Jan 212015
 

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Like most of America, I planned to return to the gym in January.

For the first time in my life, I actually (semi) missed working out over the holiday season. I was ready to pack away the “healthy eating hiatus” with the rest of the Christmas goodies and get back to routine. Returning to my regular exercise regimen and sensible eating seemed somehow comforting. Strange, yes. Will I take it with a “Thank you Lord!”? Yes.

However, my plans didn’t seem to unfold the way I’d hoped. All the appointments and responsibilities I left hanging in December now screamed to be dealt with. Laundry Mountain threatened to swallow a child whole. A nasty cold/wet front kept everyone snuggled indoors and feeling gloomy. The icing on the cake was several of the kids taking turns with a stomach virus. It seemed no matter what plans I made to get gym time or to hammer out that *ideal* healthy menu or to grocery shop for more than milk and bread – I failed.

The cycle of trying and failing, trying and failing, and wondering if things will ever change can be mentally exhausting. And take my word for it, this kind of exhausting isn’t relieved with a few more hours of sleep or another episode of Gilmore Girls. And while I prayed for God to help me be content with my lot for each day and find joy in my allotted work, I wondered if my prayers were even slipping through the dark and heavy clouds outside my front door.

I didn’t need the gym. 

It really wasn’t a big deal. It was just two weeks without the gym and a few nights of fast-food for dinner or cookies after the kids were asleep. What was the big hairy deal?

I took my shame and my exhaustion into corporate worship this Sunday and in the middle of singing an all-too-familiar worship song on auto-pilot, I heard these words come out of my own mouth.

“Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord.”

The words came alive in my soul. “That’s not who you’ve been waiting on, Lindsey.” I thought to myself. I’d spent the entire week prior trying to talk myself into rising up on my own, working around challenges, or praying to “do better” the next day. I had allowed food and exercise to drag my soul to the wilderness and I was parched. Only gospel-refreshment would quench my thirst and convince me to stop “trying harder” and wait longer.

For me, each missed work-out or high-calorie meal represented failure on a grander level. I was afraid of myself; that I’d never make it back to working out and eating healthy and afraid I would give into old patterns of sin and idolatry. I let a temporarily-abandoned gym membership and a few weeks of careless eating cause me to fear my own weakness more than I trusted the faithfulness of God.

The next lines of the song are a prayer of confession:

“Our God, you reign forever. Our hope, our strong deliverer! You are the everlasting God, the everlasting God. You won’t give up! You won’t grow weary!” 

I needed strength I didn’t possess on my own.

As I sang the words taken from , I thought of my own weariness and how quickly and easily I grow tired of pursuing holiness. It’s easier to be distracted or lazy, and then ashamed, and eventually give up – to walk out on the pursuit of all good and holy endeavors, bristling at grace every time I fail.

Even in what I deem my own “failure,” God steadily provides opportunities for me to find my strength in Him rather than in my own merits or the fleeting pleasures of this world. Despite my weakness, He continues to work out my faith muscles from every angle. By sovereignly targeting each of my weaknesses, He exposes all the ways I’ve failed to place my full dependence in Him.

I am a son of Adam, desperately marred by the stain of sin. I feel my need because without Christ, my condition is desperate. Thankfully, Jesus went to the cross for my sin – my weakness,  doubt, insecurities, fears, and shame. He bore the reproach I deserved and by grace, through faith, I stand fully pardoned. While my weak-kneed faith may occasionally buckle under the lies of the enemy, I am comforted to know my true strength is not tied to a gym membership but to the Everlasting God, creator of the Heavens and the Earth.

But you, Israel, my servant,

Jacob, whom I have chosen,

the offspring of Abraham, my friend;

you whom I took from the ends of the earth,

and called from its farthest corners,

saying to you, “You are my servant,

I have chosen you and not cast you off”;

fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
or what man shows him his counsel?
14 Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (ESV)

But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (ESV)

Jan 052015
 

Long-Expected-JanuaryI know technically it’s already January, but my kids won’t return to school until Tuesday and my husband is still off work for the remainder of the week. I am thrilled to have a little extra time to enjoy vacation and my husband’s company, but I’m also longing for the return to our routines and rhythms and that’s still a week away. I’m ready for that fresh start that seems somehow more conquerable each January.

We all know there’s nothing particularly magic about January and certainly nothing more holy. Perhaps it’s the bandwagon principal that leads us to all jump on together and strive toward new goals. Whatever it is, I’ll take my jumpstart in any way that will spur me on toward greater holiness. With a seeming mountain of bad habits to break and good habits to instill, getting started usually feels like jumping off a cliff.

This year feels different. I’m feeling relatively peaceful as I prepare to pursue fresh resolutions. I attribute this peace to a greater understanding and reliance on the gospel. Last January and every January before – while I understood the gospel – I also understood my sin. I fixated so much on all my unrighteousness that I was terrified of failing to reform. I elevated overcoming my sin over understanding and resting in the good news of the gospel.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” -

I strive to change and grow because of the salvation I’ve received and in the process, God is purifying me. I am not striving for change for the sake of self-betterment. My goal in changing is to more clearly represent the image of Jesus to others and to worship Him. When I frame change the way scripture frames change, it won’t be fueled by disappointment in self, by fear of failure, shame, or the desire for acceptance. I’ve already been accepted by God through the righteousness of Jesus and His acceptance lasts past January and long after you’ve forgotten your resolutions.

From January to Jesus

While I long for January and the return to routine, it’s ultimately because I know routine equals more time with Jesus. When I’m in regular rhythms of life, my time in the Word is more predictable, my prayer life is more vibrant, and my soul flourishes. I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old adage “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Plan something this year that places you in the path of God’s Word. Start somewhere! says:

“Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

How will you strategically find your hope through the scriptures this year? Last year, I resolved to read through the Bible in ninety days and did so chronologically. By His grace I made it through, enjoyed the experience, and was thankful for a plan! There’s no way this method would have worked during other seasons of my life. This year, I’m choosing to utilize the “Change Your Mind Plan” that concentrates on one book of the Bible (reading through twenty times) and I’ll focus my scripture memory specifically from the same book. Desiring God has an excellent article encouraging you to resolve to read the Bible and both The Gospel Coalition and Tim Challies have gathered a number of different plans and options available online. Pick something that seems like a good fit for you!

I plan to take a step further than reading scripture and strategically work towards memorizing scripture. I have always struggled with memorization work and have leaned on this excuse for too long. Jesus valued and utilized the memorized Word and I am asking Him to increase my ability to do so. Scripture memory apps have proved to be a grace in this endeavor. Specifically, I enjoy Desiring God’s Fighter Verses , Scripture Typer Bible Memory program, and Verses.

Last but certainly not least, I am trying something new with my prayer life. Wanting to take a more organized and systematic approach to my daily prayers, I am trying out another app called Prayermate. So far I’m enjoying it’s ability to digitally create prayer cards with categories I set up and make notes on specific things or verses to pray. Time will tell if I stick with this technology or opt to return to the good ‘ol paper and pen method.

As you return to your life as usual this week or next, I pray you would long for more of Jesus; not just in January, but all year long and increasingly until He returns!

*I would love to hear your resolutions, things you’ve found helpful, or ways I can pray for you as you strive towards holiness!

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (ESV)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (ESV)

Dec 172014
 

half of xmas picI am one of those people who waits to decorate for Christmas and listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. No matter how much I love the bright lights and the festive fun, I try not to divide my celebration between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But once my decorations are out, I always want to leave them up. Twenty-five days seems to fly by at the speed of light like no other month.

Now, let’s pretend I decided to take all the Christmas decorations and halt all celebratory happenings on December seventeenth. “What?!” you’d say. “Why? Why would you do that?” Can anyone really exhaust their enjoyment of their celebration of the Savior, too early?

Don’t choke on your eggnog. My decorations are still in tact and we’re still singing carols around our Jesse Tree while talking about Jesus’ coming. However, I should confess that for years I’ve stopped short and packed up my celebration too early.

Looking Past the Manger Scene

For most of my life I’ve looked at Christmas as a time to celebrate the Savior’s birth. Our Little People nativity set is centered around the stable with smiling parents gathered round a peaceful babe in the hay. All of our nativity sets are: shepherds, wise men, camels, sheep, donkeys, they gaze at the manger. They all remind us of a story very important to our faith. It was here in the cradle God fulfilled His promise to provide  a Savior for the world.

In The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd Jones writes of the shepherds visit:

“They caught their breath. Then quietly, they tiptoed inside. The knelt on the dirt floor. They had heard about this Promised Child and now he was here. Heaven’s Son. The Maker of the Stars. A baby sleeping in his mother’s arms. This baby would be like that bright star shining in the sky that night. A Light to light up the whole world. Chasing away darkness. Helping people to see.”

This baby was special. He is worthy of celebrating. But while I love my Little People nativity and all the others I’ve collected over the years, they don’t teach the whole story. Isaiah prophesied of more than just the Savior’s birth. To fully celebrate the reality of Christmas I must consider more than that fateful starry night; I must also consider the day the sun stood still and the coming day when the skies will burst open.

Beholding the Fullness

The Gospel invites us to celebrate more than just Jesus’s birth each Christmas. The reality that Mary cradled God’s promise to Israel in her arms assures us that one day soon we too will touch and hold our own redemption. Jesus has come, but he is also coming again. We celebrate the birth because we know the precious soft-skinned baby would one day be bleeding, bruised, and broken. Our salvation has been secured by this tiny son turned Savior. While the manger places Jesus in the hay, the full story places him on a cross and ultimately an empty tomb. Stopping in the birth narrative celebrates half of Christmas – don’t do it.

This year, take your celebration all the way through scripture. tells us when Jesus comes again he will create new heavens and a new earth in which there will be no more weeping or distress but instead joy and gladness forever. When Jesus comes back we will put away our idols (), He will swallow up death forever  and take away all our reproach(Is. 25:8). “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation (Is. 25:9).’”

As surely as the King has come, His Kingdom is coming too. Celebrate all of Christmas; embrace the fullness of God’s plan through both the coming of Christ and the eventual return.

 

Today I’m over at The Gospel Coalition sharing about 3 Christmas Pitfalls for Parents. I hope you’ll click on over, read, and be encouraged! You might also benefit from reading a past Christmas post that freshly convicted me this morning – Too Busy for Christmas.

17 “For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind. (ESV)

20 In that day mankind will cast away
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
to the moles and to the bats, (ESV)

Nov 102014
 

ID-10064081-2Wild growing bushes in the woods (or at the end of a grandparents’ driveway) can do a fair amount of damage to a four-year-old. During our family vacation last Christmas, our son took a tumble over the handlebars of his new bike and landed smack in the middle of one. From inside the gnarly branches we heard him howl, his tears flowed, and we came running.

Frankly, I expected far more visible damage than what we actually found. Instead of blood, bruising, or broken bones, the poor guy was covered in microscopic splinters. They were embedded in both of his hands, all over his face, and on his small pouting lips. We knew the offending intruders couldn’t stay lodged beneath the surface; they had to be removed. Despite my son’s pleas, my husband and I held him down and carefully examined every inch. One by one we located, prodded, and plucked out. We did so out of love.

As he kicked and screamed and pleaded for us to stop, I caught a glimpse of myself in his protest. I am often the one pulling away from my Heavenly Father as He goes about His work of fixing me to look more like His son. If it hurts at all, rather than trusting Him, I figuratively kick and scream and push back against His hand. I rarely consider pain as necessary part of the process.

Take It Out, Take It Out, Remove It

In , Jesus tells a parable about a man with a plank in his eye who he reprimands for judging another man with a saw-dust size speck in his eye. Jesus says, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the plank from your brother’s eye.” Maybe the plank-eyed guy didn’t start off with a full-blown plank in his eye. Maybe his plank began as an insignificant piece of sawdust just like the one in his brother’s eye.

Be it sawdust or a plank, wood of any size doesn’t belong in the eye. The sin Jesus described -whether big or small in nature – didn’t belong in either brothers’ life. Sin shouldn’t be something we dismiss or tolerate in our daily lives. Ongoing or habitual sin is a significant obstruction to the holiness God calls us too and while we may try to ignore it, God can’t and doesn’t. Just as I imagine extracting either sawdust or planks from ones’ eye would be painful, removing sin and unbelief from our lives can also be painful.

When we give up worldly comforts, the hope of an unfulfilled dream, or other idols of the heart, we feel them tug as they rip free from our flesh. But, God is not unkind to remove what does not belong. Instead of allowing us to entertain sin or embrace idols that will ultimately lead to our destruction, he calls a spade a spade and planks, sin.  The plucking of planks from our eyes and the snatching of splinters from our hearts is for our healing.

Just Hold Still

Almost a year has passed since the great bicycle-tree debacle. No longer are the ends of driveways or utilizing the brakes on bicycles taken for granted. The intentional launching of boys into bushes is discouraged. Despite our vigilance in these areas, we’ve experienced more splinters in our little people than I’d like. With each successive splinter-session, you’d think pinning down and plucking out would get easier. It doesn’t.

Identifying sin and working to remove it will never be an enjoyable activity. We will likely continue to experience discomfort as we are refined by the Holy Spirit. It is the pain of death; of dying to ourselves and learning to live as Christ. There is joy in our pain though. We know God is refining us because He loves us and desires for us to look more like His son. His process of refinement isn’t conditional, it’s merciful.

Jesus’ blood atoned for every speck and plank we’ve ever had and ever will have in the future. We no longer need to fear the consequences of our unrighteousness – we trust in His grace! We are seen by God as fully righteous through Jesus. One day, neither we nor God will see the obstructions in our eyes or the eyes of his beloved children because our planks and specs will forever be removed when our faith is made sight. On that day, all we will see is Jesus in the fullness of His glory. Until then, would you just hold still long enough for God to remove your splinters and planks?

 

What’s in your eye today? What do you need to take out or ask God to remove? Do you believe the painful process of removing sin is worth the glory God receives through your obedience? Would you thank him for healing you through Jesus?

42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (ESV)

Sep 152014
 

ThornsHow often in life, do we thank God for the thorns of life before we grumble and complain and attempt to pray our way out of them?

This is the question I’m mulling over today. Currently, the particulars include God’s plans for one of my children and how they don’t look like what I’d hoped they would look like. While praying through my action steps in how to move forward and assist aforementioned child, the Holy Spirit revealed the problem might be with my heart more than the trial.

“Do you trust me? Do you know that I know what’s best and you do not?” I felt the Spirit question.

What if instead of scurrying to make a game-plan and “fix” things every time they went off my grid, I thanked God and waited graciously for Him to reveal His hand of blessing. What if I asked Him how I could submit to His wise shaping and trust His refinement?

Real Thorns, Real Gifts

God first attempted to teach me this lesson three years ago, with a literal thorn. A trip to the doctor’s office for generalized pain in my heels revealed both feet had developed bone spurs in the shape of tiny fish hooks. With every stride, my own bones were piercing through muscle. The pain would only be alleviated through surgical intervention – on both feet.

Following surgery were two weeks of bed rest, lying on my back with the corrected foot elevated over my heart. After that came four to six more weeks in a walking boot and physical therapy until things returned to “normal.” Six weeks after the first healed, I repeated the process on the other foot. All of this while I had four kids under 7 running around the house and supposedly homeschooling. Yet, God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose ().

How God? How can I do this? How could this be for my good? I asked.

Three years later I’ve gained quite a bit of perspective. The Lord used my seasons of surgeries for my humbling – to teach me that other people could do my job (taking care of my kids, cleaning my house, grocery shopping, making meals) for me and the world wouldn’t fall apart. He used the deep despair of lying in bed and watching the world go on without me (and a LOT of Netflix), to shake me awake. “What are you investing in that’s of eternal value? Are you glorifying me or biding your time?” He asked.

It was also during this uncomfortable season that the Lord brought the blessing of new friends. A woman new to our church (unfamiliar with my particular season of grumpiness) offered to swing by with her kids and entertain mine. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between her family and ours. Of course, knowing the value and the joy I gained from that relationship, I would do both surgeries over again in a heartbeat! But would I do it again to gain the humility birthed from the stripping pain?

Real Joy

In we are instructed to “count it all joy” when we face trials of of various kinds.”All joy. Foot pain, skyrocketing property taxes, cross-country moves, joblessness, cancer, death of a loved one, all of it. This instruction has always astounded me. So much so, that I’ve hesitated to write reflections on it. Like a thorn itself, this expectation has always seemed to catch me and pull at me in each season of suffering.

We cannot count trials joy if we look exclusively to the current state of things. Remember, we walk by faith and not by sight (). When I look only to the challenge, the pain, and the seeming lack of solutions – I will be tempted to despair. Instead, I must keep my eyes fixed on the steadfastness produced by the testing of my faith (v.3). And most of the time, I will have to wait to see the real joy of this fruit God is producing.

“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ()  

What trial are you facing today? How are you tempted to problem-solve, anxiously toil, or generally grumble? Would you pause and thank Him? Thank Him with more than PollyAnna-like optimism. Thank Him for moving mountains in your heart – mountains you may not have ever chosen to move for yourself, on your behalf. Thank Him for developing in you, steadfastness that leads to godliness (). Thank Him for not restraining His mercy from you, but preserving your soul with His faithfulness and steadfast love ()!

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

The next time you find yourself praying your way through your own thorns, thank Him on the way.

photo credit: westpark via photopin cc

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (ESV)

for we walk by faith, not by sight. (ESV)

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (ESV)

and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, (ESV)

11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
ever preserve me! (ESV)

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (ESV)

Aug 292014
 

Two years ago John Piper and his ministry Desiring God, introduced the world to the story of Ian and Larissa Murphy. If you missed it, take a few minutes to view the video below.

Yesterday, Ian and Larissa Murphy celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary with the release of their book, “Eight Twenty-Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up.” You can read more about the book in my review over on The Gospel Coalition. I hope you will take a few moments to learn more from this lovely couple and consider picking up a copy of their book.

 

Aug 212014
 

large_281183I once heard the saying “Happiness is a new box of crayons.” This year as I sent my kids off to school to open their own new boxes of happiness, I was reminded of what I used to think about the moms who were so happy about their kids going back to school in the fall: I used to think they must not like their kids very much. Then, I became a mom who is so happy her kids are going back to school.

It seems God, in His infinite wisdom, thought I could gain some insight and compassion by experiencing full-blown, at my wits-end, burned-out exhaustion by the end of summer. Let me state the obvious: I love my kids and they are a gift and we have loads of fun together. But, there are four of them and their hopes and needs and only one mama to meet them. We step on each other’s toes, fingers, hair, and sometimes eyelashes. And this summer was no exception. When the first day of school rolled around yesterday, honestly, everyone was happy.

Why all the happiness?

Like I said, the kids were happy. I was happy. It was a happy day. Did I mention the happiness? But here’s the distinction I would like to make clear: we’re all happy school is starting again because it’s good for us. Right now, in this season of life, this form of education is where the Lord has placed us. And for our family, it is good. When I say “I’m so glad my kids are back in school!” it does not mean I don’t love them or miss them. It does not mean I don’t value children and instructing them in righteousness, shaping them in Gospel truths. I mean, our family enjoys God’s grace to us through our school situation.

Here are some reasons we may have all done the happy dance:

  1. We THRIVE on routine. (And the work actually gets done alongside the play!)
  2. Daily expectations are clear and attainable.
  3. My introverts are over-stimulated and my extroverts are bored senseless.
  4. We all have space to be individuals.
  5. My kids miss their friends.
  6. Absence makes the heart grow fonder – we will now appreciate one another more when we’re together.
  7. Our conversations expand; more experiences, more to talk about!
  8. My kids benefit from the wisdom of teachers who offer them experiences and awesomeness I don’t have to give.
  9. My kids see faith modeled by teachers other than me.
  10. We all have the capacity for more ministry opportunities.

What’s wrong with happiness?

Why do I feel the need to explain and bullet-point my excitement? Because, sometimes, this mama feels guilty. I feel guilty for enjoying God’s freely given blessings. And this, I’m confident, is guilt I wasn’t meant to bear.

The guilt I feel over rejoicing in my children’s return to school isn’t because I doubt my family’s decision to send our kids to school. It isn’t because I am sinning against the Lord or my children. It is purely fear of man. tells me the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. When I allow this fear to fester and give way to guilt and anxiety, I abandon my trust in the Lord and I fail to rejoice in the ways he cares and provides for me.

says:

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings.”

goes onto say that we do not fear man’s opinions or judgments because they are not lasting. Instead, we fear God:

“For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations.”

Thankfully, my righteousness and the salvation of my children (a.k.a. The Lord’s mercy “to all generations”) isn’t dependent on how I chose to school my children and my sanctification is promised no matter where our days play out. My righteousness and my hope are in Christ alone.

When Guilt Gives Way to Gratitude

Really and truly, I am thankful to the Lord for providing for my children through the work of people who do things better than I could. I’m thankful to the Lord for the friendships he’s provided to my children. I’m thankful for the teachers he handpicked to guide them this year. I’m thankful for the fun and all the silliness they’ll have during their hours away from me. Words fail to express the gratitude I have for the school and the abundant grace my family receives from the Lord through these hardworking teachers and staff. Their dedication and joy over teaching the little people I love so much is a gift to me all school year.

Summer burnout has taught me we are all intricately made by the Lord – strengths, weaknesses, faults, and limits. And at the end of the summer, when I hit the wall of what I had to offer, God’s grace was there to provide and sustain me. Summer proved to be no exception. But as the wall gives way, I’m praying it doesn’t give way to guilt but instead to gratitude.

 

“It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”

 

photo credit: Special via photopin cc

25 The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. (ESV)

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
the people in whose heart is my law;
fear not the reproach of man,
nor be dismayed at their revilings. (ESV)

For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
and the worm will eat them like wool;
but my righteousness will be forever,
and my salvation to all generations.” (ESV)

92:1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy. (ESV)

Jul 292014
 

9781433541766Today, I am thrilled to introduce you to a new book that has entered a special category of my personal library. It is one I will recommend over and over for years to come because I believe it offers foundational wisdom on a simple practice we often avoid or misunderstand – how to study the Bible.

“Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds” by Jen Wilkin clearly outlines the reasons we should read, study and love God’s Word and offers lifelong tools for doing so.

What’s Our Problem?

Because I appreciate Wilkin’s writing style, I will not spoil her hilarious set-up in chapter one. You’ll have to read it for yourself. But, the premise is that there are two approaches women often take when attempting to learn God’s Word – both are problematic.

1. We fail to understand the Bible is a book about God.

In my years as a young believer I was absolutely guilty of opening the Bible to whatever passage I thought I needed at the time, learning scripture out of context, and using it however it benefited me in the moment. I, like Jen, read the Bible as if it were for me and all about me. Wilkin writes:

“Perhaps I really did know that the Bible was a book about God, but I didn’t realize that I wasn’t reading it as if it were…I approached my study time asking the wrong questions. I read the Bible asking ‘Who am I’ and ‘What should I do?’…But the questions I was asking revealed that I held subtle misunderstandings about the very nature of the Bible: I believed the Bible was a book about me.” (pp. 23-24)

Wilkin assures readers “the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand (p.26).” We cannot learn who we are without learning “through the lens of who God is” and she encourages women to start there.

2. We believe our hearts should guide our study.

Wilkin writes: “For years I tried to love God with my heart to the neglect of my mind, not recognizing my need to grow in the knowledge of the ‘I AM.’ Any systematic study of the Bible felt mechanical, even a little like an act of faithlessness or an admission that the Holy Spirit’s insight during a quiet time wasn’t enough for me. But I was missing the important truth that the heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” (pp. 30-31)

She goes on to explain how the heart is the seat of our wills and emotions – so we must guide our hearts wisely toward the understanding of the entire counsel of Scripture and not just the parts we like to read.

What’s The Solution?

The remainder of “Women of the Word” centers around what Wilkin dubs “The Five P’s of Sound Study.” This method, encourages women to study with purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer. It is easy to grasp and helps readers move past quick, cursory readings of scripture and onto deeper, more meaningful study and ultimately, Biblical literacy. Each section explains the “whys” and the “hows,” heart-diagnosing questions, and examples of application.

I thought each section was insightful and wise, but I felt most convicted by the section on patience. Here’s an excerpt I found challenging:

“…Sound Bible study is rooted in a celebration of delayed gratification. Gaining Bible literacy requires allowing our study to have a cumulative effect – across weeks, months, years – so that the interrelation of one part of Scripture to another reveals itself slowly and gracefully…The Bible does not want to be neatly packaged into three-hundred-and-sixty-five-day increments. It does not want to be reduced to truisms and action points. It wants to introduce dissonance into your thinking, to stretch your understanding. It wants to reveal a mosaic of the majesty of God one passage at a time, one day at a time, across a lifetime. By all means, bring eagerness to your study time. Yes, bring hunger. But certainly bring patience – come ready to study for the long term.” (p.75) 

Why Should I Read It?

Maybe you’re asking, “Why should I read this book? Shouldn’t I just read the Bible?” Yes, please read the Bible over books and blogs. But, it is my belief that reading this book will sharpen you to read God’s Word for the long-term. And for many of us it’s the long-term rhythms and commitments we struggle with. Wilkin notes:

“…a woman who loses interest in her Bible has not been equipped to love it as she should. The God of the Bible is to lovely to abandon for lesser pursuits. I want women everywhere to develop a deep and abiding love for him through the study of the text that makes him known.” (p.46)

“Women of the Word” calls women to study God’s Word for the purpose of loving Him more. This short, to-the-point book is grace-filled, humorous and immediately applicable for women in any stage of their walk with Christ.

WANT TO WIN A COPY? Thanks to Crossway, I have two copies of Jen’s book to giveaway! If you would like to enter to win, comment below with your name. Winners will be chosen Friday, August 1 @ 12 p.m. CST. 

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A little more about the book’s author: Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom to four great kids, and an advocate for women to love God with their minds through the faithful study of his Word. She writes, speaks, and teaches women the Bible. She lives in Flower Mound, Texas, and her family calls The Village Church home. You can find her at jenwilkin.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter

Jul 072014
 

draws near imageCracks of thunder echo through the skies as I write. When I was a child the flashes lightening catapulted me from my bed and sent me flying down the hallway to my parents’ room. I needed their nearness. After rousing them from deep sleep, they’d usually oblige, open their covers, and welcome me in for comfort. As I drew near, they drew near. Under the covers, safe in the nearness, I rested.

These past several months have been full of tempest skies and thunderstorms and I’ve been frantic to find shelter. Certainly, I’ve looked to the Lord and the comfort of His Spirit and His Word. I’ve also looked to friends, to exercise, to food, to over-scheduling and under-scheduling, dabbling in just about anything that provides a little comfort from the chaos. But there have been days where I wonder if the Lord is near. Does He see my struggle? Does He hear my cries for His nearness?

In these times of waiting and doubt, I’ve been comforted by both the promise and the instructions of this verse:

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded.”

This verse tells me:

a) Despite how I’m feeling, I am called to draw near to God.

b) God will draw near to me when I draw near to Him.

c) Maybe my heart has something to do with the distance I’ve been feeling.

Why Wouldn’t I Draw Near?

Sometimes, it’s simple apathy keeping me from dogged pursuit. Maybe I’m more interested in my social life, my career, or my family than I am in drawing near to God. When I don’t feel warm and devotionally close to God, it’s easy to give up on the pursuit.

Sometimes I don’t feel close to God because I’m oblivious to my own sin. Maybe I’m running from God because of shame or guilt. Maybe I’m not ready to confess my own need. It’s uncomfortable to go to God with my failures. When I feel far from God, scripture says I should check my hands and my heart.

Other times, I avoid drawing near because I am so overly aware of my own sins. I foolishly assume I need to tidy up my heart before God will take thought for me. “If I could just get over this sin, then I’d feel closer to God.” This is the type of internal condemnation the enemy would love to use to keep God’s children from pursuing His nearness.

Whatever it is that is keeping us from drawing near, it isn’t God who’s pulled away. My feelings of being far off do not validate my lack of pursuit. The prophet Zephaniah warned Jerusalem of falling into the same stubbornness we are tempted to – “Woe to her who does not draw near to God ().” Woe. Failing to draw near to God, is woe-worthy! We are to actively pursue God’s nearness.

What does drawing near to God look like? 

says “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” So we come to God (through prayer, reading His Word, in confession) with confidence, knowing it is His grace that draws us near and sustains us in His presence. We trust that this same grace will be our survival means through any storm we face.

We rest in Christ’s ability to save and deliver. If He can save us from spiritual death, He can save us from our sin or apathy. says Christ is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Praise God, our salvation and our closeness with the Father aren’t dependent on our righteousness, our reliability, or our resolution. We rest in our Savior’s abilities.

We draw near by faith, because “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Our Father rewards – REWARDS – those who seek Him. And the reward? More of His presence. His nearness is the ultimate comfort in affliction.

Drawing near isn’t a physical stepping in, but an internal posture of surrender: I recognize my inability to maintain right relationship with Holy God. I recognize my utter dependence on Christ to save me. I confess my dependence on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And as I lay prostrate in my posture of surrender, I wait in dependence – knowing God is near to me.

The Lord Is Near

These summer thunderstorms remind me that I’ve grown up and no longer need the protection of my parents’ bed. But I haven’t outgrown my need for nearness and comfort. The flashes of lightening and rolls of thunder in this life, call me away from self-sufficiency. Christ is lovingly drawing me nearer.

If you are in a season of life where you are wondering if the Lord is near, He is.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (ESV)

3:1 Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled,
the oppressing city!
She listens to no voice;
she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord;
she does not draw near to her God. (ESV)

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (ESV)

17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (ESV)

May 272014
 

38889Whether you’re a mom of one or every seatbelt in your 12-passenger van is buckled, at some point you’ve experienced full hands. Between diaper bags and extra clothes all the way up to soccer practice, school projects and overly crowded schedules, kids fill our hands and our hearts to overflowing. But how often do we notice how much our full hands actually help us to treasure Christ?

In her newest book, “Treasuring Christ When Your Hand Are Full,” my friend Gloria Furman not only identifies with this struggle, she confidently speaks into it and addresses these frequent wrestlings. If you are a mom or hope to be one some day, her book is a valuable resource to add to your already full hands.

“… sometimes mothers feel that their hands are full of inconvenience, thankless work, and futility. Maintaining the perspective that God has abundantly blessed you is a very real struggle. The fight for faith cannot be waged with the whimsical idea that you just need to see that “the glass is half full.” The fight for faith should be addressed with sensitivity and grace and always subjected to the inerrant and authoritative Word of God.” (p.26) 

But how do we fight for faith when we can’t keep our eyes open long enough to read the Word of God? How do we feel encouraged in Christ when we’re inundated with boogers, Clorox wipes, and mismatched socks? Gloria’s book teaches readers to fight to understand their place in God’s bigger picture.

“We mothers, like everyone else who struggles under the weight of sin, tend to forget the gospel, and our ignorance of the hope we have in Christ spawns rotten fruit such as identity crises and discontent. We need to remember that God is no less good to us when we find ourselves in a battle of wills with a preschooler in the checkout line at the grocery store than he was as his Son dragged a cross up a hill that Friday two thousand years ago.”  (p. 54)

You Can Read It

You might be thinking “My hands ARE full! I don’t have time to read a book!” While full of humorous and relatable stories, the chapters are brief and to the point as they lead you to God’s Truth. The book is a short and easy read. I read it in two days. However, I would have benefited more to break it up and read it little by little. Its short meditations will call you away from despair and stir your affections for Christ.

While the book is an easy read, it isn’t light on conviction. The humble way Gloria weaves stories and Scripture makes it easy for the Holy Spirit to shine the light of Truth into many dark corners of my heart. Here are a concepts I found personally convicting:

* The Lord is near to me in every season of motherhood, no matter how daunting or draining it feels.

* My dry spiritual life isn’t my child’s fault.

*  My view of motherhood is often near-sighted. I need to view my role as a mother with an eternal perspective.

* My kids do not exist to serve my ego.

*God doesn’t base how He feels about me on how my day went.

“As Christians we understand that any spiritual guidance for motherhood that attempts to connect a woman to God apart from the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus cannot ultimately succeed. Jesus’ claim to be “the way, and the truth, and the life” () has implications for the way we view our role as mothers. The lens of the profound reality of the gospel is where we see motherhood for what it is – a mercy.”  (pp. 144-145)

Take Her Words

Gloria’s words aren’t self-help. They aren’t to-do lists or recommendations for your child’s behavior modification.They are grace-laced commendations, drenched in the good news of Jesus. Each chapter enters the

front lines of battle – encouraging you to apply the Gospel in life-changing ways as you mother through joyful confidence in Christ.

“Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full” is an excellent invitation to embrace Christ as your role as a mother. I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy, “Allow motherhood to inline your heart to worship, and bless the Lord who fills your hands with blessings (p. 147).”

Want to WIN a FREE copy?!?

This week the lovely people at Crossway are giving two lucky readers a chance to win a copy of “Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full.” You can enter to win by commenting below with your name. (Limited to U.S. & Canada readers.) Contest ends Friday, May 31st at noon CST.   

Learn more about the book by watching this sweet video.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (ESV)

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