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.

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.

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 

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.

Walking through Ephesians, 4

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them… In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit ~Ephesians 2:10, 22

I am his workmanship, His dwelling place, a part of His household, part of his temple in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2 details all the changes that occur with God’s grace, both personally and corporately between Jews and Gentiles.

What is workmanship? What does it mean to finely craft something, with detail work and refinement, to create something valuable? We live in a time when things are created quickly, and they’re not meant to last forever. But we are God’s workmanship. The only other time this Greek root word is used in scripture is in Romans 1:20 when God’s creation is referenced. And once again here we are talking about a creation, but this time the creating has happened in Christ Jesus, in His death and resurrection that gave me a position change. Ephesians 2:6 shows that my position changed – God seated me at the right hand in Jesus so now all that grows, happens comes from the position of being in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 declares it this way, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The investment in me began at the cross, carried forward at my salvation and continues daily as He works in me to make me more like Him.

And in the beauty that is only God – He has planned good works for me that I may walk in them. Things that one day I will get to lay at His feet in worship. His planning and my opportunity entwine in only a way that He orchestrates and understands. God has a path or course set just for me and for you – our God is a planning, intimate God. Look in Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Now I’m not Jeremiah, so I cannot claim his specific consecration as a prophet but God is constant and unchanging. What He has done, He will do. He has planned for you and for me kingdom work, and a lot of that work will occur within our homes. Psalm 139 breaks down every way we have been created, personally and intimately, with even our days formed for us.

He made clear to me in 2015 that his path for my life to the world may look like folly, full of brambles, holes, blocked passages, but I could trust Him on it. No one would probably recommend walking it, but my job isn’t to listen to others or look for others walking on it before I set out on it. There have been and will continue to be times in this mothering walk that I don’t enjoy the scenery on this path. What Jeremiah had to walk out was awful for God’s glory and His kingdom work. But God prepared them for Jeremiah, and He prepared my works beforehand – NOT that I would necessarily enjoy them or have a “great life.” He prepared my works for His glory. I have to have a paradigm shift away from this current age of self pleasing, ease seeking perspective. I may not enjoy in the flesh sense the work laid out for me, but eternally with God’s perspective I will rejoice for my work is kingdom work for His glory.

The walk will not be easy – Matthew 7:14 “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” But He makes clear my posture while walking – and I confess that my posture is really my problem. I easily shift my position from eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:1-2) and heart set on His kingdom (Col. 3:1) to eyes on me, my glory, my goals, my initiatives. Because I am so couched in spiritual language, I can make even my own self believe whatever I desire or want to veer off and do is from Him. But the truth of those times is that what I desire is for my comfort, my self delight.

My willingness to walk and obey grows in proportion to my understanding and remembering the Gospel – what God has done for me and in me through Christ Jesus. When I wander off from the Gospel into the land of performance or apathy, I will be unwilling to walk out His good works.

So my prayer becomes, “Clear the table of everything I have placed there. Set my table as You desire. Let me lead my children to You more and more, teaching them more about Your grace, love, truth, and Your calling on their lives because I recognize and submit to the calling You have placed on my life. These children are Your letters (Letters) to so many to come. Help me to be faithful in the writing.”

“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” ~2 Cor. 3:4-6

The threshing floor

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” ~Matthew 3:12

The threshing floor. It’s where I am, and I often do not want to be there. And yet it is where He is most glorious, most gracious and where I see Him at work in me, shaping and refining me.

I will never forget the teaching on the threshing floor by Ken Jenkins. I sat in the auditorium, and it was almost as if I could hear a thud, the sudden awareness that this picture was significant for my walk with the Lord. You see a threshing floor is what the ancient farmers used to separate wheat from chaff. The floor is a smooth, flat surface where the harvest would be spread over the floor. Cattle/oxen would be led over it, to crush and break the sheaves, and then sticks would be used to break sheaves and begin to separate the grain from the stalks. Then winnowing occurs where the grain is separated from the chaff ( the husks that cover each piece of grain) by tossing it all into the air so that chaff is blown away. All for the goal of separating the waste from the wheat and then the wheat is scooped up and filtered through a sieve to remove any last bits of chaff or undesired products.

Motherhood and marriage have been two threshing floors in my life. Both places demand more relationally of me than I am capable of giving by myself. Never have I seen more on display my selfishness, ugliness, rudeness, impatience, hate, and pride to name a few. And I desire to be so different than that!

God has used many moments to lay me down on the threshing floor and begin the painful process of removing the stalks that plant me in places I should never be and prying loose all the protective, hardened coverings around my heart. He desires to separate me from the sin that entangles me, peeling away the faulty thought processes that are self focused, self protective, self loving. He wants me as a mother to be rooted deep in His Word, not rooted in the thoughts/beliefs offered in the world, in order to be his ambassador, speaking on His behalf to these children He has given me that they may know the Gospel and so be changed.

The separation from my flesh is painful, the husks are so tight. But the thresher is patient, committed and lovingly tenacious.

 

Winnowing feels out of control, often like I will be blown completely away. You see the chaff is light and easily blows away in the wind, but the grain is heavy, weighty and will fall back down to the threshing floor. But there are so many times where I feel like all of me will blow away, so overwhelmed in the vast amounts of shell that covers my heart – the impatience with children, desire for alone time, fatigue with the mundane of motherhood, an urge to escape if just for a moment either into a book, a tv show, or my phone, the pride that prevents humility, the fear of what I cannot control.

For this picture to be true of my life, first and foremost I need to understand the Gospel. It is imperative. The Gospel simply is this: There is a God who is over all things and He created man in his image. But man has “sinned and fell short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and “all both Jews and Greeks, are under sin. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:9-10) In our sin position we are enslaved to sin and destined for death, eternal separation from God. Jesus, God’s son, came while we were still sinners and died for us (Rom. 5:8) and His death substituted for our death, that we may be “set free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1, 6:6-7). And our response stops this from being just a great story for we are now called sons of God, part of His family (Rom. 8:14-16) and He engages in the process to make us more like Him in order to glorify His name. This is where the threshing and winnowing begin, the sanctifying that stretches and hurts at times but fashions a useful harvest.

So I want to see all of my life through the lens of threshing – all of the good and bad moments with my kids are opportunities for God to undo a little more of the hard, binding shell or blow away more residue to expose His work in me. He never stops seeking the harvest in me that He may be glorified. He never withholds His grace and His care from me as He works to refine me. All of my sin is met with all of His abounding grace.

Who do I know?

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” ~Phil. 3:8

If I seek to know Him and follow Him, I must immediately realize that the intimacy He offers is for RIGHT where I am. So my 8 children and my husband are the areas where God will grow my intimacy with Him the most. He doesn’t want me just “surviving” even 1 hour. He wants me intimately and fully dependent on Him. How practically does this play out for me?

~when my children are fussing, He wants me depending on His patience

~when my teen wants to be disrespectful, I am to seek His face before I respond

~when I don’t understand the little one’s potty choices, He has the wisdom for the crisis

~when the infant won’t sleep, He has the answers for sleep and the strength to walk the day out completely exhausted

~when I have more laundry, cooking, cleaning, errands than I can imagine, I am to rest in Him and set my my eyes on Him

~when my husband hurts my feelings or exasperates me, I am to run to the One who always meets my expectations

He alone knows all things, He alone has dealt with all sin, He alone commands respect. So either I survive doing my “best,” or I grasp hold of His righteousness and consider all my efforts loss and rubbish. Paul said it so clearly in Philippians 3:4-11- His Lordship, knowing Him is so great, gaining Him as a mother is true power, true righteousness, and therefore true faith. Can faith really grow apart from this decision that all I do must be nothing?
verse 7- “whatever was to my profit” — what do I attribute to my profit? my intelligence, my skills, my personality, my wallet, my husband, my children — all which I very easily can declare as pointing to my pedigree of goodness or worthiness just like Paul references in verses 4-6. But all of this is loss for Jesus. In fact everything about me is a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. Either I spend my day seeking to summon up whatever skill set is needed, or I remember the cross. For at the cross all expectations for my behavior and all that I have to offer was proven insufficient and worthy of destruction. Jesus alone offers everything I need for life and so therefore He alone offers all I need for today.

The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord – Do I get how far above everything else it is to know you, Jesus? Do I stop just on the other side of the cross, knowing you for salvation and knowing me for the day to day challenges? For you, Lord, I want to lose all things. Lord, show me how to do this, how to change my perspective that I may gain more of You. I so want to know You more intimately, to follow you and be your light here.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-cross-has-the-final-word/id1207122501?i=1207122505