Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Knows, Wants to, Can Do It

The most profound thing I took away from counseling four years ago was an assignment I thought was stupid.

Elijah was almost a year old, and I was still fumbling through motherhood, unable to shake off postpartum depression. I began seeing a counselor, and one of the earliest assignments he gave me was to read a book by Jerry Bridges called Is God Really in Control?

I was polite, but inwardly I rolled my eyes. Come on. What does this have to do with anything? Of course I know God is really in control. That is not the problem! I was exasperated that the counselor wasn't getting it, frustrated that the assignment seemed irrelevant to my struggles.

Well, God loves to strike blows to my pride like that. Wouldn't you know, that book and the main concepts I took away from it are what still stick with me more than anything else. I refer to that lesson in conversations probably at least a couple of times a month.

While I already believed that God was sovereign--100% in control of all events--what I didn't realize was that His sovereignty is essentially tied to His wisdom and His love. We need all three of these in order to be able to trust Him. Any one by itself--even any two, without the third--isn't actually good news at all.

Think about it: If God is in control of all things--if He's omnipotent and has all authority to do whatever He pleases--but you're His enemy, that's definitely not good news. He's sovereign, but He hates you? Hardly comforting.

If He's sovereign *and* He loves you, now we're getting somewhere. He can do all things, and He's good. He cares about your well-being. But what if He's not also all-knowing and wise? It doesn't really help you if He wants what's best for you and is totally capable of accomplishing it...but doesn't truly know what that is.

Loving + wise, but not sovereign? A God whose hands are tied. He knows what would be good for you, and He wants to bring good to you, but that doesn't mean much, because He's impotent.

Sovereign + wise, but not loving? A God who is unsympathetic, indifferent, willing to sacrifice your best for "the greater good." He knows what's best for you, but He doesn't really care if you get it or not. He can and will do what He wants, without regard for what's good for you.

We need all three. And we have all three!

Our God is sovereign. His purposes stand (Prov. 19:21). What He desires, He does (Job 23:13). He finishes what He starts, always (Phil. 1:6). He cannot be thwarted. "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases" (Psalm 115:3). He is wholly capable of accomplishing what is best for us.

Our God is loving. His dealings with His children--with those who trust in Christ and find redemption at the cross--are marked by mercy and kindness, never wrath (Ps. 103:8-13). He is committed to our good (Rom. 8:28). He is FOR us (Rom. 8:31)! He wholeheartedly wants to do what's best for us.

Our God is wise. He established the world by His wisdom (Jer. 10:12). He is the source of all wisdom and understanding we possess (Prov. 2:6).  His thoughts and ways far higher than ours (Isa. 55:8-9); His judgments are unsearchable, beyond our judging (Rom. 11:33-34). He knows perfectly what is best for us.

And the place where we see these things come together perfectly, most clearly and gloriously on display? The cross of Christ.

No one took Jesus' life from Him; no one could have harmed a single hair on His head if He had not willingly submitted. He had authority to lay His life down and then to take it back up again (John 10:17-18). And the fact that He did so is a profound demonstration of His love (John 3:16). Paul lays it out in Romans 8:32: If God was willing to sacrifice His own Beloved Son to provide for our greatest need--what more evidence can we want that He is committed to what's best for us and will provide for every lesser need? And from our human perspective, the cross looks strange and foolish, but it is we who are too foolish to recognize God's true wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-25).

Sovereignty, wisdom, love. Take any of these away, and your trust is shaken, your refuge vulnerable. But take them together, in light of the cross, and you see a God who knows best, who wants what's best, and who can do it! This is who is in control, whom we worship and serve and trust.

What He Desires, That He Does
The Really Amazing Thing
Don't Worry, Be Happy?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 249

To live sozo, is to live the wellest, fullest life and Jesus came that we might live well and to the full; He came to give us sozo.

And when did the leper receive sozo—saving to the full, well, whole life? He received sozo from Christ when he returned and gave thanks to Christ. Gratitude isn’t a condition of our salvation — it is our manifest joy in salvation. Because gratitude to Christ — is evidence that we’ve received the gift of faith – as a gift. 

How can anyone accept His free gift of salvation —  if not with thanksgiving? 

 A Christian giving thanks is never about trying to ascend to a higher spiritual plane — it’s about giving thanks to Christ who descended to plainly save us.  

In His presence alone is fullness of joy and the way to enter into His courts is through those gates of thanksgiving for Who He is and what He gives and He alone is enough. 

(Ann Voskamp, "How to Really Survive a Heart Attack")

Trying to shake off a funk this afternoon and really *see* by thanking God for...

3088. a husband who is endlessly patient when I am not
3089. a son who can communicate his desires and emotions, even when he doesn't do so respectfully
3090. a son who screams because he trusts that Mama cares and can make it better
3091. parents and in-laws driving down to see us so that we don't have to make the long car trip as often
3092. a weekend in Cincinnati with Steve's whole family

3093. sweet reunion with Elijah after he spent the week with Grammy and Pops
3094. brothers thrilled to see each other
3095. singing Sovereign Grace's "Behold Our God" in a huge church on Sunday
3096. the astounding beauty, variety and order in His creation
3097. opening my eyes to see that He created and sustains it all

3098. toddler climbing out of the pool before filling up his pants 
3099. pretend ice cream treats from my niece
4000. everyone sleeping much better in a hotel room than I anticipated
4001. air conditioning
4002. speaking to me in two consecutive songs on Indelible Grace's Beams of Heaven album

4003. breaking my schemes of earthly joy, that I may find my all in Him

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Law is Impotent

When I think about the powerlessness of the law to fight sin, one of the most striking examples is an experience that has stuck with me for almost six years. I was teaching a group of middle school girls. 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 leaving her out. She then said she could look up verses that say, "Don't be jealous." Then she paused, and admitted: "But I still feel jealous, though."

She was only nine years old, but she nailed it. 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. These laws and commands are impotent--they are not designed to defeat our sin, but to point us to the Savior who does!

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!

It is a huge paradigm shift, when you've lived as a Christian for decades and never learned to think this way. I still struggle to apply the gospel to my life; I am constantly tempted to run to the law, to try harder. But I am fighting to remember and to help others see 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.

[edited repost from the archives]

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Don't Worry, Be Happy?

When you're anxious, where do you turn? What's the first place in Scripture you think of to take a friend who's consumed with worries?

I'm guessing for many of us, it's Philippians 4, with that classic verse 6: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."

But let me ask you: Really? To quote my pastor, "How's that working out for you?" You're worried, and so you read, "Don't worry." Worry is sin. Stop it

Thanks. Got it. I'll just stop, then.

OK, to be fair, this verse does give us some helpful alternatives: Instead of worrying, pray. Take it to God. Give thanks. Yes! These are good things! Of course they are--all Scripture is God-breathed and useful, and this familiar verse is truly a wonderful one, especially when read in context. But I would suggest that the first place to go when you're worried is not a verse that says "do not be anxious." The law is powerless to change our hearts!

Instead, we need to dig a little deeper. WHY exactly am I worried? I would suggest that at bottom, it's some form of unbelief. Perhaps I don't really believe God is sovereign and in control. Or perhaps I absolutely believe He's powerful, but I don't really believe He's good and loving. Or I don't really believe He is all-wise (I believe I know better what should happen, and I'm afraid He's going to do otherwise).

We'd never *say* we think this way, but our worry betrays us--functionally, this is what we believe: God is not powerful enough to do anything about this. God doesn't really love me, isn't really for me. God doesn't really know what's best for me in these circumstances. 

If this is the real problem, then the real solution needs to go a whole lot deeper than "Don't worry."

So I open the Word, but I don't go to the law. I go to the psalms and prophecies and epistles that tell me who God is; I go to the stories that show His character in action. I read about how powerful He is, how all of His purposes stand, how no one can thwart Him, how He is mighty to save. I read about His merciful goodness, how He works in all things for *my* good, how He is FOR me, how His compassions never fail. I read about His unsearchable wisdom, how His thoughts and ways are far higher than mine, how He works in ways the foolish world calls foolish.

And as I see Him and trust Him, worry is displaced by worship.

To try and battle my anxiety with law is self-focused. I'm still concentrating on me, on what I should do or not do. And I am weak, and I will inevitably fail to do or stop doing these things. But to battle my anxiety with gospel is to turn the focus from myself to my Savior.

When I turn my attention from my worries to the cross, where Jesus secured my greatest need (forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God), I can rest and I can celebrate. I realize that I don't have to worry because if God would go to such infinite lengths and immeasurable costs to justify me and adopt me as His child, of course He can be trusted to provide for my much smaller and easier-to-meet needs. I am awed by what He has already done and encouraged by what He promises to do--and for these incredible realities, I can give joyful thanks.

"Stop it"? Or "run to the cross"? I know which one I need to hear, which one can truly change my heart.

Powerlessness a Nine-Year-Old Can Recognize
Grace is Like Manna

Monday, May 21, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 248

Thanking God this week for...

3050. a new fabric shower curtain liner
3051. upstairs storage cleaned out and organized
3052. Elijah: "I love Jesus, Mama."
3053. Jude wanting to read a Jesus story at breakfast
3054. a letter from my Compassion child, more personal and longer than any others

3055. bright orange lilies
3056. hydrangeas in various colors
3057. Steve taking both boys with him to Lowe's
3058. reminders that Elijah is vulnerable and needs to be comforted, nurtured, protected
3059. a long-overdue playdate with a friend

3060. her son encouraging Elijah to do good ("Don't do that. He's your brother.")
3061. challenging conversations
3062. chicken lettuce wraps and vegetable stirfry
3063. God's grace powerfully at work in a friend's relationship with her MIL
3064. my parents' love for my husband

3065. gospel + parenting conversations with a dear friend
3066. my parents coming down for the weekend to serve us like crazy by babysitting
3067. the opportunity to go to the local homeschooling convention with Steve, as we continue to explore our options
3068. a Thai lunch date at The Smiling Elephant
3069. rhubarb!

3070. the KidTalk picnic with fun games and treats and prizes
3071. painted faces
3072. star-shaped sunglasses

3073. getting to go to a dear friend's wedding without kiddos
3074. the beautiful, radiant bride, so happy

3075. the handsome groom, all choked up before his beloved even appeared
3076. dozens of adorable details that made the wedding fun and personal
3077. lots of laughs thanks to a photobooth
3078. huge sparklers to send off the happy couple
3079. loving my sweet husband even more seven years later than I did on our own wedding day
3080. Jude finally saying "Mama" now and then
3081. Elijah's excitement to go home with Grammy and Pops
3082. their excitement to take him for the week
3083. being able to entrust him to their care
3084. homemade pizza and a movie with Steve

3085. opportunity to invest in a younger girl from church
3086. His Word: a fire, a hammer, a healing balm
3087. the freedom and refuge found at the foot of the cross

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Book: A Visual Journal of Everyday Moments

This is "my book." Or as beloved Ann writes:
"This is the story of a Type-A personality finding serenity in playing about with glossy pictures and glue and paper. Child’s play. Yes, true: it’s a pretty simple story."

I am so, so glad she told that story so that I could begin my own!

It was nearly three years ago I started doing this, found a big stash of lovely magazines in the twenty-five-cent bin at the library, bought a big black sketchbook and started chronicling. Last week I opened volume six. The row of filled coilbound books lined up on my shelf makes me smile. And the current volume has a permanent home lying open on the end of my kitchen counter. I put off the project for a while after I first heard of it, but once I got over my intimidation and jumped in, I couldn't stop.

 ~it’s a place to play, and yet practical: it’s a place to record the workings of your household
 ~a place to make beautiful, so when everything else is unraveling (or is that only at our house?) there’s a pretty place on the counter to write down the date and all the lovely little snippets of the day...
 ~a keepsake day journal for children and grandchildren, a container of simple memories, the best kind
 ~an aesthetically pleasing place made with your own two hands that invites you to write down when the dentist appointment is today, which phone calls to make, and it makes you smile evey time you look at the page
~ the ordinary tasks of our lives find themselves chronicled for what they truly are: important ceremonies… daily celebrations.

Yes. So here we go: I start with a blank book like this (only it's one of the few things I *don't* buy online; with a 40% off coupon for JoAnn, I never pay full price). Sometimes I decorate the cover with a printed article or quote, some patterned paper and a jar of Mod Podge--

--sometimes not. Then I collect magazines. Don't spend a lot of money on this! My favorite sources are Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens and Real Simple. I've also enjoyed Midwest Living and Martha Stewart Living. But I don't subscribe to any of these, unless I can do it for $5 or less (which does happen occasionally). Ask friends and family or even doctors' offices for their discards. Check the castoffs bin at the library. Sign up for free preview/sample issues. (Lowe's has a free magazine called Creative Ideas that comes five times a year.) The magazines above tend to have a higher number of things I like, but this will obviously depend on personal taste--and really, you can find fun pictures anywhere you look. I've used pictures from Pier 1 catalogs, Compassion magazine, even Snapfish or Hobby Lobby flyers. I also occasionally glue in my own photographs of neighborhood trees in the fall, or our peony bushes.

I go through the magazines whenever I get them and tear out anything I find pretty or visually interesting, including (but not limited to):
  • flowers 
  • food 
  • landscapes/scenery 
  • interior decorating 
  • significant words/quotes 
  • cities/travel 
  • random household items (colored bottles, books)

Now that I've built up a huge collection, I keep these sorted in folders, with the above headings plus seasonal ones (Autumn, Spring, Winter/Christmas). And then I flip through them, spread them out on my table, and go to town. I glue in just a few pages at a time, less than a month's worth. I learned that lesson after my first journal, when I decorated the whole thing at once and then ended up looking at tulip pictures in November. I prefer to match the season, so not doing too far ahead allows me to (roughly) match flowers in season, holidays, etc. But I'm a little anal-retentive that way...if you like pumpkins in February or snow in July, more power to you.

Once I've got pictures glued in, I put the open book in its place on the end of my kitchen counter, and I start scribbling. With a pretty pen in a coordinating ink color (because we know pens are a little important to me). Cello pens won't do for this; for a while I was partial to Sharpie pens but now I'm addicted to these pricey but gorgeous Staedtlers...but keep the caps on! The tips of the Sharpies and the Staedtlers *will* get ruined when dropped on the floor...sadly I have learned this the hard way.

Sorry. Pen digression. Anyway, so I start scribbling, and I keep coming back throughout the day. There's no end to the variety of things that can find a home here:
  • daily/weekly to-do lists as well as long-term project lists 
  • gratitude lists 
  • funny things Elijah and Jude do and say, their developmental milestones, etc. 
  • Scripture verses 
  • quotes from books, blogs, song lyrics 
  • printed out blog posts or excerpts (if it's more than a few lines I love), most frequently from Ann Voskamp, Christ in the Chaos, Femina or Scotty Smith 
  • lists of and brief blurbs about books I’m reading 
  • notes from important phone calls (asbestos abatement contractors, preschools, chickens, etc.) 
  • gifts received for birthdays/Christmases (people needing thank-you notes) 
  • hospitality plans 
  • recipes or meal plans 
  • parenting inspirations/reminders

In addition to all these lists and quotes, occasionally I'll do a little more traditional journaling, writing just a paragraph or two about a special event or activity that day. If I remember and have space, I also use this like a scrapbook and glue in mementos (ticket stub, cut-out logo from a brochure, etc.).

Really this can be anything you want it to be. No rules--it serves you. And oh, can it serve you (and your family)! For me, this journal isn't just play, and it isn't a time-suck. It's a visual anchor, a place to refocus. It's a way to chronicle my journey, not in long chunks of set-aside quiet time (though I do love those, and journal differently during those when they come) but in moments. It's a place to preach truth to myself, a reminder to choose gratitude, an opportunity to pause for a moment and really *see* my life, my children, my Savior.

And, I hope, it will become a family heirloom of sorts. Maybe it's just me, but I think if I could get a glimpse of my mother's or grandmother's ordinary daily life this way--what she was thankful for thirty years ago, what Scriptures spoke to her, what books she read and loved, what funny things I said--wouldn't I love that precious keepsake! Even if my boys don't appreciate these books, I know I have loved having and revisiting my own journals over the years, rereading stories of God's work in me and looking back on sweet moments of my life.

So there it is--my often-mentioned visual homemaking journal. Now it's your turn! Grab a sketchbook, a pen, a glue stick and some magazines and have at it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 247

Two hundred and forty-seven times I've done this? Really? That doesn't quite seem possible. But here I am again this week, counting, counting, counting--trying to open my eyes and see the undeserved gifts God gives each day, including...

3018. a sense of hope about what He's up to in friends' lives
3019. His grace at work in me, enough for others to see it
3020. a new gospel-centered mothering blog: Domestic Kingdom (love this recent post)
3021. an excellent article by Rachel Pieh Jones reminding me to flee to the cross
3022. the inspiring and humbling story of Ian and Larissa Murphy (be sure to read Larissa's posts after watching the video)

3023. workers who removed asbestos from our house
3024. a beautiful day to be at the zoo
3025. carousel ride with the boys
3026. Elijah sharing his ice cream with Jude

3027. opportunities to help Steve by ripping up floorboards in the closet (even if I did injure myself...twice...)

3028. Steve setting out traps and catching the you-know-what he discovered in the kitchen before he left for work--if he had to spot one first thing in the morning, at least he was able to kill it less than an hour later!
3029. bluebirds
3030. a clean bathtub
3031. tiny freckles on Elijah's cheeks
3032. Jude's vivid blue eyes

3033. red and white pinwheel-petunias
3034. Lego cars honking to the tune of Darth Vader's Imperial March
3035. tickle time
3036. sausage gravy on biscuits (if I'd known it was that easy, I would have made it long ago!)
3037. Steve working hard to rebuild our HVAC system

3038. Elijah's forgiveness
3039. never lashing out in wrath against me
3040. a Groupon date
3041. a generous and wonderful friend babysitting, delighting in my boys
3042. the privilege of being a mother

3043. my own mother's voice on the phone
3044. a lovely mother-in-law
3045. the dozens of ways Steve served and blessed me yesterday
3046. loving me too much to let me remain in my sin
3047. deepening my understanding of His grace

3048. a new sermon series on what it means to fear Him
3049. being able to call Him Father in spite of His awesome holiness and glory

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Life: Week 5

Now that April is two weeks past, I don't know that I'll ever finish the My Life photography challenge, but here's one last round of photos I did manage to take:

day 9: my true love [SO thrilled for a photo shoot, but humored me anyway...I captured this classic smirk in between takes]

day 12: my eyes

day 14: my family

day 18: my inspiration [Isaiah 44:5--need this constant reminder]

day 21: my favorite color [childhood memories of always hunting for this crayon]

day 27: my music [a playlist I enjoyed this winter]


Monday, May 07, 2012

Multitude Monday, Take 246

Thanking God this week for...

2988. utility work right outside our front door for the boys to watch
2989. workers who keep our utilities running
2990. electricity, steadily available
2991. running water, always
2992. trash pickup every week

2993. Jude's new safari hat
2994. floating bits of cottonwood
2995. Elijah: "Will you play with me?"
2996. sky darkening as gray clouds roll in
2997. grace to remain calm when correcting Elijah

2998. diapers bleached from the sun
2999. access to hundreds of books for my boys
3000. the fact that Steve and I both enjoy reading
3001. the fact that I understand the importance of having books and reading to my children
3002. polo rompers that still fit Jude for now

3003. access to information about our health
3004. prayer with dear friends
3005. the boost that that always provides for the rest of the week
3006. the scent of lilacs
3007. a throwing-rocks-in-the-creek break during a long walk

3008. last year's bathing suits still fit well enough
3009. my lovely mother-in-law, whose birthday was last week
3010. my favorite aunt, whose birthday is today
3011. a friend helping me think through parenting issues
3012. Harry Potter motivating me to run longer

3013. grace to want to fight sin
3014. the first day of the farmers' market
3015. eyes to see how the gospel, not the law, fuels obedience
3016. dinner with friends
3017. His constant, unchanging goodness

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Happiness in My Mailbox

Yesterday I got maybe one of the most fun things I've ever gotten in my mailbox: pens from a complete stranger!

Remember that silly blog post I wrote two and a half years ago about my crazy obsession with Cello pens and my quest to find more? It has kind of taken on a life of its own. Fifty comments, more than any other post I've written except Elijah's birth announcement (which was before Facebook really exploded--Jude's birth didn't generate near the comments here on the blog). My post is the number-one Google hit for "cello silke pens," and I still get searchers weekly. Even though it's from November 2009, that post consistently gets more pageviews than any other individual post. Really crazy.

Seriously, go check out the comments on that post--it's a riot. Apparently I'm not the only pen-obsessed nut; these pens appear to have a cult following. So I get comment after comment from all these random strangers thanking me profusely for helping them find their beloved pens. That was as far as it went, until I got an email a couple of months ago from a girl (woman? I have no idea) named Hanaa. She noticed that my local Big Lots had only carried the black/blue/red Cello pens, not the pretty pastel ones, and she offered to send me a pack of the pastels as a token of thanks for all the people I had helped.

I had forgotten about it until I opened my mailbox yesterday and found a surprise package.

A whole pack of my favorite ballpoint pens in pink, purple, blue, yellow and green (all black ink), plus two extra pens Hanaa loves, and a sweet note. I'm still smiling about it. Really, how fun is that?

Thanks, Hanaa!