The Gospel Changes Everything – Part 1

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ. ~Colossians 2:6-8

What would I tell my younger self, working out my major in college, worried about the way I looked, the way people perceived me, unsure of everything I was doing, crushed by the way it seemed life was going?

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What would I tell my young married self? – trying to balance a new career and a new marriage, desiring to walk in marriage well but unsteady of every step, wanting to be like Jesus to my husband yet so unclear what this looked like

 The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What would I tell my new mother self, juggling 3 babies under the age of 3 with a husband who was working more than 120 hours a week as a surgical resident, trying to still work just a little to make ends meet, completely unsure about how to discipline little hearts, love them completely, and still pursue Jesus, exhausted at every turn by lack of sleep, lack of knowledge, and busyness.

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What do I want myself to remember every waking moment of each day as I parent 8 children, homeschooling, discipling hearts, encouraging anxious children, love my husband, work hard on the things God has called me to in this season of life?

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What do I want myself to remember as the children leave, each launching in their own way, whether they are walking with God or not, whether my heart is thrilled with who they have become or perhaps grieved, walking into a new season with my husband as the nest empties? 

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What would I tell the woman here who says my life hasn’t turned out the way I planned, the way I wanted, the way I dreamed it would? What would I say to the woman who says I have such deep hurts, such great chasms in my very being where I have been betrayed, wounded, made to feel less than and unwanted? What would I say to the woman who feels like she cannot measure up, cannot do what she wants to do well, aches with a desire to be different than she is but feels stuck? What would I say to the woman says, “I simply don’t care anymore. “ what would I tell the woman who is all alone, either grieving the loss of a marriage, the loss of a spouse, this loss of a child?

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough.

The Gospel is enough. He is enough. Whatever you walked into this room carrying, burdened and weighed down with worries, fears, bondage, grief, or pressure to perform. Everything about the way you live your life changes in the light of the Gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ. 

So the question becomes, what is the Gospel? Do I understand and live in light of the Gospel? How is the Gospel enough for me?

When we look at the passage, Paul says as you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in Him we want to understand exactly what it means to receive Christ Jesus the Lord and walk in Him. So we are going to look at the parts of the Gospel and break them apart:

Who is God

Who is man

Who is Jesus

Who am I now, and the work being done in me

Why is it so important to be on a Gospel hunt? Because all of the Word of God points to the good news of salvation and redemption. God lays out moment after moment in the Old Testament pointing to the coming Savior and illuminates His redemption in the New Testament. In the Old Testament He introduces us to Himself – His holiness, righteousness, steadfast love, and faithfulness to name a few. He gives us pictures of the “great rescue” that will come because of man’s sinfulness. In the New Testament redemption comes, Christ atones for our sin. We can be changed with His help alone. The truth of the gospel radically changes our understanding of our identity. God has issued an invitation to be His child, a new creation in Christ.

Who is God – 

God is holy, just, powerful, sovereign, maker of all things, all knowing and eternal. He is all knowing, self sufficient, and unchanging. Many more attributes comprise Him. Mankind is not any of these. Isaiah 40 – to whom will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. 1 Samuel 2:2 There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God… for the LORD is a God of knowledge and by him actions are weighed…The Lord kills and brings to life…The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.  Ps 93 – The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; … Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. 

1 Timothy 6:15-16 he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the KING of KINGs and LORD of LORDS, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. AMEN.  I praise you God

Who is man? 

Who are we? We are created beings, fashioned by God made in His image, designed for relationship – different than any other created being in this world. 

Colossians 1:21 says we are alienated, hostile in our minds, doing evil deeds, Colossians 1:13 living in a domain of darkness. Ephesians 2:1 says we are dead in sin, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now at work in the sons of disobedience, children of wrath, Galatians declares we are held captive and enslaved, 1 Peter 3:18 calls us unrighteous, and Romans 1-3 clearly lays out the unrighteousness and depravity of all man.  Galatians 6 calls us slaves to sin and Gal 6:23 states, The wages of sin is death, but… No one is without sin and thus all of us are separated from God and sentenced to death by Holy God.

Where is my hope? How do I please God? I don’t. I can’t. I cannot do enough, perform well enough, there is no good enough. 

Who is Jesus then?

How then is the gap between holiness and slavery/alienation bridged? God sent His son Jesus Christ as the payment for the debt of sin that traps mankind (Romans 3:21-26, Galatians 3:13-14, Ephesians 2:4-10)  Colossians 1:19-22. While this may seem basic, it is imperative to understand the important concept that God does all the work of salvation. We do nothing to earn the payment for sin that Jesus paid. We believe. We do nothing to deserve it; there is no way to merit the grace and mercy given.

Who am I in light of these 3? So what is my response? How does this change me?

 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior(Titus 3:5-6). The cleansing power comes because Jesus Christ died for your sin and mine on the cross many years ago. His payment paid for all the sin debt that mars our hearts and redeemed us from the curse of sin. Colossians 2:13-15 – And you who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.

Works and performance are worthless foundations, but many people carry a concept of being good or doing good as necessary for God’s forgiveness. Do you? Do you take the portions of scripture such as in Ephesians 4, Colossians 3 or 1 Thessalonians 4 that speak to our response to God’s unmerited grace (the way our life will look as we respond to the life we have been given) and place them ahead of your salvation? Do you struggle with thoughts that God may be mad at you or disappointed in you? Do you fear messing up or not walking well? Do you hear thoughts that say you aren’t good enough for God to help you or listen to your prayers? 

I want you to know today that while you were a sinner, Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8). He saved you, not because of works done by you in righteousness, but according to his own mercy (Titus 3:5). He has given Himself and all the blessings of being redeemed to you from the start – you have life abundantly (John 10:10), you have the fullness of Him (Col. 2:9-10), you have the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), you have been given His divine power (2 Peter 1:4-5) – You are His child (Rom. 8:16), secure in His love (1 John 4:9-10), and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

The Gospel is enough

So How does it change everything?

 

Back Porch – Lies We Believe

There are 3 lies the enemy wants us to believe – the Gospel refutes them all.

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. ~Matthew 7:25

Salvation and redemption offer a change in identity. God’s pursuit of mankind has always been powered by His steadfast love for us. We have looked at the gospel as 4 parts ~ Holy God, sinful man, Jesus Christ, and new life. The identity of the justified has changed from lost, sinful, and condemned to adopted, righteous, and redeemed.  Walking through this study, we have sought to lay a foundation solely on the Gospel so that as we grow up in Him, our lives are a living structure well built with straight lines, plumb walls and windows, and without cracks or holes. As a child of God, my identity becomes one of the foundational pieces in how I relate to the world. Faith grows as my knowledge of what He gives at salvation increases, therefore knowing what it means to be a new creation, in Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, filled with His fullness, saved, justified, and being sanctified becomes essential. Understanding my identity in Jesus Christ will solidify my foundation against the storms of life, the lies of the enemy, and the battlefield of the mind.

Understanding truth from counterfeit is paramount. When an art authentication expert can identify an original painting from a replica, his knowledge is based on the study of the original. He has become an expert in brushstrokes, medium, canvas, etc. that the artist used. Identifying counterfeit money requires an intense study of the original.

The ability to see tiny nuances of illegitimacy comes from time spent with the archetype.

From the beginning, there is one who has whispered lies to mankind. As we grow in Jesus, we must understand the truth of the Gospel to see the deceit that often impacts the framework of our faith. Lies steal our identity and layer in doubt and shame. As we deepen in our faith, our ability to see the overt lies increases, but the deception in the subtle, slight variations from the truth can still cause us to stumble unless we know the truth well.

 

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photo cred: Noah Kimsey

 

The enemy sows seeds of doubt – doubt about who God is and how we relate to Him. The first lie ever spoken is found in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say?” The softened questioning of whether God really meant a specific command began the fall. The enemy’s primary web of deceit questions whether God really said and then expected the truth of the Word.

Culturally we see this lie at work everywhere. Ascribing to accuracy and veracity of scripture is under attack. The shifting of truth from a biblical foundation to one based on opinion and feeling began as a whisper that has now grown to a dull roar as interpretation and fearlessness become the norm. Maclaren declares, “The reality of moral distinctions, the essential wrongness of the sin, is obscured by a mist of sophistication.”

Immediately we see the heart of both Adam and Eve change as they begin to doubt the one relationship on which everything centered. In my own life, this lie can take root and cause upheaval. I can easily question the meaning behind God’s words, worry that grace is not enough for me rife with hidden sin, wonder whether His faithful presence is for me specifically. Did God really say He would always be with me? Did God really say I am wholly loved? Is God’s love really steadfast for me?

His promises, blessings, and actions all come under attack with this lie. Our value therefore also can come under attack here because if God’s words are not true, then our identity is illegitimate. If forgiveness is not freely given, and if redemption is not complete through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, then my hope cannot be assured and my eternity is insecure.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” Psalm 19:7-8

The serpent continues with a second part of the lie –  could they not eat of any tree in the garden?  The question implies doubting whether God is good – would a good God deny you all fruit in essence. This is another primary lie he uses to catch our thoughts and ply our heart with doubts that lead to anger and shame.  The basis of the deceit is the implication that God is stingy, withholds from us, and will fail to come alongside us in life. The very character of God is under attack. If God is not who He says He is, if He fails in any of these areas, then He is an untrustworthy God. Your future is uncertain left in the hands of a God who is not faithful.

Often I can feel as if God is not listening. I can believe the whispering questions of doubt that wonder whether He hears my cries and needs, whether He is engaged with me at this moment. Does He know my worries or fears about raising my children? Does he care that none of this seems to be going well? More than anything, the enemy wants you and me to believe that God is removed or latent in His relationship with us.

The truth is God is wholly consistent in His attributes. Studying the attributes of God exposes His character. Delighting in who God is and what He is like results in worship, not worry.

The third lie we see is the lie that asks is Should He be your God?  The serpent announces that rather than dying, Adam and Eve will be like God, knowing good and evil. The true need for God is brought under attack, as this lie pushes us to desire to be godlike instead.

He presents the idea that God knows the fruit will allow them to be like Him, and by insinuation confirms that God is seeking to prevent their independence. According to the serpent, there is no consequence for eating the fruit, but rather the delightful treat would elevate them to who they truly should be.

The serpent questions whether Adam and Eve should simply know good from evil themselves rather than rely on God for input. The worthiness of God, His holiness, sovereignty, power, and position come under attack.

As a woman and mother, this lie traps me in many different ways. My flesh seeks independence from God and a worship of self. The deceit of the enemy capitalizes on my bent. Worshipping myself can look like 2 different extremes. The lies that I need to “be more” ~ more successful, more competent, self-reliant, more focused on myself ~ these lies tantalize me with thoughts of how to succeed. The flip side is the focus on my inadequacies, my failures, doubts, and fears ~ the belief that I am not enough and cannot change. In both of these paradigms, I focus on me. The heart of sin is self-assertion and a desire to be independent of God, and the lies the enemy uses capitalize on those drives.

Jesus Christ is our hope. He is the light burning brightly in the darkness of rebellion and separation. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all peoples” (Titus 2:11).

 

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photo cred: Noah Kimsey

 

These three lies can snag our heart and drive us down the road to bondage and doubt. The truth is the enemy understands the flesh we battle as well and capitalizes on this as he worms his way into our minds. We are bent with our flesh towards independence from God – it is our sin nature.

How do I ensure that my foundation is securely placed on Christ alone? Why would that be a word picture Jesus would use within the Sermon on the Mount? A foundation has three main roles: it must maintain a strong load-bearing capacity, prevent ground moisture from seeping into the structure, and be able to resist external forces coming against the structure to keep the building standing.

In our lives, there will be storms that threaten our belief in God, floods of life that make us feel like we cannot keep our footing in the truth of who He is, and winds of doubt and rebellion. But if my foundation is set on Jesus Christ – that His sacrifice paid for all the sin I struggle against, turned aside God’s wrath, set me free from the bonds of death, and that forever now I live in the gracious renewing power of Christ, making me more and more into His image – then my heart is not as easily swayed by the whisperings of the enemy. I set my heart and mind on the One who rebuilds, renews, and restores me.

All glory is to Him.  

 

strength & joy

And so from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. ~Colossians 1:9-12

I walk on a more unique path than some – my feet are in every area of mothering except fully adult children. I have infants, preschoolers, elementary and middle schoolers, teenagers and college kids. I joke that the babies get me up super early and my night owl teenagers want to talk only after 11:30 at night. But it really is true!

I long for the insight for the moments with each child, to be filled with His wisdom, His truth to flow from my lips to a child’s heart. To show them the faithfulness of Christ who always has a listening ear and steadfast love. But many times I fail or compromise. I justify my hard, selfish heart because I’m tired, or bad day, etc. I rationalize that I’ll do better tomorrow or grab them later today to address that heart issue they have. Sometimes I just want an escape.

But Paul prays for the church and for me in Colossians 1 that we would be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The result will be a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, bearing fruit and increasing in the knowledge of God. Doesn’t that fill your heart with longing? I just want this more and more, and I pray this so much over my children. And then verse 11: May you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. That is SO hard in motherhood!

Let’s be real – I might be strong, on a good day until lunch, but the wheels are going to come off the wagon because someone is picking on someone else, or someone is demanding or whining a lot today, or someone is just obstinate. But I assure you, the wheels will come off this wagon – I will lose it! It may be a “slow leak” day where I can keep most of it turned way down, or it may be a short fuse kind of day which is always a little scary for the little people! But apart from Christ, and seeking the strength of His power and his might, I will not be able to walk worthy of Him with my kids or in my marriage. I may be able to fool you out in public, but I will never fool my kids or my husband.

But Paul says that the strength comes from God’s glorious might – I don’t have to be strong, I have to be submitted. The verb be strengthened is a present participle verb implying an ongoing action. My strengthening is not one and done. He strengthens me moment by moment, day by day. His infusing of power flows from His might full of His glory. My choice is simply will I rely on Him? Will I turn to the fount of living water which flows and floods, or will I seek my own broken cistern as a source of power today?

And in the moments full of grief, pain, confusion, wonder, and uncertainty in parenting, will I seek Him? I love a quote from Maclaren, “Our sorrows make rents through which His strength flows.” Many moments in parenting are painful and uncertain, whether because a child suffers from an illness, makes decisions I know are unwise, or has circumstances that hurt their heart. My heart at times has wanted to rip apart in fear and grief, and in my flesh waves of confusion and discouragement flood my mind. But when I lift my eyes to the One who is my help, who loves my child more than I ever will, He provides the deepest source of strength and the calmest life-giving water to restore and fill me. His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and He commits fully to me.

Then His endurance for the long toddler/teenager day can go the distance. His patience comes flowing out of me in seasons of chaos and confusion. I rest with Him, in Him, on Him.

And His joy floods my soul.

Joy (xara, chara in the Greek) means grace recognized. Joy is not euphoria, bliss, or ecstasy the way our current culture uses the term. His joy in me centers on what He has done for me, rescuing me from the bondage of sin and death, walking me through each day in sanctifying commitment to me, and leading me ultimately to the great inheritance of life eternal with Him.  Recognizing grace, seeing His love, His work, and His plan despite my circumstances, settles my soul despite the hard, painful, demanding moments. Joy based in His Gospel becomes my bedrock.

So today, may we be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

 

 

Am I deluded?

“that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” ~ Col. 2:2-4

Walking with Jesus is hard. The onslaughts from the world, the enemy, and my own mind press in on me, blinding me from the One who holds all truth.

But I want to be the woman, the wife, the mother like Paul says – my heart encouraged in the tough stuff of life, because I have the assurance of the Gospel – that Christ died for me, to save me, redeem me, change me and make me like Him. He is committed to that process in me. He offers Himself fully to me – all His power, all His love, all His fruit working in me and through me. Scripture is replete with who we are as His redeemed, and we need to KNOW these truths because full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery (Jesus Christ) is the only way to combat sin and flesh.

I confess, sometimes I am easily deluded with plausible arguments. If they weren’t plausible, they wouldn’t work. I would be able to spot them. The enemy is crafty. He knows the lies I can identify as lies and therefore reject and the ones I will embrace as truth. Other translations refer to plausible arguments as smooth rhetoric, enticing words, fancy talk, or persuasive speech. The concern Paul had for the believers at Colosse centered on listening to people teach about culturally “good” and popular things, not gospel truths.

While I may not relate to the specifics of Paul’s day, the same lies are still at the root today. There is still the draw for religion and asceticism for comparison’s sake – the need to measure holiness on behavior and not the heart. In a book my kids and I have been reading for ancient history, the author Genevieve Foster presents the word RELIGIO in Latin which means to bind fast. She defines religion in ancient times as “Man’s desire and effort to bind himself fast and secure to the Great Spirit of the Universe.”  As I read this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I don’t have to bind myself. My efforts are not required. For while I was a sinner, Christ died for me. I have been brought near by the blood of Christ and now am in Christ Jesus, sealed with the Spirit until His return. He is my Peace – no strivings, no performance needed.

The power of self, of believing that I can solve my own problems apart from God, continues to dominate cultural conversations. Self improvement books abound with concepts of self love and self care, but God calls me to Himself, not to my own self awareness. In a posture of rest and abiding in His truth, I receive His strength and power in order to walk out all that He has laid before me for each day. In Christ I can rest. His rest will tend my soul and calm my anxious thoughts. His peace goes beyond my understanding, beyond my circumstances, and becomes the bedrock of my heart.

When my feelings are elevated to wisdom and outrank what the Bible says, then truth can be different for you and for me. It can flex depending on my circumstances, the attitudes of the time, or what seems most important. Christ therefore can be a part of my belief system but not be preeminent. The depreciation of Christ from central in my relationship with God to one of many options and thus irrelevant has been one of the enemy’s chief tactics since the beginning.

Open my eyes, that I may see. Give me discernment to see where I embrace self actualization, performance, or compromise truth with humanistic thought.  Show me the idols that capture my attention and bind my heart. Help me to see the lies that surround me, and equip me to stand in the truth instead. And as I walk with You, let me rest in the security of  redemption.

More than anything, I want to grow as a woman rescued from the darkness of sin to know His wisdom and understanding; and from that growth, life will spring, walking with the Spirit rich in fruit, constantly weighing everything against the Gospel and scripture.

 He is the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father any other way. In Christ is every spiritual blessing, redemption and forgiveness lavished with grace, and an inheritance sealed. Grow me deeper in understanding and knowing You, Jesus.

the blue line

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. ~Galatians 5:25

God unpacked more of this truth to my heart the other day in an incident that happened with our sixteen year old.  She was driving across town to a physical therapy appointment, and unsure of the directions, she quickly set her GPS to take her to the office. Since I was meeting her there, I checked her location to see how close she was. I watched in astonishment as her little dot continued to move on a highway in the opposite direction of where she should go, heading downtown when she should be 20 minutes away in the suburbs. Quickly I called her in the car and with great aggravation asked where she was headed. In her defensive answer, God caught my attention. “I’m going exactly where I should! I’m following the blue line, Mom.”

Thoroughly convinced of her path, she had never considered her end goal. She trusted so completely the programming that she never thought to doublecheck that she was headed to the correct location for this office. I confess I did not handle this well in the moments of correction – I was so annoyed and worried about missing the appointment that I absolutely injured her heart and broke relationship as I lectured her on using GPS, maturity in driving a vehicle, etc. (Parenting win) All I could focus on was the thought, “Who does this? Who doesn’t check the end point to ensure that their directions are taking them to the right place? How can you just follow a blue line, content that it must be right?” As I waited for her to drive back the opposite direction to meet me, God kept whispering and nudging me to look inward, to use this physical picture to see with spiritual eyes.

I think that I do this.

So often I look only at the next step in front of me, never considering the end point or the goal. Content in my blue line, in what I can see, never considering whether I have set my course to the right goal, I blithely move through my days. I can race right by the signs that declare my loss of direction. So focused on maintaining my position, I don’t doubt my own programming. The truth is my heart will deceive me more than send me in the right direction. My natural sense of direction is warped, broken, and off course. I will lead myself according to the whims of the world to popular destinations that ultimately will not be for my good.

But God knows my end goal. He is the sovereign navigator.

He knows my path, all of it, the bends and turns, the mountains and the valleys, the vistas and the deserts, and He desires to lead me. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a seal for our salvation to walk with us here and to be our Helper. Jesus emphasized the great gift of the Holy Spirit over and over in John 14-16. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you (Jn 16:7). But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (Jn 14:26). And He says walk with Him. Keep looking to Him, and don’t measure your trip the way the world does. His end goal is that I will look more like Jesus, not that I will arrive at success, happiness, popularity, or fortune. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own… But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12-14) My chief end is to know Him, to enjoy Him, and to glorify Him forever. When I am caught in the swirl of busyness, tasks, worry, or fear, my natural navigation will drive me away from His path.

God wants this focus to be the purpose behind my parenting as well. One of my roles in parenting my teens/young adults is to point to the longterm goal ~ loving Jesus and following Him. Our culture points to self fulfillment in every message but being good, happy, or popular is not the goal. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8). Often children get stuck, nose down, following the blue line of grades, friends, sports, etc, never readjusting, never looking to make sure they are heading towards the correct goal. They just want to be driving where all their friends are. Sometimes they are so stuck in traffic that they cannot see any way to get out or change course. They may be too afraid to move, to push the gas pedal at all for fear they will be out of control.   This blue line of the world leads to certain confusion, lostness, misdirection. So conversations must be filled with open questions pushing my young adult to shift their eyes from temporal next steps to seek instead the glory and the direction of God. What does wisdom look like on this road? Where do you see God moving? What do you think His purpose might be for this speed bump you keep hitting? Why do you think you are going through the valley? What do you see of His love and care right here on this mountain? The lens of Jesus Christ at work in our lives needs to be the filter, the “blue light glasses” of our lives.

Paul consistently models discipleship in his letters. Repeatedly he exhorts and encourages, pointing to the future when Christ returns seeking to reset their natural tendency to look at the world through “right now glasses.” Our living is not for the moment, we are in the mere beginnings of our eternity.  With gentleness and humility we can correct our children, but I think one of the most powerful messages is affirming the Spirit’s work in their lives as we see them make choices to live for Him. Paul continually reiterates the great joy he has seeing believers walk in faith. He identifies the growth and fruit evident in their lives and intercedes for them in prayer to continue to grow.

If I don’t understand that my chief aim in life is to love God and glorify Him forever, I can never instill this into my children. Living with my eyes fixed on Jesus means I am not focused on the road I travel today. When I live with my eyes on the blue line, I constantly fear coming off, making a wrong turn, somehow misdirecting myself. When my eyes are on Him, I find peace and rest. I can look around, see who is passing by, invest in conversation, and take great joy in the journey because I am not worrying about the navigating.

 

Before the throne

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help of time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16

 

The throne room is a glorious place. Scripture over and over declares the glory that surrounds our God. The magnificence of who He is dashes all self promotion, destroys all self confidence, resulting in prostrate pronouncements of unworthiness before Him in his glory and holiness. It is the place of judgment as David discovers in Psalm 73.

Yet the author of Hebrews urges us to approach the throne with confidence so that we will receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.

The phrase with confidence or boldly in other translations means with loud exclamations, frank confidence – speaking everything, not withholding for fear of reprisal or judgment, a cheerful courage. My children are stunning examples of the boldness God encourages me to have as I approach Him. My 3 year old will come hurtling through the house, yelling my name over and over, pulling at my sleeve to come and see, knowing I will listen. He confidently, naturally assumes that whatever is important to him in the moment is therefore important to me. My older children as well have confidence that their thoughts or needs will be met with a welcoming ear. While it mildly aggravates me to be in one discussion with a child only to have him or her suddenly request something completely off topic, they do not hesitate. Out comes their need, their thought.

Their confidence stems from their identity. They belong. They have welcome, intimate relationship with me because they are mine.

I am often timid or minimalistic in my prayers, perhaps because I worry about the answer, worry that I won’t be pleasing enough for Him, worry that I should handle this one differently or desire differently. Sometimes I feel like the laundry list of requests is too much, that I should pick the top three and no more. Sometimes I wonder if He really wants to hear yet again about my heartache or discontent. I am apologetic, not worshipful, timid and concerned of His reaction to me rather than expectant and eager. When I enter the throne room with my gaze on myself, I am worshiping, but not my Savior. My prayers are not the powerful ones of a righteous woman, they are not deeply rooted in the name of Jesus, no, they are the whisperings of a self focused, self righteous performer who hopes it is enough. Clearly I have a deeply rooted misunderstanding of the Gospel that displays itself in my prayer life.

Standing in front of His throne is holy ground, but also a welcoming place because of Jesus Christ. We have the great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has gone before us.  Performance isn’t needed or desired. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for your sin and mine paid our sin debt and placated the wrath of God that separated us from relationship with God. I hold fast to my confession – nothing I have done has ever merited my welcomed position before His throne, but all that Jesus has accomplished atones for my sinful state and covers me with His righteousness. My position is now for every moment of my life securely before the throne. He determines my identity.

His throne room is a becoming place, a place where my heart and my desires are changed and made more like Him. He is well acquainted with my heart and yours. Scripture tells us that He searches our hearts and knows our minds (Jeremiah 17:10). He knows our weaknesses and temptations, yet He loves us. Committed to refining me, He works patiently and purposely, often exposing the doubts or fears as He realigns my heart in areas or grows my faith in spaces I deemed impossible. With confidence I can present my shortcomings as a mother, wrestle with my feelings of inadequacy or discontent, seek help with requests big and small, hide my wounded heart inside His tower of strength, and display any other need or worry I may have. He is interested in them all. But a curious thing happens when I hold fast to my confession, when I center my identity on Jesus who made me righteous and welcome before the throne of grace ~ I worship Him. The wreckage of my life can come spilling out and lay exposed there on the floor, but He becomes all I see. I lay down pretense and pride and begin to abide.

The grace and the mercy I desperately need for whatever I face are offered by the King of Kings. He invites us to come and pour out our hearts to Him.

 

Broad places

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God — his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. ~Psalm 18:19, 28-30

 

Truth: God delights in me and in you. He brings us out to places for His glory. The actual experience may feel opposite. It may feel as if I have been brought into a narrow ravine with a slippery, pebble filled ledge upon which to walk. I stand terrified, constantly worried I will wedge myself or slip off into a chasm below. I confess that many moments in motherhood can terrify me. I can worry about anything if I allow my mind to roam undisciplined.

Truth: He lights my lamp. He lightens my darkness. The joy of this truth is great – He lights up the dark, the confusion, the unknown. Why? for HIS NAME. He will work for His glory. What are my questions? what are my concerns? where are my areas of darkness, of wondering?

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. 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 31:3-4,7-8

What are broad places? Both passages refer to it. If they are places easily traversed with safety assured and no threat of attack, if that is what I am waiting for, then I will be disappointed. I will be discouraged when my life doesn’t take that magical turn towards ease and comfort. No, the broad place is not in the physical realm. I need to lay that desire down. In the Hebrew, the word used for broad place means pasture, figurative of freedom from distress or anxiety.

Stand in Me. Abide in me. I AM your broad place. My love is a secure place. Plant your feet in me. Stop waiting for me to move you to some moment or place. Stand in who I AM. 

I am the Light of the World. Stop trying to find light anywhere else, they are merely weak imitations with shadows at the edges. There are no shadows with Me.

I delight in you. His delight is gospel driven, sourced in His unending grace and mercy. He delights in you and me, not because of what we do or have done. He settled His choice of delight at the cross, when Jesus Christ died in your place and mine that we might be saved and set free from all the sin that entangles our hearts. He delights in us because He wants to redeem and restore us. He loves us with His steadfast, unending love.

I am your Strength. I will be all you need for battle. I am your shield of salvation. I give you divine power for all the strongholds that threaten to narrow your path and create anxiety.  In Psalm 18:33-36 David rejoices in the ways God has been his Rock ~ made his feet secure, trained his hands, given him the shield of salvation, and supported him. Your gentleness made me great. (v.35)

There is a difference between what I have been believing and the truth. I have been waiting for God to move me to a broad place, to push away all the worries, busyness, confusion that constricts my ground and litters my walk. I complain about the darkness, but the Light of the world illuminates me right where I stand, showing me His sustaining power. He is my broad place; the sacred, holy invitation is to stand in Him, to find refuge in Him, and to renew my mind in Him. He gently makes us great in Him.

I will even dare to say that the narrow chasms and terrifying passages are places He allows, not because He desires any terror but because He knows the depth of growth, the maturing of faith that these places will cause when I hide myself in Him. And He is committed to me for His Glory, for His name’s sake. Never forget, He will bring glory to His name.

Sovereignty in the Storm

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” ~Mark 4:35, 37-40

Sometimes I walk away from God’s sovereignty as an anchor truth because I am so overwhelmed by the waves hitting my boat. Instead I begin a panicked paddling and bailing not unlike the disciples in the boat with Jesus. I confess, I am not in a boat sailing the way I desire right now. The waves and the wind are tossing me in ways that feel incredibly savage and scary. I have been crying out for deliverance, calm, and rest for a long time, and there are days it seems like Jesus sleeps.  And I scoop, and I bail, and I slide all around my boat feeling half drowned.

While crossing the Sea of Galilee after a time of teaching and healing, the disciples and Jesus experienced a fierce storm.  On the Sea of Galilee, storms can occur suddenly as winds race in over the surrounding mountains and cold air mixes with the warmer air over the water. Jesus had almost immediately chosen to sleep in the stern of the boat as they started to sail. As the storm heightened, the disciples worked feverishly to stay afloat. Finally they sought His help. He was not panicked or worried, yet they were about to lose their minds with fear. The difference was He knew the anchor wasn’t missing, God wasn’t off duty, and there was nothing to fear. They believed they were without an anchor, without the ability to stay upright, and without hope because of the circumstances that surrounded them. Some were experienced sailors and fishermen, yet even they understood that this storm was beyond their control and beyond their skills to escape.  Did the disciples know Jesus could do something to help, or did they simply want him to join them in the panicked reacting?  Did they look over at Jesus peacefully sleeping and become enraged at his peace in the midst of chaos? They were working so hard, trying to remain afloat and alive. Did they desire that He join them in the work of survival or did they actually think He would triumph with just a word?

 The disciples had walked with Jesus a short while. They had seen miracles of healing and resurrection, they had seen His power over demons, and they had listened to truths that took all they knew in the scriptures and expanded/deepened them. They called him Master, Teacher, and Lord in the moment of need, depending on the Gospel account you read. Clearly they recognized he had some connection to God that attracted them to Him.

But they had no clue who He truly was, that He is the creator of all things, that all things hold together in Him, and that He upholds the universe by the word of his power. Everything is through Him, and it is through Him that we exist. You can see by their reactions after the wind and wave completely stopped at His command. Their fear level actually increased as they wondered who He really was, but Jesus was deepening their understanding of Himself by His display of power and glory and preparing them for their faith walk. He was more than a prophet, healer, or teacher; He was the Son of God, their Messiah and their King.

I often forget who sits with me in my boat. Often my reaction looks like the disciples, “Aren’t you going to get involved here? Aren’t you going to step in and do something about this sinking ship?!”

Jesus Christ solidly anchors my boat. He is the author and perfecter of my faith. He has called me to Himself, offering redemption and the forgiveness of all my sin through His sacrifice on the cross. My sin debt for all time is paid by Jesus alone, my future is assured with Him, and my present is governed by Him. He is before all things. All things are under his feet, and all authority has been given to Him.

So when the winds that whip in from the mountains that surround catch me off guard and the waves begin to grow as tall as buildings and crash with such fierceness across the bow of my life, He is sovereign. Only He can steady my footing in the tossing and pitching, and He will calm the storm.

I also recognize the crossing and the storm are all part of His plan for me. While it’s heartbreaking and frightening, these days are designed to deepen my faith walk and declare His power and His love. He has the complete power to settle everything with one word and allow peaceful sailing for the rest of the journey, but He may choose to allow the storm to worsen. Yet He anchors my soul. He sails with me. And He will bring me safely to the other side, to His desired haven.

He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. ~Psalm 107: 29-32

 

Holy Moments

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! ~Psalm 46:10

Mothering is full of holy moments. I have become convinced of this fact over the past twenty years. Moments of His glory displayed, His hope conveyed to a little one, His truth declared by a little voice. Sometimes I miss the holy moments. I miss their weight and significance, I miss His truth in that moment, and I miss my growth that He desires to foster. I overlook His imprint at all on the situation and instead want to make my own imprint, my own mark. I look wildly about, clutching at any hope or advice that is offered, desperate to do the “right thing.” And He calls to me, “Be still.”

Stillness before Him is not an inactive state of passivity. The command means to cease striving, relax. In the anxiety of the moment, the absolute best posture for me is open hands, upturned face seeking Him. I try to remember to take just a few minutes with Him (often hiding in my closet or pantry!) before I walk into the turmoil of the moment. The truth is the crazy of whatever is happening can continue for a few minutes while I ask Him for help. And in those quiet moments, He begins to work, reminding me of His deep love, His sacrifice for all my sin, and His grace.  He will give me insight to hear the hurt, see with His compassion, understand the driving forces that are beneath the anxiety, anger, or misbehavior. Scriptures come to mind. My heart stills. I can walk into the time with my child able to connect and then correct because I am connected to the One who sustains.

He redefines the moment in light of eternity.

There is holy learning as I choose service and humility to clean up a toddler. The trust I see in my infant’s face echoes the trust God calls me to have in Him. The quiet voice of the heavenly Father encouraging me on a hard, tantrum filled day speaks words of life and calm over me, dispelling my anger and hopelessness. His rays of truth slice through the justification and confusion of teenage angst. His peace in moments of worry and fear is unmistakable.

The steadiness of God’s faithfulness and love thrum in the panic and uncertainty of parenting.  The holy moments are for me. The sanctifying is for me, not for my child most of the time. He will bring glory to His name.

Back Porch – the Law & salvation

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:19-20

My husband uses a fantastic word picture to teach others including our children about the differences between the law, salvation, and sanctification. As we study the Gospel, we have talked about the importance of laying a strong foundation upon which all other parts of walking with Jesus depend.  Being on a gospel hunt begins to show us that the heartbeat of God is to pursue sinful man and redeem him unto Himself. For many friends I have discipled as well as myself, the “what comes after” becomes a hard place to walk. Inherent in us is a desire to be part of the solution, to contribute to the change, to be good perhaps. But God does the work in salvation as we talked about last time. Before we go any further, I want to firm up the truth that only the Holy Spirit changes you and me as we walk with Him. The closer I walk with Jesus, the more of my flesh or my sin I see. My foundation buckles when any of my footers sits in the belief that I must clean my own sin, get myself turned around or fix my flesh tendencies before I can come before God.

 If we were sitting together talking about being made in His image, I would begin with this pictorial foundation. Imagine you walk into a bathroom and you see a mirror hanging above a sink with a light illuminating the room. As you walk up to the mirror, the light enables you to see your reflection in the mirror. With the light off, clearly the room is dark and you cannot see anything, but with the light comes sight. As you look into the mirror, you can see all the filthy spots of dirt speckling your skin, covering up huge areas or small. You naturally rub at some, hoping to rid yourself of the dirt, scraping at some spots and brushing at others. Nothing will work. The dirt may flake top layers off, but it still remains. And it is everywhere. It seems the harder you try to rub it off, the more imbedded it becomes. You swivel and turn; it’s everywhere on you, from the tip of your head to the soles of your feet. The mirror keeps showing more places of dirt. You need the sink. You quickly turn on the water and begin to wash away the dirt that covers your face, your neck, your arms, etc. Glancing continuously into the mirror, you are able to see more areas that need cleaning. But the water does the cleaning.

The light in the bathroom is Jesus Christ. Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) and I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46) As we step into relationship with Jesus, we step out of darkness and into light.

The mirror is the reflection of God’s demand for holiness – the law. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20) The law serves to show us all the ways we can never walk righteously on our own. Romans 7:7 says “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” But the mirror never makes us clean. And this is the important truth for walking with Jesus. Just like the Galatians, sometimes we can believe the mirror makes us clean. If I can just stay clean today, then it will be a good day. The truth is we cannot and will not. In fact the law will stir sin up within us as Romans 7:7-10 explains. But without Christ as our Savior, a darkened bathroom offers little. The mirror requires the light to reflect just like the law requires Jesus Christ.

But the water is what cleanses. And the water is the blood of Jesus Christ that renews us daily through the Holy Spirit. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) and he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6). The cleansing power comes because Jesus Christ died for your sin and mine on the cross many years ago. His payment paid for all the sin debt that mars our hearts and redeemed us from the curse of sin. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The daily walk with the Holy Spirit in humility will change or sanctify me and make me more like Jesus and less like my own flesh.

I like to use this word picture even with my very little ones. As we wash our hands or look at dirty faces in the mirror after playtime, I will ask how can we see all the dirt in the mirror. First they will point out we need to turn the light on. And then when I begin to point out in the mirror all the little spots of dirt under fingernails or around mouths, I love to wonder with my little ones how on earth can we get clean? Even at 2 & 3 they can point to the sink as their hope for getting the dirt off of hands and faces. And as we wash hands, we talk about how only Jesus can wash away the sin from our hearts just like only water can wash away the grime on our hands.

As our children have aged, this analogy only becomes more important. There is an onslaught by the enemy on our children to perseverate on the reflection in the mirror and to feel hopeless in the grime of sin they see. They retreat into the darkness, fearing the mirror.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ. He reveals, and He cleanses. Jesus Christ is our fountain of life who never runs dry.