Friday, December 28, 2018

What's Love Got to Do With It?

I took note of a young woman the other day. She wore the same clothes I'd seen her wear before. She hadn't changed her hair or appearance. But there was an air about her--and it only took a moment to realize what it was. Not only is she a woman in love; she is loved. She carries herself differently. She sees others in a new light. There is a dimension of awareness, a carefree confidence, a strident disregard for lesser things.

And I was reminded that I am loved. Set apart. Bought and paid for by a Victorious Warrior. How does Jesus' love affect the way I see the world? Others? Difficulty? Temporary treasures? As a recipient of love--real love, not emotion, but action; a choice initiated by my Creator, provided by my Savior, extended through His Spirit--it changes everything.... Absolutely. Everything.

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy." (Zephaniah 3:17)

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.

But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:6-18)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

To Be or Not to Be--a Super Momma

My last post was a warning to Super Mommas. One woman wrote, "So where's the balance? What's the difference between a godly momma and a super momma?"

If it was a matter of appearance, it might be hard to tell the difference. Many of us have the mistaken idea that doing is being. If I go to church, do this, do that, give my best, try harder, and keep it up, the Lord will bless me. All will be well.

However, if the basis of our relationship with God is doing what's right and giving my best, I've missed the point. Doing what I can to reach God is not Christianity; it's religion.

In many Christian circles it has morphed into a more subtle, God will bless me for obedience and chastise me for disobedience, Old Testament model. Parents quote the verse, "Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Although those are windows into the character of God and biblical principles, they become the mantra of Christian parenting. It's simple and straight-forward: I do my job, God does His. It's predictable, clean, difficult, but guaranteed.

That's what a Super Momma does: more, bigger, better. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward! Onward and upward! Tally-ho! with encouragement, modeling, and prayer from other Mommas.

Problem: that's not actually what God said. Rewind. Reframe. And ask, where does Jesus come in to the picture? If all I have is the obedience=blessing, disobedience=chastisement, it could become another you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours relationship. This may sound harsh, but in our hearts and minds it may be: Jesus, if you save me from sin, I'll obey you the rest of my life. Therein lies the problem. We can't. We won't. We don't.

The Old Testament points to Jesus and the New Testament is all about Jesus. That means God knows I can't, won't, don't. In His economy, life is not about my obedience; it's about Jesus. If He is who He says He is, there ought to be so much more!

God 101 reminds us that God is God. He will not give His glory to another. He cannot be manipulated, understood, or subverted. He rules in justice and righteousness--at all times, in all ways.

People 101 tells us that we are sinners. Our children and husbands are sinners. We are fallen, selfish creatures who remain in depravity and darkness when left to ourselves. We have no power to determine our outcome or the outcome of anyone else--husband, children, disciples, loved ones.

Jesus 101 says that He is the Light, Bread, Water, and Sustainer of all. The Father chooses. The Son lived, died and rose again, paying the price for the sin's penalty, freeing us from sin's power. Jesus saves. Jesus intercedes. Jesus will judge.

Holy Spirit 101 teaches us that only the Holy Spirit gives life. We do not know how He moves, we can only see evidence of His work. 

The problem comes when any of us--Super Momma, Super Christian, Super Pastor, Super Worker--take on the role of God, Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit. We jump out of People 101 assuming the role, responsibilities and privileges of God Himself. Somehow we have the sense that, with responsibility, comes sovereignty. Yes, God gave mankind a command to multiply His goodness and character, rule and subdue in justice and righteousness. But we have no control over the outcome. We make choices, but we don't choose the consequences. With sin comes brokenness.You are broken. Your children see it. They know it. They're actually watching to see what you do with it.

Your children are broken. You cannot "make" them do anything. You can provide consequences and an environment of loving care. You can educate, provide for and protect. But each one will make his or her own choices. Each one will submit to God or choose his own way. People 101 does not give parents, or mothers, a seat on God's executive committee or pre-approval for sovereignty.

As a mom, we must prepare each child to live a broken life in a broken world. Even when I desire to protect and prepare them in the safety of our home, they must ultimately learn to live in a cesspool of sin. It permeates our homes, churches, and every encounter. The world outside has few barriers against the depravity of sin. Children see ours. They practice theirs--in our presence and out of it. (See People 101). People will use, damage, and otherwise seek to destroy our children due to their own brokenness and sin (again, see People 101). Coming to terms with the reality of our world is where many of us have failed our children. We want a better world, a better experience, a better outcome than what we, ourselves have had. 

That's where Jesus comes in. Every moment. Every day. Every relationship. Every situation. We. are. broken. But we have Jesus...

Because of Jesus we can
  • Acknowledge and confess our own sin--even if it's as subtle as wanting a sin-free environment, comfort, relief, peace over and above what God has provided. 
  • Allow our children to experience failure, frustration, anger, and sin-induced pain. 
  • Impose and apply real consequences--the world certainly will. God does. 
  • Expose our children to age-appropriate depravity and 
  • Teach them to address sin against themselves as well as the sinful responses of their own heart. With Jesus' help, we can train and build our children's spiritual muscle for spiritual battles using the Word of God. Jesus helps, forgives, goes before, loves, and disciplines every moment of every day.
When we put children under a grow-light in the basement, they show early growth, tall and green, but fail to form deep, sturdy roots.The result is a quickly withering, dying plant that cannot stand against unpredictable wind and fluctuating sunlight. Instead, when we expose them to wind, storms, and a contaminated environment, providing support, shelter and guidance as needed, they develop a heart and mind that is prepared for growth, even in times of drought.

Perhaps you, like me, find yourself wanting to live a victorious life...without Jesus. As He shows me the pride, wickedness, and deceit of my heart, I must run to Him, admitting my need and falling on His mercy. We must do the same with our children, teaching them that the only life worth living is one that is fully satisfied with and dependent on Jesus Christ--through the storms. the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” 11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:7-14)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Super-Momma, Stop!

In raising our family, we have seen tragedy strike others and we take it as an opportunity to evaluate our own hearts and lives. Recently we heard of a previously committed, professing Christian and full-time mom who walked out on her husband and family. The story isn't over; God's grace is always enough, but so many lives have been affected by this once-professing Christ follower, namely, her children.

When Momma walks away from Jesus, where does that leave her children? This was a good reminder for me to stop and reflect, to shout the warning, "Super-Momma, stop! Look! Beware!" I recognize that this post could create a "conversation." Right or wrong, biased or not, the goal is to heighten awareness, to put our focus on God instead of ourselves. It's okay if you don't agree--and I welcome your comments--but, in the end, I pray this post redirects each of us to Jesus in one way or another.

Some Super Mommas home-school their children. Others place their children in public or private school. Super Mommas may appear put-together or somewhat at a loss. Regardless of the differences, children of Super Mommas change in skill and size, but lean heavily on one person: Super Momma. Based on observation and experience, here are some danger signs:

- Children cannot complete age-appropriate tasks without Momma's encouragement, direction, or assistance. Momma cannot not encourage, direct and assist.

- Children constantly make eye-contact with Momma; they are hesitant to act or interact with others independently.

- Children are seldom left in other's care or influence. Conversations with other adults are regurgitated and reinterpreted according to Momma.

- Children do not self-regulate their speech (i.e. interruptions), interactions with others,  discernment, decisions, time management, chores, responsibilities, etc. because Momma does it for them.

- Momma feels threatened, angry, and/or defensive when others make suggestions, correct, or instruct her or her children children.

- Momma measures her worth, failure and success by her children's achievements or lack thereof.

Some children walk away altogether. As they get older, they see themselves as Momma's thermostat rather than an individual with a will and life of their own and rebel. Super Momma falters and falls to one degree or another because of her failure. What did she miss? How did this happen? Why do other children thrive, children whose parents are "careless" while her own fledgling(s) struggle to get off the ground?

What affects even more people is when Momma turns her back on Jesus and His Church. She's hit the end of the road.  Her children are gone. Her calling has greatly diminished, if not ended. Ka-putz. Finished. The driving force and purpose for life has vanished. Not only are her children busy with their own lives, they also fail to appreciate her years of self-sacrifice and personal loss. Momma is now a post-momma. A shell. An after thought.

All at once, the world is big and new, an oyster waiting to be plucked. Perhaps she moves forward on fumes of resentment, bitterness, and self-pity because she "gave it all" and is experiencing great loss. All those years, she may have refused to leave her children for date nights or get-aways with her husband, to spend money on her personal needs and wants, build relationships with other women (as a person, not a Momma), pursue her own interests, fan to flame her spiritual gifts, invest outside her family.... And now, the time is gone. The opportunities are past. The investment has been paid out. Her reason and purpose for life has disappeared. All that's left is loss. Grief. Regret. Emptiness. Loneliness. A great. Big. Hole.

It is a good reminder for me to stop and examine my own heart. In parenting and loving, doing what God has called me to, am I seeking to fulfill my desire for success, achievement, fulfillment, control, order, appreciation, approval, recognition through our children? From the outside, it might be difficult to tell, but God is faithful. He has a way of knocking down what we value most, apart from Himself. This one, unfortunately, is long in coming, sucking the life out of a person day after day, month by month, decade by decade.

There is also the danger of failing to recognize, know, love, or admire the man a Super Momma committed herself to so many years ago at the altar. The gift God provided in the form of a husband, life mate, brother in Christ, and image of His love. It was all about the children. Somehow, the fact that he gave and sacrificed for so long, in so many ways, doesn't matter. Her sacrifice. His sacrifice. It was all for the children. And where has it gone?

She tried to be Jesus--and failed. She thought if she did it right, if she gave it all, if, if, would be beautiful and they would live happily ever after. Her children would be model citizens and active servants of God. They would love, admire, and appreciate her efforts and she would continue to be their compass and companion.

The problem is that it was based on her effort and sacrifice, not faith. It was up to her; it was her responsibility; there was no room for the grace of God, for children who disobey, fail, and exercise their own faith based on natural and parental consequences. There was fear of appearance, fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of children's salvation (or lack thereof)... so much fear. So little faith.

In and through it all, God can use even the failings of a Super-Momma to call His children to Himself. He can send a storm to shake the world of the Super-Momma who has jumped on a ship to Tarshish and left her husband in the dust. He can and will use it all. But He also gives us examples of warning--and for me, this was one.

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.”

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12-19)

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.

Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-2, 6-11)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Life Hack

I don't remember where I saw or read this housekeeping hack, but it sure makes a difference--and it's so simple! When I walk in to a room I simply ask, "What bothers me about this?" Maybe it's a pair of shoes on the floor, a magazine, pillow or blanket out of place. Sometimes it's dirty dishes, clutter, or crumbs. Whatever it is, even if I just fix one thing each time I pass from one place to the next I make progress.

The same is true in the rest of our lives. If we would stop to ask, "What bothers me about this ____ (relationship, situation, job, etc)" and allow God to work in and through us, we could do away with a lot of unnecessary static and clutter. It's hard to evaluate ourselves and our lives, but the introduction of social media, technology, and smart phones has created more distractions.

Instead of getting angry, writing people off, or giving them the silent treatment, stop and ask, "What bothers me about this?" Prayerfully consider the thoughts and desires of your heart. Be ready to confess, repent, deal with, or simply discuss life issues--and keep your eyes open for God's incredible, healing work.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Faithful Hammer of God

This blog has, perhaps, gotten carried away with insights from Bible reading and failed to reflect personal application lately. Maybe I'm looking at life differently, or maybe it's my age, but God has been hammering a few spots lately.

Last spring I contacted a book publisher about my recently finished thesis on domestic abuse. You may already know the story, so skip ahead if you will. After a month of silence, she expressed interest but let me know it would need to be rewritten in book form--and I had 6 weeks to get it done. Throughout the process, God impressed on my heart and mind His provision and intervention.

Book available: here  Website: here  Facebook: here

There is no earthly way I could have completed the project. I'm still not sure how it all came together and I had concerns even after it was published that it said what it should, but God moved people (including me and this brain), circumstances, and the project along. The Truth is His. The timing is His. The outcome is His. One morning, near the end of the project, my computer died. Software? Gone. Hardware? Gone. Memory? Gone. One thing after another, hour after hour, rewrite after rewrite, discouragement after discouragement, encouragement after encouragement, God kept it going. Hammer. Ping. Clash. Clatter. Smash. Pressure. Heat. Stretching.

Remain committed to previous commitments? Bang. Respond lovingly when you're tired and your mind is strained? Ping. Take correction and criticism gracefully? Wham. Listen to sermons, podcasts, radio, filtering for content and Truth? Clunk. Read endless blog posts and web pages weighing secular versus biblical material? Clang. Endure physical pain and discomfort from sedentary hours? Thwack. Take on unwanted weight? Thud.

My prayer and desire is that I remember, not my effort, but God's grace. I have had opportunities to speak and present book material since then and it has been extremely rewarding. What fun to see "ah-hah!" lights come on for people who begin to see the deceit and destruction of abuse-related situations, knowing it's possible they've only seen a small part of the problem because so much was hidden. They've been manipulated. Even more precious are comments and written correspondence  from women in abusive marriages who read and respond to God's grace as it applies to domestic abuse and their own lives.

I am certainly not an expert on all things related to domestic abuse, but by combining the truth of God as it relates to the unique dynamics of abuse, women find hope. They see themselves, their relationship and situation differently. They learn to think about and respond differently. And God in His goodness brings change through His Word. It's a marvelous, God-given work!

There's another, more difficult area of my life God took in hand recently. As I'm able, I will address it in a future post. What I do know is that He is faithful, able, loving, and intimately aware of how to mold, shape, and use me for His purpose and good work.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.(Ephesians 2:4-10 NASB)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Danger and Deceit of Partial Obedience

Although it isn't rocket science, one of the most influential factors in parenting even small children was the use of Scripture. We didn't beat our children over the head or cram it down their throats, we simply used it as our authority. God said that my job, as a mom (or dad), is to train and discipline our children. I told them that and it made me accountable. As they saw me giving up other opportunities or priorities to train and discipline them, they were more receptive to hear what God had to say to them. After all, if I say one thing (God says Moms are to ____) but I obviously don't obey God myself, then why should they obey either one of us?

The same thing happened in the life of Samuel and King Saul. Samuel received a message from the Lord (utterly destroy King Agag and the Amalekites). He delivered the message to Saul who then partially obeyed, partially came up with his own, "better," plan. God made it clear to Samuel that Saul had blown it, and Samuel was grieved, so grieved that he cried out to the Lord all night.

Have you been there? A grown child, spouse, or friend sins boldly against God. You see not only the pride and unbelief, but the consequences that could result. The one you love, invested in, watched, taught, and intervened for has turned his/her back on God and doesn't see it; doesn't care.

Samuel's response was so, so excellent! It's worth learning from.After a time of prayer and grieving:

  • Samuel got up early the next morning meet Saul. He didn't shy away from the encounter. He didn't procrastinate or make excuses. As soon as he was able, he determined to find Saul and work it out. "Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul..." (1 Sam. 15:12)
  • He did what it took to find Saul. He wasn't discouraged by the fact that Saul had moved on; Saul had already built himself a monument (note: there was no altar for God, just a declaration of Saul's prowess and might). " was told Samuel, saying, 'Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, ten turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal.'"(1 Sam. 15:12)
  • Samuel wasn't put off by or distracted by Saul's cheery greeting and desire to paint things pink. "'Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD.'"(1 Sam. 15:13)
  • Samuel asked a question regarding the evidence of disobedience, giving Saul an opportunity to come clean and repent. "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" (1 Sam. 15:14)
  • Saul blameshifted, denied responsibility, excused his disobedience and touted partial obedience. "'They have brought them from the Amalekites for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.'" (1 Sam. 15:15)
  • At this point, Samuel nearly interrupted Saul with real, actual, words of the Lord (instead of Saul's selfish, watered down, deluded interpretation). "'Wait, and let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.'" ( 1 Sam. 15:16) 
  • He reminded Saul of who he was and how that changed with God's call on his life. "Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the LORD anointed you king over Israel." (1 Sam. 15:17)
  • He restated God's command: "'the LORD sent you on a mission and said, "God and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated."'" (1 Sam. 15:18)
  • And gave Saul another opportunity to confess and repent. "'Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the LORD?'" (1 Sam. 15:19)
  • Saul repeated his answer, replacing God's command with his desired interpretation, "I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites..." (1 Sam. 15:20)
  • Saul adds blameshifting (again) and throws the name of God back at Samuel  "But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal." (1 Sam. 15:21, emphasis added)
  • Samuel lays it on the line, calling Saul out with a few powerful words (1 Sam. 15:22-23).
  • In response, Saul says, "Ok, yeah, you're right, I sinned. Just forgive me and let's do this sacrifice. I'm going to worship God and move on." (1 Sam. 15:24).Notice, there is no corporate worship, no desire for fellowship, the focus is on outward doing and fixing as a substitute for heart change.
  • Samuel, praise the LORD, continued with loving confrontation. He refused to be used, bullied, or manipulated. He will not take the easy out. "But Samuel said to Saul, 'I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel." (1 Sam. 15:26).
  • In response, Saul assaults Samuel. Reaching out, he grabbed Samuel roughly and completely enough to tear his clothing. (1 Sam. 15:27).
  • Samuel then used Saul's violence as evidence of coming consequences."So Samuel said to him, 'The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you.'" (1 Sam. 15:28).
  • Samuel continued, his final words to Saul, words that may have echoed for years to come, words Saul fought the rest of his life, words that declare God and His character: "Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." (1 Sam. 15:29)
  • Again, Saul says, "I'm sorry..." just don't make me look bad. Come with me, let's do this. (1 Sam. 15:30).

Samuel went with Saul at that point, but he there is no record of conversation or moving on. After this encounter, "Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death...."1 Sam. 15:34-35.

That's really long, but the point is, we have to make God's Word the authority. Allowing our children to make excuses, wriggle out from under the consequences or blame others does nothing more than train them for a life of disobedience. It's not easy. It requires constant attention, intervention, honesty, inconvenience, and hard, fast love, but it's God's calling on our lives if we belong to Him. Samuel was not responsible for Saul's choices, but he was responsible to uphold the Word of God, to represent Him accurately, and to enact consequences that were in his realm of responsibility.

Are you a Samuel or a Saul? It will be evident in your words and choices. God gives repeated opportunities to cry out to Him, confess our sin, and change. Maybe this is yours....

Monday, November 26, 2018

Potential vs. Actual

It's important to understand that Bible narratives are just that--written accounts of other's lives. We cannot draw direct commands from their examples, but we can certainly learn principles and see God more clearly.

Jonathon, Saul's son, keeps coming to the forefront in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. Unlike his father, he lives by faith, trusting God with the outcome. One day Jonathon took his armor bearer to scout out the Philistine (enemy) garrison. Traveling between two crags, Jonathon said, "Come and let us cross over tot he garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few." They pushed forward and took out 20 men, creating an uproar and battle that continued and spread.

Watching that same courage and faith work in David's life a short time later (as he killed Goliath), "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David...." (1 Samuel 18:1). One young man would become the father of kings and the line of Christ; the other would serve his capricious father, dying an early death on the battlefield. Both were men of valor, courage, faith, action, and promise.

We, American Christians, especially American Christian parents, often get distracted by "potential." We tend to get caught up in our children's education, opportunities, challenges, stimulation and growth to the detriment of character. We are so compelled to create children in our own image (or the image we always wanted), that we fail to consider God's purpose, direction, and plan. At times our children complained about boredom with the public school system. "Being a mom isn't so different," I would counter, "there's nothing challenging about cleaning toilets and doing laundry." What if it's not about "what I do" or "how much I do" but "how I do it?"

As I read about Jonathon, I could see great potential. Surely he would have made a great king: one who loved others well, willingly risked his life, and pursued God's revealed will despite the cost. If nothing else, he and David would have made an incredible Dream Team for Israel! The two of them, side by side, could have ruled righteously and held one another accountable. But that was not God's plan. Jonathon lived in the shadow of a domineering, violent, angry father, united by a covenant to David who was destined to take the crown. We know little of Jonathon's family, pursuits, dreams, or victories.

What we do know is that Jonathon was humble. Faithful. Loving. Trustworthy. Courageous. Firm. Loyal. Strong. Swift. Generous. Does that not describe our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ? He served (and continues to serve) the least deserving; He gave His life in the line of duty; He loves with His whole being.

I believe that Jonathon is an example to each of us that life is not about the glitz, the glam, the bling, the wow, or pow. His audience was not the watching world, his  tyrannical father, faithful armor bearer, or kindred spirit. His one, only, true audience was His Creator-Father-King, the same One we serve in our most mundane, difficult, painful, unseen, quiet moments. As we give Him the weight, the glory, the honor due His name, He is made much of, and we find great satisfaction, contentment and rest.

To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.

Truly my soul silently waits for God;
From Him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be greatly moved.

How long will you attack a man?
You shall be slain, all of you,
Like a leaning wall and a tottering fence.
They only consult to cast him down from his high position;
They delight in lies;
They bless with their mouth,
But they curse inwardly. Selah

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be moved.
In God is my salvation and my glory;
The rock of my strength,
And my refuge, is in God.

Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah

Surely men of low degree are a vapor,
Men of high degree are a lie;
If they are weighed on the scales,
They are altogether lighter than vapor.
Do not trust in oppression,
Nor vainly hope in robbery;
If riches increase,
Do not set your heart on them.

God has spoken once,
Twice I have heard this:
That power belongs to God.
Also to You, O Lord, belongs mercy;
For You render to each one according to his work. (Psalm 62)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Eternal Thanksgiving

If you've followed my blog entries lately, you know I've been reading and studying through 1-2 Samuel. The chronological account dovetailed with 1 Chronicles this morning as David established himself in Jerusalem and brought the ark to its final resting place.

In his initial excitement he overlooked God's method. Focused on getting the job done and achieving his goal, David and the men put the ark of God on an ox-cart and Uzzah lost his life.

Later, after gathering the sons of Aaron and the Levites, David reflected, "Because you did not carry it at the first, the LORD our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance." (1 Chron. 15:13). In other words, no matter how important I am, how many promises God has fulfilled, how blessed I may be, obedience matters. God has not changed. We don't get special privileges because we experience His favor; we experience His favor as a privilege.

With the priests in row, David prepared for the finest celebration:gifts of bread, meat and raisin cakes for each man and woman; sacrifices along the way, burnt offerings and peace offerings in Jerusalem. The time had come for David to realize the anointing he received from Samuel many years ago. God would fulfill His covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After years of living in hiding, assaulted and hunted by King Saul, fighting Philistines and Amalekites, being lied to, betrayed, and manipulated, God brought it all together. David was 37 years old when he began to rule from Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:4-5). That's a LONG way from his anointing as a shepherd boy.

Is it any wonder he danced with all his might? That he rejoiced, celebrated, and praised God? He called Asaph and his relatives to give thanks. And they did (see below). As I read their words in preparation for Thanksgiving, I was humbled at how short-sighted I am; how little I think of God; how much He is due, and how little I know Him. I was reminded of how fickle we are. In a couple of short chapters, David will assault Bathsheba, conspire against Uriah, use Joab, and set himself up against God.

But in this moment, today, like David, may I be found on my knees, humbled by a God who loves me and gave Himself for me that I might experience the blessing, joy, and riches of His grace. By His grace, may I choose to serve, obey, and seek Him--in the good and the difficult, the ease and the struggle, the joy and the grief.

Thanksgiving is a hallmark of eternity that doesn't have to wait. With David, the priests, and people, I can lift my heart and voice, experiencing Heaven and the divine nature as I live in, choose, and express thanks.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples.
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders.
Glory in His holy name;
Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad.
Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face continually.
Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done,
His marvels and the judgments from His mouth,
O seed of Israel His servant,
Sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!
He is the Lord our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
Remember His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded to a thousand generations,
The covenant which He made with Abraham,
And His oath to Isaac.
He also confirmed it to Jacob for a statute,
To Israel as an everlasting covenant,
Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan,
As the portion of your inheritance.”
When they were only a few in number,
Very few, and strangers in it,
And they wandered about from nation to nation,
And from one kingdom to another people,
He permitted no man to oppress them,
And He reproved kings for their sakes, saying,
“Do not touch My anointed ones,
And do My prophets no harm.”
Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
He also is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and joy are in His place.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come before Him;
Worship the Lord in holy array.
Tremble before Him, all the earth;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
And let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord;
For He is coming to judge the earth.
O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Then say, “Save us, O God of our salvation,
And gather us and deliver us from the nations,
To give thanks to Your holy name,
And glory in Your praise.”
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
From everlasting even to everlasting.

Then all the people said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. (1 Chronicles 16:8-36)

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Weight of Suffering

"I am not a pastor, nor the wife of a pastor"--in that way I can relate to Amos, the prophet--but God has given me the opportunity and privilege of listening to and speaking into pain and suffering. So, so many women and children are hurting as a result of other's sin against them. Sin has ravaged minds, hearts, bodies, and souls. Sin that feels so out of control, overwhelming, engulfing, smothering.

And as I considered the few lives that have touched mine recently, I have grieved. We share a burden, a weight, but God carries it. And that is the comfort, the strength, the hope. God is there.

Jesus came to mind. Jesus, walking dusty roads, hearing the voices of the desperate, the needy, the hurting, the hungry; hands reaching, tears falling. Jesus saw. Jesus heard. And, no doubt, Jesus grieved. His world was distorted. His creatures were suffering. His purpose, veiled. His reach, limited. Day after day, year after year, person after person, He saw, He heard, He listened, He loved, He prayed. Being God in the flesh did not give him a bye on suffering. He was fully aware, sensing, knowing. But His knowledge was not limited to the immediate. Even as He left behind the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, the poor widow, the wasting leper, He knew...

Jesus knew His plan would not be thwarted. His people would be redeemed. His creation would be remade. His purpose would be revealed. His might, expressed. His sovereignty, acknowledged.

Suffering would be His instrument; death His servant. Men would rally against Him, beat, mock, and crucify Him. Yet He would die for their souls. Betrayal, isolation and shame would accompany Him. But, being God, they reflected His innocence and others' guilt.

God with us. Emmanuel. He has not left us as orphans but has provided, through faith in His death and resurrection, His Spirit, Word, and people. By His grace and gift, we will live out our God-given purpose of reflecting and glorifying Him,

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body...

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:5-10, 16-18)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Influence vs. Dependence

There is great danger in creating, or fueling, dependence, but it's oh, so much part of who we are and what we do. Part of that is because others tend to blame-shift. "It's my mom's husband's fault... my environment, etc. etc." Just because it's what people do and I feel the weight of their choices not does make it so.

As a parent, I have a sense of responsibility for my children's choices, well-being, and future. As a teacher, I create a sense of dependence and take responsibility for student learning. This happens in so many different relationships and situations.

But the truth is that we are simply called to "influence" others, not become the source of their life, peace, happiness, hopes and dreams. That's God's job--and He is quite capable.

This week, as I have had opportunity to interact with others--children, women, teens, adults--I am reminded of Jesus' description of the Vine and branches. The branches are not self-sufficient, they are Vine sufficient. The life source does not originate in them, it simply flows through them to others. They are a conduit, nothing more.

So I have spent time evaluating my life as a structure for the gospel. What are my likes and dislikes? What resources are at my disposal? What are my spiritual gifts and natural abilities? All of those things define and describe ways in which the gospel of Jesus Christ flows into, through, and out of my life to others.

Taking the burden of providing and producing the fruit of God in others leads to great frustration, discouragement, despair, impatience, anger, and bitterness. That was never God's intention. The to-do's of the Bible are not independent of the have-done's by Christ. He has, therefore we can. If there is no sense of dependence on what Jesus has done through His death and resurrection, the conduit runs on empty and offers only itself. These are the shriveled, ineffective branches.

Instead, each and every part of the branch is intended to direct others back to God, through Christ. The fullness, life, joy, and peace is not due to the branch's effort, but the Life-source of the Vine. Others dependence should not rest on my influence, abilities, resources, or availability. I will fail. I will not hold up because that's not how I was designed. I am frail, broken, sinful, limited. My calling is to point others to the true Source of life, light, goodness, love, peace, joy, and comfort.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." (John 15:1-11)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Between the Words

Life happens between the words. I receive a text, but the reality of what's happening, of where help is required, or how to pray is between the words.We know it. It's the way we live and communicate. But sometimes, especially when it comes to God's Word, we expect a magic-wand result.

There's the sense that if I read God's Word and pray, I will experience hakuna matata. Life will change and my troubles will disappear. But life happens. Between the words. Between the lines. There is nothing in Scripture that promotes ease, circumstantial relief, or escape. Not here. Not now.

I've been reading and studying the life of Samuel, Saul, David.... and a lot happens between the words: conflict, jealousy, anger, promises, failure, success. I can read and understand that they weren't perfect. Life wasn't perfect. And yet, there are times I think I should be able to hear a sermon or read a passage from the New Testament, and Voila! I will magically understand, obey, and experience God's blessing. My life will be instantly transformed!

The older I get, the more I see the disparity between what the Word of God says and how I think, act, and live. It used to seem so simple; so easy. "Be kind. Be tenderhearted. Forgive. Do to others as you would have them do to you." As children, it was cut and dry--and we had a lot of help, boundaries, consequences that prompted obedience.

Now, as an adult, the offenses seem greater, the weight of the past heavier, the grief deeper. Life. is. hard. Obedience is hard. I see what God's Word says, but I struggle to do exactly what it says. I justify disobedience; wiggle, squirm, and compare myself to others. Sometimes I try. And fail. There are days I want to give up.

But God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). He is forgiving, kind, gentle, patient, generous. And if I belong to Him through faith in Jesus Christ alone, I have access to His forgiveness, His kindness, His gentleness, His patience, His generosity. I do not have to rely on my meager store of limited, distorted human resources (for, "there is none righteous, no, not one").

Through the Spirit of God, I am able to forgive as He forgives--between the words, between the lines of life--to extend kindness and grace, to offer freedom and acceptance--between the words and lines of life.

Because, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20). The life of faith does not happen instantaneously. It happens moment by moment, decision by decision, in hundreds of thousands of moments of conviction and surrender, hour by hour, day after day. The life of faith is comprised of time, effort, prayer and trust...between the words.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:15-25)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Please, Sir, I Want More

Maybe you don't struggle with or think about sin, but I do. And I've come to the realization that most of the time, when I fail to see victory, it's because I've wrongly identified the problem. The real issue isn't lying, pleasing others, indulging myself, or being lazy. The real issue is a sense of discontent and unbelief. I am dissatisfied with what God has provided. What He has given is not what I want, is not good enough, fast enough, extravagant enough.

"Please, sir, I want more."

I want more. I want it now. And I want it my way. And that leads to covetousness, adultery, lying, cheating, stealing, anger, arguments, bitterness, and the list goes on. To address these areas of ungodliness in my life, I need to look below the surface and ask, "What do I want that I'm not getting?" I may even ask, "Where do I expect it to come from?" And, in the end, I must admit that God is the ultimate Giver of every good gift (James 1:17). Someone has said, "If God doesn't meet it, I don't need it."

So if I don't have what I want and think I need, the biblical answer is that there must be something else I need more. What could I possibly need more than _______? In God's way of thinking, I need to be more like Jesus: I need more humility, more childlike dependence, and a greater desire for God Himself. John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30).

As I struggle with sin, it's a matter of being honest--what do I want that I don't have? And, am I willing to trust God even if I don't get it?

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.  In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. (James 1:12-18)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Where the Lie Begins: Did God Really Say?

I recently heard someone say, "But that can't be what God meant..." in reference to a convicting Bible passage. If you haven't noticed (but who hasn't), the Bible is counter-intuitive. Living by faith is not living by sight. Obedience itself is an act of belief in the unbelievable.

Try these on for size:

  • Don't worry about ________ (fill in the blank). (Matthew 6:25)  Really? You've got to be kidding.
  • Make God your top priority--above __________ (fill in the blank). (Matthew 6:33) But what about _____? 
  • It's a blessing to be persecuted and insulted for Jesus' sake. (Matthew 5:11) Thanks, but no thanks.
  • Anger is equal to murder. (Matthew 5:21-22) Then lock me up and throw away the key!
  • Lust is equal to adultery. (Matthew 5:28) Pin on the "A" and get it over with....
  • Be kind to those who hate you; bless them (i.e. say good things to them), do good things in response to their evil words and actions against you. Pray for them. (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:28, Romans 12:14, 21; 1 Peter 3:9) Umm... No. Not in my lifetime

Here's the rub. If you can't do these things the way God said, you're basically human. Surprise! You actually can't. You're not qualified. You don't have what it takes. Adam and Eve shouldn't have given in to temptation, but on their own, they were limited in their ability to withstand Satan's deception and their own sinful desires. But they tried. And failed.

Each of should read the Bible and, instead of saying (like the boastful Israelites), "“All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8), we should cry with the tax collector, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:13) Somehow, many of us have come to the conclusion that we can't ask God for help until we take care of the problem ourselves--or deserve His help. That's not what the Bible says, but it's what our society and our hearts often tell us. "God helps those who help themselves" is one of the greatest anti-biblical sayings ever. It has led many to the gates of hell.

Apart from the saving work of Jesus, by faith, we can never obey the Word of God, experience His forgiveness, power or enabling work of His Spirit. If I do not acknowledge my spiritual poverty and desperate need at the feet of His sovereign provision in Christ, I have no ability to live a life that pleases Him. I do not have the righteousness of Christ. I will flounder and fail, falling into despair as I look at my inadequacy and pale effort.

Try these:

  • Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst." (John 6:35)
  • "...the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." (John 6:37)
  • “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)
  • “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved..." (Acts 16:31)

Believe, yes. Do? On your own? No.

Yes, God has really said ________ (fill in the blank, from the Bible--not someone's twisted interpretation). He is waiting for my cry, for your cry, ready to cleanse, restore, and transform us into the wonderful image of His Son.

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:7-11)

Saturday, September 29, 2018


I was convicted this morning that many (if not all) of my blogs are about me and my life (surprise!). Yes, God uses circumstances and people in our lives, but the purpose is to point to Him. David and the psalmists did that eloquently. I've been reading the book of 1 Samuel interjected with psalms and it's obvious that God used what was going on in David's life to make Himself known.

The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of Hannah and her prayer has been an inspiration. Although she praises God, who ended her infertility, it was spoken as she presented Samuel to Eli as a young boy. As she gave back God's precious gift, she said:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
My horn is exalted in the Lord,
My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.

“There is no one holy like the Lord,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.

“Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the Lord is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed.

“The bows of the mighty are shattered,
But the feeble gird on strength.

“Those who were full hire themselves out for bread,
But those who were hungry cease to hunger.
Even the barren gives birth to seven,
But she who has many children languishes.

“The Lord kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.

“The Lord makes poor and rich;
He brings low, He also exalts.

“He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
And He set the world on them.

“He keeps the feet of His godly ones,
But the wicked ones are silenced in darkness;
For not by might shall a man prevail.

“Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered;
Against them He will thunder in the heavens,
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
And He will give strength to His king,
And will exalt the horn of His anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

Not, "Woe is me!" or "I just can't," but God is... God is. Look again and wonder at the God we serve. The God who calls us to His glory and presence, the God who provides and sustains. Weep. Clap. Dance. Be silent.

Trust. Obey. Praise. Exult.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Hard Reality

Seeing yourself the way others see you isn't always pretty... Let me speak for myself: seeing myself the way others see me (or, the way I really am) isn't pretty. I think I know who I want to be, the things I try to be, the person I want to be--but that doesn't necessarily match reality. It's like wanting to draw a self-portrait like daVinci and ending up with da preschool. Embarrassing. Humiliating. Sad.


Reality is that way. Sometimes life is really, really good. Sometimes life is really, really hard. Sometimes life

When it's an issue of sin, God's Word tells me to confess and forsake it: selfishness, pride, covetousness, anger, fear, worry. If others are involved, I need to go to them and ask for their forgiveness. God wants me to see it. He will help me change, and He faithfully convicts me of sin because He loves me. If not meeting a desired reality is more about not being liked, however, that in itself is a pride problem. My heart is more concerned with the approval of others than the approval of God. Fear of others has to be addressed before I can move down the road of getting things right.

That's why knowing God and His grace is so necessary. Because God gave His only Son, Jesus, to die for my sin, I have confidence that He is working out everything else in my life for a good purpose--a better purpose than I might see or recognize. And because He is God, He uses hard things, evil things, even my sin, for His glory. I don't know how. I don't get it. I don't even like it. But I can trust Him to do His good work (in spite of me).

Some days, that's what I cling to. Most days, it affects my thoughts, emotions, and actions. God is good. He is sovereign. He is loving, kind, gracious, gentle, patient, and faithful. I am not. Yet. With His help, we're working on it.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Weight of Life

Last Sunday morning as we sang, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," I considered those around me who are, literally and spiritually, leaning on God's everlasting arms. Ahead of me were flocks of children sharing families, singing the chorus with gusto--and that brought a tear to my eye. Do they know what it means? What lies ahead? Someday they will need that truth; someday when hope is elusive and life is hard, they will need to preach to themselves the importance of leaning on the everlasting arms.

I looked at those touched by divorce, sin, and great loss, already leaning on their Everlasting Father.  Mothers, grandparents, and fathers affected by suffering and hardship, death, prison, rejection, poverty, physical limitations, and the realities of immigration sang together, "What a fellowship! What a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms. What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms."

And the weight of those lives closed my voice with an overwhelming sense of God's greatness. He is the Giver of grace. He may not change my circumstance, but He will get me through. He may not allow an easy, carefree life, but He is with me. Frances Brook wrote, "My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace, Nor even blessing, but Himself, my God; ’Tis His to lead me there—not mine, but His— At any cost, dear Lord, by any road."

Kabod is the Hebrew word for glory, meaning, "weight." Man has weight, or kabod, because He is made in the image of God. God's glory is beyond our comprehension. In using an Old World scale, how do the things I value balance with God's value, or weight? Do I give them more time, energy, thought, and importance? Or does God Himself equal the weight of my life's pursuits? Do I give Him the glory, or the importance He deserves? His glory, His weight, is predetermined. It is what it is and it will not change. How often in my daily life, do I ascribe to God the glory due His name?

One way is, regardless of my circumstance, to lean on His everlasting arms, trusting Him instead of myself, others, or chance. I can believe that He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do and act accordingly. That is how, in word and deed, eating, drinking, and whatever I do, I can glorify and honor Him above all.

Ascribe to the Lord, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in holy array.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The Lord is over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful,
The voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
Yes, the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord hews out flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer to calve
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everything says, “Glory!”

The Lord sat as King at the flood;
Yes, the Lord sits as King forever.
The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace. (Psalm 29)

Monday, September 3, 2018

When the Going Gets Tough

Over the last couple of weeks, I have experienced victory in an area of struggle. It's both encouraging and empowering. A little glimpse of victory with an acknowledgment of God's hand results in His glory and my edification.

The truth is, however, God is at work in my life whether I acknowledge it or not, whether I experience victory or defeat. As long as I'm fighting the fight--with or without evidence of winning--God's Spirit is evident. So often, we want the appearance and realization of victory, an absence of conflict, a perfect outcome over and above our circumstances. We just want _______ (fill in the blank). We're tired of struggling, losing, and not winning because we're set on the wrong goal. Our hearts long for perfection and eternity with God, for rest and fulfilled expectation. Instead, God desires surrender to His will, humility and endurance. These do not come easily, quickly, or permanently in this life.

As I read about Jesus' trials, crucifixion and burial today, the thing that stood out was not a repeated word or phrase, but the absence of one. Jesus did not fight against God's purpose. He did not demand His rights, defend Himself, argue, or attack. At other times, He simply slipped through the crowd or left. This time, knowing it was God's will, He submitted Himself to mistreatment, hardship, and persecution. It certainly did not look--to anyone--like He was experiencing victory in His Christian walk. But it was only in His most desperate circumstances that God was working out the greatest victory of all--His glory and our salvation.

Paul, who knew both victory and hardship, wrote this:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for 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. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)


But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:7-21)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Loving Yourself, Loving Others

There is the idea that loving one's self, although not explicitly commanded in Scripture, is implied and expected. "Jesus said to love others as I love myself, therefore love for myself is implied." I have met individuals who hate themselves--often a result of shame, sometimes guilt--but perhaps we have misinterpreted "love." After reading about Jesus' on the night He was arrested, I would propose that love (or acceptance) of myself and love for others is a factor of trust and love for God. It has little to nothing to do with the object of my affection (myself or others); it has everything to do with my belief in who God is.

That said, if I believe God created me for a holy purpose--in wisdom, for a Divine calling--I see my body, ability, vocation, and location as a gift to be stewarded. This is not my idea. But I cannot see myself in that light if I have not recognized my sin and confessed my need for forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Once Jesus has cleansed me and I am indwelt by His Spirit, I have the ability to see the Truth of Scripture applied to my entire being--and I am His. I am not my own; I have been bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). That negates self love. It erases self loathing. It is, in essence, an absence of self. For that reason, Scripture does not imply love of self but the opposite, death to self.

My natural, unregenerate mind loves my self. Even in self-loathing, the focus is "self." Stuart Scott does a fabulous job of walking step-by-step through the fascination we have with ourselves in his book, From Pride to Humility. And, as Timothy Keller writes, "Humility is not thinking less of one's self. It is thinking of one's self less. (The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy)

So as I read this morning, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself." (John 13:3-4).

Because He knew He had power over all things--He knew who He was. He would not be destroyed or condemned. His was a divine, holy, blessed mission. He couldn't lose. Jesus also knew He had come from God. He belonged to His Father. And He knew He would return to His Father. He believed--He knew--the outcome. For those reasons, and because of love for His disciples, (John 13:1), He served.

You and I, when we no longer belong to ourselves or have a deep concern for our appearance, reputation, other's praise or rejection can let go of so many things that deter us, and we can love others the way God loves us. Do you know that the Father has given you every spiritual blessing? That you are redeemed and forgiven? That you have a mission that cannot, will not fail? And that you are going back to God? That is what God says about who He is and who you are.

It's not about looking out for number one. It's about Number One looking out for you. And, knowing He does, you can love others lavishly, with no strings attached or expectation of return. In doing so, dying to yourself (not loving yourself), you will experience the presence and undergirding of Almighty God: the power of His resurrection, the  fellowship of His suffering, and conformity to His death that comes through His righteousness and empowering Spirit (Philippians 3:9-10).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Live Today...

Recently, a friend shared her vision and dreams for the future, asking what she could do now to work toward them.  While setting goals and dreaming big are important, I was reminded of this passage from the book of James that says we must guard against failing to live well today.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17 ESV)

James, being James, didn't waste words. That's part of living for the dream--be yourself. God made you, you, so do it to the best of your ability.

More than that, he says don't make plans without consulting and incorporating God. Humility, dependence on God, is the bigger part of moving forward. "I'd like to do this or that, but only God knows" is very different than declaring, "I'm going to be this person and reach this goal."

And have you noticed that sometimes people with grandiose dreams get little done? They are so busy waiting for the right conditions that they fail to move forward or complete everyday tasks. Instead, God says (through James), if there's something you ought to do, git er done. Make your bed, read your Bible, pray--for yourself and others, be thankful, generous, and useful. Do what you can do. If you only have today, what will you do? How will you live it to God's glory given the resources, abilities, responsibilities, and opportunities God has placed in your life? All you have is this moment. Now. Today.

Based on God's principle of sowing and reaping, of giving much to those who have been faithful with little, it is doubtful that building the ark was Noah's first command. He practiced obedience, based on God's interaction with Adam and Eve, that continued generation after generation. He offered sacrifices, put God first in his daily life, and acknowledged His sovereignty--all of which led to distinct choices. A godly life, a blessed life, is the result of small, repeated, daily decisions that move us toward an unknown future. It may not look like "going to another town, spending a year there, buying, selling and making a profit, " but it will be a life that honors God, is unpredictable, rich, and blessed.

In this, I am reminded of Demrie Bratt, who lived an extraordinary, though short, life to the glory of her Savior. The passage below is a picture of her life these last months as she battled cancer to the glory of God. Read here about her "Extraordinary Life." Friends and family are celebrating even as I write... Demrie said it well: God gives just enough grace... for today. It's what we've got.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Monday, August 13, 2018

When Jesus Wants Your Donkey

How often do we sense that God's calling is "now and forever?" We (or maybe just I) tend to think that if I agree to give up this or do that, I have to be really serious because it's a permanent decision. That kind of thinking keeps us from obedience and joy. When God removes something we love, we often fight and flail. (I realize there are incredible losses we face--the death of a spouse, child, or loved one. That is not what this entry is referring to.) It might be an opportunity, job, object, or idea we're particularly attached to. Have you ever told God, "No," because you're not willing to part with some temporary, earthly object? I have.

I wondered about that as I read this passage this morning:

As they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ you say, ‘The Lord has need of it’; and immediately he will send it back here.” They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it. Some of the bystanders were saying to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission. They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it. And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting:

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David;
Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late. (Mark 11:1-11).

If you're like me, this is a familiar passage. But today I wondered about the bystanders and owner of the colt. "Jesus has need of it." Jesus didn't steal it. He didn't pay for it. He didn't keep it. He used it for His purpose and returned it. The owner, and those who lent it, trusted Jesus. They didn't know how long He would need it or why. But if Jesus said He needed it, it was for a good purpose: prophetic, incredible, wonderful, historic, God-ward. Temporary.

Too often we balk at doing things for Jesus--or giving them up--as if it's for the rest of our lives. But in giving, we not only find joy and deep satisfaction, we may discover He has a simple, short-lived purpose. His plan always glorifies His Father in Heaven. The question is, do you trust Him? Do I?

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." (John 15:1-11)