Going to a church with problems

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Over the last several years there has been much discussion about people leaving the church and speculation about why.

I’ve seen a number of blog posts and articles the last couple of years written to people who have left church completely because they’ve been hurt by one. The articles are usually quite sympathetic in tone, and the writer (who doesn’t know the person or the church or the situation) apologizes to the wounded absent church member on behalf of the church and gently tries to woo them back. I do appreciate those posts, and we do need to reach out. Sometimes these folks are in a fragile state and need much love and care to rebuild bridges and repair damage wrought by a previous church.

And there are times that leaving a particular church is necessary. Churches can hurt their members in numerous ways, sometimes seriously. Sometimes even when members try to discuss issues with leadership, they’re not heard, or worse, vilified for not being with the program.

But I don’t see anywhere in the Bible a good reason to leave church all together.

No church is perfect. None ever will be because they’re made up of sinners. Redeemed sinners, yes, but, people who are not perfect yet. That’s why there is so much instruction in the epistles about the need for forgiveness, unity, forbearance, love. Just as our personal sanctification is a matter of growth in grace, so is the church’s.

If you’re familiar with Acts and the epistles in the Bible, you may be aware of these issues that were problems in some New Testament churches:

Open factions preferring different preachers.

False teachers insisting that believers had to keep portions of the OT law to be saved.

A member living in incest with a family member which other church members knew of but did nothing about.

Teachers proclaiming to have a deeper, mysterious knowledge of Christ that differed from Biblical revelation.

A segment complaining that their needs weren’t being met.

People conspiring to lie to the leadership.

People showing favoritism to wealthy members.

People who quit their jobs to sit and wait for the Lord’s return.

In fact, most of the epistles were written to correct false doctrine, teaching, and practices within the church.

But nowhere in the epistles, the letters to the early churches, do any of the writers urge believers to just quit church over the problems. Now, some of these and other issues would be grounds to leave a particular church if, after attempting to deal with them, there was no change. We’re instructed in the NT to separate from those who preach false doctrine and believers who “walk disorderly,” who live habitually in ways that go against what the Bible teaches after every attempt has been made to reconcile them to God’s Word. We’ve been on the verge of leaving a couple of churches that didn’t have these problems but were headed in ways that we felt were contrary to Biblical teaching and example, but thankfully a job change took care of that for us.

But nowhere in the Bible are believers encouraged to just give up on organized church all together. I bring up that incomplete list of NT church problems just to contrast it with some of the lesser reasons people leave church these days. Yes, the church has problems: it always has and it always will, and we shouldn’t take them lightly.

But – and I am trying to say this as gently and kindly as I can – sometimes, sometimes, I wonder if the problem is unforgiveness or carrying a grudge (which is a type of unforgiveness). Even when there is just cause for leaving a church, is there a just cause Scripturally for leaving church all together? Could one perhaps be short-circuiting their healing or stifling their spiritual growth (or that of their children) because they are not in a church with fellow believers?

One might say that, since every believer is part of the universal church made up of all believers, and since Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” (Matthew 18:20), then it doesn’t really matter if we go to an “official” church. Any time we meet with other Christians is church! But is that what the Bible teaches? I would say that meeting with a couple of other Christians at a coffee shop (or wherever) is fellowship: I wouldn’t call it church. I say that for these reasons:

  • The epistles were written to believers who met together locally and regularly. They and Acts refer to churches which met at specific places: “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2), “the church which was in Jerusalem” (Acts 11:22), “the church that was at Antioch” (Acts 13:1), “And so were the churches [plural] established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5), “the church which is at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1), “the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:5), and several more.
  • There is a leadership structure in local churches that is absent in casual get-togethers: “they had ordained them elders in every church,” (Acts 14:23); “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
  • There is an accountability structure within the church body. Jesus discussed how to respond when a fellow believer sins against us in Matthew 18:15-17, ultimately, if everything else failed, ending up in church discipline.
  • God gave gifts of leadership, teaching, and shepherding to the church: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). John Crotts says in Loving the Church, “Don’t you need shepherds to guide you? Jesus thinks you need them! It is terrible pride to assume that you don’t need what Jesus designed for his glory and your family’s good” (p. 95). Yes, we can hear and read good sermons on the Internet. I do that when I can’t be in church, and they’re great for those who can’t go to church due to age or physical reasons. But it’s not the same as having a pastor who knows you and is praying for you.

Earlier in Crotts’ book, he says that though there are many verses referring to the church universal, “Other verses, however, clearly use the term ekklesia to refer to a smaller assembly of Christian in one location…Throughout the New Testament, the term ekklesia refers to local churches in the overwhelming majority of cases. A local assembly…is not just some tiny part of the universal church, like the pinkie toenail in the universal body of Christ. It is better understood as a local expression of the body of Christ – complete in itself” (pp. 44-45).

Crotts goes on to say in another place, “If you think of your homeschool group, businessmen’s Bible study, or campus ministry as ‘your church,’ your slice of the Christian pie is far too small” (p. 122). “According to some pastors, every Christian needs a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy. Paul represents as older, wiser believer to mentor you…A Barnabas would be a believer around your own age to encourage you as you experience similar life circumstances. Timothy represents a younger believer looking to you for a godly example and counsel as he or she goes through tests you have already experienced” (pp. 122-123).

Some years ago someone sent me this quote about Jesus attending the worship services of His day:

If ever there was one who might justly plead that the common worship of the community had nothing to offer him it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But every Sabbath found him seated in his place among the worshipping people, and there was no act of stated worship which he felt himself entitled to discard…

We cannot afford to be wiser than our Lord in this matter. If any one could have pled that his spiritual experience was so lofty that it did no require public worship, if any one might have felt that the consecration and communion of is personal life exempted him from what ordinary mortals needed, it was Jesus. But he made no such plea. Sabbath after Sabbath even he was found in the place of worship, side by side with God’s people, not for the mere sake of setting a good example, but for deeper reasons. Is it reasonable, then, that any of us should think we can safely afford to dispense with the pious custom of regular participation with the common worship of our locality?

~ B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings (The full quote can be found here.)

If ever the assembly of professing believers had serious problems, it was then. But the Son of God did not absent Himself from gathering with them. And even though He took steps to correct some of the issues, it wasn’t perfected when He went back to heaven. But He did make provision for its ultimate perfection, the only way it can be fully healed: by dying on the cross for all of its individual members, who can be saved and cleansed and made whole when they repent and believe on Him.

He has not forsaken His church, and neither should we. “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NASB). Notice in those verses how it’s not just a matter of not forsaking church: it’s also a matter of love, good deeds and encouragement. We need only need the church: the church needs us. By being and doing what God wants us to, being filled with His Spirit, and exercising the gifts He gave us, we can be part of the solution.

 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13.

See also:
Why go to church?
The Community of Believers

Lisa’s 7 reasons why I still go to church

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Wise WomanWoman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesdays and Works For Me Wednesdays)

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Receiving Criticism

I recently heard it said of someone that he doesn’t receive criticism well. And I thought, not many people do.

I have to admit, when someone points out something in my life that needs possible correction or attention, my first response is not, “Thank you! You’ve given me something to think about. I am so glad the Lord laid that on your heart to share with me.” It should be. But my first response to criticism (inwardly, at least) is more likely to be one of the following:

  • How dare you!
  • You just don’t understand.
  • Who do you think you are?
  • Oh yeah? Well, have you examined yourself lately?
  • What makes you think you’re right all the time?

Not very pretty, is it?

It should be no surprise to us that we’re not perfect, and no surprise that someone else notices that fact from time to time. We’re sinners — we naturally do wrong. We’d be the first to admit that we don’t have it all together. We’d never claim perfection. We probably know deep down that we have blind spots to some of our character flaws and that we tend to excuse or justify negative traits in ourselves that we see as faults in others (i.e., I’m determined but another who acts the same way is stubborn.)

Let someone try to correct us, and they are being hateful, petty, mean, or, one of the favorite adjectives in today’s Christianity, judgmental.

Here’s what Spurgeon had to say about being criticized:

“Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.” (Source unknown).

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Isn’t that the truth? Sure, some people are judgmental. Some are busybodies. Some correct too much or too easily. Some people who really mean well can correct in an unkind or hurtful way. Some are even wrong in their critiques. But whatever they’ve said, they don’t know the half of it. There’s plenty of fodder for criticism in any of our lives.

Not surprisingly, the Bible has much to say about receiving criticism or reproof or correction. Here is just a sampling.

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life. Proverbs 6:23.

Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. Proverbs 9:8-9.

He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth. Proverbs 10:17.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise. Proverbs 12:15.

Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured. Proverbs 13:18.

A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise. Proverbs 15:12.

The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding. Proverbs 15:31-32.

A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool. Proverbs 17:10.

As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. Proverbs 25:12.

I used to tell one of my sons who had trouble receiving correction that if he didn’t acknowledge that a certain action or attitude was wrong, he could not correct it or change it. I often shared with him Proverbs 28:13: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”

So what’s the best way to respond to criticism? Here are a few tips that I know I need to put into practice:

  • Believe that the other person has your best interest at heart, or at least he or she is trying to make you better in some way. Thank them for their interest and concern.
  • Receive it calmly. Beware of responding defensively,  in angry retaliation, or in a wounded closing in on oneself. You may need to ask for time to process what they’ve said.
  • Examine it to see whether it’s valid.
  • Pray about it. Maybe it doesn’t seem valid because you have a blind spot that God is trying to alert you to.
  • Criticism stings so much primarily because of pride. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble…Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:6, 10).

Humble

  • If it is valid, do whatever you need to do to correct it. Confess it to the Lord if it is a sin (1 John 1:9) and to anyone else it has affected.
  • If it is not valid, explain to the person, kindly and calmly, why you feel you need to keep doing what you’re doing. There are times it will be invalid. For example, a pastor of a church of 200 may hear 25 (or more!) opinions of what he should do, some in direct conflict with each other.There is no way he can implement every suggestion or change everything to please everyone.

We can take comfort in the fact that God sees believers through His Son, Jesus Christ, and that once we savingly believe on Him, His righteousness is transferred to our account because He took our sinfulness on His. Because of His amazing grace, those who have believed on Christ for salvation become God’s children, and will have a home with Him in heaven. Our eternal life begins NOW, not when we die.

Yet until we get to heaven, we have a sin nature to contend with, and we’re instructed to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18). II Timothy 3:16-17 tell us: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (ESV). Part of that growing, completion, equipping, is realizing those areas where we have a problem and then seeking God’s grace and relying on His Word to change us. So when we receive a criticism, instead of just brushing it off, we can see if God means to use it to show us something we need to know about ourselves. We can prayerfully examine it to see if it is just, then we can confess it to the Lord (and to whomever else we might need to confess it) and correct it and grow in wisdom and character — and stop causing a problem in other people’s lives by continuing on in the fault. Isn’t that much better than hanging on to our hurt and indignation? And even if the criticism is invalid, perhaps God allowed it to put us through a time of self-examination and humbling.

There is only one perfect person in the universe, and as we behold Him, He changes us to be more like Himself:  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. II Corinthians 3:18.

(Updated from the archives.)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Literary Musing Mondays, Woman to Woman, Works For Me Wednesday, Thought-Provoking Thursday)

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Bible Verses for Caregivers

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One of the first things I learned about caring for my mother-in-law was that I could not do it in my own strength. There are some Bible verses that I go to again and again. I thought I’d jot them down here both for my own remembrance and also for other caregivers. Of course, none of the lists is exhaustive, and I will probably add to them as I discover more.

The need to care for aging parents:

  • Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.  Exodus 20:12
  • And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7:9-13, ESV
  • But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8, ESV
  • If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed. 1 Timothy 5:16
  • Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12
  • As I have said before, this doesn’t mean that every Christian must care for elderly loved ones in their own homes, but they must see that they are well cared for.

The need to care for widows:

  • Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

Serving:

  • Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded…If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. John 13:3-5, 14-15
  • Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.  Matthew 20:28
  • For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:35-36, 40
  • Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:26b-28
  • Now we exhort you, brethren…comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all. I Thessalonians 5:14
  • Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. Matthew. 10:42
  • To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Hebrews. 13:16
  • God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews. 6:10
  • With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men. Ephesians 6:7
  • Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. I Timothy 5:10
  • Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Love:

  • A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  John 13:34
  • This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13
  • And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5:5
  • For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
  • And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. 2 Corinthians 12:15
  • With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
  • In speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:12, NASB
  • And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. Ephesians 5:2
  • May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
     2 Thessalonians 3:5, ESV
  • May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you. 1 Thessalonians 3:12
  • Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.  1 Thessalonians 4:9
  • Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently. 1 Peter 1:22
  • Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. 1 Peter 3:8
  • Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8
  • If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
    Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, ESV
  • Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12
  • And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16

Encouragement:

  • Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.  1 Corinthians 15:58
  • We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5:3b-5
  • And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9
  • God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews. 6:10

Source of Strength:

  • He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.  Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 41:29-31
  • Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Isaiah 41:10
  • As thy days, so shall thy strength be. Deuteronomy 33:25
  • The joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10b
  • But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
  • The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. Psalm 28:7
  • I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13
  • Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:4-5
  • He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32
  • Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not. 2 Corinthians 4:1
  • And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
  • But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19
  • Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. Colossians 1:11
  • But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
  • And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I probably should have a section about selfishness, because that is what I wrestle with the most. But a lot of verses under Service and Love deal with that.

Linda has a different list here. Our lists overlap a bit, but her situation is different in that her mother has Alzheimer’s and can be verbally abusive sometimes, and some of her verses deal with handling that.

I hope these are as helpful to you as they are to me. Do you have particular verses that help you in loving and ministering to others?

For more about caregiving, see:

Eldercare

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Woman to Woman, Testimony Tuesdays, Tell His Story, Works For Me Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Finding Time to Read the Bible

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In a recent blog post I read (I’ve forgotten where), the blogger mentioned that the book she was reading on Bible study didn’t discuss where to find the time. I had the same thought with a book I am reading on the subject. I guess the authors feel that once we are assured of the importance of Bible reading and study, we’ll make it a priority and make time. And I think that’s pretty much what it comes down to. If by finding time we mean we want a time that magically opens up with the solitude and inclination we need without a dozen other things crowding in…I just don’t think that’s going to happen, at least not regularly. Years ago our assistant pastor spoke of struggling to make time for Bible reading, and said to our senior pastor, an older, godly man, “I guess you don’t have trouble making time for Bible reading any more, do you?” He just laughed.

Finding the time is always going to be a struggle. There are always duties, distractions, and people clamoring for that time, and even an Enemy of our souls fighting against it. Instead of getting discouraged about it, we can just accept that it is a common problem and  prayerfully seek ways to deal with it. Perhaps reminding ourselves of reasons to read the Bible will renew our motivation.

We need to remember, too, that making time to read the Bible isn’t just about ticking off another duty. Every relationship thrives on communication. If we went for days without talking with our husbands except in the briefest necessary exchanges, we’d feel the effects pretty soon and realize we need some time alone together. Though sometimes we need to set up routines to establish good habits, taking time to read the Bible shouldn’t be a matter of rigid schedules, but rather of taking time to meet with the One Who loves us best.

So with these things in mind, here are some suggestions for carving time out to meet with the Lord:

1. Get up earlier or stay up later. I can hear you groaning. But for many of us, that’s the only way to get some time alone.

2. Keep the Bible handy. One friend with three small children close in age kept her Bible out in her kitchen. She couldn’t set aside a longer period of solitude, but she could read in smaller snatches through the day.

3. Listen. Some people like to listen to recorded versions of the Bible while driving, exercising, making dinner, etc.

4. Plan for it after a natural break in the day. It’s hard for many of us to stop in the middle of a morning or afternoon and put everything aside to read, but a break in the routine, when we’re shifting gears anyway, can help us work in some time for reading, like after a meal, after taking the kids to school, etc.

5. Meal time, especially if you eat alone.

6. Waiting time. We usually pull out our phones or a book if we have to wait at a doctor’s office or in car line at school, but that can be a good time for some Bible reading.

7. Establish a routine. Once we get used to setting aside a certain time for Bible reading, it’s not such a scramble to look for that time every day.

8. Don’t wait for perfection. One problem with a routine is that we can’t always figure out how to function when the routine is disrupted, like when we’re traveling or someone is sick or we have small children at home. I wrote a post some time back called Encouragement for mothers of young children about the topic of trying to find time for devotions with little ones in the house. Though I normally like getting up early and having solitude and quietness for Bible reading, that just didn’t work with little ones. Yet God enabled me to read and profit from it while they kept me company or played near me, even though usually I couldn’t concentrate under those circumstances.

9. Anything is better than nothing. Normally I like a good amount of time for Bible reading or study, but when a few moments was all I truly had, God often gave me just what I needed in those few moments in just a verse or two.

10. Talk with your husband, roommates, siblings, whoever you live with. Years ago I caught part of a radio program where the preacher was scolding women who wanted to spend early morning time to have devotions, saying the husband as the leader should have that time, since the wife had “all day” in which she could have devotions. The man obviously had not spent a whole day at home alone with kids. That mentality is so wrong on many levels. Not long after that a missionary speaking at our church mentioned protecting that time for his wife, a much better example of servant leadership and love. If the only way either parent can have devotions is for one of them to watch the children, then they can do that for each other. If a particular time of day is the best time for two people in a house, they can work out different locations if they get too distracted in the same room. Whatever conflict there might be about time and place preferences, talk with each other to work out the best solution for both and be willing to compromise.

11. Pray. In the blog post I referred to earlier, I mentioned that sometimes I’d get to the end of the day and lament to the Lord that I had no idea when I could have read my Bible that day. I began instead to pray at the beginning  of the day for wisdom and alertness for those moments when I could, and that made a profound difference.

12. Set something aside. If we have times to read other books, peruse Facebook, watch TV, or play games on our phones, we have time to read the Bible. I admit, if I sit down to relax for a few minutes with a book and realize I haven’t read my Bible yet that day, I don’t always have the best attitude about laying down my book and picking up my Bible. But when I confess that to the Lord and then go ahead, He graciously speaks to me through His Word. We do need time to relax as well, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of time in God’s Word. He knows our needs, and we can ask Him for both time to spend in His Word and for some down time.

What about you? What ways have you found to make time for Bible reading?

Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday and Works For Me Wednesday.

Dealing With Caregiver Resentment

I’ve never tried to portray myself as anywhere near perfect or as having it all together, but one fault that seems abominable and embarrassing to have to admit is that sometimes I resent having my mother-in-law here and caring for her. I mentioned some of the disadvantages of caring for a parent at home about seven paragraphs down here.

I Googled caregiver resentment and came up with some practical, helpful tips, but nothing really for the deeper issues. One post even advised just accepting it as part of the whole package. While I can accept that resentment might naturally arise, I can’t accept that as normal and okay: it’s miserable to live with, but even worse, as a Christian, it’s an evidence of my own selfishness. So then I Googled something along the lines of overcoming resentment as a Christian and looked at several of the articles that came up, but most of them dealt with resentment against someone who has done you wrong and the need to forgive.

So I decided to write down some of the things that help me during those times both so it’s here for me to refer back to when needed and so hopefully it might be a help to someone else. And I am calling it “dealing with” rather than “overcoming” caregiver resentment because, although I’d like to have a conversation like this just once and have that take care of my attitude forever, I’ve found I have to go over these things periodically. I guess that is part of living with a sinful nature and needing to renew one’s mind.

So here are ways to deal with resentment, beginning with the practical and moving on toward the spiritual:

1. Take care of your own health, including getting enough sleep. Everything seems worse if you’re sleep-deprived or dragging because you’re not eating right.

2. Talk to someone. My husband and I feel free to talk honestly with each other, and he’s not offended that I do get frustrated with the situation sometimes. I know I have an open door to talk with him about it whenever needed.

3. Get away from the situation sometimes. I am thankful we do have a caregiver here in the mornings so I can run errands or take care of other things, and occasionally we’ll have someone come in for an evening or stay longer on a Saturday so we can have an outing.

4. Remember what brought you to this place. As we trace our history with my mother-in-law’s care, we come again to the same conclusion, that this is the best situation for her at this stage. There may come a time when one or both of us become unable to care for her or her needs become greater than what we can manage at home, but for now, this is best.

5. Remember that caring for a loved one at home used to be the norm before assisted living facilities and nursing homes became widespread, and it still is in some countries.

6. Remember her care of you or your husband for so many years, and look at this as an opportunity to repay her love and care.

7. Remember it could be worse. My mother-in-law is not hard to get along with at all. Some of the residents we encountered in assisted living or the nursing home perhaps made us appreciate that fact even more.

8. Take it a day at a time, or a moment at a time. If we think, “How many years will I have to do this?” we can feel defeated and depressed. All we have to do is deal with this moment, this day, and trust God’s grace will be sufficient for all the days ahead.

9. Think how you would want to be regarded and treated if you were in the same situation.

10. Accept it as God’s will. Maybe you didn’t have time to sort through options, as we did, to come to the conclusion to bring an elderly parent home, or maybe there are extenuating circumstances that compound the resentment you feel. Maybe you don’t have a parent at home, but you’re the only sibling in town to visit them or oversee their care in a facility. Maybe it is even time to do something different. But for this moment right now, this is God’s will for you, and if you surrender it to Him, He will provide the grace to deal with it. “In acceptance lieth peace,” a poem by Amy Carmichael attests.

11. Pray. Sometimes just before going into my mother-in-law’s room to change her, I pray that I might be “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness,” part of Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-13. Or, as the ESV puts it, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” That encompasses so much: that I need His strength, longsuffering, and patience, that He has the “glorious power” to give it, and that He can help me to go beyond just acting out of duty, but He can enable me to serve with joy. I also frequently pray that He will help me have a more loving, unselfish heart.

12. Remember the Christian life is one of service, not self-focus. Claudia Barba said in The Monday Morning Club, “The Christlike life has nothing at all to do with satisfying, coddling, or promoting self, but everything to do with being poured out for others” (p. 55). You see it in the life of Christ and Paul and others in the Bible both in instruction and in example. That doesn’t mean we’re doormats or martyrs or that we can never we can never do anything just for fun. But our primary purpose is serving Him by serving others. Some verses that help in this regard are:

Now we exhort you, brethren…comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all. (I Thessalonians 5:14).

Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward (Matthew. 10:42).

To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews. 13:16).

God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister (Hebrews. 6:10).

So after [Jesus] had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15).

With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men (Ephesians 6:7).

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:9)

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

13. Accept this as my primary ministry. This is one area I struggle with the most. As the nest starts emptying, though we miss our kids intensely, we begin to look to other things that have been put on the back burner for a while: maybe now we can write that book, get that degree, travel, sew up all that fabric or complete all those projects. But now we’re tied down again. Or maybe some have had to step back from other ministries at church in order to care for a parent. We need to remind ourselves that this is not a hindrance to our ministry: it is our ministry. Even limitations set the parameters of our ministry. Elisabeth Elliot has said:

This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.

I don’t mean to reduce caring for a parent to a “job,” but I believe we can substitute “ministry” for “job” there.

I hope some of these are helpful for any reader facing any kind of resentment in your situation, and I’d be happy to hear any other thoughts or tips you might have.

EldercareSharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday. and Works For Me Wednesday.

How to Turn a Nightgown Into a Hospital Gown

As many of you know, we care for my mother-in-law in our home, and one problem area in caring for someone who is almost immobile and now somewhat contracted is dressing them.

First we used hospital-type gowns: you can Google “hospital gowns” and find several places online to buy them. But the aide who cares for her during the week prefers using knit shirts because the hospital gowns’ length and extra fabric would get in the way while changing or positioning her or would get bunched up around under her. At first I didn’t like having her just in a shirt and Depends, but then she is in bed most of the time and covered up: even when we have her in her wheelchair for a couple of hours a day, she’s covered with a throw blanket, and we have enough to keep her warm. We use the longer hospital gowns if we take her out to the doctor or something, but just a shirt for everyday at home in bed.

As my mother-in-law got more contracted, it became harder to get a knit shirt on her arms and over her head. She keeps one arm pretty close to her body and it takes many encouragements to relax it before we can move it even to put deodorant on or put a sleeve over it, so we went back to hospital gowns. I did cut off the length of one and hemmed it up so it wouldn’t get so bunchy. They are much easier to get off and on, but they’re all short-sleeved (the only ones I found online with long sleeves opened in the front, which wouldn’t work for my m-i-l), and with cooler weather we wanted something with long sleeves. I was just about to look up patterns and see about making our own gowns when it occurred to me that I could take an existing gown and turn it into a hospital gown by cutting the back open and placing a Velcro patch at the top. I was concerned that the fabric taken up by finishing the edges and overlapping to use Velcro might make the gown too tight through the shoulders, so the first one was an experiment. Thankfully, most gowns are roomy enough that that wasn’t a problem (I had also thought of doing this with one of her knit shirts, but I think that would make a shirt too small).

Even though this is a pretty straightforward, self-explanatory procedure, since this is a blog and all, we must have pictures. 🙂

First I laid the gown on the table and lined up the side seams and shoulders so I could be sure I was cutting straight up the back:

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One I had it straightened out and laying flat, I cut up the center of the back:

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Then I turned under the raw edges just enough to stitch them down (with the knit fabric it pretty much curls into place, but I’d say I turned it under about 1/8 or 1/4 of an inch and then under again. The smaller you can make this, the less you’ll lose of the gown.

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Then I sewed a Velcro patch on the right side of the fabric on one side of the gown, and the wrong side of the fabric on the other side (sounds more complicated to explain than it actually is, but basically you want to be able to place one side over the other).

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(Please excuse my not-so-straight sewing there. 😳 )

Important note here: do not use stick-on Velcro! The adhesive doesn’t stick well enough on fabric to stay on through opening and closing the gown. I knew that and thought I’d use it anyway to hold the Velcro in place while I sewed it, but the adhesive glopped up my sewing machine needle with goo. Using the sew-on kind is not hard at all.

My mother-in-law’s caregiver and I were really pleased with the results. Not only is it easier to get on her and warmer, but the fabric is softer and more pliable that a regular hospital gown. For now I’ve left it its original length, but if it gets as bunchy and in-the-way as the other hospital gowns, I can cut the length off – probably not as short as a shirt, but shorter than gown-length.

If you have a serger or some way of finishing the edges without turning them under, and you want to make ties for the top instead of using Velcro, you could do this without losing the inch or so in the back. The Velcro, to me, is easier to use than tying ties. I wouldn’t use a hook and eye closure if the person using the gown is fairly immobile, because you have to watch their skin constantly for any breakage or chafing (which could quickly develop into a bedsore), and I’d be afraid a hook and eye would be more prone to that.

There you have it! I’ve redone a couple of her gowns now, and since it worked so well, I’ll be doing a few more in the coming days.

I’m linking up with “Works For Me Wednesday,” where you can find an abundance of helpful hints each week at We Are THAT family on Wednesdays.

Time Management

clock

Susan and I are thinking along the same track this week. She wrote about time management and I was thinking on the same subject this morning. I’m going to copy borrow her idea and share a bit of what I have learned along the way.

1. A process, not perfection. With both time management and household organization, it helps to think of it as a process of growth. If I have as my goal to be perfectly organized and scheduled all the time, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. When I fail or find flaws in my system, instead of beating myself up over it, I can use it as an opportunity to try another approach.

2. Adaptability. No one system works all the time for everyone. We all have different personalities, families, responsibilities — and before we can get fully settled, life changes: we move, the kids become teenagers, etc. Our own system needs to be adaptable through the seasons of life – and sometimes through any given day.

3. Gleaning. Some people find a particular book, person, or system and follow it exactly. I tend to be more of a gleaner: I pull different ideas from different sources. Either way is fine: just use whatever approach works for you and your family.

4. Priorities. It helps to sit down and establish your priorities and then come back and revisit them from time to time. For instance, time with God is a must: if I don’t make that a priority, then I can get caught up in other things and neglect it. For me that means spending time in the Bible and prayer as one of the first things of the day. Also, my husband is the head of the family and I’m a help for him, so when he asks me to do something that crowds out what I had planned for the week, I need to remember that those hours when everyone is at work or school are not my own to do as I please. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it and work something out if there is a genuine conflict, but it does mean I should not be selfish with my time or schedule things without regard to the rest of the family.

We see Jesus exercising priorities throughout His earthly life, but one clear place that shows this is Mark 1. After a busy day of healing and casting out demons, “in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (verse 35), and then when the disciples found Him and told Him people were looking for Him, instead of going back into town to heal more, He said, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth” (verse 38). Healing was one part of His ministry, but the higher priority was preaching the gospel. And spending time with His Father was the first priority of the day.

5. Scheduling. Some years ago I came across a few women online who didn’t believe in scheduling their day: they felt they needed to be open to the leading of the Lord and let Him arrange their time. But being open to the Lord’s leading doesn’t negate planning. James 4:13-17 says, “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” That doesn’t say don’t plan anything: it says keep the Lord’s will in mind when you plan.

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have some kind of plan for the day, I’ll just float along and not accomplish much of anything. Ephesians 5:15-16 says: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” While not talking specifically about time, obviously a diligent person is busy. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” Have you ever had to act in haste because you didn’t plan ahead, and then were impoverished in some way because you forgot something or lost your temper and acted impatiently with your family?

When I was in college, I didn’t know how to plan my time well and ended up rushed, with lower grades because I kept turning things in late. In high school I had stayed up til 1 or 2 a.m. doing homework: that wasn’t an option in a Christian college which required lights out in the dorms at 11 p.m. (and that was probably good for me.) I think it was my junior year that I had a course in time management, and I felt that should have been a freshman course! One exercise the teacher had us do was to try different ways of scheduling. One was a minute-by-minutes schedule: that is probably too tedious for most people, although keeping a journal of how you use all your minutes for a few days will help you see where most of your time is going and help you know what areas you need to improve on. That kind of schedule might be helpful in isolated times, like preparing Thanksgiving dinner, when you need to plan what’s going to be in the oven when and try to have everything ready and hot at the same time, or a program, or a wedding, etc. The next was an hour by hour schedule, and that worked well for college when most of my time obligations were parceled out by the hour. I don’t remember the name for the last one, but it involved broader time frames: morning, afternoon, an evening. That worked well as my children were growing up. My schedule is a bit “looser” in my present season of life.

6. Lists. I couldn’t schedule much of anything beyond the everyday routines without a list of some kind. Lists can be frustrating to some people, but it helps to remember it’s not binding, and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t check everything off at the end of the day. It’s a guideline. It helps me prioritize which things have to be done and which I can leave for another day. If I just do things off the top of my head, I may spend quite a bit of time something good but forget something critical.

One of the requirements for each of the schedules I mentioned above was that we keep a list of “5 minute tasks” that we could do if we found a few minutes free here or there, like clipping nails, sorting mail, etc. I’ve expanded that to keep a list of tasks that aren’t urgent but still need to be gotten to some time, and that helps me when I am in a slump and would otherwise gravitate to the computer.

7. Interruptions. Once I started learning the value of scheduling, I would get highly frustrated if something interrupted my day or threw me off course. That’s when I needed to remember the “if the Lord wills…” part of James 4:127, along with, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:8). What helped me the most with this was the realization that Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood right in the middle of going to see Jairus’s daughter. Jairus and Jesus were on their way to Jairus’s home when a woman touched the hem of Jesus’s garment, and Jesus stopped and asked who it was. He was calm and unruffled. Nothing is mentioned about Jairus’s state of mind, but it’s not hard to imagine that he might have been distressed, perhaps even impatient. And then he heard that his daughter died, and he could well have blamed her death on the delay. But Jesus said, “Be not afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:36). And then He brought her back to life, an even greater miracle than healing. Sometimes God has greater things in mind and will get greater glory by what He has planned rather than what we had planned.

8. Don’t compare. My biggest discouragements about my own housewifery came about when I compared myself to others. “How come she gets so much done and I can’t?” “How come she is so much more organized than I am?” I had a friend in early married days with the same number of young children I had, yet she worked part time, sewed her own clothes and her daughter’s, made her own curtains, her house was always (when I saw it) not only clean but also nicely decorated, and she was active in several ministries at church, while I felt like I could barely keep my head above water between dishes and meals and laundry. She was one I most often compared myself unfavorably to. One time she invited our family to dinner, and I realized for the first time that she rarely sat still for long. She was constantly up and down, getting something, doing something, going, going, going. It was hard as a guest to relax because she didn’t seem relaxed. It dawned on me that it was ok that I had a different style and temperament. My energy level, metabolism, priorities, and best time of day to do certain things will vary from others. I could learn from her and from others, and probably should have asked her for some tips, but I didn’t have to try to be just like her or lament that I wasn’t.

Similarly, another friend who was known to be highly organized said one time that she had one type of soup and sandwich for lunch Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and another type Tuesday and Thursday. That saved time planning for lunch each day, but it sounded totally boring to me. If it takes me a little longer to look into the open refrigerator to decide what to have for lunch, that’s ok with me. She also was on a committee involved with doing projects for missionaries the church supported, and she wanted to do the same exact thing for each missionary family: that way she only had to plan once instead of planning something different each month a different missionary was focused. That would be good except that each missionary didn’t have the same type of ministry: some had children’s programs, some were involved in translation work, some ministered to college students. Sending children’s stories would work for the first one but not the others. That’s when I learned that sometimes there are higher priorities than efficiency.

(This is not to talk down about either of these ladies: it’s just to say it’s okay if we each do things differently.)

9. Know your strengths and limitations. If your sleeping habits are regular, you probably have regular parts of the day when you have more energy, and parts of the day when you don’t. Plan accordingly: don’t plan something that’s going to take a lot of mental or physical energy in the afternoon if you experience a bit of a slump then. Likewise, if having people over on Saturdays leaves you too tired for church on Sundays, see if there is some way to rectify that: maybe have guests another night, or meet earlier in the day, or plan simple meals, or do as much cleaning and cooking as you can ahead of time. Hospitality is important, but some people can handle it more often that others. Some people like to constantly have things going on; some of us like time to regroup at home with only occasional outings or activities.

A part of this is learning when to say “No” to certain activities, even good ones, even ministries. Some people say no too easily, some don’t say it often enough. I used to think that anything anyone at church asked me to do was the Lord’s will. Well, one can quickly get snowed under that way. Over the years as I learned more of what my inclinations, gifts, and aptitudes were, I had more of an idea of which ministries to participate in. Sometimes I said “Yes” to something I didn’t really have a desire for, yet I just didn’t feel the liberty from the Lord to say “No,” and I saw Him stretch me out of my comfort zone and enable me in marvelous ways as I learned to depend on Him. Other times I’ve felt no qualm at all about saying no except for feeling bad for the person who asked me, and then saw God bring someone else along who did a wonderful job, much better than I could have: I would not only have robbed the person of the opportunity but the results would have been poorer if I had done it. Part of that discernment comes with time, but part of it is just walking with the Lord and asking His guidance for what He wants you to do.

10. Prevent problems as much as possible. Prevention is probably my biggest watchword in housekeeping: I’d much rather prevent a mess than clean one up. I used to lay my clothes on a trunk in our bedroom when I changed at night, but then they’d be all wrinkled the next day: if I took a few seconds to hang them up immediately, I could maybe wear them again, or if they needed to go  in the hamper, they were taken care of instead of having to sort through them later. Putting something back where it belongs when done with it avoids clutter and avoids losing it. When my family puts dishes in the sink, I ask them to run a little water in them: that makes them easier to rinse when I load the dishwasher later than than if food or drink has dried. If someone pours coffee down the sink, I ask them to rinse the excess off rather than have a coffee stain I’ll have to scrub out later. If I hang up or fold clothes right away after they’ve been dried, I have very, very little ironing to do, plus I am not overwhelmed by a mountain of laundry needing folding. Tossing junk mail away when I first bring the mail in saves having to sort through it all later. Preventing piles of papers by putting them where they need to go immediately is easier than sorting, filing, or discarding them later. Etc., etc. Someone once shared with me the OHIO principle: Only Handle It Once. When it is possible to do that, it prevents much of the need for decluttering.

One thing to remember with all of these is not to get so fanatical about any of them that you drive your family crazy. You have to work not only with your own personality and temperament, but with everyone else’s as well. Gentle requests or reminders are better than nagging, and some things you might have to just let go of or only do yourself rather than insisting on them for everyone. Explaining why you want something done a certain way during a calm moment, not in the heat of a disagreement, might help.

I’ve gone on much longer than I intended to, but I hope some of these things I’ve learned along the way will be helpful for you, too.

What has helped you manage your time?

This post will be also linked to “Works For Me Wednesday,” where you can find an abundance of helpful hints each week at We Are THAT family on Wednesdays, as well as  Women Living Well.

 

Submission in Christian Marriage

Since e-Mom announced last Friday that the topic for her Marriage Monday this week was “Submission in Christian Marriage,” it’s been in the back of my mind, but I haven’t had the kind of time needed to write that kind of post til this morning.

The concept (command, really) that Christian wives are supposed to be submissive to their husbands comes primarily from a couple of passages, both sections involving instruction to the family. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” and Colossians 3:18 says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.”

This command has been challenged in recent years by the thought that the Bible teaches a mutual submission in the preceding verse in the Ephesians passage, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” But the following verses 22-24 go on to say, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing,” so wives submitting to their husbands is a step beyond the mutual submission in verse 21. That mutual submission is part of the outflow of being filled with the Spirit in verse 18 (more on that in a moment) and applies to the whole church, but that principle of mutual submission certainly applies in marriage as well. Yet it doesn’t nullify the particular submission a wife is to show to her husband in verses 22-24. The next part of the passage instructs a husband to love his wife as himself as Christ loved the church (v. 25) and as himself (v. 33). I think a couple of ways that mutual submission applies in marriage is that neither partner is an independent agent, and neither is to be tyrannical or selfish. All of the Biblical instruction about how Christians are to love and treat each other in general applies to each partner within marriage as well.

The Greek word for “submit” in all the passages mentioned here is from a Greek word transliterated as “hupotasso” and is defined by this site as:

to arrange under, to subordinate
to subject, put in subjection
to subject one’s self, obey
to submit to one’s control
to yield to one’s admonition or advice
to obey, be subject

A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use,it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.

So this goes far beyond the idea that submission just means that when push comes to shove, the husband has the final say (there shouldn’t be any pushing or shoving physically or verbally). We’re to “arrange ourselves under” our husband’s leadership just as the church should arrange itself under Christ’s leadership.

This doesn’t mean that the husband is a tyrant — his leadership should be as loving as Christ’s. Nor does it mean that the wife is a doormat, because the church certainly isn’t portrayed that way under Christ.

It also doesn’t mean the wife never shares her opinion, though of course she should do so in a kindly way. The Bible says that the two different people in a marriage become one. Neither eclipses the other: they somehow meld into a new unit.

But it does mean that the husband is the leader, the head. That can rankle modern, independent women. But Chrysalis portrayed the beauty of ice skating couples, the man leading, the woman following, both submitting to each other. The same is true in dance as well as business and even Star Trek. 🙂 I remember noticing during episode one episode the many times a captain had to ask or tell someone to do something. If each of those people challenged his authority, they’d have been defeated by the enemy within the first few episodes. When authority and submission work together like they are supposed to, it’s a beautiful thing.

I think many women have a few particular fears about submission.

One is that they might lose their own voice. But even Christ values the prayers of His bride. That’s a little different — we don’t (or shouldn’t) give Him suggestions about how to run the universe. 🙂 But He does welcome our requests and communication.

But the second fear is that, since our husbands aren’t Christ, they might fail, they might lead the wrong way. And indeed they might. They’re only human, and we need to be as loving and forgiving as we want them to be when we fail. It takes great faith to be truly submissive. When we are concerned about the direction our husband’s leadership is taking the family, we can express our concerns (though we shouldn’t nag or demean or berate), but ultimately we should ask the Lord to guide our husbands in the way they should go. I’ve relied heavily on Psalm 37:23a (“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD”) and Jeremiah 10:23 (“O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps”) through many of the major decisions we have faced through the years and prayed for the Lord to guide and direct my husband in the way He wanted him to go.

The third fear is that it is somehow demeaning to be in submission to someone else. But Jesus was not demeaned by being under the headship of His Father. They are co-equal. That word hupotasso is even used when Jesus went home from the temple with Mary and Joseph and “was subject unto them” (Luke 2:51). He was the Son of the Highest, yet He subjected Himself while on earth to his earthly parents.

Sometimes wives feel that if they don’t think their husbands are loving them as Christ loved the church, as the husbands are commanded to do, then the wife isn’t under obligation to submit to her husband. Some years ago when I was a new Christian chafing under the things going on in my unsaved home as I was growing up, I came across the instruction later in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 to children to obey their parents. It struck me then that there were no qualifications on that instruction. The Bible didn’t say I was to obey my parents only if they were Christians or if they were doing everything right. It just said “obey.” The example of Jesus as a boy obeying His earthly parents, even though I am sure they didn’t always do everything right, was a help. So it is in the marriage relationship. Ideally these things are to work together: when a husband lovingly leads and loves his wife, it’s easier for her to submit to him; when she is lovingly submitting rather than fighting against him, it’s easier for him to lovingly lead. But we’re each responsible before God to do our part whether the other does or not. I Peter 3: 1-2 says, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection [hupotasso again]to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;  While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”

Such a command seems beyond us. I mentioned earlier that the Ephesians 5-6 instruction flows out of the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5:18; similarly, the verses about family relationships in Colossians 3 come after instruction to “seek those things which are above (verse 1), to put on certain characteristics (verses 12-15), to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (verse 16), and to “whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (verse 17). It’s only as we’re rightly related to God, spending time in His Word, being filled with His Spirit, doing everything as unto Him and by His grace that we can be what we need to be in our marriages and homes.

This post will be also linked to “Works For Me Wednesday,” where you can find an abundance of helpful hints each week at We Are THAT family on Wednesdays, as well as  Women Living Well.

Gingerbread Teddy Bears

I got this recipe way back in college when the Home Economics Department at my college was having a Christmas Open House. I don’t make them every year because all of that ball-rolling is a little tedious, especially if you’re doubling the recipe. But they’re fun to make and they taste great. Sometimes the kids would help: this time Mittu helped. I wasn’t a great fan of gingerbread cookies before these, but I like that these are soft and chewy rather than hard and crisp.

Gingerbread Teddy Bears

1 c. butter or margarine
2/3 c. packed brown sugar
2/3 c. dark corn syrup, light corn syrup, or molasses
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 beaten egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Miniature semi-sweet chocolate pieces
Decorator icing (optional)

In a saucepan combine butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat til butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Pour into a large mixing bowl and cool 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, soda, and cloves. Add egg and vanilla to butter mixture and mix well. Add the flour mixture and beat til well mixed. Divide the dough in half; cover and chill at least two hours or overnight.

To make each teddy bear, shape dough into about a 1-inch ball for the body, one 3/4-inch ball for the head, and six 1/2-inch balls for the arms, legs, and ears. On ungreased cookie sheet, place the 1-inch ball and flatten slightly. Place 3/4-inch ball next to (touching) the “body” for the head. then do the same for the arms and legs. Place two 1/2-inch balls above the head for ears. If desired you can pinch off just a teeny bit of dough for a nose, or use miniature chocolate chip. Use miniature chocolate chips for the eyes and either a navel on the belly or 3 “buttons”. Bake at 350^ for 8-10 minutes or until done. Carefully remove and cool.

If desired, pipe on smile, bow tie or vest or other decorations with decorator icing (1/2 c. sifted powder sugar and approximately 2 tsp. milk, blended to piping consistency, tinted with 1-2 drops food coloring). Makes 20-23.

This post will be also linked to “Works For Me Wednesday,” where you can find an abundance of helpful hints each week at We Are THAT family on Wednesdays, as well as  Women Living Well.

Can frugality go too far?

Frugality is a good thing. We’re supposed to be good stewards of the things God has entrusted us with. We’re supposed to exercise self-control, reduce, reuse, recycle, save, watch for bargains, etc. But is it ever possible to be too frugal? Are there any downsides to frugality?

I believe so. I want to share a few excesses or misapplications of frugality. Of course, not every frugal person manifests all of these traits, or any of them, necessarily. But these are things I have seen in real-life people and situations that we need to watch out for in our own hearts and lives.

1. Pride

There is nothing wrong with a sense of joy and satisfaction when we’ve found a great deal. There is nothing wrong with putting frugal practices into place as we feel led. But it can be easy to look with condescension or even scorn on others who don’t follow the same practices. One of the hardest things in the Christian life is to deal with the fact that not everyone feels led to the same place we feel the Lord has led us to in various aspects of life.

Once I was at a friend’s house when she invited me for lunch. She began making macaroni and cheese from scratch, and I was amazed that she would go to such trouble when the boxed varieties were less than a quarter back then. She responded that she usually had all the ingredients on hand and she didn’t consider it any trouble. Yet when we talked about spaghetti sauce, she admitted that she used the kind in a jar because she felt it was too much trouble to make from scratch, while I made spaghetti sauce from scratch all the time and didn’t consider it any trouble at all. I was relating this to a mutual friend and commented on how funny it was that different things were considered “trouble” by different people when this friend said, “Well, I wouldn’t use either of those!” It didn’t bother me that she didn’t use jars of spaghetti sauce or boxes of mac and cheese, but what bothered me was the condescending tone with which she said it.

Frugality does take time, either to make items from scratch or to search for deals or clip coupons or fill out rebate forms or whatever. Some people may choose to use mixes or jars occasionally as a time-saver, and if that’s okay with their families and within their budget, that’s fine. It’s not necessarily a sin to pay full retail price for items.

2. One-upmanship

This is somewhat related to the first point. Once I was showing a friend a new purse that I had found, that was the color and style I wanted with just the right little pockets, handle length, etc., and I happened upon it for $2 at a bargain table. Instead of saying anything along the lines of, “Hey what a great deal!” her response was, “I found one like that at a yard sale for fifty cents once.” It felt like a put-down. It’s normal to want to share our bargaining conquests, but when we try to outdo each other, something is wrong.

3. Lack of willingness to pay for quality

One friend who had a retail business had an interesting conversation with one her vendors one day. They both had dealings with a Christian university which had students, faculty and staff living in town. The vendor said, “Those folks recognize and want quality, but they don’t want to pay for it.” I don’t think that was necessarily a good testimony. Other people need to make money from their efforts. After all, if we were to make and sell goods or provide services, we would want, even need in most cases, to make enough money for it to be worth the materials and time involved. It’s not wrong to look for sales or deals or ask for a better offer, but, as I said above, it’s not wrong to pay full retail prices if it fits our budget and the Lord allows. There is a difference between being frugal and being cheap.

4. Obsession

Finding good bargains and saving money can bring joy and satisfaction, and once people get started on the lifestyle, frugality tends to grow. But if one’s life is so obsessed with bargain-hunting and implementing frugality that they become one-dimensional, can’t talk about anything else, or other interests or people are neglected, they may be going too far.

5. Hoarding

I know a dear older lady who grew up in the Depression and WWII era. She learned frugality and “doing without” as a lifestyle. She never put great stock in having a lot of things or having nice things, but she can rarely let go of what she does have for fear that she might need it some day. Her home is overflowing with things that are falling apart, outdated, or unneeded, but she can’t let them go. She can’t even be motivated by the thought that the things in good condition that she doesn’t use (and hasn’t in 40 years) could be sold or given away and become a blessing to someone else.

You know, you don’t have to be rich or have a lot to be materialistic. An over-preoccupation with the meager “things” you do have can be just as materialistic a mind-set.

6. Excess

Many coupons or specials require the user to buy multiple items in order to redeem the coupon, and some keep a few shelves for the “extras” or donate them to missions closets or rescue missions. But I’ve heard of people having whole rooms for such extras. Is that really necessary? Must we have 3 to 5 or more bottles of shampoo, deodorant, or whatever on hand? One lady I knew kept buying and then getting free an excess of hair care products and then had a hard time finding someone to give them to, and I thought, “You don’t have to buy them just because there is a deal on them.”

7. Shady practices

Sometimes this excessiveness can lead to less than noble practices, to put it mildly, or outright wrongdoing. Ann recently wrote about seeing a TV program where people with more coupons than the store allowed at a time went back to the store ten times for ten different transactions so they could use all the coupons, getting about a thousand dollars worth of groceries for about $20. That might sound great like a great deal, a super conquest, but how many stores could handle it if several customers did that? I can remember the days when stores had no restrictions on how many coupons could be doubled or the amount that could be doubled, but when articles started coming out about how shoppers could buy groceries for just a few dollars, or even get money back, then manufacturers and stores had to start adding restrictions lest they go out of business. So those few excessive couponers negatively impacted other shoppers, when these restrictions might not have been put in place if everyone had kept in moderation.

In another vein, this sentence jumped out at me in the biography Goforth of China by Rosalind Goforth: “”Graft, sweating of the poor (fed by women’s thirst for bargains) were horrors of cruelty to him that must be and were denounced” (p. 154).

8. Leaving some for others

Something else to think about when buying more than we need is the principle in the Old Testament of leaving something in the fields for poorer people to glean (Leviticus19:9-10). You might think with all that the Bible teaches about industry and diligence and hard work that God would want people to be careful to pick every possible piece of fruit off the vine. But He wanted people to leave some for others. We need to think about that before we buy an excess of items because they’re on sale: if the first twenty shoppers did that, would there be any left for anyone else? I don’t think this principle means that if the toy we want to buy our child for Christmas is the last one on the shelf, we should leave it for someone else. We have to keep all these things in balance. But perhaps we don’t need to buy twenty cans of pumpkin on sale if we’re just going to make a couple of pies and a few batches of bread or muffins with it over the winter.

I’ve also wrestled with this in regard to thrift stores. I feel I am supporting the charity that operates the thrift store when I buy something there, but I’ve wondered if I am taking something from someone else who couldn’t buy it anywhere else. I’m still pondering this one.

9. Time factors

As I mentioned before, most frugal practices do take time. There are some situations in life where there is really no choice: for various reasons there is a lack of income and time must be spent looking for ways to save money, even if those ways cost more time. But sometimes time itself can be put to better use than spending most of the day dragging children to five different stores, spending hours making something that would have been less of an investment to buy, spending time scouting online frugality sites when that time might be better spent in other pursuits, etc.

10. Impact on others

I was in a home once where I felt hampered by the hostess’s ultra-frugality, though she had the best of intentions. If I threw a paper plate in the trash, she got it out (sometimes seconds after it left my hand) to put it in the fireplace (where it burned in seconds, not really providing any long-lasting fuel). If I started to throw away a bit of food my child didn’t eat, she’d say, “No, don’t do that: save it for the dog.” I felt like I was constantly doing things “wrong.” Maybe your family (or guests!) would like you just to relax sometimes rather than feeling you’re constantly hounding them, or spend time with them rather than spending Saturdays scouting yard sales. Maybe they’d rather you didn’t buy three boxes of cereal they’re not crazy about (or like, but would also like some variety) because it was a good deal.

11. Neglect

If we neglect buying something we really need or avoid going to the doctor when sick because we don’t want to spend the money, we may be carrying frugality too far. There is a difference between not being able to do these things financially and not doing them just because we don’t want to. Good health is a good investment.

12. Health and sanitation

Even canned goods have an expiration date on them (another reason not to store an excess of them), and sometimes it’s best to throw away questionable leftovers than eat them. I’ve been sorely convicted by Proverbs 12:27 while throwing out food: “The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious.” I need to do much better to be diligent to use my “substance,” but if it does spoil, I shouldn’t use it just because I don’t want to throw it out. Once a dear lady pulled out some leftover corn from the refrigerator, remarked that it didn’t look very good, and then, instead of throwing it out, added more fresh corn to it. I was less than excited to eat that meal!

I’m sharing the following not to disparage my mother-in-law, but to help others understand how older people’s thought processes can work. My mother-in-law grew up in an era where you rarely if ever threw anything away. Now in her old age when she doesn’t always think clearly, she wants to reuse straws. We use bendy straws to make it easier for her to handle, and she’ll take them out of her glass when she’s done and put them on her end table. The next time we get her something to drink, she’ll want us to reuse those straws rather than get a new one – even if that straw has been sitting there long enough to have dried milk globules in it. I don’t know if she could get sick from drinking through a used straw, but I don’t want to take the chance. She fusses at me for throwing them away, but I tell her teasingly she’s not so poor that she has to reuse straws (and I try to throw them away when she’s not looking so it doesn’t disturb her.)

13. Lack of faith.

Frugal practices can be a good investment in wise stewardship. But if it is causing any of the above problems, yet the one involved feels she can’t possibly scale back, it might be evidence of not trusting the Lord for His provision.

I know a dear younger lady who is trying very hard to be as frugal as possible because her husband is in a ministry that isn’t able to pay much, and she wants to stay home with her children rather than work outside the home. That is commendable and I applaud that. Yet she is so frantic about it that it seems a constant source of worry and consternation to her. She reads a number of frugality sites, always feeling like a failure because there is more she feels she should be doing. But there is so much information online about this kind of thing now, we can’t possibly do everything recommended, go to every store, find every deal, and then beat ourselves up if we paid for something and then found a better price elsewhere. It’s a miserable way to live. We really need to seek the Lord for what practices He would have us employ and remember that ultimately our provision is from Him.

One former pastor used to say that for every strength there is an off-setting weakness. Couponing, yard-saling, thrifting. repurposing and other frugal practices are good and effective, and most of us should probably work on being more frugal. But like anything else, if done to excess or in the wrong spirit it can lead to other problems. We need to remember to do unto others what we’d have them do for us if we had a business. We need to work hard yet trust God and keep all of these principles in balance. In an excellent post about frugality, Tim Challies sums up:

I guess the long and short is that money can be as big an idol when you seek not to spend it as it can when you do nothing but spend it. Frugality in and of itself must not be an end in itself but must be a means to a greater end of bringing glory to God and of serving others. Ever and always it is a matter of the heart.

(Graphic is courtesy of Microsoft Office clip art.)

This post will be also linked to “Works For Me Wednesday,” where you can find an abundance of helpful hints each week at We Are THAT family on Wednesdays, as well as  Women Living Well.