10 – Strong Tower

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. ~Proverbs 18:10

The top half of my tree isn’t lit. I want certain lights for the tree, and I need one more box from Target but they were sold out. So I wait for tomorrow’s truckload. A part of my mind knows this is unimportant – I need to just slap a strand of lights up there and walk away! But I can’t.

My fake tree in my front hall got taken out in a game of dodge mattress yesterday. Dodge mattress, if you didn’t know, is a game young boys play in which they take a crib mattress and toss it at one another as if it were a ball. Someone else is also throwing balls at the targeted player. And dodge mattress can absolutely break all the bottom limbs of an artificial tree. Sigh.

These aren’t the things that truly occupy my heart. The reality is these are benign, non-problems superficial at best, but they become trigger points to spill the unsettled, fearful, angry or discouraged emotions that live within me. The desire for control begins to assert its hand, and suddenly my holiday decorations become foremost in my attention, the hinge point of my happiness.

Christmas is coming. Advent is here. Preparing my heart for the season has to be purposeful for me because otherwise I can be consumed with the tasks of the season. I can place my happiness, my contentment, in the lights, the parties, the presents, When control becomes my mantra, my heart bows low to performance and the fear of man is a snare (Proverbs 29:25).

But when I center myself on the name of the LORD, all that comprises who He is in His attributes, character, and power, I have hope. I am not caught in the trap of performance or opinions, worried about pleasing or being picture perfect. A strong tower, migdal oz in the Hebrew, was a chief fortification built for a city. It was always elevated high above the city and therefore high above any danger or battle that may threaten the land. The alarms would ring out of danger, robbers, or invasions. The people in the land would immediately gather what they could and run to the tower, knowing all they needed in protection and provision was within those walls.

The name Jehovah YHWH is the strong tower – His name. All that is encompassed within the name Jehovah, His loving kindness, His mercies, His gentle care of us, that is our strong tower of refuge. And we as righteous run. Run to Him. Run to him in the little stresses but run to Him in the heartache, in the crushing realities of illness or sin, in the confusion of direction, and in the discouragements of lost dreams that lie beneath as well.

Spurgeon said, “The purpose of God in our salvation is the glorifying of His own character.” He will bring glory to His name while you are safely ensconced in the tower of the Most High. His character is constant, unchanging. Without the constancy of the character of God, all of His promises – salvation, grace, mercy – all hope is unhinged. But with the great I AM, hope is assured.

 

the back porch – God’s work

As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. ~Galatians 1:9

Over the next few weeks and hopefully as a filter for a lifetime, we will walk together looking for the truths of the Gospel in scripture and asking questions to deepen our understanding of different parts of His truth. You can find the introduction to the Back Porch here and four portions or areas to look for in your time in God’s Word here

“One of the tasks of the church is to reexamine the gospel we preach and believe, alert to ways it has been reshaped by the idols of our culture” ~Bill Hull.  The gospel we believe leads to the disciples we make.  As we walk out the next few times, we are going to stay on a gospel hunt.

Hopefully by now you have a few pages with the beginnings of a collection looking at the different portions of the Gospel. You may be excited to see how God’s Word consistently points to one or more of these areas or perhaps you fell in love with a passage that spoke to your heart this week about who Jesus is, who God is, or what has been given to you as a result of Christ. One other concept you may want to add as you study is what I call road mapping. Simply described ~ as you note portions of scripture that point to God’s holiness or your sinfulness for example, tag the last place you saw this concept beside this passage (remember you have been writing them down in your journal). So perhaps Ephesians 2:1 which talks about who we are before Christ gets tagged with Romans 3:23 in the margin. You will slowly create “roads” in your Word that can lead you through as you study. You will begin to understand or remember where concepts sit in different books, see themes emerge, and see the consistency of God’s truth. When you run to the Word for hope or comfort, you will find it more easily.

As we walk together, one of the first conversations we must have is understanding the work in our relationship with God. Who contributes and how? God is holy, just, powerful, sovereign, maker of all things, all knowing and eternal. Many more attributes comprise Him. Mankind is not any of these. Colossians says we are alienated, hostile in our minds, doing evil deeds, living in a domain of darkness. Ephesians 2 says we are dead in sin, Galatians declares we are held captive and enslaved, 1 Peter calls us unrighteous, and Romans 1-3 clearly lays out the unrighteousness and depravity of all man. No one is without sin and thus separated from God. These are foundation truths of the Gospel.

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, Galatians 3, Ephesians 2) . 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 do nothing to deserve it; there is no way to merit the grace and mercy given.

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 (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? We will talk in following weeks about the lies of shame, fear, and guilt, but 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).

We will talk next week about our response to Jesus Christ and the lies we believe. But for this week, begin to respond to some of these or other scriptures that speak to what God has given you in salvation. If you are unsure of your salvation, please message me and I would be happy to share with you how you can be certain. Make a running list of these truths and allow Him to sink His blessings and His truth deep within your heart.

You are beloved, not because of you but because of Jesus.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. ~ Romans 3:21-25a

The reaping

God brings in a bountiful harvest in our lives as we trust Him.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever! ~Psalm 30:11-12

The days on the threshing floor are limited. That’s what the Lord keeps whispering to me. Let me stretch you, change you. Trust me in this process of revealing and refining. The harvest will come in. And once the grains are separated from the chaff, once the winnowing has been done, the winds have blown all the unwanted husks and hardened shells away, what remains is gathered. It is looked at, measured, and stored. And the celebration begins.

There are times when the harvest seems plentiful, full of bounty and much needed stores. Other times the harvest may be scant, perhaps there were great amounts of chaff to remove or rotten, dry hulls to be separated. Not much is left from a drought ridden season but what remains is rejoiced over. It is treasured and stored. It will be used as it should – for nourishment and strength in order to continue with preparations for the next season. But for the moment, the harvest is gathered and the celebration of what God provided begins.

For He turns my mourning, He loosens the sackcloth, and He lessens the strain of the stretching.  These hard seasons are never without Him, and He doesn’t expect me to do the changing. He calls for me to submit for He is intimately acquainted with all of me and completely committed to me despite me. His word promises. He who freely gave His Son for me while I was dead in sin walks me through seasons of growth and seasons of harvest. He rescues because He delights in us, but not because of anything we have done or will do. He invites us into His broad place of victory over sin and death and steadies our souls.

So I get to glorify Him.

My heart will sing of His goodness – in seasons of plenty and in seasons of want.

I will rejoice in His steadfast love when I never have deserved it.

I will wonder at His faithfulness despite my wandering heart.

My life will be a testimony in good and bad.

That all of it will point to Him. For His Glory.

On this threshing floor in this season, I know a harvest will come. There will be a bounty that will be beautiful and celebrated as I stand in wonder at what God has winnowed away and what remains. So I am thankful in anticipation of what is to come.

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. ~ Psalm 18:19

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.