the back porch intro

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. ~2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Where do I think God wants me more? in the busy, frenetic, getting things done mode of motherhood and life or sitting quietly before Him, face upturned, listening raptly to His truth? The true answer is obviously the second, but the answer of my life indicates I believe the first may be more important. So I came to this season knowing He wanted more quiet, restful time with Him than He wanted achievements. I have been blessed in this season of life with a back porch that allows the sounds of life to quiet as the sounds of a waterfall swell. There is something very restful to me in the sounds of water trickling, cresting, or splashing that give space for my mind to rest and stop running through to do lists. And in the quiet to begin to dwell again on the basic truths of the Gospel and who I am as I walk with Him.

So in the quiet God pressed me to consolidate some truths and invite other women to walk with me in exploring and learning His basic truths that are critical in walking victoriously with Jesus. We are called to mentor or teach younger women (in the faith) the truths of God’s word, and I strongly believe it is of the most importance. I also think many women feel inadequate to walk with another woman in this way unless they are the learner and not the teacher.

But there is a shortage of older women. Not because of inadequacy but because of the bondage of the lie that I am not smart enough, wise enough, Godly enough – the lie is full of not enoughs.

Can I just plead with you? You need to learn to walk with Him in this walk of discipleship. In the relationships in your home, discipleship is key. In relationships with other women, discipleship is key. If we are to be a triumphal procession for Jesus spreading His aroma everywhere, we must understand that we are with sincerity commissioned by God to speak in Christ (verse 17). If you have a good idea of the basic concepts, then with boldness speak the truth of Gospel to your friends, your husbands, your family and your children. But if you aren’t sure how to go about this or you worry because you’re not sure you’ve ever been discipled, then maybe this is for you. It’s certainly not the completely comprehensive textbook on all things theological, but instead this will be a good beginning, a framework of scripture in which to place life. But you can do this! You can walk these truths out with the Holy Spirit who resides in your life as a saved child of the King, and you can and must speak these truths to others.

So if you want to join me on my back porch for awhile, we can walk together through some of the basics of walking with Jesus so that His eyes become your lens, His Word becomes your filter and your sword, and your aroma is decidedly Jesus. I believe there will be 8 entries with the title “back porch,” and I plan to link them all weekly.  These concepts do go in an order, not so much of importance, but more like building on a foundation. We want to lay a foundation that will never tilt, crack, or cause buckling as we hang windows, doors, etc. But our foundation is the Gospel. We need to know it first.

So I’m inviting you to come, lay down the sin that so easily entangles, and rest as you begin (maybe again) to learn the basic truths of the Gospel and our faith. May He lead you in triumphal procession!

 

Reveal and Refine

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7

God reveals, and then He refines. Increasingly God keeps reminding me that He calls me to submission in areas He reveals that He might work to refine and change me. The submission is hard for me. There is a desire in me to protect, deny or reject the revelation thus blunting His refining.  Only when I welcome the reveal in light of the Gospel will my heart be ready for refining.

In the end of 2 Corinthians 3 moving into chapter 4, Paul discusses the change in someone’s life when he turns to the Lord. Without Jesus, Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4) The light of the gospel is Jesus Christ who came as a man to display God to a world full of sinners and to redeem us through his death on a cross and resurrection. Only through Christ is it (veil) taken away. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:16, 18) Salvation occurs followed by a lifetime of transformation. The fullness of faith was given with salvation but a deepening awareness occurs in my faith walk as I experience again and again the love of a Father who sent His Son to pay for every bit of sin that occupies my heart. And while I want to bend my head to the transformation, often I forget the truths of the Gospel. God loved me as fiercely and fully at the moment of my salvation as He does now four decades later. There is no gradient of love from Him based on my actions. He is committed to me, calling me to imitate Him and to walk in love as Christ loved us. He is faithful to finish the work He has begun in me.

So in my current season God has been revealing layers of doubt that coat places in my heart I thought were laden with faith. It has been painful and at times discouraging to realize. But He has whispered over and over to me to choose. In the revealing of my doubt, do I stay there, filled with doubt and say if God does something different, then I will believe? or, do I choose to believe and allow Him to refine my faith? and how does that really play out? Easy to say but harder to walk out. So I need to look at the heart of God and place trust and hope in the truth of WHO He is, His grace, His goal to bring glory to Himself and walk with Him there, trusting the result no matter how long it may take.

I am in this process of change – reveal and refine – and often I want to fix things myself. I’m embarrassed or ashamed to see areas in need, so I scramble to change myself. Like Eustace in CS Lewis’ book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I seek to pull off my own dragon skin. But the call of the Gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit, declares that the change is the work of the Spirit.

His timing, His way, my submission, my jar of clay.

Although I want to make this about me, whether in resisting or in self fixing, this is about Him ~ His love for me that will not desert me. He is faithful TO me, to reveal my heart and refine it, and then His commitment displays His great love and affection and glorifies Himself. And this jar of clay bursts forth with the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. All Glory to God Alone.

Don’t leave me

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. ~Psalm 23:1-2

Our just turned 3 year old son is learning how to “stay dry” all night, so most mornings around 4:30 or 5 he will wake up needing a potty run. Normally this is a sleepy occurrence that I orchestrate as smoothly as possible and tuck him back into bed without much conversation or lights. One morning however was different. He awoke anxious and fretful, and as I quickly helped him get to the bathroom, he kept asking me where I was.

“But I can’t see you!” was his repeating refrain to which I kept replying, “I’m right here with you, buddy.”

“Don’t leave me!”

“I promise I’m not. I am right here with you in the dark. You are fine. I love you.”

I tucked him back into bed, sang him a few songs, and whispered, “I love you so much.” A sleepy “I love you too Mom.” came back as he drifted back to sleep.

And just like that the Holy Spirit slammed into my soul with the truth that oftentimes this is me. And His heartbeat is far more trustworthy and true. His presence much more powerful and safe. His love more steadfast and his kindness far deeper than mine.

There are dark seasons and I sit, feeling exposed and vulnerable. I may be tired and perhaps confused, yet He stands right there with me.  I worry about what I can and cannot see that will be on this path. He guides, protects, holds me tight, and carries me out. I panic, fearing the worst and work myself into a state of exhaustion. He makes me lie down and rest my weary self. Thoughts that this time I am alone are confronted by the truth that He comforts and He never leaves.

Psalm 23 echoed in my mind early that morning in the bathroom and as I tucked him back into bed for a few more hours of sleep. You are with me. The Great Shepherd tends his sheep with diligence and strength. I shall not want. He brings true rest and restoration to the anxiety riddled, weary souls. He leads me beside waters of rest. He restores my soul. He doesn’t allow us to wander aimless and insecure, alone in the darkness of the next step. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. And in those seasons that feel as if the darkness is a blanket, suffocating and terrifying, in the shadowy places where hopeless thoughts assail, lies abound, and paralysis creeps in, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. His guidance and His protection will lead back to rest and comfort. He is at work even in times where it seems that all hope is lost. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. A walk with Him is filled with great spiritual bounty as He deepens my trust in Him.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the  house of the LORD forever.

vines part 2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~Hebrews 12:1-2

Why a part 2? truthfully because the Lord won’t let me leave this truth. I am in a season of great threshing or pruning, whichever picture you would like to use. The process is similar – there is a discerning hand at work moving over me, working in me, pulling out of me the things that are not like Him. Discouragement and weariness beckon me, bite at my heels, and whisper to me to just crawl off the floor. Just walk away for awhile, take a break. I wish for a breather, just some moments to catch my breath. My heart aches, my soul trembles a little.

I used to run long mile runs (back before all my kids – now I just run after them and hope it counts as exercise!) and loved the feeling at the beginning of each run, knowing this was my time to think and pray, just looking around in the neighborhoods I loved to run in. Until. Always there was a mile or so in my 6 mile run that was brutal. It wasn’t necessarily the steep run mile or the end of my run, but often the brutal portion was about a mile into my run. My arms would ache, my muscles would feel crampy, my breathing would not be rhythmic, and I would have to work to put one foot in front of another. Now I’m not a “good” or knowledgeable runner – I never read any books or articles about it – I really have no idea why this was my pattern, but it was consistent. And every time I would battle in my mind whether this time I should just slow to a walk, or just turn around and make it a short run. But I learned that if I persisted, if I endured, I would pass through this horrible phase into a gentler rhythm of running, in which I could breathe with ease, enjoy the scenery, and just run. But every time it was a choice to endure. Every time I wondered if I would make it out to the pleasurable place.

The race is set before me. God has ordained a lane in which to run, purposed for His glory and His kingdom work. All of my race is His – the big, the little, special, or mundane – all purposed to change me and grow me in Jesus. In Hebrews 12, the word race in Greek means a contest, a struggle in the soul, a grueling conflict struggle or battle. I’m not running around a track or even cross country – NO! This is an epic battle fought as I press forward.  Maclaren wrote, “By faith we enter the race; through faith we receive His power to run and not be weary but we need to run to advance.” I need to run. Am I in continual movement in this race? Am I walking more deeply with Jesus today than last year, 5 years ago? Growth should be seen, muscles grown – landscapes changing as new obstacles come, new experiences occur to grow deeper in dependency and in faith.

Yet Jesus is the center. He is the faith giver, strength fortifier, lifter of my head. He is the race maker and the race winner. And he promises to lead me out to broad places, to be my refuge in my pantings, to steady my steps, make my bones strong, and make me like a watered garden with abundant springs. So while I am running a mile that feels like torture, He is always with me. He is not only refining me on this threshing floor, He is comforting me and holding me tightly. I choose to praise your name, Jesus.

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead and guide me. I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.  ~Psalm 31:3,7-8

 

 

wrestle but worship

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went in to the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Who have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ~Psalm 73:16-17, 23-26

 

He welcomes the wrestling for He knows. He knows the pain attached to the wrestling heart, He cares for the truth to become imbedded in the soul, He desires for me to yield completely. But righteous wrestling with Almighty God must always end with worship. The heart of the wrestler needs to remain submitted in the end to the greatness and sovereignty of the One who knows His plan. When we see David, Jacob, or any prophets wrestle with the truths of God, the end result is submission and worship.

Hannah in the Old Testament is a beautiful picture of the wrestling I long to do – she was married to Elkanah, and Scripture tells us that he loved her deeply. As was often custom then, he had another wife who had been able to have many children. Hannah had not. Hannah grieved over her barrenness. On one trip for the yearly sacrifices, Hannah went to the temple and began to cry out to the Lord in such a way that the priest mistook her silently mouthed prayers as drunken miming and confronted her. She answered with this, “I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” (1 Samuel 1:15-16)

Psalm 62:5-8 echoes this idea, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory, my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. To wait for God, to long for Him to work and move in my life is part of the wrestling. Often while I am struggling with a trial or storm, I am grieved by the lacerations or wounds of doubt and fear. I frantically try to cover those up, hiding the anger or impatience that grow as I wait for His movement. But the impatience and fear allow me to believe the lies the enemy sends that maybe this time He has forgotten or rejected me. That maybe this time is the moment when He won’t prove trustworthy; or perhaps this is too radical of a request or need and so He is displeased.

Yet You have done no such thing!

Why do I default to chafing, whining and fear in my trial? When Hannah wrestled, she poured it all out before the Lord in the temple, and I can just imagine her heart. Crying over her barren womb and empty arms, worried about the affections of her husband, tortured by the other woman who provoked her with great hatred, looking across the years of waiting wondering why? and when? Yet she poured it all out like fine perfume, allowing her soul to grieve but in a posture of worship before Almighty God.

And then Scripture says she went her way, ate and her face was no longer sad. There in the midst of her waiting but after her wrestling, she trusted the trustworthy One. She had poured out her heart and now she was trusting the great I AM. Help me wait in silence even when all the questions come – my hope is from You and in You.

And after baby Samuel was born, weaned, and brought to the temple, Hannah exults in God. She prays again, and this time we hear all her words — maybe because now they are the worship of all God has done.

He who is faithful is faithful forever. There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. So let me know to run to You. Let me remember I stand in Your sanctuary.

The other side of the masterpiece

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18

In my limited perspective, I will fix my gaze on my loved one, wondering why the great Potter isn’t “really working” on my child. I see the need for eyes to be carved in order for my child to see Him, ears to be fashioned for hearing His truth, I long to see a mind aligned with the Gospel and a mouth He can use. And I chafe because all I see are bare imprints or slight markings indicating where these features need to be. I worry about my role in creating this new clay – am I saying the right things, parenting in ways that encourage a relationship with Him?

And then in His great patience and steadfast love, both for me and my child, everything turns.

And the masterpiece He has been hard at work on is displayed.

And I realize I have been looking at the base while the great Artist has been at work on the heart and soul of my child.

My perspective is so off, and I have believed the lie that no one can love my child more than me. When in truth, the comparison of love shows that my love may be as great as a tea cup compared to the vast ocean of love He has for His child. He is trustworthy with our children and He is at work where the work needs to be done. You see, I would have carved a face into the base or on some place completely wrong for that child. I would have demanded features where nothing is needed. But He knows exactly how and where to work in the heart of each one of us in order to create His workmanship, fashioning and carving, working the clay to bring out life.

We talk all the time about how to parent, how to lead, how to help our children navigate this life. Sadly we have become hyper focused on producing a product in 18 years rather than investing in an individual designed by God. When I spend time with my child in pursuit of the Gospel, loving them according to how He has created them, trusting Him for the fashioning of this soul, God reveals the ways the Gospel impacts their lives right where they are.When we talk about poor behavior, the conversation is purposed to dive into the heart to the underlying belief/lie that has led them astray from the truth. Then the truth in God’s Word can slice through the lie, tending the hurt with tender care, replacing bondage with freedom.

So when I am loving on a resistant two year old, the Gospel speaks to his need for Jesus to help him choose to obey and be kind. Jesus is his helper, his friend, and the One who loves him most. When my preteen wrestles with friends and value, the gospel declares how full of value she really is. Success and failure are not defining measurements; rather who she is in Jesus becomes the litmus test. Practicing patience and self control at any age is pointless unless it is layered with the truth that only the Spirit within you can develop these fruits. But the fullness of the Spirit has been given to the one who is saved, child or adult. He is the Transformer.

God is committed for the duration. He is at work on a glorious image bearer for His glory and His namesake. And He works in His timing, moving each of us from one degree to another, patiently and steadfastly engaged and never discouraged. When I keep my eyes focused on the Carver and not the carving, trusting His hands at work rather than my fumbling, I am invited into the great reveal. The other side, the work unseen by me but His focus, is glorious.

The Bends in the Road

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.  ~Ephesians 4:12

just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. ~Ephesians 1:7-8

As parents we get to watch God in action. I mean really watch Him molding and scraping and crafting one of his people. In the middle it often seems as if He’s not really making any changes; and if that person happens to be one of my older children, I can get a little nervous! I begin to orchestrate, implicate and manipulate in order to assure a result, to see the finished product I desperately long for. I have been guilty many times of comparing my children to those around me or to the false picture of what I believe they should look like.

 What God is teaching me is that my responsibility as a mother is to be more like Epaphras, who was characterized by his faithfulness to the Gospel and intense prayer. In Colossians 1, Paul recounts his hearing about the Colossians’ faith and love because of their understanding of the grace of God that they learned from Epaphras.  Epaphrus was a faithful teacher of the gospel who sought to establish new believers and mature them in their faith. Centering my own parenting on the gospel alone means drawing everything back to 4 major pieces: who is God in this, who are we, who is Jesus and what did He do for us, and finally what does that mean for you and me? Faithfulness to the Word involves not compromising on the truth for the sake of relationship ease but with humility sharing how the Gospel intersects this moment with my child.

My prayers for my child are vital. Often I lessen their power and heighten my own power of persuasion. Engaging in prayer for my child is not and cannot be an afterthought or a quick plea on the way out the door. Epaphrus struggled on behalf of the Colossians in his prayers. His prayers contended or struggled as in an intense athletic contest or warfare; as with an adversary. Do I have this same concept of prayer? When I plead before the throne for my child rather than lecture my child on a certain subject, consistently and faithfully God has done mighty works of faith and belief in my children’s lives. Most importantly, their heart changes are just that — their own in their budding walk with God, and not a response to a parent that often can be fleeting.

He is at work. And that is a mighty statement.

He is committed to these precious gifts far and away more than I am, and He can see around the bends. He knows the truths now that need to be shaped into my child’s character in order for him or her to walk out the moments around the bend. I am limited in my perspective and desperately want to protect my child from pain, hardship, or struggle.

But this way of walking with the Father demands I trust Him with my children. It means taking my manipulations out of the equation and granting Him the time needed to do His mighty work. It means laying aside my time schedule, my pride to have raised “good” or “godly” kids, and my understanding and instead bow my head to the One whose ways and thoughts are not my own.

But what I can also confirm is that suddenly the Mighty Potter allows his creation to turn! And then His forming masterpiece is seen! The works sown in daily life will bear a harvest mighty for His kingdom and for His glory. He is trustworthy and faithful.