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

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Loving like Jesus

Love moves toward people. It does not leave people alone in their suffering or in their selfishness. (Paul E. Miller, Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus)

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jesus to His disciples, in John 13:34-35) Could he have made it any more plain? Loving the way Jesus loves is what shows we belong to Him most clearly.

Love is such a broad term in our lexicon. It covers everything from erotic passion to the "tough love" desperate parents show rebellious teenagers. We use the same word to describe our preference for chocolate and our devotion to our children. Love feels a little hard to pin down.

But God pins it down for us in two very tangible ways: His Word and His Son. In His Word, God describes Himself to us, so that we have a full picture of His love. And Jesus, His Son, was love personified, living among men. Jesus literally fleshed out love for us.

A couple years ago, as I was studying John’s gospel, I noticed that Jesus’ love was so very appealing, yet so very different from mine. So I started asking God to help me love others the way Jesus loves. Well, you can imagine how He started answering: I began to see even more evidence of my Lilliputian-sized love, in contrast to Jesus’ limitless love. Then conflict started bubbling up in a couple of relationships, turning up the heat by making love even harder for me! That’s God’s way, isn’t it? Not to wave some divine wand and instantly give me a bigger dose of love to share, but to challenge and stretch my heart, revealing selfish motives in my relationships, offering His power and grace to me to truly love others as I trust Him. Oh, how I want to love His way: with more sincerity, less self-interest, more courage, less comfort-seeking.

Below is an entry from my journal last year, sort of a "Love is" meditation, as I pondered what Jesus’ love looks like in my life. (Of course, 1 Corinthians 13 is a far better meditation on the subject; this is that chapter personalized for me.)

Love is stubborn: it perseveres through rejection and conflict, refusing to let go.

Love believes that God redeems the impossible and transforms beyond anyone’s imagining.

Love hopes when it seems crazy to hope.

Love is willing to suffer long for the good of another.

Love is gentle, yet mightier than anything we possess.

Love sees the truth, no matter how hard it is, and refuses to look away.

Love takes risks without protecting itself.

Love doesn’t draw lines or back away when it hurts.

Love gives according to another’s need.

Love seeks to understand, not to be understood.

Love does not need anyone’s approval, because it already has God’s approval.

Love is not self-conscious; it is discerning yet not critical.

Love does not need to know all the answers.

Love carries the burdens of others that cannot be carried alone.

Love listens to and feels another’s pain.

Love speaks with honesty, without manipulation or hidden agendas.

Love is blind to status and reputation.

Love sees the image of God in each and every person.

Love never fears the worst but always hopes and trusts for the best,
because love trusts Jesus.