Saturday, June 30, 2012

Refreshment For Thirsty Souls

As I opened to my bible reading plan this morning,

I turned to Matthew 9 and these words poured forth...

Cool water for my thirsty soul...

Refreshment from my Savior.

Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven. Matthew 9:2

For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:13

Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.  Matthew 9:22

Real Life Wednesday!

It's not Wednesday, but yet again I find that my week has been a crazy one and Wednesday just got away from me.  So, as I sit here Saturday morning I'm trying to recollect where I was on Wednesday, what I was doing and what was on my mind. I remember.  I was in my office.

I was focused on several projects, but still thinking of all the people I met, teachings I'd heard and conversations I had at The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference 2012 last weekend in Orlando, FL.  Here are some random observations, highlights (imho), and moments of impact for me.

  • We arrived to find almost 4,000 women who had traveled from all over the country and world to hear God's word exposited.  I later found out that The Gospel Coalition Conference which began in 2000 had 5,600 people in attendance in 2011.  That is amazing to me - women are hungry to hear about God!
  • I don't know what the breakdown was exactly, but there were a lot of young women!  Single young women, married young women, women with strollers and babies in tow, nursing mothers, working young women - young women period! It could be that I'm just getting older and everyone looks young to me, but I have to say I was so encouraged by seeing this generation come out in force!    
  • Women are weary.  Peer closely through the veil of excitement surrounding the conference, look a bit more intently into the faces of the women and you can see evidences of too little sleep, to much "to do", and over anxious hearts.  For what?  Anxious over what?  The husbands and children they left behind to attend his conference, the jobs they took off time from and the work awaiting them when they return, their ailing mother whose care has been left in someone elses' hands for the weekend.  Some as I mentioned were nursing infants and distress over pumping and plugged milk ducts and not enough baby wipes were loud distractions for them. One woman I know left her twelve week old infant at home.  She was so distressed and anxious that she decided to leave Friday night and drive to meet her husband so she could bring her baby boy back to the conference with her! She had been up since 5am, drove 3 hours that morning, sat through a day of sessions and left that night, returning to her room after 11pm!
  • In her opening remarks author and speaker Elyse Fitzpatrick expressed thankfulness that this was a "no fluff zone" conference.  Don't get me wrong - there was laughter and giggles and plenty of reminders of the fact that women were in attendance.  
  • A stroll through the bookstore gave evidence to the fact that the intent of the conference was to teach women more about who God is.  Pastor and author Tullian Tchividjian had a corner of a table as Crossway promoted his books along with a myriad of gospel drenched writers.

I picked up a quantity of this little gem by Pastor Tim Keller.  I plan to use it in ministry at the church I work at.


  • Conversations with other women were profound.  More on this in posts to come, but suffice to say that as weary as we all were, great conversations were taking place.  I am reminded that in our busy hectic lives as moms, wives and employees we have precious little time to do this - and what a gift it is.
  • Freedom.  This may not be a word you would associate with a conference. But here goes. In Christ, we are free. Women are free. The gospel of Jesus Christ is an announcement that Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. He has set the captives free by his death and resurrection. He loves us unconditionally and knowing that frees us to be who God made us to be. Women, uniquely designed and fashioned for a purpose. Loved immensely, infinitely, eternally by our heavenly Father who can do no other than love us because of his Son's sacrifice on our behalf. For me, this freedom allowed me to slow down, take a breath and relax - I didn't feel like I had to "do it all", get to everything and "not waste a minute". Resting in the liberation of the gospel allowed me to focus and enjoy all that God had for me...even when it meant lingering in a conversation even though a session had started. I pray that women know this freedom of "done". That in the busyness of that weekend they rested in the joy of their salvation knowing the burden is off their shoulders...they don't have to do more and try harder and they are not somehow wasting their life or missing out on what God has for them.
  • I don't know what the other workshops were like in terms of attendance, but I do know the workshop Called to Work by Lydia Brownback and Marriage through Gospel Eyes: Mrs. Law or Mrs. Grace? by Jani Ortlund were packed out!  Two conclusions:  1. lots of Christian women work and want to know how to live out their faith in the workplace, and 2. women are concerned with their marriages.
  • We like our coffee.  Let's just say there were lots of long lines at the coffee stations! (read what happens when others get in the way of women (me) and their coffee here :)
  • I was very thankful for all of the practical insight and professional advice that came out of the Focus Gathering - Women Writing: Perspectives on the World of Publishing – Online and Off.  I have shared my notes with a couple other friends already.
  • All of the speakers were good.  I especially enjoyed Elyse Fitzpatrick on Saturday speak on her book Council From The Cross.  I am hoping she will be a plenary speaker next year.  There is a huge need for women to know the freedom and liberation of the gospel.  We as women can become so focused on the "doing" and forget that the command was "believe".  When Jesus was asked "what must I do to be doing the works of God?" he replied; "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent”.  Elyse Fitzpatrick is an amazing teacher and she proclaims the liberating truths of the gospel clearly, concisely and compassionately.
I look forward to conferences like this one where women come to hear about God.  I pray that we as women will take Him seriously while not taking ourselves too seriously.  (And... I pray for more coffee stations and shorter lines in 2013 :)  Amen.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Simul Iustus Et Peccator -Simultaneously Justified and Fallen

Excerpt taken from Grace In Addiction:

Earlier we spoke of the man who said: "I thought when I got sober that I was no longer going to be Bob, but guess what?  I'm still Bob, even though I'm sober."  Bob's simple statement reflects an incredibly important insight that emerged in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation.
Simul iustus et peccator is Latin for: "Simultaneously Justified and Fallen." Though this can sound obscure, the idea carries great weight and relevance in matters having to do with spirituality.
Martin Luther believed that the Christian stands before God completely exonerated of all guilt, treated by God as though his or her life is as righteous as Christ's own. At the same time, Luther claimed that the person, in and of themselves, still struggles with themselves in exactly the way they did before they found faith. In other words, a spiritual person is simultaneously Saint (from God's vantage point) and Sinner (from a human vantage point). Rather than being either good or bad, the Christian is viewed as both good and bad in the same moment. In contrast to so much modern Christian self-understanding, the sanctification of a believer is understood in classical Protestantism to be imputed, rather than infused or imparted. This is a fancy way of saying that God operates outside of and upon a human agent, rather than from within.
This booklet is a fascinating cogitation which "aims to re-establish both a basis of hope for the church and a basis for the church as hope".

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Real Life Wednesday!

It's June 13th.

Thirty years ago this day,

I said "I Do" to the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

On that beautiful summer afternoon I could not have foreseen all the excruciating heartaches ...

and the wonderful joys of the coming years...

I've been thinking about this day for weeks now.  

My husband and I have been arranging for a getaway and just last night we were excitedly planning the weekend ahead - at the beach, just the two of us!  As I fell asleep I remember thinking "smooth sailing for the next several days - no worries...aaahhhh."

It's as if I were playing this R.E.M. video "Shiny Happy People" over and over again in my mind and the story would continue on in perfect harmony and splendid uninterrupted bliss.

Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing

..There's no time to cry
Happy, happy.

The only problem with this as you and I both know is it's not real life! It's the life I've conjured up in my mind to help me move through the disappointments and unmet expectations of life. Instead of Shiny Happy People, this account is closer to the truth:

  • My husband did not greet me first thing in the morning with "Happy Anniversary" or flowers or a card. [Translate: My expectations for a perfect anniversary morning went unmet]
  • A stupid argument over a Groupon discount nearly derailed our evening at dinner.
  • I woke up Thursday morning feeling queasy and exhausted. We did not get on the road until later that morning - 2 hours behind schedule.
  • I continued to feel groggy and sick during the short trip. Despite a great lunch and hopes of improving health, I was sick all night - our first evening in Marco Island.
  • After a wonderful day on the beach Friday we returned to our room - it was then that I fully comprehended the intensity of the sun - I was badly burned and seriously uncomfortable. We were headed out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary and I was dressed in glowing neon red :)
  • My husband discovered the need to replace one of our tires before hitting the highway...$165 :(
  • My husband's turn for feeling bad - forgetting to take prescription meds is never a good thing :(

Overall we had a great time and these little annoyances only served to remind us of our real life and our real moment by moment need for Jesus.  We both had [and have] expectations for our lives and often the reality does not meet the expectation.  I am reminded of another well known song by R.E.M. entitled "Everybody Hurts".

When your day is long and the night
The night is yours alone

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes

The truth is, we all hurt sometimes.  We all deal with unmet expectations and disappointments in the day to day grind of this life. We wake up in the morning and the "Shiny Happy People" hope for the day is shattered by the sin that so easily entangles us until we are left with the "Everybody Hurts" melody in the background of our hearts.

Just what does the gospel have to do with all these "interruptions" in our otherwise nice weekend?  If the gospel truly applies to all of life, what does it have to say in those moments of greatest need? of greatest disappointment? of greatest hurt?

In those moments of unmet expectations I can remind myself that I am a sinner - always bent on believing I deserve better that what I'm getting.  Rather than understanding that apart from Jesus I only deserve God's just and eternal wrath, I have come to believe I have some good to offer.  Haven't I put together enough good deeds and god-pleasing efforts to engender favor and reward?  

Instead of believing that Jesus said "no one is righteous, no not one", I am a perfect example of what Paul warned the Romans against when he said "do not think of yourself more highly than you ought".  When I am boasting in my own goodness I believe that I am somehow more deserving of favor and I actually have a right to expect what I do. My self-righteous thinking quickly leads to believing that others are somehow less than me and their desires mean little - unless of course my expectations are met first.  

Remembering who I am - more sinful than I know - humbles me and causes my heart to look outside of myself for help, knowing there's nothing good in me.  I can now look to Jesus - my Savior and the only One who can rescue sinners.  Because of His perfect record and His power to meet God's expectations without fail, I can rest in Him knowing that everything I need I have already been given in Christ.  Now it's about His Holiness. My hurts and my disappointments are met with His perfect love and acceptance for me and His approval of me.  All of my sin has been covered forever and completely by His perfect sacrifice and by His blood and righteousness.

When I don't feel well physically I can count on Christ's healing power that sustains and nourishes me. I'm reminded in those moments of weakness that Jesus is strong for me. When I might have been tempted to look down on others when they are weak, God reminds me I am the weak one in need of restoration. I realize that I am the unstable one, having to rely on Christ and on others for help in my time of need. When my husband is sick I can now look at him with compassion and know that Christ is strengthening him in the midst and I can see in those moments that we are the same. We are both sinners, weak and frail - saved by grace.

When I come to these annoyances or when I suffer during intense trial I can be reminded these are opportunities to recognize my frailty and Jesus' power.  God will once again turn my gaze away from the pretense of me to the reality of the gospel.  Paul is helpful here to remind the Colossians and us of what the reality is:
"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" Col 1:21-22
By Christ's death I am reconciled to Him.  I am holy and blameless and above reproach before a Holy God all because of Jesus and his pursuit of me and love for me.

Every unmet expectation was met in Jesus.  Every disappointment was made up for in Christ.  Every sorrow, every hurt and every tear has been felt by my Savior.  Each heartache is held by Love.  I am reminded once again that Jesus is my Rescue and he alone saves me from the sin of unbelief and the self-centeredness of me in every moment and in every circumstance.

Thank you Jesus -
You are Savior!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How To Mentor a Christian? Preach The Gospel.

I've had a few conversations recently with friends and co-workers on the subject of mentoring and discipleship. Quite honestly those two words make me a bit nervous. Frankly, they conjure up images of two people sitting at a table, one with a Bible staring intently into the face of the person without the Bible. The all knowing mentor proceeds to tell the unsuspecting disciple all the things necessary for living the Christian life.  

Have you experienced this for yourself - on one side or the other? I have, and I cringe when I recall the uncomfortable task of mentoring a young woman at a church we belonged to several years ago. This young woman was seemingly in need of mentoring by an older woman. Her repetitive display of a bit too much cleavage landed her on the pastor's list of people who needed someone to "come alongside them" and provide "instruction." Looking back on those meetings with this young woman I am certain I did more damage than good. I studiously poured over scripture that spoke of modesty and dress and what being a godly woman looked like - inside and out. I then carefully educated her on all the ways she could become Christ-like by following a prescribed course of action.

This past month I've had opportunities to talk with a variety of people. It's been in the midst of these conversations that I've thought about that young woman.

I met with a divorced mom of two adult young men living at home, a husband and father in the midst of marital strain, a young single woman searching for answers about her future and a married mom who just discovered pornography on her teen son's phone.

I sat and listened, my heart aching as I heard of all the struggle and regret and pain.

It would be so easy to provide a list of things they must do to recover, move forward and heal.

Surely there must be some finely tuned process that would assure their progress toward a repaired marriage, more obedience and more well-behaved children.

However, as I have walked through my own share of difficulties in my marriage and in parenting I have found that the only refreshing and life changing news is this - "Your sins are forgiven." There are cosmic implications in that tiny but powerful statement. It implies that there is One who can forgive me of my sins. It speaks to the One who knows all of my sin; the good, the bad and the ugly, and forgives me of all of it and loves me in the midst. It whispers the truth that
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 
Psalm 103:12

What do weary and guilt-ridden sinner-saints need to hear? What is the one thing we can reassure them with? Their sins are forgiven. To the mom who is self-condemned and feeling like a failure because her son has turned to drugs again Jesus says, your sins are forgiven. To the struggling father and husband who sees no hope in a marriage that is on the verge of crumbling altogether Jesus says, your sins are forgiven. To the young woman who struggles to know that God has a purpose and a plan for her life Jesus says, your sins are forgiven. And yes, even to the woman who is running away from a difficult marriage, running away from a community who loves her because of the fear and guilt that judgmental eyes provoke, Jesus says, your sins are forgiven. These dear ones just like you and just like me, don't need to hear about all the ways they have strayed from God. They don't need to hear that their attempts to be a better wife or a better mom or dad have failed. They know that. I know that in my own life, the failure that I am. Here is the good news. Jesus died for failures. He died for us, sinners. And his death brought our forgiveness. Finally and fully.

Your sins are forgiven.

If I had another shot at spending time with that young woman, that's what I would tell her. That's what she needs to know most. All the other Christian "how-to's" are quite frankly crap. Sorry, they just are. All the ways we try to get people to do what we think is "right" Christian behavior is basically self-righteousness. Here is right Christian behavior; fall on your knees and thank God for Jesus who by His love and power saves you from yourself by forgiving you of your sins. By His death you live. By His sacrifice you are free. By His blood your guilt and shame is removed, over and over and over again.  Do you get it? You are forgiven of everything you have done, are doing and will do! You are loved.

Your sins are forgiven. 

Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy
Psalm 103:2-4

Friday, June 8, 2012

Are You Crushed Under The Weight?

I was sitting on our patio with my husband over a cup of coffee recently and we commented on all of the heavy rains we'd had.  As a result of the deluge, leaves from a large fig tree in our back yard began to pile up on our screen and settle into the corners (no, not in the gutters we should have installed;).  We said "mmmm...we should probably blow the leaves out before the screens give way under the pressure.  We went back to our conversation and to our routine not paying any more attention to the screen.

Fast forward a few more days and we commented again "We really should blow those leaves out - the rain doesn't seem to be letting up." It actually looked as though the screens started to sag a bit and while we were momentarily concerned, we turned our attention back to our life and our routine and all the things that seem to take priority in our busy lives. While we knew it needed to be fixed, we just didn't believe it was that pressing.

Several weeks later we as we walked out to our patio there it was - the explosion of leaves, dirt and water on the ground told us all we needed to know.  The screen, not able to bear up under the pressure, had crushed under the weight and was ripped apart from the fascia board. 

We had held off too long.  We had made the horrible mistake of waiting until the unthinkable happened and now we were paying the price.  It would cost over $100 to fix the three panels that were damaged.  About this time you may be tempted to say "well, hindsight is 20/20".  It is true.  Having the past in focus, you can see clearly.  The problem with that is we were seeing pretty clearly before the damage.  We saw the effects of the weight over several weeks take it's toll on the screen.  We were not oblivious to the problem.  So to say we were not somehow seeing clearly before it happened and now we see perfectly based on what actually happened is a bit silly.  We knew exactly where the problem would lead, we were just distracted, lazy and detached as well as believing (wrongly) we did not have the time to fix it.

Isn't this how relationships in our lives go?  We go along and things look fine.  Then the rain comes and before you know it the squall has passed and everything is fine again.

A bit later another squall comes and instead of moving out it hangs around for a while producing more intense downpours.

Those thunderclouds pass, but not long afterward more threatening clouds break and this time it's torrential. The eruption and devastation is frightening and cause for alarm. But this also passes eventually and while there was some obvious damage, quick repairs were made and soon it seemed clear again.

One by one the assaults keep coming - until one day the weight and the intensity crushes you.  You can not bear up under one more drop.

Have you experienced this in relationships? If this is ringing true for you it's probably because we all have at one time or another experienced the devastating blow of relationships that suffer under the weight of encountering unrelenting and forceful cloudbursts. Who of you can name one person in your life who has not experienced relational pain and division? In fact, I can tell of multiple relational difficulties I've had over the years, some with friends and some with family members - most recently with my husband. I guess that's why the visual of the leaves struck me. We had a front row seat in our marriage and we saw the effects of multiple "storms" in our lives and our response was much the same - complacency and distraction.  Thoughts of "it's not that bad" and "it'll blow over" took over and we were comforted when things seemed to get "a little better".

Only when the final devastating blow came were we jolted into believing it really was that bad.  It took a merciful intervention of God in His grace to shock us out of our complacency.

Ironically, a friend commented to me "God has allowed the perfect storm in your life".  That He did!  Despite the sin and selfishness that permeated our marriage relationship, God's grace came in and rescued us from ourselves.

Here is the beautiful thing about grace.  Our complacency and our laziness and our distract-ability did not and could never stop God's grace!  I know - shocking right?  Nothing bad we did would have ever slowed down or stopped God's rescue mission.

Paul Zahl says this about grace -
What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. The cliché definition of grace is ‘unconditional love’. It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing…Let’s go a little further. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called ‘gifts’ (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is love, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…Grace is one-way love."
While our sin reached (and continues to reach) far, God's grace reached further.  We are resting in the undeserved and lavish grace of God that comes to us despite good days or bad, right responses or snarky ones, laziness or not...God's grace is that radical and that upside down!  Christ did not die for perfect people or perfect marriages, Christ died to rescue sinners.  The end.

Thank you Jesus!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Grace Always Outruns Sin

No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor can subdue our lust, or correct our crookedness of will. But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches.

Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this. 
Free and warm reception into the divine favor is the strongest of all motives 
in leading a person to seek conformity to Him 
who has thus 

A cold admission into the paternal house by the father might have repelled the prodigal, and sent him back to his lusts; but the fervent kiss, the dear embrace, the best robe, the ring, the shoes, the fatted calf, the festal song – all without one moment’s suspense or delay, as well as without one upbraiding word, could not but awaken shame for the past, and true-hearted resolution to walk worthy of such a father, and of such a generous pardon. ‘Revelings, banqueting, and abominable idolatries’ come to be the abhorrence of those round whom the holy arms of renewed fatherhood have been so lovingly thrown. Sensuality, luxury, and the comforts of the flesh have lost their relish to one who has tasted the fruit of the tree of life.

~ Horatius Bonar