘Forgive her, Father. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.’ You paid a debt that was too mountainous for me to bear or repay. You stood before the Great Judge as my Advocate and offered to pay my bail. Help me to love like that. Help me to serve like that. Help me to extend mercy where it is anything but deserved, because You did that for me. I need Your strength, Lord – Your compassion.”
When the Wind is a Gale – You keep me grounded
When Debris wounds my Spirit – You sustain me
When I can’t Catch my Breath – You fill me up
When I can’t see my way through – You can
When all seems lost – There You find me
When I can’t hold on – You take my hand
When my song is a whimper – You give it life
When my Endurance fails – You are my champion
In the Middle of the Storm – You are there
You hold me close
You are my strength
You are my Advocate and Judge
You are my Father and my King
Lord, Jesus, I will praise You always
Through the tears – I will praise You
Though bruised and battered – I will lift up Your Name
You are more magnificent than the greatest tempest
And Only You can calm the Storm
In the meantime, Stay with Your student and be my Teacher
I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for good teachers. Having seven kids of our own, each as different as Nashville from Hong Kong, I have often praised teachers for spending hours each day caring for over twenty kids in addition to any of their own at home. I’m certain it is incredibly rewarding and exhausting! In my youth, it seemed every other year I had a fabulous one or two teachers, and the alternating years I was saddled with teachers who were more anxious for the closing bell than any of the students. Teachers can make or break a student’s spirit, igniting a flame or smothering it. Going into this coming school year, my respect and admiration to the sacrificially-dedicated, student-loving educator has jumped to a whole new level as I am preparing to home-school four of my children. The fifteen-year-old boy has home-schooled for the past two years, and this year we’re adding all three of his younger sisters. With each of them at a different grade level, and taking into consideration their different learning styles, strengths, and the speed at which they function best (which is different for each of these four), I’ve spent the last several weeks combing over lesson plans, reading lists, possible field trips, and the calendar is my constant companion…Okay, so my calendar was my constant companion before this whole venture, but now there are planners for each of the kids and my master copy so that I know which one I have rotating where and when. Whew!
Our family did not part easily from public education, nor did we have a poor experience. On the contrary, all of our kids were blessed to attend one of the most amazing public schools in the country! Our decision was made as one is transitioning into middle school and will need more specialized attention with regard to testing (mostly related to formatting) than her teachers will be able to provide, a second wants to pursue acting and the crazy audition schedule that can result, and the third likes a challenge and is wanting to advance her studies beyond her grade level. As for me? The Lord has allowed me an incredible learning opportunity as I work on developing and organizing curriculum for these kiddos, and hopefully for other home-schooled kids and university level students in the future!
Whether we’ve ever put together a lesson plan or not, all of us are teachers. The younger generations (and even our own peers) look to us for inspiration – It’s why Pinterest exists! – So what kind of teacher are you going to be? Will your example raise others spirits and encourage them, or will you zap the energy and enthusiasm of those around you? I would charge each of you to think of a teacher, mentor, friend or family member that has taught you something positive and significant, and take the time to say “thank you.” If you already have recently, great! Think of another educator and say a positive word to them. It’s contagious and will, hopefully, resonate with the youth they are serving as well. So, no matter what your position or profession, endeavor to make it better and have a great school year!
When I was starting out in college (the first time around) I came across a letter-sized black poster with a white swoosh symbol on it. Being familiar with the commercials for Nike and the tag line, “Just Do It,” I put it on the wall in my dorm room as a reminder that no matter how tired I was, or how directionless I felt, I could not give up. The problem I had was never a lack of determination, but a longing to understand my purpose. Why did God choose to place me in the time period that He did, with the family and in the birth-order that He did, and what in the world was I supposed to do with any of the talents and resources that He’d handed me? I’d heard people with regard to this or that say to me, “You were born to do this!” But was I? Just whose voice was speaking on behalf of God? Who should I listen to?
Our oldest child wasn’t much for listening through his teenage years, but after becoming a father at age twenty on Christmas Eve 2014, he’s started asking a lot more questions, and really taking to heart the answers given. Our second oldest is getting ready to go off to college and is struggling with which university to pick. When I was where they are now, though I believed fully in Jesus Christ, I didn’t truly understand what it meant for Him to take the lead, or for me to follow. I still attempted to do things in my own strength – to do what seemed rational, logical, or responsible rather than asking the Lord AND WAITING for Him to answer. He knew I would do that, and He graciously carried me through a host of poor decisions anyway.
So I’ve walked quite a bit farther since then, but focused on keeping more in step with Jesus and His Word, and I’ve learned a lot. One of the many things He’s taught me is that (See Exodus) the enemy is always in hot pursuit. If I am listening to anything other than His Words or following any other path than the one He’s carved out for me, I will get distracted and overtaken. The enemy will pick me off and consume me. If I will wait, listen, trust Him, and follow, He will make straight my path. That path may not lead to immediate prosperity – I may wander in a desert for 40+ years – but in the midst of that, He still provides (quail, manna, water). The banquet is yet to come.
So what am I born to do? I am a missionary. It is my life’s mission to be actively involved in an intimate relationship with Jesus and to introduce others to Him. How? Find where you are motivated – What stirs you up, brings you tears of joy or frustrates you the most? As an example, when I was seven years old, the Reflections art contest theme was “I Have a Dream…” patterned after MLK Jr’s famous speech. My dream was for every child who was too poor to have a birthday party to come together and a celebration would be provided for them. When I received an allowance at age thirteen, the first thing I wanted to do was sponsor a child, which I began doing through World Vision. Imagine my tears of joy when, years later, World Vision added birthday celebrations once a year in every village and I get to be a part of it! The point is not to pat myself on the back, but to point out where my obvious motivation always was (never discount the passions of a child – there’s always an underlying theme). Take that motivating factor and mix it with the talents, abilities, and interests that God gave you & presto! You’ve got a good idea of how He wants to shape and mold you – you’ve got your starting point. You still need the light of truth that only He can provide to guide you step-by-step. My starting point is a compassion for others that leads me to combat injustice through service. The gift He’s provided that I’ve used most prolifically throughout my life is my voice. Most people thought that meant I had to perform on a stage and live in a tour bus, but God had other plans. I am a voice-over actor. I am a teacher to my children and of preschool music in my church. I am an encourager and editor to my husband (who’s soon to be a professor/preacher). I am learning to translate into other languages. I still sing – but now for an audience of One. I am a writer, passionate about research and sharing God’s Word. And I will not give up, shut up, sit down or stop moving forward as directed by His Word until the day He calls me home. What are you born to do?
What’s in a name? To many a name is merely a way to identify oneself or close family relations, to others it is a genealogical hobby, while others recognize a greater significance owing to a family inheritance or position of responsibility. Luke chapter 15 describes the story of the lost son, a.k.a. “The Prodigal Son.” His father had land, servants, more than enough provision for all, but this son wanted something different. He asks for his inheritance long before his father’s passing, travels far away and squanders his money on things with no lasting value. Finally realizing that he was in need, he sells himself into slavery and is made to tend pigs – which were detestable to the Hebrews. He hits rock bottom as his hunger has caused him to envy the pigs food, and he was deprived of even that. Deciding to swallow his pride instead, he rehearses the apology he must say to his father and hopes that he may be accepted back as an unworthy (but better fed) servant.
There is no telling how long this son was gone, but his father was waiting and watching for him to come home. In that culture and time, the offender would typically approach and grovel at the feet of the offended one and beg forgiveness. Instead of standing upon ceremony, the father runs…Overwhelmed that his son has returned, he shows no pride, arrogance, no hint of “I told you so.” He runs. He embraces his son and does not even allow the apology to be spoken, but puts a robe and ring on the young man instead. That ring would bear the family crest or seal. That ring gave the son power of attorney to enter into business or trade agreements with other farmers or landowners bearing the full weight of the family name!
There is a heavenly inheritance we have and a Father who is waiting for us to come home. Knowing all of our most positive attributes and our most atrocious faults, he waits…and when you come over that hill…when you realize your need that only He can fill…He will come running.
I know of too many people, whether from a “broken” or “functional” home, that don’t know what it is like to have a father who takes a genuine interest in them. Too many grown children still trying to come to terms with living up to their father’s expectations, or allowing their lives to be ruled by a fear of disappointing him. This is not fodder for rebellion, but an opportunity to begin to understand our own hurts. When you feel misunderstood, unappreciated, distant, your spouse or girl/boyfriend does something that seems beyond frustrating and you don’t completely comprehend why it irritates you so – you could always blame it on PMS or stress, but perhaps you need to come to terms with a hurt that a well-intentioned but imperfect human father has left you battling. To those of you who’s father’s have abandoned you – I will tell you what I had to tell two of my children: “It is not your fault. Being a daddy is a big responsibility, and not everyone can handle that.” I was fortunate that God brought a man into my life, and together we’ve worked to raise our blended family. We discovered a whole new understanding of what adoption means when my children decided take his name! Whether it happens on this side of heaven or not, there is a good, kind, gracious, loving father who knows everything about you and he is longing to have a close relationship with you. He’ll never force it. If you want your full inheritance now – he’ll give you exactly what you asked for – but it won’t come with a robe, a ring, or the family name. The family of God comes with a name that will transform everything you thought was important. It will ask the world of you, and give you heaven in return.