Friday, May 20, 2016

A Few Good Men

This week we celebrated an anniversary. I wrote him a love note on one of our many leftover, unused wedding invitations I still have. He brought me roses at work. Small tokens of a big love. I couldn't be more grateful that God didn't let me marry the last few guys I dated. Seriously. Makes me thankful for prayers that were answered with a NO. He does know best.

Twenty six years of marriage. How in the world? Sure doesn't seem like more than a quarter of a century, but then again it does. We've settled into a very comfortable, secure rhythm of love and commitment that takes years to acheive. Don't quit too soon, young marrieds. The good stuff comes with years.

It is no coincidence when I picked up my Bible early the morning of our special day, I would read the first few chapters of Job. Look how he was described:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (v.1)

Behind the scenes where God lives, a conversation with Satan occurred. The snake was looking for an opportunity to show God that His true followers only loved Him because He blessed them with a good life...

And the Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?' (v. 8)

I don't know about you, but I sure would like God to describe me like that. The drama-filled story continues - you should read it.

As I read the familiar verses and felt Job's pain of bad news upon bad news and loss upon loss, stunned at his unwavering faith in God, both when He gives and when He takes away, I couldn't help but think of my own husband.

Scott can easily be described as Job was. Easily. He is blameless (unless, of course I blame him for something that technically I did). He is upright. He lives by wisdom. No drama. Fun yes, foolishness none. He fears God with the utmost reverence. He turns away from evil. I'm not talking about avoiding those who smoke, drink or chew and go with girls who do. He chooses to stay away from anything that might dishonor God, his family and the church, even in the smallest of decisions. He doesn't flirt with anything that might grieve the Holy Spirit. He will never tell you this, but I've seen him live through some seasons of loss, pain, confusion and silence, and just like Job, Scott did not sin or charge God with wrong. (v.22)

I realize with the freedom of writing my own blog I could blather on proving what a great man Scott Burtis is, but what would be the value for you?

Instead, I want to speak to those of you who are raising boys and young men.

Last weekend I spoke at a women's retreat here at Camp of the Woods. I told the story of how my beloved firstborn Drew pursued, dated and married his wife Brittany. I often tell it because it is extraordinary in my opinion. So unlike the norm of our current culture. Not the only way of course, but a darn good one!

You see, he purposed in his heart (in advance) two things. 1. To not throw the powerful words 'I love you' around until he could back them up with a committment, a promise to love her and only her forever, with an engagement ring.

2. In a bold effort to not take what didn't belong to him before marriage and to protect their purity individually and as a couple, he didn't kiss her until she said yes to the proposal. Two years they dated. No I love you. No kissing. Self control. Delayed gratification. It was countercultural and inspiring. (Very Romans 12:1, 2 - look it up.)

Without fail, whenever I tell this to a group of women, some come up to me and say, "That story about your son is so beautiful. Do you think anyone else is raising sons like that? Will there be a principled young man for my daughter(s) to be loved by?"

It's a good question. Of course it is happening. But there certainly doesn't seem to be a large supply. I'd like to see more. I pray for God to bring this kind of man to the young women I know who are asking and waiting for a blameless and upright man to come into their lives.

Makes me want to throw that challenge out to you. Raise one. Raise more than one if you can. You can do it. But you won't do it by accident.

Model Biblical virture first and then train him how to reach it. Blameless and upright. Fearing God and shunning evil. If you want amazing results, you have to raise the bar up past what is normal, easy and status quo pointing as high as Biblical standards describe.

Convince him the benefits of a blameless, upright life far outweigh the price of slowing down, honoring God first then honoring every girl as one created in God's image for a great purpose. This is done by asking an important question before every decision, "Is there wisdom in this?"

As our favorite preacher Andy Stanley has said, "You can't expect extraordinary kids by raising them just like every one else." Amen.

I sincerely pray for young parents to be intentional in parenting. Stay a step ahead of your kids so you aren't taken by surprise at what's coming next. Recognize that you are raising an adult. Always keep before you the end product that you are aspiring to, and let that guide your decisions, boundaries and expectations.

With constant prayer and instruction from the Bible and the influence and support of wise people you admire, you can raise the next Job. What a gift he will be to the world.

One more thing - just in case. If there are any young men reading this, I throw a different challenge out to you. Become a Job. Don't wait for your friends to agree it's a good idea. You do it. You lead. Stand out and be extraordinary. Love God and turn away from evil. Step up your game. Reach for holiness (be blameless and upright) instead of lingering near the line of 'how little do I have to do and be and still be ok with God?'.

One thing I've always said about Scott Burtis is this: "What you see is what you get. He's the same guy at church as he is at home."

Blameless. Upright. Fears God. Turns away from evil. Continues to trust God when the life he enjoys falls apart for a season.

My sons are blessed to have been raised by a man like Job. I hope yours are too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

You Really Should

I know I've said this many times here, but we really should read through all of the Bible. I heard a preacher say once that we need a 'deep and wide' view of the Bible. Go deep by taking a slow approach to studying chapters and verses in depth but also a wide view by reading the whole content so as to get a greater scope of God's activity in history.

I couldn't agree more. I chatted with a young woman the other day who told me she started reading through the Old Testament but got hung up on the tedious, difficult, boring parts. I get that. Some of it seems to have no modern day value. As isolated readings this could be true.

I used to think the same thing, until I got a few whole readings under my belt. Now when I reach some of those shall I say, less appreciated books, I see themes arise, repeated phrases and concepts jump off the page - and have great meaning. I mean, check this out...

2 Chronicles 6 - King Solomon's prayer

v. 14 "O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart..."

v. 21 "...And listen to the pleas of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive."

v.24, 25 "If your people....have sinned against you and they turn and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you...then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people..."

v. 26, 27 "When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin...then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants..."

v. 29, 30 "whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own sorrow and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear from heaven your dwelling place and forgive and render to each whose heart you know...for you, you only, know the hearts of the children of mankind."

v. 32, 33 "When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when he comes and prays, hear him from heaven and order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you."

v. 34 "If your people...pray to you..., then hear from heaven their plea..."

v. 36-39 "If they sin against you - for there is no one who does not sin...yet if they turn their heart...and repent with all their mind and with all their heart....and pray...then hear them from heaven...and forgive."

This is 2 Chronicles people!

You see it?
Hear and forgive.
Isn't that what we need the most from our Heavenly Father? To hear our I'm sorrys and forgive.

I wrote in the margin:

The ears of God always hear the repentant prayers of His people.

There's more. In Chapter 7

v. 14 "...if my people who are called by name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin..."

v. 16 " eyes and my heart will be there (temple for worship) for all time.

Chapter 16

v. 9 "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him."

The eyes of God.
The ears of God.
The heart of God.

He sees. He hears. He answers.

Reminds me of this from some years (chapters) prior:

"During those many days...the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant...God saw the people of Israel...and God knew." Exodus 2:24, 25 (don't even get me started on all the good stuff in Exodus 3)

He hears.
He remembers.
He sees.
He knows.

What a beautiful picture. Don't miss the heart of God toward you today.
And what an amazing gift He has given to us.

He always makes a way for us to approach His holiness, as greatly loved children.
If we...., then He.....
It's a promise.

I hope that brightens your day  as it has mine.

So many treasures tucked into God's written Word. We really should read all of it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Good Book Can Change Your Life

Once upon a time I was not a reader. I could read but I didn't choose to read outside out of what was necessary for basic daily survival. I think I liked to read as a kid. I know I gobbled up all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series with fervor and I must have read Charlotte's Web thirty times if I read it once. But it didn't follow me into adulthood.

Until I was exposed to people who read. Not just because they have to. No, for pleasure. They seemed so smart to me. They knew things they could only know by reading. Reading all sorts of things. Not just the newspaper. Not just a random magazine. Books! These people are interesting and can talk with some authority on many subjects. They could recommend books to anyone about almost anything. I was amazed and decided I wanted to be like them.

As usual, desires like this are not realized without effort. I told one friend in particular who I admired for his strength in this area that I wanted to become a reader too and asked what he recommended to get me started. He gave me three book titles.

I vividly remember one of them to this day. In The Grip of Grace by Max Lucado. Max is easy to read, enjoyable, entertaining and educating. I devoured the book. Before long Terry checked up on me and asked how I was doing with the reading. I had so identified with one of the stories from the book and knowing he would be familiar, I wailed, "I'm the rock stacker!" In gentleness but I am certain with a grin, he said, "Yes darlin', you are."

I won't get into what that means here because it's not a flattering admission. You can read the book yourself for context, but it's not the point really. I don't think at that stage in my life (at least 18 years ago), I had ever experienced a book (besides the Bible) pointing a finger at me and saying, "I'm talking to you here". It changed my life. I liked it and hungered for more.

I read the other two titles, learning more about myself, others, and life. I went to him for for more. He was the one who told me he always has a book on prayer going because you can never stop improving your prayer life. Good advice. We don't talk as often as I'd like these days, but when we do one of my first questions is, "What are you reading?". Then I almost always get my hands on those titles.

Now all these years later, I still hunger for a great read, one that will challenge me to readjust for the better. I love books. All different kinds (except sci-fi and fantasy. I just can't go there.). I love words and am forever amazed at how different authors can arrange words on a page evoking all manner of emotions. It is powerful and I'm addicted.

Because I'm basically obnoxious, I want everyone to read. I've led book clubs. I required my fellow women's ministry team leaders to read certain selections. I give books as gifts.

I try to encourage my kids to read. Ok, I nag. I mention it, well, all the time. I buy them books for Christmas. I tell them what I'm reading. When they were younger, I had my own required reading list for their summers, always including one missionary biography. Even though I'm still waiting for the day they thank me, I believe it was to their benefit. Of course while in college, they are required to read volumes so I tone it down some and cut them some slack. I admit though, when Drew graduated from college, one of the first things I said was, "Now you can read for pleasure!" I don't recall a verbal response. It was all in the eyes.

I don't think I'll ever embrace the electronic book craze because part of the pleasure of reading is holding the pages in my hand. The smell of brand new books. Highlighting and writing in them, learning. I have library cards in my wallet for the last three cities we have lived in. Yeah, I know. Nerd. I don't mind you thinking that. In the immortal words of Arthur, the tv cartoon, "Having fun isn't hard if you've got a library card".

Another favorite thing is recommending great books to someone else. It's what I do. Go ahead, just ask. I dare you.

One thing Scott and I like to do on our dates is to wander around Barnes and Noble and browse. For those I don't "need" but look interesting, I usually take pictures and later check them out of the public library. A few weeks ago, we stole away for an overnight. We found this cute locally owned bookstore and looked around for at least an hour. What I loved was that on every single shelf were post-it note recommendations from staff members who had read the books. Genius! Naturally, I selected some titles and after a few days headed to the Lake Pleasant library.
This is one of them. I don't read a lot of fiction books, but picked it because it promised to "make you laugh and make you cry" and that it was "charming". Say no more.

It was a cold rainy day when I started it and truly was delighted by both style and story. I snapchatted sections to my kids and a few girls I thought would appreciate the prose. I know, aren't I so hip? One of my sons even screenshotted it. Glory Hallelujah that's success! I mean, just read this little snippet....
Now that's good writing, people! Quite unexpectedly, before I knew it, I was learning about things I know very little about but would benefit from discovering. It was jarring actually, because it applies to a difficult, unresolved area in my life.

May I interrupt this story and interject one little thought? God can use anything He wants to speak to us if our radar is up and we are open to His Spirit. We mustn't limit Him. Christian, I'm talking to you here, it doesn't have to be a Christian author or a Christian subject for it to be valuable.

Toward the end, I couldn't put it down. While Scott drove I said, "Well, I've chuckled to myself and laughed out loud, but I haven't cried yet." Sometimes he just lets me blather on, withholding his response. I plodded on, within minutes, tears were rolling down my face. He noticed and shook his head. Then I was laughing. Then more crying. Then I put the book down and looked out the window. Then I picked it up again. Then I cried more. Then I laughed. Then I searched the glove compartment for tissues.

"Why are you crying?" he asked.
"This book."
"I thought you were reading it for pleasure."
"This is pleasure! I love every word!"

Another way men don't understand women.

I went to work the next day and was telling one of the young'ns about it. Christa is a reader. I said something like I wish I knew someone who read the book because I need to discuss it and have help figuring some of it out. She said, "I'll read it for you."

She was going home to her parents house for the weekend and texted me later that night (with a picture, of course) saying she was starting it right then.

I was so touched by that sweet gesture. Is that not the most wonderful gift? Her time and interest.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this extremely long post, I want to know what others are reading too. I keep a list in my purse of what my favorite authors recommend. Hey, you never know when you might need it.

While I tend to inquire of those who are a little further down the road in experience and maturity, I also have come to value the opinion of the next generation too. This whole mentoring thing is a two way street, you know. The younger learn from the older and the older should be humble enough to learn from those coming up behind.

In our new jobs, Scott and I are surrounded by twenty somethings. Because they are the same ages as our kids, I know it's wise for me to lean in and seek to understand how they process life. So when they get excited about what they are learning, I want to hear about it.

Recently, one brought me this and said, "I think you'll like this book, Mama Ang." Yes, that's what they call me.
When I saw the title I thought, "I could have used this last year, and the year before and the year before." Quite honestly, I didn't want to revisit the topic. Too soon. But to honor Abby, I picked it up.

It seemed like a slow read at first because it was jam packed with good stuff I wanted to simmer and take root in my brain. But I hit a certain spot and didn't move until I savored the last page. This is hands down my favorite book of 2016 so far. That's a little spoiler for some of you who may be receiving a gift from me in the future. I may or may not have several copies in my Amazon shopping cart already.

The moral of my story today is that I probably would not have chosen that book myself, but because someone else thought enough of me to put it in my hands, I read it and I'm better for it. We need to help each other grow. Be someone who seeks the input of others and open yourself up to learning. Its such a gift!

And books.
And learning.

This is the good stuff of life.

So tell me, what are you reading?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Love Church

Today I'm enjoying the last day of a three day weekend off work. It's a rainy day and as much as I love Karen Carpenter, I'm not going to let her Monday theology get me down. You young'ns won't likely get that reference. Perhaps you can google it?

What a really beautiful weekend. Scott took me down into civilization overnight to celebrate my birthday early. It was a "whatever you want to do" trip. He gets me. Of course, this basically just translates into us eating ridiculous amounts of amazing food (pancakes, Chinese, Italian and the very best and largest scone I ever saw - oh my!) using as many gift cards as possible (which we did), staying in our favorite hotel which has the most comfortable beds, soft sheets and pillows (loved it), him letting me browse my favorite stores for as long as it takes (even letting me buy a piece of jewelry or six), and visiting a church we've never been to.

I loved every minute. So many times over two days we reaped the blessing of being in the yoke together for almost twenty six years now. We are very different people, but we enjoy many of the same things. Not the least of which is history. Before you go thinking we discussed world history, I meant the history of us. You know -  songs that are no longer played on the radio, jokes that only he and I get the punchline to, and memories. The most painful and the most joyous. If you are married, do whatever it takes to stay together. The good stuff comes with years. The more the better.

Every minute I get to spend with Scott Burtis is to my benefit. It was good just being alone with him, and don't say anything, but I didn't miss the kids one bit!

I mentioned church. We are church people. It wouldn't occur to us to skip church just because we are away.  We love it too much. We need it. There's so much value in seeing what God is doing out in the world in other places through and with other people, even if it's just an hour or two down the road.

As much as I miss hearing Scott preach every Sunday, I do love standing beside him while we worship and sitting close while we listen to the preaching of God's Word.

After the service, when we got into our car and buckled up he asked the question I was waiting for, "So, what did you think?"  

"We've been to four different churches in the last month and this is the one I thought feels the most like us, like we could fit in here."

"Me too. Exactly." High five!

Did I mention how much we love church? A great church experience for me isn't in the friendliness of the people (though I love that) and it isn't always about the style of worship (though I do enjoy upbeat, Spirit-lifting music). The sermon really is the main event.

A few kids at work the other day asked me about church. My response went something like this, "I believe the Bible, God's very words to us, is alive and exciting. It needs to be presented in a contagious, enthusiastic way that invokes a response. When It comes across boring or humdrum, I am annoyed and find it insulting, sinful even."

I can't remember the last time I took notes as feverishly as I did yesterday. Glorious! It was like God was whispering things in my ear that the Pastor wasn't even saying. A wise woman once told me that's a pretty good indicator that the Holy Spirit is speaking.

Sensing the impact and feeling like I was coming alive, I wrote:

The effect of going to church - it either inspires and energizes me, causing an eagerness to get out into my world to tell others how great God is and how He changes lives, starting with mine. 


It uninspires me. Makes me tired, eager to get home, take a nap and hibernate as much as possible until I (have to) go back next week.

I've experienced both. Christians, this should not be.

I want to come out of church having learned something about our Amazing God that changes my life. That challenges and forces me to adjust my comfort zone tendencies to what I've learned. Whether it be confession and repentance of sin or a call to obey a difficult principle or that I am so encouraged by a blessing He has promised that I can't keep my mouth shut about it - any of it.

Sermons are important. One of yesterday's outline points was the command to 'love God with all your mind' (Mark 12:30) and how to do it. The preacher said, "When you became a follower of Christ, God didn't ask you to check your mind and follow Him without thinking. He wants to engage your intellect.

Every time you read Scripture, you are loving God with your mind.
Every time you memorize a verse, you are loving God with your mind.
Every time you grapple with a difficult passage, eager to learn it's meaning, you are loving God with your mind.
Every time you read a Christian book, you are loving God with your mind.
Every time you listen to a sermon, you are loving God with your mind."

Well, there you go. Did you catch the last one?

He also said, "Drifting from the faith and your passion to follow Christ starts in the mind which is why you must know God's Word and have a firm Biblical worldview."

Now that's what I'm talking about! I practically bounced out of there when the final Amen was said.

Taught. Challenged. Encouraged. Yes! That service fit beautifully into a perfect weekend away.

I hope you have a church to not only attend, but be a part of that feeds your Spirit, uses God's Word and man's love to bandage you up after a hard week then send you out into your world again with fresh resolve to get back in the game and make a difference for God's glory.

Because that's the point.

Those coming behind us will take our cues. Let's love church for ourselves - and for them.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What's Your Wish?

It's birthday season in the Burtis household. One a month for the first six months of the year. Not to mention friends and co-workers. Birthdays are fun. Its another time of year to stop and evaluate your life, make necessary changes or adjustments, and start fresh.

Recently I read this passage:

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him.
And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. *

What an amazing question for Jesus to ask, "What do you want me to do for you?"

I've considered this scenario off and on through my life and for sure my answer has changed with the seasons. So many answers come to mind. Some preventative. Some grandiose. Some other-focused. Some downright selfish. 

But this time as I read it, I see the last sentence as if for the first time: "And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God." Well, that sort of changes things.

The (new) question(s) written in the margin of my Bible:

What would I request?
and would the result cause other people to give praise to God?

Mmmmm. Now I'm thinking. Perhaps the purest of desires should include how others are affected. I mean, when we join God's family through faith in Jesus' life, death, resurrection and offer for eternal life, we gain a whole lot of community. What we do and what happens to us affects others. It's no longer just about us.

When I'm spending time with the Lord early in the morning in my living room, I sometimes imagine Jesus sitting on the other end of the couch with me. I picture Him asking me the above question. My answer doesn't come quickly. Probably because I have a rub my lamp and get three wishes mentality thanks to Disney indoctrination. Continuing the scenario, in our twisted thinking, most of us probably only hope for one wish. So we've got to make it good.

What would you ask the Most High God, who has all power and knowledge, to do for you?
And would the answer cause other people to give thanks?

In the remote chance a chocolate birthday cake smeared in a ridiculous layer of white buttercream frosting topped with __ lit candles is placed in front of me sometime this month, I'll be considering those questions.
Because while I don't really put much stock in birthday wishes, I do believe Jesus could, like the blind beggar, ask me what I would like Him to do for me and I want it to be something that causes others to unmistakably see God for how good He is. That all who saw would be so amazed the only appropriate response would be to thank Him right along with me!

*Luke 18:35-43