Saturday, February 28, 2009

Remembering and Living in Love

February has come to a close and the Love Challenge is complete--or rather, as Dea wisely said, it has barely begun. By the grace of God, I've managed to get 1 Corinthians 13 into my mind; it will take the rest of my life to get it into my heart and live out its truth.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

--1 Corinthians 13, English Standard Version

I am so far from displaying this kind of love--but I rest in the perfect love of my Savior, and trust that He will continue His work of molding my heart to love like His. And I cling to the hope of these precious promises, that His love for me will never pass away and that I will one day see Him face to face!

Fear is an Opportunity

"Fear is an occasion to turn to Christ
and trust Him in new ways."

--Ed Welch, "Help and Hope" (CCEF podcast)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Love to Be Asked

Yesterday morning as I hugged Steve before he left for work, he asked me if I could bake goodies for him to take to work today. "Sure," I said. "What's the occasion?" Nothing in particular, he explained; he just wanted to celebrate Friday (this Friday is extra sweet to him since he had to work last weekend and didn't get a normal break).

For me to make something for the guys at work isn't all that unusual. Sometimes they get the leftovers when I've made a treat and don't want it sitting around tempting me; other times, I'll make something specifically for them. I enjoy baking, and I like being able to bless others with the treats I make, so I'm happy to send Steve off with something sweet to share.

As I savored a piece of still-warm banana bread last night (a silly name for it--the recipe, with its chocolate glaze, is really more like cake), it occurred to me that this experience might be related to the way God invites us to ask Him for help. I immediately thought of an argument John Piper puts forth in his book Future Grace.

We are forever indebted to God for the infinite grace He has poured out on us. He has given us not only salvation through His Son, but ten thousand blessings besides. Yet we can't ever hope to repay Him by doing good deeds (though we certainly should seek to glorify Him and love others by doing good!). Rather, we honor Him most by continuing to depend on Him. We ask Him for more grace, and in doing so, we show that He is the ultimate Treasure of the universe; we prove that the riches of His grace are inexhaustible.

I got a glimpse of this in some small (and very limited) way through the gladness I felt when Steve asked me to bake. Obviously Steve is not indebted to me, and I am neither infinitely good nor full of infinite riches. But the point is, his request wasn't a burden or a bother to me. It was incredibly easy for me to fulfill, and I loved to be able to do something that would bless him and his co-workers. Steve's asking honored me. It was a delight for me to help him.

"What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I shall pay my vows to the Lord" (Psalm 116:12-14).

Piper explains:
"The psalmist's answer to his own question, 'What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits?' is, in essence, that he will go on receiving from the Lord so that the Lord's inexhaustible goodness will be magnified. First, lifting up the cup of salvation signifies taking the Lord's satisfying salvation in hand and drinking it and expecting more. ...'paying' back to God in these contexts is not an ordinary payment. It is an act of receiving.

"Second, this is also the meaning of the next phrase: 'I shall call upon the name of the Lord.' What shall I render to God for graciously answering my call? Answer: I shall call again. I will render to God the praise and the tribute that he is never in need of me, but is always overflowing with benefits when I need him (which I always do)."
God promises to supply our needs, and He delights in blessing us beyond our needs. He loves to show through the lives of His children that His grace is immeasurable, that He is more than enough. He gave His only Son to reconcile us to Himself--so anything else we need is so small, so easy for Him to provide. He invites us to ask Him for help, to ask and keep asking Him to pour out His grace in our lives!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Giving Things Up

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent--a time when many Christians choose to give up something they enjoy in order to seek God and grow in holiness. I posted last spring about why this can be such a valuable discipline, but today I found another helpful article that beautifully articulates the blessings of sacrificing for Lent.

David Mills at First Things writes:
We are creatures of ravenous, indiscriminate desire. We want this and we want that, but most of all, We Want.

Hence the value of Lent, which begins today, and of an old discipline that seems, even among Catholics, to be now somewhat neglected: the traditional discipline of giving things up for Lent. Bookish people being as fallen as anyone else, we might take a brief break from the pressing issues and interesting intellectual questions to reflect on the value of this discipline. Giving things up for Lent has, in my experience, two obvious benefits.

The first is that you very quickly find out how much a hold the world has on you. ...The second benefit of giving things up for Lent is that you also find, at the end of Lent, how good are the things God has given you. The things you’ve given up come to you afresh, almost as if you’d never enjoyed them before.

I'd encourage you to think about giving something up for Lent--and also to think about what beneficial practice you could add to focus your mind and heart on the gospel during this season.

(HT: Crunchy Con)

Thankful Thursday, Take 106

Thanking God this week for...
  • sparing me from the nasty stomach bug that Elijah and Steve got
  • my parents' visit last weekend
  • a working toilet and sink upstairs
  • a date with my husband
  • chicken lettuce wraps at P.F. Chang's
  • a cinnamon dolce latte shared with my sweet hubby
  • Steve giving me a backrub while I stand at the sink and do dishes
  • websites, stories, photos that make me laugh out loud
  • all the people He has used to spur me to growth and point me to the Savior
  • His patient love
  • His sustaining grace

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What the Law Could Not Do, Christ Did

(From the archives...a repost of something I'm incredibly passionate about. New to any of you who started reading the blog after August 25, 2006)

Last week at GEMS I had a wonderful opportunity to (I hope) pass on what I've been learning about jealousy and the gospel. We were talking about memorizing God's Word, and our leader asked the girls if they could think of a situation in which knowing the Bible could help them. One of the girls mentioned that she had been jealous because two of her friends were excluding her. She said she could look up verses that say, "Don't be jealous." Then she paused, and candidly admitted: "But I still feel jealous, though."

What a perfect illustration of how all attempts to conquer sin without applying the gospel are shallow--they do not have the power to inspire us and make us more like Christ! If I am struggling with jealousy, and so I memorize a verse that tells me "thou shalt not covet," how does that help me to overcome the jealousy? I already knew that my jealousy was wrong. Reminding myself that it is a sin doesn't change the fact that I feel hurt, left out, whatever. Even nine-year-olds recognize the impotence in these laws and commands!

That's why the Christian life can't be about a list of dos and don'ts. We're no longer under law, but under grace. And so the part of God's Word that has the power to defeat jealousy in my heart is not the part that tells me, "Don't be jealous, it's wrong." It's the part that promises that God will satisfy all my needs--that He alone can give life--that He works in all things for my good and His glory.

When I need to battle jealousy, I find "thou shalt not covet" less than compelling. But "Christ's love compels [me]" (2 Corinthians 5:14). I find great comfort and joy in promises like these:

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) --God went to radical extremes to provide for my greatest need: forgiveness of my sin, justification before a holy God, reconciliation with Him. How can I doubt that He will provide for my much smaller needs, which are that much easier for Him to meet?

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3a) --God is all-powerful, and He has already given me everything I need to live fully and to honor Him this moment. If there is something I lack, it is because He in His sovereign wisdom has determined I don't really need it to live an abundant life that brings glory to Him!

I pray that these precious girls will learn now what it has taken me twenty-four years to learn--that we are not only saved by grace; we live by grace every day--that the gospel is not just a story for unbelievers; it is the good news that enables us to stand before God and receive His blessings every day of our lives as His children.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 105

Thanking God this week for...
  • a weekend in Memphis with my beloved mentor and her sweet, sweet family
  • safe travels there and back
  • worship time in the car, singing as loudly as I want
  • all the work Steve and his dad accomplished in the new bathroom upstairs while we were gone
  • the fact that Elijah's first experience throwing up wasn't more severe
  • all the time I got to spend cuddling with him while he was sick
  • frosted sugar cookies, a Valentine gift from my mother-in-law
  • the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation
  • unexpected emails from old friends
  • soft turtleneck sweaters
  • the surprise of 70-degree sunshine in February
  • gently and patiently calling me to trust Him
  • His compassion
  • His faithfulness
  • His steadfast love

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Need Something More--And God Provides

"What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.

"But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes.

"...I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?

"The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

"With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. ...God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.

"...So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?"

--excerpts from Romans 7 and 8, The Message

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 104

Thanking God this week for...
  • speaking to me through music
  • speaking to me through other people's blog posts and Facebook notes
  • Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
  • deep conversations and a beautiful walk in the park last Friday with a friend and her boys
  • dinner and great conversation with friends on Monday
  • Elijah's soft and chubby cheeks
  • Steve's ability to change the brakes on a car, saving us hundreds of dollars
  • the Christian Counseling and Eduation Foundation's podcast, which I just discovered yesterday
  • hair dryers
  • electricity
  • His wisdom
  • His sovereignty
  • His goodness
  • gently, frequently calling me to trust Him

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quiet My Restless Heart

"As Long As You Are Glorified"
by Mark Altrogge - recorded on Come Weary Saints

Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain?
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain?
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought?
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt?

Oh, let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh, I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified

Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled?
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well?
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night

Quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Praying Beyond Organ Rehearsal

Can I just be totally raw and honest? Nothing kills my desire to pray faster than seeing a list of requests like this:
  • Aunt Sally's kidney
  • Alice's dad broke his leg
  • Jim is having heart surgery next week
  • Tommy has the flu
  • et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam (terrible pun fully intended)

I don't want to be callous toward other people's suffering. The truth is, if a close family member of mine had a serious illness, I'd certainly want people to pray for them. Even "routine" procedures suddenly become a whole lot scarier when it's you or your loved one facing the CAT scan or the anesthesia.

It's not at all wrong to want sick people to be well, to want suffering people to stop hurting. On the contrary, it would be wrong NOT to want those things--suffering and disease are effects of the Fall, not good parts of God's good creation! Jesus Himself frequently healed the sick, so clearly He cared about their plight. And Scripture teaches that we can and should pray for the sick.

Rather, my frustration is about what this prayer list lacks. For one thing, "organ rehearsals" often seem to crowd out deeper requests. Why do we avoid being real with each other? It's safe to mention Grandpa's cancer; it's not safe to mention my own struggle with anger. Why can't we pray for problems deeper than physical ailments? Why aren't we lifting up each other's souls--interceding for discouraged and depressed saints, for fragile marriages? Why aren't we begging God to heal our sin-sick hearts and fill us with love for our neighbors?

The other problem is that prayer lists like the one above routinely produce prayers that sound something like this: "Dear Lord, please relieve Aunt Sally's pain. Help Alice's dad to heal quickly. Be with Jim through his surgery and give the doctors wisdom. Help Tommy to feel better soon. Amen." Nothing wrong here, but is there anything eternally significant here? God could be glorified if these people are healed, but what if their healing is not His will? How else can He be glorified in these situations? In what ways do these things really matter forever?

Please hear me; I'm not saying we shouldn't pray for the sick. I'm not even saying we shouldn't pray for their healing. I'm saying, let's also pray for the sick in eternally significant ways. They may need relief from their pain, but don't they also need a lot of other things?

What if we asked God to use their sickness to help them and those around them to number their days aright, to sense that life is short and death is inevitable, and order their priorities accordingly? What if we asked Him to give them grace to trust Him alone, to depend fully on Him, to rejoice in Him even while they use this trial to draw them closer to use it to destroy their appetite for reveal to others watching that He must be real because of how He sustains His children through help the sick persevere and remain faithful to Him?

Can you see how this goes so much richer and deeper? Can you see how it not only is good for those suffering, but also edifies the souls of those interceding?

Let's be real with each other about our sick hearts and sick relationships, and pray for each other. Let's also pray for each other's sick bodies, but in ways that will bring healing to eternal souls as well as destined-to-die organs. And while you're at it, pray for me--that my seeing an organ-rehearsal prayer list would not stir me to pride or judgment, but would prompt me to talk with my Savior and seek His glory. Because while we're being raw and honest, I'd have to admit that criticizing a prayer list for its shallowness betrays a self-righteousness in my sin-sick heart that is far more appalling than simple prayers for healing the hurting.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Gospel Primer Giveaway Winners

We have seven winners! I used to generate seven integers and then applied those numbers to the comments in order in the original post. I think rather than surf all over hunting for each person's email address, I'll list the winners here and let you email me :) If you see your name listed below, send me an email: amykannel[at]hotmail[dot]com. Include your snail-mail address, and I'll get your prize sent off as soon as possible. If I don't hear from you by Monday, I'll go looking for your address.

Doing a giveaway is hard--I wanted you all to win and felt disappointed for everyone I didn't pick. I also felt sort of disappointed that only 19 people entered. I guess everyone just doesn't realize what a fantastic book this is! But, that made the odds better for those of you who did enter.

Without further ado, the grand prize winner of A Gospel Primer for Christians and a surprise gift is:
  • comment #19: Terri, on 1/29 at 5:01 PM

Six other winners will be receiving pocket versions of the Gospel Narrative I memorized, an excerpt of the original Primer. They are:

  • comment #15: Marcy, on 1/28 at 8:13 AM
  • comment #27: Jennifer, on 2/1 at 8:03 PM
  • comment #3: Zoanna, on 1/27 at 2:01 PM
  • comment #18: Karen, on 1/28 at 12:53 PM
  • comment #35: Andrea, on 2/2 at 4:14 PM
  • comment #10: Sarah, on 1/27 at 4:47 PM

Congratulations to the winners!

If you didn't win, but still would like a copy of A Gospel Primer for Christians, it can be ordered online for only $10.95. Thanks so much to all of you who entered the contest and who read, comment on, subscribe to and blog about my blog. Have a great weekend.

Last Chance

It's not too late to enter my giveaway! You have until 5 PM CST today to comment for a chance to win A Gospel Primer for Christians.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 103

Thanking God this week for...
  • today's playdate with a friend and her funny, adorable kiddos
  • vegetable beef soup
  • my new enormous crockpot to cook it in
  • random candy bars on clearance for 25 cents at the grocery store...wait, maybe I shouldn't be thankful for that...
  • encouragement from people who read what I've written
  • clean drinking water
  • baby feet
  • a soft and warm handmade afghan, even if it is terribly misshapen (my first Christmas gift to Steve, and also my first attempt at crochet--it is, shall we say, interesting)
  • giving me the ability to memorize large portions of text
  • grace to change
  • calling me to Himself
  • reinforcing lessons He's teaching me from several different places
  • intertwining our gladness and joy with His glory

A Love/Memory Challenge

Through Mega Memory Month, I got to visit the blogs of several beautiful women who are striving to hide God's Word in their hearts. MMM is over now, but a blogger named Dea has issued a new challenge at her blog. If you're "addicted" to memorization after MMM (I heard someone say this on a comment somewhere--what a great addiction!), or if the idea of "mega" memorization was intimidating and you want to start smaller, here's a great way to begin.

Dea is memorizing, and challenging others to memorize, the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. I've decided to join in--I'd really like to get the whole chapter written on my heart, because these are words I desperately need to live by! During this month when the world is thinking about love and putting forth false pictures of love, passing off lust as love, I'm looking forward to learning and meditating on God's definition of love. I want to think about love as He does.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).

I believe that God has given me a gift with words. But no matter how eloquent my writing or how smooth my speech, it is meaningless if it isn't growing out of love for Him and for those I speak to. Our world is filled with so much clamor and noise and chaos already--I don't want to contribute to that. I long for my words to matter, to build up and edify, to magnify Him.

And so, starting this month, I'm praying that God will cause me to love others far more than I love the sound of my own voice. May my words spring from love and express love. May He teach me, and you, to love as He does!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Seasoning for the Day

I often feel so overwhelmed by all the good things I could or should be doing. Just last night, Steve was remarking about all the things he'd love to learn to do, if only he had time. I can totally relate. I want to learn to make homemade bread, start playing the piano again, develop photography skills, read more great books... Even just in my time with the Lord, there are SO very many people and situations to pray for. If I spent all my quiet time in prayer, it still wouldn't cover them all--and then I wouldn't have any time in the Word.

And yet I can hardly complain of "not enough time" when I waste so many precious minutes in front of the computer. I must confess that I have made this keyboard and screen my refuge. I come here to escape from motherhood, from household chores. I feel compelled to check in again and again, all through the day and into the evening, peppering my day with blogs and emails and Facebook and message boards and informative articles.

What if my day was seasoned by Him instead? What if I kept coming back every spare minute to check in with Him, read a bit of Scripture, offer a prayer, sing praises? I mean, true confessions, this is how ridiculous it is: If I have to microwave a mug of hot chocolate for two minutes, I pop around the corner to the computer (less than 10 feet away) and check my email. HELLO, addicted much? What if I stood in the kitchen and spent that two-minute wait praying, or reciting a passage of Scripture I've memorized? What if I stayed fully engaged in mothering and cooking and cleaning, offering these small tasks to the Lord as my spiritual acts of worship? What if I found refuge in Him?

"In saving me, God also freed me from slavery to any and all sins. I no longer have to sin again, for sin's mastery over me has been broken." (Milton Vincent, "A Gospel Narrative: Prose Version" from A Gospel Primer for Christians)

Today I am clinging to the grace to LIVE in light of this truth. My prayer today is that He would convict my heart, that I would truly understand how I am sinning by spending so much time at the computer. For so long I have minimized it as "a distraction" or "better than X, Y or Z" or "no big deal, everyone does it." I don't want to succumb to these flimsy excuses for my sin. I want to see it as it is: ugly.

Then I pray that God will draw me to Himself. May He enable me, and each of you, to taste and see His goodness, His beauty, so compellingly that time on the internet loses its magnetic appeal. May He fill us and satisfy us with more of Himself.

How thankful I am that because of the cross, I am a new creature--He has already transformed me, and so I can have hope that change and growth will come, that today can be different. How thankful I am for His mercy, His patience, the riches of His grace.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It Takes a Know a Person?

I think as a married couple, it is easy to fall into wanting "just the two of us" time. It isn't that I'd deny Steve "guy time" with friends or "me time" doing something alone (I know how much I cherish both girl time and solitude!), but rather, when we do have evenings or weekends together, I sometimes want to cling tightly to quiet times alone with him. In other words, if he wants to go off without me occasionally and do his own thing, great; I think that's healthy. But when we are going to spend time together, it's easy to default to curling up with a movie or having a date night, rather than making the effort to serve others together, to bring others into our world (or enter theirs).

As I try to articulate this, it seems clear that there are other issues at play besides simply my relationship with my husband, but I'm thinking about it in that specific context because of a C.S. Lewis quote I heard recently. I was struck by the idea that by wanting more of Steve to myself, I may actually be getting less of him. Lewis writes:

"In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles [Williams] is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's [Tolkien's] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him 'to myself' now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald..."

--C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (quoted by Tim Keller in The Prodigal God)

In other words, I alone cannot call forth all the sides of who Steve is. I should have already realized this: Elijah brings out different parts of him, of course, and this has been beautiful to see. But if we were to take our eyes off each other and our own private world in our own home, how much more of each other might we enjoy and experience (in addition to all the other benefits that would bring, to us and to others)? What new facets of my husband might be revealed as I serve beside him in some form of ministry, or as we open our home to others and practice hospitality? How much more of Steve might I have to enjoy, respect and appreciate if I saw him in the varied light that others cast?

It occurs to me that in looking out for my own interests, I actually end up robbing myself of what's best. Which is somehow unsurprising. And I am reminded of the quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: "Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward in the same direction."

(I feel like I'm not writing very coherently here...forgive me. It's something I've been mulling over since we heard Tim Keller speak last week [that's where I heard the quote]. Feel free to jump in with your thoughts, or ask for clarification if I've been too unclear.)

Crazy Sovereign Grace Music and Book Sale

They're doing it again!

Last February, I cleaned up when Sovereign Grace had a mega-sale on their music and books. Apparently the sale was such a success that they're offering similar deals this month. Bob Kauflin reports:

From February 1–28, at the Sovereign Grace store, you’ll find these prices:

~23 books (including Worship Matters, Worldliness, and Living the Cross Centered Life): $7 each
~all CDs produced by Sovereign Grace Music (including Together for the Gospel Live, Psalms, Come Weary Saints, and Valley of Vision): $6 each
~all books in our Pursuit of Godliness series (Why Small Groups, This Great Salvation, and others): $4 each

But wait…there’s more! During February, we’re offering our normal free shipping in the continental US (library rate). But on all international orders we’re offering a discount of 50% on USPS First Class International shipping.

I can personally vouch for all of the CDs he mentions--they are fantastic, as are the three I mentioned in my post about last year's sale. And Living the Cross Centered Life was a HUGE paradigm-shift book for me. Go check it out!