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.

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.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

you, surrendered

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~Matthew 11:28-29

You are exactly who God chose to parent the children you have been given.

The enemy wrecks us with this lie – that you aren’t the best parent, your kids would be better off with someone else, that woman is a better mother, that dad is a more diligent father than you. Maybe it’s the belief that you don’t understand your child, your personalities or temperaments clash so it will always be this tough. Maybe you’re weary of it all and just want to retreat from the rejection, the anger, the constant need for discipline without much apparent progress. Maybe you’re in a place where if someone could see the dark parts of your heart, they would see you just don’t like your child right now. You know you shouldn’t feel this way, yet you do if you’re honest. Your child is hard, battling, disobedient, rejecting, and just bone wearying. Maybe you lie in bed at night and swing between crying out for help and crying out for rest. Do you wonder if you’re just messing your child up or do you think it’s simply hopeless?

The enemy’s staccato drumbeats of retreat, fatigue, and doubt are loud in our ears sometimes. They seem to beat credibly that someone else would be better or that this is just too much. The banging that no progress is being made chants, “Why keep going?”

If there is one truth that we need to understand, it is this: We cannot parent perfectly. But we can parent surrendered to the One who does parent perfectly, and we will become His tool to work and display unconditional love, affection, and discipline.

And He chose you for them.

He chose you for each child He has given you.

He knew their needs and knew you were the best. Not because you bring anything to this parenting thing. He knew that you, surrendered to Him, would be a formidable, powerful force displaying love to lost unsaved children, leading them to Jesus, showing them their need for a Savior, that they too can walk rightly with God in peace and rest in a world fraught with fear and frenzy.

We must reject the cultural mandate that says we have to have all the right answers. No, we have to go to the Teacher. He knows our children intimately. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit searches hearts, understands the motivations that lie within, and knows exactly what to pray. John 15:7 reminds us that as we abide in Him, as we rest in His truth, we are free to ask anything and it will be done. God invites us to call unto Him and He will show us insights we do not know which include the mysteries of our children.

We have to stop believing that parenting is a sprint. Deuteronomy 6 & 11 paint the intimate way parents are to walk with their children, instilling in them the constancy and pervasiveness of relationship with God. The conversation of who God is, what Christ has done, and our response to Him should be hallmarks of our walk with our children. These truths color every facet of life. Discipling our children in the gospel is a race we will run until we die. It may change courses, the scenery may change, but the race ends when we stand breathlessly in front of Jesus Christ.

But until we become a people who abide with Jesus, who rest on Him alone, who bring all things before His throne, present all requests to Him and seek Him first, we will flounder. And we will be easy picking for the enemy who delights in discouragement and defeat.

So on the days of deep discouragement and doubt, when condemnation yells about my failures that day in parenting, I need to run to Jesus Christ. I need to stand before Him in light of the the truth of the gospel. He died for all my sin, including my rudeness, selfishness, impatience, anger or whatever has erupted from me that day against one of His children. And He is working in me to change me, granting me forgiveness with repentance. When I recognize my own desperate need for redemption and grace, my eyes can see the desperation within my child as well and the boundless love of the Father for that little one right there in the midst of their sin.

I must stand before Him, seeking first His way and not my own. I need to measure my words and my actions against His wisdom. My agenda for the day may need to die in order to make space and time to share the gospel with one of my children. My order of operations may have to be mixed up in order to hear the heart of a child being fooled by the lies of his or her flesh or the world. But no agenda, no career, no chore compares to the charge of sharing Christ with our children. When I understand what I have been given, I am far more able to embrace the charge of discipleship and lovingly lead my child to the Lifegiver every chance I can.

True Hope

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~Romans 8:24-25

Who hopes for what he sees? Me. What I mean is that I can hope for a little while for that which I don’t see, but when my timing doesn’t seem to be working out well and I’m not seeing results, my hope dims. It may even cease, or I can become cynical. But really I am fooling myself – hope that is seen is not hope. I really have the wrong definition of hope. Hope today implies a measure of uncertainty or concern around whether the longed for thing or event will actually occur. It lies close to worry and dreaming in implication. Hope in the Greek in the Bible is the expectation of what is sure or certain. True hope is characterized by confidence and trust.

Paul contextually is speaking about all of creation groaning and longing with us for Jesus to return. I am waiting and hoping for Christ to return, for him to complete his work of salvation. I look forward to the day when all the stuff of today melts away at his presence, when fear, pain and death are no more, when the ultimate purpose for my life is revealed. The truth is often I lose sight of that hope and look for things to hope in that are present – things I can control. Hope that is seen is not hope. My hope cannot be wrapped up in any of my own packaging.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Faith allows hope to grow. Hope is the joyful expectation of salvation, the confidence to rest, to trust. Faith is the proclamation of who God is in the face of impossible things. And Scripture is clear that God is the source of faith. Ephesians 2:8 and 2 Thessalonians 1:11 both point to His working of faith in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 include faith as one of the fruits grown by the Holy Spirit as we put to death our passions and desires and walk with Him. I cannot grow faith, but I can surrender to the One who does, knowing He is faithful to do this growth.

God is faithful and true. He is faithful to the work of salvation and sanctification in my life. At the cross, Christ died that I may be set free from all sin, including the sins of doubt and fear that paralyze and blind me. He is faithful to the daily work of changing me and making me more like Him; that is His sanctification. The ways life seems hard, fear inducing, lonely, not worth it — those are often the places God is at work growing my faith, assuring my hope. He is at work. I can name these areas of stretching, yet I resent these very spots.

Proclaiming who God is and what Christ has done in the face of impossible things places my hope on the correct One and anchors my soul. My shield of faith protects me from every arrow, every lie, every fear the enemy and this world want to throw my way. So what do I need to proclaim? What truths do I need to realign my hope with?

He is Savior and Redeemer despite my sin and for my sin.

He is Counselor and Teacher who leads me to His perspective and readies my heart for His ways.

He is sovereign in the face of feeling as if life is out of control.

He is true peace in the midst of the storms of finances or jobs.

He is truth when I am surrounded by the lies of compromise or confusion.

He is the Way giver when it seems like all ways are wrong or blocked.

He is Hope when everything seems hopeless.

He is unchanging Love in the face of a demand for performance.

He is completely engaged in a world where attention is fleeting.

He is trustworthy and takes care of my people better than I ever could.

He is full of grace and mercy, meeting me on my prodigal road with arms wide open.

He has successfully dealt with my past, steadily walks with me in my present, and firmly holds my future assured.

Help me, Lord, to hope in all that You are.

Grace abounds

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~Romans 5:20-21

Grace abounds all the more! Where my sin increases, grace abounds all the more. I am a mess as a mother. I am impatient, selfish, judgmental, prideful, demanding my way, quick to get angry, and so much more. The more time I spend mothering with Jesus, the more I see how much He needs to change in me. Often I want to point to the places I’m doing ok or even managing well at the moment as testimony to how I am as a mother, but the truth is He is changing me day by day.

Through Jesus Christ, I have been rescued from the Law, carried out of a burning building where I was doomed to fail and ushered and welcomed into a new home. Clothed anew, fed and given drink, cleaned, given a place, given a purpose. But these gifts are inside the house of grace and gospel of Jesus Christ. Part of growing in faith is understanding the room, the castle, and the kingdom in which I now live. I need to explore and understand all the ways salvation changes me, what is offered, how Christ interacts with me, and what it means to walk with His Spirit.

Often we make the gospel a door we walk through back into the old life just with a tag change on our clothes. We’ve been saved, but we think we need to navigate the old burning house of law and works. We measure our righteousness by our works, check off lists of attributes we think we need to develop, and wonder why we experience a silence that feels deafening in our walk with God. We have a religion and not a walk of grace.

And I know my heart, I know my sin that resides and can reign. Sin isn’t just the glaring committed acts of wickedness easily labeled by others, but it is all encompassed by the independence of me apart from God for whatever reason. Sin denies God his glory and makes me independent of Him. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “You shall love the LORD you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

So how do I stand in a room of gospel and grace when I am desperately wicked in my allegiance to myself? My heart always pushes for self; the war, the battle is great as to who will reign. Shouldn’t I be kicked out, removed, or at least pushed to the edge? But God who is rich in mercy, whose grace abounds, who pursues us with a never ending love, He will not allow it! His kingdom isn’t sourced, powered, maintained, or dependent on me. Jesus Christ defeated all that I wrestle with at the cross. His grace sets me free! I have died to sin, united with Him in his death, and am now alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” His work in me slays the sin and self reliance and makes me a little more like Him every day. That is the work of sanctification.

Grace abounds – we now live in His kingdom of grace when we are saved. Salvation comes when we recognize our sin and turn to him as the only One who can free us from the bondage of death sin has inflicted on us. His death pays our sin debt. His resurrection assures us life eternal. His life in us is our new identity, and grace is our new home. There is no getting out of it, falling from it, walking away from it. You, Lord, do not flinch with the reality of my need for your grace. You readily supply more than enough. Your grace abounds!