As a deer pants

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. ~Isaiah 54:10

Overwhelmed, undone, weary, discouraged – these are the words that float through my mind these past several weeks. Painful bruises on my heart are seemingly on every side until it almost feels like each area of my life has become tender. I don’t want to do anything but pause in paralysis. Stay frozen that nothing else can happen (similar to the childish belief that if I’m still enough under these covers, the monster won’t see me). I teeter on the edge of emotions so any little thing can tip me yet I know the truth:

You are calm in the storm,

a deep well for the thirsty,

rich satiation for the hungry,

compassionate with steadfast love,

Your love, mercy, peace, and kindness follow me – purposefully pursue me – You won’t let me stay frozen. Like steady, warm water dripping, You melt the ice of protection that surrounds my heart. Your love intrudes where I feel alone, Your peace breaks through my anxious thoughts with your steady presence. You never withdraw, others might, but You never reject, never turn away. You seek me out — You reached into death and pulled me out! You are actively engaged in restoring and renewing!

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? These things I would remember as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. ~Psalm 42:2,4,8

This journey of the psalmist echoes in my own life. I cannot escape the truth that I long for God, yet I am living in discouragement and fear. There are seasons where it seems the decay of our lives is abundantly clear, whether it is loneliness, doubt, worry, illness, betrayal, or something else. The destruction and rot that mark our lives because of sin become abundantly clear. The gut punch of pain that accompanies this state takes my breath away, and I am left gasping and heaving. And the whispers become shouts, “Where is your God?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” (Ps 42:10)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (vs11). Hope – full assurance; not wishful thinking.  The remarkable steadiness of eternal God turned to me because of Jesus Christ. He is my salvation. God is engaged in my life for my good and His glory. This truth ignites trust coupled with peace despite my circumstances.

Worship is vital to recall and to return to when I feel overwhelmed and alone. Remembering who He is and who I am to Him, His steadfast love that He commands and the song He gives to me – these are the truths that solidify my quavering soul. I begin to sing songs of praise and worship, not because I can see my way out of these breakers and waves that pour over me, but because I know He does. And I want His best for my life.

You are my Sustainer, my Great High Priest, Defender, Ancient of Days, the great I AM, Redeemer, Restorer, Joy Giver, Friend, Father, Counselor, Teacher, Strength Giver, King of Kings, my Rock, Tower, the Lifter of my head, steadfast Lover of my soul, and the great Peacemaker.  You are my salvation – let me lead in procession to worship You, longing only for You as you call me to come deeper still.

 

 

obedience learned

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek  ~Hebrews 5:8-10

We talk a lot of teaching our children to obey, seeking to instill obedience through methods that people swear will create wonderful children. Obedience is very important in scripture. We see it as one of the foundational commands of the Old Testament; it reverberates throughout scripture, pointing towards blessings and indicative of respect and honor. Warnings in Romans 1 include disobedience as part of the rejection of God. It is an important concept to instill for obedience bends the heart in submission to wisdom despite desire. The obedience of a two year old will one day be the obedience of a young man or woman to Holy God as a calling comes that may not be easy or desirable. Will they bend their heart to the One who calls for His kingdom? Will they pursue the lost, the hurt or the lonely when it is far easier to seek self instead?

We have a saying in our household that obedience is not seen in the easy. An obedient heart displays itself when the task required is hard, inconvenient, or disliked. When I must do something that interrupts my pursuits, my comfort, or my desires, what is my response? Often I confess I too, like my children, squirm, ignore the call, continue to finish what I’m already doing, justify, or argue.

But Christ learned obedience through his suffering.

His obedient heart was never impacted by rebellion like ours- never did sin reign there. He walked out obedience all His life and ultimately He knew that obedience would be found on the path of suffering. He experienced the tearing away from the presence of God on the cross so that I would never know that pain. And in His obedience, He became the Great High Priest that can understand and identify with my wandering heart. He has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

He obediently walked to Calvary for you and me. He absorbed the blows of hatred, betrayal, and malice. He bore the crown of contempt. He silently stood as my sacrifice and yours. The King of Kings with all power in His voice stood silent before His accusers, obedient to death. He hung in my place, suffered my separation from the Father, defeated the sin and love of self that entangle my heart, and rose victorious! Jesus declared, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18) He obediently laid down his life that we may live.

Obedience for myself or my children is shown in the hard places. The active choosing whom I will serve in a moment either displays obedience or disobedience. The same holds true for my children. I must confess, I have a hard time making life “hard” or uncomfortable for my children. My flesh seeks their approval and uses their happiness as a gauge to indicate my performance as a mother. Not pretty, but there it is. So God has had to teach me over the years the importance of parenting from His perspective and not my own. Mine is faulty and limited. His way as displayed by Christ is often through moments of suffering or discomfort. I have not had a single toddler who enjoyed being limited to bedtime rather than playing! I have walked with several tearful teenagers as they’ve chosen hard things, feeling left out or alone, in order to choose His way. I have had to enforce obedience despite feeling weary or repetitive.

But one thing God has taught me clearly is this: Obedience for myself or my children will come with a struggle, not merely through words or exhortations.  But obedience will also become testimony. As I learn to value obedience, the blessings God promises to me will glorify Him now and for eternity. Lives speak about Him when they are submitted to Him.

 

 

 

the simplicity of parenting

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. ~John 15:12-13

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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 22:36-40

I am often asked about how to parent. People assume that since I have so many, I must be some sort of expert on what to do. While I may have more experiences to draw from when encountering something new or difficult, I still often feel clueless and deficient. I think that is the posture that God desires most – when the answer to my feeling of ineptitude is to run to Him. I encounter moms all the time who feel completely inadequate and worried that what they are doing or not doing may result in failure in mothering.

There was an article making the rounds in different social media platforms (and there are always these articles) that detailed the things that well adjusted children needed from their parents in order to avoid mental disorders and unhappiness in life. I will just be honest, these kinds of articles infuriate me. They are the workings of the enemy – perhaps not the express desire of the author, yet that is what they are. The premise of the article is that if the parent will just do this checklist of things to some hidden level or degree, then the child will become a happy, well adjusted adult ready to succeed in life.

And we as believers fall for it!

We believe the inaccurate and discount the truth. We are led down the path using bondage and fear to tie us to behavior with an invisible measuring stick in order to receive a result we cannot ever control. God offers truth in parenting, and I believe He keeps it simple. He calls us to love: love Him and then love others. To love them with a love mimicking Jesus’ love for us – a sacrificing, humble, fully engaged, fierce love.

Our culture screams self love, self care, and self fulfillment. Yet the masses are lonely, hurting, unfulfilled, and desperate. There is no peace apart for Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection open the door to the wonderful relationship of a loving Father with all sins forgiven. He gives us a new name, a new purpose, changes our heart, indwells us, and gives us His power for this life. He loves us perfectly!

And we are called to love Him and others in this way. Love doesn’t always look pretty or easy either. That is a false story told by one who wants us all to find ourselves lacking. Love often has to slog through mess and dirt, carrying the wounded or supporting the limping. It costs us time and often infringes on our own agendas. Love hurts because often it is initially rejected. But Christ never retreats, and neither can we.

In parenting we are called to love deeply and fully, with all our heart, soul and mind, laying down the things of “my” life in order to serve and lead a precious child to her Savior. So I think there are some very real concepts as a parent that I must ascribe to as I walk out this time with my children. I need to reject the cultural dogma that says that I deserve a break or better kids or more time for myself. While we all may need rest or quiet time, true rest and rejuvenation are found in Him. But I confess that “me time” often doesn’t include any time alone with Jesus and instead includes a lot of time for my selfish wants. Loving well also doesn’t align with either helicopter or laissez faire parenting. Neither of these examples are what we see in how God loves us. When I succumb to micromanaging, I have denied God’s real leadership in the life of this child, and instead I believe that I control the outcome. On the other side, nowhere does God show us love by allowing us to wander without influence, wisdom, and counsel. In fact he clearly commands us to walk with our child, daily discussing their lives in light of Scripture, filtering every part of their world through the true lens of God’s love.

God designed this child, idiosyncrasies and difficulties, talents and gifting. This child is His creation, for His purpose and His glory. And I am invited into His equation to help till the ground and create an environment in which He can be displayed. The God of the universe, who designed this wonderful, magnificent child and positioned him in my home specifically with me as a parent, promises to equip me to meet him with great, true love. And by my obedience in loving my child, I love and worship God. But His sovereignty trumps my actions or inactions. He doesn’t require my input, but He delights in walking with me in parenting His child. He is the One who woos and calls. He is the One who opens blind eyes to the truth of salvation. He is the One who will change me, teaching me and giving me insight into each child. And He is the One who will walk with my child.

Known

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles or the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? ~Galatians 4:9

The battle is whether I believe I live in a place of only the Gospel or do I live in a land of the Gospel and my contributions. As soon as I believe I must bring something into this or that I need to contribute, I have left the Gospel and walked back into the Law. It is bondage and a great deceit. Just like the foolish Galatians, I should wonder who has bewitched me.

The gospel is basic but profound. I need it to course through my life, flowing into every crevice and crack. I need the truth of what Jesus Christ exchanged on my behalf to be the foundation of every other interaction I ever have. He needs to color and influence every move. And yet honestly, I walk many days, many moments in my own strength of piety and goodness with ulterior motives or an agenda at play behind the charade.

Oh the wretchedness of the truth! Who saves from this? Is there really any hope? Because as I grow in sanctification, I only see more of me that needs Jesus. I only see more of my struggling, more of my deep-seated flesh that enslaves me. I am squeezed by the viselike trappings of self sufficiency and self adulation, and I desperately want freedom.

But the freedom has come! He knows me!

Paul clarifies for the Galatians in this passage who truly is responsible for the relationship – God knows us fully. In I Corinthians 8:3 we see that if anyone loves God, he is known by God and in I Corinthians 13:12 I shall know fully (speaking of when Christ returns) even as I have been fully known (already). The implication of intimacy and love is present with the verb known. There has never been a day with Jesus when He did not fully know my flesh, what trips me up, what tangles my heart and still love me! He extends his forgiveness over all my sin. The truth basic to the Gospel is that He pursued this wretched sinner, knowing fully all that will be me and loves me deeply right in the midst of it all.

And the freedom that comes with living in Christ Jesus means that the voices of condemnation and shame can be silenced. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free  in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Paul in Galatians is exhorting a group of believers who are on the brink of believing Jesus isn’t enough, that they are part of the equation, and that what they do will affect their salvation. From the beginning of Galatians, he calls this a distortion and a bewitching. Make no mistake, I can still fall into this trap, and I think many others can too. I run to my contribution, I whisper to myself, “I’m not doing too badly today,” I measure my actions against others, but I am demoralized because the surety of my failure looms. I have believed the lie that I can be perfected in flesh.

Jesus sets me free, His Spirit dwells in me to lead and guide. My response is one of submission to the Holy Spirit, walking with Him. So I return to the truth of the Gospel and worship Him. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1

 

 

making a road map

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. ~Psalm 119: 9-11

Setting off on a path through the woods is completely different than blindly wandering around in a forest. One is purposeful and leads in a direction; the other can be dangerous and certainly random. Studying the Bible can often feel more like a blind wandering than a purposeful stride. But if we were sitting at coffee, I would want to impress on you the importance of exploring the riches of God’s Word in a way that brings order and structure.

Many times over the years I have felt as if I am blindly stumbling through time in the Bible, sometimes finding a truth nugget and sometimes just reading for the discipline of it. I talk with many women who profess feeling as if the Scriptures are dry or overwhelming. Often friends have worried that they just forget almost immediately what they have read as they begin their day, and while they know the truth of scripture is applicable to their lives, there is this disconnect to it “sticking.” Then there are the times when I have sought a great memorization technique to engage the Word to learn His truth only to walk away because I have fallen behind or not accomplished what I think I should have.

But the truth is this: we are called to His word.

Psalm 119 abounds in His call for us to pursue, engage, memorize, and apply His word. The psalmist speaks of how God’s word, statutes, precepts, and law all must be the foundation of his walk with God. The same is true for you and me. In fear, we can remember who He is. In temptation, we can keep our way pure with His truth guarding our desires. The truths of God’s Word are fierce weapons against the lies the world and Satan sling at us. He gives us understanding and comfort. Scripture makes us wise, and the result is the Word of God becomes sweeter than honey to our souls.

So if we are to engage the Word of God daily like we do food and water, then how do we do it? How do we grow to handle the Word of God well, or do we just sigh and believe that skill is reserved for the pastor or teacher? I have spent time with many young women, my own daughters included, who desire to know but almost freeze with the vastness of the book. They just don’t know how to approach it independent of a bible study telling them the next verse to study or read.

While I think we live in an age in which we are greatly blessed with studies and devotionals, God’s heart beckons us to His Word alone. He is enough.

We can approach Him with confidence, knowing we have His Spirit, the great Teacher, living within us who leads us into all truth. As believers we need to learn to sit with Him and His word. Nothing else. Not because all those other studies aren’t valid or good, but because when we begin to perceive the study as the only way to engage God’s word, we cripple ourselves. It may not be your struggle, but I talk with many women who believe that without a study to walk them through scripture, they simply cannot take a step forward with the Word.

One way God has shown me to interact with His Word is by making “road maps” or paths through the Scriptures. As I study a certain concept or theme such as trust or faithfulness, I will begin to mark the verse or passage of the day by tagging the passage I looked at yesterday with today’s passage and vice versa. So over the course of a week of looking at trust, I will have a mini path walking me from passage to passage that speaks to trusting God. These paths have been invaluable to me as God brings me back to a portion of a path formed months or years ago. I can walk on the familiar road and then perhaps go further. Often I need these paths when I am running frantically back to Him with a hurting heart, and the truths He taught me in the quiet moments can steady me and remind me of His truth.

A commitment to time with Him is so important but can be very simply done.  Looking for the gospel truths (a gospel treasure hunt as one friend calls it), using some amazing blogs who have worked hard to create a month of readings about different themes, and studying a book of the Bible are some ways to approach the Word especially if you have never done this apart from a study book. Reading straight through the Bible is hard, and I keep this for my evening reading time when I otherwise would be reading another book before bed. I don’t follow a plan; I simply begin and read until I tire as I would a novel and continue the next evening. Then the bondage for me of failing to read to a certain point or read all the different areas in the Old and New Testament simply isn’t there. God has often allowed me to discover something in that reading that I can apply to my morning time with Him or place on a path He’s taught me.

If I could look you in the eye and plead with you for just one thing, this would be it: Read His Word. He is faithful to teach you His truths. He will meet you in the morning and walk with you throughout your day. He will come alongside you as you love your family and friends. He will bring his truths to your mind. He will begin to teach you the overarching truths of grace, love, and hope that ripple from one end of scripture to the other. He will do this.

My prayer is that we would be people with this as our song: In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. ~Psalm 119:14-16