Melanie Lenow

Guest Post: A {Real} Solution to a Complaining Heart

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“What are you writing about, momma?” one of my daughters asked innocently as I began working on this piece.

“Complaining,” I replied.

With a concerned look on her face, she said, “Oh. Are you going to name any names?”

While I initially laughed at her response, it reminded me of the broad scope of this problem throughout God’s people, even in my own household and in my own heart.

Despite the trials going on in our country or the severity of the headlines, we, as Christian Americans, live a relatively easy life, especially compared to our brothers and sisters in Christ who live abroad.

I believe it is this life filled with an abundance of blessings that reveals the sin in our own hearts bubbling up as complaining and grumbling.

To some, complaining might seem as innocent as a group of friends sharing their concerns with each other. However, concerns, not channeled in the right way, lead to the fertile soil of discontentment, where complaining takes root and grows deeper and deeper with time.

Of course, we are supposed to share our burdens with each other, but this command of Scripture is intended to cause us to pray for each other and encourage each other through our concerns and burdens.

On the contrary, complaining actually does the opposite. When complaining is mentioned in Scripture it is usually paired with grumbling and discord.  Therein lies the difference:

Sharing our burdens leads to prayer and encouragement, complaining leads to further grumbling and increased discord within the body of Christ.

When God tells us to stop a behavior, He always leads us to fill it with a better action. For example, when Paul says, “Do everything without grumbling and complaining,” it is within the context of us being light to a dark and corrupt world. In Philippians 2:12-17, Paul charges us to do the work God has called us to do. As we do that work – obeying God’s commands in our life – we are showing God’s good pleasure in our lives.

Our obedience to God as we do His will leads us to glorify Him with our lives and actions, which leads to us being a light because the world around us is “crooked and perverse”. This is how we are light among the darkness around us.

However, if we complain and grumble, we cannot fulfill God’s will for our lives in this way. Our light is dulled by our grumbling mouths and we are no longer visible in the darkness around us.

A complaining spirit not only steals our passion to act out God’s will in our life, but it steals our light to the lost world.

I once thought the simple answer to complaining was becoming more thankful. However, in further studying the Philippians passage about grumbling, thankfulness is not mentioned. Don’t get me wrong; We can always be more thankful of the blessings God has bestowed upon us (Phil 4:6-7).

But the remedy to a chronic complainer is understanding God’s will in your life and, through obedience to Him, fulfilling that calling for God’s glory. Like Paul mentions in verse 17, we are all called to be poured out as a drink offering in whatever ministry God has placed us.

Here is a modern day example of Paul’s charge in Philippians 2: A young mom is overwhelmed by her trying daily tasks of taking care of her young children. She begins to complain to her husband or friends about the endless dishes or piles of laundry, the lack of sleep, or the continual messes. She tries to be thankful, but logic makes it difficult to rejoice over another pile of laundry. Paul gives this godly mama the charge to understand that it is “God who works through you to will and do for His good pleasure” and that if we can do the things God has called us to do without grumbling or complaining, then we will be “without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we will] shine as lights in the world”.  And finally, “[she can] rejoice in the day of Christ that (she has) not run in vain or labored in vain.”

The real solution to our complaining is a greater understanding of the calling God has on our lives and a deeper knowledge that He is using us to impact His kingdom right where we are. Once, we know that truth in our innermost being, the roots of complaining in our soul will be removed and replaced with the healthy growth of renewed purpose.

A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting

book_cover_everyday_parentingMelanie and I were asked to contribute a chapter to a recently-released book entitled, Everyday Parenting. While we still have much to learn in the realm of parenting, we are hopeful that our chapter, “A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting” will be helpful. Below is an excerpt from our chapter. You can purchase the book from Seminary Hill Press.

The word “parenting” brings to mind many words that could be paired alongside it. Wonderful. Exciting. Exhausting. Loving. Frustrating. Joyous. Sweet. Stinky. Gracious. Sacrificial. Heartbreaking. Precious. Blessing. But the one word that has proven to be the overarching theme throughout our parenting adventure is “humbling.”

We do not necessarily mean individual incidents that prove to humble a prideful soul—although plenty of those exist. For example, when your young child throws a gallon of milk out of the cart, and it explodes all over the frozen food section with the force of an atomic bomb.  Or when your teenage daughter chooses the middle of a clothing store as the best place to loudly discuss the appropriate length of a woman’s skirt. These are humbling situations where you hope the floor will open up and swallow both you and your child and transport you quickly back to the privacy of your own home.

Those situations are real, but they are not the extent of parenting as a whole. The humbling experience we refer to is the constant act of dying to yourself and your personal comforts for the sake and well-being of your children. Thus, parenting is one of the most humbling experiences a person can have.

In every stage of rearing a child, the Lord must work on the heart, mind, and soul of both parents to continue to place them in the position where they can effectively guide their child. We have been on this journey for more than twelve years now, and while there is still much opportunity for successes and mistakes, we have noticed one common thread. The daily act of caring for someone else causes great friction in a heart that primarily wants to tend to its own needs. The friction causes a hard, self-sufficient heart to soften and become moldable, allowing God to work greatly in the life of that parent. With God’s tender leading, the parents die to their own selfish tendencies, see their child’s needs, and reach out to connect to their child in whatever way is necessary.

In light of dying to our own desires and recognizing the needs of our children, we periodically sit down to consider our goals for the four children whom God has entrusted to us. We have a number of goals along the lines of education, physical activity, and spiritual development. Those goals change over time as our children grow older, but the main focus of those goals remains to see our children grow into responsible, productive members of society who know the truth of the gospel and follow after Christ with all their hearts.

The one constant in our parenting strategy is that we would be guided by the principles and promises of Scripture. You could call this “text-driven parenting” in the sense that we want our parenting to be the product of our study of Scripture. We lay no claim to being experts in parenting since our journey as parents is still in-process. However, we want to offer some basic biblical principles that can serve as a philosophy of parenting. In so doing, we want to look at the effects of parenting on both children and parents. Seeing the effects on children may seem obvious, but the effects of parenting on the parents less so. Yet, our conviction is that parents are both humbled and changed in the process of parenting according to God’s Word.

*Everyday Parenting is available from Seminary Hill Press here.

Guest Post: When the Lord Is Your Banner

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“And Moses built an altar and called its name, The Lord is My Banner.” (Ex 17:15)

The Israelites were coming against their first enemy since crossing the Red Sea. They had fought the battles within their own hearts, questioning God’s provision of food and drink, only to find God faithful to provide daily for their needs. Still they wavered in their faith and questioned, “Is the Lord among us or not?” The time had come where they faced an enemy of flesh and blood. The Amalekites came to fight Israel.

On the backside of the battle, we learn that the Israelites were victorious. So much so, that the Lord pledged to “utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14b). When the battle had ended, Moses worshipped God and declared that “The Lord is my banner.”

Throughout history, a banner was vital to the battlefield. It is a rod or flag that the army would rally behind. If a soldier became separated because of the frantic pace of battle, they knew to gather back around the banner.

To stand behind a banner meant to forever identify with its cause.

There could only be one banner. For an army to have more than one would only bring confusion and disunity. When Moses could have celebrated the victory in so many ways, He chose to acknowledge God as his banner. What does it mean in our life for us to do the same?

First, when we declare God as our banner, we must lay down all other banners. We women love to rally around a worthy cause, promoting it to our friends and defending it to our foes. But, as a believer, no cause, no passion, no activity can take the place of God being the banner in our life. The Lord, His Word and His commands to us take precedent. Even other pursuits in our lives that look good or God-honoring can quickly become a banner in and of themselves. We run the risk of one day realizing that, somewhere along the journey, we forsook the Lord’s banner for a mere imitation.

Only the Lord’s banner is safe to follow, because only it is infallible. When we follow any of the banners the world has to offer, even the good ones, there will eventually come a time when error creeps in and we find ourselves fighting for an unrighteous cause.

Many people through history have suddenly found themselves drawn into unrighteousness only because they followed a worldly cause further than they should have. This is not to say we should ignore the causes around us that need our help. But, keeping God as our banner, we are able to help even more because of the solidarity of our focus.

Lastly, when the Lord is our banner, we are not offended by others. Any criticism we receive or mockery we endure is ultimately not targeted at us, but at the One we follow. He is more than able to withstand the darts that are thrown at us than we are. In contrast, when we have adopted other banners in our life, an attack on that cause is a personal attack on us. We internalize every criticism or unkind comment because we are the ones fighting. We cannot lay down our weapons, because there is no one to pick them up again.

However, when the Lord is our banner, He is the one who fights to defend His name.

We only speak His truth and love His people.

What cause do you rally around that competes with God’s primary position in your life? Do you find yourself taking offense often, because you are personally trying to defend your cause? Take this opportunity to learn from Moses and declare the Lord, and the Lord alone, is your banner, for He is the only infallible one, defending His own honor against the enemies that come.

Guest Post: The Heart of an Anxious Mom in the Hand of a Sovereign God

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here and was re-printed in Baptist Press here.

I was sitting on the conveyor belt in the baggage claim area of the Jackson International airport when the tornadoes came through Jackson, MS. The airport staff had directed us to take shelter there until the storms passed. I had already heard of the casualties in Arkansas, children who lost parents, parents who lost babies.

My own mother was on the road somewhere in the storm trying to get home. As I sat there in the darkness, the familiar emotions of fear and worry consumed me.  Immediately, though, I also felt God’s presence and reassurance that, “I am with you and will never leave you. I love you and the people you love and I have a perfect plan for each of your lives.”

There is something you must understand, though. This is not the first time the emotions of anxiety and worry have swept over me almost causing me to lose my breath. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even the thousandth time. God’s sweet voice of reassurance is a tune I have come to know and claim as truth in my life. I struggled with fear and worry some as a child, much like other kids my age. I was scared of the house catching fire or snakes being in my bed.

However, it was not until I became a mother myself that I sat down at the banquet of anxiety.

Once I saw the positive pregnancy test, I instantly felt responsible for a life other than my own. After our first daughter was born, fear would overwhelm me as I was giving her a bath or rocking her in my arms. Some days I would only nibble at the banquet, knowing that most of my fears were irrational. However, other days I allowed myself to fully take in the diet of worry. On those days, my joy was lost. My thoughts of what “could” happen tumbled out of control if I was not careful. The Lord blessed us with more children, and with each one, the feeling of fear and anxiety continued like old, worn jeans that you know you should throw out, but keep around for comfort sake.

“What if I wasn’t paying attention and something happened to them?”

“What if I didn’t feed them the right things?”

“What if I didn’t do the right things to protect them?”

“What if we didn’t have the right toys/equipment/safety devices for them?”

At some point in time, all of these questions haunted me. However, I began to realize that all of my concerns had one common focus. Me.

The more I focused on myself and my abilities, the more I saw my shortcomings and faults. However, when I took my eyes off of myself and placed them on an almighty, powerful God, I began to see how the God who tends to the lilies can be trusted with all of my concerns.  As my children grew, the Lord began to teach me magnificent truths that took me away from the banquet of anxiety and led me to the true Bread of Life where I can feast on His goodness.

God used 2 Timothy 1:7 many times to speak truth into my heart: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” It is not God’s plan for us to consider ourselves crazy because we have irrational thoughts of worry. He has given us a sound mind. That means I can trust him as He leads me to make the right decisions throughout the day. If I am in a close walk with Him, He will guide my path and give me a sound mind.

In my life, the antidote to fear and worry has always been a deeper understanding and appreciation of the sovereignty of God.

For example, I cannot keep my children safe 100% of the time, but I know God loves them even more than I do and whatever He chooses to allow in their lives is for the purpose of His glory. In the same manner, I trust God for clarity of mind so that I can make the best decisions for my family that I can make. I forget things. I accidentally overlook things, but by the grace of God, His sovereignty more than makes up for my faults.

I praise God that he has taught me to recognize fear, worry, and anxiety in my life, not as mental issues, but as trust issues. The more I trust in the precious sovereignty of God, the more I am at peace with whatever He brings my way.

Guest Post: 5 Family Benefits of Children’s Sports

football_pallo_valmiina-croppedThis is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

We’ve all seen the reality shows of girls on hyper competitive dance squads or young boys playing tackle football with the intensity of a college game day. We’ve heard the warnings of strained muscles from over-use and understand the consequences of an over-scheduled childhood.

When it comes time to plan fall activities for my children, I find myself seeking for God-given wisdom.

I don’t want to become my own version of a crazed, sports parent, but I can definitely see the benefit of childhood sports in the life of my family. Our children are signed up for various team sports and I know my fall schedule looks much like so many other moms – driving from one practice to another, filling up water bottle after water bottle, and washing jerseys at the midnight hour.

My kids aren’t the stars, and who knows if they will get college scholarships, but for this stage in our lives, sports are a blessing to our family. Here’s why:

  1. They Promote Family Activity. One of my daughters runs cross-country for her school. She needs to practice on the weekend by running, so we all get out and go to the track with her. During my son’s soccer practice, it is easy to bring an extra ball to kick around with the other kids. We try to use practices and lessons to promote activity for all of us.
  2. They Promote Family Unity and Sportsmanship. Unless there is a scheduling conflict, all six of us go to every game or race and we do our best to pay attention (i.e. very limited electronics). We all learn how to cheer for and encourage each other. My youngest caught on to this very quickly. This is her first season to play soccer and, after many seasons of cheering on her siblings, the thing she is most looking forward to is “the sisters and bubba screaming and cheering my name.” All children benefit from being cheered for and being a cheerleader for someone else.
  3. They Promote Positive Friendships. Friendships develop quickly when there is a common goal. A sports team can immediately give a connection point with a new friend. Many times, the only thing I have in common with another mom is that our kids play on the same team, but even that has opened the door to some great relationships. Of course, a parent has to use the same caution in handling friends on teams as they do with friends at school. However, the ability to quickly connect with various families in the community is a blessing of organized sports.
  4. They Promote Hard Work. Practicing is hard. Working as a team is hard. Learning new skills is hard. However, the lesson is when you work hard, the task gets easier and the benefits increase. My second daughter swam on a city swim team this summer. She was not the best on the team, but she worked very hard at learning her strokes and understanding the details of racing. I took the opportunity to record her times to show her how she was improving greatly. She learned the lesson that hard work pays off, even if no one can see it.
  5. They Promote a Deeper Relationship Between Parent and Child. There are sports that, quite frankly, I knew nothing about until one of my kids showed an interest in it or an opportunity arose for them to play. So I quickly tried to learn as we went and do the best I could to understand that little part of their world. The times we practice together, whether kicking a soccer ball or hitting a volleyball back and forth, are times that I hope my children remember their parents investing time into their life.

Childhood sports do have the potential to be life-consuming and competition-driven. However, if you take a more moderate approach, you can see the great opportunities you have as a parent when your child plays. With much prayer and God-given wisdom, you can benefit greatly from sports and it can be a blessing in the life of your family. Take time this fall, in the business of a full schedule, to notice and reflect on the different opportunities God may give you through your child’s sports.

Guest Post: Three Ways to Help Your Children Embrace Humility

Lenow Family 2015This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10)

In about the last twenty years, the job of parenting has expanded to include a concern for our children’s self-esteem and self-image. Consequently, we find ourselves in a culture of children and young adults who struggle with the opposite end of the spectrum, self-inflation.

In his book, The Collapse of Parenting, Dr. Leonard Sax explains, “A culture of self-esteem leads to a culture of resentment. If I am so wonderful, but my talents are not recognized and I’m still nobody at age 25 . . . then, I may feel envious and resentful of those who are more successful than me.” In comparison, “The culture of humility leads to gratitude, appreciation, and contentment.”

At face value, it is a noble desire to want your children to have a positive self-image. However, oftentimes, we confuse confidence with high self-esteem and cowardice with humility. The difference between those lies in the source. The source of self-esteem and an inflated self-image is the person: “I’m a good person, I’m awesome, I’m very talented, I have these accomplishments.”

In contrast, the source of a confident humility lies in God who created and the blessings thereof. It might sound like this, “God has gifted me in this way, so I will work hard to glorify Him.” Or “God has called me to this task, I know He will give me the strength to see it through.” The confidence is not in us, but in God. This is the sign of a true and right self-image.

So how do you teach your children real humility? I believe it comes from making sure they understand three essential truths:

  1. A right understanding of who they are. We are all sinners, saved by grace. Even on our very best days, we need God’s guidance and mercy on our lives. It will serve our children well to remind them of that. Whatever talents or gifts any of us have are to be used to edify and encourage others in the Lord. If the world happens to take note of an achievement, we must train our children to understand that it is God’s handiwork that they see. In the same vein, we must teach them that, once they accept Christ, they are already accepted fully by Christ (Eph 1:6). There is no need to work ourselves into a harried stupor trying to earn God’s favor. He has already bestowed upon us his love because we are His, not because of something that we have done or can do.
  1. A right understanding of other people. Continually throughout the book of 1 John, we see the need and importance of loving each other. Again, this charge to love is not rooted in the fact that we are great people. It is rooted in the fact that Christ loved us and laid down his life for us. We should, in turn, do the same for others (1 Jn 3:16). We have to understand and teach our children how God places other people in our lives for the purpose of encouraging each other in the Lord. Even if another person is not a believer, God can use that relationship to grow and strengthen us. Other people are not to be manipulated or used for personal gain of any kind, for that would be cheapening their worth and influence. A great way to show others that you care about them is to genuinely be interested in their part of the conversation. Dr. Sax mentioned this as a true sign of humility: being able to be truly interested in the lives of others. Ask questions. Listen to their stories. Oftentimes, we are so busy thinking of what we want to say, that we miss the opportunity to love through our conversation. True humility cares about others and loves them well.
  1. A right understanding of God and His purposes. There is only one God and it is not me or you or our children. The most loving thing we can teach our children is a proper view and respect of the One True God. Culture tells children that they can do anything, but we, as parents, must show them the beauty of acknowledging and embracing the boundaries that God has lovingly placed before us. We trust Him, not as a last resort, but as a daily sacrifice to God, an act of humbleness before our Maker, the Creator and Lover of our souls. True humility is one of the most counter-cultural traits we can instill in our children. However, it is the key to fully experiencing the joy of living in Christ.

Other practical habits might include household chores and decreased involvement in social media. These things work to promote confident humility and deemphasize the emphasis on self.

The concept of a healthy and proper self-image, one that is grounded in who they are in Christ and how they can bless others, is a true gift we can impart on our children and the next generation.

Guest Post: Loving Well During the Holiday Season

SONY DSCThis is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35)

A few years ago, my family moved into an older house in a well-established neighborhood. One of my favorite views is looking out over my kitchen sink, because my neighbor has a beautiful red oak standing majestically in her front yard. This time of year that tree is set ablaze with every shade of red and orange. The owner of the house is a precious lady, a widow. She and her late husband were the original builders of their home and have lived there ever since. You better believe she has some stories to tell! Over the weekend, I was trying to hastily load the kids into the van with the goal of whisking them off to another practice, event, or rehearsal. I looked across the street and saw my sweet neighbor, whose hair is the same color of her stately oak, by the way, slowly walking down her driveway to pick up some trash that had blown in her yard.

Something made me stop and watch her for a moment. God brought to my mind the contrast between the two of us; me in my haste and her in her slow, intentional, deliberate motions. I knew a very busy season was ahead of me and it made me stop and reflect on my actions. I was reminded that the Lord created me for good works and to love others. However, loving others would not come naturally and good works would not happen this season unless I was intentional and deliberate in my actions, just like my sweet neighbor. Here are some ideas that have come to mind on how I want to love well during the holidays.

  1. Open My Eyes– It might not be realistic to slow down during the Christmas season. Many of our jobs or family commitments simply lend themselves to a full calendar. However, I want to open my eyes to those around me. As I go, I want to love others. As I drive carpool, I can show kindness to my children. As I check out at the grocery store, I can encourage those working. As I am shopping, I can ask the clerk how her day has been. It is so easy to be task-oriented. However, I want to stay people oriented, so that as I accomplish my to-do list, I am also making an impact for Christ on those around me.
  2. Notice the Needs– We have an ongoing joke in our family that goes something like this- “It’s not lost until momma can’t find it.” Yes, some people in my family are more observant than others. However, that same principle can go for the needs around us as well. Christ, on numerous occasions, took notice of a need that everyone else had ignored. He stopped to help the blind man. He stopped to help the woman with an issue of blood. He stopped to minister to the family who had lost their daughter. As I go about my days, intentionally opening my eyes, I want pay attention to observe the needs around me. Is someone lonely? Is someone discouraged? Could someone use some extra groceries or a special gift just for them? We can minister to others so deeply when we reach out to meet their needs.
  3. Give Much Grace– We all want the Norman Rockwell Christmas with the perfect family gathering of laughter and well-behaved children. We want our homes to look like something out of a magazine. We want to create precious memories with our children that will last a lifetime. These are all good desires, but bad idols. In the blink of an eye, a honorable desire gets out of hand when we put it above the people in our lives and above the God who created it all. Life happens, and in our quest for perfection, the slightest inconvenience can lead to irritation. Therefore, to love well means to shower much grace on those around you, and while you are at it, give yourself much grace as well. Be quick to forgive, even the slightest irritation, for joy is like treasure this time of year. Do not exchange the Joy of the Season for the root of bitterness. God has filled our cup with grace overflowing simply by sending His son as a baby to this Earth. Delight in that grace and forgiveness and love others just as well.