Thursday, January 25, 2018

Parenting 101

Our family is blessed--extremely blessed. God has provided and we live a life of grace and gratitude, thanks to Him. There is a sense in which others want that same blessing; it is a wonderful gift, but there's no way to pass on or multiply the blessing to others except to turn them to God Himself, through Jesus.

As our children grow (and have grown), one thing is certain: God uses them to change us. And, as struggling parents ask questions, share concerns, and look for answers, Jesus' simple but impossible charge stands central: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Simple, because we understand the premise. Impossible, because apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ and dependence on His Spirit, Word, and people, we cannot begin to put it into practice.

If we, as parents, are trying to be successful we will lose the war. If we follow a contemporary path of certainty, another's example, a way of thinking, or our own reasoning, we will fail. If we try to impress our neighbors, community, coaches, pastor, church members, and extended family, we will stumble. (Let me add that neither my husband or I came onto the parenting scene feeling equipped or confident. As I've mentioned before, I still can't find the family videos of our early years of parenting that I hid because they gave our children the wrong idea and modeled push-over, permissive parenting on my part.)

If, on the other hand, we prayerfully commit, "I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart" (Psalm 101:2), loving God first and foremost, we will please the only One who counts. God does not promise godly children. He has given principles to live by, but if we follow His example we must admit that even He does not have perfectly obedient, godly children! What He does guarantee is that He will make His children in Christ more and more like His precious Son, whatever it takes. The salvation and spiritual life of our children is not our responsibility. It is God's. We can provide a godly environment, influence, consequences and training, but we cannot work heart change. The children in our home are gifts--temporary residents--we are given to steward, train and prepare for life. It is a constant seeking after wisdom (Proverbs 1-5).

A speaker recently said, "We hold to the Proverb, 'Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.' But if we, as parents, put more trust in our training than in the Lord, what kind of example are we setting?"

Second, we are charged to love our children as we love ourselves. They are not pawns, advertisements, posters, or mindless followers. My duty as a parent is not to mold them into my idea of success. The basis of my instruction is to love them more than myself in daily, practical exercises. In loving my husband and children, I am called to die to myself: my desires, my plans, my schedule, my goals. I do not martyr myself for the sake of my children. I make a deliberate choice to put God first and others (my husband, then children) next, trading my wants for their needs. I choose to lovingly serve them by doing what is in their best interest instead of what makes me look or feel good. What is best? What do they need most? How can I help? How can I cooperate with God to train this child so he is suited for the world? I know his bent--what does s/he need to learn how to navigate independence? How can I facilitate his/her natural growth?

Late in the teen years one of our children said, "Mom, sometimes I really didn't like you." "You know what, sweetie?" I answered, "I didn't like you either....But I always loved you."

Parents, we need to grow up. We need to look up. How is God using our children to make us more dependent on Him? To hack away at unseen idols, desires, and sinful habits? Do I love God first? Most? Or do I love what He can do for me more? Do I love His promises more than God Himself? And what about my children? Do they see me loving God or loving myself? Do they know I love them more than success, other's impressions, my reputation, their salvation or future choices? Do I truly love my children more than myself? We won't always get it right, but by God's grace, we will learn, love, change and grow--and He will bless as He sees fit, in trial and relief. It's all in His hands.

One more thing--if life doesn't turn out the way I think it should, if I don't experience "blessing" or tragedy strikes I have learned to ask myself, "Is God still good?" Someday I'll tell you the story about a man with a gun, a lawsuit, a traveling husband and a house full of sleeping children when I imagined the worst and that still voice asked, "Even if.... Is God still good?" And the answer, with tears, is always, "Yes. God is still good."

"Good and upright is the Lord;
Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in justice,
And He teaches the humble His way.
All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth
To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name’s sake, O Lord,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.." (Psalm 25:8-11)

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Replacing Self-Esteem with Grace

There is something in us, something in me, that wants to be different than everyone else. I want to be seen, noticed, and remembered because I'm ____________ (fill in the blank). This way of thinking, wanting to be wanted or known because of who I am, doesn't just affect my thinking and relationships with others. It leaches into my relationship with God. There is a tendency to believe that God chose me because __________ or because I bring something unique to the table, something no one else can or does. That's what self-esteem is: the idea that my unique-ness makes me different from everyone else. And while that's true, there's a greater sense of being the same that needs to be embraced.... Because God says so.

To a world of  Baby Boomers, Gen X'ers, and Millenialists, God says:

You are no better than anyone else. "with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:6). "Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation." (Romans 12:16)

Your personal struggles are no different than everyone else's. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man..." (1 Corinthians 10:13). "each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust." (James 1:14)

You have nothing I want or need. "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isaiah 64:6). "...nor is [God] served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).

You are not in control. I am. " ...everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. That which is has been already and that which will be has already been..." (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15)  God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11).

And yet. Yet. He came. He gave. He embraces. He sustains, empowers, enables. Loves. God not only created us, He stooped down and brought us to Himself. Because we need Him desperately, He went to desperate lengths to buy us back from the slave market of sin. And then, knowing our weakness and frailty, He determined to dwell in us and assist us, His people, each and every moment of the rest of our lives.

Any relationship with sinners requires forgiveness. Reconciliation does not exist apart from forgiveness. Someone has to pay for another's sin against them. And God paid the debt for our sin against Him through Jesus. He took it all and we brought nothing. That. is. grace.

We didn't deserve it. We can't earn it. It's not ours to begin with. It's all an act of God's--His free will, His desire, His love manifested on us. And when that's true, when I begin to see the depth of His grace and am cut free from my desire to take hold of it in and of myself, there is freedom--freedom to love, freedom to obey--and gratitude--gratitude without strings, gratitude that washes over my thoughts, attitudes and actions. It's not up to me.

This truth borders on blasphemy. It's beyond my comprehension. It's not about me. It's all about grace. This is God.

As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”

“Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; 

“The poison of asps is under their lips”; 

“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:10-28 NKJV)

Friday, January 5, 2018

All the Good Stuff: 'cause "I NEED it!"

In our Christian way of thinking, if we do good things, God gives us good stuff. We can quote or refer to verses and passages that tell us God has good things for us; we can do all things through His strength; He will meet all our needs.

The end of Leviticus is an example. God promises good things to those who obey His commandments. He promises penalties to those who disobey. But in real life, bad things happen to good people--and good things happen to bad people. So what's the catch?

As I read Leviticus 26:1-13 and the list of good things God promised, I realized how many of those blessings I take for granted: rain, harvest, no war in the land, fruitfulness, God's presence, acceptance, and freedom. It's not that God hasn't given me loads of blessings. The problem is that I want more. I tend toward ingratitude, greed, comfort, ease, convenience, and relief.

But what didn't God say? He didn't say they would never work another day in their lives, face temptation, frazzled spouses, naughty children, financial stress, or a trouble-free life.

He promised to meet my needs. All of them. The question is, what qualifies as a "need?" And who determines it?

Honestly, I think I need a lot of things: uninterrupted sleep, plentiful food, fun friends, good times. But God, in His wisdom and love, knows differently--and He's the One that decides. If I need patience and maturity, He will provide trials (because He loves me; see James 1:2-3). If I need humility, He will reveal my heart and humble me (see Deuteronomy 8:2). I may need to depend more on Him and less on myself. I may need to learn compassion, empathy--and yes, humility (again--keep that tape rolling because it's true, so true). In God's way of thinking, my circumstances do not determine my need, they are instruments God uses to meet my true, invisible, eternal, essential, previously unmet (probably undetermined) need.

Think kids. What do kids need? A parent's list is very different than a child's. And it depends on where that child is at the moment. If they're at Stuff-mart, children likely "need" different things than if they're confined to time out. Their needs change and vary as quickly as their environment. But good moms (and dads) know kids need proper nutrition, adequate rest, etc.--and they don't get dissuaded by miserable, whiny, unhappy children if it means meeting their needs.

Whatever it is, God has promised to provide for my need--all of it. As Pastor Tim Waldron says, "If God didn't meet it, I didn't need it." He has given me a guarantee: Jesus. If God sent His Son endure an earthly existence, submit to sin-cursed parents, authorities, a sin-cursed world, human body, and die an excruciating death without intervening--because that's what I need--what won't He give me? Who suffers and gives, endures and grieves for anyone, especially His enemies? But God did. And because He has given His best, at the greatest cost, I am confident He will provide exactly what I need when I need it...and more.

So what do I need today? At this point I'm asking instead of telling...

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me....And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:11-13, 19-20).