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.

the simplicity of parenting

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

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 22:36-40

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

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

And we as believers fall for it!

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

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

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

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

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

Known

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

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

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

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

But the freedom has come! He knows me!

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

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

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

 

 

making a road map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sighting the shore

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

I was talking with one of my children about the discouragement that comes from finding oneself not keeping in step with the Spirit. For the child who loves Jesus and knows Him as his or her Savior, the realization that an area of life is off base or not lining up with the truth of God’s Word can be discouraging and defeating. These moments are prime times for the enemy to speak words of condemnation to young hearts that bind their lives to performance and not to grace.

A word picture that we talk about in terms of keeping in step with the Spirit is playing in the ocean. Whenever we go to the ocean with our bunch of kids, one of the instructions given to the older ones is continue to spot the towels. Everyone knows that there is a current in the ocean that pulls down shore. Sometimes this current is quite strong. Most of the time we are unaware of the current’s pull as we play in the waves. The pull is gentle, insidious. Many times I have enjoyed the ocean only to come out on shore, expecting to see my towels, and instead be startled because I cannot locate them anywhere as I scan the beach. Then the walk back begins.

In the same way the culture around us and our flesh can pull us off the mark of God’s grace and our walk with Him in righteousness and obedience. The pull is often insidious. The enemy is exceptional at presenting a lie just a degree or two off truth. We slowly divert away from His truth and look up to find ourselves way down the beach with the Gospel nowhere in sight. We are easily discouraged as we look at the walk back. Sometimes we want to stay and play right where we have drifted, for in the moment that seems easiest.

But we must return. And as parents, we have the privilege of standing at the beach chairs of Truth, calling out to our children. We may have to walk down the beach to find them. But in the walking back, the conversation of grace and the investment of instruction can help them see how they forgot to make the adjustments in the moments.

And one thing most refreshing is the testimony of another sinner saved by His grace speaking the truth of returning to Him. When we share our own areas where we have to be careful to line our lives up with the truth of God’s word and walk in obedience, when we are humble to share the hard, long walks back we have had to make in different times in our own lives, that honesty illuminates the character of God and points to His faithfulness and grace. Paul continues in Galatians to say, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in an spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We as parents have the primary opportunity to walk back down the beach with our children, restoring them gently as they return to Him.

Without the small adjustments made daily, the drift can easily occur.  Scripture makes clear that with God’s gift of salvation we are given the Holy Spirit. His role is as counselor, teacher, intercessor. He indwells us. We live by Him. On my own I will never realize my drift, never feel the current, never desire to look up to shore. But the Holy Spirit convicts. Keeping in step with Him requires attention. It requires watching His feet and mimicking His pattern. So when we get out of sync with Him, we must return to the truths of the Gospel. Repentance involves confession and turning away from what captured our attention and  hijacked our course. God is faithful to forgive us!

 

Waging War

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. ~2 Timothy 2:2

Discipleship – what is it? The word is a catchphrase thrown around casually but with little definition. No one would argue the command by Jesus in Matthew to go and make disciples, but many are stymied by what exactly making disciples looks like whether the disciple is your child or another believer. The truth is the word discipleship was never used in scripture. Disciples were first called Christians at Antioch in Acts, but the followers of Christ were all termed disciples in scripture. Jesus commands to go and make disciples, teaching what He had taught. Paul models discipleship in relationships with other believers in the New Testament.

None of us would ever declare ourselves unwilling to disciple the precious children we have been blessed with, but many times I talk with other moms about what tangibly does this look like in the day to day. What does it mean to actually “do” this with our children? Especially if we have never experienced it for ourselves? I think one of the best definitions includes the idea of pursuing a 3 prong agenda of grounding in and cultivating a love for the Word, teaching how to walk in relationship both with God and others, and how to serve/minister from a position that understands and extends the Gospel.

How do we ground them in the Word? practically? What is my vision, my end goal, the place I’m seeking to head to with this child (or this woman that sits at my kitchen table) over their lifetime? I often think in terms of word pictures, and I find with my children that teaching them spiritual truths inside of word pictures helps make the concepts tangible. One picture is given in Ephesians 6 for how we are to do spiritual battle for and with our kids. When our babies are little and have no spiritual understanding, we are the warriors with our baby on our back wielding our shield and sword, holding the world and the enemy at bay.

As they step into a walk with Jesus Christ, I need to introduce them to their sword and begin to show them its weight, strength, and sharpness. They now stand directly behind me in battle, still protected but beginning to learn the battle. We explore the goodness of the gospel – teaching them the truths that will anchor them in this unsteady world. We patiently walk them through all the points of their armor as it relates to their life, pointing out the protection of the helmet of salvation, the importance of feet solidly ground into the gospel of peace, the absolute must of His truth to hold their armor on. We teach them the importance of guarding their heart and pursuing righteousness. We point out the incoming arrows of lies, and our shield of faith absorbs the blows. When my children are young and young in their faith, my sword is active. I sharpen my sword openly, and my goal is teach them how to sharpen theirs alongside me. Mommas, if I can plead with you, God’s Word is living and active, it is so rich, so fulfilling, and it never returns void. He is Truth in a world that offers none. Spend time with Him in His word.

As they grow spiritually they need to move from directly behind me and my shield to beside me, with their own shield in front of them and their own sword sharpened for battle.  The onslaught will increase in intensity as they grow, for the enemy now sees another warrior. In these early years of walking with Jesus, the enemy sights a warrior he is desperate to incapacitate. He would like nothing less than to convince this young believer to stay in the fetal position on the spiritual battlefield.

I train them in how to wield their weapon, trust their armor, and stand behind their shield. My goals are to help them sharpen their sword and fall in love with it. The Word of God is rich beyond belief. Explore the scriptures with your children, memorize passages, marvel at the picture of Who God is – His faithfulness, holiness, justice, graciousness, mercy, love, and peace. Show them the redemption story that runs from beginning to end and worship Him together. I want them to understand the great perfect protection their shield of faith offers. Their faith grows as they battle and trust the Holy Spirit within them. We have the honor of standing next to them as they stand firm and encouraging them in their battles.

My place is right next to them so that I can protect them if I need to when a particularly fast or fiery arrow is launched with my shield or so that I can put my hand out to help stand them back up and give them protection as they replant their feet in the gospel. But if as a parent, I am still trying to lug my teen around on my back as I do battle for the both of us, I stunt them. They will be ill equipped. And if I am disinterested in the great battles they face, too busy to encourage, listen, and pray with them, they will believe the lie that no battle truly wages and that it is ok to merely exist on this epic wrestling stage.

I am called to be faithful to this discipleship arc, threading these concepts into conversations all along the way. But I am not the outcome maker. I have to trust that the same Holy Spirit that leads me, the Word of God that is my sword and the shield of faith that God gives and grows in me is also within them if they are saved.

They need to stand firm on this battlefield, knowing I stand beside them and will assist with the lies the enemy slings because soon enough they will move on the battlefield and will be on their own. Their Sword needs to be sharpened and that comes with use. They need to trust that their shield of faith holds against anything the enemy would like to fire their way because the days are coming when doubt, fear, misgivings, and discouragement will assault them. Their armor is vital to their defense. And my role daily is to pray. Paul warns us, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Their battle is great, the lies are numerous, but the enemy is defeated! Jesus is Faithful and True.