the back porch – the Gospel Hunt

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~2 Corinthians 5:21

If you missed the introduction to the back porch and want to read that, you can find it here at the back porch.

What does the Gospel mean? How do you define it? Is there a good working definition or does it feel just a little undefined? I have spoken with many women over the years who stumble on this idea. They know that they know what the Gospel is, yet when asked to define it, they pause and struggle to wrap words around the essence of the term that feels vast. One of my goals for sitting on the back porch with you is to lay out the basic tenets of faith so that you can teach them confidently to your children or friends, not from a theological position of intellect but from a confident position of faith. So this may be an easy one for you. But what is the Gospel? The way I learned to define and so I teach it to my children is with 4 parts:

Who God is

Who we are on our own

Who Jesus is and what He has done

How am I changed because of Jesus

All of Scripture is within one or more of these parts. So as we begin to study the Word or lead our children in studying the Word, we can ask ourselves, “Which portion of the Gospel does this passage of scripture address?” Does this tell me more about who God is, His attributes, His character, and expand my picture of Him? Does this relate to who we are apart from Jesus, does it point out the consistent pull of sin and flesh and the hopelessness of depravity? Do these verses teach us about Jesus Christ, his life, His death, His walk with the Father, or His teachings? Do these scriptures talk about my identity and life with Jesus, the change that comes, the calling for the redeemed?

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.

When I walk with my children, this becomes the pivot piece of conversation. Everything hangs on the gospel. So how we perceive and engage in life has everything to do with how we understand God, our sin, Jesus Christ, and walking with Him. Their need for Jesus as Savior can be seen in any passage. Morning times in the Word are discussions about which parts of the gospel does this verse or passage speak to. Noah’s ark comes alive when we realize the depth of the Gospel on display. David and Goliath is more than just a story because the character of God is seen and explored. Paul’s writings are rich with what Jesus through the Holy Spirit is doing in you and me as we walk with Him rather than a demanding laundry list of how a person should behave. The gospel is central to discipline, not my opinions or personal desire for good behavior.

The only hope I have is Jesus. The only hope my child has is Jesus. He or she will never be able to move away from the depravity of sin without Jesus Christ, so discipline becomes an opportunity to display his need for Christ and then the necessity to submit to the Spirit’s work in his life as he begins a walk of faith.

So I encourage you this week to sit down with just your Bible and a journal. Put a heading on the top of each page titling one part of the Gospel on each. And begin to read your Word, asking the Great Counselor to show you His Gospel in all parts. Some great books to begin this with include Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians or 1 Peter. The reason these books are on my recommended list is simply I think if you are new to studying the Word without a help book, a short book allows success. You can certainly tackle any other book God leads you to in this manner. But just begin to dwell with Him in His Word, looking for how His gospel is displayed. Ask Him to increase your hunger for His Word and for time with Him. And let me know what you begin to find either by leaving a comment below or through my email!

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. ~Psalm 119:130 

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.

what’s my name again

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. ~Revelation 2:17

We invent superheroes in our family. It’s part of our family culture I guess. My boys have a vault of at least a hundred superheroes unique to their imagination with skills and powers. They have been drawn and immortalized with colored pencils and markers, featured in battles that rage around the house, and placed within plot lines in which they interact and care for one another. Our littlest one is entranced with these warriors and villains that his older brothers have invented. And often he desires to be one of them. The problem is their names are difficult to remember. Just this morning he was bounding around the house as one of these carefully crafted heroes, yet he kept returning to me, asking me to repeat his name. The attributes that flow from his name had to then be discussed anew.

Often we forget our new identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. While I was a sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8). He redeemed me from the curse of the law so that I might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14). I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). And since I am in Christ, I am a new creation. The old person condemned under the law is gone, and instead I am His righteous ambassador to this world, being changed and made more like Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). I can lose sight of all the promises and blessings that are mine as a result of who I am.

But sitting this morning with my little man reminds me once again, He delights in reminding me of my new name. I didn’t mind being asked over and over for his “superhero” name. I was happy to discuss what it meant to be Lightening Storm with powers that shoot lightening out when he runs, help him fly through the air, and jump huge jumps. Just like in the imaginative world for my three year old, being reminded of my identity in Jesus Christ is vitally important in my walk with Him. 1 Peter 2:9-10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” The life I live here I live by faith in Jesus Christ because He loves me and gave His life for me (Galatians 2:20). My son didn’t hesitate about asking repeatedly for his name and powers. He never once apologized for forgetting or seemed reticent to ask yet again. He boldly approached me with eagerness to hear once again. How much more will our Father in heaven graciously teach us about walking with Him?! His Word speaks abundantly about our position as His child. His Spirit lives within each believer to teach and guide. He welcomes us into His throne room.

Christ will return for you and me. And on that day a stone will be given to each of us with our true name inscribed on it that is unique to you and me, chosen by Him. The wonder of the thought swells my heart in worship. He knows us each intimately, personally and has given us new identity in Him.

confidence

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.  ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5

The Lord is faithful. He is faithful in the darkness of life, in the hurt and the questions, He is loyal to you, steadfast in His presence and His work in your life. Oh! My heart rejoices to know He is committed to me. In the spaces I feel alone, misunderstood, or rejected, truly He is engaged.

He will establish and guard you against the evil one. The verb establish indicates to fix firmly, strengthen, buttress, prop or support. His support fixes us, plants us down and gives support to secure us. His goal in establishing us is to plant us solidly to eliminate vacillation. The enemy wants to promote confusion or indecisiveness and make us feel as if we are on unsteady ground.

But He is faithful to establish you.

The verb guard gives the picture of a military guard. Paul paints the picture of the unbroken vigilance of a military guard that preserves and protects. It is a preserving watchfulness or acuity like the uninterrupted vigilance shepherds show for their sheep. So the big picture about this one sentence is that He will plant you solidly and supportively in His truth and watch over you with a vigilance that protects. He will do it. We need to encourage one another with this truth in the walking out of our faith. Encourage your growing children that He is at work establishing them in their faith and guarding them. Speak into your hurting or confused friend – He is faithful. You can trust Him.

Paul then encourages the Thessalonians with a blessing: And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. His confidence does not center on my actions but on the Lord who will work in me leading me to walk obediently. Why? How does Paul know this with confidence? Everything in me doubts this truth. I shift in my thoughts to outcome ~ what I can prove I do or have done, my resume of obedience, and I know that it comes up short.

But that is not what Paul is saying here. He is not looking at achievements. He is not measuring at all. God is faithful. He will work in our lives, moving us into obedience.

May the Lord direct your hearts – The verb direct in this passage means to go straight down by the most direct, efficient route; avoiding all unnecessary delays, without any undue loss of time or achievement. Pause for a moment and take in that verb. What a prayer for Paul to pray – that by the most efficient route possible without delays or loss of time, God will move our hearts. My confidence in my own walk with Jesus or my children’s journeys must solely be in what God will do and is doing to lead and guide. So where does He direct our hearts? Where does He remove all hindrances in order for us to come?

to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. When I began studying this passage, this seemed obvious – of course He wants me to see how much God loves me, how faithful Christ is to me as I walk with Him. But that’s not what these phrases mean. God will move my heart to love Him more. It’s not His love for me, it’s my love for Him. And again, He will move my heart to be steadfast like Christ – to be patient in enduring and in walking out my days here in the pattern Christ showed.

Once again He is the source.

Once again it’s not my performance, not my summoning up of whatever love I can display or long-suffering I can muster. My confidence comes from Him. The love I have for Him (grown by Him) becomes the filter for my life.

This posture is powerful and freeing. The Gospel begins and ends with what God has done – He set us free from sin and death through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, He calls us out of our bondage and into new life with Him, and He is at work every day making us more and more like Jesus. We need only to believe, and even in that He grows our faith. With an enemy prowling around seeking to destroy, discourage, or demoralize, these are powerful truths to stand before His throne and pray for myself, family, and loved ones. Our hope is in Him. And He is faithful.

 

target run

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

My almost 2 year old has a fascination with all things Superman and Batman. He loves to talk about his muscles and wear his pjs with either one emblazoned on them. And I absolutely delight in his cheerful talk about them whenever he spots something else that shows them. This week we were running errands, and I had planned to buy him his own superhero action figure so that he would stop taking his older brothers’. But after the second stop, he rejected the idea of climbing back into his carseat to go any further. So to distract him, I began to tell him my plan to get a Superman or Batman at the next store. Probably not good parenting, I own it. My husband calls me the master of distraction as a parenting tool. But it worked, the bucking and arching stopped, he was clicked in, and we were off. The conversation in the car went something like this, “I would love to get you something special, but you’ll have to wait until the next store.”

“Wait, mommy wait.”

“Yes, we have to wait.”

The entire way into the store the conversation vacillated between “Supman, Batman, wait, Batman,” eagerly insisting I agree with his mantra, scanning the store’s entrance ready for his blessing. Now I know where the superheroes are in this store, I wasn’t worried that they wouldn’t be there, and I was eager to give this precious boy a special gift. But I had other things to gather as well, so I knew the greater plan, the larger goal.

All through the walk to the toy section, all he could think of was “Supman” and all I could change his callings to was “wait, soon.” He would parrot back “Wait,” but almost immediately return to “Supman? Batman?” followed by my reassurances that we were heading there. His eyes remain glued on me, conversing eagerly in his little boy way.

But the moment we rolled out of clothes and into toys, his focus shifted. The intense gaze and concentration that once had been on my face willing to wait was now eyes darting, left to right, a growing desire for everything, anything! He just wanted to hold something! Our precious conversation was replaced with lunging, reaching, pointing and grunting as he saw me roll him right past so many wonderful things. We walked around an end-cap, and he spotted something he could NOT roll past – a large, rubber chicken with eyes that bug out of its head when the belly is squeezed. He grabbed it, and not only did it look ridiculous, but this “amazing” toy made a horrible, croaking, dying frog type noise, so endearing as I could just imagine having to hear that all day long! Yet at that moment longing/desire had surged in and overwhelmed his little heart and mind – this was what he wanted and wouldn’t let go of!

He was willing to forgo the promised for the immediate – how often do I do that?

How many times, Lord, is this me? Walking with You, eyes on You, walking in blessing/relationship, and then a desire springs up. The want completely shifts my focus from the riches of intimate relationship with You into a scrambling to gain the awful chicken of the moment – the easily broken, cheap, desired thing that has become what I long for, what I seek.

Nothing else costs as much as my Savior’s death for me; nothing else will remain for all eternity. Yet often I confess, abiding with Jesus, walking with Him, eyes fixed on Him is hard for me. My eyes slide to the shiny, new, exciting, popular, and then desire washes over me. There are times when I can stand beneath that wave, still rooted but now soaking, and regain my gaze on the only One who satisfies. But often that wave washes me into a current of longing that can carry me along.

God’s heart is for our very best, but sometimes His best requires my waiting. And just like Abraham I feel the need to “help” God orchestrate poorly what He can simply create with excellence. My son quickly put down the hideous chicken when presented with the action figure, for it paled in comparison even to him at his age. Often for me, my chicken takes the form of worry, doubt, or fear about the lives of one of my children – it may look shiny to the world even – a good concern over curriculum choices, goals, and outcome measures to ensure a child receives a good education for instance. But when my eyes set here and my trust is placed in these things, I have grabbed hold of a cheap unfulfilling substitute for His intention, His love and His plan for me in relation to my child.

The wave of mothering well, especially a far away college student, has swept me into a current of fear and worry. I have lost sight of my loving Father and His plan for my child’s life, that He really is the absolute best at drawing men unto Himself and deepening their walk with Him. And instead I pet the chicken of my ability to orchestrate conversations or activities to push my child to my objectives for his life. But the absolute foundational truth is God has plans for my child to grow him or her in faith and maturity, He is more committed and more in love with my child than I am, and He can be trusted to accomplish His will.

Sometimes the desire for comfort becomes the shiny toy I pursue, soaked from the desire to be unconcerned about money or finances. So I would sit in that shopping cart with my rubber chicken of ease and comfort here and miss the superman gift of knowing His faithfulness and supply, the deepening of the faith walk that brings glory to Him for eternity.

Setting my mind on His ways – Psalms 26:3 states, “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.”  I want this to be the testimony of my life.

Amen

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” ~2 Corinthians 1:20-22

Yesterday was hard. There is no way around that fact – it was a grind. I found myself battling the desire inside me to retreat, withdraw, decide I didn’t care about some issue/fight/attitude simply because I was weary of all the conversations with all the people. I found my patience decreasing as I moved from interaction to interaction, as I carried just a little of my emotion from one child’s discipline into the next. So every little sin I have been called to face becomes a place where I too must battle the flesh that rises up within me.

Do you ever consider what you are doing? I mean the experience of looking in on yourself and wonder, “how in the world did I get here?” What road did I mistakenly get off on that has placed me here in the midst of all this junk, with me being the chief proponent of the junk? Have you ever just been so tired of slogging through tantrums, rivalry, disobedience, lying, selfishness and begin to wonder whether this is worth anything? does it really make a difference? Does the distant heart of a pre-teenager or the rebellious teen make you feel discouraged like it does me at times? Does anyone else hide in their closet and pretend like they cannot hear their name being called? no? just me?

I confess I do.

Many of my friends look in on me and admire or praise me. They can’t imagine parenting so many, so they assume this fantasy that I have it all wrapped up. I don’t.

But I know the One who does. And I have to keep coming back to that fact. Sometimes multiple times in the same hour, I have to preach the Gospel to myself, reminding myself that He has completed all I need. He is sovereign over all I experience. He is engaged with every interaction. It is vital that I apply the Gospel to the working out of my faith in my interactions with my kids. Because that is what mothering is – it is the working out of my faith today.

So I need to remember my position first. God has established me in Christ, anointed me and put his seal upon me and given me His Spirit as a guarantee. My establishment is apart from my actions, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

So as a mom I am established, rooted and firmly adhered to the love of Jesus Christ. This steadfast love that He has offered me compels me in the interactions with my children, both to love them that way and to instruct them in how to love with His unending love. And I have been given His Spirit as a guarantee. A down payment of all the power, wisdom, counsel, and relationship fully offered and alive in me. He is my guarantee that all the promises of God are true. 1 Peter 1:3-4 declares that His power has given me all I need for life and godliness, and He has given me his precious and great promises so that through all his promises I am a partaker in the divine nature. I am invited and welcomed to participate in His way of parenting my children, having been given all I need to be a godly parent through His Spirit within me.

So I stand (in the closet) and take a moment to speak the Truth to myself. The God of this universe deeply loves me and my child. He is far more invested in my child than I can ever claim to be, and in this moment He wants to display His great promises of steadfast love, mercy, forgiveness, presence, guidance, protection through me. I have been anointed by God to be the conduit in this moment, to display Him. Sometimes that looks like firm truth with discipline, sometimes that looks like redirection to the Word, sometimes it’s a quiet hug and tender kiss. Our children need a constant reminder of who they are and Who they need.

My response to my children in these moments is really a response to Him. You see my Amen response comes from a place of faith, certain of all Christ has done in me and will do through me because He has established me. And my response is for His glory.