The Gospel Changes Everything – Part 1

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ. ~Colossians 2:6-8

What would I tell my younger self, working out my major in college, worried about the way I looked, the way people perceived me, unsure of everything I was doing, crushed by the way it seemed life was going?

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What would I tell my young married self? – trying to balance a new career and a new marriage, desiring to walk in marriage well but unsteady of every step, wanting to be like Jesus to my husband yet so unclear what this looked like

 The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What would I tell my new mother self, juggling 3 babies under the age of 3 with a husband who was working more than 120 hours a week as a surgical resident, trying to still work just a little to make ends meet, completely unsure about how to discipline little hearts, love them completely, and still pursue Jesus, exhausted at every turn by lack of sleep, lack of knowledge, and busyness.

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What do I want myself to remember every waking moment of each day as I parent 8 children, homeschooling, discipling hearts, encouraging anxious children, love my husband, work hard on the things God has called me to in this season of life?

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What do I want myself to remember as the children leave, each launching in their own way, whether they are walking with God or not, whether my heart is thrilled with who they have become or perhaps grieved, walking into a new season with my husband as the nest empties? 

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough

What would I tell the woman here who says my life hasn’t turned out the way I planned, the way I wanted, the way I dreamed it would? What would I say to the woman who says I have such deep hurts, such great chasms in my very being where I have been betrayed, wounded, made to feel less than and unwanted? What would I say to the woman who feels like she cannot measure up, cannot do what she wants to do well, aches with a desire to be different than she is but feels stuck? What would I say to the woman says, “I simply don’t care anymore. “ what would I tell the woman who is all alone, either grieving the loss of a marriage, the loss of a spouse, this loss of a child?

The Gospel changes everything. It is enough.

The Gospel is enough. He is enough. Whatever you walked into this room carrying, burdened and weighed down with worries, fears, bondage, grief, or pressure to perform. Everything about the way you live your life changes in the light of the Gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ. 

So the question becomes, what is the Gospel? Do I understand and live in light of the Gospel? How is the Gospel enough for me?

When we look at the passage, Paul says as you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in Him we want to understand exactly what it means to receive Christ Jesus the Lord and walk in Him. So we are going to look at the parts of the Gospel and break them apart:

Who is God

Who is man

Who is Jesus

Who am I now, and the work being done in me

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.

Who is God – 

God is holy, just, powerful, sovereign, maker of all things, all knowing and eternal. He is all knowing, self sufficient, and unchanging. Many more attributes comprise Him. Mankind is not any of these. Isaiah 40 – to whom will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. 1 Samuel 2:2 There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God… for the LORD is a God of knowledge and by him actions are weighed…The Lord kills and brings to life…The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.  Ps 93 – The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; … Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. 

1 Timothy 6:15-16 he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the KING of KINGs and LORD of LORDS, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. AMEN.  I praise you God

Who is man? 

Who are we? We are created beings, fashioned by God made in His image, designed for relationship – different than any other created being in this world. 

Colossians 1:21 says we are alienated, hostile in our minds, doing evil deeds, Colossians 1:13 living in a domain of darkness. Ephesians 2:1 says we are dead in sin, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now at work in the sons of disobedience, children of wrath, Galatians declares we are held captive and enslaved, 1 Peter 3:18 calls us unrighteous, and Romans 1-3 clearly lays out the unrighteousness and depravity of all man.  Galatians 6 calls us slaves to sin and Gal 6:23 states, The wages of sin is death, but… No one is without sin and thus all of us are separated from God and sentenced to death by Holy God.

Where is my hope? How do I please God? I don’t. I can’t. I cannot do enough, perform well enough, there is no good enough. 

Who is Jesus then?

How then is the gap between holiness and slavery/alienation bridged? God sent His son Jesus Christ as the payment for the debt of sin that traps mankind (Romans 3:21-26, Galatians 3:13-14, Ephesians 2:4-10)  Colossians 1:19-22. While this may seem basic, it is imperative to understand the important concept that God does all the work of salvation. We do nothing to earn the payment for sin that Jesus paid. We believe. We do nothing to deserve it; there is no way to merit the grace and mercy given.

Who am I in light of these 3? So what is my response? How does this change me?

 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior(Titus 3:5-6). The cleansing power comes because Jesus Christ died for your sin and mine on the cross many years ago. His payment paid for all the sin debt that mars our hearts and redeemed us from the curse of sin. Colossians 2:13-15 – And you who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.

Works and performance are worthless foundations, but many people carry a concept of being good or doing good as necessary for God’s forgiveness. Do you? Do you take the portions of scripture such as in Ephesians 4, Colossians 3 or 1 Thessalonians 4 that speak to our response to God’s unmerited grace (the way our life will look as we respond to the life we have been given) and place them ahead of your salvation? Do you struggle with thoughts that God may be mad at you or disappointed in you? Do you fear messing up or not walking well? Do you hear thoughts that say you aren’t good enough for God to help you or listen to your prayers? 

I want you to know today that while you were a sinner, Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8). He saved you, not because of works done by you in righteousness, but according to his own mercy (Titus 3:5). He has given Himself and all the blessings of being redeemed to you from the start – you have life abundantly (John 10:10), you have the fullness of Him (Col. 2:9-10), you have the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), you have been given His divine power (2 Peter 1:4-5) – You are His child (Rom. 8:16), secure in His love (1 John 4:9-10), and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

The Gospel is enough

So How does it change everything?

 

the butterfly lesson

Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. ~ Psalm 33:8-9

We are growing butterflies over here this spring. We have watched excitedly, monitoring the growth of our caterpillars, marveled at the chrysalis formations that each one did, and now are anticipating the hatching. (is that the correct terminology?) Today was the day! The first two chrysalides began to shake, little butterfly parts began to emerge, and we watched in wonder as two different butterflies sought to escape their cage.

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Timothy immediately wanted to “help” as the first butterfly tried to break free. Explaining the danger of helping a chrysalis break open to a three-year-old is a bit difficult, as he cannot tear his eyes away from the battle in front of him. Transfixed by the scene, he just kept asking, “Why can’t we help? What will happen that’s bad?” Finally, I hit upon an explanation that made sense to his little heart ~ the butterfly grows his muscles breaking out of his cocoon. If we step in and help him, we risk hurting its body or wings. The butterfly then will die, unable to have the strength to pump fluid into its wings and thus open and dry them. Armed with this knowledge, he could peacefully watch as, for over an hour, the little butterfly shook and wiggled, pried, and finally broke free. We marveled at the way the wings looked so shriveled, yet within a short time, they were drying out and beginning to move. God’s work, His creation, is amazing!

We had another chrysalis opening at the same time as the first, but the results were considerably different. This little butterfly’s chrysalis had somehow become entangled in some of the webbing the larvae had used before making the chrysalis. So as the butterfly tried to emerge, its feet became entangled in the string. It fought all day long to break free from the string, his wings shriveled and wilted, and the front portion of his body stayed within the chrysalis. Honestly, it was heartbreaking to everyone as we watched. Ultimately, we had 10 of our 11 butterflies break free and begin to flutter and fly around the cage, but that one struggled against the entangling strings for 2 days, unable to fully emerge.

Why do I share this story? I don’t have deep parallel truths about our Christian walk that source in this story. I just know this opened a doorway of conversation with my children in which we could discuss meaningful truths of God while we watched the complete metamorphosis. We began talking about how incredible God’s plan for butterflies really is ~ that He designed eggs to become larvae to know to grow a hard, protective covering around them as they completely change into a different creature over a few days. While the 10 butterflies we hatched were all variations of each other with slightly different colors, patterns on their wings, no other creature emerged from the chrysalides. We practiced patience waiting for their emergence, hopefully staring at the dangling shells for days. We wondered why hatching had to be such work for the butterfly, investigating why God designed this fierce battle almost at the beginning of their life as a flying insect. And we mourned our lost one, longing to step in and save it from the ultimate end. We so wanted to tear all the webbing away and cut it free, but that action would have disrupted the 3 other chrysalides that hung very close to our struggler.

When we marveled at His plan for a butterfly who will only live for a few days, we began to wonder at His plans for our lives. The commitment to the butterfly translates into an immense commitment to us. Jesus teaches this exponential truth in Matthew 6:25-34. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious. Taking a few days to dwell in the truth of God’s great plan for each of their lives was beautiful in recalibrating my eyes to see my children as well as speaking into their hearts a basic truth that the enemy wants to steal away. The truth is this: their uniqueness, their strengths, their weaknesses are all known by Him and designed by Him for His plan and for His kingdom. And His plan is for their good and for God’s glory. Do not be anxious! Instead, keep looking to Him ~ He welcomes your cries for help, He comes alongside you in victory and distress, He is the everlasting, ever in tune with you God, and He is trustworthy.

Our God is amazing! He is Creator with neverending imagination and wisdom worthy of our worship. Beckon to your children to worship with you, to marvel at Him in the midst of His beautiful creation. Delight yourself in who He is in His creation today. Worship Him for He deserves all praise!

Easter Morning

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” ~Mark 16:1-3

In the quiet of the weekend, the wondering and weeping must have been so great. The counting down of hours until she could run to His tomb and finish preparing His body correctly for final burial weighed heavily on her heart. She owed Him so much, for He had freed her from the bondage of demons hell-bent on destroying her mind. As she neared the tomb with her friend Mary, her arms were full of what she needed to finish loving her Teacher, and her spirit lagged with the weight of grief and loss.

Glancing up towards her goal, Mary Magdalene’s heart thudded and her breath stopped. Terror mixed with anger coursed through her body at that moment. The stone was moved! The grave had already been opened! Seemingly dead guards littered the entrance. Running now with desperation towards the tomb, the women entered, frantic to find His body and ensure that it hadn’t been desecrated.

As she ran into the tomb, her eyes darted around taking in the sight of empty linen cloths, the folded face cloth, the empty tomb. Nothing made sense, and grief mixed with bile as she turned quickly to go tell the Simon Peter and John.

She returned to the tomb later, drawn to the last place Jesus had been. Desperate for answers, perhaps looking around for clues, her heart was clinging to hope that the body would reappear so that she could finish honoring Him. She peered in once more. Two men in white now occupied the tomb, sitting one at the head and one at the foot of where He had lain. Imagine her terror and outrage!

But what came next is the beauty of God’s grace and pursuit of us!

“He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” The pronouncement catches her breath. Processing this truth, quietly weeping and turning to go home, she spies the gardener. He asks her why she is so full of grief. Perhaps wondering whether he knew the secret to where His body had been stowed, she poured out her heart, promising to care for the body if someone would just let her have it.  She was frantic, almost hysterical, sobbing the cries that catch in your throat and make it hard to breathe.

“Mary.”  What must that word have sounded like to her ears?  She knew immediately at that moment who this man was. Not only did she know Him, but she also began to worship Him. The understanding of all that had happened flashed through her mind, like pieces of a puzzle falling into place. She was given the great privilege of being the first witness of our risen Lord and the first messenger of the Good News.

“I have seen the Lord.”

She had followed him throughout His ministry, listening and gleaning truth from Him. No doubt she yearned to understand all He taught, and she accompanied Him all the way to the cross. We see her at the foot of His cross, grieving as she stayed with Him, refusing to run or hide, clearly aligning herself with this King of the Jews. By all her actions, we see a woman who knew Jesus was more than just a man, more than just a righteous teacher, yet not until the garden does the complete picture of Jesus become clear.

But He knew her. He knew her heart, how she would be processing all that had happened, and He pursues her. He walks straight up to Mary Magdalene and tends to her heart. And He pursues you and me as well. He knows our needs, the cries of our hearts, and seeks to show us the truth of walking with Him. He has conquered every heartache, every dark sin, every place of bondage and ache, and He calls your name in love.

Grace & Peace Multiply

May grace and peace be multiplied to you. ~ 1 Peter 1:2

Every day, it seems, is stuffed with activities, planning schedules, organizing of lives, never mind cooking, cleaning, laundry, mothering, and relating to my children and husband. I would love a day when I can wake up and not have countless tasks and events looming, requiring a Tetris like skill to make all of them fit together and actually get accomplished. Today, for instance, includes making 2 costumes, editing 4 research papers for different children’s end of the year projects or college essays, a dishwasher that has broken, 3 haircuts scheduled unfortunately for the same time across town, registrations for camp, homeschool tasks, a car tuneup for a trip, organizing movers, and staging our home for sale.

While my head swirled with a list of things to complete, my heart began to sing this morning as I studied 1 Peter. Grace and peace are multiplied to me. God does not merely add up grace, stacking a little more on top as we go through our day. He doesn’t add more peace as we start to waver in distraction or panic. Multiplication happens. The impressive truth about multiplication is that it isn’t merely repeated addition as we often teach 2nd graders. Addition only allows like terms to be added together to slowly grow. Multiplication allows the compounding of unlike terms with growth happening at an exponential rate.

Grace and peace together multiplied, is offered to me as His child. Four things are true of those who are saved in this verse: God foreknows them, the Spirit sanctifies them, they obey Jesus, and Jesus’ blood covers them.

God knows us, He pursues us, He calls us by name. Over and over in scripture, we see God seeking out His people. Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Is. 43:2) I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; (John 10:14-15) I will protect him, because he knows my name. (Psalm 91:14) I am chosen by Him, for a relationship with Him. Letting that truth sink into my day, how I perceive all parts of my day sets me free from the feelings and lies that I am all alone or abandoned.

The Spirit is sanctifying me. Oh! What a wonderful truth to embrace this morning! That God doesn’t turn away in anger or disgust for how I sinfully interact with my children or husband, for how I mismanage my time, or how I bow and worship at the idols in my heart brings great peace. He is at work in me. Sanctify means to set apart; to declare as holy and in this passage is the process of becoming holy. He is convicting and refining, transforming my thinking as He works to change me evermore every day into His image, making me more like Him. 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. 3:18) He intercedes for us before the throne. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

My relationship with God declares I am covered with Jesus’ blood for my salvation. His redeeming work of offering up his body as a sacrifice for my sins allows me entrance into the covenant of grace and forgiveness with God. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22b), and he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:26b). The obedience of Jesus creates the way for me to have a relationship with Him, and my obedience becomes the response of gratitude for cleansing by His blood. Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,..let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,… and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:19-24)

So grace and peace supernaturally, divinely multiply together, covering me today with a peace beyond understanding because I know the grace that extends over all of me. Peace floods me with the assurance that, despite my shortfalls today, my eternity is secure. Access to God is assured because of the grace given, and I can abide with Him today in all I do because He is committed to walking this day out with me. I can cry out to Him for time management – He cares! I can ask Him for kindness for wild or rebellious children – He provides! I can seek Him for wisdom – He listens! Grace and peace multiply and I can breathe. I can rest. I can linger in relationships rather than flit anxiously from task to task. I can exude these same blessings to my children in their hardest spaces, not because I am so amazing but because He is, and He has filled me.

Back Porch – Lies We Believe

There are 3 lies the enemy wants us to believe – the Gospel refutes them all.

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. ~Matthew 7:25

Salvation and redemption offer a change in identity. God’s pursuit of mankind has always been powered by His steadfast love for us. We have looked at the gospel as 4 parts ~ Holy God, sinful man, Jesus Christ, and new life. The identity of the justified has changed from lost, sinful, and condemned to adopted, righteous, and redeemed.  Walking through this study, we have sought to lay a foundation solely on the Gospel so that as we grow up in Him, our lives are a living structure well built with straight lines, plumb walls and windows, and without cracks or holes. As a child of God, my identity becomes one of the foundational pieces in how I relate to the world. Faith grows as my knowledge of what He gives at salvation increases, therefore knowing what it means to be a new creation, in Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, filled with His fullness, saved, justified, and being sanctified becomes essential. Understanding my identity in Jesus Christ will solidify my foundation against the storms of life, the lies of the enemy, and the battlefield of the mind.

Understanding truth from counterfeit is paramount. When an art authentication expert can identify an original painting from a replica, his knowledge is based on the study of the original. He has become an expert in brushstrokes, medium, canvas, etc. that the artist used. Identifying counterfeit money requires an intense study of the original.

The ability to see tiny nuances of illegitimacy comes from time spent with the archetype.

From the beginning, there is one who has whispered lies to mankind. As we grow in Jesus, we must understand the truth of the Gospel to see the deceit that often impacts the framework of our faith. Lies steal our identity and layer in doubt and shame. As we deepen in our faith, our ability to see the overt lies increases, but the deception in the subtle, slight variations from the truth can still cause us to stumble unless we know the truth well.

 

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photo cred: Noah Kimsey

 

The enemy sows seeds of doubt – doubt about who God is and how we relate to Him. The first lie ever spoken is found in Genesis 3:1, “Did God actually say?” The softened questioning of whether God really meant a specific command began the fall. The enemy’s primary web of deceit questions whether God really said and then expected the truth of the Word.

Culturally we see this lie at work everywhere. Ascribing to accuracy and veracity of scripture is under attack. The shifting of truth from a biblical foundation to one based on opinion and feeling began as a whisper that has now grown to a dull roar as interpretation and fearlessness become the norm. Maclaren declares, “The reality of moral distinctions, the essential wrongness of the sin, is obscured by a mist of sophistication.”

Immediately we see the heart of both Adam and Eve change as they begin to doubt the one relationship on which everything centered. In my own life, this lie can take root and cause upheaval. I can easily question the meaning behind God’s words, worry that grace is not enough for me rife with hidden sin, wonder whether His faithful presence is for me specifically. Did God really say He would always be with me? Did God really say I am wholly loved? Is God’s love really steadfast for me?

His promises, blessings, and actions all come under attack with this lie. Our value therefore also can come under attack here because if God’s words are not true, then our identity is illegitimate. If forgiveness is not freely given, and if redemption is not complete through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, then my hope cannot be assured and my eternity is insecure.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” Psalm 19:7-8

The serpent continues with a second part of the lie –  could they not eat of any tree in the garden?  The question implies doubting whether God is good – would a good God deny you all fruit in essence. This is another primary lie he uses to catch our thoughts and ply our heart with doubts that lead to anger and shame.  The basis of the deceit is the implication that God is stingy, withholds from us, and will fail to come alongside us in life. The very character of God is under attack. If God is not who He says He is, if He fails in any of these areas, then He is an untrustworthy God. Your future is uncertain left in the hands of a God who is not faithful.

Often I can feel as if God is not listening. I can believe the whispering questions of doubt that wonder whether He hears my cries and needs, whether He is engaged with me at this moment. Does He know my worries or fears about raising my children? Does he care that none of this seems to be going well? More than anything, the enemy wants you and me to believe that God is removed or latent in His relationship with us.

The truth is God is wholly consistent in His attributes. Studying the attributes of God exposes His character. Delighting in who God is and what He is like results in worship, not worry.

The third lie we see is the lie that asks is Should He be your God?  The serpent announces that rather than dying, Adam and Eve will be like God, knowing good and evil. The true need for God is brought under attack, as this lie pushes us to desire to be godlike instead.

He presents the idea that God knows the fruit will allow them to be like Him, and by insinuation confirms that God is seeking to prevent their independence. According to the serpent, there is no consequence for eating the fruit, but rather the delightful treat would elevate them to who they truly should be.

The serpent questions whether Adam and Eve should simply know good from evil themselves rather than rely on God for input. The worthiness of God, His holiness, sovereignty, power, and position come under attack.

As a woman and mother, this lie traps me in many different ways. My flesh seeks independence from God and a worship of self. The deceit of the enemy capitalizes on my bent. Worshipping myself can look like 2 different extremes. The lies that I need to “be more” ~ more successful, more competent, self-reliant, more focused on myself ~ these lies tantalize me with thoughts of how to succeed. The flip side is the focus on my inadequacies, my failures, doubts, and fears ~ the belief that I am not enough and cannot change. In both of these paradigms, I focus on me. The heart of sin is self-assertion and a desire to be independent of God, and the lies the enemy uses capitalize on those drives.

Jesus Christ is our hope. He is the light burning brightly in the darkness of rebellion and separation. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all peoples” (Titus 2:11).

 

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photo cred: Noah Kimsey

 

These three lies can snag our heart and drive us down the road to bondage and doubt. The truth is the enemy understands the flesh we battle as well and capitalizes on this as he worms his way into our minds. We are bent with our flesh towards independence from God – it is our sin nature.

How do I ensure that my foundation is securely placed on Christ alone? Why would that be a word picture Jesus would use within the Sermon on the Mount? A foundation has three main roles: it must maintain a strong load-bearing capacity, prevent ground moisture from seeping into the structure, and be able to resist external forces coming against the structure to keep the building standing.

In our lives, there will be storms that threaten our belief in God, floods of life that make us feel like we cannot keep our footing in the truth of who He is, and winds of doubt and rebellion. But if my foundation is set on Jesus Christ – that His sacrifice paid for all the sin I struggle against, turned aside God’s wrath, set me free from the bonds of death, and that forever now I live in the gracious renewing power of Christ, making me more and more into His image – then my heart is not as easily swayed by the whisperings of the enemy. I set my heart and mind on the One who rebuilds, renews, and restores me.

All glory is to Him.  

 

the hagar moment

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Have you ever had a Hagar moment in your life? I can tend to follow the pattern of Sarai in the Old Testament. The times I feel I know the end product yet not the next step, I will often surge forward in action seeking to get to the promised end, impatient with God’s timing yet eager for the promise.

In Genesis 15, God made a covenant with Abram in which He promised that Abram’s offspring would number the stars. I can imagine Abram and Sarai, anxious to have a child and holding to this promise, talking about when and how they might get pregnant. But then we see a rush into action, an impatience in God’s timing, and the false belief that they needed to help God along with His promise of offspring. We see Sarai convincing Abram to take her servant Hagar as a substitute to allow for pregnancy in that way.  Truthfully Hagar holds a tragic place in the story in Genesis. As a servant in the household, she really had no power to make the decisions regarding her own life. Thrust into a position of motherhood, she began to own what should be hers – a position of influence and equality with Sarai as a wife.

All the manipulating only led to confusion and hurt. Sarai claimed that Hagar was treating her with contempt and sought Abram’s help. Abram then gives Sarai permission to treat her as she desires, and Sarai begins to mistreat Hagar. Fear ultimately overcame Hagar’s boldness, and while feeling rejected and betrayed, she fled into the wilderness. God, in His goodness, pursues Hagar right into the wilderness. He tends to her, gives her promises for her son Ishmael, and sends her back.

Prolonged waiting was a part of God’s plan to accomplish all He intended. God returned to Abram and made a covenant with him, changing his name to Abraham, reiterating his promise of offspring through Sarah, giving them a land of their own, and finally promising to be their God.

And this time, they wait for Him.

God wasn’t worried or concerned about how they would have a child. He was at work in His plan, His way, His timing. The problem was it did not match up to Sarai’s logic and desires.

The waiting is designed to mature us. Often the waiting seems interminable, and I can see how to move past the waiting if I only could change certain pieces. So I seek unilaterally to manipulate in order to achieve.

I war against the waiting.

And in the warring, I can introduce pain, heartache, sin, and doubt into places where God wants to be glorified. Learning to rest well in Him, trusting His timing, brings great joy and peace. When Abraham is finally told that he will have a son within the year, he laughs. But his laughter is not a laugh of unbelief or doubt. His laughter is filled with joy and laced with belief.

God’s covenant, His plan comes in an unfolding, never in a bolt of lightning. The growth pattern in a relationship with God moves us along growing our dependence upon Him, strengthening our root system in His truth and love, but He does not yank us two feet taller overnight. He is at work in you and me, deepening our faith as we lean hard into Him.

He knows the timing. He sees the end.

 

 

He inclines his ear

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. ~Psalm 116:1-2

God bends down. He bends down to listen to us well, intently seeking our heart, hearing our heart cries that surpass our words, and knowing the answers we desperately seek. In Psalm 116:2 the verb inclined his ear is the Hebrew word Natah which means to stretch out, incline, bend, or to pitch a tent. Our Jehovah God inclines! He leans down to listen, to come down and allow my cries and your cries right in His ear. Our whispering heart cries never go unheeded.

Often I can feel as if God is not listening. I can believe the whispering questions of doubt that wonder whether He hears my cries and needs, whether He is engaged with me at this moment. More than anything, the enemy wants you and me to believe that God is removed or latent in His relationship with us. But the Psalms point over and over to the assurance that we have an active, engaged Jehovah God who listens to each prayer and answers in His time. Psalm 40:1 says, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” Same word ~ inclined. Psalm 18:6 declares, “In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice and my cry to him reached his ears.” Just like I hear the desperate cry of a hurt child, the wailings of pain, anger, or fear, and come running, God rescues me.

The imagery in this verb points to Him tenting over us, enveloping us in the safety of His presence. Our heavenly Father leans down like a parent would, surrounding us with his presence as He listens to our prayers and our pleas for mercy. We can all remember moments when we have needed the tenting of a loving parent’s or friend’s arms surrounding us, covering us with safety and protection physically to mimic the raw emotional protection we needed in moments of heartbreak or vulnerability. Our God offers a tenting that is more comforting than any physical consolation, more powerful than any physical protection, and more consistent than any physical person. Let’s rest today with certainty in our soul that He is avidly listening to us, His children.

But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. ~Psalm 66:19

Pruning

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ~John 15:1-2

Something that had been a weak open hand of offering to the Lord has become the cry of my heart over the last 2 years. A begging almost for deliverance, for the answer to come. In the beginning, the act of obedience was not a desire of my heart but merely an acknowledgment that He is the One I will follow. Throughout this time, my outstretched hand has grown weary and trembles under the strain of maintaining the sacrifice. My heart desperately longs to be relieved of it, for the submitted to be removed from my hand, for me to be free, and for God to receive what I have given. Yet still I stand with my hands offering, weighted down and waiting. Has this ever happened to you?

I had imagined the removal would come quickly, I would be relieved, and my obedience would be a short-lived exercise. Almost flippant in the initial contribution, denying the power this thing possessed over my heart, I willingly said I would lay it down and walk away.

But sometimes growth only comes through pruning.

My heart has been the recipient of the exercise.

His hand has pruned and worked in me, changing the landscape there, moving me from reticent to bold. Slowly He reveals the ways that He desires to make me more like Him, the truths He wants to be sown into my heart, and the idols I have worshipped. My offering becomes more about submitting all of me to Him than about obedience in one space. He tenderly unpacks the beautiful depths of following Him and emboldens me.

Still, in moments of fatigue and doubt, I will take this offering and pull it back tightly against my chest, hoping that there is another way, longing to see another path for obedience that does not include relinquishing this. He patiently reminds me He is trustworthy and His way is right.

One of my favorite passages of scripture says, Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8). Heat comes, and drought happens. I feel as if this has been a season of both. But my trust is in Him, and He keeps me green, full of His life, abundant in fruit and growth. The truth is weather cannot impact the life and growth He governs.

His goal for me in the pruning is more fruit. A part of me in this process has wanted to simply shed the offering, drop it off, be done with it. If I could have finished this years ago, I would have. But the fruit would not have grown. Fruit takes time, it takes being rooted in rich soil, attached to a strong parent plant so that the branch can be supported and receive the nutrients it needs.  Fruit grows because the DNA of the plant determines the growth; abiding in Christ, understanding my identity determines the growth pattern of my fruit.  As I surrender to the work of the Spirit, He is free to tend and grow within me fruit that glorifies Himself.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. ~John 15:8

strength & joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And His joy floods my soul.

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

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

 

 

Am I deluded?

“that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” ~ Col. 2:2-4

Walking with Jesus is hard. The onslaughts from the world, the enemy, and my own mind press in on me, blinding me from the One who holds all truth.

But I want to be the woman, the wife, the mother like Paul says – my heart encouraged in the tough stuff of life, because I have the assurance of the Gospel – that Christ died for me, to save me, redeem me, change me and make me like Him. He is committed to that process in me. He offers Himself fully to me – all His power, all His love, all His fruit working in me and through me. Scripture is replete with who we are as His redeemed, and we need to KNOW these truths because full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery (Jesus Christ) is the only way to combat sin and flesh.

I confess, sometimes I am easily deluded with plausible arguments. If they weren’t plausible, they wouldn’t work. I would be able to spot them. The enemy is crafty. He knows the lies I can identify as lies and therefore reject and the ones I will embrace as truth. Other translations refer to plausible arguments as smooth rhetoric, enticing words, fancy talk, or persuasive speech. The concern Paul had for the believers at Colosse centered on listening to people teach about culturally “good” and popular things, not gospel truths.

While I may not relate to the specifics of Paul’s day, the same lies are still at the root today. There is still the draw for religion and asceticism for comparison’s sake – the need to measure holiness on behavior and not the heart. In a book my kids and I have been reading for ancient history, the author Genevieve Foster presents the word RELIGIO in Latin which means to bind fast. She defines religion in ancient times as “Man’s desire and effort to bind himself fast and secure to the Great Spirit of the Universe.”  As I read this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I don’t have to bind myself. My efforts are not required. For while I was a sinner, Christ died for me. I have been brought near by the blood of Christ and now am in Christ Jesus, sealed with the Spirit until His return. He is my Peace – no strivings, no performance needed.

The power of self, of believing that I can solve my own problems apart from God, continues to dominate cultural conversations. Self improvement books abound with concepts of self love and self care, but God calls me to Himself, not to my own self awareness. In a posture of rest and abiding in His truth, I receive His strength and power in order to walk out all that He has laid before me for each day. In Christ I can rest. His rest will tend my soul and calm my anxious thoughts. His peace goes beyond my understanding, beyond my circumstances, and becomes the bedrock of my heart.

When my feelings are elevated to wisdom and outrank what the Bible says, then truth can be different for you and for me. It can flex depending on my circumstances, the attitudes of the time, or what seems most important. Christ therefore can be a part of my belief system but not be preeminent. The depreciation of Christ from central in my relationship with God to one of many options and thus irrelevant has been one of the enemy’s chief tactics since the beginning.

Open my eyes, that I may see. Give me discernment to see where I embrace self actualization, performance, or compromise truth with humanistic thought.  Show me the idols that capture my attention and bind my heart. Help me to see the lies that surround me, and equip me to stand in the truth instead. And as I walk with You, let me rest in the security of  redemption.

More than anything, I want to grow as a woman rescued from the darkness of sin to know His wisdom and understanding; and from that growth, life will spring, walking with the Spirit rich in fruit, constantly weighing everything against the Gospel and scripture.

 He is the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father any other way. In Christ is every spiritual blessing, redemption and forgiveness lavished with grace, and an inheritance sealed. Grow me deeper in understanding and knowing You, Jesus.