Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fight the Good Fight

“I get the front seat!” I’ll bet I’ve heard that battle cry over a million times. It’s usually followed by someone else shouting, “Nuh uh, first one there gets it!” That sounds the charge. I watch incredulously (you’d think I’d have gotten used to it after a million-plus times) as a herd of determined, wild-eyed kids dash for the coveted passenger seat of the car. Stampede! I’m usually trying to shout warnings toward the herd to stop running and watch for cars as they dart through traffic and leap over potholes. My shouts are pretty futile. The kids never hear them. Every word is tuned out and entirely too late anyway. They don’t hear because they’re focused on the goal: shotgun.

The kids never seem to completely grasp certain laws of thermal dynamics. They don’t slow down. I watch and wince as they’re plastering each other against the car door. It’s a five-kid pile-up.

There’s usually a questionable finish on the passenger seat race. It’s a photo finish with no photo. You’d think it would be easy enough to find the winner. After the other kids are peeled off, it should be the kid who’s smashed the flattest against the door. Flattest kid wins. But after some loud and animated squabbling from the pancake kids, I often end up driving home with the front seat all to myself. It’s one of those Solomon-type motherly moments: “If you’re going to run like crazy people through a busy parking lot, and if you’re going to argue over it, then I’m going to have to cut the passenger seat in two…I mean…then you’re all in the back seat.”

For the duration of the ride, there are all kinds of death whispers coming from the back. “You know I was first.” “You never said ‘go.’” “Why were you trying to stomp on my shoelaces?” It’s amazing how the race can be long over, but the battle still rages on.

This life is like a battle—a much bigger battle. Ephesians 6:12-13 says, “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.” (HCSB)

Making a stand in this life is not about getting the best seat in the car. It’s fighting the “good” fight. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (NIV) The “good” fight is never over the petty things we come up with in our own flesh. And it’s not a battle we fight in our own strength, but one we fight in his strength, with the armor he provides (take a look at the battle gear in Ephesians 6:14-17).

In 2 Timothy 4:7, The Message describes the good fight as “the only race worth running.” The whole passage reminds us to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and his coming. It has a purifying effect on our lives and keeps us fit, ready to run toward the worthy goals. Our focus should be as clear as a passenger-side door to a herd of wildly sprinting kids.

Let’s never tune out the instruction to fight the good fight. Let’s not wait until it’s too late either. And let’s see if we can raise our kids with the passenger seat still in one piece.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wall-to-wall Obedience

I've been trying to eat healthier. As part of the new regimen, I tried a protein shake for breakfast. Have you ever tasted liquid carpet? Surely liquid carpet has to be better than this stuff. It coated every molar in a weird wall-to-wall sort of way. For the longest time I felt like I needed to shave my tongue. Surely something is wrong with that stuff. Sticking to a healthier diet doesn't necessarily have to come with a hairy tongue, does it?

Sticking to the life of obedience doesn't have to be hairy either. We need to seek to draw our nourishment not from every trendy new place, but straight from Christ himself. Colossians 2:6-7 says, "And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to live in obedience to him. Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught." (NLT)

Drawing nourishment from Christ is nothing like drinking carpet. There's real refreshment in that deeper life. There's growth there. There's faith there. There's spiritual vigor and vitality--all without the Astroturf aftertaste!

So live in obedience with your roots firmly planted in Jesus. There's divine health in his truth. That's the kind of spiritual diet we need to stick to if we want to stay healthy.

On the physical health side, if you decide to try sticking to one of those protein shake diets, watch out for rug-burn.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Lotion Quotient

My husband is convinced that lotion is scented slime imported from the place of the dead. I have no doubt he would sooner wallow in lard than use one of my creams. As a matter of fact, he says he can’t understand how anyone can put that stuff on a clean body without feeling all dirty again.

He even goes so far as to make one of those pained-looking faces after I’ve driven his car post-lotion. He says it makes his steering wheel gooey. Picture him trying to drive using only a thumb and forefinger from each hand. Such a commotion over a little lotion!

Me? I love the stuff. To me, it’s sort of medicinal and therapeutic all at the same time. I guess I’m a lotion lover because I’m one of those rather dry women (skin, not wit). If you’re like me and can rub your hands together and make sparks, you know what I mean. When I put on a lotion potion, my hands make that “glub, glub, glub” sound.

I consider myself creamed to perfection when I’m so greasy that my fingers keep sliding right off my computer keyboard. If you’re ever reading something I’ve written and you get to “dk7n>le#i4ig*20;slhc&mo$b,” you don’t need to worry. It’s most likely a little lotion slip and you can picture me smiling.

If I were Balm Queen, no one would ever be lotion-poor. Lotion for all! After I made sure no one was deprived of their lotions, I would go out and swim in my own personal pool of lotion. Of course, I’d never be able to get out. Just try climbing up a pool ladder when you’ve been swimming in lotion. That’s okay. I’d be satisfied to soak in my lotion ocean.

Just as lotion satisfies a dry woman, a thirsty soul can be satisfied by seeking the God who hydrates us at the very center of who we are. Psalm 63:1-3 says, “God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You. I thirst for You; my body faints for You in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water. So I gaze on You in the sanctuary to see Your strength and Your glory. My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life.” (HCSB)

He is the God who quenches. When we seek him and desire him in this dry place, he satisfies oh so much more than the best lotions and creams. He fills our every real need by his strength and for his glory. And it’s all out of his faithful love for us. Better than lotion. Better than life!

I love sharing the message of the satisfied life with others. I love passing it on to my children. They’re receiving the message better than they are my lotion notions. I thought they would love it, for instance, when I bought the tissues with lotion added right in. I asked one of my sons how he liked them. He said to direct all other such questions to his attorney. There’s a lot of his father in that boy.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

New Puppy on a Roll

Big adventure at the Rhea house this week. We just took in a spaniel-mix puppy. You can’t pick up a tennis ball or stuffed animal in here that doesn’t make a slobber-log squishy sound. The entire upstairs smells a little like puppy breath. Every square inch has been sufficiently sniffed, then thoroughly chewed and slobber-covered.

It’s an adjustment for all of us, granted, but the biggest adjustment is on the part of the two cats who haven’t entirely unpuffed since the pup lumbered through the front door. I think I actually saw the spaniel grin when she tried to greet the kitties. I didn’t have a puppy language interpreter, but she seemed to me to be saying, “Hey, those look really chewy! I wonder how far that fat one can roll.” Fortunately for the chewy cats, the puppy seems to think the stairs are some sort of magic portal and won’t even go near them.

So the downstairs has officially been claimed by the cats and they’re setting up a little kitty kingdom. You have to go through Cat Customs and prove you’re not even remotely canine to even go down there. They’re checking I.D.’s.

Speaking of I.D.’s, when we’ve given our lives to Christ, we become part of his kingdom. Not kitty related. Our identity is in him. No need for a magic portal. We have Jesus! No big dog fear either—no need to fear anything at all. The God of the universe is on our side. His kingdom is the most glorious place to be.

I could write about it all day. As a matter of fact, I would write more, but I just heard a weird sound. Does it make a weird noise when a fat cat rolls?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day Salad

Like 97% of the over-civilized world, I started a diet January 1st. The good news is that I think I've finally hit on a diet I can stick with. It's an all-salad diet. Any and every salad is considered health food, right? So why not a hot fudge topped chocolate chip and spinach salad? Hide a pork chop and gravy in there and you can hit every corner of the food pyramid. And you should see my Ding Dong salad. It's a beautiful thing. Slice a couple of those chocolate beauties over a bed of Iceberg and you've got yourself some health food you can sink your teeth into. Mmm, I love salad.

So here's my salad-inspired Valentine’s Day love song for this year:

Chocolate, chocolate can't be beat
Chocolate dark or semi-sweet
Chocolate cakes and chocolate candy
Blood sugar's up but I'm choco-dandy

Chocolate hot and chocolate cold
Chocolate new and vintage old
Chocolate makes a lovely ballad
And the perfect topping for my health food salad

Just as chocolate can transform even an all-salad diet into something sweet, Romans 12:1-2 tells us to let God transform our lives into something sweet by allowing him to change our thinking. "And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice--the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is." Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

I'm putting my brain on the altar. Not a pleasant visual, but it really is a good way to live.

By the way, since the passage mentioned that we need to give our bodies to God, maybe a total choco-diet is not exactly the best way to go. Did I mention I've gained eight pounds on my all-salad diet?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Die Laughing

Where did we come up with the term “die laughing”? How many chuckle fatalities do you suppose there really are?

As a matter of fact, I hear more studies every day that indicate the exact opposite. Studies show that a good belly laugh lowers blood pressure and boosts the immune system. That means that people who laugh more get sick less. They’re better able to fight off illness. Laughter has been found to help the circulatory and respiratory systems as well. It helps chemically with stress levels, too. It even helps a person deal with pain better.

Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest giving this information to a woman in labor—especially if you’re the husband. It’s amazing how strong a woman in labor can be. No, I don’t think laughing away labor would be a good suggestion for a husband who would like to leave the hospital without having to be admitted himself. And I doubt we’ll ever replace “hee hee hoo” with “ha ha ha.”

But if you’re in the midst of some of that non-labor kind of pain, it might be just what the doctor ordered to have a little chuckle. It may seem unnatural to be laughing through pain of any kind. But since laughter helps with physical, emotional and mental health, maybe we should stop fighting it and let ourselves laugh when the time is right. I love Proverbs 17:22: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” (NLT) Doesn’t that mean we should stop fighting the giggles and take our medicine?

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that a good belly laugh burns a few calories, too. It’s medicine and it’s practically aerobic! One more reason to laugh—and one more way to be inspired to work toward a merry heart. A merry heart will add “life” to your life. So go ahead. LIVE laughing!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Envy-wrecking

Do you have a friend who looks good in absolutely everything she puts on? Argh! The girl could drape herself in the cover of her car and look classy enough for the fashion runway. If I draped myself in a car cover, I guarantee I would look more like a Buick. And I'll just go ahead and admit that I need to drop a few pounds off these fenders.

Envy is such a dangerous thing. It throttles peace--and worse, it leads to anger, even rage. Psalm 37:8 says, "Stop your anger! Turn from your rage! Do not envy others--it only leads to harm." (NLT) The envious, angry person experiences painful harm personally. Proverbs 14:30 says, "…envy, jealousy, and wrath are like rottenness of the bones." (AMP) But it's more than just personal rottenness. That harmful rotten character often spreads, spilling over onto family and friends.

How do we avoid bone-rotting envy and wrath? We replace them with love. 1 Corinthians 13:4 tells us that "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy…" (NIV) Love is the opposite of envy.

Anytime we catch ourselves envying, we can ask God to love that person through us. He loves to answer that prayer. As he gives us love for the one we're tempted to envy, we discover that love always wants the very best for others. It rejoices in the victories of others.

Yes, even if the others have exceptionally sleek fenders.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cues for Living

I was working at the computer when I heard this primal kind of yell from the family room downstairs, “I NEED A TOASTER STRUDEL!”

Weird.

It was about 7:00 in the evening and the “strudel alert” was totally out of the blue. I said, “What in the world brought that on?”

My 15-year-old daughter answered—with great drama, “I’m the victim of a major food cue here—and I have to have the strudel!”

Don’t let anyone tell you advertising doesn’t work. At the last food cue my kids pooled their money for a late night DQ run. I think they might’ve dipped into their college savings. Can you imagine my teenagers trading their college educations for a couple of cookie dough Blizzards?

There are especially good cues we can give in to, though. It’s good to have mentors in the faith—people who faithfully offer us cues in fruitful Christian living. Jesus gives us our ultimate cues for living, of course. We can wholly trust his example. He was an example to his disciples and to us, for instance, when he washed his disciples’ feet just before he went to the cross. After taking on that servant role, he said, “And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15, NLT)

It’s Jesus who gives us a flawless example. He’s the one who will never, ever disappoint. But he can also show us so much through the godly people he brings into our lives. It’s good to watch people who unswervingly watch Christ.

If you’re watching my kids, however, you’d better be prepared to swerve into Dairy Queen.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hair Peace

Have you ever gone to a lot of trouble to get the perfect hair look? You gel, tease, mousse, iron, spray--everything just short of taking it to the kiln at the ceramic shop for a good firing. You finally get the exact hair look you’re going for, then you take your hand mirror and back up to the bathroom mirror only to find a frightening hair disturbance in your blind spot. Some call it a hurricane; it's a giant swirly with a large eye. Who wants an extra eye in the back of her head?

The other day I found a major meteorological occurrence in the hand mirror. It started in the northernmost hair regions and moved slowly but steadily to the south, reeking hair destruction and devastation all along the path of the storm. No doubt a category five. Would we call that a "hair-icane"? How in the world can I keep my head when my hair is gusting at break-neck speed?

It happens in life, too. Everything is going fine--clear with only scattered challenges. Then suddenly a storm sneaks up on you from behind. It's one of those high pressure systems that develops without much warning. Before you know it, blast the storm sirens--you're in the middle of a giant swirly.

Those kinds of disturbances happen to everyone at some time or another. Thankfully, we have a Savior who gives us peace in the midst of the storm. As we trust him, he can speak the words "Peace, be still" into every life and into every situation. It may not necessarily evade the hair instabilities, but it can certainly help us weather out the struggle. His peace is all we need to make it through.

So don't be surprised when a swirly struggle hits. No need to have blind spots, spiritually speaking. Isaiah 26:3 says, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you." (NIV) You can keep your head if your mind is fixed on Jesus and your heart is trusting him.

Let his peace rule and your day will feel so much more sunny--in every atmospheric condition. Every shampoo and condition, too.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Money Can't Buy Me Fitness

We invited our church over for an open house a few weeks ago. I really hate to admit to this--especially in writing. It's bound to be used against me at my inevitable sanity hearing. But I burned more calories on my exercise machine while getting ready for that open house than I have since I bought it. Here's the goofy part. I burned all those calories by PUSHING the monstrous thing into the storage area. How embarrassing.

Doesn't it seem like just owning the machine should make me fit? After all, I invested a big hunk of money in it. I'm sure I thought I'd see the muscle multiplying and the fat melting away even as I wrote out the check.
I wonder if there are people who have the same kind of warped view when it comes to God's Word? Could they possibly think that by finding the biggest, fattest, most expensive Bible, they automatically become spiritual? Or maybe they think that while writing that tithe check they suddenly have a special understanding of the will of God.

But Ephesians 6:17 tells us to "take" the Word of God. Not just buy it. Not set it on a shelf for some kind of spiritual protection. We're not to just glance at a few pages now and then. No, we're to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." TAKE it. We're to wield it. How insane would we consider a soldier who strapped on the heaviest, shiniest sword, then went into battle trying to bop people with its sheath? He'd be more destined for a sanity hearing than even me.

Let's use God's Word, let it become a part of what we do and even who we are. That's a big part of what being filled with the Holy Spirit and walking in him is all about. That's when we're able to do what we were designed to do.

And just so you know, I'll be dragging my exercise machine back out of storage this week. I guess I'll try a little harder to use it to do what it was designed to do, too. Hey, do you think that hauling the thing back out might earn me enough aerobic points to get me through 'til summer?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Crying Over Exploded Milk


With a houseful of teens, it would totally frighten you to know how much milk I have to buy in a week. Let's just say sometimes it takes two or three of us to push the cart. When you buy so many gallons at a time, one of them is bound to get missed somewhere along the way. That "somewhere along the way" happened at exactly the wrong time of the year. A few months ago we had loaded about eight gallons of milk into the car, but never noticed that only seven made it into the house. That lost gallon was in the floor of the minivan under the last seat, lurking…plotting its evil attack.

It was in the hottest days of summer and, of all times for the minivan to need a repair or two, that happened to be the week we had to put in the shop. Three days in the shop. Three days of temperatures over a hundred degrees. The milk swelled up and--horror of horrors--exploded all over the car! Oh, the humanity. It lobbed milk shrapnel all over the entire back seat. Milk? No, maybe it was closer to CHEESE. And the smell! It was something like a barf and old socks combo--with cabbage. It made it into every single nook and cranny of the vehicle. The milk/cheese cleanup was nothing compared to the stench fallout we had to deal with for weeks. My eyes are watering just thinking about it. Oh well, no use crying over spilled cheese.

There's a certain cool driving look. All the windows are down, the left elbow edges just outside the window; the right hand hangs casually over the steering wheel. Of course, it's not nearly as cool when you're in a MINIVAN. But we still got plenty of chances to get the cool look down. We're talking about a lot of time riding with the windows down.

Taking care of sin issues in our lives is even more important than taking every gallon of milk inside the house. When left to simmer, they can explode all kinds of ugliness in our lives, and it can spill right over into the lives of those around us.

God is so gracious and forgiving when we confess even the biggest sin detonation in our lives. Psalm 51:1-2 says, "Generous in love--God, give grace! Huge in mercy--wipe out my bad record. Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry." (TM) Nope, holding onto sin is definitely not cool. Letting him scrub away that stench is glorious--it's better even than that new car smell! Now that's cool!

As for us, we're still exercising a lot of "coolness" riding with the windows down. It's still cold out. We're a little too cool.