Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Manger Meditation

For all the times I’ve heard it, I still can’t wrap my mind around God choosing to come to earth, as a baby, under Roman rule, as one considered illegitimate, not in a grand house or even a hotel but in a place smelling of barn animals.
And yet, his humble beginning makes perfect sense.

Jesus began his life in poverty and banishment.
He was not allowed to be born or to die as anything but an outcast man. "Outside the city" (Hebrews 13:12) was his position as he entered and as he left our earth. (Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889)

We learn from the manger that, from the very start, Jesus came for the ordinary, the overlooked, those outside acceptable circles. Mary was an ordinary girl from a disreputable town; outcast shepherds were visited by an angelic choir; pagan astrologers came to bow before the Messiah of Israel, where well-bred Israelites were notably absent.

He has come to your face, O man, because you were unable to reach His face, and he who was invisible has become visible for your redemption.
(Peter Chrysologus, 406-450)

In the crude humility of a feeding trough, we see how very far down God had to reach to have a relationship with us. Try as they might to reach towards Him, the nation of Israel had already proven it impossible for man to find his own way to God through living by His laws. Imperfect people simply cannot perfectly love and obey a holy God! God Himself reached down through the vast expanse between heaven and earth, between our fallen nature and his utter holiness, and opened the way for us to have a relationship with Him.

So, at the time of his birth, Christ, through whom every place was created, finds no place in the inn; and he who is Lord of all the world is born as though a foreigner, to enable us to be citizens whose homeland in haven. (Peter Chrysologus, 406-450)

He came as a an infant, vulnerable and helpless. From childhood, he was hunted, ridiculed, disbelieved, mocked. A sin-dark world shaded its eyes against such dazzling light: the literal embodiment of God’s love. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:4 )

Rest assured that He did not come in such a way and live such a life in order to have a polite, well-dressed acquaintance with you on Sunday mornings! Instead, He came to know you and be known by you, intimately. Jesus meets us in the lowest places of life, in the mire of sin, in secret guilt and private shame, in those moments when you lose our temper with your child or give in -- again -- to a vice you hate. He came with open arms to lift you from the muck, to wash you clean, to be your brother and Saviour and friend and Lord.

We may fear to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. (Charles Spurgeon)

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords came not as a rich prince in a palace, but as a small baby in a borrowed manger. He calls you to see His face, to know His salvation, and to bow in worship before Him, just as those shepherds and wise men did all those years ago.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Long List of Names

"A list of names?" Ben groaned, looking a bit bleary-eyed. It was our first subject of the school day, and he was not enthusiastic. That is, until I handed him the printout of Matthew 1:1-17 and told him he could circle all the names that he recognized.

Both Matthew and Ben were surprised at how many familiar names they found in this long, ancient genealogy. Some names made them giggle as I read them aloud: Jehoshaphat, Salmon, Zerubbabel. Just who were these people? And what can we really gain from reading this list of archaic names?

As all of Scripture does, this segment reveals precious truths about God’s gracious and powerful work in His gift of Jesus to sinners.

Wouldn’t you expect Christ’s ancestors to be holy, upright, exemplary folks who reflected God’s character? Some are, like Josiah, the boy king who led revival in Israel, and Jotham, who helped rebuild the temple. But many others are downright despicable. Old Testament historical accounts sum up the idolatry, treachery and pride of Ahaz, Rehoboam, Amon and others this way: they "did evil in the eyes of the Lord." We learned about Manasseh, who erected an altar to the idols in the holy temple of God. He shed innocent blood and did more evil than the surrounding pagan nations, which the Lord had already destroyed (2 Chronicles 33). Yet, we discovered that in his later years, under God’s judgment, he repented, destroying every idol and unclean altar. He pleaded with the people of Judah to follow the Lord (they didn’t listen).

Our God forgives even the most horrific offense against His holiness, when the offender truly repents.

Normally, a Jewish genealogy would list only men, but here we meet four women — including Gentiles! Tamar, after being unjustly treated by her father-in-law Judah, deceived him in order to perpetuate the Messiah’s line (Genesis 38). Rahab was a pagan prostitute who took a stand for God by hiding Israelite spies (Joshua 2). Ruth was a gracious Gentile woman, but of the tribe of Moab, an avowed enemy of Israel whom God later cursed (Jeremiah 48). Uriah’s wife Bathsheba was drawn into adultery with King David, sparking the flame that fueled David’s most grievous sin (2 Samuel 11). Each of these women behaved in ways that appeared promiscuous; yet the first three are later praised in Scripture for their faith! Ultimately, the genealogy ends with Mary, Jesus’ mother, a betrothed virgin found to be pregnant out of wedlock.

Our God came for men and women, for the upright Jew and the God-seeking Gentiles, for sinners certain that they need a Saviour.

The genealogies found in the gospels are often reserved for Christmas devotional reading, yet they are so much more than a preface to the nativity story. They reflect the remarkable human heritage of the Son of God — who, notably, most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man.

His deity means that He alone has the power to redeem us from sin; His humanity means He is a Saviour who understands our earthly struggles and temptations! He is the suffering Saviour and sympathetic High Priest. As we contemplate the descendants through whom Christ came, we recognize the full scope of fallen mankind that this wonderful, one-of-a-kind God-Man came to save.

And for those who call upon Him as Saviour and Lord, He welcomes us into His family as His descendants, born of God (John 1:13, 1 John 3:1).

[To help] Abraham's descendants, . . . [Jesus] had to be made
like his brothers in every way,
in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest
in service to God, and that he might make atonement
for the sins of the people.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted,
he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:16-18)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanks Giving

Since reading Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts I’ve been keeping my own book of thanks. I wake up early in order to spend time with Jesus; I open my little book and add a few more . . .

14. the taste of that first cup of coffee, earthy and strong
15. purple mist on morning mountains
16. Your word, lying open on my table, inviting
17. curling up comfy in my chair

It was Ann’s friend who challenged her to record one thousand gifts. Quite a project! Yet, after reaching that number, she kept on going; thanking God had grown her faith and joy in Him, the Giver of all good things and she didn’t want to miss a moment of Him.

I want to slow down and taste life, give thanks and see God. (Ann Voskamp)

67. talking with You all day long
68. Your mercy so full it never runs low
69. Your grace for me to do what’s impossible

I think of myself as a thankful person — not by temperament, but by God’s grace, so very evident daily to me. But if you start keeping a journal expressly for thanking God, you are bound to learn a few new things about yourself.

The thanks itself nourishes. Thanks feed our trust [in God]. (Ann Voskamp)

106. brothers who are friends
107. the knowledge of You, gift beyond price
108. husband’s strong work ethic
109. Your perfect heart, home to my imperfect one

I find I tend to thank God for big-picture things — His salvation, His mercy to me, His sovereignty. And for people and relationships that are dear to me — my mother, my friends, my family, my mentors.

"Wherever you are, be all there." This is where God is. In the present. I AM. (Ann Voskamp)

227. today, the only one I have
228. tomorrow, where You’ve promised to be the same, even if everything else changes
229. yesterday, the memories of Your love and faithfulness which give me strength today

But through Ann Voskamp’s example, and through daily listing the gifts God’s given me, I am learning how to watch for the small things, the familiar, regular things to thank Him for. I am learning to thank him for the smell of summer, for the way the leaves look and sound when the wind moves them. I am learning to appreciate the sound of my sons’ voices, the sensation of fuzzy socks on a cold tile floor. I am noticing that every moment of this day is unique and will not come again, and my senses open to fully experience the tiny flutter of graces from God that would have gone unnoticed before.
The life of true holiness is rooted in the soil of awed adoration. It does not grow elsewhere. (J.I. Packer)

284. drying and saucing fresh tomatoes: a rich red harvest
285. clean sheets on a firm bed
286. Mondays come only once a week!
287. comforts: cats, hugs, books, mountains

I am also learning to thank Him for things that may not look like gifts to me, but are from God’s hand for my benefit. So I thank Him for the physical suffering in one son’s life, knowing God is maturing him. I thank God for the unexpected pressures in homeschooling this year, confident He is teaching me more about trusting Him with my boys. I have even been able to thank Him for the heartbreak of a broken relationship, trusting that what lies ahead is far greater than this present weight of grief.

Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadow fell over a life? (Ann Voskamp)

323. that I can share this pain with You, and You understand
324. that you never despise my broken and contrite heart
325. prayer, where I touch your power for those I love and long for

It is joyfully, deeply liberating, this careful watching for my Father’s gifts. Deliberately, intently thanking God is my way of saying:
"Yes, Lord, I receive [this person, this situation, this moment] as a gift from You. Your purpose for me here is surely good, to show me more of Yourself, and to make me more like Jesus. So, thank you, Lord, for everything. Yes. For everything."

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me,
and he prepares the way so that I may show him
the salvation of God. (Psalm 50:23)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Running the Race of Faith (Part II): Travelling Light

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

1) ... let us lay aside every weight.....

I’m not a marathon runner — but even I know that to run well, you must travel light. If your sneakers fit well but are too bulky, if your jogging shorts aren’t the lightest you own, you will stumble when the race turns tough.

The writer of Hebrews applies this image to our faith relationship with Jesus. Whatever brings an unnecessary burden to our race of faith — any unhelpful habit or activity or thought pattern or relationship that impedes our progress — simply has to go. The one who pursues Jesus will gladly and deliberately lay aside anything that works against her.

I find it interesting that we’re not first told to avoid sin, but to lay aside anything that drags us down. There are things in our lives that are not sin, but that are unwise if we are to live completely for Christ.

Three examples in my own life come to mind: 1) Years ago, I stepped away from a ministry I’d been involved with for years, because I knew it interfered with the ministry God was guiding me into. 2) I am an avid reader, but at one time, I set all fiction aside: I noticed that my time and thoughts were too tied up with stories, not occupied enough with God’s Word. 3) Presently, my family fasts from computers one day a week, because of their potential to distract us from keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Obviously, reading good fiction, using a computer and serving in women’s ministry aren’t wrong! But for me, they were like wearing bulky sneakers in my race. So I laid them aside.

John Piper puts it succinctly: Don’t ask yourself, "Is this sin?" But ask of yourself, "Does this help me run?" If not, it may need to go, at least for a lap or two of your race.

2) ...and the sin that so easily entangles...

Casting off sin is a clearer concern: any sin we see in ourselves is to be rejected, destroyed, dismissed. There’s no room for it in your transformed heart and renewed mind! It will only interfere with your relationship with Christ. Following sin’s lead always draws our eyes away from Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and veers us off our course.

Does this sound like a hurdle that’s raised too high? Every weight? Every sin? God’s immense grace toward us is stronger than all those burdens piled together! Don’t let a solitary thing stand in between you and the race of faith God has marked out for you. For as we travel light and strong and free in the race of faith, we will run with Jesus’ endurance, and with His joy.

(More on THAT part of the passage in a future blog post...)

I will run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.
(Psalm 119:32)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Running the Race of Faith (Part 1)

Listening to the Life Stories of Those who Ran by Faith

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

What a great call from God, to run with endurance the race of life He sets before us! And not by our own devices, but by being encouraged by the example of many witnesses, by letting go of all that impedes us, and by looking into the face of our Saviour! This climactic passage is even moreso if you read it on the heels of chapter 11 (or the whole book, for that matter).

Still, I just can’t help but stumble over that first strange phrase.

Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses? (A healthy imagination can conjure up a plethora of possibilities.) As a new believer, I wondered if Christians who’d already died were somehow able to peer into the private places of my life. Sounded more like Ghostbusters than God’s Word the first time I read it. What kind of cloud, exactly, has got me surrounded?

Looking back to Hebrews 11, we find quickly drawn, deeply meaningful portraits of those witnesses. Some of these Old Testament saints did crazy things: building a big boat in the desert (before anyone ever had heard of rain); moving around in tents for what seemed to be no good reason; leaving a royal palace to herd sheep in a nameless wilderness; conquering a city by singing and marching around its walls. Can you imagine all the funny glances and behind-the-back whispering that went on among their neighbors? Yet we’re told that everything they did, they did by faith — not faith in their own ideas, but in the God who had instructed them. They trusted Him and His promises.

What promises did God make? That He was building a great nation of people for His glory; that He would one day write His word not on tablets of stone but on the very hearts of His new covenant people and put His Spirit in them; that He Himself would redeem people from their sin and uphold the demands of His covenant, which no man could ever uphold.

And for all their faith in the promises of God, these Hall-of-Famers did not see their fulfillment in their lifetime. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

These witnesses lived by faith in the utterly faithful God! This cloud is not an invisible army of spectators, but a timeless testimony to power that comes to endure when we put our faith utterly in God. They aren’t the ones watching us; we are the ones called to look on and be encouraged by their lives of faith.

In addition to the Bible examples listed in Hebrews 11, I think of some of the present-day witnesses in my own life that spur me on: friends who live more like Jesus than I do, Christian leaders whose teaching makes a tangible difference in my faith and my endurance. (What "witnesses" of faith in Christ encourage you in your race of faith?)

As the people of God, we are all witnesses of the Word become flesh, who made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the Only Begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

Running the Race of Faith (Part 2): Laying Aside Every Weight

Friday, October 14, 2011

One Mother's Prayer

I think I could pray all day long for my children and still have more to pray: for their physical protection, for their spiritual growth, for their relationships, for their attitudes, their accomplishments, their character, their future . . . if you’re a praying mom, you know just what I mean!

Several years ago, I wrote out this prayer for them. This is a "work-in-progress" in that I often start praying it and then think of other things to add, but somehow, having it written down helps me stay focused. Each prayer point is based on scriptural truth.

Whether we write out our prayers for our children, speak them aloud, or utter them silently, may the Lord who hears us answer them out of His Fatherly love for us and for our children.

Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear. --Isaiah 65:24

• Lord, would you pour out your mercy so that my boys would know Your perfect love
and they would joyfully trust You, even when my imperfect love for them falters.

How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are . . . 1 John 3:1

• Lord, would you protect and purify their bodies, minds and spirits, so they would be more like Jesus even though it’s hard for me to see them tested.

Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us . . . Ephesians 5:1-2

• Lord, develop in them godly character: compassion & gentleness, hope & vision,
industry & diligence, humility & love, self-control & patience,
joy & peace, integrity & courage —
that their character would be strong even in areas where mine is weak.

See the character qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-24 & 2 Peter 1:5-8.

• Lord, work out your purposes for my boys,
which You knew when You formed them inside me,
even when those purposes differ from my own expectations.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:15-16

• Lord, please defend my children when they face spiritual attack
that would threaten their closeness with You,
and strengthen them to stand firm in their faith.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . . 1 Peter 5:8-9

• Lord, surround my boys with friends and mentors who will help them in Your ways,
and as they mature, bring people to them that they also can encourage in their faith.

• Lord, may they always know Your presence and recognize Your loving hand in their lives,
even when I am gone.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him,
and His righteousness with their children’s children —
with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts.
Psalm 103: 17-18

• Lord, help me to persevere in parenting the children You’ve given me with Your love and grace.
Keep me from fear as I train and teach them in Your ways.
Help me to remember that they are in Your hands, even more than they are in mine;
Help me to fully enjoy them each and every day.

• And Lord, I praise you in advance for the wonderful things you will do in their lives,
things I cannot imagine, in answer to my prayers.

He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads those who have young . . . Isaiah 40:11

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Resting in the Storm

Suddenly, a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But [Jesus] was asleep. — Matthew 8:24

What a picture: Jesus naps as the boat beneath Him threatens to go under! How can He rest peacefully while the ship tosses and turns on furious waves? Seasoned fishermen familiar with storms, the disciples are anxious about the violence of this particular one. Certain that Jesus’ fatigue had rendered Him clueless as to their doom, the disciples call upon Him to wake up: "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" (Matthew 8:25)

 But before rebuking the raging storm, Jesus rebukes the disciples: "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" (Matthew 8:26). Only then does He calm the waves and the storm. Instantly, both the seas and the disciples are quieted.

Is God sleeping in your storm? As the water rises, is it tempting to think that He is not paying close enough attention to your plight? If He’s not coming to the rescue, well, then, we’d better take matters into our own hands!

We may not recognize our thought patterns and our actions as "little faith," to use Jesus’ words. We scheme to turn the tide to our advantage; we are worried and uncertain of our future; we are sure that the plight of our family or our career rests in our own hands. We can’t hear His voice over the howling winds; we can’t see His face because we’re busy watching the waterline rise against our battered boat.

But when we turn to our own self-rescue plan, we are living as though God were asleep at the helm, as though He were not the Ruler and Provider and Protector that He has clearly and repeatedly declared Himself to be. And for all our fretting and figuring, we do not have the power to quiet a storm.

It takes the Word of the Creator (often at the very last minute!) to bring peace and purpose. As He begins to still the waves, we understand that He has never once looked away from us. "He who keeps you will not sleep" says Psalm 121:3. At the same time, we are humbled before Him, to see how easily we forget who God is, how quickly we turn from His resurrection power to our own human efforts.

How do we remind ourselves that He isn’t asleep? By fixing our eyes on Jesus alone, growing in our relationship with Him, through fellowship with Him in God’s Word and prayer. Only by knowing Him better will we more readily rest in His faithfulness and be prepared to trust Him in the inevitable "next storm."

You . . . still the noise of the seas and their waves
and the tumult of the peoples. -- Psalm 65:7

Friday, September 16, 2011

Who Am I? I Am HIS!

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
should care to know my name, should care to feel my hurts?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
should choose to light the way for my ever-wandering heart?
Who am I, that the Eyes that see my sin
should look on me with love, and watch me rise again?
Who am I, that the Voice that calmed the sea
should call out through the rain and calm the storm in me?
Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done,
not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are!
I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow,
a wave tossed by the ocean, a vapor in the wind;
still you hear me when I’m calling, Lord, You catch me when I’m falling,
You have shown me who I am: I am Yours. (Who Am I, by Casting Crowns)
The Lord spoke to Moses, calling him to an astonishing assignment: "Come now, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt." Moses replied:

"Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:10-11) Can you hear the fear and sense of inadequacy in his voice?

The Lord spoke to David, promising him eternal blessings: "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever." A humbled and thankful David prayed in response:

"Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that you have brought me this far? . . . How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! For there is none like you, nor is there any God besides You, according to all that we have heard." (2 Samuel 7:21, 18 & 22) Can you hear the awe and gratitude in his prayer?

I can identify with "who am I" questions. I’ve experienced times of stunned gratitude (who am I, that the Lord should bless me with two children?) and moments of deep self-doubt (who am I, that God could think I can handle this ministry?).

The marvel in this question is that the answer never really lies in who I am, but in Who I belong to. I have learned that my God pours His grace into me beyond measure, although we both know I don’t deserve it. He also calls me to impossible things — and then He generously equips me for them.

In short, He chooses to bless, to call, to love, to save, because of who He is, what He has done, and what He intends to do.

I think back 24 years to October 1987, when God reached down to me in the midst of my very upside-down life, and turned me right-side up. Who am I, that the holy Lord, who dwells in inapproachable light, should rescue such a sinner?

When He changed me, my strongest desire was to dust off my Bible and read it cover to cover, because I could hear His voice there, and it was music to newly opened ears. Who am I, that the Word of Life should speak to me?

My heart echoes this song because I have learned its truth: it’s not a matter of who I am or what I’ve done. Every gift in my life, big or small, is because of Whose I am.

Praise God; I am His!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Parent's Poured-Out Prayer

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to Him for the lives of your children . . .
— Lamentations 2:19

In her book The Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie Omartian starts out with this Scripture passage, one I had never noticed before she singled it out. The prophet Jeremiah wrote Lamentations during Judah’s exile in Babylon, a time of great sorrow for God’s people, as they suffered the consequences of their sins. This call to prayer was for the well-being of the children, starved both of food and of their spiritual heritage, in hope that Israel would survive the horrors of exile and return to the Lord once more.

Ethnic annihilation and mass starvation are not imminent threats to our children as they were in Jeremiah’s day. But inherent in our culture are threats to our children’s spiritual health: materialism, self-indulgence, pride, immediate gratification, and the immorality that stems from these godless values. If we imagine that these factors are less of a danger to our children’s spirits than Babylon was to the nation of Israel, we are naive.

What are our prayers for our children like? Are we crying out to God for their spiritual health and protection? We may read the Bible with them, take them to church, teach them Christian morality. But what will make the vital difference for them will be a solid relationship with Christ. As parents, our most powerful tool toward that end is prayer.

So what do we pray? My maternal bias can move me to pray with love and might, but it can also sometimes interfere with me praying God’s will, as I become sidetracked by my own agenda. I find I pray most powerfully and consistently for them (not to mention for myself and others!) when I use Scripture. Then, I am confident that my prayers reflect God’s purposes.

Before my sons were born, I chose passages to pray for each of them.

For Matthew, I pray Matthew 22:37-39, that he would love the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul and strength, and would love his neighbor as himself.

For Benjamin, I pray Micah 6:8He has shown you what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Another frequent Scripture prayer is from Ephesians 3:16-19 — that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith, and that my children would know the strength and size of God’s love for them.

As we teach them, discipline them, enjoy them and love them, let’s also "pour out our hearts like water in the presence of the Lord . . . for the lives of our children." And may we know the unequalled joy of a parent’s answered prayer: I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 4).

Other Scripture prayers
Colossians 2:6-8
Colossians 3:13-15
James 1:5
Philippians 1:9-11
Psalm 90:14, 16-17
Ephesians 5:1-2 & 6:10

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Giving Glory

Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
because of your mercy, because of your truth. (Psalm 115:1)

Absentmindedly stroking our part-Siamese kitten, Matthew looked up from his morning Bible reading and asked me: "Doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible that animals bring glory to God?"

"Sure," I said, as my mind ran to Psalms.... maybe that part in Romans 8 about creation... or those last two chapters of Job...


"Well, by doing and being just what they are meant to, according to God’s purpose. Just like us! When we’re who God wants us to be, living out God’s purpose for us, we bring Him glory. It’s what He made us for."

We talked about flowers that blossom and bring glory to God, without even trying. Trees that go through their change of seasons, bringing glory to God. Birds that sing, heavens that speak, rocks ready to cry out, all creation declaring God’s glory and thus bringing Him glory.

"Mao gives delight to our family," Matthew concluded. "That’s how he brings God glory. That’s his purpose."

Our purpose is essentially the same, isn’t it? But how we bring God glory is far grander than the cat’s cuddle or the sky’s sunset or the blossoming crepe myrtle. None of them are created in God’s likeness! They reflect his beauty, His creativity, His nature. But humanity alone, of all creatures on earth, reflects the image of the Creator!

It is an astonishing fact that I am made in the image of the One who made me. And that God has given us the light of the knowledge of His glory in the precious face of Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 4:6). His reflection in me, while scuffed and scarred by sin, nonetheless shines, because Jesus has washed the stain of my sin away. While stubborn marks remain, which dim His glory in me, His Spirit living in me is far greater than any power of sin.

To bring Him glory by being all He wants me to be, doing all He wants me to do: that’s what I want. And I’m not worried about the doing, because that naturally grows out of the being. As I focus on Jesus, I will grow more like Him, and the things I do will bring Him increasing glory (see 2 Corinthians 3:18).

As Augustine once said: Love God, and do whatever you please.

"Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the strong man glory in his strength,
Nor the rich man in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this:

That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the LORD,
exercising lovingkindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth.

For in these things I delight," says the LORD.
(Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Homeschooling Essentials

Lessons plans are prepared, books have arrived, the kids have had their last summer pool parties, and it’s time to begin the school year! As for me, excitement and dread mingle as I face a new year with challenges that I can’t anticipate, the ever-present insecurities related to giving my two bright sons a good education, and second-guessing myself almost every step along the way. (For starters this year, it took me three tries before I actually purchased the right compass for Matthew’s geometry class....)

So every year at this time, I forcefully focus myself on these three homeschooling essentials, which shine like beacons across the ominous stacks of books and papers on my schoolroom floor. They remind me of what really matters:

1) Every summer, God gives me a passage for our school year to focus on in parenting and teaching my sons. It is of great comfort to me, reminding me that He’s the one who holds their destiny in His hands, even as I am the one teaching and role modeling and parenting. We memorize this passage the first week of school. This year, it’s Psalm 25:4-5:

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are my God and my Savior;
my hope is in you all day long.
2) Time spent with God is the ultimate necessity for me. No matter how long the previous day has been, I have to roll out of bed early and get face-to-face with the Lord! I will never persevere in doing this overwhelming job without continually centering myself on Jesus, listening to His wisdom and direction through His Word, telling Him the thoughts and questions on my heart, soaking His life into my soul every morning. This is top priority, a nonnegotiable for every day, whether it’s a school day or not!

3) And, getting to the heart of the matter, I need to remember why I am homeschooling in the first place. This list (below) goes near the front of my school notebook, so I can find it quickly when I start to wonder why we’re doing this. For those days when the algebra equations look like they are written in Sanskrit instead of English. Those times when a son’s sullen expression makes me want to throw the history book on the floor. For those moments when I see spindly, misshapen trees, and not the beauty of the big-picture forest that is our family. Why am I homeschooling? These eight reasons top my list:

Why I am Homeschooling Middle School & High School Sons
1 • I want to know & understand & enjoy my children to the fullest as they grow & mature into the men they will be. (This means also dealing with their moods, attitudes, arguments & angst!)

2 • I want to invest all that I have in the training of the sons God has entrusted to me, for these relatively few years that I have with them.

3 • I want to make the most of every opportunity in teaching them & learning from them, exploring Truth & God’s world together.

4 • I want to teach & demonstrate God’s goodness & faithfulness & extravagant love toward my sons. (Who better than a mom to do this?!)

5 • I want them to experience and understand the priority of family as the primary relationships through which God encourages us, teaches us, grows us in Christ-likeness and develops deep, lasting relationships.

6 • I want to take my sons, their dreams & goals & thoughts, SERIOUSLY — not condescending to them simply because they are not yet adults.

7 • I want to give them time & opportunity & encouragement to explore their interests & gifts, regardless of whether they falter or excel.

8 • But even as I want to do my best for them for God’s sake and for our family’s sake, I want to trust God with developing their hearts & minds. I am not the one in charge of their lives & their days. He alone knows the plans He has for them, and those plans are for their good & His glory!

What essentials help YOU persevere on your journey (homeschooling or otherwise)?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Snake in the Grass

Fat puffy clouds adorned the pale-blue sky on a beautiful if oven-hot day. I sent Ben out to gather black berries from our bushes on the hill. What a gorgeous day! I mused as I looked past the hot haze toward the mountains.

Ben returned in only moments, empty-handed, a bit pale. (Normally, he would have spent an hour: picking berries, eating them, being distracted by every bug and leaf in his vicinity.) "What’s wrong?" I asked.

"I heard a snake rattle in the leaves." I believe I went a bit pale at that point.

"It rattled? As in rustling through the leaves?"

"No," Ben said. "I heard a rattle and looked down and saw a rattlesnake next to the bushes, by that old railroad tie. So I didn’t pick any berries. I just slowly walked away from it."

I breathed a loud and relieved "thank you Jesus." Lord, thank you for a son who can spot a rattlesnake! And for giving him the wisdom to walk away from it. Slowly.
 Bowing to Ben’s naturalist inclinations, we hopped online and identified the snake as a Timber Rattler. We learned that juveniles like hunkering down in shrubs (like, say, berry bushes) while the adults, in the absence of rocky cliffs, prefer holes in rotting wood (like, say, neglected railroad ties). We also learned that, while they are not typically aggressive, their venom can kill.

(Insert respectful, stunned silence here.)

I considered my options. We could abandon the berry bushes to the snake and start visiting the farmstand up the road. I could banish all children from that hill for the foreseeable future. I could . . .

"I"m going to call Dad!" Ben decided, his excitement mounting as he thought further about his dangerous discovery. When he hung up, he announced: "Dad wants us to use the zoom lens on the camera to take a picture, then email it to him."

(Insert second stunned silence here - not so much of respect this time, but of sheer incredulity.)

My husband, the cloth from which Ben is cut, thought it would be a good idea to go back outside, seek out a venomous snake, and take the time to get a clear photograph. Whereas I — a relocated Yankee suburbanite — was wondering why on earth I was living on a hill in the middle of the woods, sharing my habitat with things like rattlesnakes and scorpions.

A lesson on wifely submission (more likely, a shock response): Ben and I put on our sturdiest sneakers, grabbed the camera, the phone and a big shovel and headed out. (In hindsight: did I really think I would have the wherewithal to hit a snake, should it strike at us? Remember, I’m the one who searches the bedsheets at night with a flashlight, for fear of a 1-inch scorpion waiting to strike.)

I crept down the hill, Ben with camera close behind, my rusty shovel raised, ready to beat that snake into pulp, should we see it. Which we never did (see it, I mean). Ben sighed with disappointment; I exhaled with relief.

Who knows how many rattlesnakes we’ve strolled by in the high grass on this hill, ignorant as to the dangers lurking beneath our feet? The thing is, were I still back in my Boston suburb, I’d be facing different potential dangers: violent crime, traffic accidents. Isn’t this the stuff of life? Every day holds hidden risks that we don’t even know enough to be anxious over.

In the end, the God who made us also keeps us and protects us. My fears and worries are not what guard my children; God Himself does. He has numbered our days. His sovereign hand holds back the rattlesnake, the drunk driver, the dangerous criminal, the deadly disease (unless He allows otherwise). Wherever we wander, our God walks with us and knows the next step. Snakes in the grass are no surprise to Him, never have been.

I entrusted my son’s life to the Lord before he was even born, and have done so a thousand times since. Today, I will entrust Ben to God once more.

(For that reason, and that reason alone, I may let Ben pick blackberries again. Some day.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Two Kinds of Mountains

Ever since we moved into our hilltop home, Psalm 121:1-2 has been very special to me:

I raise my eyes up toward the mountains; where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

As I watch the changing seasons and weather through my windows, I see the mountain ranges in the distance, standing firm, unchangeable to my human eyes. And I think of the Lord, the one who made them: how He stands faithful, firm, unchanging through all time. How his mercy to me and to my family is faithful and unchanging as well. I raise my eyes to those mountains in great hope, because they are a reminder of the God who is my unfailing hope.

So when we turned to Psalm 121 in our Summer Bible study, I was looking forward to thinking more about God’s steadiness and unchanging nature. Instead, my eyes were opened to what’s really behind those precious verses:

This psalm, along with the other Psalms of Ascent were written to be sung as the Israelites made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the most important feasts of the Jewish year. As they raised their eyes from the dusty desert road to see the mountains that lay before them, they wouldn’t have been feeling comfort and hope, as I do when I look out my window. On the contrary, dread and hopelessness probably stopped them in their tracks, as they faced crossing those mountains in the midst of shifting seasons and weather conditions. In short, lifting their eyes to the hills probably brought spine-tingling fear, not heartfelt hope.

I imagine these weary travelers singing to God, reminding themselves of Who He is, the one who will carry them across! No obstacle — not even the mountains themselves — could stand between them and their worship of the One who created those mountains. The Psalm goes on to remind these pilgrims of God’s presence with them on the journey, through hot days and bitter nights, in the face of any danger they may meet along the path. Their God would not let them fall but would carry them through to their destination.

After studying this Psalm, I looked again at the mountains outside our window. I thought about the daunting obstacles in my own life, two mountains in recent years that appear, quite honestly, impossible to traverse. I’m confused about how to walk! I have no idea what lies on the other side. How easy it is for me to tremble at the sight of these towering peaks!

But I know the God who ordained these mountains in my life. I know that He will change me in this messy mountain-climbing process, even as I struggle and gasp and sweat. I know He goes with me each step of the way. My prayer is that He would transform these looming peaks from crushing loads that I dread, into great monuments of hope. The toughest terrain, the most discouraging obstacle, is no match for the God who walks with me, who shelters me by day and by night, who gives me strength to persevere on the path He's laid out for me.

Lord, I’m not asking you to transform those mountains into soft grassy fields. I know you have a purpose for them. But I do ask you to transform my heart as we trek this path together, that they would no longer be objects of fear, but of hope and confidence in you.

Postscript: I wrote this blog in June and never did post it. Since that time, I am overjoyed to report that, while the "mountains" in my life remain, God has cleared the confusion in the air, made the sun shine brightly to light my way, and turned my trembling fear into joyful hope in Him. As I looked back at this blog today, I realized that He has already answered this prayer. I may still be gasping and sweating as I go, but it is with full confidence that God is accomplishing His purposes with both of these "mountains." To God be the glory! My Help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A New Name

In the past 24 hours, I've had two conversations that have reminded me of this devotional I wrote many years ago. In it, I reflect on the new identity God gave me (as He does with every adopted child in His family) when He brought me to Jesus at the age of 24. 

To him who overcomes, I will also give...
(Jesus, Revelation 2:17)

In the Old Testament, God calls a person to Him and then changes his name — Jacob is renamed Israel ("wrestles with God"); Abram’s new name is Abraham ("father of many peoples").

In Hebrew culture, a person’s name defines the person. While my name is still Heidi, God’s call changed my identity as much as if God had changed my name, too.

I remember it so clearly. I was 24 years old, and I had just returned home from a Christian retreat. Something was very different in me. I didn’t recognize what it was at the time, but somehow, God had opened my eyes that weekend to what was in the Bible.

I read it, as I had done for years, and it suddenly was alive with meaning; Jesus seemed to leap off the pages, declaring Himself to be God’s true Son, who could transform my life, if only I would listen to Him, trust  Him, follow Him.

This change had profound practical implications. Until then, I had been living in reaction to my experiences with my family. You see, my parent’s divorce had led me to the conviction that I would never marry and CERTAINLY never have children! Making such a commitment with possible heartbreak in the future seemed so foolish to me. I set my mind on my career and "played the field," looking for only what would satisfy me at the present time.

But my identity was no longer shaped by the family I’d been born into. Instead, the primary influence was God Himself, the One who made me, and the One I lived for.

I was a member of His family now. I was no longer a "child of divorce" or even a pianist or a writer or a social worker, or any of the other things that had previously defined me in my own eyes. No, all these things paled in comparison to my relationship to God, and those things which had previously "defined" me became ways to serve God: I played piano and sang in church; I wrote articles for a Christian newspaper; I taught others about God and self through the Bible instead of trying to teach them about themselves through psychology.

I no longer feared following in my parents’ footsteps... I had new footsteps to follow in, and I knew that the One who led me would also give me the strength and grace to love a husband "till death do us part" and to raise children to serve God, too.

Many today believe that their past determines their future, that a "dysfunctional" childhood will likely lead to "dysfunctional" relationships in adulthood. In their minds, identity depends upon dealing with a past that cannot be altered. But my identity was made new when I became a child of the living God, and nothing can overshadow or remove the name He has given me.

My name is still Heidi — but don’t let that fool you! For my God has given me a new name.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Liberty or Law?

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:18

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Romans 10:4

How very often we live without the joy and peace, the confidence and freedom that Jesus bought for us! Instead, we inspect every corner of our hearts, finding ourselves wanting. We wonder if praying harder or reading our Bibles more will mean will make us more worthy of His love. We are tempted to measure our relationship with God according to what we have done, imagining that as we work harder, the more holy we will become. We strive and push and wear ourselves out, reaching for those things that Christ has promised, but which seem so mysteriously out of our reach. Why?

Charles Spurgeon answers this question beautifully:
He who looks at his own character and position from a legal point of view will despair when he comes to the end of his self-examination. If we are to be judged based on the law, no one will be justified.

How blessed to know what we dwell in the domains of grace and not of law! The question is not, "Am I perfect in myself before the law?" but, "Am I perfect in Christ Jesus?" That is a very different matter.

We need not inquire, "Am I without sin naturally?" but, "Have I been washed in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness?" It is not "Am I in myself well-pleasing to GOD?" but it is, "Am I accepted in the Beloved?"

The Christian views his failures from the top of Sinai and grows alarmed concerning his salvation. It would be far better if he read his title by the light of Calvary. He says, "My faith has unbelief in it. It is not able to save me." If he had considered the object of his faith, instead of his faith, then he would have said, "There is no failure in Him; and therefore I am safe."

He sighs over his hope, "All my hope is marred and dimmed by anxiety about present things. How can I be accepted?" Had he regarded the basis of his hope, he would have seen that the promise of God is certain.

Judge yourself by what Christ is rather than what you are. Satan will try to destroy your peace by reminding you of your sinfulness and imperfections. You can only meet his accusation by faithfully holding to the gospel and refusing to wear the yoke of bondage.

Whatever our doubts may be, the oath and promise never fail. It is always safer to be led of the Spirit into gospel liberty than to wear legal chains. 

(from Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening)

Which will you choose: the law, which will certainly condemn you? Or the liberty for which Christ redeemed you? Will you look to your own righteousness for salvation and holiness, or to the flawless Righteousness of Christ?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Whose Messenger?


Sometime between midnight and morning, my howl sent Frank flying from bed. I knew what had happened, because it wasn’t the first time: I’d been stung by a scorpion, a nocturnal, nightmarish creature who had climbed into bed, uninvited. Frank quickly found and squashed him (her? it?) with a nearby shoe, while I applied a batch of baking soda paste to the swelling site on my ankle.

I must admit, it was not easy to fall back to sleep after being stung awake by (can I say it?) a "messenger of Satan." I imagine that Hell itself crawls with these vile creatures. These small armored monsters bear a vicious barb at the end of their lobster-like tails. Resistant to pesticides, they can enter through the smallest crevices in your home.

As we pondered God’s reasoning in crafting such a critter, Ben suggested that scorpions may eat pests (they don’t) or are prey for something beneficial (nope: black widows just love them). My thought? Scorpions are a physical reminder that true spiritual evil exists on earth. My finite mind and highly allergic body can imagine no other reason for their existence.

Twenty-four hours later, heavily medicated with Benadryl, Advil and a steroid injection, my foot was still swelling and I was in great pain. "This burning is unbearable!" I whined to anyone who dared approach me on the couch, where my foot sat propped up under an icepack. "It feels like my foot will pop!"

(When Ben heard this, he settled down next to me, watching. I told him, "It just feels like it will pop; it won’t, really." Disappointed, he returned to his book.)

On the third day, Matthew hugged me and gently remarked, "Mom, I think your foot has you feeling a bit cranky." I could understand his observation. I hadn’t slept well, between my intense fear of another scorpion attack, and the pain in my throbbing foot. I’d been instructing my sons from the couch, frustrated that I could not even make dinner or tidy up the living room on my own. Yes, I realized that I may not have been the most pleasant person to live with that weekend.

Matthew’s words stung, and brought me to my senses. In fact, that passage about the messenger of Satan makes it clear that God Himself allowed Paul’s thorn, for his spiritual well-being! So I sat down and started talking it out with God.

"I know this wasn’t outside Your control, Lord. I’m laying here because You allowed it. And because You are who You are, I know You have good plans for me in this. I have been complaining, instead of looking for Your purpose. My foot, my body, my time — my life — are YOURS, not mine! I will trust You with me." As I prayed, something inside relaxed. Indeed: God was still on his throne; no scorpion could topple Him.

While I couldn’t walk physically, I began walking with God as I sat on the couch. And where did we go? I had wonderful, extended conversation with my sons (which wouldn’t have happened if I’d been tackling my cleaning projects). I read a book that God used to give me insight into a relational conflict. And I had extra time to pray, as God brought people and needs to mind. Walking with God by faith (instead of by the sight of that scorpion and my inflamed foot) brought peace and purpose to my time on the couch.

All that I consider "mine" really belongs to God, anyway. So when He thwarts my plans with a "messenger of Satan," His plans are never thwarted.

For that, Lord God, how very thankful I am!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Father's Delight

The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. (Psalm 147:11)
The Lord your God is in your midst, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

What an astonishing mystery, that God truly delights in me! He does not love His children out of obligation, but out of His delight in loving. He has no regrets about loving us, but is glad to work Christ’s life into ours. His is not a reluctant grace, but an eager and selfless love which cherishes us as His own.

How does God’s delight affect my life? For one, it reminds me that in spite of all the sin He knows lives in me (and He knows it more completely than I do), in spite of my smallness and His infinity, I bring Him pleasure. I hold that treasure in my heart like a sunlit smile, confident that no matter what the day may bring, or how unlovable I may feel, my God joyfully loves me.

My Father’s delight also fills my heart with delight in my own children. Because I can trust His love for me, my heart is open to God’s work in me. In the same way, my delight in my children opens their hearts to trust me and the Lord who works through me in their lives. Even as I educate them in academics, or teach them from God’s Word, or model Christ’s character for them, in the end, all of those things will be fruitless if I do not delight in them!

Soil made hard by neglect will never sprout even the healthiest seed; it will remain dormant in dry dirt. But when I pour out my love into my children’s hearts, soaking them with my joy in who they are, their hearts grow soft and hopeful. My delight in them (and in my God) prepares their hearts to receive the good seed of God’s Word and His ways. When they are secure in my love, they can experience God’s love more fully, too.

My favorite columnist, Andree Seu, wrote about delight:
Delight covers a multitude of parenting shortcomings. You may be too strict or too lenient and still come out all right, if you delight in your children. They will know it, for delight cannot be hidden. It finds excuses to ooze all over the place. It seeks a getaway vacation with the beloved when it's not convenient. It asks different questions than duty. Duty says, "I should." Delight says, "I want to." Duty is efficient. Delight tends to be anything but.
What is less efficient than the story of mankind? If it were about efficiency, God would have wiped the plate clean and commenced with more promising subjects. The Bible in its entirety is a love story, a tale of unquenchable delight — His for us, and finally ours for Him. (Sept. 22, 2007, World magazine)
Even more precious than Seu’s wise words is the Word of God Himself:

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (Micah 7:18)

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
He drew me out of deep waters.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
He rescued me because He delighted in me. (Psalm 8:16 & 19)

. . . the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation. (Psalm 149:3-4)

The Lord delights in the way of the man whose steps He has made firm.
Though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him in His hand. (Psalm 37:23-24)

May God’s delight fill you today with a rich happiness that overflows onto those around you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mother's Day Gifts

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

Mother’s Day always sort of stuns me. As I look back over the past 25 years, I shake my head in wonder.

Age 22: I was single, selfish and unhappy, bitter over my parents’ divorce. I strongly believed: (first) marriage is not "happily-ever-after" but "by the skin of your teeth" and you never win in the end and (second) children interfere with marriage, and then pay dearly when their marriage fails. Loneliness and hurt, hidden under hard layers of anger and bitterness, cast a dark shadow on the idea of marriage and family. I would never marry, let alone have children!

Age 24: When I wasn’t paying attention, God grabbed my attention (and He hasn’t let go since)! Once I knew Jesus for Who He was, I turned quickly to Him. When I told one friend the story of my conversion to Christ, she commented, "so you chose to follow Him from that point on." I corrected her: does a starving woman, sleeping in a sewer, having been offered by the most gracious benefactor a warm bed with clean sheets and regular meals, really choose to move?! It was a no-brainer: I ran to Jesus, to the life and light of His mercy and truth, and never looked back.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Age 27: I had dated a couple of Christian men, but I was still reluctant in my heart of hearts to trust the concept of marriage. Still, getting to know God, I knew His ways were far better than my own. Then I started getting to know Frank. Finally I actually could envision marriage, desire it, and trust that God would take care of my fears and doubts in due time. We married. But when he talked of children and me staying home to raise them, I was quiet. I still couldn’t picture a family.

Age 29: Unrelenting pain led me to several doctors before the problem was remedied through two surgeries. During my weeks-long recovery time, I had a lot of time to pray, meditate on Scripture and think about what had happened. It was possible that I would be unable to have children. Spending that intense time with the Lord, He did something unexpected: He clearly showed me the selfishness of my thinking regarding children. He said they are a blessing and an inheritance from Him! Who was I to "decide" that I didn’t want any part of His blessing? I was humbled and changed in my attitude very quickly.

Age 31: After actively trying to get pregnant for several years, we finally were both tested to see if there were any obvious problems. We both heard bad reports: it was highly likely that we would ever conceive naturally. We were stunned; we grieved. We went to the elders in our church, who prayed over us, per James 5. As much as we did not want to use any kind of medical technology, we figured we’d meet with the fertility specialist and discuss what the options were. So we waited for our appointment to arrive.

Age 33: God gave us a gift we did not anticipate or deserve: the gift of Matthew (whose name incidentally, means gift of Jehovah). I learned I was pregnant only days before our appointment with the fertility specialist. The prayers of our elders and our hearts were answered with the gift of a son! I remember even feeling somewhat regretful when I discovered I was pregnant, because I had doubted God’s care for us and had not proved faithful in trusting Him! Looking back, I understand the timing better: God was giving me what I did not deserve and in no way had earned, whether by my own strength or faith or patience. He was giving me a son, having already given me His own Son, the ultimate gift, which I had in no way earned or deserved.

Age 47: So, Mother’s Day is somewhat stunning to me, even with Matthew now age 14 and Ben age 11. From never wanting marriage or motherhood, to desiring it but being told it wasn’t possible, to God giving us these two remarkable boys. From living my life in hopeless bitterness to living in the nourishing strength of God’s love (and the love of His people). He changes hearts in ways we could never imagine, through circumstances we would never ask for.

And He gives priceless gifts that we could never earn, all for the sake of His glory and pleasure.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Literature Discussion: A Story

Three years ago, after having prayed for weeks about what to do with my eldest son, I felt certain that God’s direction was for him to be in a co-op setting, one day a week. I didn’t want to send him to school, but schooling totally from home was no longer the best option for us. After visiting two homeschool co-ops, it was clear which one would work for our family. What won my heart there was the Literature Discussion teacher. "That class," I thought, " is just what my child needs!"

So I carefully read the instructions on the website, filled out the forms, and took my place in a long line in a dim church hallway on registration day.

I was told he was number four on the waiting list.

Hearing this, I quickly pushed past the line, hit the door running and sprinted to the car, my children scurrying after me. Once in the safety of my vehicle, I burst into tears. Not accustomed to seeing me cry like that, the boys said "Mom! What’s wrong?!"

What was wrong was clear to me: I was so sure that God’s desire was for him to be here, in this class, with this literature teacher. And yet, how likely was it that four children would drop out before the fall semester? Either God was going to surprise me — or I had somehow gotten Him all wrong. I suspected the latter.

I was shaken. God guides His children as we trust Him, walk with Him, grow closer to Him. But I had missed something. I was totally confused! How could I school my children, when I didn’t even know how God wanted me to do it?

As I lamented over the phone to my mom, she made a wise and gentle suggestion: "Heidi, you could lead a literature discussion group. And certainly, your homeschooling friends could, too."

And so, after talking with Connie and Lisa and Tricia, we organized our own Literature Discussion groups. They were a bit small with just our families (two doesn’t really make a group!), so we invited other Explorers families to bring their children.

Now, we have nearly 50 children participating in four Literature Discussion groups each month in Connie’s home (the hospitality queen!). When my son finally was accepted into that co-op, I didn’t register him for Literature Discussion. What he and his brother were gaining in Tricia’s group each month was far better.

As for me, my love for children’s literature has multiplied, as other teaching moms have shared their enthusiasm for good books. And what a joy it is to get to know all these young children and encourage a love of reading!

In short, when God closed that co-op door in April 2008, it felt like He slammed it in the face of my vision as a homeschooling mom, and in my confidence and ability to sense His direction. And yet, in the midst of my doubts and confusion, God knew exactly what He was doing. By firmly closing that co-op door, God opened a marvelous opportunity that has multiplied and blessed our family and others as well.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Not to us, LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness. — Psalm 115:1

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Repentance & Remorse: Three Stories

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. — 2 Corinthians 8:10

Peter’s Story: Repentance

He had declared his intention, of never denying Jesus. His character was bold; his resolve strong. Even if all the other disciples abandoned Him, as Jesus predicted they would, Peter would remain faithful to his Lord (see Matthew 26:31-35).

He followed Jesus as far as the outer courtyard of the High Priest, where the Messiah faced a sham trial before Sanhedrin. When several servants girls recognized Peter as a friend of the infamous Rabbi, Peter disowned Jesus — not once, but three times. Then the rooster crowed, as Jesus had said it would. Remembering Jesus’ words, Peter crumbled. Broken and weeping, he staggered away into the night (Matthew 26:69-75).

Peter’s repentance is an eye-opening lesson for every believer. He wept beneath the back-breaking burden of his sin and pride, finally admitting that Jesus’ words were undeniably true. He was convicted in his spirit of his sin, and the ugliness of it seemed too much to bear.

It is an easy temptation, when we feel the weight and shame of our sin, to want to hide ourselves from God, as Adam vainly attempted to do in the garden by covering himself and physically hiding from God’s presence. We can’t imagine looking into the sinless eyes of the One we have betrayed; shame tempts us to shut our eyes against the only One who can rescue us from our guilt: Christ!

Peter, thankfully, didn’t fall prey to this temptation. Instead, he ran to Christ. When he realized Jesus was on the shore, he leapt overboard into the water and started swimming toward him! He could not reach the Lord quickly enough. Peter ate the breakfast that Jesus’ hands had prepared for him and his brothers, and then answered Jesus’ painful questions about his love for his Saviour (see John 21:7-17).

Peter’s repentance was complete: he had been convicted of his sin, had grieved over it with a godly sorrow, and was then eager to turn to Christ for restoration. His repentance was visible: he was a changed man! He followed Christ with renewed boldness and a new gentleness "feeding the sheep" as Jesus had commanded. He was humbled and empowered by a better understanding of his sin, and a more certain knowledge of the One who died to save him from it.

Judas’ Story: Remorse

In the very next chapter of Matthew, we read about Judas. After selling out Christ to the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver, he realized their intent was execution. He "was remorseful" and tried to return the blood money to them. When they refused, he threw the coins at their feet and ran out, stricken.

Was this repentance, akin to Peter’s? No, for although Judas’ heart was heavy with guilt, he took it upon himself to remedy his burden by trying to turn back the clock. His grief over his sin did not lead him to Christ, but to his own devices and — ultimately — to his death (Matthew 27:3-5).

Our Story . . .

No matter what our sin may be, no matter how much we try to hide it from the Lord, or try to fix it ourselves, God knows our hearts fully. And He waits with welcoming arms for us to finally look to Him with our sorrow and our sin. His forgiveness is extravagant and powerful; through Christ, His forgiveness covers our every sin, as we come to Him with our honest confession, in a spirit of repentance. He pours out His mercy on us to wash it away, and He grants us His strength to truly repent and walk in newness of life, as Peter did.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

— Hebrews 4:16