the back porch intro

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. ~2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Where do I think God wants me more? in the busy, frenetic, getting things done mode of motherhood and life or sitting quietly before Him, face upturned, listening raptly to His truth? The true answer is obviously the second, but the answer of my life indicates I believe the first may be more important. So I came to this season knowing He wanted more quiet, restful time with Him than He wanted achievements. I have been blessed in this season of life with a back porch that allows the sounds of life to quiet as the sounds of a waterfall swell. There is something very restful to me in the sounds of water trickling, cresting, or splashing that give space for my mind to rest and stop running through to do lists. And in the quiet to begin to dwell again on the basic truths of the Gospel and who I am as I walk with Him.

So in the quiet God pressed me to consolidate some truths and invite other women to walk with me in exploring and learning His basic truths that are critical in walking victoriously with Jesus. We are called to mentor or teach younger women (in the faith) the truths of God’s word, and I strongly believe it is of the most importance. I also think many women feel inadequate to walk with another woman in this way unless they are the learner and not the teacher.

But there is a shortage of older women. Not because of inadequacy but because of the bondage of the lie that I am not smart enough, wise enough, Godly enough – the lie is full of not enoughs.

Can I just plead with you? You need to learn to walk with Him in this walk of discipleship. In the relationships in your home, discipleship is key. In relationships with other women, discipleship is key. If we are to be a triumphal procession for Jesus spreading His aroma everywhere, we must understand that we are with sincerity commissioned by God to speak in Christ (verse 17). If you have a good idea of the basic concepts, then with boldness speak the truth of Gospel to your friends, your husbands, your family and your children. But if you aren’t sure how to go about this or you worry because you’re not sure you’ve ever been discipled, then maybe this is for you. It’s certainly not the completely comprehensive textbook on all things theological, but instead this will be a good beginning, a framework of scripture in which to place life. But you can do this! You can walk these truths out with the Holy Spirit who resides in your life as a saved child of the King, and you can and must speak these truths to others.

So if you want to join me on my back porch for awhile, we can walk together through some of the basics of walking with Jesus so that His eyes become your lens, His Word becomes your filter and your sword, and your aroma is decidedly Jesus. I believe there will be 8 entries with the title “back porch,” and I plan to link them all weekly.  These concepts do go in an order, not so much of importance, but more like building on a foundation. We want to lay a foundation that will never tilt, crack, or cause buckling as we hang windows, doors, etc. But our foundation is the Gospel. We need to know it first.

So I’m inviting you to come, lay down the sin that so easily entangles, and rest as you begin (maybe again) to learn the basic truths of the Gospel and our faith. May He lead you in triumphal procession!

 

vines part 2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~Hebrews 12:1-2

Why a part 2? truthfully because the Lord won’t let me leave this truth. I am in a season of great threshing or pruning, whichever picture you would like to use. The process is similar – there is a discerning hand at work moving over me, working in me, pulling out of me the things that are not like Him. Discouragement and weariness beckon me, bite at my heels, and whisper to me to just crawl off the floor. Just walk away for awhile, take a break. I wish for a breather, just some moments to catch my breath. My heart aches, my soul trembles a little.

I used to run long mile runs (back before all my kids – now I just run after them and hope it counts as exercise!) and loved the feeling at the beginning of each run, knowing this was my time to think and pray, just looking around in the neighborhoods I loved to run in. Until. Always there was a mile or so in my 6 mile run that was brutal. It wasn’t necessarily the steep run mile or the end of my run, but often the brutal portion was about a mile into my run. My arms would ache, my muscles would feel crampy, my breathing would not be rhythmic, and I would have to work to put one foot in front of another. Now I’m not a “good” or knowledgeable runner – I never read any books or articles about it – I really have no idea why this was my pattern, but it was consistent. And every time I would battle in my mind whether this time I should just slow to a walk, or just turn around and make it a short run. But I learned that if I persisted, if I endured, I would pass through this horrible phase into a gentler rhythm of running, in which I could breathe with ease, enjoy the scenery, and just run. But every time it was a choice to endure. Every time I wondered if I would make it out to the pleasurable place.

The race is set before me. God has ordained a lane in which to run, purposed for His glory and His kingdom work. All of my race is His – the big, the little, special, or mundane – all purposed to change me and grow me in Jesus. In Hebrews 12, the word race in Greek means a contest, a struggle in the soul, a grueling conflict struggle or battle. I’m not running around a track or even cross country – NO! This is an epic battle fought as I press forward.  Maclaren wrote, “By faith we enter the race; through faith we receive His power to run and not be weary but we need to run to advance.” I need to run. Am I in continual movement in this race? Am I walking more deeply with Jesus today than last year, 5 years ago? Growth should be seen, muscles grown – landscapes changing as new obstacles come, new experiences occur to grow deeper in dependency and in faith.

Yet Jesus is the center. He is the faith giver, strength fortifier, lifter of my head. He is the race maker and the race winner. And he promises to lead me out to broad places, to be my refuge in my pantings, to steady my steps, make my bones strong, and make me like a watered garden with abundant springs. So while I am running a mile that feels like torture, He is always with me. He is not only refining me on this threshing floor, He is comforting me and holding me tightly. I choose to praise your name, Jesus.

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead and guide me. 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 31:3,7-8

 

 

the vines

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ~Hebrews 12:1-4

There are vines in my flowerbeds, vines that threaten to choke out the new growth, the established plants, and eliminate the blossoms and fruit that should grow. Interestingly, when I am weeding, I can actively see the vines that entangle the hydrangeas, hostas, and azaleas in my yard. They are obvious and an affront to me. How dare they take over my plants? However when I am just out by the pool, playing with my children, or walking through the yard quickly, my eyes can flick across the green landscape and the vines blend in. They are hard to distinguish sometimes because their tendrils wrap along the stems of the plant, allowing their leaves to lay alongside of the plant’s true leaves. The plant looks thicker, lusher even, at quick glance. As I gaze with intensity at the plants though, I can see the difference in leaves and slowly focus on the vines that wrap around.

Vines will also hurdle over the plant’s true stems, skipping right to the top of the plant, in order to gain the position closest to the sun. Their ultimate goal is not to dwell alongside the plant but to usurp the plant.  Left to their own growth, they will push the original plant down, limiting its new growth and weakening its stems. Whenever I strip the vines off of a plant, I am amazed at how the vines stunt the growth of the true plant causing fewer leaves and little to no fruit or flowers. Finally free of the crippling vine, the plant will begin to thicken and grow again filling in the gaps.

There are sins that entangle my heart, they wrap around my thoughts, crowd my affections and limit my growth. Weights of this world – responsibility, work, care taking – push down on my shoulders, and when coupled with sin, make me weakened, nonproductive, depleted, and bound. So whenever my desire to lead my children well becomes enmeshed with my pride rather than submitted to the Holy Spirit’s work in both of us, I have allowed the vines to grow. Whenever provision becomes about independence rather than dependence on Him, I have begun again to allow vines to shoot up and overtake. And whenever the unknown in the future seems to demand knowledge I don’t possess and I become fear driven and reactionary, the choking vines can block His light, His truth, and His lead.

Hebrews pushes me to remember Jesus. Remember His death on the cross that paid the atonement for me. Remember His position now as victorious King who conquered sin and death, setting me free from the fears, self love, and pride that seek to encircle my heart and drag me down. The struggle against sin is real. It is fierce. It is ongoing this side of heaven. But victory comes from Him!

Sin sometimes is hard to see, it becomes a part of my life and my eyes skim over the lies I have believed. But the Spirit is faithful to convict and teach. He will reveal and refine me as I submit myself to Him. Misplaced weight allows sin to grow. God promises to bear every burden we have (1 Peter 5:7), to provide every need we have (Matt. 7:32-34), to walk before us into every future event (Is. 52:12), and give us the wisdom we need every step of the way (James 1:5).

So let me run with endurance. Steady my feet on Your ground. Strengthen my hands for the weeding with your wisdom and discernment. Enable me to throw off the weights and untangle the sin. Grow in me your fruit. Let my garden display Your glory for Your renown today. You are worthy of all praise!

Do all things

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. ~Philippians 2:14-16

I quote this a lot in parenting, but as I have been studying through Philippians these past few weeks, I am convicted that I may not be leading my kids accurately in the truth of this passage. It’s a convenient quote to get my kids to obey but it’s sadly out of context when I use it as a hammer to stop fussing.

Grumbling – a murmuring; a secret displeasure, not openly avowed. Grumbling is often secretive because we know we shouldn’t voice our displeasure towards the one asking something of us.

Questioning – a reasoning or calculation that is self-based with the fixed mindset that one is right; a hesitation about what is true and disputing from that position. Questioning comes from a place of pride or superiority. 

Holding fast to the word – to hold toward, forth or to present as a light to illuminate; to mark, pay attention to, note or heed.

This verse is an exhortation that follows Paul’s call to be like Christ in humility/position with others. He instructs us to work out our faith because God is doing the work in us – stay committed to Him, submitted to Him. And then the attitude of the heart flows outward as fruit. When we walk with an attitude of superiority or pride, we grumble or question. We wonder what it is we are doing. We yearn for something else, something easier or more palatable. When we walk in humility, we serve and look like Jesus. I cannot simply decide to be humble. I cannot summon up a likeness to Jesus Christ in my flesh. I need to understand His humility.

The call to humility flows through the tunnel of sacrifice. Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore as I am washed in the humility of Christ, as His saving death floods my heart of stone, I too must walk in humility. Andrew Murray in his book, Humility, writes, “If humility is the first, the all inclusive grace of the life of Jesus – if humility is the secret of His atonement – then the health and strength of our spiritual life will depend entirely upon our putting this grace first and making humility the chief quality we admire in Him, the chief attribute we ask of Him, the one thing for which we sacrifice all else.” My pride, my love of self, my sense of self entitlement, must die. And that is very hard. Oh it is easy to say, I am quick to nod my head, yet I embrace myself at every turn.

Grumbling and questioning are merely symptoms of a heart tied more closely with self than with Christ. So what is my hope? How do I loosen the grasp of flesh? Hold fast to the Word of life. Cling to Him and His truth. Let Him illuminate every corner of my heart, root out each pride holdout, and work in me to replace my self love with His love. The more I allow Him to blaze forth out of me, responding with His humility to those around me, the more the world will see Him and not me.

We shine as lights; we look flawless in a world full of flaws. In a world of darkness, we are beacons of light. And the lost will be drawn to His light. The hurting will gravitate.  This is our response to God and the leading of the Spirit. So I also need to be very careful how I wield this verse with my children. The Gospel is central and paramount for a life that does not grumble or complain. How am I communicating Christ to my child? Because what I do not want to do is somehow communicate that grumbling and complaining can be turned off like a spigot. No, they are the very essence of my prideful flesh, and the only power over them is Jesus Christ.

So what is the state of the light that shines within me? Do I complain about where He says go and what He says do? Do I doubt what He says? This is my testimony for this world, either way. So is it “Did God really say?” or is it “Where you go, I will go.”

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.

 

 

 

target run

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

My almost 2 year old has a fascination with all things Superman and Batman. He loves to talk about his muscles and wear his pjs with either one emblazoned on them. And I absolutely delight in his cheerful talk about them whenever he spots something else that shows them. This week we were running errands, and I had planned to buy him his own superhero action figure so that he would stop taking his older brothers’. But after the second stop, he rejected the idea of climbing back into his carseat to go any further. So to distract him, I began to tell him my plan to get a Superman or Batman at the next store. Probably not good parenting, I own it. My husband calls me the master of distraction as a parenting tool. But it worked, the bucking and arching stopped, he was clicked in, and we were off. The conversation in the car went something like this, “I would love to get you something special, but you’ll have to wait until the next store.”

“Wait, mommy wait.”

“Yes, we have to wait.”

The entire way into the store the conversation vacillated between “Supman, Batman, wait, Batman,” eagerly insisting I agree with his mantra, scanning the store’s entrance ready for his blessing. Now I know where the superheroes are in this store, I wasn’t worried that they wouldn’t be there, and I was eager to give this precious boy a special gift. But I had other things to gather as well, so I knew the greater plan, the larger goal.

All through the walk to the toy section, all he could think of was “Supman” and all I could change his callings to was “wait, soon.” He would parrot back “Wait,” but almost immediately return to “Supman? Batman?” followed by my reassurances that we were heading there. His eyes remain glued on me, conversing eagerly in his little boy way.

But the moment we rolled out of clothes and into toys, his focus shifted. The intense gaze and concentration that once had been on my face willing to wait was now eyes darting, left to right, a growing desire for everything, anything! He just wanted to hold something! Our precious conversation was replaced with lunging, reaching, pointing and grunting as he saw me roll him right past so many wonderful things. We walked around an end-cap, and he spotted something he could NOT roll past – a large, rubber chicken with eyes that bug out of its head when the belly is squeezed. He grabbed it, and not only did it look ridiculous, but this “amazing” toy made a horrible, croaking, dying frog type noise, so endearing as I could just imagine having to hear that all day long! Yet at that moment longing/desire had surged in and overwhelmed his little heart and mind – this was what he wanted and wouldn’t let go of!

He was willing to forgo the promised for the immediate – how often do I do that?

How many times, Lord, is this me? Walking with You, eyes on You, walking in blessing/relationship, and then a desire springs up. The want completely shifts my focus from the riches of intimate relationship with You into a scrambling to gain the awful chicken of the moment – the easily broken, cheap, desired thing that has become what I long for, what I seek.

Nothing else costs as much as my Savior’s death for me; nothing else will remain for all eternity. Yet often I confess, abiding with Jesus, walking with Him, eyes fixed on Him is hard for me. My eyes slide to the shiny, new, exciting, popular, and then desire washes over me. There are times when I can stand beneath that wave, still rooted but now soaking, and regain my gaze on the only One who satisfies. But often that wave washes me into a current of longing that can carry me along.

God’s heart is for our very best, but sometimes His best requires my waiting. And just like Abraham I feel the need to “help” God orchestrate poorly what He can simply create with excellence. My son quickly put down the hideous chicken when presented with the action figure, for it paled in comparison even to him at his age. Often for me, my chicken takes the form of worry, doubt, or fear about the lives of one of my children – it may look shiny to the world even – a good concern over curriculum choices, goals, and outcome measures to ensure a child receives a good education for instance. But when my eyes set here and my trust is placed in these things, I have grabbed hold of a cheap unfulfilling substitute for His intention, His love and His plan for me in relation to my child.

The wave of mothering well, especially a far away college student, has swept me into a current of fear and worry. I have lost sight of my loving Father and His plan for my child’s life, that He really is the absolute best at drawing men unto Himself and deepening their walk with Him. And instead I pet the chicken of my ability to orchestrate conversations or activities to push my child to my objectives for his life. But the absolute foundational truth is God has plans for my child to grow him or her in faith and maturity, He is more committed and more in love with my child than I am, and He can be trusted to accomplish His will.

Sometimes the desire for comfort becomes the shiny toy I pursue, soaked from the desire to be unconcerned about money or finances. So I would sit in that shopping cart with my rubber chicken of ease and comfort here and miss the superman gift of knowing His faithfulness and supply, the deepening of the faith walk that brings glory to Him for eternity.

Setting my mind on His ways – Psalms 26:3 states, “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.”  I want this to be the testimony of my life.

Amen

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” ~2 Corinthians 1:20-22

Yesterday was hard. There is no way around that fact – it was a grind. I found myself battling the desire inside me to retreat, withdraw, decide I didn’t care about some issue/fight/attitude simply because I was weary of all the conversations with all the people. I found my patience decreasing as I moved from interaction to interaction, as I carried just a little of my emotion from one child’s discipline into the next. So every little sin I have been called to face becomes a place where I too must battle the flesh that rises up within me.

Do you ever consider what you are doing? I mean the experience of looking in on yourself and wonder, “how in the world did I get here?” What road did I mistakenly get off on that has placed me here in the midst of all this junk, with me being the chief proponent of the junk? Have you ever just been so tired of slogging through tantrums, rivalry, disobedience, lying, selfishness and begin to wonder whether this is worth anything? does it really make a difference? Does the distant heart of a pre-teenager or the rebellious teen make you feel discouraged like it does me at times? Does anyone else hide in their closet and pretend like they cannot hear their name being called? no? just me?

I confess I do.

Many of my friends look in on me and admire or praise me. They can’t imagine parenting so many, so they assume this fantasy that I have it all wrapped up. I don’t.

But I know the One who does. And I have to keep coming back to that fact. Sometimes multiple times in the same hour, I have to preach the Gospel to myself, reminding myself that He has completed all I need. He is sovereign over all I experience. He is engaged with every interaction. It is vital that I apply the Gospel to the working out of my faith in my interactions with my kids. Because that is what mothering is – it is the working out of my faith today.

So I need to remember my position first. God has established me in Christ, anointed me and put his seal upon me and given me His Spirit as a guarantee. My establishment is apart from my actions, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

So as a mom I am established, rooted and firmly adhered to the love of Jesus Christ. This steadfast love that He has offered me compels me in the interactions with my children, both to love them that way and to instruct them in how to love with His unending love. And I have been given His Spirit as a guarantee. A down payment of all the power, wisdom, counsel, and relationship fully offered and alive in me. He is my guarantee that all the promises of God are true. 1 Peter 1:3-4 declares that His power has given me all I need for life and godliness, and He has given me his precious and great promises so that through all his promises I am a partaker in the divine nature. I am invited and welcomed to participate in His way of parenting my children, having been given all I need to be a godly parent through His Spirit within me.

So I stand (in the closet) and take a moment to speak the Truth to myself. The God of this universe deeply loves me and my child. He is far more invested in my child than I can ever claim to be, and in this moment He wants to display His great promises of steadfast love, mercy, forgiveness, presence, guidance, protection through me. I have been anointed by God to be the conduit in this moment, to display Him. Sometimes that looks like firm truth with discipline, sometimes that looks like redirection to the Word, sometimes it’s a quiet hug and tender kiss. Our children need a constant reminder of who they are and Who they need.

My response to my children in these moments is really a response to Him. You see my Amen response comes from a place of faith, certain of all Christ has done in me and will do through me because He has established me. And my response is for His glory.