Monday, December 31, 2012

P.S. To Real Life Friday! Love, Hope, Clarity

I blogged a new Real Life Friday! post last week and I pray that anyone who reads it would see Jesus and his sacrificial entry into the messiness of our lives. It is a story of personal struggle used as a vehicle to display God and his rescue mission in the midst of our need and desperation.

For those who read it (here), I thought I would add a post script for a few reasons.

The first reason is to communicate love -

My husband and I love each other very much and we are committed to our marriage like never before. So, it was important to me to have his blessing before writing anything related to our personal lives - specifically our marriage difficulties. Christ has set us both free form the need to pretend we're something we're not. I'm not sure we were fooling anyone anyway :)

The second reason is to communicate Hope -

Our messiness is never out of reach of God's grace. There is no distance we can travel away from God that His grace can't reach. My husband and I both have a relationship with God in Christ. That did not stop our pursuit of sin and disobedience. I was bent on selfishness and self-pity but thankfully God and his furious love for me out-distanced my sin.

This is tremendous good news for rebels! Everyday I am reminded that the grace of God in Christ is all I have and all I need.

The third reason is to Clarify -

We have not "arrived". Our marriage will continue to be messy because we are two sinful messed up people trying to figure it out together. When we have moments of victory we can thank God for his grace to intervene. Yes, God killed our old marriage and gave us newness together but that does not mean we don't still struggle. We look forward to the day when there will be no more tears and no more pain. Until that day we lean on Jesus and his righteousness.

Going through this difficulty has not made us experts, far from it. God has directed our path and for that we are grateful. Our story is about God's grace in the midst of our mess and that's where we continue to put our trust.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

~ Edward Mote

Finally, if you need prayer for your own marriage difficulties please let me know. You can comment anonymously if you'd like. God does not promise a quick fix or overnight solution, but He does promise to be with us in the midst. 

Blessings,


Hope For The Heartbroken



Hope is founded on God's Promises
Is there a promise He has ever broken?
Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass ~ Joshua 21:45

Hope is fueled by God's Providence
Look at what God has done in the midst of joy and suffering!
Deep in unfathomable mines, Of never-failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread, Are big with mercy, and shall break. In blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. ~ William Cowper

Hope is ignited in God's Performance
Our performance is paltry and pale set next to the performances of God.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...Genesis 1

Hope is freely given in God's Perfect Son.
His perfect record is ours. His perfect love is ours.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. Colossians 1:21

Hope came down to rescue the hopeless.
Apart from Christ it's all just wishful thinking.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Tim. 1

Is this time of year difficult for you?

Why is your heart broken? Failed marriage? Rebellious child? Broken friendship? Empty checking account? Failing health?

Be encouraged.

Hope is a Person, namely Jesus Christ.



He has come to do for you and for me what we cannot do for ourselves. No amount of trying harder, no new year resolution, no creative scheme nor inventive action plan can do what only Christ can -




save you to the uttermost.

set you free from chains that bind you. 

relieve hurts that haunt you.

forgive you finally, fully and forever. 

rescue you from frantic and futile living. 

straighten crooked paths. 

remove fear upon fear. 


Religion never begins with what we do for God. It always starts with what God has done for us, the great and wondrous things that God dreamed of and achieved for us in Christ Jesus. ~ B. Manning


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 
According to his great mercy, 
he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection 
of Jesus Christ from the dead. 
1 Peter 1:3

Friday, December 28, 2012

Real Life Friday - Our One Year Anniversary

This month...one year ago... five days before Christmas...my husband left.

As in, left me.

It was not a knock down drag out fight. No screaming or throwing things. No outward violent acts...

just  murder in each of our hearts.

Could we see it coming? Yes.


Did we know something was wrong? Yes.

However, neither one of us thought it would be that drastic.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.
Gen 11:5

God's amazing grace put back together what had come undone. He killed our old marriage and gave us a new one. I can't explain it any other way - it doesn't make sense when I apply logic.

He bowed the heavens and came down, thick darkness was under his feet. 
Psalm 18:9

Only God's other-worldly ways could do what we mere mortals could never do. How does God reweave the very fabric we are working hard to tear apart?

For the son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. 
Luke 19:10

I called my husband last Thursday and said "Happy Anniversary". We both new what I meant. It is a day of celebration really. A gift to us in the form of suffering. How can it be that the hardest thing we have ever been through was actually the kindest, most gracious gift God could give us? While God was killing our old marriage and putting to death our idolatry and pride, he was bringing us newness and life.

God really did come down.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 
John 1:1,1:14

God descended into the chaos of our lives. God really is here with us. God really does save. God is present in our mess not apart from it. He is Immanuel - God with us.

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us.)
Matthew 1:23

"The Lord has actually taken manhood into union with himself; there is therefore no longer a great gulf fixed, on the contrary, here is a marvelous union; Godhead has entered into marriage bonds with manhood. O my soul, thou dost not stand now like a poor lone orphan wailing across the deep sea after thy Father who has gone far away and cannot hear thee; thou dost not now sob and sigh like an infant left naked and helpless, its Maker having gone too far away to regard its wants or listen to its cries. No, thy Maker has become like thyself. Is that too strong a word to use? He without whom was not anything made that was made is that same Word who tabernacled among us." ~  C.H. Spurgeon

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 
John 6:38

In the midst of my marriage separation, in the midst of your parenting struggles, in the midst of the job loss, the overdue mortgage, the broken down car, the lapsed health insurance, the mean spirited neighbor and angry abusive boss. He is with us - caring and loving and active.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
Rev 21:3

He is with us - caring and loving and active.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

1 Tim. 1:15a

Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What Child Is This? God With Us!


He is God, 
but He is God with us. 
He is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh—a Brother born for adversity. 
And here the most trembling may be at rest. 

God in our nature is a grand prophecy of salvation and bliss for us. Why has He come down to us but that we may come up to Him? Why has He taken our nature in its sorrow, but that we may be made partakers of the Divine Nature in righteousness and holiness? He comes down, not to thrust us lower, but to lift us to heights of perfection and glory!
That Jesus is Man, and yet God, is full of hope and joy for us who believe in Him. 

...It may be that your heart is in such a ferment of grief that you know not what you think, but are like a man at his wits’ end.

...You look up, but the heavens are as brass above your head. 

Your prayers appear to be shut out from God’s ear. You look around you upon the earth and behold, “trouble and darkness, and dimness of anguish.”  Your every hope is slain and your heart is torn asunder with remorse and dread. Every hour you seem to be hurried by an irresistible power into greater darkness, yes, even into the eternal midnight.

In such a case none can give you comfort save Immanuel, God with us! Only God, espousing your cause and bearing your sin, can possibly save you! 

Look, He comes for your salvation! 

Behold, He has come to seek and to save that which was lost! 

God has come down from Heaven and veiled Himself in our flesh that He might be able to save to the uttermost. 



He can save the chief of sinners—he can save you. Come to Jesus, you that have gone furthest into transgression, you that sit down in despondency, you that shut yourselves up in the iron cage of despair. For such as you there shines this star of the first magnitude!

Jesus has appeared to save and He is God and Man in one Person—Man that He may feel our woesGod that He may help us out of them! 

No minister can save you! No priest can save you—you know this right well—but here is One who is able to save to the uttermost, for He is God as well as Man!

The great God is good at a dead lift. When everything else has failed, the lover of Omnipotence can lift a world of sin! Jesus is almighty to save! 

That which in itself is impossibility is possible with God. 
Sin which nothing else can remove is blotted out by the blood of Immanuel. 

Immanuel, our Savior, is God with us—and God with us means difficulty removed and a perfect work accomplished! 

~ C.H. Spurgeon



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Cradle and Calvary


The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary. 

~ J.I. Packer

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Best News EVER

I know I am a sinner, but there are days when it just hits me harder than others...I am particularly cranky, overly discontent, and irrationally sensitive. I try not to be. I sense those emotions rising up in me. I pray, asking God to rid my heart and mind of these selfish desires. There are times when I feel moments of victory but most times I continue to struggle. Like Paul, I find I continue to do the very things I don't want to do. And, the things I want to do, I don't do. (For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Rom 7:19) 

Hymn writer Charlotte Elliott knew the reality of her condition. She understood her own frailty and found no help from within herself. She determined to face God with one appeal and penned these lyrics in 1835:

Just as I am, without one plea, 
But that Thy blood was shed for me. 

That is my appeal. Again and again. Like the Apostle Paul, I know I am unrighteous. I know I fail at keeping the law and I am intent to outright break the law. Knowledge of my frailty keeps me clinging to the righteousness I have through faith in Christ .(Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ. Phil 3:9)

Only sin sick souls can delight in the following gospel refreshments. Hearts are reoriented once again to the truth that yes, I am a sinner, but in Christ I have been made a saint.

"You are fully forgiven and loved for his name's sake alone Not anything you have done, will do, or are doing now will ever establish any other relationship with God. He did all this for you when you were without strength (unable to perform); ungodly (not like him, and what he did not like); a sinner (enemy); and hostile to the blessed God Who loves you. He has freely bestowed this love upon you as a permanent possession, and He loves you without any merit on your part
Lay hold of this precious love by faith and you will never hide from God or man again. God loves you! Jesus died for you! Who can be against you? No charge can ever be laid against you in His sight. He has fully justified you on the grounds of Jesus Christ's finished work, His blood has washed you white as snow in the sight of God. His love will make you whole; free you from a lifetime of guilt, fears, inferiority complex and dreary loneliness; and open wide the gates that have long imprisoned you. It is nothing you have done. It is the precious blood of Christ that even now cleanses you continually from all manner of sin and sins. His blood and righteousness. What a precious fountain for uncleanness!
God has accepted you in the beloved Son - what need have you to grovel at the feet of men, ever performing to win their fleeting acceptance and favor? What need have you ever again to fear to be yourself? God loves you as you are! How shall you ever be lonely when He Himself is with you, and will be with you as long as the precious eternal blood of His Lamb is on the mercy seat in heaven for you?
At last you can walk with Him without shame, and walk with men in the reality of who you are. Your days will be cool, and God will be your Friend; and perhaps you will enjoy a little of paradise while still on this earth." ~ H.L. Roush, Sr.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Real Life Friday!

I need prayer. 
I need God to intervene. 
And sometimes I just need a good reminder. 

So often I forget. I get wrapped up in my problems and set out to solve them. I make my list, talk to my friends, and plead my case. I strategize my plan of attack and develop the most effective way to carry it out. Often this goes on for days. Welcome to my life...my real Christian life.

My husband and I are facing what seems to be goliath. For years we have been afraid to confront mounting tax debt and it has caught up with us. We heard from our tax accountant today and it's not pretty. His fee to handle the situation is in the thousands - about four or five times more than we were prepared to pay. We have yet to find out how much the actual tax and related penalties will be.

How quick and how often I forget the gospel. How notorious I am to assume God is not so concerned with the details of my life. How prideful I am to set myself up in place of God, [wrongly] believing I actually have the wisdom and knowledge and power to save my self in the midst of fiery trials.



I wanted to be reminded this morning of the gospel. I wanted to find comfort from the pages of scripture and search for an answer to my question "What does the gospel have say about our tax situation?" I flipped to a Psalm, the book of John, and a chapter in Isaiah. But it was not until I reached today's reading in 2 Kings that God taught me again, the truth of his gospel that lives on every page in his word. From chapter nineteen I wrote these refreshing reminders:


God hears my prayers.

God has determined my steps according to his plan from eternity past.

God will surely bring it about.

God knows all about me and how I spend my days - anxious and regretful and uptight.

God knows who I really am - how quick I am to forget, how my heart is prone to wander.

Despite my faithlessness, God is faithful.

God cares for my needs - he will provide for today and tomorrow and next year and five years from now and twenty five years from now.

By Christ's death and resurrection I am saved.

God defends my position - in Christ and by his grace I am protected. Not by my own wisdom, knowledge, and power, but by Christ who died and rose again to present me perfect before God.

I don't need to fear for he has given to me a place in his Kingdom. A Kingdom ruled by grace and mercy, not fault finding and finger pointing.

He has released me from the slavery of self dependence and self reliance to the freedom of trusting that Christ has paid my penalty - fully and finally.

Jesus has handled everything perfectly and his record is now mine. I stand before God as a righteous and perfect child on account of what Christ has done.

I can face consequences of sin with confidence and calm trusting that in Christ I am redeemed and he is reconciling all things to himself.

His power to put back together all that has fallen apart is immeasurable.

My chains that shackled me to the mess of this situation are gone. Christ has set me free - free to rest, free to do the right thing, free from worry and anxiousness, free to face the outcome and consequences standing firm in his promises.

Gospel winds are blowing this morning as God reminds me again that while my sin reaches far, his grace reaches farther.



Death By Works

There are some things called gospel, that are "a savour of death unto death" to everybody that hears them. 

John Berridge says he preached morality till there was not a moral man left in the village; and there is no way of injuring morality like legal preaching. The preaching of good works, and the exhorting men to holiness, as the means of salvation, is very much admired in theory; but when brought into practice, it is found not only ineffectual, but more than that—it becomes even "a savour of death unto death."

So it has been found; and I think even the great Chalmers himself confessed, that for years and years before he knew the Lord, he preached nothing but morality and precepts, but he never found a drunkard reclaimed by shewing him merely the evils of drunkenness; nor did he find a swearer stop his swearing because he told him the heinousness of the sin; 


it was not until he begin to preach the love of Jesus, in his great heart of mercy-it was not until he preached the gospel as it was in Christ, in some of its clearness, fulness, and power, and the doctrine, that "by grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" that he ever met with success.






Excerpt taken from The Two Effects of the Gospel, a sermon delivered on May 27, 1855 by C.H. Spurgeon

Read more about John Berridge, "the pedlar of the Gospel".

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Gospel Misunderstanding

[I am very sorry to see very often how little the gospel is understood even by some of the best Christians.]

Some time ago there was a young woman under great distress of soul; she came to a very pious Christian man, who said 

"My dear girl, you must go home and pray." 

Well I thought within myself, that is not the Bible way at all. It never says, "Go home and pray." The poor girl went home; she did pray, and she still continued in distress. Said he, 

"You must wait, you must read the Scriptures and study them." 

That is not the Bible way; that is not exalting Christ. I find a great many preachers are preaching that kind of doctrine. They tell a poor convinced sinner, "You must go home and pray, and read the Scriptures; you must attend the ministry;" and so on. Works, works, works—instead of "By grace are ye saved through faith" .

If a penitent should come and ask me, "What must I do to be saved?" I would say, "Christ must save you—believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." I would neither direct to prayer, nor reading of the Scriptures nor attending God's house; but simply direct to faith, naked faith on God's gospel.

Not that I despise prayer—that must come after faith. Not that I speak a word against the searching of the Scriptures—that is an infallible mark of God's children. Not that I find fault with attendance on God's word—God forbid! I love to see people there. But none of those things are the way of salvation. It is nowhere written—"He that attendeth chapel shall be saved," or, "He that readeth the Bible shall be saved." Nor do I read—"He that prayeth and is baptised shall be saved;" 

but, "He that believeth,"—he that has a naked faith on the "Man Christ Jesus,"—on his Godhead, on his manhood, is delivered from sin.

~ Spurgeon




Lover Of The Souls Of Men


Nothing touches the heart like the cross of Christ; and when the heart is touched and wounded by the two-edged sword of the law...

Nothing heals its wounds like the balm which flows from the pierced heart of Jesus.

I have not known men made to live unto God and holiness except by the doctrine of the death of Christ on man's behalf. Hearts of stone that never beat with life before have been turned to flesh through the Holy Spirit causing them to know this truth. 

A sacred tenderness the obstinate when they have heard of Jesus crucified for them. Those who have lain at hell's dark door, wrapped about with a sevenfold death-shade, even upon them hath a great light shined. 

The story of the great Lover of the souls of men who gave himself for their salvation is still in the hand of the Holy Ghost the greatest of all forces in the realm of mind.

~ Spurgeon



Sunday, November 11, 2012

God's Love For My Skimpy Devotion

I would love to say I am one of those people who finds time each morning to read the bible and pray. I really would.

I know, I've heard it before - if you really thought it was important you would make time to do it. Ugh. While that may be true, motivation to get up any earlier than I have to (my alarm goes off around 6:00am most mornings) is just not there.

As a result, I find that I have not been reading my bible as much as I once did. And truth be told, there are many many days that go by without giving it a thought (cue gasp!).

When I do stop to consider it, I regret that my schedule seems too busy for personal bible reading.

I run from one thing to the next - usually spending a rushed couple of hours trying to complete the weekly lesson for a women's study I attend at my church.

It seems to be just one more task on my to do list these days.

In this season of of busyness I am easily tempted to believe that God is not pleased with me. I begin to attribute difficulties in my life with God's displeasure. While I know theologically this is not true, my heart always defaults to this kind of thinking. How could God be happy with me? I can't even read my bible with any kind of consistency! 

You can only imagine what I was thinking last Saturday morning when I decided to turn to the pages of scripture. What "convictions" would I find? What words of discipline and rebuke would I read? What admonishments would meet my disobedience? 

With a sigh I grabbed my study bible and a pen, prepared to meet God head on.

When I don't know what to read or where to turn in my bible, I usually head for the reading plan in the back. As I turned to November 3rd I remember being thankful that the Psalm passages are listed first. Still, I braced myself for what God would speak, and...

this is what God did.


When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul. 
Psalm 94:18-19

When I'd lost my way,

God called...

As I considered all the thousands of ways my heart gets carried away with other things, the Lord consoled me. And still, I held my breath a bit and waited for the hammer of discipline to come. I wrote:

Where can I see God's steadfast love?

I continued to write...the Sunday school answer. In the face of Jesus. I know it's true, but right now my heart needed to know.

Hesitating, I turned back to the bible reading plan. The New Testament passage listed was John 1:1-18. I gasped as I thought about all this passage speaks of. 

God loved...


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1
and...

And from his fullness we have all received, grace  upon grace. 

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
John 1:16-18

What does God's steadfast love look like? God showed me when He said "It looks like my Son Jesus. It looks like grace." He was with God from the beginning, forming everything out of nothing, preparing for his rescue mission to save lost sinners like me. 

Called and calmed by God, assured of his steadfast love for me in Christ I continued as I wrote:

What should I learn from knowing Jesus is steadfast in love? 
What does this mean?

God spoke...

And he said, “Thus says the LORD, 
‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ 

For thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, 
but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, 
you, your livestock, and your animals.’
2 Kings 3:16-17

He reminded me of his life giving fountain; "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb"  Rev 22:1.

Refreshment and life flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb - Jesus, carried by the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. Jesus, the life giver, has promised eternal streams of living water and life sustaining love. His steadfast love will never cease. It is coming toward me with power and grace. It is one way in it's flow - gushing and rushing to rescue the dry and thirsty, the weary and the burdened. This love means I don't have to look anywhere else. My distracted and busy heart can cease from searching for what this world can never give. God's free gift of lavish love is mine - fully.  My heart was now consoled and loved by God's clear true voice. I anxiously wrote:

What difference does seeing Jesus and his love for me make? 

I turned to the final passage in the reading plan. I read from Zechariah and...

God compelled...

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. 

They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets.
Zechariah 7:9-12a

What difference does seeing God's love for me make? How does a heart warmed by the gospel truth of God's unconditional love respond? In the face of God and his love for me in the person of Jesus Christ I can come clean. I see the truth of who I am. I am just like the people I oppress. I am cold, unfeeling, unsympathetic, compassion-less, intolerant, judgmental, unforgiving, unmericful, stubborn and diamond-hard hearted. I see that I am unable to meet these demands for justice and mercy and love. I don't even particularly like having to admit it, but I am in a mess because I can't even meet the expectations I place on myself! In the face of my utter disobedience and stubbornness, Christ brings light. Into the darkness of my heart Christ shines. In the miry pit of despair and "me-dom" Christ descends.


Jesus rescues this sin sick soul not with curses but with consolations, 

not with rebuke but with restoration, 

and not with displeasure but with deliverance.



What of my skimpy devotion?

In Christ, the love of God.

God's gracious and steadfast love. 



Monday, November 5, 2012

The Stupid Comment Award Goes To...

Actually there are two stupid comments that earn this "impressive" award. One is commonly directed at women, the other at men.

Stupid Comment 1

I am sure you've heard it before. It's been around. It is a commonly used phrase of "encouragement", a book title, and the subject of poems and songs. But more and I more, I hear this phrase used in the context of sincere exhortation. Have you heard it? Maybe someone has said it to you?

"Put on your big girl panties".

Friends, if someone has said this to you, I'm sorry. And for those of us who have uttered these words, we can do better than this. Now is the time to rethink this little gem of "encouragement" because really...

It's not all that encouraging. 

In fact, it can be used as a huge sledge hammer of law that speaks disaster for those who are already mired in guilt, shame, and self-condemnation.

The underlying exhortation goes something like this:

Your situation is not all that difficult really. All you need is to dry your eyes, put on a smile, and go about your business - everything else will take care of itself.

Lyrics from this well know tune by Nat King Cole echo the same sentiment...
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow 
...as well as this poem on dealing with life's difficulties:
It's good to trust in others
just know one thing is true
The one you really count on
Should always be......YOU.
So when someone let's you down
Don't get in a snit
Put on your "Big Girl Panties" .....
and learn to deal with it.


In other words, the real pain and heartache you are feeling is such an innocuous emotion you can pretend it away. Anyone who has been beaten down by the difficulties in this life knows how ridiculous it is to think a smile will make a seemingly impossible situation all better.

I met with a woman recently who is struggling. Her marriage is difficult and an issue with her son is heartbreaking. She feels tossed around by life's sea of waves and while she still longs for control she knows she has no control - and it's scary.

She talked, I listened. When she finished I said,



I'm so sorry.

I spoke with her again recently. She is meeting with a christian counselor and she shared how the counseling is helping her sort through her emotions and her responses. Then she said, "Of all the things people have said to me, I most appreciate what you told me when we met last time...

I'm sorry".

When I'm grasping for the right words again I hope I remember that a simple compassionate response is always appropriate. And just maybe, we can say goodbye to this "not so prized" phrase.

Stupid Comment 2

This is one of those comments that seems so right and so necessary. It comes from a sincere heart I have no doubt. Have you heard it? Has someone said this to you?

"Man up".

Another way of putting it is this commonly used phrase "Step up". Books and songs have been written and whole ministries are built upon this idea of "man up". I love the sincerity and the heart behind the message, but this simple phrase like the comment above is a compassion-less plea to "get yourself together". Here is the exhortation:

If you would just start acting like a man (tough, in control, responsible, and strong) your problems would be solved. You will garner respect, your wife will love you more, and your children will emulate you. Oh, and your church will now see you as acceptable and able to lead.

Telling someone to get their act together is like giving them a scalpel for the bullet lodged in their chest. They know something has to change (the bullet needs to come out) but they can't do it themselves.

Urging them to get busy, roll up their sleeves, and start acting like a man sounds good, but will only lead to despair (I can't do it) or pride (look at well I'm doing). Practical exhortations are helpful but not apart from the life giving truth of the gospel that reminds sinners of their utter inability while rescuing them with God's amazing grace, power, and forgiveness. In the same way that a sad and depressed woman can not pick herself up and act differently, a man caught in the "do more - try harder" vortex will find it impossible to drum up any lasting change.

The Gospel Trumps Stupid Comments

What a great refreshing orientation. Regardless of how I feel, the gospel is true. The gospel - the person and work of Jesus Christ is powerful when I am weak. He is forgiving when I am unforgiving. He is faithful when I am unfaithful.

The gospel trumps everything, including stupid comments. If you have been on the receiving end of one of these comments

I'm so sorry.

Now, hear the reorienting good news of the gospel:

The gospel reminds us that we are weak - all of us. That none of us act in ways we should. The gospel liberates us in a way that nothing else can. We are set free from the burden of having to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and smile or be strong for others. We know all too well the truth that we're not getting it done - the bible reminds us -  (as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one. Rom 3:10)

The gospel reminds us that we are just like everyone else and when we are tempted to give in or give up we can remember the liberating truth that God is patient with us in the midst of our difficulties. His love knows no bounds and he is always coming toward us with compassion and forgiveness. (I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jer 31:3)

The gospel refreshes us as we rest in the perfection of Jesus. His sinless record is now ours. Yes we sin, but In Christ we have a perfect record before God.

On those days when smiles won't come, when our weakness overpowers us and when we can't see our way through to the other side, the gospel reminds us that our weakness is actually our strength. (But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor 12:9)



p.s. A good alternative to the two stupid comments? Try this one next time;


I'm so sorry.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Sex [For Lack of a Better Title]


I write this with much fear and trepidation. I am fully aware that the topic of this post will bring about interest so I want to be careful with my words, sensitive from my heart, true to scripture and as honest as possible. Above all else I pray that even in some small way this may be used to set captives free. Nothing I write is new. There is nothing new under the sun. This is not a "how to" or a "how not to" - I'm not that smart. Nor is this a lesson in biblical womanhood or biblical manhood - I'll leave that for others to instruct us on. These are just some thoughts on a sensitive subject that seems to be an area of much stress, distress, pain, and guilt.

Flip answers and five step solutions are not very helpful. 
Bible thumping and using God's commands on the subject are crushing. 

Any voice speaking into this situation that shouts law is just that - law. Maybe we can find another voice here - a voice that speaks grace and forgiveness and love...just maybe ~

Some Things Are Very Clear

God created men and women in his image:
So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Gen 1:27

God declared:
everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Gen 1:31

Man (Adam) and Woman (Eve) enjoyed perfect fellowship with each other and with God in the Garden of Eden:
And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Gen 2:25

While the bible does not detail the marriage ceremony and the honeymoon highlights, we can see by the text that Adam and Eve enjoyed each other. Pointing only to the physical aspect of their enjoyment would be a gross oversight, but we do know that their physical relationship was part of the glorious freedom, liberty, and delight each experienced with the other.

For a moment, let your heart and mind wrap around the idea of a relationship with your spouse that is guilt free and shame free - one that is perfect in every way! 

It's hard I know, but that is the relationship Adam and Eve had - perfect fellowship with God and in perfect relationship with each other.

A Lot Of Things Are Not So Clear

Enter sin. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and:
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Gen 3:7

They knew their sin and they knew their nakedness. Overwhelmed with shame, guilt, and regret they tried to cover themselves.

Afraid now, they hid themselves from the One who created them:
And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." Gen 3:10

You can read the full account of creation and the fall in Genesis 1-3. From the verses above we now know why life is hard and confusing. Sin has entered the world - it will never be the same. Sin has affected and infected everyone and everything. We live in a fallen broken world with fallen broken people and an enemy who prowls seeking our devastation and ruin. The world, the flesh, and the devil are our constant companions which explains why suffering exists. As my pastor puts it "If you are breathing, you suffer".


Knowing these foundational truths can serve to inform my thoughts and feelings on the subject of sex.

God authored sex. It is a good gift he gave to men and women. 

It is a delight and a pleasure and something to be enjoyed in the context of marriage relationships. Because of sin, delight and pleasure and enjoyment are tainted. Selfishness, perversion, and unbelief have distorted what was once beautiful, pure, and good. 

We now have a lens to understand what's going on in our own lives and in our own relationships.

The Ideal

If you are married think about your wedding day. Mine was filled with excitement, hopes, dreams, and fantasy! If you are not married, maybe you dream of that day and anticipate all that your heart is beating for. Love and acceptance; fulfillment in every way. 

There is so much expectation wrapped up in marriage and sex is just one part of a bigger picture. It's funny how our expectations always center around the good things and never the hard things. 

We enter marriage expecting delight and joy, comfort and fulfillment.

The Reality

We don't enter marriage expecting sadness and loneliness, anxiety and shame.


We enter marriage thinking we are naked and unashamed

The truth is we are naked and ashamed.

We are still trying to cover our sin and hide from ourselves, each other, and God. The truth is we are continually trying to rid ourselves of sin and guilt - all of us, whether we realize it or not.


As a result of every single person struggling with sin and the resulting shame and guilt, we are all affected by the consequences. Every single day we look for ways to cover up and deflect the shame and guilt we feel. Our lives are organized around our constant need to feel better.

Some Of The Fallout

The presence of sin is our battle. Horizontal consequences have had, and continue to wreak havoc in the area of sexual relationships. That won't change until we go to be with Jesus or He returns in glory. Because of life in this fallen world it's safe to assume that all of us have dealt with, are dealing with, or will deal with one of these issues surrounding physical intimacy -

Men and women who enter marriage both having a sexual past
Virgin men married to women with a sexual past
Virgin women married to men with a sexual past
Intimacy issues
Communication issues
Adultery
Parenting issues
Financial issues
Pornography (men and women)
Same sex attraction
Physical ailments
Prescription medications
Alcohol or drug addictions
Women and men living out of wedlock
Past abuse
Current abuse
Self esteem
Power struggles
Control issues
Effects of aging
False religious beliefs

Did you find yourself in thist list? I did. At least 9 times.

The truth is, consequences of living in a broken and fallen world seriously affect our relationships and only Jesus can heal hearts and make us free. 

I have talked with countless women who suffer daily under guilt, pressure, shame, and regret. Because of any number of the above listed realities, they are all too aware of their failings and their faults when it comes to sex and their relationship with their husbands.

I was sitting at a Women's Bible study table the other day and through our study of Genesis a discussion regarding sex ensued. A dear friend of mine spoke up and I was grateful for her words. She was helpful to the conversation when she reminded women of the biological differences between men and women - God created men and women uniquely. She went on to encourage women to understand their husbands desire for sex and she explained their needs as well as their intent. Sex for men is an expression of love and a vital way for them to connect with their wives. It was a serious conversation but at the same time it was lighthearted. What I most appreciated was my friend's boldness and willingness to bring it up - not your typical bible study convo!

As I sat and listened to the conversation from some, I detected silence from others. Not the typical shyness about speaking in a group bible study.

It was the averted eyes silence. 


The kind of silence that speaks a thousand words.

 It was the silence that was speaking shed tears and past and present pain. 

I could almost hear their cries and heartbreaking realities:

"I hear what you're saying, but that's not my story"
"I hear what you're saying, but my life is broken and there is no repair in sight"
"I hear what you're saying, but the painful past is haunting and I long for healing but I still struggle - every day."
"I hear what you're saying, but there is so much division and silence in my home I don't see how we can find our way back."
"I hear what you're saying, but the medication I/he is on is clouding everything and sex is the last thing on my/his mind."
"I hear what you're saying but my spouse is a porn addict and we are both too ashamed to ask for help - and honestly I'm too angry and hurt to be sympathetic".
"I hear what you're saying, but every time I close my eyes I hear the shouting and can feel the hitting again."
"I hear what you're saying, but we've gone so long now without physical intimacy I don't know if it can ever change."
"I hear what you're saying, but I feel guilty and I feel pressure. I regret how I feel everyday and want it to be different, I just don't know where to start."
"I hear the truth in what you're saying, but I feel like it's just one more person telling me what I should do without knowing the real pain and confusion I'm in."

The Only Redemption Possible

For all these women the only answer is Jesus. For the women I know (they are all around you) who are struggling in this area right this very moment - the only answer to the pain and suffering is the gospel of Jesus Christ that assures you that you are loved, accepted, welcomed, and approved by God because of what Christ has done for you. You are now clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ.


Hearts longing for wholeness and healing can only come 

as we rest in the healing power of Jesus.

Hearts can only be transformed and melted by the glorious and radical good news that Christ died for sinners like us. Not for those who have it all together and all figured out, but for those who are at the end of themselves and realize they have no power to change their past circumstances, lingering feelings, and selfish motives apart from Jesus Christ.

If you are in Christ, nothing can separate you from the love of God...

He loves you with an eternal, 
everlasting love that will never let you go.

Resting in Christ's unconditional love and forgiveness is the fuel and motivation for relationships that are naked and unashamed. 

Grace is powerful enough to mend hearts, restore relationships, and renew physical intimacy


Monday, October 15, 2012

I Don't Have My Act Together

I seriously needed church yesterday! I was in need of a fresh reorientation to the gospel that assures me I am loved and accepted in spite of my weakness. I needed help from outside of me because left to my own devices I become inward focused and obsessed with my feelings, my discontent, my weariness, and my inability to handle everything.

My pastor shared this question he was asked last week while attending a leadership conference.


"What one word would you use to describe leaders today?"

Without hesitation he responded 

"tired".

My heart sighed quietly. That's how I felt this week. Tired. As much as I love my job I have felt more burdened than ever before and that burden weighs heavy and takes it's toll. My brain is full of hard and terrifying facts of life shared with me by women in crisis. My heart is broken for children and families ripped apart by abuse, addiction, and anger. My body is exhausted from the emotional involvement and the unrelenting need of those around me.


I would love to say that my theology solves the problem of burden and weariness, although theologically it does. Jesus says "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." I know this is true and I have experienced it for myself. But...I need to experience it again. 

I need the refreshment of the gospel to penetrate my sin sick and weary soul once more. I need a gushing rush of God's grace to overflow my heart and remind me it's not up to me, but up to Him. 

I need help to remember that it's precisely in the midst of my weakness and my burdens that God's grace is at work. You see, God is not waiting for me to finally "get my act together". Honestly though, that's what I'm waiting for! I would be so pleased with myself if I could say I wasn't stressed, tired, or burdened and that I handled everything just so. I wouldn't be contemplating all the ways I screwed up, said wrong things, and forgot to say right things. I'd have no more regret, guilt, or condemnation. Mmmm...come to think of it - I wouldn't need a savior. Well, now I'm getting somewhere! 

Here is the glorious, welcoming, and soul satisfying truth. All my weariness and all my heaviness is meant for one thing. To point me to my need for Jesus. If I could get my act together and deal with all that comes my way, I would. But I can't. That's why I need Jesus. He alone is the answer to every unmet need, every one of my burden stained tears. And so, until that time that God takes me home I will "proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes". 1 Cor 11:26   This is not some trite religious vow that is empty of power. This proclamation reminds me of my great need for a Rescuing Redeemer. I am not proclaiming my own self sufficiency but Christ's sufficiency on my behalf. His body, His blood. Poured out for me. His life, His power for me. His return, His victory for me. His redemption and His re-creation for me. All things will be made right, made new, and redeemed for me.

It's Monday. I have no guarantee this week will be easier. But,

I proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 

I rest in His love and acceptance for me in spite of my sheer and utter inability, weakness, and failure. 





Saturday, October 13, 2012

If We’ve Left The Country Where Sin Is Sovereign, How Can We Still Live In Our Old House There?

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there?

Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.

Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.

That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you’ve let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you’ve started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!

I’m using this freedom language because it’s easy to picture. You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?




As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.

But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death.

But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Teaching Children Morals = Moral Children

My son is alive and well, but it's a miracle he made it out with relatively few scars. I was admittedly, one of those homeschool moms. Well meaning for sure, but way off track when it came to teaching my son what really mattered.

I poured over school curriculum and researched local and online resources. I devoured books about homeschooling and how to graduate a high-school student. Teaching the Bible was an important part of our program each year, so I was always on the hunt for books and help regarding raising a Christian young man.

Enter Exhibit A:

Last week I noticed this handy resource from our homeschool days.

I'm not knocking the book. It is a helpful tool for study. However, I clearly used it for another purpose. I saw it as an easy solution to parenting from a Christian perspective. Simply look up the word for whatever issue we're dealing with and find all the verses in the bible that talk about the particular sin. Perfect!
This section could be called "The Top Character Traits I Thought Would Save My Son."

This was tucked inside. I remember writing down these topics and giving the list and the book to my son for his personal devotion and study.

I wrongly believed that an examination of scripture verses related to drinking for example, would be the anecdote to potential failure in that area.

What I didn't realize was that my son was learning conformity, obedience and a right moral appearance.

This instruction and teaching was void of Jesus.

It was Christ-less Christianity.

I can hear what you're thinking.

"Lori, are you saying it's wrong to teach these morals and character traits?"
No, that's not what I'm saying.

"Lori, are you saying all of this had nothing to do with Christianity?"

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

Teaching a set of principles (for the purpose of achieving right moral behavior) is in vain apart from Jesus and the grace he died to bring us, regardless of how valuable they may seem. Apart from teaching kids the truth of God's high standard of the Law, our complete and utter inability to achieve that standard, and Christ's standard meeting work on our behalf, it all boils down to getting our kids to achieve an external behavior that makes us as parents look pretty darn good. We love it! Even when we don't actually say it, inside we value the way our kids look to others because it reveals our success as parents. We feel justified when our kids do good or are good. All of our hard work has paid off.

That's why I can say our teaching had nothing to do with Christianity.
Anyone can teach morality and external behavior modification.

Enter Exhibit B:

The second resource from our homeschooling days peered out from under the piles of books I'd boxed up to sell. I was horrified when I flipped through it the other day! I was sickened by the way I had used the curriculum. I believed the lie that I could actually raise a Christian if I could just teach right behaviors!

I thought that good parenting and training produced a godly kid.

I had failed to teach my son the truth about God, the truth about his own sin and the truth about the grace that is ours in Christ and what he has accomplished on our behalf.

That kind of moralistic teaching had no option but to produce a law abiding child on the outside and a rebel on the inside. 

That's what law does to each one of us. We sit down on the outside, but we're standing up on the inside.

Enter Exhibit C:


Look carefully at the scratched out statement below. This little gem of instruction should be entitled "Teaching Your Kids By Law in 20 Easy Steps."

You can tell how my son felt about this particular "step." Of course, he knew long before I did that listening to rock music would not stand in the way of following Jesus. He was also pretty certain that it's possible to follow Jesus even if you are a rock musician.

This kind of moralistic training has no power to save a soul and transform a human heart.






Our assigned reading should have included this insightful comment:

"I remember coming back from a very long tour…. On Christmas Eve I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. …It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty… a child, I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry.

Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and …tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. Because that’s exactly what we were talking about earlier: love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.” – Bono

God's Grace

If I had the opportunity to do it over, I would do it differently. I wouldn't be a perfect parent, but I pray by God's grace I would be an honest parent. Honest about my sin and honest about my child's sin. I pray God would give me the grace to readily admit failure and run to Jesus in front of my child. I pray that if there was one thing my child would learn from me it would be just that; a readiness to acknowledge sin and a mad dash to the foot of the cross.

Age appropriate child training is good and it is necessary. But,
teaching children morals equals moral children. 

There is zero chance it will transform their heart.
The only power to transform a human heart is the gospel.

God's love for them in the person of Jesus Christ can rescue the hardest of hearts. 

If you are having a hard time believing it just ask yourself this question. What melts your heart? Is it someone telling you to be good and try harder? Or, is it the reassurance that although you mess up and even when you don't or can't try harder, God loves you so much he sent his Son to rescue you in your mess, again and again? While you are warming your heart by that gospel truth don't forget to tell you kids.

They need to hear it again and again because,
they are just like you; sinners in need of grace. Sinners in need of the fresh reminder that in Christ, their sins are forgiven.