Planting Seeds

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. ~Psalm 133:1 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~Romans 12:10

Our God is relationship oriented. The very essence of the Gospel is his offer of relationship through Jesus Christ’s death for our sins. He calls us as parents to impart to our children the importance He places on relationship. The way we love one another is the display of the Gospel to the world. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) To speak consistently and clearly on the value of loving one another well is an imperative from Him. The culture we live in says that sibling rivalry and squabbles* are normal; just ignore them, don’t engage and they will mostly stop; children do it for the parent’s attention; they’ll grow out of it, etc.  No, I don’t think they will.

Encourage God’s love to grow between siblings – training them in righteousness applies real life here. There will be few relationships that will trigger flesh in a child more than a sibling. Welcome this. It is our opportunity to begin talking with our child about the Gospel. Just like in marriage, the intimacy of family life will highlight our natural desires for self.

It is also an opportunity to cast a vision before them in terms of why God purposely placed them in this family and in this order. Spend time looking at the why question that springs from their lips. Don’t run from the dislike they may spew at another. Sit in it with them, help them discern the lie they have welcomed regarding that sibling and begin instead to help them rewrite with God’s truth.

I think sometimes as believers we have bought the lies of the enemy that say siblings don’t have to like each other just because they happen to be born into the same family. Really? Where is God’s sovereignty in that? Do we really get permission to throw out the commands to love one another because we are “accidentally” born with annoying people? Or will we embrace the transforming power of God’s love that teaches how to love the difficult because we have been deeply loved? Do we understand that God has a purpose for our children as big sister, younger brother, etc to learn the truths about His love and lean/depend on Him to help them love and care for someone else. This walk right now as a child who follows Jesus will lead and prepare them for what He has planned for them as an adult.

We can break up fights and tell kids to stop yelling/hitting and if we stop there, we are missing the discipleship of our child. If all we do is fuss at the fussing, we will never help our child examine their heart as to what motivates their action or response. They may conform to our edict of no fighting, but the heart remains unchanged apart from Gospel application. Behavior can just go underground as resentment, bitterness, and ultimately hatred. And it will stunt their walk with a loving, forgiving God.

We have the rich opportunity to walk with our children in learning how to love intentionally the way we have been loved – forgiving fully, expressing frustrations in a way to seeks resolution and peace, and acknowledging their own contribution to the argument and why they are motivated to respond in sin.

 

*Now I readily understand the sin of man can cause deep fissures/utter violations within families – let me be clear, when a family is torn apart by mental illness, sexual violations, or physical violence, as a parent you must act for the safety of your child. I am not speaking of these times.

The Vine, the Vinedresser, and me

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~John 15:5

Have you ever felt worthless in God’s kingdom? You look at your body of work and all you see are errors, mistakes, sins and defeat? You cannot get a handle on your tongue; you are not patient with your family; every time you turn around you are faced with another way you have sinned against another or God.

We have a child who right now is in a crisis of faith. They are in a season of pruning, but they believe they are in a season of failure. They look at the way their sin seems to explode all over the place, and they want to hide it, stuff it back in, cover it up with niceties or retreat. Poke them a little bit about one of these errors, and they may explode in anger. There is apathy, a mask they wear to act as if they don’t care how many areas are in shambles. And when you tread just a little through these first layers of defense, there is profound discouragement and fear. The aching knowledge of their inability to “do it” and concern over being perfect, checking the boxes they have laid out for themselves, creates a huge emotional chasm. And only Jesus Christ Himself with all His grace, His mercy, and His love can fill it. The Gospel must become a lifeline, not just for salvation but for daily, minute to minute life.

Salvation for this child is not in question. They are completely secure in knowing Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their sins, and they would absolutely tell you how vital He is in their life. But just like a Galatian from years ago, they have decided that their walk everyday is theirs to do, to somehow muster up the right combination of fruits either to prove to God how much they love Him or to add to their salvation. The wrecking of their carefully ordered life exposes the limits they have placed on God’s great grace, as if it is merely that little bit more we need to get over the hurdle when added to all the good acts we do.

Many times I too have walked in these ruts of the faith, tripping as I focus not on Him but on what I carry, making sure I don’t drop anything, or dirty these clothes I have placed over my clothes of righteousness. And when I see my life wrecked, I wonder how He could love me. But just like this child, it is an opportunity to once again see the depths of His love for me, the grace that gushes like a tidal wave, and to tightly hold to the One who is at work, refining and changing me more and more into His image.

Pruning is an important part of the walk of faith. Jesus draws the parallel boldly in John 15 – He sets up very clearly that He is the Vine, his Father is the Vinedresser, and we are branches. A vinedresser has one goal with his plants – to maximize the fruit as he shapes its growth. In pruning vines, the goal is to maximize the amount of one year old growth or wood because only in 1 year old branches is fruit made. Older wood produces only leaves and shoots. A vine dense with older wood has little fruiting wood and poor air circulation which leads to fungus and disease. So every year 70-90% of growth needs to be removed in the winter. Also the vinedresser wants to shape the vine’s growth on a structure conducive to the harvesting of the fruit.

God actively prunes the believer, slicing through lies, cleaning off dead or nonproductive areas, shaping our hearts and minds. He uses hardship, suffering, crises of faith, but through all of these events, he uses His living and active Word. Hebrews 4:12 says that his Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We can trust that God desires us to be completely dependent on Him, not just for salvation, but for everyday walking with Him. He prunes us back, tightly leaving us right up against Jesus the vine, in the position of abiding, clinging to the source of life. And it is the position that is most desirable because in the pruning I learn anew that I don’t have to perform or carry the right things to Him. His love flows through me, His truths become my own, His ways of righteousness grow in me creating fruit for His kingdom and His glory. So my child, welcome the pruning for this is where your intimacy with Jesus will grow, and be glad He cuts away your self sustenance. Let the truth of His love and grace flow through you, filling you with peace as you rest in Him.

The Need to Meet

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:24-25

 

As a mom I have the privilege of walking with my children in the deepest parts within if they will allow. In a conversation with one of them the other day, when they were brave enough to crack open their heart and lay out their battles, I was struck by how common the battle really is. This one was aching, churning, and warring within over the lack of spiritual fruit and the feelings of worthlessness and doubt.

In this passage from Hebrews, the author has just stated that we can come before God confidently because of Jesus Christ’s blood shed for our sin – our faith is assured, our hearts clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with His water. We are to hold tightly to the Gospel because Jesus is faithful. He who justifies will continue to sanctify us, and one day He will return and we will be with Him eternally. But it’s easy to waver. It’s easy in the moments of the day to see sin, to see failure, and accept the enemy’s lies of defeat or discouragement.

If I can encourage you in one area, it would be to listen intently and pray fiercely in moments of discipline with your children. Be willing to be up long past your bedtime in order to allow the Holy Spirit time to hack off the calluses on your child’s heart to expose the soft tenderness underneath in which He works. Dwell with your children there in their exposure, not as the one who has it all sorted out but as a fellow sinner redeemed by His grace, seeking to walk out the faith He has given in the daily mess of life.

I am not one who is quickly convicted and repents with vigor; the Holy Spirit is patient, often tender, and works with me on my sin to bring me to repentance on issues. So why do I think that my young believing child is going to do an about face in ten minutes? I shouldn’t because I fully believe that most of the time they will hide behind an apology without delving into the motivations of their heart and allowing the ugliness of their sin to be seen and met with grace. Many days I have to remind myself to slow down and take the time to ask probing questions and really listen to the answers. Invest the time.

This verse is a bedrock verse for me in terms of discipling my children. I know we often quote this in order to support going to church, but I think it aptly applies to parenting and discipling anyone.

  • Let us consider – In the Greek, the meaning here is to think up and down, exactly, attentively; to fix your eyes or mind upon. Let me consider my child, let me spend the time praying for the Holy Spirit to enlighten me to the climate of their heart, the winds of doubt or fear that may be blowing, the storm that may be quietly occurring underneath a thin layer of protection.
  • how to stir up one another to love and good deeds – to stimulate or incite in another the agape love solely based in the Holy Spirit and from which actions flow. Parenting and discipleship are not about behavior correction. It’s about pointing or directing that child to the truth of the Gospel in direct opposition to the lies of this world and calling them to walk in faith.
  • but encourage one another – parakaleo in the Greek; to make a call being up close and personal; to admonish or exhort; there is a legal connotation to this word – to make an exhortation from a close place that stands up in God’s court. This encouragement must come from intimacy, and intimacy grows with time invested.

So I want to encourage you – if we were across from each other at coffee or lunch, I would exhort you to spend time with the One who intimately knows your children, seeking His truth for their lives. Fight the impulse to make other things more important than seeking the heart of your child. Ask the quiet questions about their faith and listen intently to what they know and what they believe. Point them to the Word, to direct truths that meet their doubts or fears. We do not grow their faith – that is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we can walk together with them in their journey, encouraging and cheering them on. The laundry can wait.

 

 

Steadfast Love

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” ~Lamentations 3:22-24

His love is steadfast. It is so different from any other love that we cannot wrap our minds around it. It does not waver, it does not dim or fade. Steadfast means resolute, firm, unwavering. Checed in Hebrew is the word for love in this passage and most places you see steadfast love written in the Old Testament. Checed is defined as the “lovingkindness of God to men — in redemption from enemies and troubles, in preservation of life from death, in quickening of spiritual life, in redemption from sin, and in keeping of covenants.”

We view love through earthly eyes. We have all had experiences, some life shattering and deeply painful perhaps, when someone has withdrawn their love. And we have all experienced times when we have had to choose love because we certainly were not naturally feeling loving. This happens often with toddlers and teenagers in my experience! And I know many times I have not loved my people and others well, choosing in those moments to be selfish, prideful, indifferent, or unwilling. So I think that for me there always exists that tiny whisper, that little nudge that challenges the truth that God loves me steadfastly, without end, resolutely. It’s something that God has wanted to emphasize to me these last few years in His Word as we’ve walked together. He has displayed over and over the assurances He places all over scripture that His love is steadfast.

This lovingkindness is his character. In Exodus 34:6 He declares who He is – abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for all his people. His love is not rescinded when I am faithless, not does He measure out less or more based on performance.  From one end of the Bible to the other, He declares His steadfast love to his people, of which we, as the justified and redeemed, are a part. His self-sacrificing love displayed on the cross comes out of his steadfast love that from the beginning knew that only His sacrifice would be enough to salvage this wreck of a sinner. And His love extends and extends to me, never failing to reach in and work to transform me more like Him.

He is steadfast in His love in my successes and my failures because His love is not dependent on me. He displayed his love in that while I was still chief among sinners, He died for me. His steadfast love under the covenant of Christ never gets withdrawn. It may walk in conjunction with discipline, but its flow never ceases.

I praise you Lord for you are good. You are steadfast in your love for me, a wayward fickle sinner who you saved by your Son. Thank you for the discipline that walks with your love. Thank you for the assurance that in the hardest moments, despite what seems like terrible circumstances, you never leave or reject. You never turn your back on me because your back was turned on Christ instead. You slog right into my sin, and you redeem my life from the pit. Let me move, minister, engage from this position of understanding your vast love for me and let your love flow out of me into my world.

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. ~Psalm 63:3-4

 

What not to wear

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace ~Ephesians 4:1-3

Do you remember the tv show What Not To Wear? The premise of the show is observing this poor, slovenly wreck of a woman who cannot dress or does not care what she wears.  They tape her for a few weeks to prove her pathetic state and then surprise her with the news that, while she is living in bad clothes state, someone was planning and desiring to help her. She only has to agree to go to NYC, give up all her clothes and buy new clothes that fit her correctly and flatter her.  A credit card is freely offered with all the money she will need to do this. Does she want to go?  Well of course she does! She cannot wait! So she packs up every piece of her closet and brings them into a room where they are all placed on a rack for scrutiny. Every episode I have ever seen then shows the same phenomena occur – the poor woman begins to defend and long for her old clothes. No matter that she has just heard how ugly they are, seen footage proving this, or felt excited at the prospect of changing and updating. Now that the moment of trashing them (for this is the plan – there is a huge trashcan into which each piece must go after criticism) has come, she cannot let go and even clings to them wanting them for a multitude of reasons. She has to stand in a mirrored room and observe the ugliness of them as outfits, yet her defense continues to mount. Typically the woman is by this time so offended by the hosts she usually vents in private.  

Then she is shown the right clothes to wear to make her look good and sent out to make purchases. Armed with this knowledge she strides into the first store and almost immediately gets confused by what she is used to buying versus what she has learned she needs now for the new self.  So the hosts swoop in and rescue her, reminding her of what she needs and helping her assemble her wardrobe.  Finally the transformation is completed with hair and makeup, and the big reveal of the new self is done both privately for the hosts and then publicly for all her friends/family.  and every one of the recipients attests that this transforming experience was so worth it!

So what does this have to do with Ephesians 4 & 5? I think this show unknowingly displays some aspects of my walk with Jesus. 

I too was a poor wreck of a sinner, dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked, But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ – by grace I have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5) Dressed in the rags and torn garments of sin, before I ever sought Him, He sought me. He saw all my ugly clothes, all my inadequate ways to cover myself and make myself look presentable, and He offered new clothes of His righteousness! The cost for these clothes is without measure, and yet he has paid it for me!

And honestly, I jumped at the salvation offered! I knew, looking at my tape of all my horrific, sinful clothes, that I was hopeless to ever clothe myself in a manner worthy of the King and was so grateful that He offered me his salvation. But just like the woman on the show, I often see myself standing there with all my dirty rags on hangers, trying to defend or justify what I see.

But that is not the way you learned Christ! -assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. ~Eph. 4:20-24 

On the day of my salvation, I was given the Holy Spirit who began to sift through the clothes I choose to wear, seeking to purge and reclothe me in His righteousness. Yet I cling to what is familiar, what has worked before, or what I like. There are many moments when the trashing of my sinful nature is the most painful experience, and I’m not sure I can bear the stripping away of it. Then there are the times when I look at myself in His mirror and see the rag for what it is and willingly give it up to the One who clothes so beautifully with grace, compassion, love and kindness.

Often I will be like the women as they go out, resolutely armed with a list of what to purchase for their new wardrobe. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love (Eph. 5:1-2) Oh! I want to dress like the daughter of the King that I am! And yet I can quickly be overwhelmed with obstacles, confusion, the pull towards the familiar clothes I used to wear. I have a tendency then to run to what I know despite having been told by Him that those clothes are binding, ill fitted, and worthless.

And I forget who walks with me, who has been given to me as my Counselor. The Holy Spirit has been given to me as my teacher, my guide, to lead gently and convict lovingly that I may slowly accumulate the wardrobe of righteous living. My righteousness is not in question; His death was payment or ransom for all my dirty rags. But there is a daily clothing that either reflects my position as redeemed or hearkens back to my natural choices.  Putting off of the old sin nature and a putting on of the new sanctified nature bought and paid for by Jesus Christ by his death and resurrection happens as I walk with the Spirit.

But the difference between the show and my true life is who is central. In the show, it’s all about the woman and her change. But in my life, true change occurs when it’s all about Jesus Christ. He is the One who begins our transformation and He is the One who will carry it out to completion. I will stand before Him dressed in his robes of righteousness washed white because of his blood. For now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Eph. 5:8-10)

 

 

Weighed Down

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. ~ Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety – Merriam Webster defines it as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Biblically the word in Hebrew has heaviness, fear, sorrow, or carefulness associated with it. Until a few years ago, I would not have said that anxiety characterized my life or was a big struggle for me. Now I may have been wrong or unaware, but certainly God has been faithful to reveal what I feel is a new struggle with anxiety to me in these last few years.

Several years ago we made a move, following steps the Lord made clear to us but still painful in the leaving of friends, familiarity, comfort, and ease. Following that move I would say that our lives entered a 3 year period where anything that could go wrong did. Medical crises, difficulty with a pregnancy and new birth, upheaval with work, uncertainty with income walked hand in hand with a new city, new friends, new routine for school. We began to hurtle from one major event to another, putting out the fires or seeking to moderate the issue, and I began to feel like the ball in a pinball machine bouncing back and forth between high stress issues without any respite. My friends who know me will probably agree that I tend to be more dramatic or animated than some, but I began to retreat into a place where I watched myself handle everything without actually engaging a whole lot emotionally. In my mind racing thoughts of what’s next, what should I do to prevent that, how can I set this up to not have repercussions seesawed along with thoughts of retreat, panic, and anger. My family was “treated” to either a high task manager or emotional mine field.

Proverbs warns that anxiety weighs a man down. To weigh down in this verse means to bow down, as in worship, to stoop. Anxiety will cause me to worship at the altar of fear, worry, control/organization, self reliance or inactivity. I will bow down, and it will not be to the only One who can help me in my need.  So how do I release or walk away from anxiety?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Reasonableness in Philippians 4 is gentleness. When I am anxious, often gentleness is the first thing to go. Anxious people aren’t often gentle or patient.  They are protective, grabby, impatient, and irritable. The posture of rejoicing despite the circumstances, pleading before the throne with thanksgiving, is hard. But as we look to the Word and worship Him, His peace is our guard, a military term for keeping watch and engaging all offensive and defensive actions necessary as a military sentinel would.

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. As much as I don’t want to see it, anxiety links up with pride. Pride is the root cause of so many symptoms of sin, and it is the base of this one as well for me. Since the garden we have been seeking to be like God, and I am no exception. My anxiety was wrapped in the complete lack of ability to control anything going on and the deep pride within me that screamed that I should be able to handle this, that I should be able to walk this out calmly, that if I could just organize better or return to some way that had worked in the past, that I could turn this around and be the savior in these circumstances. I could not control the way my life was spinning, and it was an affront to me.  There is One who has conquered all, and He desires for me to choose the good portion as he told Martha in Luke 10. Inherent in this scripture is the link that humbling myself requires giving all my anxieties to Him, acknowledging His care for me, and allowing His timing for my life. And He will exalt, at the proper time. He will carve ways out of rock, make rough places smooth, comfort your fears, heal, lead, organize, and guide.

Many times I have quoted or heard someone quote Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And it seems like a pull up your bootstraps kind of verse, meant to exhort and make you just put all your worries down and walk well. But it’s so important to have context of what Jesus is saying when he exhorts us with this verse. Yes, this is the passage where Jesus is referencing the birds and flowers that don’t worry about their food or clothes, and he then says how much more does your Father love and care for you, the ones who are in His image. But verse 33 should be the emphasis, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When my thinking is aligned with kingdom work, anxiety can be nailed to the cross. The ability to peel off the anxiety that envelopes is related to my pursuit of Him. He will increase my understanding of what occurred at the cross, that Jesus’ death crucified my body of sin that I would not be enslaved to it but set free from it.

I want to worship Christ, the One who has made me alive and will make me more and more in His image until the day I stand before Him. No more bowing to what I fear or what I cannot control.

 

True Refreshment

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” ~Philemon 7

Are the hearts of others refreshed through me? Are my children’s hearts refreshed through me or wearied, discouraged, or left feeling dry? Is there joy and comfort in my love to my husband or friends?

Do you ever feel used up, weary and dry yourself? I do. I read this passage and am convicted. When I am weary, where do I turn? I am quick to turn to activities that feed or fill up my flesh, that are easy and what I deem restful. So instead of running to the banks of the only river that satisfies, the only stream that quenches thirst and brings strength, I will turn to the dribbles of entertainment, sleep, or solitude. They will never satisfy like He does; they will never strengthen, calm, teach, or reveal truth the way He does. And as a result of sipping the drips of this world, I have nothing to pour out on my little ones or anyone else. Because I know enough Sunday school answers, I may be able to fake it awhile, but I am dry. And I know it.

But the truth of the Gospel is this: we are given the Holy Spirit who is the essence of living water, flowing in us and through us. In John 7:38-39, Jesus shows us that these Spirit driven rivers of living water are available to us as believers. Water runs with power to move things in its path and transform landscapes. It brings life because very little can grow in drought-like conditions. It soaks through hard ground and softens soil for new growth.

Acts 3:20 That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.  Refreshment only comes through time with Him. So until I purpose to pursue the one drink that satisfies, my love will be shallow. Until I choose like Mary in Luke 10:39 to sit with Jesus and learn from His word, then I am simply operating on fumes and flesh. I have found that I need to sit at his feet early in the morning. For the last 18 years of raising babies, I have wished that I could sleep at least as long as my little ones. I have tried to place my time with Him inside of nap time or room time. I have whined about the fatigue of sleepless nights and early morning wake up calls, but for me Psalm 90:14 rings true. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” I am so easily taken off course in the craziness of the toddler/teenager drama, schedules that require herculean effort, or emergencies. All of which have been known to hit before 7am. But sitting with Him before anything happens allows me to return to Him quickly when all chaos erupts. And find His love to give, His grace to extend, His wisdom to apply. And the Spirit flows through me to others. Most people are running on empty. They are tired, fearful, wounded, and desperate for peace. We hold the Gospel. We hold hope. We hold true refreshment.