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.

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.

 

 

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 ~ Christ is in me, 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

waiting

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. ~Psalm 25:4-5

We are all in seasons of waiting. As children we long to grow up, we can’t wait to be double digits, to learn to drive, go to college, or gain independence. We wait to fall in love and get married, and then we wait for children. We wait for this promotion or that raise or perhaps even for a better job. We hunger for happiness or fulfillment. We long for joy or hope, thinking it will come with the next event.

Most of my life has been laden with anticipation or preparation for some next event or moment. In my marriage we have waited for seven job changes, 5 moves, 9 pregnancies, 8 brand new babies who don’t sleep, toddlers, potty training, teaching children to read (for me this is always nerve-racking!), loss, prolonged illnesses, promotions at work, the different stages each child grows through, the list goes on. Some waiting is exciting and expectant, but other times it is dreadful and hard.

In the season I am in right now, God has radically redefined waiting. Most of the time I focus on the culmination of my waiting and believe that when the moment finally arrives, all will be good. Rest can occur at the end, and happiness/fulfillment/peace will come. However, the next thing to anticipate always rises.

 God wants me fully in the waiting. The focus of my waiting must shift.  Instead of constantly monitoring and looking for the end goal, measuring how much longer, trying to see how I could make the process speed up, I wait for God.  He has been challenging me to change my perspective, to drop a filter over my eyes and look at Him. Psalms 25 & 27 highlight several portions of walking by faith with God as we wait.

In the waiting comes learning. Just like Mary in front of Jesus, I must sit at His feet, choosing to listen with upturned heart and mind. He teaches His way and His paths, instructing me as I listen to His truth in the Word. (Ps. 25:4,8)

In the waiting, humility is required. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose (Ps. 25:9.12). Conviction of sin will come as I sit before Him, and confession of sin will be needed. But He is so gracious unto me! He pardons my guilt and remembers not my sin, for Jesus Christ paid my sin debt.

When I wait for Him, I am not forgotten. He is very active in the teaching and leading because of who He is in His character. His steadfast love and faithfulness are for His glory. Good and upright is the Lord (Ps.25:8). He is the God of my salvation (Ps.25:5, 27:1). He restores. In some moments, it feels as if He is silent, as if He is not engaged. My heart cries, “Are you doing anything here?” If my focus is on the goal, the thing that I want done, I will often miss His true activity. His commitment is to my heart change, not my circumstance. When my gaze is on Him, He radically realigns my heart despite the pause in circumstantial progress. When my waiting is placed in the one trustworthy place of God alone, then my living becomes about Jesus, and He changes my faith walk.

My soul shall abide in well being (Ps.25:13). So often I place all my attention, all my hope in the accomplishment. My soul strives, works, worries, and wearies. It does not abide. But when my eyes are on Him, I can rest in Him. I am focused on what He is doing both in me and around me and not on the outcome.

Friendship with the Lord blossoms and grows ever deeper. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. (v14) As I walk in the waiting, I seek Him more. I lean and rest in His promises, His truths, and the counsel of His Word. The truths of His covenant become my lifeline and my plumb line while everything else shifts. He is my ever-present help in trouble, the lifter of my head, the one who makes all things new within my heart, the lover of my soul, the holy one who changes me more into His image everyday. He is my Savior, and He is my friend. His  covenant truths form the gospel. The blessings found in Ephesians 1 come because of Jesus and despite me.

So in the waiting pain, fear, and doubt may come, but rescue and refuge are in Him. I have shed many tears waiting. I have doubted, fought, wrestled, and resented the waiting. And I am sure I will experience many more days in the struggle of the waiting. But He guards my soul. In the waiting there is dwelling. Dwelling in the house of the Lord, seeing His beauty and sitting with Him, this is the one thing that I seek (Ps. 27:4) Often in the waiting, He conceals me by his tent, hides me away in His strong tower, or lifts me high upon a rock, pulling me out of the waves that threaten to engulf. And from that place of safety, learned in the waiting, I can worship with sacrifices and shouts of joy (Ps.27:6)

The more I understand my life is hidden with Christ in God, the more I will trust in His refuge and His design. My confidence will not be anchored into anything I offer. Hope, the calm assurance that His Word is true, grows in His steadfast love. My heart can be courageous  despite circumstances because my eyes are on the great I AM, the one who holds all things together.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:13-14)

 

Broad places

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God — his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. ~Psalm 18:19, 28-30

 

Truth: God delights in me and in you. He brings us out to places for His glory. The actual experience may feel opposite. It may feel as if I have been brought into a narrow ravine with a slippery, pebble filled ledge upon which to walk. I stand terrified, constantly worried I will wedge myself or slip off into a chasm below. I confess that many moments in motherhood can terrify me. I can worry about anything if I allow my mind to roam undisciplined.

Truth: He lights my lamp. He lightens my darkness. The joy of this truth is great – He lights up the dark, the confusion, the unknown. Why? for HIS NAME. He will work for His glory. What are my questions? what are my concerns? where are my areas of darkness, of wondering?

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. 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 31:3-4,7-8

What are broad places? Both passages refer to it. If they are places easily traversed with safety assured and no threat of attack, if that is what I am waiting for, then I will be disappointed. I will be discouraged when my life doesn’t take that magical turn towards ease and comfort. No, the broad place is not in the physical realm. I need to lay that desire down. In the Hebrew, the word used for broad place means pasture, figurative of freedom from distress or anxiety.

Stand in Me. Abide in me. I AM your broad place. My love is a secure place. Plant your feet in me. Stop waiting for me to move you to some moment or place. Stand in who I AM. 

I am the Light of the World. Stop trying to find light anywhere else, they are merely weak imitations with shadows at the edges. There are no shadows with Me.

I delight in you. His delight is gospel driven, sourced in His unending grace and mercy. He delights in you and me, not because of what we do or have done. He settled His choice of delight at the cross, when Jesus Christ died in your place and mine that we might be saved and set free from all the sin that entangles our hearts. He delights in us because He wants to redeem and restore us. He loves us with His steadfast, unending love.

I am your Strength. I will be all you need for battle. I am your shield of salvation. I give you divine power for all the strongholds that threaten to narrow your path and create anxiety.  In Psalm 18:33-36 David rejoices in the ways God has been his Rock ~ made his feet secure, trained his hands, given him the shield of salvation, and supported him. Your gentleness made me great. (v.35)

There is a difference between what I have been believing and the truth. I have been waiting for God to move me to a broad place, to push away all the worries, busyness, confusion that constricts my ground and litters my walk. I complain about the darkness, but the Light of the world illuminates me right where I stand, showing me His sustaining power. He is my broad place; the sacred, holy invitation is to stand in Him, to find refuge in Him, and to renew my mind in Him. He gently makes us great in Him.

I will even dare to say that the narrow chasms and terrifying passages are places He allows, not because He desires any terror but because He knows the depth of growth, the maturing of faith that these places will cause when I hide myself in Him. And He is committed to me for His Glory, for His name’s sake. Never forget, He will bring glory to His name.

Sovereignty in the Storm

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” ~Mark 4:35, 37-40

Sometimes I walk away from God’s sovereignty as an anchor truth because I am so overwhelmed by the waves hitting my boat. Instead I begin a panicked paddling and bailing not unlike the disciples in the boat with Jesus. I confess, I am not in a boat sailing the way I desire right now. The waves and the wind are tossing me in ways that feel incredibly savage and scary. I have been crying out for deliverance, calm, and rest for a long time, and there are days it seems like Jesus sleeps.  And I scoop, and I bail, and I slide all around my boat feeling half drowned.

While crossing the Sea of Galilee after a time of teaching and healing, the disciples and Jesus experienced a fierce storm.  On the Sea of Galilee, storms can occur suddenly as winds race in over the surrounding mountains and cold air mixes with the warmer air over the water. Jesus had almost immediately chosen to sleep in the stern of the boat as they started to sail. As the storm heightened, the disciples worked feverishly to stay afloat. Finally they sought His help. He was not panicked or worried, yet they were about to lose their minds with fear. The difference was He knew the anchor wasn’t missing, God wasn’t off duty, and there was nothing to fear. They believed they were without an anchor, without the ability to stay upright, and without hope because of the circumstances that surrounded them. Some were experienced sailors and fishermen, yet even they understood that this storm was beyond their control and beyond their skills to escape.  Did the disciples know Jesus could do something to help, or did they simply want him to join them in the panicked reacting?  Did they look over at Jesus peacefully sleeping and become enraged at his peace in the midst of chaos? They were working so hard, trying to remain afloat and alive. Did they desire that He join them in the work of survival or did they actually think He would triumph with just a word?

 The disciples had walked with Jesus a short while. They had seen miracles of healing and resurrection, they had seen His power over demons, and they had listened to truths that took all they knew in the scriptures and expanded/deepened them. They called him Master, Teacher, and Lord in the moment of need, depending on the Gospel account you read. Clearly they recognized he had some connection to God that attracted them to Him.

But they had no clue who He truly was, that He is the creator of all things, that all things hold together in Him, and that He upholds the universe by the word of his power. Everything is through Him, and it is through Him that we exist. You can see by their reactions after the wind and wave completely stopped at His command. Their fear level actually increased as they wondered who He really was, but Jesus was deepening their understanding of Himself by His display of power and glory and preparing them for their faith walk. He was more than a prophet, healer, or teacher; He was the Son of God, their Messiah and their King.

I often forget who sits with me in my boat. Often my reaction looks like the disciples, “Aren’t you going to get involved here? Aren’t you going to step in and do something about this sinking ship?!”

Jesus Christ solidly anchors my boat. He is the author and perfecter of my faith. He has called me to Himself, offering redemption and the forgiveness of all my sin through His sacrifice on the cross. My sin debt for all time is paid by Jesus alone, my future is assured with Him, and my present is governed by Him. He is before all things. All things are under his feet, and all authority has been given to Him.

So when the winds that whip in from the mountains that surround catch me off guard and the waves begin to grow as tall as buildings and crash with such fierceness across the bow of my life, He is sovereign. Only He can steady my footing in the tossing and pitching, and He will calm the storm.

I also recognize the crossing and the storm are all part of His plan for me. While it’s heartbreaking and frightening, these days are designed to deepen my faith walk and declare His power and His love. He has the complete power to settle everything with one word and allow peaceful sailing for the rest of the journey, but He may choose to allow the storm to worsen. Yet He anchors my soul. He sails with me. And He will bring me safely to the other side, to His desired haven.

He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. ~Psalm 107: 29-32

 

11 – My Helper

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” ~ Hebrews 13:6

I think God delights in showing me more of my own sin nature and His great love, patience and faithfulness through my children, most often my little toddlers and preschool children. Throughout the years, they have served as a micro example of my faith walk that exists on a much larger but more concealed level. The other night He whispered truth to me in one such moment.  We have moved our two youngest children into the same bedroom and also moved our 3 year old out of a crib. While we are waiting on a new bed to arrive, he is simply sleeping on a mattress on the floor. He loves his “big boy bed,” but over his short sweet life, he has collected quite a lot of “lovies” including 4 stuffed animals, 2 little animal/blanket things, and 3 baby blankets. They are all required for sleep (insert eye roll, completely the last child because all other Kimsey kids were allowed 1 special thing).

Not feeling particularly sleepy last night, he proceeded to throw every last item out of his bed across the room. However the rule is no getting out of bed, no playing once put to bed, so there he sat, heartbroken to be all alone with no way of getting them back and settling himself down to sleep. So he began to cry out. Persistently he called my name, “Momma, I need you, I need help.” Over and over, calling for me to come. As I walked into the room and noticed all the chaos, I looked into his face. In that moment God whispered for me to pay attention. My child had an unswerving belief that I could fix the mess he had created, despite the fact that he had even created it in disobedience. He looked into my face without much explanation of what had happened and simply asked me to get him all that he needed for peace, comfort, and sleep.

I want to be more like him – more childlike in my faith knowing that my Father is my Helper, steadfast in His love, totally committed to me in my chaos as well as my successes. How often do I call out, completely assured that He will answer me? or Do I try to clean up my own messes, worried that I’ll be caught? Do I persistently call, looking for help from Him despite the truth that most of my messes are of my own doing, and many times because of my own sin? Do I seek the peace and comfort only brought from the One who can comfort me deeply?

As my Helper, in the Greek, the word means one who brings the right aid in time, to meet an urgent, real need. The right aid, in time, to meet my urgent needs. Praise Him for He is my Helper! Do I know without a doubt that God is my Helper? My son knows without a doubt that I will help him. I am not negating consequences, and sometimes the discipline comes because of the disobedience. But even through this, he trusts my love for him abounds despite his behavior of the moment, and he understands that I am for him and his needs. Do I trust His hand to provide just what is needed? You have kept count of my tossings;  put my tears in a bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8) Take heart! He knows all our wanderings and gathers our tears of heartaches, repentance and despair. He treasures them and records them – we are important to Him.

The hope in this advent season and beyond is that God helps us. Before we ever knew our desperate need for a Savior, He planned to send his Son as payment for the sin that separates us from Him. Jesus came as a baby, without power and acclaim, offering His life as the unblemished perfect sacrifice for each of us. God helps us in our time of need for a Savior and then promises to help us walk each and every day as His children.

Behold God is my Helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. ~Psalm 54:4

the back porch – God’s work

As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. ~Galatians 1:9

Over the next few weeks and hopefully as a filter for a lifetime, we will walk together looking for the truths of the Gospel in scripture and asking questions to deepen our understanding of different parts of His truth. You can find the introduction to the Back Porch here and four portions or areas to look for in your time in God’s Word here

“One of the tasks of the church is to reexamine the gospel we preach and believe, alert to ways it has been reshaped by the idols of our culture” ~Bill Hull.  The gospel we believe leads to the disciples we make.  As we walk out the next few times, we are going to stay on a gospel hunt.

Hopefully by now you have a few pages with the beginnings of a collection looking at the different portions of the Gospel. You may be excited to see how God’s Word consistently points to one or more of these areas or perhaps you fell in love with a passage that spoke to your heart this week about who Jesus is, who God is, or what has been given to you as a result of Christ. One other concept you may want to add as you study is what I call road mapping. Simply described ~ as you note portions of scripture that point to God’s holiness or your sinfulness for example, tag the last place you saw this concept beside this passage (remember you have been writing them down in your journal). So perhaps Ephesians 2:1 which talks about who we are before Christ gets tagged with Romans 3:23 in the margin. You will slowly create “roads” in your Word that can lead you through as you study. You will begin to understand or remember where concepts sit in different books, see themes emerge, and see the consistency of God’s truth. When you run to the Word for hope or comfort, you will find it more easily.

As we walk together, one of the first conversations we must have is understanding the work in our relationship with God. Who contributes and how? God is holy, just, powerful, sovereign, maker of all things, all knowing and eternal. Many more attributes comprise Him. Mankind is not any of these. Colossians says we are alienated, hostile in our minds, doing evil deeds, living in a domain of darkness. Ephesians 2 says we are dead in sin, Galatians declares we are held captive and enslaved, 1 Peter calls us unrighteous, and Romans 1-3 clearly lays out the unrighteousness and depravity of all man. No one is without sin and thus separated from God. These are foundation truths of the Gospel.

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, Galatians 3, Ephesians 2) . 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 do nothing to deserve it; there is no way to merit the grace and mercy given.

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 (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? We will talk in following weeks about the lies of shame, fear, and guilt, but 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).

We will talk next week about our response to Jesus Christ and the lies we believe. But for this week, begin to respond to some of these or other scriptures that speak to what God has given you in salvation. If you are unsure of your salvation, please message me and I would be happy to share with you how you can be certain. Make a running list of these truths and allow Him to sink His blessings and His truth deep within your heart.

You are beloved, not because of you but because of Jesus.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. ~ Romans 3:21-25a

Growing an Oak

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. ~Psalm 1

Many years ago, God showed me a word picture that realigned my thoughts on raising my children and gave me a vision that has helped so much in the difficulties of discipling and shepherding them. Troy and I moved into a home that was in essence new construction. I excitedly began planning how to landscape the lot, choosing trees, shrubs, and perennials with care with an extremely limited budget. I love gardening and could just imagine the beauty that would soon become my yard! I anticipated the maturing of all the plants and how different things would look in different seasons.

Over the course of the next few years, the yard became just that – a yard – to be cared for, weeded, tended. We had a house full of children and were very busy in the middle of raising them. I have been blessed with very exuberant children – full of zest for life, confidence, “leadership qualities” they say. One of my friends said that I don’t seem to get the quiet, retiring child (and I’m not sure that was a compliment!) And in a season of real challenge with one of my little ones, I remember beseeching the Lord on that child’s behalf, wondering what would work better, create better change, do what I saw happening in other people’s kids. And God brought me to 2 scriptures – Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17.  I began praying fiercely for this child with these passages, asking the Lord to show me this strong tree growing in my child. I was looking for tangible results, conversations of that child’s faith deepening, hearing beautiful prayers, seeing a child who managed their strong sin issues in family dynamics, desperately seeking to see the life that the Spirit brings.

And I will say this – none of those desires are wrong when put in their rightful place. Prayer, mommas, is THE MOST POWERFUL thing we can commit to doing for our children. Pray for their heart to be tender to the Gospel, open to His truth and His working in them. And look for the fruit that you may commend them and encourage them – but watch your reason. You see, in those moments I was hunting for this child’s maturing for my gain – my peace of mind, peace in my home, to look like I had a kid who was well behaved, to measure up to the other kids I saw around me and therefore to appear to have this parenting thing down, otherwise known as pride.

I would walk outside in my yard, tending to the flowerbeds and having conversations with God. One of these difficult parenting days, I escaped outside to walk in my yard. I walked to where I had planted an oak tree. When it had been planted, I remember being disappointed in its size compared to the cost for it. I knew oaks were slow growing, and when this baby tree came to my yard, all I could think was that I would never see it really be what it had the potential to become. Then I walked around the front of the house and noticed that our neighbors had lost a beautiful pear tree the night before in a storm. The tree was cracked in half, crumpled across their driveway.

And in that moment God defined for me His perspective for my children.

The root system of a tree serves as the anchor in a storm. It defines the health or illness of the tree.

A pear tree is a fast growing, ornamental tree with big branches and beautiful foliage in each season. Until it’s not. The root system of a pear tree is shallow or high and tends to circle around the narrow base of its trunk, sending out intertwining rootlets that fail to provide strength. They instead create instability that leads to falling or death. The branches of the tree all diverge from a single, short trunk as well which allows for the beautiful display in the early years. The wood however is weak, and the trunk of the tree often cannot take the stress of wind gusts causing the tree to crack.

 Oak trees have a slow growing root system that begins with a tap root. A tap root grows vertically downward. It will only then begin to grow its branches outward, but ultimately the roots of an oak occupy a diameter 4-7x the tree’s crown and total hundreds of miles. Oak trees grow very slowly because not until their taproot is established and root system in place will they begin to establish greater foliage and branch growth.

I need to embrace the fact that I must create environments that God can grow oak trees, not pear trees. But that’s all I do – I cannot ever grow the tree.

That is the work of God alone.

He sees the root, not me. He monitors the growth where it matters, but I only see the branches and leaves. My outlook needs to be committed to a long range vision, working daily in the short term for something that will take years to develop. And I need to stop looking at all the other trees being grown and comparing my trees to them because some of them may just be pear trees. Roots take a long time to grow in oak trees, but once established, oak trees aren’t easily damaged with a season of drought or even heat. Growth is abundant and consistent in trees well established.

Often the beauty of the oak tree is in its age. As a mother, I am committed for the lifetime. This task seems hard at times, discouraging at others – mainly because we cannot see the end result. We cannot see when or how our children will become the oaks of righteousness (Is. 61:3) we desire. The magic number for the maturation of an oak is not 18 years, nor is it the number for our children. We need to stop having that mindset! I’m not done when they turn 18 or leave for college or even when they get married.

My role has changed from nose wiper and discipliner to listener and exhorter with my older children, but the child hasn’t stopped growing, the branches may not be spread yet at all, and tap root growth may still be happening. Am I committed to the process of pointing back to Jesus if that means this oak tree doesn’t become one until I am gone?

Yes, and I hope I die with callused knees from many years of interceding on their behalf.