Saturday, August 15, 2015

God's Not Finished With Me Yet--The Power of Hope

I saw the power of hope this week.

It was a tough week for one of my kids. Seemed that every time I turned around, I was rebuking, scolding, and yes, I even yelled at her one evening. She was tangling with everyone; her jaw was stubbornly set in a 'so what' posture; her eyes blazed.

I truly have no idea what set her off. But I could see it was ruling her.

After three straight days of hauling her into the Crisis Room--I mean, study--hauling her into the study, she and I were both emotionally spent. So, after I triaged her to get littler ones put to bed, I took her--and my Bible--and headed out back for a little one on one time.

There was a particularly despairing moment when she put her head down on the table and sobbed. This girl needed some hope. She needed it desperately.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. 
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. (Psalm 51:10-13)

Do you know who wrote this? I asked.
No, she didn't.
King David. Do you know who he is?
Yes, she did.
And do you know that while he was a man after God's own heart, he sinned grievously?
Her eyes were focused. I had her full attention now.

That evening, sitting in the back yard, my little 8 yr old heard the story of David, and his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, and the Lord. It's safe to say, by the audible gasps, that she was fairly thunderstruck.

Do you know that God heard David's prayer that day? forgave him? restored him?
And do you know that David never failed to have a man sit on the throne of Israel? and that was God's promise to him?
She nodded in wonder. The light was going on...

There is a reason the writer of Hebrews refers to hope as the "Anchor of the Soul."
Without hope, our souls would drift like a ship lost at sea,
no particular direction, no particular destination.
But with hope...
With hope, our souls stay rooted, anchored to exactly the place we should be.
Hope gives us the energy to do the next thing.
Hope gives us courage to do hard things.
And hope has this amazing power to take our eyes off of ourselves and to fix them upon Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

Author AND Finisher.
God goes by lots of titles in the Bible.
But that one is my favorite.
He is the author of my faith.
He chose me. He raised me to life. He gave me the gift of repentance. He forgave me. He adopted me as his daughter.
He is the finisher of my faith.
He will not un-choose me, un-raise me, un-give to me, un-forgive me, un-adopt me. That would be the Un-Gospel.
He will sanctify me. He will conform me to His image. He will bring me to the Father.
And on that last day, He will save me.
He started this work. And He will finish what He started.

Between the beginning and the end...
it is hope that anchors me in the Now and the Not Yet.
It is hope that keeps my eyes on Him.
It is hope that keeps me from despair when I fail Him.
And when I fail Him again.
And again.
It is hope that makes me get to my feet, dust myself off, and get back in the race.
It is hope that brings me sleep at night.

So we sat there, the 8 yr old and I, in the backyard, and we prayed. We prayed for forgiveness. We asked God to do what we can't: to create a clean heart in us.

She came out to the meeting, a despondent, hopeless soul.
She left, laughing and light-hearted.
The joy of her salvation was restored.
THAT is the power of hope.

Create in me a clean, clean heart.
Create in me a work of art.
Create in me a miracle,
Something real, something beautiful.
God's not finished with me yet.
God's not finished with me yet.
By His help, I can change, I can change.
God's not finished with me yet.*

*(Rend Collective, 2014)

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Wisdom of George Bailey

How long, o simple ones, will  you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

My family has had the awesome privilege of watching The Scoffer in action. I mean that in the most earnest way because we've simultaneously been going through the first nine chapters of Proverbs, and it helps to have a real flesh-and-blood example to point to.

Look, kids. This! This is the scoffer of Proverbs.

As we learned from the beginning chapters back in the spring, the fool of Proverbs ranges from simple to scoffer. We are all on the spectrum somewhere, and we would do well to plot ourselves there in order that we might gain a heart of wisdom. And as we learned yesterday, we are daily beckoned by the ladies Wisdom and Folly, "Turn in here!"

If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.

The Simple is a human shrug.
He is careless in his handling of Wisdom.
His interpretation is sloppy and self-serving.
'Meh,' he says when the light of God's Word shines on his life.
And he goes his own way--to his own peril.

The Scoffer, though.
The Scoffer is a man with a Cause.
He is articulate.
He is clever.
He is passionate.
He is sincere.

Scoffer has a PR machine to die for.
He's got media, and he knows how to use it.

Simple might pay a regrettable visit to Lady Folly's house.
But Scoffer is driving the tour bus.
He wants to take as many people with him as he can.

Scoffer is the man with the bullhorn defending his Cause.
He is not only not bothered that the Simple follow him in droves--au contraire--he craves it.
He celebrates it...because he feels validated by sheer numbers.

Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof... 

When Wisdom confronts the Scoffer, points to his error, shows him the path of life, Scoffer is the man putting his fingers in his ears. blahblahblahblahblahI'mnotlistening.

Because Scoffer would rather be right than wrong.
Come again?
Yeah. Scoffer would rather be right than wrong.

I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer. They will seek me diligently but will not find me.

Um, you're thinking. Who wouldn't rather be right than wrong?
The Wise Man.

The Wise Man would rather be told he's wrong...
The Wise Man would rather be rebuked and rescued...
The Wise Man would rather be corrected than coddled...
Because the Wise Man would rather live than die.

Last night, as I tucked my 6 yr old into bed, I asked him about fools. What's a fool?
He looked shy and hesitated. I don't think I can tell you, he said. He's bad...
Yes, I said, he's bad.
'He doesn't listen,' he said.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore, they shall eat the fruit of their way and have their fill of their devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them...

The fool doesn't listen.
I can't think of a better definition.
Two hours earlier, we had attended a scouting Court of Honor where fathers spoke blessings over their sons for the past year and for the affirming things they saw in their sons' lives. It was a powerful thing to witness. One father commended his son for his wisdom. You listen, he said.


So clear-cut, this dichotomy between wisdom and foolishness.
The fool doesn't listen.
The wise man listens.
And the wise man lives.

The Simple shrugs at wisdom.
The Scoffer mocks wisdom.
And they die.

Oh, it may not be a spiritual death. He might be a believer. But his stubborn recategorization of folly as wisdom and of the wise man as fool, will catch up to him. He will experience the absence of life in his health or his relationships or his abundance. Proverbs promises that.

Sobering thoughts.
Unless you're the Scoffer...
in which case you laugh at wisdom's warnings.
And you urge others to do the same.
But wisdom will have the last laugh. Refuse me, says wisdom, and one day, it will be too late. On that day, though you earnestly seek me, I will laugh at you and the mess you have made.

Dear God, I want to live! prayed George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" after his brush with Folly.
Wise man, George. He didn't defend himself. He didn't scoff or mock. He humbled himself.
Dear God, I want to live! likewise prays the Wise Man.
And the Wise Mom.
When we visit Folly's house, (and we will all visit Folly's house) may we flee to Wisdom for refuge. So yeah. The fool who lives in my house is going to get an earful about life and death.
He doesn't get to stay foolish.
Not on my watch.

And yeah. The fool who doesn't live in my house is going to be the poster boy for how to self-destruct. See kids? Solomon was not making this up.

I want to be wise. I want to be George Bailey wise.
I want to be open to correction.
Dear God, I want to live!
And I want the same things for my children.

But whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster. (Proverbs 1:22-33)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

After the Darkness, Light

This post has been simmering in my heart for a few months, especially as I meet with more friends who, like me, are well into the season of life where we are launching grown children and coming alongside as they navigate adulthood. Or maybe you're one who's just now walking into this season. Without even trying, I can rattle off name after name of friends who are finding this season more challenging than anyone prepared us for.

Sometimes we are tentative. Things look good; then again, he has yet to be proven in the fires of the big, bad world. And we see further down the pike than he does. We know some of what lies ahead. Like a friend said to me, "He doesn't know what he doesn't know."

Sometimes we are tearful; that gap we left, that unturned stone, it is now showing up, wreaking havoc in her life, and breaking our hearts.

Rarely are any of my friends finding this to be seamless. After spending twenty-ish years laying a foundation, and then building upon it, we finally take the scaffolding down and stand back. It's an awesome thing to watch them stand on their own. Then we breathe again.

Or maybe you're still holding your breath.
Pensive doubting, fearful heart.
This one's for you.

"He is still risen."
The day after Easter, my newsfeed was lit up with this proclamation. I don't have a problem with setting a day aside to remember the Resurrection. As long as...
As long as we don't forget on all those other days.  But if I greeted you today with the joyous proclamation "He is risen!" you would think me odd or maybe clever. I know that because it's June, and there's nary a hint of Resurrection on my newsfeed today. We are forgetful creatures, indeed.

He is risen!
We need this Truth.
We need it on a random Tuesday.
We need it in August.
We need it in the dead of winter.

He is risen!
We need to steep in this hope.
We need it in our church families.
We need it in our marriages.
And we need it in our parenting.

We need, every day, the Truth that God is in the business of raising dead people to life.

"Post tenebras lux."
After darkness, light.

It was the theme of the Geneva Reformation after literally centuries of darkness for the Church, brought on largely by bad soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and bad ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). Throw in widespread illiteracy and an elitist oligarchy which functioned under the misnomer 'priesthood', and we had a first class mess that practically guaranteed no one could be a Berean, even if they wanted to.

Then--at just the right time--God raised up men who would stand up to the Enemy and bring the Gospel to the people. Their goal was to preach salvation to every corner of society, from the king on his throne to the boy who drove the plow. The darkness was beginning to die. The good news of the Resurrection was gaining ground. A full-blown reformation was at hand.

The hope of this reformation was anchored in the Resurrection, that God, who raised Jesus from the dead, could also raise the king and the plow boy to life, justified by a faith that came from God Himself.

After the darkness, light.
Likewise, the hope of reformation in our children is anchored in the Resurrection. The same Father who raised His Son to life can raise your child to life. The same Father can turn your child's heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

Relating to these new adults we know as our children is delightful. There's nothing as wonderful as investing in this parenting relationship and then waking up one day to realize that these fascinating, deep, gifted people are our friends. And we enjoy being with them. More amazing still, they enjoy being with us! Who knew?

They aren't 'fun size' any more, though.
These adult kids are like Texas; everything's bigger.
Gone are the days of potty training and spilled milk.
Gone even are the days of junior high awkwardness, immaturity, and insecurity.
Gone are the simpler questions like, Which airsoft rifle should I buy?

Adults have adult questions.
Who am I, and why am I here?
Is God Who you always told me He is?
We're no longer talking about obedience; we're talking about accountability.
We're no longer talking about rules; we're talking about wisdom.
We're teaching less and dialoguing more.

Adults struggle with adult sins.
This is what has my mom friends in tears.
And this is where we need to remind ourselves that He is still risen.
When the reality of your children's sin nature smacks you in the face, find your hope in the Resurrection.

I was reading Exodus this morning. God toys with the Red Sea as the children of Israel look on. First, He parts it. He parts a sea. Are you grasping this? He parts a SEA in two and leads Israel through it! I would love to have been a fly on that wall. What were the little guys saying? Mommy, look at that big fish! What were the old folks saying? Never in all my born days...Then--at just the right time--He closes it over their enemies. Finished. Done. Kaput. God:1/Pharoah:0. Game over.

But then. In the fifteenth day of the second month, this: they grumble against the Lord.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  They just walked through a sea parted by the Lord on their behalf...and now they are grumbling?!?

Seems incredible to us. But we do the same thing when we fret over our kids.

God raised Jesus from the dead. Think about that. He died a death so horrible, so tortuous and terrible, that His body wasn't even recognizable. And God raised Him to life! God raised YOU from the dead, too. You were dead in your sin. You were at enmity with God. And--at just the right time--God made you the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus!

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too formerly lived in the lust of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our transgressions made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:1-6

Have you forgotten that? Did you witness the hand of God in your own life, but you grumble against the Lord that He has not worked in your child? Do you doubt the faithfulness of God because of the sinfulness of your child?

After the darkness, light.
Sometimes, there are sad seasons of darkness that you have to walk through with your child. If she is saved, grieve with her. Forgive her. Come alongside her. And remind her that Jesus has raised her to life. If he is not saved, bring him to the Father in prayer. Petition the Lord to save him. Trust the sovereignty and goodness of the Father.  Look at His Resurrection track record.

All the walls, I will repair.
Thou shalt be rebuilt anew.
And in thee it shall appear, 
What a God of love can do.*

Oh, mama, this is what the Gospel is for!
Jesus died because your children do sin, not because they might sin.
But, praise God, Jesus is Risen!
And the Father is in the business of bringing dead people to life.
That includes your children.

For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His. Romans 6:5

Can I get an amen?

*Pensive Doubting, Fearful Heart, words John Newton, 1779, music Justin Smith, 2012, Indelible Grace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Bruce Jenner the Person raises some interesting questions about grace. I've learned a lot about grace in the last year. I've learned what it looks like to give grace and to receive it. I've learned the power of grace to change lives. But I freely confess that I don't know how to do grace with an unrepentant person who is thumbing his nose at God and glorying in his sin. And I don't know how to do grace with someone I'll likely never meet.

I do know this, though: His grace was not intended as a place to wipe your feet.*

So I admit it. I don't dwell on Bruce Jenner the Person. It's not that I wish him poorly; it's just that he's not even a blip on my radar screen. I don't know the man.  I don't wonder what he's up to today. I don't keep up with his social network. I don't lie awake at night worrying about him. If he were my brother, my neighbor, or my grocery checker, that would be different. But there are 20 degrees of separation here. There is, therefore, little obligation of moral proximity. I will leave that to the believers who do actually know him.

And I'll admit this, too. I'm pretty tired of articles and admonitions telling me I can't speak to the topic unless I am praying for him...Praying for him? I'm praying for my bi-vocational husband, my children, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter, my church family, my government, the persecuted church, and a handful of unsaved friends. Bruce Jenner is so far down the list, he's not even on the list. Sorry.

And that precludes me from weighing in on the topic?

I care very much about Bruce Jenner the Proposition.
And that has everything to do with those who do live within my moral proximity: chiefly, my children.

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 
I Corinthians 14:20

Bruce Jenner the Proposition is about definitions.
Mamas, my concern here is for our children. Part of our job as mother, as educator, as discipler, is to teach our children the vocabulary of Truth. And know this, deep in your bones. If you don't...someone else will.

A tree is not a car.
A dog is not a piano.
A man is not a woman.
Lopping off body parts and pasting on other ones does not alter that in the slightest.
Bruce Jenner is a man.

That is not hateful.
Or intolerant.
Or narrow-minded.
It is fact.
And facts are stubborn things.

Facts are also simple things. You are what your DNA says you are. And your DNA is what God says it is. So someone who rejects his gender is doing much more than rejecting his DNA; he is rejecting God, the architect of DNA. It is a shame that we have to spend more than a moment on this silly, stupid argument. These are facts my six year old can grasp. But we do have to spend time here because our culture insists on intellectual regress. In contrast, our homes should be places which foster delight, not doubt, in God's wisdom as Creator. There is no room in a gospel-saturated home for a creation 'oops.'

Bruce Jenner the Proposition is about legacy.
If Bruce Jenner the person were to die today, I would be sobered, not because it was Bruce Jenner, whom I do not know, but because any time a soul who lived at enmity with God has gone to face his Maker, I have the same two responses:
I am saddened and sobered for his eternity.
I am humbled and grateful for mine--because I know I don't deserve it.

But Bruce Jenner the Proposition is not going to die; it is here to stay until Jesus returns. That is his sad legacy. Even if Bruce becomes a believer (make no mistake; the gospel is big enough to save Bruce Jenner), his legacy will always be linked to this sin. Even if he turns from the Wide Path, there will be countless others who will be influenced. That's what happens when we choose foolishness over wisdom. That's what happens when we let our feet stray, even for a moment, to the right or to the left.

Bruce Jenner's legacy is forcing this issue from dark and twisted corners to glamourous magazine covers. He's normalizing a perversion that has never been normal before. Think about it. Do  you remember the night your dad or mom sat you down and explained transgenderism to you? No. You don't. They didn't need to. But we do, thanks to the legacy of Bruce Jenner.

Chiefly, though, Bruce Jenner the Proposition is about bravery.
Jenner works at his perversion like Tim Duncan works at free throws. It's the easiest thing in the world to do. And without the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, we would, too. We love our flesh. It calls to us, and we lean in to it as it beckons over the cliff. That's not brave; that's depraved.

Bravery is doing what is right at the risk of personal cost. Bravery is hard. This man is the darling of the Wide Path. He risks nothing to explore his depravity. But culture stands there in its castle built on sand and calls him "brave."

And, Church, listen up.
Neither is it brave for you and I to curl up into a fetal ball and keep the peace. We are afraid of speaking the Truth because, by definition, the Truth offends. It sets limits. By speaking what Truth is, we necessarily speak what Truth is not. We are afraid of being rejected by friends or co-workers.
We are afraid of being seen as loveless, compassion-less, thoughtless. And we are really, really afraid of standing alone.

Face it.
We fear the rejection of man more than we value the approbation of God.

On the other hand, it is brave to be true to our Lord.
While it is cowardly to keep peace, it is brave to make peace.
It is brave to defend righteousness.
It is brave to stand alone.

You know what, though? Part of me doesn't want to be brave and doesn't want my kids to be brave.
I don't want them to be scorned, mocked, rejected, disdained.
I don't want them to lose jobs, friends, reputations.
I don't want this to cost me. And I don't want this to cost them.

But then I remember Stephen.
And Paul. And Peter.
I remember John Bunyan.
And William Tyndale.
And Richard Wurmbrand.
I remember our current ambassadors in chains,
like Saeed Abedini.
My cowardice makes a mockery of these men who have, like their Savior, set their faces like flint and taken up their crosses.
Or...would it be better to say that their courage makes a mockery of my cowardice?
And rightfully so.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. I Peter 2;11

It is tough right now to be a Christian. But it has always been tough. The path has always been narrow. And we have always been aliens. So set your face like flint, and carry your cross.
It's time to be...

All I know is I'm not home yet. 
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus.
This is not where I belong.**

*Angry Young Men, Randy Stonehill, 1985
**Where I Belong, Building 429, 2010

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Creating a Climate of Commendation

Bobo skee waton daton, ah.ah. ahah.
Eenie meenie bobo skee waton daton, ah.ah. ahah.
Zachary, Zachary! Ah.ah. ahah.
Zachary, Zachary! Ah.ah. ahah.

I know; it's a little weird. But it's tradition, family tradition specifically, in the form of a family cheer. Any time one of the kids does something notable, we cheer for them. And, actually, this is just the first in a set of three cheers we do for them. But I'll spare you the other two.

It's tough growing up. And it's even tougher growing in Christ. It's hard at age two. It's hard at age twelve. Nineteen. Twenty-four. And I can personally testify that life is hard at forty-seven. It just is.

And that's why we need to build a climate of commendation into our family culture. Our kids need it. Our husbands need it. And we need it from them, too.

Building a culture of commendation has its risks. There is a family culture that strives at commendation but, missing the mark, hits on coddling instead. Coddling is ego-stroking, wherein Junior's ego gets stroked for eighteen years. Stroke, stroke, stroke. And before you know it, Junior is believing his own press. Then Junior enters the big, bad world, and realizes that not everyone thinks he's as fabulous as Mama thinks he is. But... but... Mama has raised a professional five year old who is doomed to go through life dividing all of humanity into those who like him and those who don't. Parents, if your adult child is using words like that (they don't like me; they're mean), praise God that He finishes what He starts, and pray that the Holy Spirit will intervene and grow him up. Post haste.

In contrast, from the perspective of Wisdom, our kids should never segregate the world into 'those who like me' and 'those who don't.'
Rather, Wisdom divides the world into those who keep the covenant and those who don't. More than that, Wisdom motivates us to admire and imitate those covenant keepers. 

You might be coddling if...
You think your child can do no wrong, you find yourself rationalizing your child's wrongdoing to others, you fight their battles for them. The bottom line for coddling is that what others think about your baby is more important to you than what God thinks about her.

Let's face it. When your child does/says something dumb, and, oh, I can assure you that they will, you need to be first on the scene and last to leave. You need to rebuke them, take them to the Cross, and urge repentance. Swallow your pride, Mama. Remember that there is a sacrifice for sin; there is no sacrifice for denial. *

So if coddling builds a full-grown five year old, what kind of person does commendation build?

His visitor was conscious of a deep and virile indifference in the man which his wife had called greatness. (GK Chesterton--The Strange Crime of John Bulnois)

His wife was right. There's something tangibly great, something virile, about a man who is indifferent. Not that he's indifferent to the world around him, but that he's unmoved by what it thinks of him. Flattery not only leaves him unmoved; it repulses him. But grieving or pleasing the One whose opinion truly matters? That gets his attention. 

How do we build that man or woman? A large part of it is by cultivating commendation.

When one of my kids was struggling with respecting me, he would roll his eyes or mumble something under his breath as he walked out to 'obey.' We had many go-rounds with the issue, and it was very frustrating for me. I would get angry; he would go cold; sternness defined the relationship. I was beginning to think we would never conquer this. Then the day came when he bit his lip, took a breath and said, "Okay, Mom." That got him commended, not so much because it was perfect (it wasn't), but because it was really, really hard for him.

Building commendation does not involve money or materialism. It is their Dad or me coming alongside and saying, "I saw that; that was hard. I see evidence of the Holy Spirit in you! And that's a commendable." Inevitably, they walk with their heads held a little bit higher.

A few weeks back, the eight year old wanted to go early to church with Brett. And Brett, not realizing she hadn't done her chores, said yes. But when I saw her heading out the door even though the dishwasher hadn't been unloaded, I intervened. Brett, of course, backed me up on that. But the eight year old was very, very disappointed. 'You said I could go,' she pleaded. She had to stay home, despite her disappointment. I'll also add that this one has a history of arguing and debating to get her way.

As I bustled about the kitchen finishing some tasks, I was also watching her do her job. And I observed something beautiful. She was putting the silverware back in the drawers, tears streaming down her cheeks. But there was something about her countenance. Something...resolved. After she finished, I put my hand on her.

'That was amazing,' I said. 'I know that was hard. But I saw you rally and resolve to do it, even though it was hard. That's a commendable!' She straightened up and smiled and leaned in for a hug.

Sure, it's great to see our kids succeed at extra-curriculars. Medals, plaques, and ribbons are nice. We can rejoice with and for our kids when they do well at something. I've cheered for football and cross-country; ballet and baseball; piano recitals and speech tournaments. In view of eternity, though, these successes are very transitory. They aren't worth commendation.

But when we see a kid crucifying his flesh,
taking a thought captive,
putting someone else's needs ahead of her own...
when we see him taking up his cross and being conformed to the image of Christ,
when we see evidence of the Holy Spirit in her,
when we see him doing the right thing, even though it's the harder thing,
now that's a commendable.

Most importantly, when we see a kid choose righteousness in an area where they have, in the past, consistently chosen sin, that's a commendable!!!

Life is hard. The Lord disciplines the one He loves and chastises His sons. Could we, as parents, lift our kids' drooping hands and strengthen their weak knees by coming alongside and offering encouragement?

Sometimes, there are days when I get to the dinner table and realize I've had very little interaction with my children that wasn't directive.
Do this. Don't do that.
That wasn't right.
Work on this.
Some of that is absolutely necessary. Discipling our children involves rooting out the sin in their lives. But having a fruitful garden isn't just about weeding. It's also about fertilizing. If discipline is the weed-pulling of parenting, commendation is the fertilizer. It's the extra boost to the soil in their hearts that encourages healthy, abundant growth.

The writer of Hebrews directs us to the covenant keepers of old "who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead from resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." Hebrews 11:33-38

Sprinkled throughout this chapter is the Lord's commendation for these covenant keepers of old,
these saints who never cared whether people 'liked them,'
whether people were 'mean.'
These saints were far too busy doing hard things to give a fig for the good opinion of men.
These saints are the covenant keepers who comprise the great cloud of witnesses.
These are the ones whom the wise imitate in this race for the Prize.

If the Lord commended them to us, surely we should commend our own in this little piece of the kingdom called Home.

*Jason Meyer, Bethlehem Baptist Church, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

God in the Free-Fall

I was about 14 years old when I went repelling in the Shenandoah Mountains. It was at once the most thrilling and the most intimidating thing I have ever done. The hardest part? Going over the edge. I had the harness and diaper firmly attached by a repelling expert, but trusting that it would keep me safe as I went backwards over the edge was very hard to do.
When we are little, we dream of growing up to become successful. And while 'successful' itself is defined in any number of ways, we all tend to see it as a basic presence of comfort, be that comfortable spouses, children, and friendships, a comfortable income, a comfortable soul housed in a comfortable body.

Oh, we know that marriage and raising children is hard work. We're familiar with things like infertility and cancer, accidents and infidelity, unemployment and financial disaster. But they dance on the edge of impossible. Those things don't really happen, at least not to us, because we go to great lengths to ensure that they don't. We eat right and exercise, take care of our houses and our cars, are ethical employees and business owners. We enter carefully into covenant relationships. We set aside the Dave Ramsey emergency fund. The list goes on and on and on...We pursue success, however we define that, with all seriousness.

Last week, on Christian radio: "Pastor Mary" came on and chatted with the D.J. for a few minutes about calamity and how she reassures that her people that calamity is never from God, but God uses it.

Unfortunately, Christian radio doesn't always offer more value than its secular counterpart. The account I cite above was wrong on a couple levels, one of which is for another day, but I jabbed my finger at the off-button in disgust.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I form light and create darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these. Isaiah 45:7

God is the author of calamity. He gets to do whatever He wants to do. That's what makes Him sovereign. Or let me say it this way: that's what makes Him God. When we grow up, we often discover that Life does not go the way we dreamed it would when we were young. Along the way, we forgot to factor in the storms, the cliffs, the free-falls.

We know that He is sovereign over light; we forget He is sovereign over darkness.
We know that He is sovereign over life; we forget that He is sovereign over death.
We know that He is sovereign over sight; we forget that He is sovereign over blindness.

So,  we buckle our kids securely in the car; we work to keep them healthy; we pray for them. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand on the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff....

We set aside a rainy day fund. We budget carefully, tithe faithfully and live frugally. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand in the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff...

We work hard at our marriages and our friendships. We commit to walking with integrity. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand in the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff...

Life will bring us to the edge of the cliff for one reason or another because it is at the edge of the cliff where God teaches you things you would never learn when you are happy, healthy, and well-fed. But it's worse. Sometimes God puts His sovereign hand in the small of your back--and pushes you over the cliff's edge. Dear one, when that happens, give credit where credit is due. You are not being 'attacked.' (Where do we get that???) You are being discipled.

Fact: the only way that you know that God is everywhere, I mean really know it, is that you've been everywhere with Him. Or rather, He's been everywhere with you. God is there for your walk in the park. God is there at the cliff's edge.

And God is still there in free-fall.

He humbled you and let you be hungry and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

I love author Linda Dillow's name for God: Blessed Controller of All Things. He is in control of everything that comes your way. He does not blink; He does not forget; He is not bound by human action. But He is the blessed Controller. He is, in every way, good. And sometimes, his goodness takes us through the storm or over the cliff's edge.

A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in the hospital. Her son had been in a horrible car accident the week before, and he had not yet awakened. I gave her a hug in the hallway, and she smiled at me through the tears, "God is good." Wow. Just wow. Here in the quiet bustling hall of a hospital, I came face to face with a mighty woman of God. I will never forget that. Here is a woman who knows what it is to be in free-fall--and knows that God is there with her.

I never planned on free-fall. But I sure spent a lot of time presuming on what God would and would not do to me. I presumed that God would never push me to the edge of the cliff. I rested in that. Then He pushed me to the edge of the cliff. I presumed that God would never push me over the cliff. And I rested there, too, thinking how much I had matured. Then He pushed me over the cliff.

I've spent a fair amount of time in free-fall. And I don't presume upon God anymore. I was talking to another friend the other day, a friend who has also done time in free-fall. And he said, "Oh, I am so far beyond anxiety now." Exactly. The only thing I presume now is that God will do whatever it takes to accomplish His purposes.

My first experiences in free-fall brought out some ugly things in my heart.
Hold your peace, you rebellious pot. The Lord is God, and you are not.* 
Now, I understand a wee bit better. And like my friend, I am SO over much (maybe not quite all...) of the anxiety I used to have. I've just seen God too often to waste my time biting my fingernails.

Free fall clarifies things very quickly. It teaches us that solid ground is not what we stand on. Oh, it seems like it is. We like the feel of the solid-ground-of-good-planning beneath our feet. But we confuse that feel with the Sure Foundation. Only going over the edge, with wide-open space beneath us, shows us that God is the only Rock we are really standing on.

That's how it's always been.
We just didn't always know it.

Your way was through the sea
Your path through the great waters;
Yet your footprints were unseen. 
You led Your people like a flock
by the hand of  Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77:19-20
*Hold Your Peace, 2014, Douglas Wilson

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Acclimating to an Unsuspicious Grace

It was all very innocent. I was working with the children on a writing curriculum, and as I turned the page, there it was, this magnificent work of art. I'm an art stoic in that I do not typically speak the language of art, and art rarely moves me. But this. This moved me. I'm sure it took only a few seconds. Yet the world stopped for just those few seconds as my eyes and my heart connected with the painting. I smiled. Deeply. From my lips to my soul. For in those few seconds, I finally got it.

It took me forty-seven years, but I finally got it.

We are suspicious of grace. We are afraid of the very lavishness of the gift.
(Madeleine L'Engle)

Truer words were never spoken of me. I am, by nature, suspicious of grace. I'm inclined to think that if I show some unmerited favor to my kids, they'll be on the fast track to hell. I stare at grace with squinty eyes and closed fists, unwilling to relinquish the upper hand. I doubt that letting go, letting favor flow from me to the favored one will elicit anything...favorable. I walk circles around grace, giving it a pinch-lipped once-over. When it comes to grace, I hesitate.

There in the shadows of this life...

One of the worst memories I have of parenting is going toe to toe with one of my children over dinner. What he didn't eat for dinner, he would eat for breakfast. What he didn't eat for breakfast, he would eat for lunch.I am horrified by that, and my heart still hurts, all these many years later. It really does.

There in the darkest night of the soul...

So I won the war.

What I did not win was his heart.

Unfortunately, that's not the only time I sank that low. There was the time I rummaged through my closet, found a suitcase, and handed it to my rebellious teenager. "Pack. And get out." No heart-winning there either. But my husband came home and reached out with unmerited favor to that hardened heart. Guess which parent had that child's ear that day.

Same for the saint and the sinner...

I hate those parenting books, the ones that tell you to set them up for a fail, and then discipline them for it. Tricksy parentses. I want to build a bonfire, collect every copy from every corner of the globe, and roast marshmallows with my children over the sorry, burnt carcasses. They fail utterly in replicating God's parenting of us because they are suspicious of grace

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children...
obey me the first time?
come when they are called?
treat me with respect?
walk in the Truth?

The aforementioned Truth is the gospel of

I'm going to say something radical here. It is not our job to raise good kids; that's God's job. It is my job to take their hand and lead them to the Cross. It is my job to sit there with them, at the foot of the Cross, and tell them my story: that I was created in God's image, that I have inherent worth, Imago Dei; that I was at enmity with God and under His wrath, that I was a woman of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips; that He redeemed me from the pit, that God made Him who had no sin to become sin for me so that I might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. And it's my job to tell them that this is their story, too.

There in the everyday and the mundane...

What does unsuspicious grace do?
Unsuspicious grace considers my child's frame.
When they are tired, I give them rest.
When they are dehydrated, I give them water.
When they are hormonal I give them space.
Unsuspicious grace takes time to discern whether my child is being foolish or rebellious.
Unsuspicious grace refuses to view my child's sin as a declaration of war against me, either personally or positionally.
Unsuspicious grace disciplines, not with a view to reducing my stress or making my life easier. It disciplines with a view to opening my child's eyes to his need for a Savior.

Unsuspicious grace raises children who fall before the Cross, beat their chests, and plead with the Lord, "Have mercy on me, a sinner."

Suspicious grace?
Every offense is a spanking offense. Or a food-withholding, shelter-withholding, affection-withholding offense.
And it produces good kids, sure as shootin'.
It also produces a Pharisee who thanks the Lord that she is not like those sinners.
It produces a 45 or 46 or 47 year old who has a crisis of grace, who wakes up one day and realizes that she has never been good, will never be good, outside of God's intervention,
that every drop of goodness in her is an alien goodness that comes outside herself, that was imputed to her at the Cross.

Grace: unmerited favor.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating.
Emphasize unmerited. Then emphasize favor.
And now you've got it.

This past spring, I came face to face with the miracle of grace. That kid who lost the war over dinnertime? Same kid; different war. Much, much higher stakes. Last time law. And loss. This time, grace. And life. It was supernatural. I don't know how else to say it. It was like God went before us and came after us and walked us step by step through grace.

I saw the difference. I saw it with my own eyes. Or I would not have believed it. It drained away every drop of suspicion I ever had of grace. For I saw that grace does not repel; grace attracts. Grace does the work that law could never, ever do.

There in the sweetest songs of victory...

I was smack in the middle of this lesson, running my son back and forth to the airport so he could make things right, when this song came on the radio. It took my breath away. And it defined my whole year.

From the Creation to the Cross.
There from the Cross into Eternity,
Your grace finds me. 
Yes, Your grace finds me. 

I'm still used to the thick, heavy air of suspicious grace. Up here on the Mountain of Grace, the air is different; it's crisp and unsuspicious. This is where the Prodigal comes to be restored because this is where the Father is. And I'm still acclimating.

But, man, you ought to see the view.

I'm breathing in Your grace, 
And breathing out Your praise.
Breathing in Your grace forever.
"Your Grace Finds Me" by Matt Redman.
My song of the year: