Planting Seeds

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. ~Psalm 133:1 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~Romans 12:10

Our God is relationship oriented. The very essence of the Gospel is his offer of relationship through Jesus Christ’s death for our sins. He calls us as parents to impart to our children the importance He places on relationship. The way we love one another is the display of the Gospel to the world. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) To speak consistently and clearly on the value of loving one another well is an imperative from Him. The culture we live in says that sibling rivalry and squabbles* are normal; just ignore them, don’t engage and they will mostly stop; children do it for the parent’s attention; they’ll grow out of it, etc.  No, I don’t think they will.

Encourage God’s love to grow between siblings – training them in righteousness applies real life here. There will be few relationships that will trigger flesh in a child more than a sibling. Welcome this. It is our opportunity to begin talking with our child about the Gospel. Just like in marriage, the intimacy of family life will highlight our natural desires for self.

It is also an opportunity to cast a vision before them in terms of why God purposely placed them in this family and in this order. Spend time looking at the why question that springs from their lips. Don’t run from the dislike they may spew at another. Sit in it with them, help them discern the lie they have welcomed regarding that sibling and begin instead to help them rewrite with God’s truth.

I think sometimes as believers we have bought the lies of the enemy that say siblings don’t have to like each other just because they happen to be born into the same family. Really? Where is God’s sovereignty in that? Do we really get permission to throw out the commands to love one another because we are “accidentally” born with annoying people? Or will we embrace the transforming power of God’s love that teaches how to love the difficult because we have been deeply loved? Do we understand that God has a purpose for our children as big sister, younger brother, etc to learn the truths about His love and lean/depend on Him to help them love and care for someone else. This walk right now as a child who follows Jesus will lead and prepare them for what He has planned for them as an adult.

We can break up fights and tell kids to stop yelling/hitting and if we stop there, we are missing the discipleship of our child. If all we do is fuss at the fussing, we will never help our child examine their heart as to what motivates their action or response. They may conform to our edict of no fighting, but the heart remains unchanged apart from Gospel application. Behavior can just go underground as resentment, bitterness, and ultimately hatred. And it will stunt their walk with a loving, forgiving God.

We have the rich opportunity to walk with our children in learning how to love intentionally the way we have been loved – forgiving fully, expressing frustrations in a way to seeks resolution and peace, and acknowledging their own contribution to the argument and why they are motivated to respond in sin.

 

*Now I readily understand the sin of man can cause deep fissures/utter violations within families – let me be clear, when a family is torn apart by mental illness, sexual violations, or physical violence, as a parent you must act for the safety of your child. I am not speaking of these times.

The Vine, the Vinedresser, and me

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~John 15:5

Have you ever felt worthless in God’s kingdom? You look at your body of work and all you see are errors, mistakes, sins and defeat? You cannot get a handle on your tongue; you are not patient with your family; every time you turn around you are faced with another way you have sinned against another or God.

We have a child who right now is in a crisis of faith. They are in a season of pruning, but they believe they are in a season of failure. They look at the way their sin seems to explode all over the place, and they want to hide it, stuff it back in, cover it up with niceties or retreat. Poke them a little bit about one of these errors, and they may explode in anger. There is apathy, a mask they wear to act as if they don’t care how many areas are in shambles. And when you tread just a little through these first layers of defense, there is profound discouragement and fear. The aching knowledge of their inability to “do it” and concern over being perfect, checking the boxes they have laid out for themselves, creates a huge emotional chasm. And only Jesus Christ Himself with all His grace, His mercy, and His love can fill it. The Gospel must become a lifeline, not just for salvation but for daily, minute to minute life.

Salvation for this child is not in question. They are completely secure in knowing Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their sins, and they would absolutely tell you how vital He is in their life. But just like a Galatian from years ago, they have decided that their walk everyday is theirs to do, to somehow muster up the right combination of fruits either to prove to God how much they love Him or to add to their salvation. The wrecking of their carefully ordered life exposes the limits they have placed on God’s great grace, as if it is merely that little bit more we need to get over the hurdle when added to all the good acts we do.

Many times I too have walked in these ruts of the faith, tripping as I focus not on Him but on what I carry, making sure I don’t drop anything, or dirty these clothes I have placed over my clothes of righteousness. And when I see my life wrecked, I wonder how He could love me. But just like this child, it is an opportunity to once again see the depths of His love for me, the grace that gushes like a tidal wave, and to tightly hold to the One who is at work, refining and changing me more and more into His image.

Pruning is an important part of the walk of faith. Jesus draws the parallel boldly in John 15 – He sets up very clearly that He is the Vine, his Father is the Vinedresser, and we are branches. A vinedresser has one goal with his plants – to maximize the fruit as he shapes its growth. In pruning vines, the goal is to maximize the amount of one year old growth or wood because only in 1 year old branches is fruit made. Older wood produces only leaves and shoots. A vine dense with older wood has little fruiting wood and poor air circulation which leads to fungus and disease. So every year 70-90% of growth needs to be removed in the winter. Also the vinedresser wants to shape the vine’s growth on a structure conducive to the harvesting of the fruit.

God actively prunes the believer, slicing through lies, cleaning off dead or nonproductive areas, shaping our hearts and minds. He uses hardship, suffering, crises of faith, but through all of these events, he uses His living and active Word. Hebrews 4:12 says that his Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We can trust that God desires us to be completely dependent on Him, not just for salvation, but for everyday walking with Him. He prunes us back, tightly leaving us right up against Jesus the vine, in the position of abiding, clinging to the source of life. And it is the position that is most desirable because in the pruning I learn anew that I don’t have to perform or carry the right things to Him. His love flows through me, His truths become my own, His ways of righteousness grow in me creating fruit for His kingdom and His glory. So my child, welcome the pruning for this is where your intimacy with Jesus will grow, and be glad He cuts away your self sustenance. Let the truth of His love and grace flow through you, filling you with peace as you rest in Him.

Steadfast Love

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” ~Lamentations 3:22-24

His love is steadfast. It is so different from any other love that we cannot wrap our minds around it. It does not waver, it does not dim or fade. Steadfast means resolute, firm, unwavering. Checed in Hebrew is the word for love in this passage and most places you see steadfast love written in the Old Testament. Checed is defined as the “lovingkindness of God to men — in redemption from enemies and troubles, in preservation of life from death, in quickening of spiritual life, in redemption from sin, and in keeping of covenants.”

We view love through earthly eyes. We have all had experiences, some life shattering and deeply painful perhaps, when someone has withdrawn their love. And we have all experienced times when we have had to choose love because we certainly were not naturally feeling loving. This happens often with toddlers and teenagers in my experience! And I know many times I have not loved my people and others well, choosing in those moments to be selfish, prideful, indifferent, or unwilling. So I think that for me there always exists that tiny whisper, that little nudge that challenges the truth that God loves me steadfastly, without end, resolutely. It’s something that God has wanted to emphasize to me these last few years in His Word as we’ve walked together. He has displayed over and over the assurances He places all over scripture that His love is steadfast.

This lovingkindness is his character. In Exodus 34:6 He declares who He is – abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for all his people. His love is not rescinded when I am faithless, not does He measure out less or more based on performance.  From one end of the Bible to the other, He declares His steadfast love to his people, of which we, as the justified and redeemed, are a part. His self-sacrificing love displayed on the cross comes out of his steadfast love that from the beginning knew that only His sacrifice would be enough to salvage this wreck of a sinner. And His love extends and extends to me, never failing to reach in and work to transform me more like Him.

He is steadfast in His love in my successes and my failures because His love is not dependent on me. He displayed his love in that while I was still chief among sinners, He died for me. His steadfast love under the covenant of Christ never gets withdrawn. It may walk in conjunction with discipline, but its flow never ceases.

I praise you Lord for you are good. You are steadfast in your love for me, a wayward fickle sinner who you saved by your Son. Thank you for the discipline that walks with your love. Thank you for the assurance that in the hardest moments, despite what seems like terrible circumstances, you never leave or reject. You never turn your back on me because your back was turned on Christ instead. You slog right into my sin, and you redeem my life from the pit. Let me move, minister, engage from this position of understanding your vast love for me and let your love flow out of me into my world.

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. ~Psalm 63:3-4

 

Just swing

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” ~Luke 8:24-25

“Stop panicking and trust, Momma. God knows. Your job is to trust Him. He’s got this.” Those words from my daughter. They draw me up sharp and take my breath away.

We have one child who has a serious aversion to movement, just cannot take the swinging motion of being thrown up by her daddy. You can forget any bikes, swings, or roller coasters. She will completely panic if she feels movement-wise out of control, and you cannot convince her that you have her and will hold her safe. She’s in full out panic mode protecting herself in that moment, wildly flailing about, screaming, crying. Inconsolable if she feels as if someone bigger just took advantage of her and threw her around.

And this is me so often with God. In the last 3-4 years of life, we have had alot of crazy – illnesses, deaths, changes, births, new cities, new schools, injuries. And I feel like I have somehow gotten on a roller coaster that I never wanted to ride, and I can’t get off. I may swing high and enjoy a moment of exhilaration but the plummeting back down can fill me with such panic or fear, wondering if I will crash.

We see it in the story of the disciples out on the lake with Jesus. The storm comes that pounds and rocks the boat with such ferocity that the disciples panic. Several of these men are well seasoned fishermen who have seen storms like this before, yet they see the waters flowing into the boat, recognize the power of the storm, and are scared. The Bible recounts this story in 3 different places (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25) and in each recounting Jesus is asleep. The disciples begin to realize the boat could sink or capsize, and they wake him frantically asking him to save them. In Mark 4:38, they say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” and in the other two passages they cry out that they are perishing and ask for salvation. They are panicking!

Yet they have just spent days with Jesus watching him heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. They have listened to his teaching and marveled at the truths he taught. They have seen evidence of his power, authority, and might. But in the storm that night, I think these men absolutely thought they were going to die and then looked over and saw the peace Jesus had in his sleep and it may have just bugged them completely. They desperately wanted safety and knew the power they had seen displayed earlier was their only hope. Often when I am in full freak out mode, not trusting or believing, I want everyone else with me to feel my panic and join me in despair. But the wisdom my child offered parallels what Jesus asked his disciples. “Where is your faith?” Now my daughter can’t change anything but what she is able to do is speak words of life, reminders to redirect thought patterns to the One who is able to handle all storms, obstacles, and catastrophes. I love that Jesus in His great mercy and grace calms the storm with a word. Then He challenges the disciples’ degree of faith.

Trust – to be confident, sure or bold; refuge. Psalm 9:9-10 declares, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” and Psalm 13:5, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” David wasn’t confused – his heart in Ps 13 was aching, throbbing with the longing of being somewhere other than where he was. He wanted the sorrow and pain to end and joyful communion with God to be his daily walk. But then he actually stops and sees God.

I think that is the key posture I forget. In the midst of my freakout, can I calm enough to consider the One who can calm this storm, stop the madness, or do I just keep spinning? Inherent to any mother is the understanding that when your child is completely unglued, if you can just get them to look at you and listen to your quiet, calm voice, they can focus, stabilize. What do we often say to a child in tremendous angst? Sshh, listen to me, quiet, calm down, focus.  Isn’t that what our Father in heaven says to us over and over? “Abide in me,” “Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gently and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” “Set your minds on things above and not on earthly things” Scripture tells us over and over that our God cares for us like a bird cares for her young, compassionately loves us, remembers our frailties, delights in our seeking Him. And even in the boat, Jesus doesn’t give a lecture to the disciples first while they are so frightened. He calms the storm first.

The truth for David and for me is that His steadfast love offers salvation, intimacy and relationship, and hope for eternity. He has declared Himself Lord over every circumstance of my life. The question becomes do I allow Him the rightful place as Lord? Or do I seek to self-protect, denying His perfect protection? Am I like my flailing, panicked child, so fearful of the movements and changes that life brings that I lose sight of the Great Almighty, the One in whose shelter I am invited to abide? Or do I swing, trusting that He is able to control the movement? Do I remember that He has dealt bountifully with me?