the back porch – the Gospel Hunt

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~2 Corinthians 5:21

If you missed the introduction to the back porch and want to read that, you can find it here at the back porch.

What does the Gospel mean? How do you define it? Is there a good working definition or does it feel just a little undefined? I have spoken with many women over the years who stumble on this idea. They know that they know what the Gospel is, yet when asked to define it, they pause and struggle to wrap words around the essence of the term that feels vast. One of my goals for sitting on the back porch with you is to lay out the basic tenets of faith so that you can teach them confidently to your children or friends, not from a theological position of intellect but from a confident position of faith. So this may be an easy one for you. But what is the Gospel? The way I learned to define and so I teach it to my children is with 4 parts:

Who God is

Who we are on our own

Who Jesus is and what He has done

How am I changed because of Jesus

All of Scripture is within one or more of these parts. So as we begin to study the Word or lead our children in studying the Word, we can ask ourselves, “Which portion of the Gospel does this passage of scripture address?” Does this tell me more about who God is, His attributes, His character, and expand my picture of Him? Does this relate to who we are apart from Jesus, does it point out the consistent pull of sin and flesh and the hopelessness of depravity? Do these verses teach us about Jesus Christ, his life, His death, His walk with the Father, or His teachings? Do these scriptures talk about my identity and life with Jesus, the change that comes, the calling for the redeemed?

Why is it so important to be on a Gospel hunt? Because all of the Word of God points to the good news of salvation and redemption. God lays out moment after moment in the Old Testament pointing to the coming Savior and illuminates His redemption in the New Testament. In the Old Testament He introduces us to Himself – His holiness, righteousness, steadfast love, and faithfulness to name a few. He gives us pictures of the “great rescue” that will come because of man’s sinfulness. In the New Testament redemption comes, Christ atones for our sin. We can be changed with His help alone. The truth of the gospel radically changes our understanding of our identity. God has issued an invitation to be His child, a new creation in Christ.

When I walk with my children, this becomes the pivot piece of conversation. Everything hangs on the gospel. So how we perceive and engage in life has everything to do with how we understand God, our sin, Jesus Christ, and walking with Him. Their need for Jesus as Savior can be seen in any passage. Morning times in the Word are discussions about which parts of the gospel does this verse or passage speak to. Noah’s ark comes alive when we realize the depth of the Gospel on display. David and Goliath is more than just a story because the character of God is seen and explored. Paul’s writings are rich with what Jesus through the Holy Spirit is doing in you and me as we walk with Him rather than a demanding laundry list of how a person should behave. The gospel is central to discipline, not my opinions or personal desire for good behavior.

The only hope I have is Jesus. The only hope my child has is Jesus. He or she will never be able to move away from the depravity of sin without Jesus Christ, so discipline becomes an opportunity to display his need for Christ and then the necessity to submit to the Spirit’s work in his life as he begins a walk of faith.

So I encourage you this week to sit down with just your Bible and a journal. Put a heading on the top of each page titling one part of the Gospel on each. And begin to read your Word, asking the Great Counselor to show you His Gospel in all parts. Some great books to begin this with include Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians or 1 Peter. The reason these books are on my recommended list is simply I think if you are new to studying the Word without a help book, a short book allows success. You can certainly tackle any other book God leads you to in this manner. But just begin to dwell with Him in His Word, looking for how His gospel is displayed. Ask Him to increase your hunger for His Word and for time with Him. And let me know what you begin to find either by leaving a comment below or through my email!

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. ~Psalm 119:130 

Reveal and Refine

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7

God reveals, and then He refines. Increasingly God keeps reminding me that He calls me to submission in areas He reveals that He might work to refine and change me. The submission is hard for me. There is a desire in me to protect, deny or reject the revelation thus blunting His refining.  Only when I welcome the reveal in light of the Gospel will my heart be ready for refining.

In the end of 2 Corinthians 3 moving into chapter 4, Paul discusses the change in someone’s life when he turns to the Lord. Without Jesus, Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4) The light of the gospel is Jesus Christ who came as a man to display God to a world full of sinners and to redeem us through his death on a cross and resurrection. Only through Christ is it (veil) taken away. 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 Cor. 3:16, 18) Salvation occurs followed by a lifetime of transformation. The fullness of faith was given with salvation but a deepening awareness occurs in my faith walk as I experience again and again the love of a Father who sent His Son to pay for every bit of sin that occupies my heart. And while I want to bend my head to the transformation, often I forget the truths of the Gospel. God loved me as fiercely and fully at the moment of my salvation as He does now four decades later. There is no gradient of love from Him based on my actions. He is committed to me, calling me to imitate Him and to walk in love as Christ loved us. He is faithful to finish the work He has begun in me.

So in my current season God has been revealing layers of doubt that coat places in my heart I thought were laden with faith. It has been painful and at times discouraging to realize. But He has whispered over and over to me to choose. In the revealing of my doubt, do I stay there, filled with doubt and say if God does something different, then I will believe? or, do I choose to believe and allow Him to refine my faith? and how does that really play out? Easy to say but harder to walk out. So I need to look at the heart of God and place trust and hope in the truth of WHO He is, His grace, His goal to bring glory to Himself and walk with Him there, trusting the result no matter how long it may take.

I am in this process of change – reveal and refine – and often I want to fix things myself. I’m embarrassed or ashamed to see areas in need, so I scramble to change myself. Like Eustace in CS Lewis’ book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I seek to pull off my own dragon skin. But the call of the Gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit, declares that the change is the work of the Spirit.

His timing, His way, my submission, my jar of clay.

Although I want to make this about me, whether in resisting or in self fixing, this is about Him ~ His love for me that will not desert me. He is faithful TO me, to reveal my heart and refine it, and then His commitment displays His great love and affection and glorifies Himself. And this jar of clay bursts forth with the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. All Glory to God Alone.

what’s my name again

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. ~Revelation 2:17

We invent superheroes in our family. It’s part of our family culture I guess. My boys have a vault of at least a hundred superheroes unique to their imagination with skills and powers. They have been drawn and immortalized with colored pencils and markers, featured in battles that rage around the house, and placed within plot lines in which they interact and care for one another. Our littlest one is entranced with these warriors and villains that his older brothers have invented. And often he desires to be one of them. The problem is their names are difficult to remember. Just this morning he was bounding around the house as one of these carefully crafted heroes, yet he kept returning to me, asking me to repeat his name. The attributes that flow from his name had to then be discussed anew.

Often we forget our new identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. While I was a sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8). He redeemed me from the curse of the law so that I might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14). I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). And since I am in Christ, I am a new creation. The old person condemned under the law is gone, and instead I am His righteous ambassador to this world, being changed and made more like Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). I can lose sight of all the promises and blessings that are mine as a result of who I am.

But sitting this morning with my little man reminds me once again, He delights in reminding me of my new name. I didn’t mind being asked over and over for his “superhero” name. I was happy to discuss what it meant to be Lightening Storm with powers that shoot lightening out when he runs, help him fly through the air, and jump huge jumps. Just like in the imaginative world for my three year old, being reminded of my identity in Jesus Christ is vitally important in my walk with Him. 1 Peter 2:9-10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” The life I live here I live by faith in Jesus Christ because He loves me and gave His life for me (Galatians 2:20). My son didn’t hesitate about asking repeatedly for his name and powers. He never once apologized for forgetting or seemed reticent to ask yet again. He boldly approached me with eagerness to hear once again. How much more will our Father in heaven graciously teach us about walking with Him?! His Word speaks abundantly about our position as His child. His Spirit lives within each believer to teach and guide. He welcomes us into His throne room.

Christ will return for you and me. And on that day a stone will be given to each of us with our true name inscribed on it that is unique to you and me, chosen by Him. The wonder of the thought swells my heart in worship. He knows us each intimately, personally and has given us new identity in Him.

confidence

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.  ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5

The Lord is faithful. He is faithful in the darkness of life, in the hurt and the questions, He is loyal to you, steadfast in His presence and His work in your life. Oh! My heart rejoices to know He is committed to me. In the spaces I feel alone, misunderstood, or rejected, truly He is engaged.

He will establish and guard you against the evil one. The verb establish indicates to fix firmly, strengthen, buttress, prop or support. His support fixes us, plants us down and gives support to secure us. His goal in establishing us is to plant us solidly to eliminate vacillation. The enemy wants to promote confusion or indecisiveness and make us feel as if we are on unsteady ground.

But He is faithful to establish you.

The verb guard gives the picture of a military guard. Paul paints the picture of the unbroken vigilance of a military guard that preserves and protects. It is a preserving watchfulness or acuity like the uninterrupted vigilance shepherds show for their sheep. So the big picture about this one sentence is that He will plant you solidly and supportively in His truth and watch over you with a vigilance that protects. He will do it. We need to encourage one another with this truth in the walking out of our faith. Encourage your growing children that He is at work establishing them in their faith and guarding them. Speak into your hurting or confused friend – He is faithful. You can trust Him.

Paul then encourages the Thessalonians with a blessing: And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. His confidence does not center on my actions but on the Lord who will work in me leading me to walk obediently. Why? How does Paul know this with confidence? Everything in me doubts this truth. I shift in my thoughts to outcome ~ what I can prove I do or have done, my resume of obedience, and I know that it comes up short.

But that is not what Paul is saying here. He is not looking at achievements. He is not measuring at all. God is faithful. He will work in our lives, moving us into obedience.

May the Lord direct your hearts – The verb direct in this passage means to go straight down by the most direct, efficient route; avoiding all unnecessary delays, without any undue loss of time or achievement. Pause for a moment and take in that verb. What a prayer for Paul to pray – that by the most efficient route possible without delays or loss of time, God will move our hearts. My confidence in my own walk with Jesus or my children’s journeys must solely be in what God will do and is doing to lead and guide. So where does He direct our hearts? Where does He remove all hindrances in order for us to come?

to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. When I began studying this passage, this seemed obvious – of course He wants me to see how much God loves me, how faithful Christ is to me as I walk with Him. But that’s not what these phrases mean. God will move my heart to love Him more. It’s not His love for me, it’s my love for Him. And again, He will move my heart to be steadfast like Christ – to be patient in enduring and in walking out my days here in the pattern Christ showed.

Once again He is the source.

Once again it’s not my performance, not my summoning up of whatever love I can display or long-suffering I can muster. My confidence comes from Him. The love I have for Him (grown by Him) becomes the filter for my life.

This posture is powerful and freeing. The Gospel begins and ends with what God has done – He set us free from sin and death through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, He calls us out of our bondage and into new life with Him, and He is at work every day making us more and more like Jesus. We need only to believe, and even in that He grows our faith. With an enemy prowling around seeking to destroy, discourage, or demoralize, these are powerful truths to stand before His throne and pray for myself, family, and loved ones. Our hope is in Him. And He is faithful.

 

Don’t leave me

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. ~Psalm 23:1-2

Our just turned 3 year old son is learning how to “stay dry” all night, so most mornings around 4:30 or 5 he will wake up needing a potty run. Normally this is a sleepy occurrence that I orchestrate as smoothly as possible and tuck him back into bed without much conversation or lights. One morning however was different. He awoke anxious and fretful, and as I quickly helped him get to the bathroom, he kept asking me where I was.

“But I can’t see you!” was his repeating refrain to which I kept replying, “I’m right here with you, buddy.”

“Don’t leave me!”

“I promise I’m not. I am right here with you in the dark. You are fine. I love you.”

I tucked him back into bed, sang him a few songs, and whispered, “I love you so much.” A sleepy “I love you too Mom.” came back as he drifted back to sleep.

And just like that, the Holy Spirit slammed into my soul with the truth that oftentimes this is me. And His heartbeat is far more trustworthy and true. His presence much more powerful and safe. His love more steadfast and his kindness far deeper than mine.

There are dark seasons and I sit, feeling exposed and vulnerable. I may be tired and perhaps confused, yet He stands right there with me.  I worry about what I can and cannot see that will be on this path. He guides, protects, holds me tight, and carries me out. I panic, fearing the worst and work myself into a state of exhaustion. He makes me lie down and rest my weary self. Thoughts that this time I am alone are confronted by the truth that He comforts and He never leaves.

Psalm 23 echoed in my mind early that morning in the bathroom and as I tucked him back into bed for a few more hours of sleep. You are with me. The Great Shepherd tends his sheep with diligence and strength. I shall not want. He brings true rest and restoration to the anxiety-riddled, weary souls. He leads me beside waters of rest. He restores my soul. He doesn’t allow us to wander aimless and insecure, alone in the darkness of the next step. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. And in those seasons that feel as if the darkness is a blanket, suffocating and terrifying, in the shadowy places where hopeless thoughts assail, lies abound, and paralysis creeps in, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. His guidance and His protection will lead back to rest and comfort. He is at work even in times where it seems that all hope is lost. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. A walk with Him is filled with great spiritual bounty as He deepens my trust in Him.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

parenting with perspective

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. ~Romans 7:4-6

Parenting is less about success or failure and more about perspective. Someone asked me the other day what we do to maintain good relationships with our children as they grow and walk. And first of all there have been many and probably will be more seasons when relationships feel strained and tight rather than easy and relaxing. But remembering the Gospel in light of walking with our kids is critical as Troy and I navigate our uncharted waters.

One Gospel truth that I can twist as I parent is the role of the law. The Word declares that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16) and  for since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near (Hebrews 10:1). But I often want to make the law (my rules) paramount and adherence to them indicative of a “goodhearted” child. The truth is this: the law in Scripture and now the law in my home has a 2 fold purpose, and neither purpose is for creating a good person. First the law keeps us safe. It promotes good relationships and safe living.

More importantly the law points to our inability to keep it. Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. (Romans 7:7b) It is an unattainable standard apart from perfection. So when my parenting believes that the law should be perfectly obeyed, I am not speaking Gospel to my child. I am speaking works. But when I recognize the purpose of the law is to illuminate the need for a Savior, I can begin a conversation with the wayward child that includes discipline but points to Jesus. My feelings or reactions about the situation can be neutralized by the truth that sin is against Holy God, not me, and He sent Jesus to redeem this child and turn his heart back. And when God is in the work, hearts turn back to Him and back to parents.

Their actions, reactions, manipulations, or rejections do not need to be personally felt by me. That’s my choice. My insecurities will want to declare my importance in their life. My pride will well up and puff out my chest with offense. My impatience will demand response. My flesh wants in on the action.

I need the Gospel.

I need Jesus. I need to listen to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and respond to Him before I respond to my child. In our flesh we all act contrary to the Spirit. I just rationalize my own sin because I find my child’s sin bothersome or offensive. “It’s ok” to be impatient because they aren’t quick to obey. “It’s okay” to be short tempered because they are rude or dishonoring first. “It’s ok” to be offended because what they say is hurtful.

My role with my child is to mimic the Heavenly Father’s role with them, to be the first picture of what His love, grace, and discipline look like. So before I make a move into counseling or disciplining a child, I need to remember truth, and I need to seek the Spirit’s counsel for my own heart. I need to remember Romans 7 & 8. Take a few moments and reread it. I am reminded that in my own failings my hope is Jesus. My flesh fails, but Jesus delivers. But the law of the Spirit of life has set {me} free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2) And that truth is THE truth I want my children to hear when it comes to breaking the law. Jesus sets us free! Yes, the law was broken, but Jesus is the only answer. Whether you were mean to a sibling, rebellious  in actions, or whatever else may have happened, Jesus came to remove the sinfulness that you displayed and make you new. Consequences follow sinfulness, but judgment has been settled at the cross. Sometimes I want to stop with the sin and heap condemnation on them, proving points already proven.

As parents we can lead our child to analyze their sin and see the true ugliness of what their heart did or desired, but then we need to pivot them to the One who loves them despite their sin, who died specifically for their sinful heart, and who calls them into relationship with Him. Salvation or sanctification become the conversation and discipleship occurs.

 

 

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

 

 

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.”

From Now On

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. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~Colossians 1:9-14

Paul wrote many prayers out in detail for the different churches and people he addressed in letters. This prayer is one that has become a benchmark prayer for me as I pray for my children or friends. Specifically, I am praying this for one child who is overseas on mission and one who is serving this summer at a camp as they grow in and walk out their faith. As I studied the passage again this morning and working out exactly what I was praying for and how it applied to each child, I realized that Paul’s emphasis in this prayer is often different from my own. And the Spirit began refining me again. You see if I can confess one thing (if you haven’t yet figured it out from reading other writings of mine), I like to check a box or please others with performance. So the outward display of my actions compared to my heart has always been a refining ground for the Holy Spirit. God is interested in the heart. Period. And Paul prays in line with that truth.

I so often will pray this prayer skipping straight to the part that says 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. Isn’t that what we want for our children? for ourselves? that we would please God, bear His fruit, increase in our knowledge of who He is and all He’s about? But what slew me this morning was the sentence structure and Paul’s order. You see that’s not what Paul is praying for – those things are products of something else. Looking back into the scripture, Paul prays that they may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding and then flowing from that filling is the walk.

My husband and I have been having an ongoing discussion about how we disciple our children, remaining faithful to the Word and navigating all the different obstacles, storms, and troubles that come. One of the big ditches on this journey I believe is that I can get my equation wrong. I will focus on the walk – the fruit I see or don’t see, the manner in which they walk – is it pleasing?, do they know God more and more?, constantly examining perhaps in minutiae the lives of my children with a measuring stick which I don’t even truly possess.

Oh God, forgive me. How often have I missed the great truth – Paul prayed that the church would be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. So what is that? When I look at the words using a concordance, Paul is praying that they would know with first-hand experience God’s preferred will to bless mankind with Christ with all clarity and wisdom as well as a discernment that can apply His gospel to their lives. That was his focus. That was his prayer. That was his mindset. He knew that a life rooted in the Gospel, in what Jesus Christ did to pay for sin and redeem from wrath, will flow out into a life that pleases Him and bears fruit. The Spirit that indwells the heart of the believer will see to that process.

As believing parents, we can’t get this out of order. But we do.

We look for the outcome, the results. We wonder about fruit, we perseverate on performance, and we teach our kids that God is after their actions. And truthfully kids can fake it. If they care at all about looking good or not getting into trouble, they can fake good for a while. But then the church becomes a rule-based organization that binds and condemns. Or they just reject it all because they’re honest enough to know they will never measure up. When the truth is we never have to measure up. We never have to have it together.

Speak the Gospel to your children. Teach them the truths of God’s holiness, man’s depravity, Jesus’ sacrifice and redemption, and our great forgiveness. Let their hearts see yours singing the joy that is only found in the freedom of Jesus. Fruit comes from trees planted in good soil. Don’t demand fruit. Tend to the soil.

So I am to pray constantly. Yes, never ceasing just like Paul was committed to doing for the church at Colossae, I will pray fervently that my children will know the heartbeat of God, His will that offers redemption and freedom at the cross. I intercede for them that they will know God’s great forgiveness of their depravity and that they will live their life for Him because they have experienced His great love for them. From now on, I will speak of the Gospel at every turn, pointing to the One who delivers from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins!

 

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.