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)

May 192014
 

too hardI love writing, but lately I haven’t done much of it. You might even say I’ve been avoiding it.

For me, this means more than a lack of hitting “publish.” Avoiding writing is steering clear of how I adequately process my own feelings, behavior, and sin in light of the Gospel and God’s grace. In doing so, I avoid the intentional and methodical examination and exaltation of God’s work in my life. I avoid enjoying God in a way He has wired me to enjoy Him. I’ve spent months analyzing why I’m avoiding writing and I’m stumped. Maybe it’s setbacks, disappointments, writer’s block, or old-fashioned laziness. I just don’t know. Whatever the cause, the Lord is teaching me how quick I am to avoid worthy things because they are hard.

First, there’s the physical and emotional commitment. For me to write, I need to go to bed early enough so I’ll get enough sleep to wake up and write while it’s still dark (and quiet) in the morning. It’s committing to explore parts of my life in light of God’s character and Word, even when I don’t fully understand. It’s being uncomfortable in the tension of the mysteries of God and begging the Holy Spirit to bring wisdom and discernment. It’s waiting on God for words and trusting in His goodness even when they don’t come. It’s hard.

Second, there’s the crippling weight of perfectionism. I want to do everything perfectly the first time. (Prideful, much?) I want to be eloquent, funny, relevant, engaging, and also humble. I want to use the “right” words to point to Jesus the “right” way, never distracting from the gospel. I want to write in a way so Christ impacts and compels people more than my words or stories. Successfully doing all of these things, is hard.

Then, there’s the embarrassing sinful temptation that crops up from writing. Let me assure you the ugly snare of compare is alive and well. I am tempted to look to other writers’ accomplishments and respond in sinful jealousy, discontent in my own abilities and giftings, or my own lack of accomplishments and play a lot of “Why not me, God?” games. Giving up all together seems way easier – the struggle against my own flesh is just hard.

Last but not least (I’m painfully aware this is not an exhaustive list) in this dirty string of distractions is the temptation to judge my obedience, faithfulness, and success on how I feel and what I see or don’t see. Let me clarify. “If I don’t have high enough blog traffic, a book deal, or people beating down my door for x,y, or z, my writing isn’t fruitful.” I look for visual markers of my own determining to encourage and validate me in a discipline I’m confident God is calling me to (for whatever His purposes are). And when my obedience doesn’t play out the way I thought it would, I’m tempted to throw in the towel because it’s too hard.

It’s embarrassing how ease-dependent, performance-related, fear avoiding, and results-driven my faith can be. Not only is it embarrassing, it’s mournful. One of the greatest gifts of writing has been the way it frees me from my own false thinking and reminds me of the great promises of the gospel. Avoiding writing, has essentially been avoiding the intentional strengthening of my faith muscles.

The Lord Is Not Surprised.

tells us we have a need for endurance – we need to persevere when things are hard.

I am encouraged to know my problems are not new to the Lord. He takes thought for people like me (and all of us) and instructs me throughout His word to take courage. For this reason, I find the book of Joshua very encouraging. Here we see the promised land God’s prepared for His people, Israel, ready for the taking. The time has come for God’s people to enter the land. But even with all of the years of God’s faithfulness and all of His direct promises, the Israelites have to do hard work to take the land. God calls them to be strong and courageous, knowing that the Lord their God is indeed with them ().

God reminds the fearful Israelites time and time again to put their hope and their trust in Him. The battles He calls me to aren’t over land or unruly cities but God calls me to draw from the same source for my strength and courage as I follow Him obediently into battle against my own enemies. How I long to have faith like Joshua, strong and courageous, moving forward, trusting in God’s character. I want to do hard things because His glory is infinitely worthy of my obedience.

Let’s not forget, God called Jesus to do the hardest work of all. My sinful lack of self-discipline, piddly perfectionism, arm wrestles with my own fallenness, and results with obsession may feel hard – but they pale in comparison to the real work Christ accomplished. reminds me to: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”Christ obediently surrendered himself for me even when it was excruciatingly hard for Him ().

Rubber, Meet Road.

Being strong and courageous may not feel strong and courageous – it may just feel like uncomfortable flailing. Latch onto this truth: God’s mercy through Christ is for you, even in your flailing. Even in your disobedience, in your struggle, even as you avoid things God calls you to pursue. Christ died for you, putting to death once and for all your need to perform perfectly for your salvation. Because of Christ, pursuing God through obedience and faithfulness is no longer a burden but a mercy! The gospel is hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary, and perseverance for the avoiders.

So, here’s the tension: knowing the importance of endurance and faithful obedience doesn’t always equal doing. I want to do hard things but I do not always do the things I should (Thank you, ). And most of the time, I run. I haven’t wrapped up this struggle with a neat and tidy bow. It’s an area of my life that is unfinished, a work in progress. But today, being strong and courageous looks like hitting “Publish” when there isn’t a catchy closing with resolution and asking for you to pray for me to be faithful and do hard things for His glory.

Today, obedience looks like rising with sleep in my eyes and confessing my failures, in hope. God is working and making all things new. Where He is convicting me of weak and sinful character issues, He is also working to sanctify, redeeming my brokenness for His glory.

Is there anything you’re avoiding today that God is asking you to be strong and courageous in? How is God challenging you to persevere in hope?

“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” 

36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (ESV)

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. (ESV)

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (ESV)

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV)

19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (ESV)

11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (ESV)

Apr 292014
 

90 days CheckLast week, I successfully finished reading through the entire Bible in 90 days.

Yes, I am a mom of four young kiddos. Yes, I still made them some food and cleaned some of their clothes. And no, I didn’t neglect my family to make this happen.

If you would have challenged me to do this two years ago, I would have called you crazy. I would have told you about my sporadic “quiet times,” my wild and crazy boys and how I’m super ADD. Then I would have showed you my messy laundry room and my overly crowded schedule. But this Spring, God moved through the words of a man I’ve never met and encouraged me to try something new. Even if there was a potential for “failure,” I could still try.

I started in February. I read in dark of early mornings and late evenings. I read *a few times* during a nap time. I read in waiting rooms, between kid’s activities, and during Wild Krattz. Wherever, whenever, I read and I read with purpose. On track some days, behind on others, and sometimes even ahead. When I got behind on my reading plan, I caught up. Be it running or limping, I am thankful to cross the finish line.

So here’s what I’ve learned from 90 days (Chronologically) in the Bible: 

  1. Reading this way did give me a clearer picture of the storyline, helping me to order and connect all the stories I had learned out of sequence.
  2. Reading quickly is great for my short attention span. Faster payoff for the win.
  3. Reading with a plan facilitates strategic and profitable learning, necessary to be a true student of the Word.
  4. Reading in a time crunch helps. Being “under the gun” encouraged me stay on track and not take my commitment too loosely. When I’ve read year-long plans, I am easily distracted by the length of the task.
  5. Reading consistently for 90 days helped me establish rhythms that work well for me. (Where I like to read, where I’m easily distracted, reading in a traditional Bible vs. on my iPad mini, times of day that are conducive, and listening vs. reading)
  6. Reading doesn’t take too long. On average, most days it took me between forty minutes to an hour to read. (Keep in mind, I’m reading four days at a time from a one-year plan.) Sometimes I would break it up in two chunks if I was short on time or feeling sleepy.

I am certainly not advocating this to be the only way to commit to reading through the Bible. And because I enjoy getting the full scoop, I’m happy to admit to the few downsides or negatives I noticed.

  1. Reading quickly (once) will not grant you the Biblical Literacy Crown and deem you completely knowledgable on all things scripture. I didn’t memorize every story, location, and character I read. To be fair, I don’t naturally do so when I’m reading slowly either.
  2. My lofty goals to make detailed notes and observations or grab commentaries or pray through personal application didn’t pan out the way I hoped they would. (Maybe you’re a rock star with incredible time management though. I am not.)
  3. Though my family wasn’t impacted negatively by my ambitious venture, my writing time (a.k.a. free time) took a significant hit.
  4. In the beginning my goal was to not read any other books until I finished. I cheated when a couple of friends released books. Looking back, I think I should have just added the caveat “I won’t read any other books until my Scripture reading is done for the day.” I missed reading other genres.
  5. I would not recommend having a sheet of paper that you adapt from a one-year-plan and try to fly by the seat of your pants with every day. Crossing out, checking, and highlighting can get confusing and old. Someone along the way asked me why I hadn’t bought a Chronological Bible to eliminate all the flipping back and forth. Honest answer: I didn’t think about it.

Will I do it again?

The short answer is, yes. I absolutely will do this again. It’s probably a little to soon to do it again right now. I’m ready to go back to the sit-and-soak method for the next few months. I may make the 90-day reading plan a tradition at the beginning of every year. I really liked how I was finishing right around Easter. Reading the gospels while leading my kids in easter season devotionals equipped me to offer more insight.

Reading Revelation in two sittings was incredible. After reading for 90 days and coming to the ended of the prophecy, my heart swelled with joy and hope. I felt myself longing for Jesus to return. I was actually bummed out when there were no more words on the screen, no more scrolling, just the end of God’s revelation to us for now. Of course I’ll read it again – it fills me with hope and longing as I wait for Jesus’ return!

What’s the bottom line?

Read the Bible. If you love Jesus or if you want to love Jesus, read God’s word and His story intentionally. Set goals, pray for grace, and get going. Figure out what works for you and do that. But read the Bible and read it in its entirety.

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