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Psalm 121

Posted on September 8, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

“My daughter is pregnant.” The text about a friend’s unwed teenage daughter felt like a punch in the stomach. I was undone. I was also hopeful though; I know how God loves to take the most broken situations and turn them into the most beautiful. So I crafted a text back, one that I thought would be encouraging. After I hit the send button, I knew it was wrong. It was too formulaic, too light, not enough of me entering into her pain.


Have you ever been in a period of your life where it seems like every text, every email, every phone call you receive is bad news? Where it seems like everywhere you look there is real hurt and brokenness? Where the effects of sin seem to win over the effects of redemption, where life seems hopeless and discouragements seem endless? Where every “Christian” or “religious” phrase you know sounds empty and embarrassing?


Where do we go during these times? What do we do? How do we encourage others who are in the middle of these times?


It is essential to remember that we cannot fix each other. Rather, we can enter into each other’s hurt. We can sit in the dark with our friends. There’s nothing we can do to make the situation better, so we are free to stop trying to make it better.


“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen


When our friends are hurting or we are hurting, we don’t have to rush through it, we don’t have to pretend we know why this thing is happening, that we are bastions of divine confidence that it will all be okay, we certainly don’t have to fill the awkward and often painful silence.


However, when we do want to say something, when we long to look for words to encourage and soothe may we look to Him alone. In Psalm 121:1-2 the psalmist says,


“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made the heaven and earth.”


Where does our true and only help come from? From an event that happened thousands of years ago on that Golgotha’s hill near Jerusalem. On that hill our Savior endured a suffering that we shudder to think of. The maker of heaven and earth came and took on our body of flesh so that we might know He understands our suffering. We can be assured that “He will not let your foot be moved: he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (v.3). There is not a time when El Roi’s (the God who sees) watchful eye is averted from His loved ones. “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night” (vv. 5-6). There is not an instance where our Heavenly Father is unconcerned about our well-being. “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (vv. 7-8). This promise is the promise that was withheld from Christ on our behalf. As He suffered on that hill, the Lord did not keep Him from all evil. He actually experienced all the effects of our sin all so that we could hear a resounding: “The Lord will keep you forevermore.” Christ heard silence as He cried out to God so that we could hear: “the Lord will keep your life.”


Where does our help come from? It comes from the triune God’s sacrifice for us and His eternal communion with us. In every doubt, in every fear, in every moment of anger, He promises to be at your right hand. He has already paid for all of your doubt and mistrust. God looks at you and sees the perfect record of His Son trusting the Father’s plan without fear or doubt. There is real pain in this life, but--praise God!--we have a Savior, a Rescuer, a Keeper that is ours forever.

Revelation 5

Posted on May 5, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

One of my favorite things to do is to hike. Preferably I like to hike up a very large mountain, where I get angry ¾ of the way up and refuse to talk to anybody with me because it’s their fault I am feeling like I’m about to die. I hate the “almost there” part, it’s the worst. But I love the top. I love standing looking down on our city and getting a new perspective. I know that might sound cheesy, but I’m always surprised at how my eyes are opened when I’m standing at the top. I look down and see things that feel so big to me when I am next to them but now they seem miniscule. I feel like I can breathe differently, more freely. Though, that may be because I am out of shape and lightheaded…but whatever.


For me, Revelation 5 is a view from the top. I read it the other day and had that same sort of “looking down” feeling, I felt lightheaded and teary-eyed. (I would love for you to go ahead and read the whole chapter when you get a quiet moment.) The chapter starts with an angel asking, “who is worthy to open the scroll and break it’s seals?” Seemingly there was no one, all hope was lost. John begins to “weep loudly” because of the lack. And then there is a shocking turn in the story. One of the elders leans over to John and probably says with a slight smile, “Weep no more; behold.” And there He is. The One who is worthy. The One who has conquered. The Lion of the tribe of Judah. So John dries his eyes and looks and sees “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.” Our crucified Redeemer, risen, triumphant. And the Lamb takes the scroll and His worthiness causes the elders to break out in worship.


“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you have ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (vv. 9-10)


That worship from the elders is contagious. How can we hear that He was slain and by his blood we have been purchased to be a part of God’s kingdom and not have our hearts warm to His holiness? John looks around and sees the angels “numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” And they all can’t help but to join in, too. The gospel that the elders were celebrating the “angels long to look into”(I Peter 1:12). They celebrate Christ’s worthiness and proclaim:


“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”


And then the praise culminates with “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them saying":


“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”


What a vista from these heights! This festivity is what all of history is leading up to. My heart is overwhelmed at the thought of such a joyous party. To see our Rescuer, slain from the foundation of the world, being worshipped and enjoyed and made much of by every thing… every single living thing.


My encouragement to you today is when you are in the midst of it, whatever it might be, motherhood, a go nowhere job, a broken down car, bills, laying down your desires for others, a boss that doesn’t appreciate you, a spouse that is distant, children that are rebellious, whatever it is… remember that even though it feels very big, you aren’t at the top. There is a day coming when we will see our Savior and we will shout out his worthiness and rejoice with “joy unspeakable” forevermore.

Failure

Posted on January 13, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The fear of failure is a powerful and destructive thing. It keeps us from trying, it keeps us from living, and it shackles us to ourselves. Recently, I have cowered from fear repeatedly. I have listened its voice—my inner slave driver—telling me that my best won't be good enough, that no matter how hard I try I will not succeed. It has kept me paralyzed in a dungeon of darkness. The world's solution to this fear is, "Just give it your all!", "Find power in the trying!", or, the karma principle, "If you do your best you will find success." Don't get me wrong, it is easy to find momentary and fleeting strength in these tag lines. I resolve once again to give it a go and then once again find myself wondering what went wrong. The failure to get out of “failure mode” only pushes me deeper into my fear. I want to be a less angry mom today, and then I fail, I have an outburst, and I am distant from children. I don't want to gossip and then, inevitably, it's the first thing out of my mouth when I meet up with someone, so I just decide it is best never to talk to anyone again. I want to love my husband selflessly and then I find myself being more selfish than ever, so I withdraw from him and protect myself from the deepness of my depravity.


In our American and Christian cultures, we view failure as a detriment to a fulfilled and happy life. But I think we are way off. I believe failure is a means to get closer to our God. C.S. Lewis put it this way,


"Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help."


The Apostle Paul puts it this way, "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (I Cor 12:10). Paul was in the process of learning that being brought low was a high and lofty place to be, because it is in our lowness that we are actually closest to Christ. It is in our lowness where we see our unwavering and desperate need for Him. It's also there that we glimpse the ray of light that frees us from our dungeon of the self. When we own our failures instead of blame-shifting or ignoring we are free to see that there is a strong fortress, a mighty tower that we can run into and be safe. It's in this strong tower that we are rescued and protected from the slave driver of perfection. We are the righteous because of what Christ has done, because He is the righteous one and His righteousness is our righteousness by faith. We are safe because He is our rescuer. We can be real about our failures with our family and friends because we don't have to pretend to be perfect because we can’t be perfect. Succeeding or doing your best isn't the answer (even when you can succeed or do your best); both of those worlds revolve around the Self (it’s up to you!). Our answer is faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone. In all of our endeavors—especially when we’ve failed…once again—may we come to see our need for Him to intervene on our behalf and be our all.

Loved Completely

Posted on November 4, 2013 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

There is a lot of joy in motherhood; there is also a lot of pain. At times the joy we experience is a beautiful simple love of our children. We love watching their first step, hearing them read, seeing them began to love Jesus and laughing at their silliness. Even watching our kids while they do absolutely nothing fills our heart to the fullest with happiness.


Sadly, I think that there are times when my joy comes from their accomplishments, but in an idolatrous way. They say the right thing in front of someone I really respect and my heart feels full, but with a sense of insidious pride. I fear there are times when I depend on them to make me believe I am a better person, that my right standing before others and God depends on how they treat me and others, how they respond to my words, how they perform in every day life.


On the days that they perform well, I am happy and confident. On the days they prove that the heart is deceitfully wicked, I am angry and sullen. I must fight the urge to find my identity and my worth in my children. I often use my children to garner praise from others, rather than seeing my children as a means to praise God—to praise Him because my identity and my true self is hidden in Christ and not manifested in their accomplishments. How God looks at me is not dependent on who my children grow up to be or how they act at any given moment. Praise Him!


The burden to be the perfect mom with perfect children is lifted from my shoulders, and I am freed to praise God for who he is and what he has done despite my weak performance. I don't need to compare my family to other families—ones I deem as having their act together; I hide all of my accomplishments and failures as a mother in the Rock of Ages that was cleft for me. I am perfectly accepted as is.


We long for joy, we long for lasting happiness, and we search for it constantly. Not only from our children, but also from our husbands, our friends, our co-workers, Social Media, books, movies…everywhere. But even if we do find some joy, it is temporary and fleeting. But, one day we will have a joy that will never fade. In John 16:22, Jesus tells his disciples about the ordeal that awaits him. He explains the plan for their redemption, "So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take that joy from you." Hear the words of your Savior; the joy that you look for in motherhood (and other places) is found only in Him. This joy is a joy no one can take from you, a joy that is permanent and indelible. Currently, we have this joy partially, sometimes seeming stronger some days than others. But we know a day will come when that joy will be complete. In this light, all the pains of motherhood, all of our sin against our children, and their sin against us will be done, gone. All of our striving for happiness and our unquenchable desire for affirmation, acceptance, and approval will be fulfilled and satisfied in the fullest. We will see our Savior--the lover of our souls--and we will have eternal joy. The joy of being loved completely and loving completely.

A Mother's Strength

Posted on September 30, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:14-19).


Mothering is wonderfully breathtaking. Stepping back and looking in, I see there is beauty, joy and indescribable love in being a parent; but, there is also heartache, anger, and confusion. Being a mother will show you just how much you need strength, because being a mother exposes just how weak you really are. The energy and strength to care for children only comes from the Holy Spirit. Your love (alone) for your children won't be strong enough, your desire (alone) to be a good mom won't be strong enough, your desire (alone) to raise children who love Jesus won't be strong enough.

I believe that Paul’s prayer (above) is perfect for parenting. We feel like we merely pray for strength to get through the day. But, Paul prays that we will be able to understand that God's love is all encompassing—it is more than just a tool I need in my tool belt to “get through the day.” It’s the very foundation (and the only foundation) I can stand on to do what it is that is set before me: be a parent. The love of God is the biggest, the strongest and the fullest love we will ever know. Paul prays this prayer for the congregations in Ephesians, but it’s also for us today. Paul prays because, apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit to reveal to us just how much God loves us, there is no way in and of ourselves to understand how incredible his love is. His love surpasses what our brains can understand.

So, what gives you the strength to live every day with another sinner? Knowing that despite the reality that you are a sinner and an enemy and hater of God, that you are loved and declared—apart from your works—to be a beloved lover and daughter of God. Knowing this truth—revealed to us by the power of the Holy Spirit—is the foundation for the strength we need to enter into the daunting task of being a mom and to live with our children, sinners just like we are.

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We forgive because we have first been forgiven. When we fail, we are forgiven, so too with our children: when they fail, they can be forgiven by us because we have first been forgiven. But it doesn’t stop with us forgiving them. We too, can seek forgiveness from them for our wrongs. God’s two words level the playing field; there is no one too big to ask for forgiveness and no one too small to grant it.


In remembering the truth about God's amazing power and love for us, we can cease trying to control and manipulate our kids for our benefit. We can step back and rest in the truth that it is He who fulfils all in all and not us. We are freed, by this truth, to love our children boldly, without making it about us. And when we fail at loving our children, and we will, we must return again to the truth of the Gospel: we are loved despite our performance and we, by faith alone, have the full righteousness of Jesus Christ; in this and this alone we have both our rest and our strength to be mothers.

Led to Repentance

Posted on August 26, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:1-4)


Recently, I decided to take my kids to Disneyland. We have annual passes and live fairly close, so this is a pretty common occurrence in our house. As I was driving along, thinking about how awesome of a mom I am, I was surprised by a policeman standing in the middle of the road, hand outstretched indicating to me to stop. At first I couldn't figure out what was going on; had something dangerous happened ahead, was he redirecting traffic? As if his hand came through the windshield and slapped me in the face, something hit me: I was speeding. I was really speeding and in a school zone. I pulled over and received my just punishment. I then texted my husband; I was a bit worried about what he would say. I knew the ticket was going to be expensive, and--let's just say--it wasn't my first ticket. My husband’s response? "Don’t let it ruin your day." He showed me kindness. This act of kindness from my husband reminded me of how God shows me kindness when I don't deserve it; my heart was softened and I was deeply grateful for my husband and his love for me.


I started again on our journey Disneyward, and, as I was driving, I started to rehearse all the ways I fail. I thought about past sins and failures that always seem to plague me when I am feeling like a complete idiot. Why didn't I notice I was in a school zone? Why did I sin against my friend like that? Why do I care so much about what others think? Why wasn't I kinder to my husband when we were in high school? On, and on the guilt laden memoires and questions came, until God broke in. He gently reminded me of what I had learned 30 minutes before: He is kind to me, He forgives me, He loves me, and all my sin (past, present, and future) is paid for through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, His son! What a blessed relief it was to my heart to remember that truth.


Reminding myself of my sin is not the way I change. When I was in reminding-myself mode I felt horrible, depressed, anxious; when I was in remembering what He’s done for me mode I felt light, joyful, and grateful. I thought of how often I remind my children of past failures and expect that it will help them change. I bring up past times of discipline and use this to shame them into repentance. How unlike my Savoir am I! (“Wretched man that I am…!”) His kindness leads me to repentance--always. Jesus Christ took my judgment and my punishment and remembering this fact makes me love Him more. In remembering what He’s done for me and how I am led to repentance, I am caused to look on my children as those who need not my reminding them of their past failures to get them to repent, but as those who need me to remember what was done for me by Jesus, who need my love, need me to forgive and to forget, and need me to say, when they’ve messed up, “Don’t let this ruin your day.”

Forgiveness

Posted on July 15, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I have often struggled to understand the concept of asking God for forgiveness. I know it is a command (I John 1:9), but I also know that even before we ask we have been forgiven. This truth is demonstrated within scripture: in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-33); in various verses like Psalm 103, “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” (2-4a); and in Colossians 2:13-14, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing to the cross.


Recently, I read in Brennan Manning’s book, Ragamuffin Gospel, two paragraphs that clarified the concept of asking God for forgiveness. . Here they are, in their entirety; I hope it encourages you the way it has me.


“When I was a little boy I had a naïve idea that when I went to confession, God was frowning on me because I had been bad. As soon as I confessed my sins, God would begin to smile again. Somehow my confession implied a change in God. How absurd! My confession only implies a change in me.


“Now I understand things differently. More like this. You and I are standing in the middle of a spotlight on the platform of a church; the rest of the church is in darkness, but we are in bright light. To me this scene is a good image of ragamuffins living in a state of grace. Now, suppose that you or I commit a grave, deliberate sin. What happens? We step aside into shadows, but the light remains shining. God’s love never changes—we have simply chose to step away from it. When we repent, we come back into the light of God’s love, which has always been there.”


So how does this “stepping back into the light” happen? God’s kindness leads us there (Romans 2:4). The work of the Holy Spirit is to remind us of God’s kindness that is still shinning on us even in our sin. As He does this, our hearts are drawn back into the truth of our reality and ultimately we are moved to repentance. Repentance is not primarily about our step towards God, but about living in the light about His running towards us. I have often heard that repentance is a changing of your mind, that it is an agreeing with God that we are in fact sinner. However, I think that there is also an element of agreement that we often forget. Part of repentance is remembering that we are loved by our Abba Father, that we are perfectly loved (period); agreeing with God that His love for us never changes even when we were loving everything and anything more than we love Him. In this agreeing that we are simultaneously a sinner and beloved we fall in love with our Father and run after him with zeal renewed.

The Me Monster

Posted on June 24, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I tend to make everything about me. What I have done and what I have to do. I am the "Me Monster" Brian Reagan talks about it in this clip:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVWHa5cpMZo&feature=player_embedded


Me! Me! Meee!


Recently, as I have been reading Scripture, I realized that there are two specific verses that I have always read through the lens of a Me Monster: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1), and "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). But God broke through and revealed to me the beauty of Himself embedded in these verses, and the Me Monster ended up looking undeniably ugly compared to the beauty of our Savior. It is true that these verses contain specific application for our us and our lives, but the brilliance of these verses is of Whom they truly speak.


The first verse is Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath." We can agree, this is good practical advice. If someone is raging at you, chances are if you are nice in response they will calm down a bit. However, if we leave this verse simply in the realm of “practical advice”, we miss the truth that all of Scripture points to Jesus (Luke 24:27). How does this Scripture point to our Savior? He fulfils it completely. Jesus is the soft answer who turns away wrath. He turned away God’s entire wrath from you and from me. He turned away the wrath I deserve for being a Me Monster. He is my soft answer. He is my propitiation, my wrath bearer. He not only turned away God's wrath for me, He bore God's wrath for me. I John 4:10 says, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." He bore God's wrath! That means there is no wrath left for me. Amazing Grace!


When I hear and am reminded that Jesus is my wrath bearer, I don't have to defend, justify, or fight against the wrath of another. There is the possibility that I will, miraculously, stand calm, and give the soft answer. Even when I don't give the soft answer I should, His soft answer continues to turn away the wrath I deserve. Because He bore the wrath that I deserved, your wrath towards me looses its power, as well as mine towards you. The worst has been said on the cross and the wrath has been born so I no longer need to defend myself. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11). He loved us, and we can love others. He bore our wrath, and we can patiently deal with others.


The second verse is John 3:16. While it may be obvious to 99% of the planet that this verse isn’t about me, I’ve always read it placing the emphasis on the “whoever believes in him." I put the emphasis on what I needed to do. I had missed out on the stunning beginning of the verse: “For God so loved the world…” God loved first, before I believed. God gave first, before I believed. His loving and giving precedes my believing. His loving and giving was not dependent on my believing. His loving and giving is first and foremost over all. When I doubt His love and I have to tell myself to believe, I am not motivated by, "believe because you are supposed to!" I am motivated by remembering His preceding love and His preceding giving. Before I met any conditions, He loved and gave. Nothing builds my faith like knowing it is not all up to me. I know I am weak and my faith is weak, but His love is so strong I can be weak. I can rest in his love and in His generosity. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake” (1-3).


My prayer for you is to see Him when you read the scriptures; see the brilliance of Jesus’ love, see the obligations of Scripture all fulfilled in His life. See the blessings of obedience as yours because of His sinless life. I Pray that the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to His majesty and His splendour, which eclipses all else, even the ever present Me Monster.