The Modern Golden Calf

I grew up learning Bible lessons on flannel graphs. Typically when I think of the story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, I imagine the teacher parading the Israelite people around the yellow fuzzy calf, as we all giggle at this surprising scene. Our chuckles now subside as we see the way in which we still worship idols. The idols are not of horn and muzzle, but of anything, we put in place of the Almighty. 

From our vantage point, modern-day idols are not nearly so obvious. Neither were they for the Israelites. But what if there were some clues we could look at to see the presence of an idol, which could be taking the place of God in our lives? Through the help of Pastor Timothy Keller’s book, “Counterfeit Gods”, I’ve found some telltale signs that can help us uncover an idol that is present in our hearts:

We see ourselves putting most of our resources toward it. According to Timothy Keller, an idol is something that “has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought” (Counterfeit Gods). Consider the Israelites: as they got antsy waiting for Moses to return, they took off golden jewelry for the calf’s construction. The former slaves took the things God had provided them as they were escaping slavery and used it to make a false god. To keep the jewelry would have served to remind the Israelites of God’s faithfulness. By removing the jewelry to create a false god, the Israelites were misappropriating their worship.  

We pull away from our purpose. So many things buy for our attention these days, some of which don’t account for much. There is a purpose that we have been put on this Earth and it does not give us a monthly salary. Our purpose far exceeds title, income, or rank. In all we do, we must give glory to God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says it this way, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (ESV). It means we don’t live our job or role, we live and do those things for His glory. If our involvement in something brings our focus on ourselves and off of Him, we have given eternal significance to a temporary thing. That which pulls the focus off God and onto us will take us from walking in our purpose.

We begin to make compromises. At the heart level, we make decisions about what is worth our time, money, and resources. When people say, “I don’t have time for that”, they are telling you what is and is not worth their worship. The heart will go towards the things it values and away from the things it perceives brings pain. So when we see ourselves begin to make “little” compromises to things we know will bring pain, we should do a heart check. Those “little” compromises will lead us further away from the life God has intended us to live. When we stop seeing our sin as pulling us away from a relationship with God, we become less than God has created us to be.

I really feel the Lord saying if we are going to get to the end of this faith life, we’ve got to identify and call out these false idols for what they are: empty. Jeremiah 2:13 says of the people of Israel, “they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns that can hold no water” (ESV). We could say the same of ourselves; we are trying to fill our spirit with things that were never meant to satisfy, like the continual refreshment of the Lord. We can ask God to search us and reveal any area that is taking our resources, pulling us from our purpose, and which we are making compromises about. The Lord so loves us as He welcomes us back to His loving arms. As we return to the Father, He will remain the well that never runs dry.

The Choice to Foster

Dear Family and Friends,

I am excited to announce to you my plans to open my home and heart to foster children. North Carolina has nearly 11,000 children in foster care! In the county I live, there are nearly 300 children in foster care, making it one of the counties with the highest percentage of children in foster care. These numbers are staggering and difficult for me to ignore.

The call to be a foster mom has been a long time coming. In middle school, God put the calling of foster/adoptive care on my heart. Since that calling was placed on my life, God has been preparing me for the day that is to come. In my mind, I always assumed that this calling would be fulfilled once I got married. As a woman who is not yet married, it was quite a surprise when God told me that now was the time. God’s timing is not our timing. While I have some uncertainties and fears, I can be certain God is already equipping me for the call He has put on my life.

This preparation process will include 35 hours of training, interviews, paperwork, home studies, and lots of prayers! Right now, I am at the beginning stages of training. I will be licensed through the Bair Foundation, a Christian, therapeutic foster care agency. Many of the children who are in their care have experienced abuse, neglect, or trauma. The agency’s goal is to equip foster parents to care for the safety and well-being of these children. Once I am licensed, I will be able to provide care for children aged birth to age 16. At this point, I am considering providing care to elementary-aged children. 

There are a few unique challenges that come with foster care. First of all, the child is taken from their home and sent to a stranger’s home with few things of their own. The child may have to leave their home in a hurry and leave behind favorite toys, clothes, etc. This causes a lot of confusion and fear for the child. The foster family serves as a safe and loving temporary home while the home situation becomes more stable or an alternate home is arranged. Reunification with the birth family is the goal for some children’s situations, but not all. The foster parent will often not know how long the child will stay in her home.

Why foster care? Throughout the Bible, I see God instructing believers to care for the orphans. I see Him advocating justice for the marginalized. In multiple sections of the Bible, I see Jesus taking the time to speak to the children and meet them with open arms. I have been blessed with much. With much love comes much need to express it. With open arms and a heart open to God’s help, I accept this charge.

There are a few tangible ways you can support me as I begin this journey to becoming a foster parent. The most important thing you can do is pray:
·       For peace for the child who will be removed from their family.
·       For adjustment for the child who will need to get acquainted with a new normal.
·       For the biological family that will need support and encouragement as they work to make positive changes.
·       For the treatment team who will be assigned to the child and me.
·       For the judge who will need discernment as he/she listens to the evidence and makes a decision that will impact the futures of many.
·       For the Bair Foundation, as they strive to continue to prioritize the safety and well being of the children.
·       For God’s presence through the process as He makes me the mom this child needs.

As with any future parent, I am eager to share my journey and answer any questions you may have. Along the way, there will be much to do to prepare for a future child. Words of support will encourage me to persevere. It takes a village to raise a child and I welcome you to join my tribe with open arms.

Replacing Fear with Gratitude

Today on the way to New Bern, we had a divine appointment for a lesson on gratitude. We were traveling down a two-way street on a bridge and had and cars behind us. Directly in front of us was a large object. Our only option was to head straight for it and reap the consequences. Our car dragged the said block of metal several yards down the road before we found a safe place to pull over. As the screeches ensued and the smoke billowed, all I could think of was how much fear I had. Fear the oil would spill out and the car would go ablaze. Fear that a tire would pop and we would spin out of control towards the bridge. Fear that someone would rear-end us, as we tried to gain control of the vehicle. Hey, I never said my fears were rational! Finally, as we got to a stop, we got out of the car to determine next steps. A few cars behind us was an AC and heating work truck. As they drove up, we waved for them to pull over and help. They pulled over and jacked the car up to have a look at the mysterious metal piece. God must have a sense of humor because the metal hunk ended up being an AC fan motor. The guys were able to pull it out from under the car. They inspected the underside of the car to see if the car was still drivable. Much to our relief, the guys said there was no major damage to the oil pan or muffler, just some cosmetic scrapes. As the guys reported this, we had two choices: remain in fear or operate in gratitude.

As I had been preparing for this post earlier this morning, I asked God to give me the words to speak. God seems to love to put me in places where I am given the chance to learn for myself lesson He has for me. God gave me the opportunity to test out what He had placed on my heart, earlier today (my mom probably will rethink riding with next time I pray for experiential learning opportunities!) I could resist His teaching, but how thankful I am that God doesn’t ever stop pursuing me! I choose to leave behind the natural, typical reaction of fear for thoughts of gratitude. At that moment, I choose to be grateful that:

- the AC repairmen stopped to help
-the AC repairmen were knowledgeable of the part and could easily retrieve it
-no upcoming traffic rear-ended us
-our vehicle was still operational
-I serve a God who cares about my bumps in the road (literally) 

As 2 Corinthians 10:5 advises, I captured the thoughts of fear and replaced them instead with thoughts of gratitude. This did two things for me: released the paralyzing grip fear had over me and retrained my mind to go to gratitude before fear.

1.  Fear can paralyze us from taking action.

Fear can be a good thing, as it usually causes us to act with restraint and think clearly. However, fear can be crippling, as it can stop us from moving forward. As the car screeched to a halt, my body wanted to freeze, also. Fear wanted to be the voice that spoke into my mind that the situation was too much for me to handle. Fear is a liar. Fear does not allow my mind to be open to the thoughts and words of God. Gratitude released me from the gripping fear. As I spoke words of life to myself, fear was not allowed to close me off from moving. Max Lucado concludes, “anxiety and gratitude never share the same heart”. Putting on gratitude is more than positive self-talk. Gratitude does more than a self-help book will ever do. Gratitude transforms us from the inside out, by “the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). It was never God’s intention for us to live in a state of continual fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”. By speaking the words God speaks to myself, my heart will follow. 

2. We must retrain our mind to choose gratitude.

Scientific studies have found that the more our brain goes to a certain emotion, the quicker the response to feeling that emotion is. Our brain creates pathways to the emotions we choose most. In a culture in which we are constantly bombarded with notifications and breaking news, it is no wonder we are frazzled and fearful. God did not overcome death, Hell, and the grave so we have to live in constant fear. Fear says we must feel unpleasant emotions because we believe something is dangerous or may cause pain (Merriam-Webster). Gratitude says we can choose thanksgiving, putting our faith in the One who has a purpose for the pain. We already know the ending, so must prefer thoughts of gratitude over thoughts of fear. Does this mean that feelings of fear are wrong and should be hidden? No, quite the opposite. Lysa TerKeurst says that feelings “should be indicators, not dictators”. In other words, I can feel the initial feeling of fear, but don’t have to stay there. When I retrain my mind to choose gratitude in the midst of fear, I don’t allow fear to order me around. Fear doesn’t get to have the final word. The beauty of the walk of a believer in Jesus is that He has done for us what will continue to bring gratitude to the heart of the believer. When all Earthly hope seems lost and fear seems to be the only appropriate response, we can choose gratitude for the Kingdom of God is near for those who believe.

     If gratitude does not come natural, don’t lose hope. Gratitude is a discipline that must be practiced to gain permanence. The rewards of choosing gratitude in the presence of fear are immeasurable. For the believer, gratitude will release us to follow God’s plan and renew our mind to a spirit of power. As we make the continual choice of gratitude over fear, we are made into courageous men and women of God.  

Embrace the Mess

The beginning of Hurricane Florence was marked by decisions to be made, preparation, and travel. Each pressing decision added more stress to what was already an overwhelming situation. It was a time when tensions were high and as a result, all kinds of ugly came out. Emotions like fear, annoyance, and selfishness reared their ugly heads. I longed for more peaceful times when I could keep some of my ugly emotions under wraps.

Even once the storm ended, there was still a lot of ugly. As I drove back home after evacuating from Hurricane Florence, my eyes and ears were filled with intense sights and sound. Along the road, power lines sagged under the pressure of the hurricane winds. Neighbors stacked debris up in front of their homes. The roar of chainsaws came to life, in an effort to clear some of the fallen trees. Car horns blared as evacuees broke under the pressure to return home. Fallen dead limbs cluttered once beautiful yards. All around, all I could see was brokenness. Loss. Grief. Emptiness. When would things be back to normal? Former picturesque Jacksonville had been replaced with destruction. Everything in me wanted things back to the way they were before.

When we experience brokenness in our lives, we may wish away the unhappy circumstances. In an attempt to get our hearts back to level ground, we rush the brokenness along. We try to bypass the pain and hurt by speeding ahead to relief.

I’d like to offer 5 reasons we should embrace the mess:

1.     Troubles allow the hidden parts of us to be revealed.

If I’m honest with myself, most of my ugly can stay hidden or covered up during the “normal” times. They still exist, friend. David reminds us in Psalm 139:2, “You know my thoughts before I think them”. Yet still, aren’t we the masters of disguise, able to conceal these prickly thoughts? Nothing hidden can be dealt with. It is the messy times that call my messy emotions out of hiding. Why can I be thankful for this big reveal? Through the unveiling, God can renew these places.

2.     Acknowledgment of weakness activates God’s strength.

Once my thoughts are out of hiding, God can be my strength. God’s grace can strengthen me when my hidden weaknesses are illuminated. Paul uses the word “content” or in the KJV version “take pleasure” when responding to the presence of trails. How can Paul be so positive when he is being insulted, persecuted, and even thrown into prison? The second part of 2 Corinthians 2:10 may give us an answer: “For when I am weak, then I am strong”. This strength that Paul speaks of can only be accessed when we acknowledge our weakness. Often as long as we think we can take care of our problems, God allows us. Once we acknowledge our weaknesses, God can and will be our strength.  

3.     God-reliance marks the life of a mature believer.

As people who operate in a culture that values self-reliance, it can be so counter-intuitive to be God-reliant. We think if we can be more independent, we will have more worth. Yet in the midst of that thinking, God says, “For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand” (Isaiah 41:13). The trial leads me to acknowledge who has been in control from the beginning of time. We think the mark of a mature believer is being independent of God; yet, maturity in Christ is increased and total dependence on God (Enduring Word). The trials invite us to step out into the unknown, confident that God’s strength and grace are sufficient. 

4.     We may miss the message by rushing to get out of the mess.

Most good messages are communicated best through a mess. Many kids never learn a lesson until they experience some kind of a mess. It took me falling down the steps face-first onto the pavement (the day before picture day, nonetheless!) to learn not to carry too much at a time. Without that mess and oh was it a mess (sorry mom and dad for my Spring 1998 school photo!), I would not have received the message that I am not Wonder Woman. Our ears seem to be a little more in tune to God when we are in a mess. This might be because we are finally to the end of our ideas and ourselves. Many thanks to our Father for patience during the times we tune out His message because we think we’ve got everything under control.

5.     Old diseased things must be uprooted before new things can grow.

Garden analogies are not lost on me, despite my lack of a green thumb. As I was working to uproot dead bushes, I had a startling revelation. The dead bushes had not only become an eyesore to the neighborhood but were also spreading contamination through the root system to healthy plants. Am I happy that my once beautiful shrubs were now brittle leafless blobs? No, of course not. But, by the process of death, I now have the chance to grow something new in its place. New life can grow once the dead places in our life are uprooted. Is there an attitude, thought pattern, behavior that needs to be put to death? Dear friend, it may be a painful and difficult uprooting process. Don’t lose hope; just think of what new attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors can now grow in the room you have created!

As I continue to experience the after effects of the storm, I can thank God for the mess. It is true that the rushing wind and crashing waves did damage to the place I call home. The storm even wreaked havoc on my emotions. The calm comes when I remember the God who stills the waves is my help during the mess. Charles Spurgeon said about the necessity of trials (mess), “The worst form of trial may nevertheless be our best present portion.” Let’s not rush the trial away, but allow God to be our present help in the messy places. 

The Modern Golden Calf

I grew up learning Bible lessons on flannel graphs. Typically when I think of the story of the Israelites worshipping t...