The other side of the masterpiece

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 Corinthians 3:18

In my limited perspective, I will fix my gaze on my loved one, wondering why the great Potter isn’t “really working” on my child. I see the need for eyes to be carved in order for my child to see Him, ears to be fashioned for hearing His truth, I long to see a mind aligned with the Gospel and a mouth He can use. And I chafe because all I see are bare imprints or slight markings indicating where these features need to be. I worry about my role in creating this new clay – am I saying the right things, parenting in ways that encourage a relationship with Him?

And then in His great patience and steadfast love, both for me and my child, everything turns.

And the masterpiece He has been hard at work on is displayed.

And I realize I have been looking at the base while the great Artist has been at work on the heart and soul of my child.

My perspective is so off, and I have believed the lie that no one can love my child more than me. When in truth, the comparison of love shows that my love may be as great as a tea cup compared to the vast ocean of love He has for His child. He is trustworthy with our children and He is at work where the work needs to be done. You see, I would have carved a face into the base or on some place completely wrong for that child. I would have demanded features where nothing is needed. But He knows exactly how and where to work in the heart of each one of us in order to create His workmanship, fashioning and carving, working the clay to bring out life.

We talk all the time about how to parent, how to lead, how to help our children navigate this life. Sadly we have become hyper focused on producing a product in 18 years rather than investing in an individual designed by God. When I spend time with my child in pursuit of the Gospel, loving them according to how He has created them, trusting Him for the fashioning of this soul, God reveals the ways the Gospel impacts their lives right where they are.When we talk about poor behavior, the conversation is purposed to dive into the heart to the underlying belief/lie that has led them astray from the truth. Then the truth in God’s Word can slice through the lie, tending the hurt with tender care, replacing bondage with freedom.

So when I am loving on a resistant two year old, the Gospel speaks to his need for Jesus to help him choose to obey and be kind. Jesus is his helper, his friend, and the One who loves him most. When my preteen wrestles with friends and value, the gospel declares how full of value she really is. Success and failure are not defining measurements; rather who she is in Jesus becomes the litmus test. Practicing patience and self control at any age is pointless unless it is layered with the truth that only the Spirit within you can develop these fruits. But the fullness of the Spirit has been given to the one who is saved, child or adult. He is the Transformer.

God is committed for the duration. He is at work on a glorious image bearer for His glory and His namesake. And He works in His timing, moving each of us from one degree to another, patiently and steadfastly engaged and never discouraged. When I keep my eyes focused on the Carver and not the carving, trusting His hands at work rather than my fumbling, I am invited into the great reveal. The other side, the work unseen by me but His focus, is glorious.

The Bends in the Road

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.  ~Ephesians 4:12

just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. ~Ephesians 1:7-8

As parents we get to watch God in action. I mean really watch Him molding and scraping and crafting one of his people. In the middle it often seems as if He’s not really making any changes; and if that person happens to be one of my older children, I can get a little nervous! I begin to orchestrate, implicate and manipulate in order to assure a result, to see the finished product I desperately long for. I have been guilty many times of comparing my children to those around me or to the false picture of what I believe they should look like.

 What God is teaching me is that my responsibility as a mother is to be more like Epaphras, who was characterized by his faithfulness to the Gospel and intense prayer. In Colossians 1, Paul recounts his hearing about the Colossians’ faith and love because of their understanding of the grace of God that they learned from Epaphras.  Epaphrus was a faithful teacher of the gospel who sought to establish new believers and mature them in their faith. Centering my own parenting on the gospel alone means drawing everything back to 4 major pieces: who is God in this, who are we, who is Jesus and what did He do for us, and finally what does that mean for you and me? Faithfulness to the Word involves not compromising on the truth for the sake of relationship ease but with humility sharing how the Gospel intersects this moment with my child.

My prayers for my child are vital. Often I lessen their power and heighten my own power of persuasion. Engaging in prayer for my child is not and cannot be an afterthought or a quick plea on the way out the door. Epaphrus struggled on behalf of the Colossians in his prayers. His prayers contended or struggled as in an intense athletic contest or warfare; as with an adversary. Do I have this same concept of prayer? When I plead before the throne for my child rather than lecture my child on a certain subject, consistently and faithfully God has done mighty works of faith and belief in my children’s lives. Most importantly, their heart changes are just that — their own in their budding walk with God, and not a response to a parent that often can be fleeting.

He is at work. And that is a mighty statement.

He is committed to these precious gifts far and away more than I am, and He can see around the bends. He knows the truths now that need to be shaped into my child’s character in order for him or her to walk out the moments around the bend. I am limited in my perspective and desperately want to protect my child from pain, hardship, or struggle.

But this way of walking with the Father demands I trust Him with my children. It means taking my manipulations out of the equation and granting Him the time needed to do His mighty work. It means laying aside my time schedule, my pride to have raised “good” or “godly” kids, and my understanding and instead bow my head to the One whose ways and thoughts are not my own.

But what I can also confirm is that suddenly the Mighty Potter allows his creation to turn! And then His forming masterpiece is seen! The works sown in daily life will bear a harvest mighty for His kingdom and for His glory. He is trustworthy and faithful.

Wineskin in the smoke

My soul longs for your salvation, I hope in your Word. My eyes long for your promise; I ask “when will you comfort me?” For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. ~Psalm 119:81-84, 87-88

This is me lately, testimony of where I have been stuck or frozen. Somewhere between absolutely longing for and leaning heavily on God’s faithfulness, His Word, and His love and being in a furnace of heat, wondering if I will survive or shrivel up as ash. I was reading through Psalm 119 because I needed to cling to His Word, to love the truths alive in God’s promises, and to rely on the stability of His precepts when it seemed as if every piece of my world was spinning and unclear.

The heart cry of verse 81 resonates with me. My heart must settle on the assurance of His Word ever true. My anchor must be in the truths of Scripture. Security is sourced in understanding the truth of Jesus’ life and death – what that means for me both for now and for eternity. In the depths of me and every aching heart is the longing for salvation. My eyes scan the horizon to see God at work, looking for his hand to move or change my circumstances, but sometimes He is after changing me instead.

Like a wineskin in the smoke, I feel stretched tight, brittle, aching, shriveling into dusty parts, withered more than vibrant.  I want to be out of the smoke, out of the heat, and away from the fire. I wonder. I doubt. I cry out. And His Word becomes my lifeline. It has to.

Jesus in John 17:17 prays for us that God would “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Sanctification, the process of being made more like Christ, can only be done by Him and will be based in the truth of Scripture alone. Forsaking sinful patterns and setting us apart in holiness is the transformative work of the Holy Spirit because of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t come from feel good mantras or easy quips, it often doesn’t present itself like the easiest path, and it certainly stretches and carves on us to rid us of our flesh. Ephesians 5:25-27 details the truth of how Christ loves us and gave himself for us that “he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” And so I run to His Word; his name becomes my strong tower.

The wringing of my hands becomes hands uplifted in worship. The slumping of my shoulders becomes the bowing of my head before Almighty God. The crying eyes of grief become the eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith. The stretching of my soul becomes the growth of new trust and faith. The fire may not be quenched. The heat may not diminish.

But His Word stands. And His truth will become my testimony.

 

obedience learned

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek  ~Hebrews 5:8-10

We talk a lot of teaching our children to obey, seeking to instill obedience through methods that people swear will create wonderful children. Obedience is very important in scripture. We see it as one of the foundational commands of the Old Testament; it reverberates throughout scripture, pointing towards blessings and indicative of respect and honor. Warnings in Romans 1 include disobedience as part of the rejection of God. It is an important concept to instill for obedience bends the heart in submission to wisdom despite desire. The obedience of a two year old will one day be the obedience of a young man or woman to Holy God as a calling comes that may not be easy or desirable. Will they bend their heart to the One who calls for His kingdom? Will they pursue the lost, the hurt or the lonely when it is far easier to seek self instead?

We have a saying in our household that obedience is not seen in the easy. An obedient heart displays itself when the task required is hard, inconvenient, or disliked. When I must do something that interrupts my pursuits, my comfort, or my desires, what is my response? Often I confess I too, like my children, squirm, ignore the call, continue to finish what I’m already doing, justify, or argue.

But Christ learned obedience through his suffering.

His obedient heart was never impacted by rebellion like ours- never did sin reign there. He walked out obedience all His life and ultimately He knew that obedience would be found on the path of suffering. He experienced the tearing away from the presence of God on the cross so that I would never know that pain. And in His obedience, He became the Great High Priest that can understand and identify with my wandering heart. He has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

He obediently walked to Calvary for you and me. He absorbed the blows of hatred, betrayal, and malice. He bore the crown of contempt. He silently stood as my sacrifice and yours. The King of Kings with all power in His voice stood silent before His accusers, obedient to death. He hung in my place, suffered my separation from the Father, defeated the sin and love of self that entangle my heart, and rose victorious! Jesus declared, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18) He obediently laid down his life that we may live.

Obedience for myself or my children is shown in the hard places. The active choosing whom I will serve in a moment either displays obedience or disobedience. The same holds true for my children. I must confess, I have a hard time making life “hard” or uncomfortable for my children. My flesh seeks their approval and uses their happiness as a gauge to indicate my performance as a mother. Not pretty, but there it is. So God has had to teach me over the years the importance of parenting from His perspective and not my own. Mine is faulty and limited. His way as displayed by Christ is often through moments of suffering or discomfort. I have not had a single toddler who enjoyed being limited to bedtime rather than playing! I have walked with several tearful teenagers as they’ve chosen hard things, feeling left out or alone, in order to choose His way. I have had to enforce obedience despite feeling weary or repetitive.

But one thing God has taught me clearly is this: Obedience for myself or my children will come with a struggle, not merely through words or exhortations.  But obedience will also become testimony. As I learn to value obedience, the blessings God promises to me will glorify Him now and for eternity. Lives speak about Him when they are submitted to Him.

 

 

 

Known

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles or the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? ~Galatians 4:9

The battle is whether I believe I live in a place of only the Gospel or do I live in a land of the Gospel and my contributions. As soon as I believe I must bring something into this or that I need to contribute, I have left the Gospel and walked back into the Law. It is bondage and a great deceit. Just like the foolish Galatians, I should wonder who has bewitched me.

The gospel is basic but profound. I need it to course through my life, flowing into every crevice and crack. I need the truth of what Jesus Christ exchanged on my behalf to be the foundation of every other interaction I ever have. He needs to color and influence every move. And yet honestly, I walk many days, many moments in my own strength of piety and goodness with ulterior motives or an agenda at play behind the charade.

Oh the wretchedness of the truth! Who saves from this? Is there really any hope? Because as I grow in sanctification, I only see more of me that needs Jesus. I only see more of my struggling, more of my deep-seated flesh that enslaves me. I am squeezed by the viselike trappings of self sufficiency and self adulation, and I desperately want freedom.

But the freedom has come! He knows me!

Paul clarifies for the Galatians in this passage who truly is responsible for the relationship – God knows us fully. In I Corinthians 8:3 we see that if anyone loves God, he is known by God and in I Corinthians 13:12 I shall know fully (speaking of when Christ returns) even as I have been fully known (already). The implication of intimacy and love is present with the verb known. There has never been a day with Jesus when He did not fully know my flesh, what trips me up, what tangles my heart and still love me! He extends his forgiveness over all my sin. The truth basic to the Gospel is that He pursued this wretched sinner, knowing fully all that will be me and loves me deeply right in the midst of it all.

And the freedom that comes with living in Christ Jesus means that the voices of condemnation and shame can be silenced. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free  in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Paul in Galatians is exhorting a group of believers who are on the brink of believing Jesus isn’t enough, that they are part of the equation, and that what they do will affect their salvation. From the beginning of Galatians, he calls this a distortion and a bewitching. Make no mistake, I can still fall into this trap, and I think many others can too. I run to my contribution, I whisper to myself, “I’m not doing too badly today,” I measure my actions against others, but I am demoralized because the surety of my failure looms. I have believed the lie that I can be perfected in flesh.

Jesus sets me free, His Spirit dwells in me to lead and guide. My response is one of submission to the Holy Spirit, walking with Him. So I return to the truth of the Gospel and worship Him. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1

 

 

Sighting the shore

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

I was talking with one of my children about the discouragement that comes from finding oneself not keeping in step with the Spirit. For the child who loves Jesus and knows Him as his or her Savior, the realization that an area of life is off base or not lining up with the truth of God’s Word can be discouraging and defeating. These moments are prime times for the enemy to speak words of condemnation to young hearts that bind their lives to performance and not to grace.

A word picture that we talk about in terms of keeping in step with the Spirit is playing in the ocean. Whenever we go to the ocean with our bunch of kids, one of the instructions given to the older ones is continue to spot the towels. Everyone knows that there is a current in the ocean that pulls down shore. Sometimes this current is quite strong. Most of the time we are unaware of the current’s pull as we play in the waves. The pull is gentle, insidious. Many times I have enjoyed the ocean only to come out on shore, expecting to see my towels, and instead be startled because I cannot locate them anywhere as I scan the beach. Then the walk back begins.

In the same way the culture around us and our flesh can pull us off the mark of God’s grace and our walk with Him in righteousness and obedience. The pull is often insidious. The enemy is exceptional at presenting a lie just a degree or two off truth. We slowly divert away from His truth and look up to find ourselves way down the beach with the Gospel nowhere in sight. We are easily discouraged as we look at the walk back. Sometimes we want to stay and play right where we have drifted, for in the moment that seems easiest.

But we must return. And as parents, we have the privilege of standing at the beach chairs of Truth, calling out to our children. We may have to walk down the beach to find them. But in the walking back, the conversation of grace and the investment of instruction can help them see how they forgot to make the adjustments in the moments.

And one thing most refreshing is the testimony of another sinner saved by His grace speaking the truth of returning to Him. When we share our own areas where we have to be careful to line our lives up with the truth of God’s word and walk in obedience, when we are humble to share the hard, long walks back we have had to make in different times in our own lives, that honesty illuminates the character of God and points to His faithfulness and grace. Paul continues in Galatians to say, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in an spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We as parents have the primary opportunity to walk back down the beach with our children, restoring them gently as they return to Him.

Without the small adjustments made daily, the drift can easily occur.  Scripture makes clear that with God’s gift of salvation we are given the Holy Spirit. His role is as counselor, teacher, intercessor. He indwells us. We live by Him. On my own I will never realize my drift, never feel the current, never desire to look up to shore. But the Holy Spirit convicts. Keeping in step with Him requires attention. It requires watching His feet and mimicking His pattern. So when we get out of sync with Him, we must return to the truths of the Gospel. Repentance involves confession and turning away from what captured our attention and  hijacked our course. God is faithful to forgive us!

 

Come & be Satisfied

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? ~ Isaiah 55:1-2a

God has placed me in this passage of Isaiah for several months now, where everything else I study seems to point back to verses in this chapter. He keeps getting my attention over the word Satisfy. The question is, “Am I satisfied?” It’s a loaded question because it covers every facet of my life and I could argue that it isn’t necessary to be satisfied in all parts. I wonder if some would argue that a Christian may not be satisfied because this isn’t our home; we must wait for eternity to experience satisfaction. Culture tells us satisfaction should be our pursuit yet that we can’t get any no matter how hard we try.

When am I satisfied? What brings me rest and quiet? This question keeps rolling around in my mind as we finish the year and move into a new one. The right answer is I am satisfied in the Lord and what He has done for me. But what is the real answer? That is what I keep dwelling on. If you could peel back layers of self protective, good looking right answers, what really lies beneath?

As I look inward, I have to see the many areas where there is no satisfaction, where there is no rest, no stop in the quest for achievement. My flesh capitalizes on the current woman culture that declares that our value, intelligence, skills, etc should be on display. So I toil. I push for perfection. I seek achievement. This push may not be so that anyone else would see the accomplishments, but the invisible, unsaid idea that I must do ___________________ in order to have satisfaction leads me to work for a list that never ends. Ecclesiastes 6:7 predicts the truth, “all the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.” The bar constantly raises or changes so that there is always more to do/take care of/teach/contribute/avoid, etc.

He calls! He is calling you and me! He beckons, “Come! I know you have nothing to bring to the exchange. I know you are completely broken and everything you think you have to offer is valueless. Come!” He wants us to come in our poor, broken, unworthy, dirty state, hungry and thirsty. He offers satisfaction beyond compare – food and drink that is rich and good. The exchange must be there – the verb in the sentence is buy. The cost is greater than anything I can afford, yet free for all who come.

The world says satisfaction comes through doing.The domain is inconsequential – the same push for performance occurs in work and at home, in appearance and health, in the church and school. A lot of us may seek it in multiple arenas, yet so many women are weary, discouraged, questioning, and retreating.

There is no peace in this chase.

But God declares, “For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish” in Jeremiah 31:25 and “For he satisfies the longing soul and the hungry soul he fills with good things” in Psalm 107:9. Satisfaction is defined as not desiring more because you have all you need and implies being at rest/peace. In John 15, Jesus teaches me to abide in Him. In John 7 he speaks of the work of the Spirit in us that flows through and within us as living water. In the Old Testament multiple times God paints a picture of water that revives the dry, the poor, the weary and the thirsty.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry lands springs of water. ~Isaiah 41: 17-18

And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desires in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. ~Isaiah 58:11 

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.  ~John 4:14

Satisfaction comes from maintaining eternal perspective and remembering Who is in control. If I hope only in the now, I really am hopeless. Yet so often I look for satisfaction here, in the things of today. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Paul Tripp says we live as “eternity amnesiacs”- so focused on opportunities, needs, wants, and problems of now that we lose sight of eternity. But we have been given the great treasure of Jesus Christ who paid the ultimate price of death for my sin and yours. His death and resurrection give me the open door for a relationship and all the blessings of relationship with God.

I simply have this treasure in this jar of clay as Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians 4. The light of the gospel of Jesus Christ  shines inside this jar of clay which is easily chipped, cracked, weak, and thin. But the glory goes to Him, not me. Satisfaction comes in knowing and worshipping Him, not striving to be worshiped or praised myself. When Jesus is manifest in me, His ministry renews my heart. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

God delights in answering restless hearts with His peace. Run wholeheartedly to His table. Sit in his seat of grace and rest. Stop trying to pay. Stop trying to dish up your own fulfilling meals and instead dine with the King. He will satisfy all of me and fill me to the uttermost.

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.  ~Isaiah 55:2b-3