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Monday, August 29, 2016

What's Your Brand?

What can you tell about your friends from social media? I've learned a lot about mine!
  • I know how often they go to restaurants to eat—and where exactly they go.
  • I’ve found out about their children, husband, dogs, cats, house, school, city or town where they live, etc.
  • I know that some are immaculate housekeepers and some . . . . Let’s just say they’re okay with letting others see their disasters.
  • Some of my friends are hilarious! They always see the funny side of life. (How refreshing!)
  • Others are all doom and gloom.
  • Some are political. (It’s the right season for it!)
  • Some don’t broadcast what they think about current events. They keep me wondering.
  • Some love books. (Count me in!)
  • Some are interested in clothes, shoes, things, new stuff, etc.
  • I have some amazing do-it-yourself friends. They can do anything from installing new kitchens to painting old brick in the coolest way. (A shout out to Julie and her hubby.)
  • Some of my friends often put Bible verses on their status. 
  • I have friends in ministry and many who do all kinds of other jobs. (Most don’t talk about their day jobs, I’ve learned--unless they're in sales.)
  • Some praise the Lord, even in the midst of sorrow and trials.
  • A few show every single photo they ever take of their children. (I think your kids are cute. It’s quite okay to share.) “Here’s Freddie taking his first bite of squash. I think he likes it!” “Susie loves the sprinkler.” One of my friends has a large, young family, and she always has the most awesome family shots. (How does Andrea do it? I have no idea. Back in the day, our family used to shoot a whole roll of film, just to get one picture where we all looked semi-normal. I stand in awe!)
  • Some of my friends homeschool, bake their own bread, go out to the farmer’s market to choose fresh veggies, grow their own organic gardens, tend flowers . . . and these women also look fabulous. Two of them also have ten or more children! (I’m not kidding!)
  • A few of my friends seemingly travel all the time.
  • Some are always kissing on their husbands—and have a photographer conveniently there, or they are selfie stick pros. I haven’t figured it out yet.
I know a lot about my friends because of what they share on social media. It may or may not be an accurate picture. I don’t have all the pieces to their life puzzle, just the items they choose to share.

What’s your brand?

You see, you build a picture of who you are by what you write and the photos and videos you share. You’re building your brand.

No, it’s not the same as David Beckham or Halle Berry, who doubtless have help in branding themselves. You're an independent person, and whatever you put on social media brands you. You’re the curator, and you’re the brand.

What does your brand say? What do you choose to put out there? What does the whole picture say?

Let’s do an experiment. (I periodically do this, myself.) Go onto your main social media site and look back over your personal profile and all of your posts—or at least the last month’s. What does the sum of your posts say about you? Is it an accurate picture? Does it really reflect who you are?

I am a born again Christian. I’ve made several personal choices about what I want to put on social media and what I don’t. Again, they’re my personal choices, and everyone’s entitled to make their own choices. Yours will be different from mine. And, that’s okay.

When you formulate your own rules for your brand, please consider:
  1. Do I really want the world to see my family in real time on vacation? (You might want to think about the safety of your empty house.)
  2. Do I want to express my thoughts strongly? Some you will, and some you won’t.
  3. Do I want everyone to see my children in differing states of undress? (Consider your children’s safety—especially since bad people can download photos from social media without your consent.)
  4. Do I want to repost anything with a curse word on it—even comments that someone else wrote? (They’re easy to miss! You have to read even the small print.)
  5. Do I want to embarrass my children, spouse, or friends by posting their pictures sleeping or doing something silly for everyone to see?
  6. Does my dog care that I’m showing everyone his photo? (Just kidding! He'll be happy for you share all you want!)
  7. Are my selfies sexy? Maybe this isn’t the image you want everyone—and all of their friends—to see.
  8. Do I always post when I’m in a bad mood? (Maybe you should wait an hour—and drink a cup of coffee—before you write your post.)
  9. Am I giving the impression that I’m materialistic? Am I always showing restaurants, trips, and acquired stuff—instead of relationships?
  10. Do I really want to copy texts and tag people?
  11. Do I feel comfortable advertising my product on social media? How often do I want to do this?
  12. Do I brag a lot? (It’s absolutely fine to brag on your husband and congratulate your children!)
  13. Do I want to type “Amen” and agree when told to?
  14. Do I wish to respond to “if you care about . . . copy and paste on your wall” kinds of posts?
  15. Will something I post encourage my friends or tear them down? What kind of a reaction will the viewer/reader have to what I post?
  16. And, most importantly, do my posts please God?
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart,
be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD,
my strength, and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do,
do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Give some thought to your brand today. What’s your overall picture?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Non-fiction Review: Elsie's Mountain

Elsie’s Mountain: Memories of Palomar and Southern California 1897-1987, by Barbara Anne Waite is the second of her Elsie books based on the true story about her grandmother. This book is closely compiled from Elsie’s diaries and letters and decorated with wonderful period family photos. Elsie was a poet and free-lance writer, and some of her poems are featured throughout the book.

This story begins with Elsie’s parents and her siblings and quickly moves to her marriage and married life, which occupies much of the book. Elsie’s childhood was wonderful and privileged. She especially loved the times her family went camping on Palomar Mountain, today the site of an important space observatory and telescope, as well as a National Park. It was wonderful to be out in nature and to enjoy the beauty of the scenery.

After Elsie’s marriage to Jack, a successful businessman, they undertook several ventures up on Palomar Mountain—a prosperous apple orchard, and a hotel for wealthy guests. Elsie managed the hotel. As in every life, there were some terrible disappointments. Jack and Elsie lost their first child to miscarriage. There were ups and downs in the businesses, too, and they grew and learned through them. They welcomed a little daughter, Caroline. Their circumstances began to change.

Elsie shares happy times and hints at the sad ones. Jack seems to have had emotional issues, which worsened with time. Instead of complaining, Elsie gets on with life, becomes postmistress, and happily dedicates herself to rearing Caroline and serving others. Elsie obviously had a genuine Christian faith, though she doesn’t express it in the same words we might use.

This is a rare, completely authentic glimpse into the times of World Wars 1 and 2, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression. It’s also a delightful history of that part of California.

I enjoyed both of Barbara Waite’s books about her grandmother. The first, Elsie: Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1916, tells about her life as a teacher and her romance with a young man there.

Elsie’s Mountain gives the reader an overall picture of her life, much of it quoted from actual diaries and letters. If you enjoy history with a touch of romance and a little bit of real-life sadness, you’ll enjoy these books. It’s probably the most authentic book I have ever read. My own grandmother lived during this epoch, and for me, it was an especially interesting glimpse into the way things were—the customs, entertainments, transportation, and everyday life. I know you’ll enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

S-T-U-P-I-D: Your Mistakes Do Define You

What do you think when you hear the name Ryan Lochte? Liar, drinks too much, party boy . . . . It’s sad, for sure, since he’s one of America’s most decorated Olympians, one of our great sportsmen. He’s four times an Olympian and has won twelve medals for the U.S.A.

Justin Gatlin? Drugs cheat several times over. Many don’t think he should even have been allowed to compete in the Olympics.

Lance Armstrong? What a fake! Liar, cheat, cancer survivor, winner of the Tour de France multiple times, drugs, phony, bully . . . .

Anthony Weiner, President Bill Clinton, General David Petraeus, and John Edwards? Famous men, cheaters on their wives, disgraced . . . . All but Clinton lost their jobs as well as their reputations.

It doesn’t have to be a big mistake. It can be a “twisting of the facts,” as Ryan Lochte found out. There was a gun. The four friends were held at gunpoint. There was an exchange of money. The man with the gun was dressed like a policeman. Lochte still lied. He misrepresented the facts. And, sadly, the Brazil Olympics for Lochte will be about that stupid story and not his gold medal, won cleanly after four years of intensive training.

My family remembers my disasters:
  • They remember the time I broke a whole carton of eggs on the floor—the whole dozen broken, in gooey slop!
  • They remember the time I was riding a bike with hand brakes for the first time and didn’t know how to stop—and how it looked like slow motion when I went off the road and fell to the side.
  • They remember when I couldn’t find my keys to open the suitcases at the airport, and I was transporting wooden eggs—which Agriculture Control thought were real. They also remember that I said I had no food. (I’d completely forgotten, as I packed weeks before—and I actually had olive oil, olives, and chocolate. I didn’t think of those things as food.) How completely embarrassing!
  • My husband remembers my walking out of my shoe on a church platform as I went across to give my testimony.

People remember the dumb things you do. Those things make an impression. They don’t have to be necessarily wrong, but when you do something stupid, people notice.

I keep seeing signs, “Your past does not define you.” I agree up to a point. But, there are always consequences for wrong actions. And, one of those consequences is that people remember your wrongdoings much more than your good doings. They remember if you lied, cheated, were violent, drunk, or out of control. They paint you in their minds as a liar, cheat, violent person, drunk, or without self-control. In a way, you’ll forever be the impression you made.

So, what can you do if you already messed up? The secret is in putting the sin behind you, about not going back to that sin again, about true repentance. Do you remember what Jesus told the woman caught in adultery? He forgave her and said, Go, and sin no more (John 8:11b).

When we truly repent, the Lord blots out our sins. He doesn’t see them any more. (I wish we humans were more like Him!) Here are a few verses that will encourage your heart:
  • Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34b).
  • To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities (Psalm 51:1, 9).
  • As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).
  • Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:18). 
I’m so grateful that God literally does away with our sins, when we confess and forsake them. We go to Jesus for forgiveness. It’s amazing that Jesus would love us like that!

What should Ryan Lochte have done?
  1. He should have behaved himself in the first place. He was representing his country.
  2. Since he did wrong, he should have admitted exactly what happened.

When we see that a person has truly turned from his sin, we should accept him. It doesn’t matter what he's done, we need to accept that he has been changed by the grace of God.

And, we ourselves should strive to live to the glory of God. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What Does the Church Offer?

I hope you got to read the responses from my Out of Church Survey. (If you missed it, you can access it here.) What does a church offer? (I’m using the word “church” to mean a gathering where the Bible is preached and most—but not all—of the people in the congregation are born again believers. I am not using the word church for all churches or for a specific church denomination. Church in this post means a Bible preaching and believing local congregation.)

What exactly does the church offer?
  1. A place to get together with other believers. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25). The church is for mutual encouragement. Just as a coal removed from the fire eventually grows cold, so does a Christian removed from fellowship. We need each other.
  2. The mission of the church is summed up in the Great Commission: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:19-20). The church is to teach the gospel, and baptize and train (disciple) Christians. Jesus knew we needed the church.
  3. A place for people to hear the gospel. The Bible says the gospel is: the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection from the grave. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). It’s so important that people can go to church and hear the gospel. If they haven’t yet accepted Jesus, it’s important. If they are born again, it’s important to appreciate what Jesus did for sinners. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
  4. A place for Bible teaching. The Bible talks about new Christians being like new babies who need milk in order to grow. As they grow, they eat more solid foods. And, that’s how it is with the Christian life. As we learn the Bible, we grow spiritually. As we grow, we’re able to assimilate “stronger” truths and apply them to our lives. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14).
  5. God uses Bible preaching to touch hearts that need a Savior. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14) For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:21).
  6. The church provides a place for children to hear about Jesus. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14).
  7. It's where people can obey God in the Lord's Supper and in believers' baptism. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come (1 Corinthians 11:26). Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them (to the church) about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).
  8. It’s a venue for Christian service. The members work together to benefit the local church. They use their gifts and help each other. They pray for each other. They send out missionaries and reach out into the community. They bless others by caring and serving. (See Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; and Ephesians 4:11-12.)
  9. The relationship of Christ and the church is a direct parallel with the relationship of the husband and wife in the home. (Read Ephesians 5:22-33.) The church serves as an object lesson for a great marriage.
  10. We actually glorify God when we’re in church. (The last verse, below.)
That he (Jesus) would grant you, according to the riches of his glory,
to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith;
that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints
what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,
that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly
above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages,

world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:16-21)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The "Out of Church Survey" Results

I asked my social media friends who felt disenchanted with church and had dropped out or are not attending now to answer several questions. This survey is completely anonymous, so I have no idea who answered and who didn’t. Most of my friends probably go to church, so I had only fifteen responses. But I believe those people have many valid points to share, and I think every Christian can learn from them.

Thank you to all who took the time to participate. I appreciate your sincere comments.

First, I’ll share the questions and answers, and then we’ll compile some applications for both those who attend church regularly and those who don't.

Q Why were you disenchanted with the church?
  • The sermons didn’t reach me personally. 47%
  • People in the church let me down. 33%
  • The church was too legalistic. I didn’t like the rules. 13%
  • I don’t really know. I just quit attending. 13%
  • Other. 66% (Comments are shown in order of receipt and quoted directly.)
          “Dead, slow, unenthusiastic singing.”
          “The church used multiple Bibles.”
          “People seem to come dressed as for a Saturday barbeque, not to meet God. Pre marital sex is standard, music is for wanna-be rock stars. I hear them talk about God but see no action.”
          “It felt more like a social club rather than church. I had more joy being at home than in church, and I grew up in church.”
          “More than ‘let me down;’ people in leadership hurt my family.”
          “The contemporary music was shallow and lame, and the atmosphere was generally slack (though I'm not looking for legalism).”
          “The rules don't even make sense.”
          “Moved and haven't found a new place.”
          “Health reasons Hard to change churches every couple years when we move, and finding a denomination that's similar or the same to the denomination can be difficult. Lack of young people and engaging activities.”
          “I wanted to be a friend of the world more than a friend of God. No one taught me the joy of the Lord, the hard price for bad choices, etc. Though I've been back and right with the Lord for many years now, questions 3, 4, and 5 were my attitude when I was out.”

Q How long were you (are you) out of church?
  • Less than one year. 27%
  • One to three years. 27%
  • More than three years. 27%
  • I am presently out of regular church attendance. 47%
Q Are you presently . . . ? (Mark all that apply.)
  • Living in sin. 14%
  • Struggling with an addiction. 7%
  • I am doing fine. 93%
  • Wanting to get back into church. 27% 
Q What is your attitude toward church people?
  • No one answered “Bitter” or “Angry.”
  • I don’t have a problem with them. 93%
  • Embarrassed. 20%
Q How could the church better serve you? (Mark all that apply.)
  • Change the service to make it more relevant. 27%
  • Accept people the way they are. 53%
  • Be less critical. 40%
  • Accept my sinful lifestyle. 7%
  • Have more social activities. 13%
  • Change the pastor to someone more in touch with the times. 20%
  • Be more friendly. 40%
  • Other. 53% (Comments are shown in order of receipt and quoted directly.)
          “Speed up the tempo of music, lead with passion and enthusiasm for praising Jesus.”
          “I’m trying to figure this out!! I want more holiness I guess but not legalistic! I think I don't see how modern Christians live differently from others. Seems were trying to bring God to our level instead of pushing ourselves up to him. Be nice and comfy instead of awestruck by his greatness?”
          “Allow less worldliness to creep in. Dropping standards is not the way to reach more people.”
          “When explaining scripture making sure to bring the sermons to real life application. Showing love for people where they are not condoning sin, but encouraging and discipline for a closer relationship with Christ. No adding legalistic rules and preferences that are worshipped as if you follow these rules, you are a good Christian. I'm talking about things not clear in scripture which some preach as if it's God's word when it's actually just someone's personal convictions which they try to make others follow and preach Like its God's word.”
          “It doesn't matter; I will not be returning.”
          “Change the service to make it more biblically relevant.”
          “The church is made of people, who have faults. The services and staff generally aren't the problem most places. It's people.”
          “I had assurance of my salvation all that time because God tried and tried to draw me back. I did go to church some of that time, but it did not mix well with 'going out' Friday and Saturday nights until all hours. I also prayed, sang hymns and gospel songs a lot, and hung around with people who did go to church and were trying to get me to get right.”

For those who attend church regularly—I was pleasantly surprised that most of those who responded don’t judge church people negatively, although some admitted they’d been hurt. One of the biggest criticisms, though, was lack of friendliness. I think every church can make an effort to be more genuinely friendly towards visitors and to include them. It’s not only visitors that feel they’re out of the loop. Make sure everyone in your church feels that they are part of a whole. Accept people as they are, and get to know them. Did you also notice the cry for genuineness in Christian living and faithfulness to the Bible in the preaching? Those who responded also wanted music with substance. People want a high standard without legalism.

For those who answered my survey—Thank you so much for your honesty. I would love for you to visit our church in Spain! Since that’s probably not possible, I would like for you to give a Bible preaching church near you a chance. Don’t look for perfect. (There are no perfect churches.) Ask God to guide you to the right one for you. Be friendly, even if you’re the visitor. Try it out for a few weeks. Church alone won’t meet anyone’s heart need, but it is important.

Only Jesus can meet the needs of your heart. He said, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Do you feel tired and heavy in your soul? Go to Jesus! He also said, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16-17). Jesus is the answer to your need. Not church. Not works, Jesus. Go to Him.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"My Child Just Went to College." What Now?

“My child just went to college.”

Oh, I know the feeling! We live more than 4,000 miles away from where our kids went to college. Our daughter left home at age seventeen, and our son had just turned eighteen. I will never forget watching our daughter walk into her dorm . . . and we drove away, soon to get on a plane . . . .

No one who’s done it says it’s easy!

But, you know what? Each child who flies out of the nest is beginning something important—and so are you—and so are any siblings left behind.

The child who went to college as an insecure, lost little freshman will, in about two years, be an adult who’s well on his way to the degree and career he has in mind. He might have met his significant other. He might have already gained some practical work experience. He will have found out who he is in the much bigger scheme of things. You are giving him the opportunity to be on his own—yet under supervision—and he’ll thank you for it. Your “child” is becoming a man or woman, and that’s just as it should be.

You are learning to trust God in a way you never needed to before. Your little bird was coddled, fed, and nurtured while he was in the nest, but now, it’s his grand opportunity to learn to fly. You stand by, craning your neck from the edge of the nest, and you watch him try. You'll get some unique phone calls. You'll hear about a certain professor and her “impossible” tests. You'll send money—all the while praying that your son will remember to brush his teeth, use deodorant, and match his clothes as you taught him. When he returns at Christmas or next summer, your little child is a man. When did this happen? Kudos to you, Mama Bird! You let him grow up.

We have two children, so we’ve only experienced this once personally, but I’ve watched it happen many times in other families: the elder child goes off to college, and the next in line rises to take over in sibling leadership. He grows, gets more responsible, changes . . . doing his best to fill big brother or sister’s shoes. It’s crazy to watch: all of a sudden, Little Bro. becomes Big Bro. And, that’s how it should be! Each child gets the opportunity to lead and prepare himself for his own future outside of the nest.

I am glad your son or daughter has this tremendous educational opportunity. I’m glad you let him try to fly.

Here’s a little bit of advice for you as you adjust to the new reality in your family nest:
  1. Be available when he calls. Tell him he may call any time he needs to. Don’t call him but once in a while. (This is my own opinion. It’s okay if you do this differently.) When your child is away in college, he needs to know you’ll be there for him any time. He does not need to get a call (often) from Mama during study time or when he’s with his friends. It will make him resent you. You want to continue to build your relationship with your grown child, but you don’t want to “helicopter” him.
  2. Just a suggestion: e-mail or text him every day to keep him up on any important goings on back home and to assure him of your love and prayers. (My daily e-mails to our kids were usually a paragraph or less.) Don’t write a book or use your child as your confidant. (He has lots of books to read, and he doesn’t need unnecessary emotional pressure from home.)
  3. Concentrate on those children you still have at home. Your work’s not done (unless your nest is empty). Help the next child be ready to fly when it’s his turn. Train. Invest your energy in your younger ones. Don’t forget big brother or sister, but help these kids rise to the top. Above all, don’t make the younger children feel like you’re always crying over the one who has gone. (If you need to shed tears, try to cry in private. I remember one day . . . . It hits you at the weirdest times!)
  4. If your last child just went to college, you might enjoy my post about the empty nest. You can access it here
In an effort to prepare our children for adulthood, my husband and I taught them all along that they would be expected to pay their own way after they graduated from college. We wanted them to be willing to work, and more than that, mentally prepared to be independent adults. We told them they would be allowed to come back home after graduation, but they would be expected to pay for rent, food, and their own car. (They didn’t come back home to live, but they love to visit.) Our daughter began teaching after college, and our son worked and earned his master’s degree. A few years after graduation, both of them had met their spouses and were married. 

I believe it’s a shame what’s happening in the world today. Young people aren’t prepared for being independent adults. They don’t have life skills (cooking, mechanics, handling finances), and they aren’t prepared for working hard and making do. They want everything done for them. They think it’s just great to let Mama cook and for Dad to pay the lights, water, and house payments. Many don’t have goals—or their goals are so pie in the sky . . . .

Let’s be different! Let’s actually prepare each child to be a responsible, independent adult. You’ll be glad, and so will they.

Your child just went to college? Great! Pray for him, support and encourage him, and be glad for him. When things are tough, help him figure out how to work through them. Stand by and watch your son or daughter grow up!

That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; 
that our daughters may be as corner stones, 
polished after the similitude of a palace (Psalm 144:12).