Monday, February 27, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 237

"The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me" (Psalm 50:23)

Offering thanks this week to the only One worthy of glory and praise, especially for...

2697. protecting Elijah from injury when he stumbled on the stairs
2698. a huge level of complete trust between Steve and me
2699. recipes in my grandmother's handwriting
2700. the way a simple pair of earrings can help you feel a little more put together
2701. blog space to preach to myself

2702. a walk to the post office with...
2703. a chatterbox preschooler and
2704. a quiet (for once!), content toddler
2705. encouraging emails
2706. caring about people's huge pain and trials and also about comparatively small things like math tests

2707. socks that actually stay on Jude's feet
2708. Steve doing our taxes
2709. music preaching truth to me
2710. practice in the hard eucharisteo
2711. 70 degrees and sunny in February

2712. a sweet spur-of-the-moment visit from Steve's mom and granny
2713. Grandma and Great-Granny loving and being loved by our boys
2714. triple-batch of oatmeal pancakes in a huge mountain on a plate
2715. our pastor's super-helpful Jesus-magnifying blog, recently revived
2716. Elijah playing doctor, listening to my "heartbeep"

2717. a new book for Lent
2718. new Sovereign Grace Music CDs (you have two days left to take advantage of the $6 sale!)
2719. free month of Netflix (any recommendations that can be streamed online?)
2720. the still-baby smell of Jude's head
2721. annoying little task finally crossed off the list after two months (am I the only one who procrastinates that badly?!)

2722. Sunday afternoon naps
2723. Sunday night pizza
2724. Granny's sweet mealtime prayer for us
2725. bleary-eyed Elijah up at 5:30AM to give goodbye hugs
2726. old music from my baby-Christian days

2727. the story of Revelation in The Jesus Storybook Bible
2728. Jesus' promise: "I'm on my way! I'll be there soon!"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Remember and Fight

"Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes" (Nehemiah 4:14).

Remember. A theme God has revisited again and again in my life ever since I first awoke to it in April 2005. When God calls me to trust Him, He is not calling me to blind faith, to a wishful-thinking kind of hope. No, He piles up reasons for me to trust. A track record of millennia, carefully preserved for me to review and to feed my trust. Remember all the ways God has faithfully cared for His people since Creation? Remember who He is? Remember the Cross?

And then He adds to that nearly 30 years of my own history. I need only look back and remember His dealings with me personally over the course of my life--His preservation and protection and preparation before I even truly knew Him; His provision; His gentle, patient guidance; His constant, never-forsaking presence; His pursuing love, His faithful care; His sovereign orchestration of huge and small details. There is so much for me to remember of His greatness and His awesome deeds. If I will but choose to remember, there is no way I can *not* trust, no basis for fear.

And then--fight. Fight for joy, fight to trust. What strikes me here in Nehemiah is the call to fight for others' sake. My choosing to fight isn't just about me.

I fight for my brothers: to show that my God is all-satisfying, the only true source of joy and hope. To inspire my brothers and sisters to take up the fight themselves--to model it for them, to help them remember that our God is great and awesome.

I fight for my sons: that they may grow up believing in this great and awesome God because they see their mama loving Him, trusting Him, satisfied in Him, rejoicing in Him.

I fight for my husband: that I may provide the help he needs to take up the fight himself, that he would be able to spend less energy helping and comforting me and instead we would be able to fight the good fight side by side.

I fight for my home: that it would not be a pit of despair, chaos, unbelief and wasted time, but that it would be a haven for my family and for all who come to visit--a place where this great and awesome God is seen in all things, magnified, thanked, praised, trusted, depended upon, exulted in; a place where His person and work are remembered and celebrated and relied upon as the basis for living.

Lord, make it so--give us grace to remember and fight today.

Forget Not
Two Choices: Wallow or Fight
What We Forget; What He Forgets

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two Choices: Wallow or Fight

In every trial, large or small--whether a one-time instance of being sinned against, or an especially difficult season of life with no end in sight--there comes a crucial moment. Actually, it doesn't come just once, but dozens of times. It is the moment when you recognize where you are wrong: when you realize at some deep level in your heart, in some small part of your mind, that there is a significant difference between what God says is true and what you are believing or thinking or feeling.

In that moment, you are faced with a choice. You can continue to rehearse the laments ("vent")--to your journal, your husband, your best friend, or just on an endless internal loop. You can dwell on the potential miseries, feed the fears and the resentment, preach to yourself about how much you suck or how wrong the other person is or how awful this is going to be.

Or you can fight. You can let go of your plans, surrender your emotions, settle into what IS rather than what you wish were. You can't fight a week-long or a six-month or a ten-year battle, but you can put on your armor and fight for joy--fight to believe truth--today.

If you're like me, when you come to this critical realization, there's a little part of you that doesn't want to give up the wallowing yet. Sometimes I think I just want to keep stewing in a big ol' pity party for a while. It's almost like I fear that choosing to fight means pretending that these emotions weren't real and deep, that it doesn't really hurt. But...I can acknowledge them as powerful and real without being ruled by them. And reality is, wallowing doesn't accomplish anything. It doesn't change the situation, and it doesn't make facing the trial any easier. In fact, you could argue, just the opposite.

Fighting, on the other hand--that changes everything. It means you will get beat up, even face the agony of defeat at times (though this is made bearable knowing you will never face ultimate defeat because victory has already been won by Christ!). It doesn't mean being Pollyanna, slapping on your shiny, happy Christian face and pretending. It means gritting your teeth and digging in your heels and clinging to Jesus with all your might. It means preaching to yourself about how God sees and loves you in your unlovable mess, how Jesus' blood covers all the ways you suck, how all this is going to be a *beautiful* mess because it's going to be used for your good and God's glory. Guaranteed.

For me, it means being vulnerable and humble with my husband and other trusted friends, asking them to fight for me, relying on them to hold up my trembling arms as Aaron and Hur did for weary Moses, to hold up their shields of faith when I cannot keep mine upright. It means, to paraphrase Tim Keller, trusting that although these events may reveal me to be more sinful than I even believed, I am also, in the midst of them, more loved than I have dared to hope.

I am not called to fight the hundred-years' war. I have only to fight in this moment. I cannot look ahead and fear what may come; instead, I must fix my eyes on Jesus, be fully present HERE, and trust that the grace for tomorrow will be there tomorrow.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 236

Counting the gifts, one thousand gifts, isn’t a pop culture kind of gratitude. It isn’t a new age kind of feel-good exercise. It isn’t trendy. And it definitely isn’t comfortable.

Counting one thousand gifts is to live the radical thanks to Christ. It’s about an exercise in the age to come coming now and finding comfort in the Comforter. It’s the culture of believers really believing, the culture of God and the Blood of the Lamb.

This world doesn’t need trendy gratitude like it needs Jesus gratitude.

The kind that gives thanks for the bread and the nails, for the fire that refines and the blood that saves.

That gives thanks in the pitch and the thunder, the wind and Gethsemane black, that gives thanks even staring into the face of death because it sees His face in all things — because it fiercely believes in relentless Grace and the Hound of Heaven who can’t stop pursuing in Love.

That doesn’t gives nebulous thanks to the universe, but named thanks to the King of the Universe.

--Ann Voskamp
Thanking the King of Kings this week for...

2673. husband encouraging me to use my gifts
2674. dance party with my boys
2675. keeping all His promises
2676. a birthday party for a sweet girl from church
2677. music that voices my heart

2678. a baby whom I have to get up and nurse at 4:40AM
2679. His kind providence in my Bible reading plan
2680. room full of friends singing hymns together
2681. Jude's growing use of signs (I need to learn some more!)
2682. a friend babysitting for the boys during an appointment

2683. free pizza from Papa John's
2684. sweet emails from friends, and their prayers
2685. a delightful snail-mail note
2686. long walk on the greenway
2687. dinner out with my guys

2688. custom playlists of favorite songs
2689. Elijah's verdict on the cutout sugar cookies we made: "It's the most delicious cookie I've ever seen."
2690. a husband who is so easy to respect
2691. Steve's gospel insights
2692. the countless ways he serves and serves and serves me

2693. grace to trust when I don't understand
2694. the assurance that He will complete what He's begun in me
2695. the knowledge that everything in my life has been appointed by Him in love
2696. the guarantee that what He desires gets done

Friday, February 17, 2012

What We Forget; What He Forgets

"...she...went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the LORD" (Hosea 2:13).

Our problem is not that we don't know. It's not ignorance of who God is, lack of understanding what's right. Our problem is persistent spiritual amnesia--a diagnosis far more serious, far deeper, than any in the DSM-IV. We forget. We forget who God is, what He has done in history. We forget the cross and the resurrection; we forget that Heaven awaits. We forget who we are and what God has done in *our* history. We forget that He is Emmanuel--with us here, now.

God doesn't forget.

He doesn't forget us; He has engraved us on the palms of His hands. He doesn't forget His promises. He doesn't forget to care for us, to orchestrate world events, to protect and grow His children. He forgets just one thing: our sins.

We forget how lovely He is--and He forgets how unlovable we are. We forget His mercy, but He remembers mercy.

"For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more" (Hosea 2:17).

O Lord, heal our memories. Heal our forgetful, wayward hearts. Cause us to forget the false gods we have chased, to forget the fleeting moments of pleasure they have given. Cause us instead to remember the emptiness of their promises, the lack of lasting satisfaction, the ugliness of betraying You. Cause us to remember Your name, to remember who You have called us and made us to be. Cause us to remember the cross, remember the inheritance that is ours, remember what You have done and what You have forgotten. Then may we, too, forget our sins and lose ourselves in the flood of Your grace. Help us to remember You.

Forget Not
Remembered, Remembering

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

God's Delight

Did you know that if you are in Christ, God delights in your welfare? That He isn't indifferent about what happens to you--that He isn't even just "working all things together for your good" in a detached, objective, unemotional way?

In His kind providence, He had me in Psalm 35 yesterday, where verse 27 stopped me:

"Let those who delight in my righteousness
   shout for joy and be glad
   and say evermore,
'Great is the LORD,
   who delights in the welfare of his servant!'
Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
   and of your praise all the day long."
--Psalm 35:27-28

God delights in the welfare of His servant! I am far from a faithful servant--but I am seen as one because I am covered by the righteousness of Christ the Suffering Servant. And so God is FOR me--His heart earnestly desires my good. He is not capricious or vindictive, spiteful or merciless. He doesn't even treat me as I deserve. It brings Him joy to see that I am taken care of. He smiles to see me thriving.

That means when I am *not* thriving--I must trust this revelation of His heart more than I trust my perception of the situation. God wants to see me thriving. So in any given circumstance, however it looks to me, He is at work to promote my ultimate well-being. The word in Hebrew is shalom--that word that goes far beyond simple peace but means wholeness, prosperity, life-as-it-was-created-to-be, all-is-well. God alone knows what "welfare" looks like for me--and He alone knows how to get there, and what kinds of anything-but-delightful trials I must go through to get there.

But that is where we are headed, together--both anticipating the day when I am whole and well and telling of His righteousness to others who will shout for joy and be glad in Him and say with me, "Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!"

Friday, February 10, 2012

If Only We Had a Bigger God

In Judges 17-18, we find the story of Micah and the Levite. In defiance of God’s law and ways, Micah had a bunch of silver made into carved images and set up a shrine in his home with household gods. Then he compelled a young Levite to be his own personal priest, and he felt pretty satisfied with his manmade religion. [What does this have to do with you, today? Hang with me...]

Meanwhile, the tribe of Dan was looking for an inheritance, so five spies set out, eventually meeting Micah with his priest and his household gods. After the Danite spies returned home with a good report about the wealth of the land, the tribe of Dan returned to conquer the country. And they made a special point of returning to Micah’s house and stealing “the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image” (Judges 18:18).

When Micah discovered this, he was predictably upset, and gathered his neighbors to go overtake the people of Dan. Micah indignantly asked them, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left?” (v. 24)

When our pastor preached through this story during his series on Judges last year, he spent some time focused on the line “You take my gods that I made...and what have I left?” He said:
It's hilarious!—and sad. That's the whole point of idolatry. [A false god is] something that I can control—but if it's something I can control, somebody else can control it. Somebody else can take it away from me. 
If my prosperity is my god, it can be taken away from me. If my theology is my god, it can be taken away from me. If my marriage is my god, it can be taken away from me. If my acceptance with people is my god, it can be taken away from me. And if it's taken away from us, what will we have left? 
But if you have God in Christ, He cannot be taken away from you! You can't steal our God away from the hearts of his people. We're supposed to look at this and say, “Poor, pathetic Micah—if only he had a bigger God, his joy would not be robbed so easily. His contentment would not be robbed so easily.” 
And that is true of you and of me. Why are our joy and our satisfaction so easily taken from us? Because our god is not big enough. 

Micah's gods were manmade and they were small. So it was no major feat for the Danites to make off with them—and Micah was left empty-handed, robbed of the source of his satisfaction and contentment, his peace and security, his joy.

Hear this, O my soul: all other gods can be taken away from us. Anything I set up as an idol, anything I look to for identity, happiness, worth, contentment, fullness, security, LIFE abundant—it can all be stripped away. My husband. My children. Health. Money, possessions. Food. Physical comfort. Others' approval and admiration. Friends.

Not long after that sermon, I read something related in Ann Voskamp's beautiful book:
“ is loss. Every day, the gnawing...What will I lose? Health? Comfort? Hope? Eventually I am guaranteed to lose every earthly thing I have ever possessed. When will I lose? Today? In a few weeks? How much time have I got before the next loss? Who will I lose? And that's definite: I will lose every single person I have ever loved. Either abruptly or eventually. All human relationships end in loss. Am I prepared for that? Every step I take forward in my life is a loss of something in my life and I live the waiting: How and of what will I be emptied today?” (p. 84-85)

There is a fine line, of course, between losses that can (even should) be legitimately grieved, and the despair we feel when robbed of idols. Jesus didn't reprimand Mary and Martha for making an idol of their brother; He wept with them.

Yet so much of the disappointment I experience each day, so much of “the gnawing,” so much ache and emptiness and frustration and bitter, resentful anger, points to my idolatry. My gods have been taken from me, and what have I left?

Stephen continued:

God is big. But when we settle for idolatry, it all can be taken away from us. Every disappointment that you feel, if it doesn't result in turning to God, worshiping God, loving God, being satisfied in Him, saying, “There is none in heaven or on earth that I desire besides You; You are my portion; You are my strength; though You slay me, yet I will serve You”—then we're just like Micah. 
When we're having a bad day, when we get a bad grade, when the bills aren't being paid, when a hundred other things happen, we say, “What do I have left?” Do any of you feel that despair? What do I have left?  
You have, in Christ, God. And if you have God, you have all.

My gods have been taken from me, and what have I left?


When all these idols have been stripped away, what do I have left? Jesus.

All other gods can be taken from me at any moment. But Christ can never be taken from me, nor I from Him.

If only I had a bigger God, my joy could not be robbed so easily!

“I say to the LORD, 'You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.'” (Psalm 16:2)

Oh Jesus, be “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Don't let me run after idols today; don't let me set my heart on the things that can be taken away. Teach me to cling to you, to trust that You can and will satisfy my heart like nothing and no one else can. Open my eyes to see that you are more precious and beautiful than anything else I long for. And make me know and hate the reality of betraying You by running after lesser, smaller pleasures.

The Idolatry of Jealousy
Idolatry Part 3: Abundant Life
Modern Idolatry: Keller and Powlison

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Joy Here, in Real Life

Sunday evening found me praying in the car, fighting back tears, willing myself for the umpteenth time to choose truth over emotions. My weekend retreat was full of blessings, but now I was about to return to real life. And as much as I missed my husband and my boys, I did not miss the especially-intense-recently parenting struggles, the constant failure and exposure of my ugly heart. I had enjoyed the 48-hour escape, maybe a little too much, and now I was fighting to re-enter well. 

As I drove the last stretch toward home by myself, having dropped off two friends and their luggage, my mind went to that familiar favorite, Psalm 16. I reminded myself that "the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance" (v. 6). Then I repeated aloud, as a desperate prayer, the last verse:

" your presence there is fullness of joy; 
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." 

If there is fullness of joy in His presence...and He is present everywhere, inescapable, never leaving or forsaking me...then there is joy HERE. Not just on a retreat, during a break from my responsibilities and my struggles. Not just two hours away from home, surrounded by like-minded friends, unneeded by dependent children. HERE.

In the past, I always read this verse as a hopeful Heaven promise. You know, on That Day, when every tear is wiped away, and sin and satan are forever destroyed, when we stand in the presence of God, *that's* where fullness of joy is. Here, today? Not so much.

But Sunday evening, as I took a deep breath and prepared for the whining and the correction and the call to die that would come with the hugs and giggles, I remembered that I must fight for joy. It may be hiding. It is not all sunshine and rainbows; it may not look like I expect or think I prefer. But I am in His presence here. That means there is joy here.

And then I thought about the last line: at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Again, I've always read it as a Heaven promise. When we stand before God's throne--when we can actually be present next to Him--we'll experience ultimate pleasure. But this time it struck me: Who is at God's right hand? "Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us" (Romans 8:34). Pleasures at God's right hand are pleasures in Jesus. Jesus came in order that I might know full and lasting joy! So my calling every day, here, in the midst of normal life, is to seek and find pleasure in Jesus--not trust in idols that disappoint, not run for refuge to things that offer temporary, fleeting happiness, but abide in Christ.

Some days, I am not honestly sure how. But over and over and over again, God is trying to teach me to believe Him and fight for joy and choose to praise Him and trust Him here, now. In His presence there is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore and He is *here* and joy is here. I will tell myself until I know it to be true.

[edited repost from the archives]


Monday, February 06, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 235

Thanking God this week for...

2658. a weekend away with the beautiful women of our church
2659. a giving, loving husband who made it possible by caring for the boys all weekend
2660. prayer together
2661. lots and lots of laughter
2662. news that a friend is pregnant

2663. His generous Father-heart that delights to hear and answer our prayers
2664. women's voices singing praises
2665. sweatpants and comfy clothes
2666. women testifying about answered prayer
2667. an afternoon hike to a pretty scenic overlook

2668. my fellow planners' hard work before and during the retreat
2669. opportunities to learn from and be challenged by these dear women
2670. grace to re-enter real life
2671. hugs from my guys
2672. my own soft bed with Steve in it