Grace abounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

8 – Shepherd

I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…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; and I lay down my life for the sheep. ~John 10:11,14-15

Hunted, harassed, scattered, hungry, lost or safe, comforted, held, full, found. The difference lies in the presence of a shepherd, a good shepherd. Shepherds populate the scriptures, the patriarchs of the Jewish faith were all shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. God uses this word picture both to encourage and warn Israel through the Psalms, Isaiah, and Ezekiel passages. Jesus lays claim to this title in John 10 by contrasting a true, good shepherd with one who robs or abandons the flock.

Jesus declares that He lays down his life for his sheep. This picture was understood by the Jews at the time, for that was exactly the risky position of a shepherd. In Biblical times the shepherd was fierce, warrior like with great endurance, and protective of his flock. Robbers and wild animals threatened by day and night. The shepherd was the guardian, allowing or limiting access to the flock, leading them to safe places to sleep, and defending them against any and all attack. A poor man with just a few sheep may hire another to watch his sheep, but Jesus points out the lack of allegiance and protection to the flock when danger comes.

The shepherd was also intimately acquainted with his sheep. Often shepherds will name their sheep and can see the unique traits or characteristics of each sheep and discern between them. Several shepherds may work together with their flocks in order to share the protection and pasturing duties, but when time comes for separation, the task is simply done. The shepherds will stand and call for their sheep. The sheep will begin to separate and follow based on the tone of voice and call of their own shepherd. Again Jesus reminds his listeners that as the good shepherd, He knows his sheep and they know Him just like his relationship with his Father. The intimacy of that relationship should make us pause and soak in the truth of how well He knows us! To be truly known – it is something we all hunger for and fear at the same time. Jesus knows me intimately. He knows my motivating thoughts, wandering ways, the sin that so easily entangles me, and He gave his life for me!

Psalm 23 cites the beauty of being his sheep, of drawing up alongside the One who knows the path to walk in, provides food and water, protects and guides. The shepherd searches continually for green pastures and feeding ground for his flock. He also looks for still waters because rushing water frightens sheep and discourages them from drinking. If there is no still water, the shepherd will lead the sheep to a well for refreshment. The shepherd’s rod and staff bring comfort to the psalmist. The rod was a stick with a thick bulbous end, often with nails, metal, or some sort of sharp weapon tip that was primarily used to ward off enemies. The staff is what we often picture shaped as a hook which can encircle the sheep’s hind leg and force the sheep to pause, balancing on the other three legs. Then the shepherd can redirect or tend to wounds or injuries the sheep may have. The sling that David had when he battled Goliath was a common tool as well for a shepherd. Useful as a weapon against predators, the sling would also be used to expertly sling a stone out further than a wandering sheep, causing the sheep to turn back inward towards the flock.

God displays his shepherd heart in Ezekiel 34. He contrasts His care for his people with the poor leadership of Israel that had resulted in judgment. There is much leadership in this world that is empty, damaging, neglectful, and deceitful. But God delineates in Ezekiel 34 everything that has not been done and promises instead to be the Great Shepherd.

Do you know you need a Shepherd? Do you see the emptiness, pain, and wounds that come from walking without Jesus? Do you know that the Shepherd searches for you? He longs for nothing else than to carry you into His fold, protect you, care for you, bind up your wounds, and strengthen you. Or are you the wandering sheep, fearing you may stay lost because you have wandered too far? He promises to seek and bring back the straying. He rescues. Are you weary in your working? There are shepherds here who teach us to work hard, be good, earn accolades, do a list that signifies your walk with God. God declares that He will make us lie down in good grazing land and on rich pasture, allowing us to rest in Him. He will lead you in paths of righteousness and restore your soul.

When we look at the truth of the gospel and understand our position with salvation as sheep with the good Shepherd, we should rejoice! What relief should fill our hearts that the hardship of walking lost, confused, and hunted like prey is no longer our judgment. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul. (1 Peter 2:25) We are free from wandering. We are found, not lost. We are protected, not harassed. We are cared for and not abandoned.

7 – Adonai

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. ~Psalm 8:1

Studying the different names of Jesus has been incredible, and something I look forward to in my sitting time with Him. There is no book or study I am using and if we were sitting together at coffee, I would encourage you to do the same. I made a list of names for Jesus and the basic scripture references to begin with each day, and every few days I will explore a new name. God is very faithful in teaching us all when we sit with Him and His Word! If you have never just explored a theme or a truth in Scripture independent of an already written Bible study, can I be the one to encourage you to do it? The Holy Spirit, who lives in you as a believer, is our teacher and our helper. He guides us into truth and will help as you walk in the Word. And if the idea of comprising your own list makes you worried or feel inadequate, I will be happy to share a basic list, just email me. (But it is very basic – just names and a passage of scripture, God will lead and teach you the rest!)

So Adonai – Lord God, Mighty King. Adonai in scripture in the Old Testament is written Lord with lower case letters. Have you ever noticed that in Scripture there are sometimes two ways to print Lord? They will write it LORD or Lord. Sometimes you will also see Lord GOD. These different printings signify two different names of God. So in Psalm 8 above, the first LORD is different than the second Lord. I have been studying the second Lord – Adonai.

Adon in Hebrew means master or lord and could refer to a man as lord, or one who rules over another. Adonai is the plural form of Adon. It only refers to God and points to the Trinity in the Old Testament; The ai suffix speaks to His supremacy as Lord, Lord of all. RC Sproul states that this suffix stresses the sovereignty of God as All Ruler. So Adonai means God’s right to rule because of His great might and sovereignty. In worshipping Adonai, I am absolutely recognizing His Master or Ruler position and therefore my  position in submission, following His commands and plans.

Often in the Old Testament Adonai is seen with LORD written in all capitals, which is the written English translation for the name for God YHWH. YHWH was God’s chosen name that we first see in the Old Testament when He tells Moses in Exodus 3, “I AM WHO I AM.” So in Psalm 8:1 we see O YHWH, our Adonai or O I AM, our Master, King, Ruler. The positioning of these words  is purposeful- God’s chosen name followed by the acknowledgement that He is Lord over all and therefore we are not. We are part of what He rules, his servants. It is a juxtaposition of God’s faithfulness and self existence as YHWH and His absolute sovereignty as Adonai. The Jews would not speak the name YHWH out loud, instead simply reading the passage as Adonai or Jehovah Adonai.

In the New Testament this same meaning is found in the word Kurios in the Greek language. Paul consistently calls Jesus Lord, tying the OT concept of God’s sovereignty and rule to Jesus Christ. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1) Salvation calls for me to give up all self sufficiency and independence/control and instead to allow Christ to be what He truly is – Lord of my life. Absolute ownership, authority and power have been given to Him; we see that in both Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1. To call Jesus Lord demands the knee of my life bows to His authority and ownership, submitting my will to His plan. The daily working out of His grace in salvation differs from the moment of salvation. Salvation from the condemnation of sin, the guilt and judgment came the moment I believed Jesus Christ was my Savior, my only answer for the sin present in my life (Rom. 10:9). Now salvation is at work in my life. The Holy Spirit is continually working in me as I yield myself to Him, delivering me from the power of sin daily and shaping my heart and will more and more into His image (Phil. 2:12-13). And one day I will rejoice for eternity as I am fully saved, made complete, when I stand before Him and have the awesome privilege of worshiping Him forever. This is the grace of the gospel. Jesus Christ is Lord.

 

 

So let us comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ~2 Cor. 1:3-4

Often we face seasons filled with hardship, chaos, pain, and even affliction. In the last few years, Troy and I have faced a lot of unknowns – God has walked us through some scary seasons filled with new babies, cancer diagnoses, a new job and city, children with serious medical illnesses, parents with cancer, and the loss of loved ones. We have wept tears of pain, joy, and relief. We have felt alone in a new city and experienced new friends feed us, care for our other children, encourage and pray for us. We have had seasons so weary of bad news that we have cried out to God wondering why. Why us? Why now?

This has been a week of threshing. Not because of some great spiritual dilemma; no, this is the threshing that can only come from the stomach bug. It is one thing that can completely wreck me – 10 people who can get sick, violently ill, unpredictably, anywhere, on anything. Ugh, it’s one of the worst! And it has come to our home this week. Our 2 year old was the first (probably patient zero) and of course by caring for him, I fell next. My big kids have been amazing! So helpful, kind, willing to support one another – School was done, meals prepared, rooms cleaned, really amazing. But still I lay in the bed unable to move or breathe deeply, fearing the pukes and mildly wanting to die. I wonder why me? Why now? Couldn’t I have just skipped this? God, if I were last to get this, all of this would be a lot easier given the laundry, food, and cleaning issues mounting.

And then it hits another preschooler and immediately I jump into action, weakly staggering down the hall to get cleaning supplies and shooing healthy teens back in order to hopefully protect them from actually getting this dreaded thing. As I comfort the upset, fearful little one with words that reassure, I quickly get her bathed, redressed, tucked into a new bed, and quarantined beside me and the baby in the sick bay. I lay back down, fearful of who will fall next. The one thought that begins to crystallize is that maybe it is fortunate I wasn’t the last hold out, that instead I was 2nd man down. Why? Because now I am free to comfort, nurture, and care for all my little ones without residual fear of catching it.

Typically fear mounts during these onslaughts and begins to whisper at me every time another child falls prey to this kind of virus. I’m not always the most nurturing if you’re over the age of 10 (mainly because I guess you’ve hit the age of accountability with getting the pukes in the toilet) so you may not get all the loving care you were used to prior to that birthday, especially if you are later in the game to get sick. My tank seems to run out because now the contagious factor has so mounted that I know it’s just a matter of time for me, and I want to limit all contact!

And while I know there is no one who would welcome the stomach virus just to be able to identify with another, God has been highlighting this truth to me in this week. My ability to comfort another is linked to the comfort I have received from Him. We comfort because we have been brought through adversity, not because we have just heard about the hardship or difficulty. No, we comfort because God has faithfully walked us through, and we can point to Him for the ones caught in the struggle. We become His ambassadors, His hands and feet to offer comfort, rest, help, and truth to the ones wracked by hardship that feels overwhelming and never-ending.

So I wonder, what do I know of this comfort? I love what Spurgeon said about the beginning of this verse – by blessing God, we “destroy distress by bringing God upon the scene.” How many times do I stew in my distress whether it be little like a virus or seemingly insurmountable like cancer, job loss, family stress, or death? Do I spend time first in my whining and wondering, succumbing to all the what ifs and fears of what may come? or do I rise and bless God? Comfort blossoms out of the truth of who God is. He is sovereign, constant, unchanging, and faithful. His sovereignty declares that He hasn’t lost control of one single thing that seems to be spiraling out of control. His constancy promises His presence right with me in the struggle. His unchanging nature means that comfort will be given in an ongoing, meaningful way because He is the Father of all mercies. And He is faithful to supply all the comfort needed. He is the Source of all I need in my time of need.

His comfort is unlike any other. Comfort comes from the Greek word parakaleo meaning to call for, exhort, encourage, strengthen and console. It is the steady truth of the Scripture coming alive on the page as I seek Him. His words actively slicing through my layers of fear, panic, numbness, or pain. It is the faithful allegiance, service, and prayers of the Tychicus, Titus, and Epaphrus friends in life – the warriors who will stand in the gap and bring encouragement on the dark days. It is the miraculous moment when something shifts that seemed immovable, and you instantly know the hand of God was involved. But most importantly, His comfort comes through the Comforter, the great Paraclete. The Holy Spirit indwelling you and me as believers. Ephesians 1:13-14 declares this truth that when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Jesus declared that the best thing for us would be the Comforter or Helper who would come. He guides us into truth, causes us to abound in hope, grants us unity, regenerates, and renews us.

But if I resist or resent my struggle, how can I comfort another? If I redefine it so that I don’t have to walk through the struggle or if I refuse the difficult road God calls me to, there is no ground for comforting another. When I run to quick fixes or hide in holes of denial, I declare that He is not my comforter. And I am empty when faced with another who desperately needs to hear the truth of Who He is. The spread of the Gospel is rapid and fierce when we, having walked through the fires, can testify to not being burned. Hope is offered to the world when we can point to the waters that seemed to overwhelm us and then share the peace of God which restrained the despair so that we did not drown. The world is desperate for comfort. The body of believers is desperate for comfort. Let us walk as comforters because we know and have been comforted by Him.

6 – Lion of Judah

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. ~Rev. 5:5

Just a little history: In Genesis we see the emergence of a family descending from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob who has 12 sons. Jacob favors Joseph out of all his sons such that the other brothers jealously conspire to rid themselves of him by selling him into slavery in Egypt. When famine comes on the land surrounding Egypt, Joseph’s brothers seek aid in Egypt before Joseph. Without recognizing him as their betrayed brother, they speak of their father and youngest brother Benjamin. Joseph demands that they bring Benjamin back in order to receive more of the food they desperately needed. They agreed, but when they present this idea to their father Jacob, he absolutely refuses to lose another son. However as the famine continues and more supplies are needed, Judah promises his father that Benjamin would be protected and pledged himself for his safety. As the brothers are leaving Joseph again with laden bags, Joseph sends his servants to search their bags for a missing silver cup. Benjamin’s bag holds the cup. His life now hanging in the balance, Benjamin cannot return to his father. Judah steps forward and offers his life in exchange for his brother’s, willing to die in his place that Benjamin may return to his father. At this act of sacrifice, Joseph reveals his true identity as their brother.

Following this reunion, Jacob gives a blessing to each son with prophetic messages for each. Judah is called a lion’s cub and a lion whose hand will never lose a scepter nor a ruler’s staff until One comes. Prophetically the ruling line of David and Solomon will descend through Judah, and ultimately the King of Kings Jesus Christ will be born of the line of Judah (Heb. 7:14), the line of David.

Judah is a type, an imperfect picture of Jesus Christ. In his actions regarding Benjamin, he readily stepped forward to offer his life as a substitute in order to allow Benjamin to return to his father. But the perfect substitution was Jesus Christ himself! He offered his life as the atonement for our sins that we may be truly, eternally saved and able to have relationship with our Father. For I am guilty of far more than stealing a cup and deserving of death, but He died for me.

And as the Lion of Judah, He is the ruler of all. His dominion is vast. His power never diminishes. He alone has the authority. The mighty conqueror who saves.

 

The idol of outcome

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. ~Psalm 62:1-2

As a woman I worship at the idol of outcome. This new year I have been spending a lot of time seeking the threshing that can only come through the Holy Spirit, looking inward to really pull apart different areas where I am struggling or where He would like to change me. And I would have to say that I defend outcome and maybe even protect this idol.

The idolatry of outcome – I don’t really know if this is the right term. But it pervades every aspect of my thinking. I confess I continuously assess and make adjustments based on whether the outcome is positive or negative. So when results are apparent or good in my opinion (which is SO limited, and yet what I am using as my barometer), then my perspective is that I am successful. When results are lacking or poor, then discouragement, doubt, and a desire to change course creep in.

As a mother, outcome has wrapped its tentacles around my heart, and I have to work feverishly to get free. Because outcome isn’t assured in motherhood. No matter what the studies or books tell you, you cannot ensure that your children walk with God or that they are happy, or successful or whatever you think is important. So today it seems like everything is going well, but then when tomorrow comes, it seems like everything is in a mess. And we worry that we need to change course or shift the method. I don’t have the long term perspective that God has, and I cannot see around the bend. So I wonder if this method of potty training or this way to teach obedience/respect/honor or this Bible lesson will actually result in a productive, loving person. And if it doesn’t because my child is showing that he or she also is a sinner in desperate need of God’s grace, I fault myself and look to see how to get a better result. God is so much more engaged and committed to the children in my home than I will ever be. That’s truth. And He is a faithful, pursuing, and patient sovereign God.

As a woman, outcome has captured me. We are surrounded with imagery, articles, and countless other social media contexts in which we can see where we don’t measure up to a standard or how we could improve our health, weight, beauty, aging process, the way our home looks, or anything else that needs improving.  So I chase the outcome with a fixation that declares that my success or failure will impact my attitude and sense of self. I have to work to shed outcome in these areas, knowing that my value does not come from my beauty. My value has already been determined by One who declares me his.

I also think I defend this idol as good or helpful for success. I think many would argue that without considering outcome, you cannot make progress. But idols are idols because of the place they occupy in our hearts, not because of what they are. And when outcome occupies a place of power in my heart where my thinking can be realigned without a submission to God’s plan first, then I am prostrate before a powerless god that will not lead me to the heart of God.

God has an outcome barometer as well. His outcome however is eternally measured, full of ripples, twists and turns I could never see as important or impactful. His call is for me to trust in Him, to be as Psalm 125:1 says, “like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” But abiding is often hard, and results can be slow to be seen, and my eyes can slide to how I can get the outcome God “needs.” Like Sarah with Abraham, I can seek outcome over abiding. But I will end up with heartache and need to repent.

So how is the idol taken down and destroyed? By the truth of the Gospel. I don’t need to be enslaved to outcomes, because I know the One who determines all outcomes for eternity. So in my moments of making my outcome equate with my value or worth, I need to remember my true value. I am his child (Rom. 8:16). He has made me a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and freed me from slavery to sin and death (Rom. 6:6-7,11). He is faithful to continue transforming me into His image, one degree at a time (2 Cor. 3:18).  So the shift of thinking in that moment with His divine power to destroy the stronghold that declares my value is linked to my work (2 Cor. 10:4-5) and to know that I am completely secure in His love for me (Rom. 8:38-39).  He alone is my salvation and my soul can rest quietly in Him.

5 – Living Water

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” ~John 7:38 

Living water – why would Jesus reference water in that way to the people at the temple and why is it important?

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.~John 4:14. Jesus begins a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well, purposed to draw her to himself by using a task central to her daily existence.

In Israel then and even now, water is a focused need, something that is required and sought. Israel has always had to work for water; today they are facing a water crisis with shortages due to drought and demand. We can shortchange the importance of obtaining water in our day to day because we have running water in our homes, but during Biblical times obtaining water was a daily task. And the adjective living is significant – I see this adjective through the lens of salvation almost immediately and think, “Of course, living for eternity” but that is not what the Jews thought. Living water then was vitally important because it was safe to consume and use. It brought healing. It was not tainted, dirtied, or stagnant.

In John 7, the Israelites were finishing up the Festival of Tabernacles in which every day the priest walked down to a spring and drew water and brought it up to the temple with the people celebrating, praising and praying as he walked. He then poured it out on the temple floor, signifying the living water that heals and replenishes, sates thirst, and satisfies a dry land so that new growth and a new season can happen. Into this Jesus stepped on the last day of the festival and announced that He is the one to whom anyone thirsty should come. Water would no longer have to be gathered; rather the Water would reside within.

Psalm 36:9 states, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”

In Israel a cistern or well would be dug in order to capture flowing water or runoff and store it for future use. This water never offered fresh, flowing streams, but it provided for times of drought.  Unless there was great maintenance, these cisterns would crack or wear down. God uses this picture to caution the Israelites in Jeremiah. My cisterns are the things I trust hold what I think I need for life other than trusting in the constant flow of Jesus Christ – His grace, mercy, faith, power, fullness. Anything that moves me away from gospel dependence and toward self reliance is a cistern I am trying to fill. Sometimes that may look like the goodness of my character or hitting the marks of Christianity (church attendance, etc). It may be the picture I want others to see of me, of my success as a wife or mother; it may be a cistern filled with money, organization, or time management.

Hoping that these faulty cauldrons can give me life is the great deception.  Just like cisterns of old, I spend a lot of time maintaining, crafting, and shaping that which is already cracked. Life, “goodness,” and hope will all seep away when they are held by me, requiring my filling. I commit great amounts of energy hewing out my cisterns – working on their shape and construction when I could be trusting that the fountain of life will never run dry, that I will never be without Him and His work in me. He justifies. He sanctifies.

My cistern will always be broken, it will never hold water – I cannot DO enough for my salvation, but God doesn’t require my payments! Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come buy and eat! (Is. 55:1) He offers the exchange needed to taste, sip, and guzzle the living water of His salvation through His son, Jesus Christ. So am I hewing cisterns because I am more concerned with the disciplines of faith and less with my true position in Christ? Still seeking that which I can carve, shape, measure, or improve? or am I standing in the forceful blast of flowing, life giving water allowing the Spirit to fill me completely and flow through me? For He is Life.