Thursday, June 28, 2007

Listening to His Voice

I appreciate the message from "Ransomed Heart" ministries that we recently received in a letter:

I was reading this week in chapter ten of the Gospel of John. Listen to the offer:

The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice (2-4).
We are invited to become followers of Christ. Not just believers in Christ. Followers of Christ. There is a difference. Jesus leads, we follow, because we hear his voice. I know that many Christians have never been taught how to hear the voice of God. Some have even been taught that we can't hear the voice of God. But Jesus says we do.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20).
Who is the offer for? "Anyone." That would include you. What does Jesus say will happen? "Hears my voice." As in, hear his voice. Now, I know, I know - the prevailing belief is that God only speaks to his people through the Bible. And let me make this clear: He does speak to us first and foremost through the Bible. That is the basis for our relationship. The Bible is the eternal and unchanging word of God to us. We know right off the bat that any other supposed revelation from God that contradicts the Bible is not to be trusted. So, I am not minimizing in any way the authority of the Scriptures or the fact that God speaks to us through the Bible.

But many Christians believe that God only speaks to us through the Bible. The irony of that belief is, that's not what the Bible says. Consider John 10 and Revelation 3.

The Bible is filled with stories of God talking to his people. Abraham. Moses. David. Gideon. Noah. And lesser characters like Hagar, and a disciple simply called Ananias who gets a few paragraphs in Acts 17. Now, if God doesn't also speak to us, why would he have given us hundreds of stories of him speaking to others? "Look - here are inspiring and hopeful stories how God spoke to his people. Isn't it amazing?! But he doesn't speak like that anymore." That makes no sense at all. The Bible is not a book of exceptions. It is a book of examples of what it looks like to walk with God.
...

If we will enter into a conversational intimacy with Christ, we will say with David, "You have made known to me the path of life" (Psalm 16:11). I can't tell you the number of times he's rescued me. Don't send that e-mail. Don't go to Dallas. Call your mother. After all, he is the Shepherd. We, the sheep. His is to lead, and ours is to follow. If you want to learn more about hearing God's voice, I think Dallas Willard's book Hearing God is really good...
I recall a time in college when a fellow student was sharing about hearing God's voice regularly. A small crowd of us surrounded him, asking him questions. Like John Eldredge mentioned above, we were Christians who believed that God simply didn't work that way anymore. Our questions were meant to show our friend that he was mistaken. Inside, I was chuckling and considered him to be a bit "out there."

So it was a little ironic when last summer, during a time of Bible reading and prayer, I asked a question out loud in prayer, and heard an answer. That was a first for me, and my mind went back to my fellow student about a dozen years before. What I experienced was similar to what he had described. Not a lightning bolt. Not a deep, loud voice like in the movies. No, it was a quiet, small voice. A voice that changed my perspective.

It's comforting to know that God didn't just create this world and then stand off to the side, detached. He's been involved from day one, pursuing us in the longest love story there is. He's already done what He needed to do in order to save the marriage, through Jesus Christ. I'm humbled to be a part of the church, the bride of Christ. What a leprous bride we are (to use a phrase from Rubel Shelley). Ugly, and often a horrible witness to the world. But pursued by God Himself, nonetheless. I pray that the world can look past us and our often ugly nature, to see Christ Himself, flawless at our side. He's the one making the marriage proposal, not us, thank goodness : )

Thank you, Father, for your plan to save us. Thank you for speaking to us then, and speaking to us now. Whatever you have to say, I pray that my ears will be open. I want to follow.

Ransomed Heart Ministries * http://www.ransomedheart.com/

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Believing God

I had heard many times that Beth Moore's "Believing God" was an incredible Bible study. I'm just starting it this summer with a group of ladies, and - wow! - what I heard is right. I don't want to just believe that God exists. I want to believe that He is who He says He is - and He's so much bigger than anything I can imagine. "Believing God" is a great reminder of that. In last night's 'homework,' I related to what Beth said regarding belief:
I'd like to set the record straight: the last thing I'm trying to encourage a thinking person to do is to surrender to a life of nothing but stark, blind faith. The reason I don't believe that aliens live on Mars is that we've never seen evidence to suggest they do. If we had evidence, I'd be far more inclined to believe, even if I never saw them with my own eyes. More importantly, I wouldn't encourage anyone to believe in a God of heaven if we had no evidence to support that He exists as the Bible says He does. Beloved, the reason I teach belief in God is that, again and again, I have found Him to be astoundingly believable.
In the same way, I have found God to be astoundingly believable, over and over again. Perhaps as a 'baby' Christian my faith was not one where the reality of my experience met with my beliefs yet. But God is gracing me by taking me down a new path. I've only been a few steps, but I know I want to keep going. It started several years ago, with prayers answered through strangely 'coincidental' circumstances. Since then, there have been some flat-out miracles. And my idea of what a prayer relationship could be was turned upside down last summer when I raised a question in prayer and actually heard an answer (that made me jump right up from where I was). There's no denying He exists. He's crashed through and graced me with experiencing Him in a new way.

Beyond experiencing God, I love that God's word stands up to scrutiny. Further in the study, Beth hits on this:

While the waves of godless intellectualism rise and fall and the trends set the tides, you and I are better off watching from the nearest solid Rock. To be sure, believers should seek to be well educated about current events and intellectual trends, but we need not feel quite so responsible to defend God. I have a tremendous respect for theological apologists, and their arguments strengthen my faith, but most of us are not called to prove unbelievers intellectually wrong...

The Bible opens with the words "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In the remarkable and reader-friendly book The Source, authors John Clayton and Nils Jansma make one of many cases for creationism by the gross improbability of planet Earth's possessing all of the necessary conditions to support life by chance. They explain how probabilities are figured, using the example of a deck of cards. The chances of drawing a specified card from a shuffled deck are obviously 1 in 52. If the card is reinserted into the deck and the deck is reshuffled, the chances of randomly choosing the same card becomes 1/52 x 1/52, or 1 in 2,704. Applying the same kind of math probability, Clayton and Jansma offer the following "Estimated Odds of Selected Variables Vital to an Earth-like Planet Occurring by Chance."

Being in the right kind of galaxy... 1 in 100
Being in the right place in the galaxy... 1 in 150
Having the right kind of star... 1 in 1,000
Being the right distance from the star... 1 in 10
Having the proper planetary mass... 1 in 10
Having the proper planetary spin... 1 in 10
Having the proper planetary tilt... 1 in 10
Having comet-sweeping planets... 1 in 40
Not being near a black hole... 1 in 250
Having a large solitary moon... 1 in 10
Possessing a magnetic field capable of shielding... 1 in 10

Total odds... 1 in 150,000,000,000,000,000
I like the way Clayton brings his point home: "If I offered you a billion dollars (tax free) to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet without a parachute, with the proviso that you had to live to collect it, would you accept the offer? Not if you were in your right mind. Obviously, the odds of survival are much too small for any rational person to accept. Yet the odds of there being an 'accidental' planet hospitable for life using only the few parameters we have considered are 15 billion times less likely than surviving a free-fall from an airplane."

Incidentally, John Clayton is a scientist and a former second-generation atheist who "came to believe in God while attempting to prove that the Bible contradicts known scientific facts. Instead of disproving the Bible, he found it to be absolutely reliable."
What amazes me is that the probability shown is simply for 'setting the stage.' I shudder to think of the complexity of life 'randomly occurring' on this planet so coincidentally suited for it.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Benefits of Babywearing

As we prepare content for our new SlingEZee website, I'd like to post some 'good stuff' from it. Baby wearing has been a huge blessing for our family!


Baby wearing helps babies feel content and safe. One study showed that worn babies cried 40 - 50% less than the norm. Not carrying infants may predispose them to crying and colic.

Baby wearing is convenient for outings. Wearing your baby means there is no heavy carrier to lug around and no bulky stroller to navigate with.

Baby wearing encourages mothers to respond more to their babies. One study showed that mothers who wore their babies were more responsive to their infants' vocalizations.

Baby wearing helps babies thrive. Close to their milk supply, babies nurse more frequently. As a result of there being shorter time between feedings, the breast milk is higher in healthy fat. Frequent feedings of higher fat milk may help babies gain more weight. Worn babies also spend less energy fussing for feedings, so their bodies can devote more energy to growing!

Baby wearing allows parents to have evenings out at adult gatherings. With baby awake and content in the sling, or settled down to sleep, parents are free to enjoy their evening out.

Baby wearing encourages language development. Placing baby on the level of adult conversation and eye contact is the perfect spot for learning.

Baby wearing gives parents a boost in confidence. A happy baby makes parents feel more competent and at ease. Parents are able to sense what is wrong with baby when they stir, because baby is right next to them. Meeting needs before baby becomes upset results in a more relaxed parent.

Baby wearing allows parents to have two free hands for day to day tasks while providing comfort to baby. With baby more content, parents are free to go about their tasks without as many interruptions.

Baby wearing supports transitions to other caregivers. Encouraging caregivers to wear baby in the sling helps baby, as they are able to feel the familiar security of being close to a loving adult.

Baby wearing is great for preemies. One study showed that wearing preterm babies skin-to-skin helped them cry less, have more quiet sleep, and maintain healthier temperature.

Baby wearing reduces instances of plagiocephaly (abnormal head shape). Wearing your infant means less time with pressure against their head due to hard carriers, car seat and swings.

Baby wearing helps mothers feel happier. One study showed that mothers of pre-term babies who wore them skin-to-skin reported less depression than traditionally cared for babies.

Baby wearing is great for baby's digestion. Wearing baby encourages frequent, smaller breastfeeding sessions. This, combined with the motion of being worn improves digestion.

Baby wearing helps babies develop security. One study found that babies who are worn by their mothers are more secure when left with a stranger.

Baby wearing feels better for the parent. Carrying baby in your arms without a sling is tiring. Worn properly, a sling provides much-needed support.

Baby wearing aids parents of older children when a new baby is welcomed into the family. With baby content in the sling, mom or dad are free to parent older children while bonding with the new baby.

Baby wearing supports breastfeeding. Wearing baby encourages them to nurse and allows for easier, discreet breastfeeding in public. More attention is drawn to a baby who is crying frantically to nurse. With baby worn close in a sling, mother is able to quietly respond to early feeding cues beneath the privacy of the sling.

Baby wearing is great for mental and psychomotor development. One study showed higher scores for babies worn skin-to-skin on the Bayley Mental Developmental Index and the Psychomotor Developmental Index.

Baby wearing gives parents the freedom to bring their babies to their place of employment or to their volunteer activities, as they are able to care for them while they go about their work.

Baby wearing gives parents freedom while out. Strollers are hard to navigate through some areas and difficult to push through sand or wood chips at the playground. With baby in a sling, parents are able to get where they need to at the mall and help their active toddlers at the park.

Baby wearing is great for baby's development. Equivalent to "tummy time," Baby wearing allowing baby's balance to improve and muscles to strengthen as baby responds to mother's movements.

Baby wearing helps parents have flexibility with sleep schedules. Wearing baby is a great way to lull baby to sleep no matter where you are.

References:

Anisfeld E, Casper V, Nozyce M, Cunningham N. 1990 "Does infant carrying promote attachment? An experimental study of the effects of increased physical contact on the development of attachment." Child Development 61:1617-1627.

Chwo MJ, Anderson GC, Good M, Dowling DA, Shiau SH, Chu DM. 2002. "A randomized controlled trial of early kangaroo care for preterm infants: effects on temperature, weight, behavior, and acuity." J Nurs Res 10(2):129-42.

Feldman R, Eidelman AI, Sirota L, Weller A. 2002. "Comparison of Skin-to-Skin (Kangaroo) and Traditional Care: Parenting Outcomes and Preterm Infant Development." Pediatrics 110(1):16-26.

Hunziker UA, Barr RG. 1986. "Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomized controlled trial." Pediatrics 77:641-648.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Children: A Footstep in our Freedom Adventure

I had always wanted a large family, which in my mind meant having 4 children. But in the spring of 2004, with 2 and 4 year old boys, Mark and I found ourselves especially exasperated as parents once again. Our introduction to parenthood was very intense for us four years before, making us wonder at a very base level, "would we do this over again if we knew??" I'm not sure we ever verbalized that, but it was felt. Our first son, wonderful as he is, was incredibly challenging the first several years - a high-need, strong-willed, persistent child. Feeling maxed out with two, Mark verbalized "we are done" and was considering a vasectomy. Though I, too, felt overwhelmed and frustrated, I was saddened by his oncoming decision and asked him to pray about it with an open heart. He has since mentioned that he did not want to pray about it, but I'm so thankful he did. Practically speaking, I knew that neither Mark nor I were exactly easy-going people - perhaps we just weren't cut out for more! Our continual prayers regarding our struggles with frustration and anger seemed to have no end in sight. Here we were once again, feeling like we were against a wall, on our knees crying out to God.

That week while working at Nurtured Family, Mark noticed a quote at the bottom of a customer’s e-mail:
"The Bible calls debt a curse and children a blessing. But in our culture, we apply for a curse and reject blessings. Something is wrong with this picture."
When Mark asked about it, the customer, Christine, responded with her testimony. She had become pregnant as a teenager, but was encouraged not to marry her boyfriend because he would not be a good choice. Late in her pregnancy, God brought a wonderful man, Pete, into her life (their first date was 4 days before her son was born) and they later married. Pete adopted and loved her son as his own. After the birth of their daughter, they decided on a vasectomy. As Christine says, "We had a very selfish attitude. Our son was high maintenance, and we thought that we could never handle any more like that. We didn't know what God said about it, but we ‘acted’ like we had prayed about it. When actually, we had told God what we were going to do, instead of the other way around." Later, a mission trip to an orphanage in Mexico opened Christine's heart to children. With a burden on her heart for children, she wondered just what had they done? But on top of these questions, Christine was suffering from major female problems - severe pain, endometriosis - and was scheduled for a full hysterectomy at the age of 25. When she mentioned to Pete the desire for more children and the desire to put family planning in God's hands, he was not in agreement. But Christine responded, "don't tell me now, pray about it, see what the Lord lays on your heart and we'll go from there." Just days later, Pete said, "let's have the vasectomy reversal done!" and it turned out that insurance even paid for it! After making that decision, Christine had no more pain in her ovaries or uterus, and the hysterectomy was not needed. Now, Pete & Christine have two vasectomy reversal babies and are open to welcoming as many children as God will give them.

Later that week, Mark received an e-mail asking for a door prize for a ladies’ retreat. I went to check out the website of the ministry, and the focus was on surrendering to God – including the areas of motherhood and even family planning. How very 'coincidental' for this e-mail to come our way, the very week we started praying regarding children. We were especially surprised when we asked the lady who was requesting a door prize how she’d heard of us. We assumed that she knew we were a Christian company based in Houston, just an hour from where the retreat would be. But, no - she had found us through a Yahoo! Search, and had no idea. Also that week, Mark ran into a lady with ten children running around at a nearby park. It turned out that they were her children and her sister’s children. She and Mark had an encouraging conversation regarding turning control over to God regarding family planning. Lastly, to top off that week (and perhaps the strangest thing for me to witness)… Mark actually encouraged me to attend the ladies’ retreat to check things out for myself, since we were receiving a consistent message since we began praying. That was really something, knowing how Mark wanted the answer to our prayers to be "no more children."

I'd seen God work in such "coincidental" ways before. Not believing any of this was actually chance, I did attend the retreat. While there, I felt as if the Lord was taking a pair of tinted glasses away from my eyes. I had grown numb to how my culture truly viewed children -- and I had bought into it. I had bought into the idea that raising children was a burden - an inconvenience that I should put a halt to in the name of stewardship. I had paid lip service to the idea that children were a blessing, but deep down felt that this was an overwhelming phase of life that I longed to get under control (my control!). Studying scripture that weekend, I saw a picture of God's vision for family that I was previously blind to. It was a picture of abundance, inheritance, legacy, and blessing, which we had never truly taken to heart. The weekend was also incredible due to seeing a whole new picture of large families. Here were mothers of 6, 10... 14 children, who were joyful, beautiful and vibrant - not falling apart, depressed and haggard as our culture would suggest. It was inspiring to hear how their families functioned, with joyful teamwork and community. These families had a spirit of dependence on the Lord and a passion for Him that was contagious - and it was rubbing off on their children.

Mark and I felt that the Lord’s answer for us was to receive His blessing of children. If it was His will, then I knew that He would deal with our hearts. And He has. So much of the feeling of being burdened was lifted with our new perspective of children. Now, when facing frustration, I see it as a blessing that keeps me on my knees, resting in Christ’s grace, as spoken of in 2 Corinthians:
…He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  2 Corinthians 12:9
Ironically, God's answer for us regarding children would seem to be an additional burden. But the reality is that we have been set free by His answer. His ways are not our ways, and His wisdom appears foolish to man. But I'd much rather taste of His wisdom and the ultimate freedom that flows out of it.

One of the coolest things about this experience was simply the joy that comes from experiencing God and resting in Him.  How amazing that when I seek the Lord concerning the details of my life, He is all too eager to give His guidance. His love is intimate – He really cares. Every area of my life that I’m willing to surrender to Him will be made new by allowing Him in.