Time’s Up, Pencils Down

635899003968884273343242113_pencil test

Every time another of my children launches, I get that same feeling you get on a standardized test when the clock runs out and the exam monitor calls out, “Time’s up, pencils down.” Each time it hits like a ton of bricks. Over? Already?

Sending the youngest child off to college is one of the most excruciating experiences I’ve had as a mother. I longed to sweep him back up in my arms and carry him home.  How did this come so soon?  I remember as clearly as I remember my name his first day of kindergarten when he ran out to catch the bus. The sun had not yet risen, and a small vertical embankment stood between our lawn and the road to the bus stop. He stopped at that point and exclaimed, “I must what I must!” before jumping off and running to join the other waiting children.

That was just yesterday. Now he’s in college over 4,000 miles away, and my season of influence has come, for the most part, to a sudden end.

On the very same day I said goodbye to Calvin and his brother Colson in Alaska, my father’s time ran out as well, when he went to be with the Lord.  My dad’s death should have come as no surprise, as he had been ill for a very long time. Oddly, even though I’d known Calvin was going away to college and that my dad was going to die, both events stunned me. Some part of me had held onto the belief that things would remain just as they were.

I am not unique. We live in an age where people spend their lives in flat denial that all of our days are numbered–that the God of the universe will at some point say to each of us, “Time’s up.” Every person will at a time already appointed stand before the God who is judge. How often these days do we hear the phrase, “Only God can judge,” typically argued by persons who do not believe he actually will judge? Be not deceived. God is holy and He is judge.

We should shudder at this terrifying fact: Every wrong thought, every selfish deed, every angry word spoken, every lustful glance given, indeed every single sin we’ve ever committed in all time will be laid out before God and judged. Not one of us can stand before a holy God and be found even close to worthy of anything but hell.

Except…

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isa. 53:4-6, ESV)

The good news is that for those of us who have put our trust and faith in Christ, the price for our sin has been paid. In the greatest but most inequitable exchange of all time, Jesus Christ has granted us pure and complete holiness in trade for our wretched sinful condition for which he died. He has paid our ransom, that we might receive eternal life, escaping judgment!

“But God proves his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, Berean Study Bible)

Here is the power and the good news of the Gospel. When we confess our sins and repent of them, calling upon the name of Jesus and putting our faith in Him, we no longer need to fear that “Time’s up” instant nor the eternal wages for our sin.  He delivers us from the curse of sin and death. We are free to live lives of obedience, now and forevermore.

My dad had done this. Albeit late in life, my dad turned from his sin and trusted Christ as his Savior. I will see my dad again on that day when my time is up.

If  you’re reading this and you haven’t given your life to Christ, your time is not yet up. It could be decades from now or this very night. Not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow.  Do you want to continue to live for  yourself and receive the penalty of your sin, or are you willing to lay it all down and follow Christ?  The choice is yours. Make it soon.

 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)

 

 

 

The Profound Sound of Silence

silence

Our culture is so very noisy, isn’t it? When I was young, life seemed to be so much quieter. Television stations actually turned off by midnight and didn’t begin broadcasting again until 6 or 7 in the morning. We didn’t have the internet or cell phones or ipods to keep us constantly engaged. Within this age of information and digital connection, it’s so very easy to go days or even weeks without enjoying the gift of silence.

Several months ago, I felt impressed upon by the Lord to be quiet. I didn’t know why…I just felt he was telling me to be silent. Initially, I responded by withdrawing from Facebook, Twitter, and this very blog. This led to a precious time of beginning to hear his voice guiding me and preparing me for things I had no idea were about to happen. My life was about to change in a dramatic and wonderful way, but to get through those changes, I truly needed my heart to be fixed upon God and his faithfulness.

I won’t even pretend to understand everything that God is doing, but oh, the excitement of living in what I know to be his incredible, gracious plan! He has picked us up (rather suddenly!) from our home in Texas and transplanted us in Virginia, where we are getting precious time with all six of our children and our little honeybee. He has placed us with a sweet new church that just began in May. He has given me a new job, which I have to tell you, would never have entered my mind as worth considering had I not taken time to be quiet and listen. He has connected us with new friends in our neighborhood, who have brought us into their Bible study group. He has also joined us to the local Emmaus community in an exciting way. Through it all, he is teaching us to listen, trust, and follow.

During this same quiet period, though, some scary changes have taken place around us. ISIS now shares daily headlines with ebola. War is being waged in Ukraine (so very dear to our hearts) by Russia. Every day seems to bring troubles unimagined the day before. It would be so easy to tremble in the face of it all, had the Lord not drawn me into a time of quietness before him. This morning I was reading in Psalm 46…”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (v. 1-3) In my quietness before God, I have sensed that we are about to walk through difficult times. Many believers seem to have this impression. But I love how that same chapter ends: “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts (armies!) is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (v. 10-11)

In my entire life, I’ve never experienced such a true sense of utter dependence upon God. Oh, the hope that is found in total surrender! How grateful I am that he called me to be still and listen.

Consequential Mercies

It was shortly after 7 a.m. this past Sunday when RJ’s phone woke us from sound sleep. On the line was a security guard from the local mall where we own several stores. “Mr. Dittmeier, we need you to come down here.” We’d been robbed, but luckily (this time), the perpetrator was caught in the act. San Antonio Police had been called in, and my husband needed to go in and press charges.

When RJ entered the room where the man was being held, he took photos to share with other mall merchants, causing the thief to become enraged. This young adult began shouting threats that as soon as he called his dad, my husband would be dealt with very harshly….maybe even sued.

I don’t doubt it.

We live in a culture that has decided that children and consequences do not belong together. Online groups praise parents who allow children to be defiant, self-willed beings, lacking respect for authority of any type, including their parents and, by logical extension, God himself. This is, as Dr. Phil says, child abuse.

A memory forever etched in my mind from my years working for MADD is a pitiful one. A local attorney of extreme wealth crumpled to the floor of the courthouse in a heap, bawling his eyes out. His money and legal resources had failed to keep his son from facing consequences. Having sent a teenage girl to a wheelchair for life, a young man with seemingly every advantage in life was sentenced to prison. Every time he had crashed a car, his dad had bought him a new one. Even after he’d paralyzed this girl, Dad bought him a new BMW. The world now came at this young man full force, bearing consequences which may have been avoided had he ever learned consequences earlier in life.

Another memory from MADD is when a father called to ask me to attend his son’s court hearing and implore them to not consider probation. “This is his third arrest, and I’m afraid he’s going to kill someone,” he pleaded with me.

“Who bails him out of jail when he’s arrested?” I asked.

“I do,” he sheepishly replied.

I admire that this dad wanted his son to finally face the consequences for his behavior (mainly to protect others, which is admirable), but where was the courage to say, “Son, I love you…and because I love you, I am not going to let you get out of jail and endanger others and yourself. You’re going to have to face the consequences of continuing this behavior.”

I get it. We want our kids to love us. We want them to like us. However, our higher goal has to be that our children will love, honor, and obey God. This starts in the home with the parents.

In Scripture we meet a priest named Eli who failed to use consequences to teach his sons. They filled their days with debauchery of every kind, blaspheming God himself. Eli pleaded with his sons to behave better and attempted to reason with them (1 Sam. 3:24-25), but they, having no respect for either God or their father, refused to listen. God eventually put them to death, “because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” (3:13)

Throughout Scripture, we see God use discipline repeatedly to bring his people to and back to repentance. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that the Lord disciplines those he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (ESV) At times, the punishments are very harsh, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, whom God struck dead in the book of Acts. We do not serve a God who winks at sin.

Consequences serve us. They interrupt our lives with the reality of the seriousness of our rebellion. They point us toward our need for our Savior, Jesus. They remind us that our sin is unacceptable in the Kingdom of God. They direct us toward repentance. Pity the man who faces no consequences for his actions. He will face them eventually. If he’s fortunate, he will face them in this world. If not, he will face them before our God in heaven.

The good news is this: Jesus died that we could be set free from the eternal consequences of our sin. While undoubtedly we may suffer consequences for our poor choices on this earth for the rest of our lives, we do not have to dread our appointment with our Heavenly Father. At the Cross, my sins were dealt with forever. Let this not lead me to a cheap view of my sin or my salvation, but to unspeakable gratitude. Let me direct my children toward a Holy God, an accurate attitude toward sin, and the risen Savior who alone can deliver them.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)

How Great….

After this, I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures.  They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen!  Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  Rev. 7:9-12 (ESV).

Expect the Unexpected

I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the above phrase used in reference to God and his actions in our lives, but this was different….I was reading the phrase yesterday on the marquee of a closed down stripper club.  It piqued my curiosity.  It also took me back in time.

Back when we lived in the the outer rim of civilization of Mesa, Arizona, our two oldest children spent a year attending a beautiful, mission style Anglican church school.

trinity

Trinity Christian School remains the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen.  The highlight of each morning took place as I drove the kids to study amidst the cacti, tumbleweed, boulders, and sand.  There was, however, one blemish.

One mile from the school, there was an intersection that contained a single business–a triple x-rated video store.  I hated this interruption to the beauty that surrounded us.  We’d developed a habit of praying before they left the vehicle to go to class, so I began asking God if he would mind shutting down that business.  For three or four months, it became part of our morning prayer ritual–asking the Creator of the universe to remove an adult video store from our morning desert drives.

Something happens when you pray with children.  At the same time you’re thinking, “Yeah, I know, this is never going to happen” children are absolutely full of faith that GOD CAN DO IT!  They haven’t lived to take on the doubt and cynicism that grips most adult hearts.

Imagine our delight when we again made our drive to school, and saw on the marquee of the adult video store, “LOST OUR LEASE!  EVERYTHING HALF PRICE!”  The Creator of the Universe, the Redeemer of our Souls, had heard our prayers and answered in a “Too easy!” fashion!

The building was bulldozed, and up came an Exxon/McDonalds.  In the middle of the desert….with NO other businesses around!  Okay, I’m not going to pretend it was nearly as pretty as our little church school, but it KILLED the ugliness of the adult video store.  Furthermore, it provided a place where we could get fuel and ice cream, all in one stop!

I hope the “Expect the Unexpected” message at the closed down stripper bar will yield way to something amazing God’s going to do.  I pray that women will no longer be legally degraded, objectified, demeaned and bought & sold in that building.   My prayer is that whatever the “unexpected,” may entail in this situation, it will at the very least involve ice cream or, at best, a church!