strength & joy

And so from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. ~Colossians 1:9-12

I walk on a more unique path than some – my feet are in every area of mothering except fully adult children. I have infants, preschoolers, elementary and middle schoolers, teenagers and college kids. I joke that the babies get me up super early and my night owl teenagers want to talk only after 11:30 at night. But it really is true!

I long for the insight for the moments with each child, to be filled with His wisdom, His truth to flow from my lips to a child’s heart. To show them the faithfulness of Christ who always has a listening ear and steadfast love. But many times I fail or compromise. I justify my hard, selfish heart because I’m tired, or bad day, etc. I rationalize that I’ll do better tomorrow or grab them later today to address that heart issue they have. Sometimes I just want an escape.

But Paul prays for the church and for me in Colossians 1 that we would be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The result will be a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, bearing fruit and increasing in the knowledge of God. Doesn’t that fill your heart with longing? I just want this more and more, and I pray this so much over my children. And then verse 11: May you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. That is SO hard in motherhood!

Let’s be real – I might be strong, on a good day until lunch, but the wheels are going to come off the wagon because someone is picking on someone else, or someone is demanding or whining a lot today, or someone is just obstinate. But I assure you, the wheels will come off this wagon – I will lose it! It may be a “slow leak” day where I can keep most of it turned way down, or it may be a short fuse kind of day which is always a little scary for the little people! But apart from Christ, and seeking the strength of His power and his might, I will not be able to walk worthy of Him with my kids or in my marriage. I may be able to fool you out in public, but I will never fool my kids or my husband.

But Paul says that the strength comes from God’s glorious might – I don’t have to be strong, I have to be submitted. The verb be strengthened is a present participle verb implying an ongoing action. My strengthening is not one and done. He strengthens me moment by moment, day by day. His infusing of power flows from His might full of His glory. My choice is simply will I rely on Him? Will I turn to the fount of living water which flows and floods, or will I seek my own broken cistern as a source of power today?

And in the moments full of grief, pain, confusion, wonder, and uncertainty in parenting, will I seek Him? I love a quote from Maclaren, “Our sorrows make rents through which His strength flows.” Many moments in parenting are painful and uncertain, whether because a child suffers from an illness, makes decisions I know are unwise, or has circumstances that hurt their heart. My heart at times has wanted to rip apart in fear and grief, and in my flesh waves of confusion and discouragement flood my mind. But when I lift my eyes to the One who is my help, who loves my child more than I ever will, He provides the deepest source of strength and the calmest life-giving water to restore and fill me. His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and He commits fully to me.

Then His endurance for the long toddler/teenager day can go the distance. His patience comes flowing out of me in seasons of chaos and confusion. I rest with Him, in Him, on Him.

And His joy floods my soul.

Joy (xara, chara in the Greek) means grace recognized. Joy is not euphoria, bliss, or ecstasy the way our current culture uses the term. His joy in me centers on what He has done for me, rescuing me from the bondage of sin and death, walking me through each day in sanctifying commitment to me, and leading me ultimately to the great inheritance of life eternal with Him.  Recognizing grace, seeing His love, His work, and His plan despite my circumstances, settles my soul despite the hard, painful, demanding moments. Joy based in His Gospel becomes my bedrock.

So today, may we be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

 

 

the blue line

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

God unpacked more of this truth to my heart the other day in an incident that happened with our sixteen year old.  She was driving across town to a physical therapy appointment, and unsure of the directions, she quickly set her GPS to take her to the office. Since I was meeting her there, I checked her location to see how close she was. I watched in astonishment as her little dot continued to move on a highway in the opposite direction of where she should go, heading downtown when she should be 20 minutes away in the suburbs. Quickly I called her in the car and with great aggravation asked where she was headed. In her defensive answer, God caught my attention. “I’m going exactly where I should! I’m following the blue line, Mom.”

Thoroughly convinced of her path, she had never considered her end goal. She trusted so completely the programming that she never thought to doublecheck that she was headed to the correct location for this office. I confess I did not handle this well in the moments of correction – I was so annoyed and worried about missing the appointment that I absolutely injured her heart and broke relationship as I lectured her on using GPS, maturity in driving a vehicle, etc. (Parenting win) All I could focus on was the thought, “Who does this? Who doesn’t check the end point to ensure that their directions are taking them to the right place? How can you just follow a blue line, content that it must be right?” As I waited for her to drive back the opposite direction to meet me, God kept whispering and nudging me to look inward, to use this physical picture to see with spiritual eyes.

I think that I do this.

So often I look only at the next step in front of me, never considering the end point or the goal. Content in my blue line, in what I can see, never considering whether I have set my course to the right goal, I blithely move through my days. I can race right by the signs that declare my loss of direction. So focused on maintaining my position, I don’t doubt my own programming. The truth is my heart will deceive me more than send me in the right direction. My natural sense of direction is warped, broken, and off course. I will lead myself according to the whims of the world to popular destinations that ultimately will not be for my good.

But God knows my end goal. He is the sovereign navigator.

He knows my path, all of it, the bends and turns, the mountains and the valleys, the vistas and the deserts, and He desires to lead me. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a seal for our salvation to walk with us here and to be our Helper. Jesus emphasized the great gift of the Holy Spirit over and over in John 14-16. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you (Jn 16:7). But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (Jn 14:26). And He says walk with Him. Keep looking to Him, and don’t measure your trip the way the world does. His end goal is that I will look more like Jesus, not that I will arrive at success, happiness, popularity, or fortune. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own… But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12-14) My chief end is to know Him, to enjoy Him, and to glorify Him forever. When I am caught in the swirl of busyness, tasks, worry, or fear, my natural navigation will drive me away from His path.

God wants this focus to be the purpose behind my parenting as well. One of my roles in parenting my teens/young adults is to point to the longterm goal ~ loving Jesus and following Him. Our culture points to self fulfillment in every message but being good, happy, or popular is not the goal. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8). Often children get stuck, nose down, following the blue line of grades, friends, sports, etc, never readjusting, never looking to make sure they are heading towards the correct goal. They just want to be driving where all their friends are. Sometimes they are so stuck in traffic that they cannot see any way to get out or change course. They may be too afraid to move, to push the gas pedal at all for fear they will be out of control.   This blue line of the world leads to certain confusion, lostness, misdirection. So conversations must be filled with open questions pushing my young adult to shift their eyes from temporal next steps to seek instead the glory and the direction of God. What does wisdom look like on this road? Where do you see God moving? What do you think His purpose might be for this speed bump you keep hitting? Why do you think you are going through the valley? What do you see of His love and care right here on this mountain? The lens of Jesus Christ at work in our lives needs to be the filter, the “blue light glasses” of our lives.

Paul consistently models discipleship in his letters. Repeatedly he exhorts and encourages, pointing to the future when Christ returns seeking to reset their natural tendency to look at the world through “right now glasses.” Our living is not for the moment, we are in the mere beginnings of our eternity.  With gentleness and humility we can correct our children, but I think one of the most powerful messages is affirming the Spirit’s work in their lives as we see them make choices to live for Him. Paul continually reiterates the great joy he has seeing believers walk in faith. He identifies the growth and fruit evident in their lives and intercedes for them in prayer to continue to grow.

If I don’t understand that my chief aim in life is to love God and glorify Him forever, I can never instill this into my children. Living with my eyes fixed on Jesus means I am not focused on the road I travel today. When I live with my eyes on the blue line, I constantly fear coming off, making a wrong turn, somehow misdirecting myself. When my eyes are on Him, I find peace and rest. I can look around, see who is passing by, invest in conversation, and take great joy in the journey because I am not worrying about the navigating.

 

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.

Sovereignty in the Storm

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” ~Mark 4:35, 37-40

Sometimes I walk away from God’s sovereignty as an anchor truth because I am so overwhelmed by the waves hitting my boat. Instead I begin a panicked paddling and bailing not unlike the disciples in the boat with Jesus. I confess, I am not in a boat sailing the way I desire right now. The waves and the wind are tossing me in ways that feel incredibly savage and scary. I have been crying out for deliverance, calm, and rest for a long time, and there are days it seems like Jesus sleeps.  And I scoop, and I bail, and I slide all around my boat feeling half drowned.

While crossing the Sea of Galilee after a time of teaching and healing, the disciples and Jesus experienced a fierce storm.  On the Sea of Galilee, storms can occur suddenly as winds race in over the surrounding mountains and cold air mixes with the warmer air over the water. Jesus had almost immediately chosen to sleep in the stern of the boat as they started to sail. As the storm heightened, the disciples worked feverishly to stay afloat. Finally they sought His help. He was not panicked or worried, yet they were about to lose their minds with fear. The difference was He knew the anchor wasn’t missing, God wasn’t off duty, and there was nothing to fear. They believed they were without an anchor, without the ability to stay upright, and without hope because of the circumstances that surrounded them. Some were experienced sailors and fishermen, yet even they understood that this storm was beyond their control and beyond their skills to escape.  Did the disciples know Jesus could do something to help, or did they simply want him to join them in the panicked reacting?  Did they look over at Jesus peacefully sleeping and become enraged at his peace in the midst of chaos? They were working so hard, trying to remain afloat and alive. Did they desire that He join them in the work of survival or did they actually think He would triumph with just a word?

 The disciples had walked with Jesus a short while. They had seen miracles of healing and resurrection, they had seen His power over demons, and they had listened to truths that took all they knew in the scriptures and expanded/deepened them. They called him Master, Teacher, and Lord in the moment of need, depending on the Gospel account you read. Clearly they recognized he had some connection to God that attracted them to Him.

But they had no clue who He truly was, that He is the creator of all things, that all things hold together in Him, and that He upholds the universe by the word of his power. Everything is through Him, and it is through Him that we exist. You can see by their reactions after the wind and wave completely stopped at His command. Their fear level actually increased as they wondered who He really was, but Jesus was deepening their understanding of Himself by His display of power and glory and preparing them for their faith walk. He was more than a prophet, healer, or teacher; He was the Son of God, their Messiah and their King.

I often forget who sits with me in my boat. Often my reaction looks like the disciples, “Aren’t you going to get involved here? Aren’t you going to step in and do something about this sinking ship?!”

Jesus Christ solidly anchors my boat. He is the author and perfecter of my faith. He has called me to Himself, offering redemption and the forgiveness of all my sin through His sacrifice on the cross. My sin debt for all time is paid by Jesus alone, my future is assured with Him, and my present is governed by Him. He is before all things. All things are under his feet, and all authority has been given to Him.

So when the winds that whip in from the mountains that surround catch me off guard and the waves begin to grow as tall as buildings and crash with such fierceness across the bow of my life, He is sovereign. Only He can steady my footing in the tossing and pitching, and He will calm the storm.

I also recognize the crossing and the storm are all part of His plan for me. While it’s heartbreaking and frightening, these days are designed to deepen my faith walk and declare His power and His love. He has the complete power to settle everything with one word and allow peaceful sailing for the rest of the journey, but He may choose to allow the storm to worsen. Yet He anchors my soul. He sails with me. And He will bring me safely to the other side, to His desired haven.

He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. ~Psalm 107: 29-32

 

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.

12 Bright Morning Star

I Jesus have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. ~Revelation 22:18

There is a “star” that precedes the sun in rising in the morning sky. The planet Venus has long been called morning star because it can be seen brightly shining in the sky hours before the sunrise. Fifteen times brighter than the brightest star Sirius, Venus can even cast shadows.  I love to wake before sunrise to have some quiet time, and my chair faces the window with eastern exposure. I love watching how one tiny spot of light begins to break over the horizon. Suddenly the sky is no longer black as night but instead a glimmer of light gives way to beautiful sunrise.

We have the Bright Morning Star who lights up our darkness, our night. He rises higher than any other light and earlier than all other lights.

He comes earlier than the dawn, hope rising in the night, bursting forth light. His light qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints. We have been walking in darkness without Christ, a world filled with hopelessness and doubt. He rescues us from darkness and brings us into His kingdom with redemption and forgiveness of sin (Colossians 1:12-14).  For in the abject darkness of sin and death, in the hopelessness of a world lost and dying, He is the first spark of light. He catches the eye starving for light, restlessly seeking across the horizon for a glimmer of hope. We have hope for salvation and joy in our days because despite the darkness that surrounds, Jesus shines brightly. He becomes our focal point because His glory, the sun of righteousness, pushes back the hopelessness and confusion of the dark.

Triumphantly He returns for His bride. He will burst forth with a shout and a trumpet blast, and He will be the only light needed in the new Jerusalem. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:3). 

Back Porch – the Law & salvation

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:19-20

My husband uses a fantastic word picture to teach others including our children about the differences between the law, salvation, and sanctification. As we study the Gospel, we have talked about the importance of laying a strong foundation upon which all other parts of walking with Jesus depend.  Being on a gospel hunt begins to show us that the heartbeat of God is to pursue sinful man and redeem him unto Himself. For many friends I have discipled as well as myself, the “what comes after” becomes a hard place to walk. Inherent in us is a desire to be part of the solution, to contribute to the change, to be good perhaps. But God does the work in salvation as we talked about last time. Before we go any further, I want to firm up the truth that only the Holy Spirit changes you and me as we walk with Him. The closer I walk with Jesus, the more of my flesh or my sin I see. My foundation buckles when any of my footers sits in the belief that I must clean my own sin, get myself turned around or fix my flesh tendencies before I can come before God.

 If we were sitting together talking about being made in His image, I would begin with this pictorial foundation. Imagine you walk into a bathroom and you see a mirror hanging above a sink with a light illuminating the room. As you walk up to the mirror, the light enables you to see your reflection in the mirror. With the light off, clearly the room is dark and you cannot see anything, but with the light comes sight. As you look into the mirror, you can see all the filthy spots of dirt speckling your skin, covering up huge areas or small. You naturally rub at some, hoping to rid yourself of the dirt, scraping at some spots and brushing at others. Nothing will work. The dirt may flake top layers off, but it still remains. And it is everywhere. It seems the harder you try to rub it off, the more imbedded it becomes. You swivel and turn; it’s everywhere on you, from the tip of your head to the soles of your feet. The mirror keeps showing more places of dirt. You need the sink. You quickly turn on the water and begin to wash away the dirt that covers your face, your neck, your arms, etc. Glancing continuously into the mirror, you are able to see more areas that need cleaning. But the water does the cleaning.

The light in the bathroom is Jesus Christ. Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) and I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46) As we step into relationship with Jesus, we step out of darkness and into light.

The mirror is the reflection of God’s demand for holiness – the law. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20) The law serves to show us all the ways we can never walk righteously on our own. Romans 7:7 says “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” But the mirror never makes us clean. And this is the important truth for walking with Jesus. Just like the Galatians, sometimes we can believe the mirror makes us clean. If I can just stay clean today, then it will be a good day. The truth is we cannot and will not. In fact the law will stir sin up within us as Romans 7:7-10 explains. But without Christ as our Savior, a darkened bathroom offers little. The mirror requires the light to reflect just like the law requires Jesus Christ.

But the water is what cleanses. And the water is the blood of Jesus Christ that renews us daily through the Holy Spirit. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) and he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6). The cleansing power comes because Jesus Christ died for your sin and mine on the cross many years ago. His payment paid for all the sin debt that mars our hearts and redeemed us from the curse of sin. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The daily walk with the Holy Spirit in humility will change or sanctify me and make me more like Jesus and less like my own flesh.

I like to use this word picture even with my very little ones. As we wash our hands or look at dirty faces in the mirror after playtime, I will ask how can we see all the dirt in the mirror. First they will point out we need to turn the light on. And then when I begin to point out in the mirror all the little spots of dirt under fingernails or around mouths, I love to wonder with my little ones how on earth can we get clean? Even at 2 & 3 they can point to the sink as their hope for getting the dirt off of hands and faces. And as we wash hands, we talk about how only Jesus can wash away the sin from our hearts just like only water can wash away the grime on our hands.

As our children have aged, this analogy only becomes more important. There is an onslaught by the enemy on our children to perseverate on the reflection in the mirror and to feel hopeless in the grime of sin they see. They retreat into the darkness, fearing the mirror.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ. He reveals, and He cleanses. Jesus Christ is our fountain of life who never runs dry.