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.

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.

Before the throne

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help of time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16

 

The throne room is a glorious place. Scripture over and over declares the glory that surrounds our God. The magnificence of who He is dashes all self promotion, destroys all self confidence, resulting in prostrate pronouncements of unworthiness before Him in his glory and holiness. It is the place of judgment as David discovers in Psalm 73.

Yet the author of Hebrews urges us to approach the throne with confidence so that we will receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.

The phrase with confidence or boldly in other translations means with loud exclamations, frank confidence – speaking everything, not withholding for fear of reprisal or judgment, a cheerful courage. My children are stunning examples of the boldness God encourages me to have as I approach Him. My 3 year old will come hurtling through the house, yelling my name over and over, pulling at my sleeve to come and see, knowing I will listen. He confidently, naturally assumes that whatever is important to him in the moment is therefore important to me. My older children as well have confidence that their thoughts or needs will be met with a welcoming ear. While it mildly aggravates me to be in one discussion with a child only to have him or her suddenly request something completely off topic, they do not hesitate. Out comes their need, their thought.

Their confidence stems from their identity. They belong. They have welcome, intimate relationship with me because they are mine.

I am often timid or minimalistic in my prayers, perhaps because I worry about the answer, worry that I won’t be pleasing enough for Him, worry that I should handle this one differently or desire differently. Sometimes I feel like the laundry list of requests is too much, that I should pick the top three and no more. Sometimes I wonder if He really wants to hear yet again about my heartache or discontent. I am apologetic, not worshipful, timid and concerned of His reaction to me rather than expectant and eager. When I enter the throne room with my gaze on myself, I am worshiping, but not my Savior. My prayers are not the powerful ones of a righteous woman, they are not deeply rooted in the name of Jesus, no, they are the whisperings of a self focused, self righteous performer who hopes it is enough. Clearly I have a deeply rooted misunderstanding of the Gospel that displays itself in my prayer life.

Standing in front of His throne is holy ground, but also a welcoming place because of Jesus Christ. We have the great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has gone before us.  Performance isn’t needed or desired. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for your sin and mine paid our sin debt and placated the wrath of God that separated us from relationship with God. I hold fast to my confession – nothing I have done has ever merited my welcomed position before His throne, but all that Jesus has accomplished atones for my sinful state and covers me with His righteousness. My position is now for every moment of my life securely before the throne. He determines my identity.

His throne room is a becoming place, a place where my heart and my desires are changed and made more like Him. He is well acquainted with my heart and yours. Scripture tells us that He searches our hearts and knows our minds (Jeremiah 17:10). He knows our weaknesses and temptations, yet He loves us. Committed to refining me, He works patiently and purposely, often exposing the doubts or fears as He realigns my heart in areas or grows my faith in spaces I deemed impossible. With confidence I can present my shortcomings as a mother, wrestle with my feelings of inadequacy or discontent, seek help with requests big and small, hide my wounded heart inside His tower of strength, and display any other need or worry I may have. He is interested in them all. But a curious thing happens when I hold fast to my confession, when I center my identity on Jesus who made me righteous and welcome before the throne of grace ~ I worship Him. The wreckage of my life can come spilling out and lay exposed there on the floor, but He becomes all I see. I lay down pretense and pride and begin to abide.

The grace and the mercy I desperately need for whatever I face are offered by the King of Kings. He invites us to come and pour out our hearts to Him.

 

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.

Back Porch – the Law & salvation

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:19-20

My husband uses a fantastic word picture to teach others including our children about the differences between the law, salvation, and sanctification. As we study the Gospel, we have talked about the importance of laying a strong foundation upon which all other parts of walking with Jesus depend.  Being on a gospel hunt begins to show us that the heartbeat of God is to pursue sinful man and redeem him unto Himself. For many friends I have discipled as well as myself, the “what comes after” becomes a hard place to walk. Inherent in us is a desire to be part of the solution, to contribute to the change, to be good perhaps. But God does the work in salvation as we talked about last time. Before we go any further, I want to firm up the truth that only the Holy Spirit changes you and me as we walk with Him. The closer I walk with Jesus, the more of my flesh or my sin I see. My foundation buckles when any of my footers sits in the belief that I must clean my own sin, get myself turned around or fix my flesh tendencies before I can come before God.

 If we were sitting together talking about being made in His image, I would begin with this pictorial foundation. Imagine you walk into a bathroom and you see a mirror hanging above a sink with a light illuminating the room. As you walk up to the mirror, the light enables you to see your reflection in the mirror. With the light off, clearly the room is dark and you cannot see anything, but with the light comes sight. As you look into the mirror, you can see all the filthy spots of dirt speckling your skin, covering up huge areas or small. You naturally rub at some, hoping to rid yourself of the dirt, scraping at some spots and brushing at others. Nothing will work. The dirt may flake top layers off, but it still remains. And it is everywhere. It seems the harder you try to rub it off, the more imbedded it becomes. You swivel and turn; it’s everywhere on you, from the tip of your head to the soles of your feet. The mirror keeps showing more places of dirt. You need the sink. You quickly turn on the water and begin to wash away the dirt that covers your face, your neck, your arms, etc. Glancing continuously into the mirror, you are able to see more areas that need cleaning. But the water does the cleaning.

The light in the bathroom is Jesus Christ. Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) and I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46) As we step into relationship with Jesus, we step out of darkness and into light.

The mirror is the reflection of God’s demand for holiness – the law. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20) The law serves to show us all the ways we can never walk righteously on our own. Romans 7:7 says “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” But the mirror never makes us clean. And this is the important truth for walking with Jesus. Just like the Galatians, sometimes we can believe the mirror makes us clean. If I can just stay clean today, then it will be a good day. The truth is we cannot and will not. In fact the law will stir sin up within us as Romans 7:7-10 explains. But without Christ as our Savior, a darkened bathroom offers little. The mirror requires the light to reflect just like the law requires Jesus Christ.

But the water is what cleanses. And the water is the blood of Jesus Christ that renews us daily through the Holy Spirit. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) and 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. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The daily walk with the Holy Spirit in humility will change or sanctify me and make me more like Jesus and less like my own flesh.

I like to use this word picture even with my very little ones. As we wash our hands or look at dirty faces in the mirror after playtime, I will ask how can we see all the dirt in the mirror. First they will point out we need to turn the light on. And then when I begin to point out in the mirror all the little spots of dirt under fingernails or around mouths, I love to wonder with my little ones how on earth can we get clean? Even at 2 & 3 they can point to the sink as their hope for getting the dirt off of hands and faces. And as we wash hands, we talk about how only Jesus can wash away the sin from our hearts just like only water can wash away the grime on our hands.

As our children have aged, this analogy only becomes more important. There is an onslaught by the enemy on our children to perseverate on the reflection in the mirror and to feel hopeless in the grime of sin they see. They retreat into the darkness, fearing the mirror.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ. He reveals, and He cleanses. Jesus Christ is our fountain of life who never runs dry.

 

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

The reaping

God brings in a bountiful harvest in our lives as we trust Him.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever! ~Psalm 30:11-12

The days on the threshing floor are limited. That’s what the Lord keeps whispering to me. Let me stretch you, change you. Trust me in this process of revealing and refining. The harvest will come in. And once the grains are separated from the chaff, once the winnowing has been done, the winds have blown all the unwanted husks and hardened shells away, what remains is gathered. It is looked at, measured, and stored. And the celebration begins.

There are times when the harvest seems plentiful, full of bounty and much needed stores. Other times the harvest may be scant, perhaps there were great amounts of chaff to remove or rotten, dry hulls to be separated. Not much is left from a drought ridden season but what remains is rejoiced over. It is treasured and stored. It will be used as it should – for nourishment and strength in order to continue with preparations for the next season. But for the moment, the harvest is gathered and the celebration of what God provided begins.

For He turns my mourning, He loosens the sackcloth, and He lessens the strain of the stretching.  These hard seasons are never without Him, and He doesn’t expect me to do the changing. He calls for me to submit for He is intimately acquainted with all of me and completely committed to me despite me. His word promises. He who freely gave His Son for me while I was dead in sin walks me through seasons of growth and seasons of harvest. He rescues because He delights in us, but not because of anything we have done or will do. He invites us into His broad place of victory over sin and death and steadies our souls.

So I get to glorify Him.

My heart will sing of His goodness – in seasons of plenty and in seasons of want.

I will rejoice in His steadfast love when I never have deserved it.

I will wonder at His faithfulness despite my wandering heart.

My life will be a testimony in good and bad.

That all of it will point to Him. For His Glory.

On this threshing floor in this season, I know a harvest will come. There will be a bounty that will be beautiful and celebrated as I stand in wonder at what God has winnowed away and what remains. So I am thankful in anticipation of what is to come.

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. ~ Psalm 18:19

Weighed Down

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. ~ Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety – Merriam Webster defines it as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Biblically the word in Hebrew has heaviness, fear, sorrow, or carefulness associated with it. Until a few years ago, I would not have said that anxiety characterized my life or was a big struggle for me. Now I may have been wrong or unaware, but certainly God has been faithful to reveal what I feel is a new struggle with anxiety to me in these last few years.

Several years ago we made a move, following steps the Lord made clear to us but still painful in the leaving of friends, familiarity, comfort, and ease. Following that move I would say that our lives entered a 3 year period where anything that could go wrong did. Medical crises, difficulty with a pregnancy and new birth, upheaval with work, uncertainty with income walked hand in hand with a new city, new friends, new routine for school. We began to hurtle from one major event to another, putting out the fires or seeking to moderate the issue, and I began to feel like the ball in a pinball machine bouncing back and forth between high stress issues without any respite. My friends who know me will probably agree that I tend to be more dramatic or animated than some, but I began to retreat into a place where I watched myself handle everything without actually engaging a whole lot emotionally. In my mind racing thoughts of what’s next, what should I do to prevent that, how can I set this up to not have repercussions seesawed along with thoughts of retreat, panic, and anger. My family was “treated” to either a high task manager or emotional mine field.

Proverbs warns that anxiety weighs a man down. To weigh down in this verse means to bow down, as in worship, to stoop. Anxiety will cause me to worship at the altar of fear, worry, control/organization, self reliance or inactivity. I will bow down, and it will not be to the only One who can help me in my need.  So how do I release or walk away from anxiety?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Reasonableness in Philippians 4 is gentleness. When I am anxious, often gentleness is the first thing to go. Anxious people aren’t often gentle or patient.  They are protective, grabby, impatient, and irritable. The posture of rejoicing despite the circumstances, pleading before the throne with thanksgiving, is hard. But as we look to the Word and worship Him, His peace is our guard, a military term for keeping watch and engaging all offensive and defensive actions necessary as a military sentinel would.

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. As much as I don’t want to see it, anxiety links up with pride. Pride is the root cause of so many symptoms of sin, and it is the base of this one as well for me. Since the garden we have been seeking to be like God, and I am no exception. My anxiety was wrapped in the complete lack of ability to control anything going on and the deep pride within me that screamed that I should be able to handle this, that I should be able to walk this out calmly, that if I could just organize better or return to some way that had worked in the past, that I could turn this around and be the savior in these circumstances. I could not control the way my life was spinning, and it was an affront to me.  There is One who has conquered all, and He desires for me to choose the good portion as he told Martha in Luke 10. Inherent in this scripture is the link that humbling myself requires giving all my anxieties to Him, acknowledging His care for me, and allowing His timing for my life. And He will exalt, at the proper time. He will carve ways out of rock, make rough places smooth, comfort your fears, heal, lead, organize, and guide.

Many times I have quoted or heard someone quote Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And it seems like a pull up your bootstraps kind of verse, meant to exhort and make you just put all your worries down and walk well. But it’s so important to have context of what Jesus is saying when he exhorts us with this verse. Yes, this is the passage where Jesus is referencing the birds and flowers that don’t worry about their food or clothes, and he then says how much more does your Father love and care for you, the ones who are in His image. But verse 33 should be the emphasis, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When my thinking is aligned with kingdom work, anxiety can be nailed to the cross. The ability to peel off the anxiety that envelopes is related to my pursuit of Him. He will increase my understanding of what occurred at the cross, that Jesus’ death crucified my body of sin so that I would not be enslaved to it but set free from it.

I want to worship Christ, the One who has made me alive and will make me more and more in His image until the day I stand before Him. No more bowing to what I fear or what I cannot control.