Thursday, October 31, 2013

Noticing the Good

My default mode is to look for error. I have been a perfectionist my whole life--and so my sharp eyes examine carefully to spot flaws. I easily see what's wrong, what's ugly, what doesn't work. This mistake-radar serves me well as an editor; it's less helpful as a mom, a wife, a friend.

Over the last few years, I've been reminded again and again of the need to take a second look. I must learn to see--my own life, others around me, the world at large--through a lens focused on grace. If I am skilled at finding fault, I want to become even more adept at finding beauty. This world is full of ugliness, to be sure--but it is also full of people made in God's image, full of His handiwork, full of His gifts.

I recently read Sam Crabtree's book Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God. He makes an unconventional argument: "we rob God of praise by not pointing out his reflection in the people he has knit together in his image." Furthermore, when we affirm others, we're actually reflecting God's character ourselves. "Blessing others reflects the image of the Christian’s Father," Crabtree continues. "It’s what Christians do, because it’s what the Father does."

Failing to affirm people--being hyper-critical instead of encouraging--is not only hurtful to them but dishonoring to God. He has created every one of us in His image. And those He has redeemed are walking around with His very Spirit living inside them. If I cannot see something to celebrate and praise, I am believing the lie that He is not at work in His beloved children. I am blind.

Crabtree offers this challenge:
"Generally, our failure to affirm others is not rooted in them, but in us. So ask God for personal transformation, including the development of things like greater alertness (from a heart actively on the lookout for the image of God in others), greater humility (considering others better than yourself), and greater gratefulness (appreciating how God has surrounded you with so many echoes and reflections of himself)."
Part of the journey of "seeing Jesus"--which is only beginning as this 31 Days challenge ends--is a quest to see how He is at work in the lives of those around me. As I have been vigilant in looking for error, I must be vigilant in looking for evidence of grace.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).
It's about noticing. It's about taking note of the truth, the nobility, the rightness, the purity in the ordinary people and things and events in my everyday world. It's about pausing to notice the lovely in the common instead of noticing the ugly in both. It's about looking for something to admire instead of something to criticize. It's about looking for something praiseworthy instead of something to nitpick. And it's about praising the gracious, glorious Savior who is the Source of all that's good.

"Striving to affirm others puts us in the practice of looking at them positively—that is, looking for evidence of God’s work in them. Affirmation changes us before it changes them," Crabtree notes.

I am quick by nature to see what's distasteful, what's broken, what's substandard. Lord, transform my vision. Make me quick to see what's pure, true, noble, right, excellent, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy. In other words, open my eyes to see Jesus.

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Keeping Promises

This morning I snapped at my six-year-old over missions money. Of all things.

Elijah’s school is raising money for missionaries, and I recently started having him do some chores to earn his own money to contribute. Because he has no concept of money and its value, he is over the moon about getting TEN CENTS!!! to put in his little jar—which is really precious and funny. After helping with a bunch of laundry last night, he has accumulated quite a few pennies, and to say he’s eager to take them to school would be an understatement.

So he keeps asking me: Mom, can I take the missionary money to school tomorrow? When do I get to take it? Are you going to put a lid on the jar? How will I take it to school? Can I take the missionary money?

I see no need to bag up and keep track of money every day; I planned to wait and send all that he had collected at the end of the week. But despite explaining this to Elijah, his anxious questioning persisted, to the point that I finally threatened to take money *out* of the jar every time he asked. That quickly put an end to the pestering, but this morning he started in again. “Do I get to take the missionary money in today? When can I take my missionary money?”

Already irritated because his dawdling was messing up my morning plans and making us late, I yelled at him. DO NOT ASK ME ABOUT THE MISSIONARY MONEY AGAIN! I PROMISE I WILL SEND IT TO SCHOOL WITH YOU THIS WEEK! BUT WE ARE NOT TAKING IT TODAY!

Awesome mom, huh?

The whole thing reminded me of a blog post I wrote almost four years ago, when Elijah was still a barely-verbal toddler.

Back then, I described how upset he tended to get when I didn’t immediately do what I said I was going to do. I saw that he didn’t trust me, that he needed constant reminders that I really would do what I said I would do. Again and again I had to reassure little Elijah that I wouldn’t forget my promise.

These days, it looks a lot different, but six-year-old Elijah still gets antsy when promises aren’t immediately fulfilled. He still needs those reassurances that I’ll do what I said. And four years later, this part of parenting again points me to the ultimate Keeper of Promises.

Like my son, I tend to freak out when I think my needs or desires have been forgotten. Like him, I easily overlook all the past instances of promises fulfilled, wondering if this time, God might not actually provide.

How thankful I am for my Father’s patience. Instead of lashing out at me angrily when I get antsy and fail to believe what He says, He gently repeats His promises again and again, preserving thousands of them in His Word. He remembers that I am dust, and He has compassion on my weak and fearful heart.

Oh, for grace to extend that patient, compassionate mercy to my boys—to respond to their whining and anxious nagging with gentle reassurance that Mama can be trusted, and to teach them that even when Mama fails, they can trust in the God who will never break His promises. Every single one has been written in the blood of Jesus.

Reminders of Promises

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Monday, October 28, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 303

For whatever reason, my practice of daily gratitude has really been on the decline for a while now. I still keep my book open on the kitchen counter 24/7, but so often I find myself scribbling down a few highlights each morning from the day before, rather than pausing throughout the day to note the gifts I receive. Is it any wonder if I am struggling to see? Better late than never, definitely, but I need to get back into the practice of opening my eyes and counting all day long.

This past week I've been thanking God for...

5731. bushy-tailed squirrels flying up and down trees
5732. husband fixing our furnace for just the cost of parts
5733. forcing me to do hard things I don't enjoy
5734. Elijah scoring a goal at his last soccer game
5735. soccer ending = getting our lives back

5736. his awesome coaches who sacrificed more than we did this season
5737. grace to apologize to Elijah
5738. his quick forgiveness
5739. time to sit and read to the boys in the midst of a chaotic day
5740. an opportunity to bless friends with a meal I know they like

5741. a text from my friend saying her two-year-old ate four bowls of the soup and raved about it :)
5742. a visit from Steve's younger brother and his girlfriend
5743. Jude's teacher's hard work in reinforcing the kids' potty learning
5744. Elijah displaying a servant heart at school
5745. POOP IN THE POTTY!!!!!

5746. frozen yogurt to celebrate the momentous occasion
5747. lunch at Mafiaoza's
5748. hiking at Radnor Lake
5749. grace to preach truth to myself, fight against resentment
5750. the boys' love for music

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

I sang this exact arrangement of "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" probably hundreds of times during my first two years of college--it was the standard closing song our a cappella music ministry team used for concerts. Still a favorite.

[link to YouTube in case the embedding doesn't work]

May God cause the things of this earth to grow strangely dim to you this week as you seek to turn your eyes upon His beautiful Son.

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Friday, October 25, 2013

Treasures :: A Sharp Pebble

Inspired by Leigh McLeroy's book Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps, I'm asking: What tangible pieces of my spiritual history would I place carefully in my own cigar box for safekeeping? What stories have shaped my journey with this ever-faithful, treasure-keeping God? Below is part two of the "Treasures" series. 


II. A sharp pebble 

I’d been to church camp before. Four straight summers, as a matter of fact. Each year was pretty much the same: fun activities, some teaching about God, a vague uneasiness that I was not living a “good Christian life,” and a resolve to "do better" once I got home. That awareness typically lasted all of two weeks (at the outside most) before I was back to living my normal life: a good-girl Christian facade covering a rebellious, prideful, self-righteous heart.

By the time I was a freshman in high school, the rebellious part was growing. I wanted to have fun; I was tired of being labeled goody-two-shoes, teacher's-pet. In the grand scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse, but I'm sure my parents lost a fair amount of sleep the year I turned 15. I lied to them and cursed about them; we fought endlessly over my curfew. The only thing that stopped me from partying on the weekends was the reality that in a town of 4,000 people, news of the school superintendent's daughter getting drunk would get back to my parents faster than I'd recover from the hangover.

So my desire to go to a new church camp that summer after my freshman year--our church's district senior high youth camp at Lakeside--really had little to do with growing close to God and everything to do with having fun with my friends. Two of them had gone before and talked about how great it was. Plus, they said, the college guys in the music group who came every year were hot!


My best friend almost backed out on me at the last minute. She had some problem with money or her registration form or something; I don’t remember the specifics, but I can picture myself on the phone with her the night before we were supposed to leave, flipping out that she was talking of abandoning me. There was no way I wanted to go alone. And so Satan came close to wrecking what would change the trajectory of both our lives. But God’s purposes will not be thwarted.

Julie and I showed up at Lakeside on a Sunday evening and reserved beds in the coolest part of the dorm. On "Section Porch," we stayed up late giggling and perpetuated silly traditions.


But there was also something really different going on here. Those college kids, the good-looking guys and the girls on their team, they loved God and His Word. I mean, really loved Him. They *knew* Him, in a way that this “Christian” good-girl didn’t.

On Wednesday evening, we listened to a concert from the college group, and they performed a skit called "The Pretender." I squirmed as I saw myself portrayed, and the punchline pierced me: "You may talk like a Christian, and look like a Christian, and you may go to church—but I don't think you really are a Christian."

Afterward we were instructed to go outside and pick up a pebble. Put it in your shoe, the leaders said, while we walk six blocks or so down to the lake. That pebble represents whatever is standing between you and God, whatever it is in the way of your relationship with Him.

I was wearing sandals, so I squeezed the sharp, tiny rock in the palm of my hand, forcing my fingers to push its edges into my skin until it hurt. I needed to feel that pressure, needed to see the indentations, needed to make the self-righteous good girl squirm.

We spread out along the shore of Lake Erie, several dozen campers and counselors. That stretch of shoreline doesn’t have a beach, just big gray boulders separating the water and the land.


I climbed out onto a rock and watched the sun sink into the lake, waves pulsing against the rocks below me, and that little pebble pushed its way into my proud heart.

The lyrics of one of the songs the college kids had sung rolled through my mind:
Lead me, Lord
I will follow
Lead me, Lord
I will go
You have called me
I will answer
Lead me, Lord
I will go

Really profound, right? But it was part of what God used to draw me. I realized with sudden clarity that I wasn’t actually a Christian at all. I’d played the part of the holier-than-thou church girl; I thought I had it all together and secretly looked down on my friends who slept in on Sundays and took God’s name in vain. But God wasn’t going to let me play games any longer. He was calling me to follow--*really* follow.

The performance I had taken such pride in wasn't nearly enough to earn me His favor. His requirement was a perfection beyond even what my perfectionist self was always striving to attain. He didn't want outward forms of religious duty; He wanted my heart, surrendered to Him and humbly admitting that I needed Him. He wanted me to know that my very best was not enough--but that He had freely given His very best to me, for me, in spite of me. I was ready to toss my pebble, my self-righteousness, into the water. I threw it as hard as I could.

I returned from the rocks that night a new creation. I felt a joy unlike anything I had felt before. I was free. I wasn’t pretending anymore. I *knew* this God, and I was hungry to know Him more.

More treasures:
A broken piece of cornerstone

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On Potty Training and Eternal Realities

Jude had been saying for months that when he turned three, *then* he would be a big boy and use the potty. I'm not sure where that idea originated, but we decided to run with it. Over and over in the weeks leading up to his birthday, we talked it up. On Monday, we celebrated his birthday with a zoo date and strawberry cake. On Tuesday: GAME ON.

So those of you who are parents know that Tuesday was a long day. It was high-fives and text updates to Daddy, crocodile tears and wet laundry, beeping timers and stickers, all brought to you by Lightning McQueen and Thomas the Train.

The truth is, Jude was awesome on his first day. The problem was simply that my gut reaction to potty training mirrors my gut reaction to many of the day-to-day demands of motherhood: a whiny, self-pitying "This isn't fun. This is hard. This is too much work. I don't want to do this."

Let me save you the trouble of commenting: I know that's shameful. I know how great I have it; I know there are countless women who would give anything to be enduring potty training. Yes, I know that these are blessings, not burdens, but I'm going to be honest and admit that in my selfish flesh, they don't always *feel* like blessings. My emotions, like most people's emotions, don't always follow objective reality.

Late Tuesday afternoon, with my patience wearing thin, I knew that my attitude was deplorable and I needed to shift my thinking. I asked myself: How can I see Jesus in the midst of potty training? (Is there blog fodder in all of this?)

A few thoughts came to mind:

When you have an early victory, you can't lose your head celebrating. You might get so distracted mentally composing a triumphant Facebook status that you don't even notice you're standing in a yellow puddle. In other words, "if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Corinthians 10:12, NIV).

You will have successes and you will have failures, and you get to choose how to frame both. You can say, "The black Xs now outnumber the Cars stickers on the potty chart. This is horrible." Or you can say, "We have some hits in between all those misses! Not bad for the first day!" In other words, this life is a long obedience in the same direction, and we can celebrate every baby step of progress along the way.

In the moment, the work doesn't seem worth it. Diapers would be SO much easier, right? No pleading with reluctant, scared setting timers and making dozens of bathroom frantic hunts for public changing clothes several times a puddles on the just go on with your life, and change a few diapers along the way.

But over the long haul, no one questions the merits of potty-training. I still sometimes marvel when my six-year-old recognizes the urge, goes to the bathroom, and wipes himself without any assistance from me. It is so wonderful! So you have to keep the bigger picture in mind; you have to keep reminding yourself how good it's going to be someday.

And the crazy thing is, someday all this work will be a distant memory. When we were in the midst of Elijah's potty-learning, tracking his progress was all-consuming. Suffice to say that the process was a long, drawn-out nightmare.

What amazes me now is that I can't even recount the dramatic details. I remember that it was awful, but I can't even recall the timeline of when exactly he learned to pee and how much longer it took for the pooping, or how old he was before he could stay dry overnight. At the time, it was overwhelming and seemed like it would never end; in hindsight, the memories are fuzzy and unimportant, even a little bit funny.

And so that's why I'm here being honest about my selfish laziness and reminding myself of the truth. In the moment, hard work of any kind almost never seems worth it. My flesh whines, "I don't WANNA! It's not FUN! It's too HARD!" (Hmm, sounds just like my three-year-old!) But in the end? "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). And yes, I fully recognize the big-picture ridiculousness of calling potty training "suffering," so if you'd prefer, there's this:

"For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

The truth is that Jesus is so glorious and Heaven so real that ANY affliction we endure now--be it the obviously "light and momentary" woes of potty-training, or the unimaginable, lifelong sufferings that seem crushing and unending--ALL of it is going to fade when we see Him face to face.

Jesus is the one who endured real suffering and affliction. He is the one who did the work and made the sacrifice that would have destroyed me. And when I fall at His feet, I won't be thinking of even the hardest things He asked me to do. If anything, I'll wish I could have done more in response to His great love. 

So as I look with my physical eyes on a red potty chair and adorably tiny briefs, I'm still trying to train my spiritual eyes to look up. This life with its trials and joys is but a breath, and I will enjoy it so much more if I focus now on what will matter eternally--if my thoughts are consumed with His sacrifice instead of my own. 

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Failure and Perspective

We are in the throes of potty-learning over here, and the need for constant vigilance has overruled my need to write. To be honest, I'm frustrated that I haven't been able to keep up blogging this week; I'm still overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to juggle All The Things.

Potty training, believe it or not, has provided plenty of fodder for a blog post on seeing Jesus...but at 11:19PM, I'm pretty sure everyone in my family would be better served if I went to bed instead of working on a coherent post about it. I'm still just as much a night owl as I was in high school and college, but the difference is, I can't sleep in like I used to be able to back then--and when I stay up late, although I feel fine at the time, I pay for it over the next several days.

I could get discouraged about my failure to accomplish this 31 Days challenge. But I think a better perspective is to realize that while I have not blogged 23 times this month, I *have* blogged about three times as much as I would have if I hadn't been attempting the challenge.

As I have preached to myself and encouraged others dozens of times over the last several months, we can get discouraged about how far we have to go and how huge our screw-ups have been, or we can acknowledge how far we've come and celebrate progress no matter how small the steps.

So with that...good night. I'm hoping to get in some good writing time tomorrow while Jude's Mom's Day Out teacher deals with the hourly bathroom trips :)

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 302

As I do most Mondays, I'm beginning this week by counting a few of the ways I've seen the kindness, generosity, sovereignty, wisdom, and love of Jesus in my life recently, through blessings such as...

5699. my very favorite blond boy, and the THREE years God has given us with him! (more on that later this week, I hope)
5700. time outside in gorgeous fall weather
5701. the openness, honesty and vulnerability of old friends and new friends
5702. being able to rest in knowing "He's got this"--it does not depend on me saying or doing all the right things
5703. His servanthood--not abusing authority and loading heavy burdens on people, but bearing our burdens, loving and sacrificing for us

5704. the return of soup season
5705. soups I made last winter out of the freezer and onto the table--so little effort for a wholesome dinner!
5706. the audiobook we checked out from the library but somehow never brought home was FOUND back on the library shelf!
5707. the boys' over-the-top enthusiasm about breakfast for dinner
5708. Jude's first trip to the dentist: AMAZINGLY easy, so so so so much better than Elijah's first or second or third!

5709. no cavities for any of us
5710. a pizza lunch with both boys after our checkups
5711. the first trees starting to turn
5712. people who thanklessly clean public bathrooms
5713. the miracle of flight

5714. a weekend with a dear, dear friend and her family
5715. crisp apples
5716. a field trip to the pumpkin patch
5717. homemade blackberry wine
5718. figuring out how to tone down my chili recipe and finding it much more enjoyable

5719. Jude, out of the blue when I couldn't find my phone: "God knows where your phone is." !
5720. a phone chat with Steve's granny
5721. tomatoes at the farmers' market unexpectedly
5722. the ability to do mental math and convert/substitute recipes
5723. five families at my church signing up to sponsor six children through Compassion International! (more on that later this week too!)

5724. a zoo date with Jude today for his birthday
5725. carousel operator giving him a second ride free
5726. crazy monkeys, loud and showing off
5727. hot coffee
5728. ending the evening with a sweet friend

5729. evidence of God's work in her heart
5730. her serving me by helping clean up my disaster of a kitchen while we talked

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Where Justice and Mercy Meet

A final thought from 1 Kings 21:

One way to summarize the meaning of this chapter would be to say that God sees all that men do and is greatly angered by their idolatry and sin. He will bring disaster and destruction on those who do evil--they won't get away with it in the end. Yet even in His judgment, He often shows mercy.

This foreshadows the day when justice and mercy will meet perfectly in the execution of Jesus--who received neither, so that we could enjoy both.

Justice and Mercy
Just and Merciful from the Beginning
Justice and Mercy at the Cross

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Righteous King's House Endures

As I studied 1 Kings 21 in preparation for yesterday's article, I gleaned far more than I could include in one short post. Thankfully, I have space here to expand on what I wrote at Pick Your Portion and point out some other beautiful truth from this chapter.

When I read the story of Naboth's vineyard, I was struck by the many sharp contrasts between King Ahab and King Jesus. Yesterday focused on how Ahab stole an inheritance instead of giving one away, but there's also beauty in "the rest of the story."

The story of Naboth's vineyard doesn't end like I would expect. After Ahab and Jezebel have committed their atrocious crime, God sends the prophet Elijah to declare His judgment. The surprising thing is, Ahab repents (at least in some superficial way). And God, as He always does toward the repentant, extends mercy.

Yesterday's post touched on the amazing difference between the way Ahab humbles himself and the way Jesus humbles Himself. Ahab's goal is self-preservation; Jesus' motivation is selfless love.

When Ahab put on sackcloth and went into mourning, God decreed that He would delay judgment, waiting to destroy Ahab's whole family until after Ahab was dead and gone. (This seems almost disingenuous at first, a kind of "superficial mercy," but it reflects the superficial nature of Ahab's repentance.) Jesus' humility went a whole lot deeper--He "humbled himself humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). And when He did so, God brought judgment on Jesus so that He would NOT have to destroy Jesus' brothers and fellow heirs.

My amazement only increases when I consider that Ahab saw just a taste of God's wrath. Jesus absorbed all of God's wrath in one fatal, unfathomable dose.

And then I marvel at the long-term results. What happened to Ahab and his house? They were utterly destroyed, just as Elijah predicted. Ahab had seventy sons, and a successive king killed every one of them, along with "all his great men and his close friends and his priests, until [King Jehu] left [Ahab] none remaining" (2 Kings 10:11). No lasting legacy for Ahab; no family line to continue long after he was dead and forgotten. 

But what became of Jesus and His house? Two thousand years later, it stands, with the promise that it will grow and thrive for all eternity.

"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame'" (1 Peter 2:4-6).

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22).

As we gather this weekend to worship our risen King, may we have eyes to see the beauty of His broken but enduring house, and hope to anticipate the day when she will be made new and perfect to enjoy His full presence forever!

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Friday, October 18, 2013

Inheritance, Injustice, and a Greater Story

A king, dissatisfied with the riches he already has, attempts to buy a vineyard from an average citizen. When the citizen refuses, holding his family inheritance too dear to sell it even to a king, the king pouts like a child.

"What's your problem?" asks his queen. "You're a king--you can do whatever you want." She promptly makes arrangements to have the vineyard owner falsely accused of blasphemy and executed. "Problem solved," she tells her husband. "The vineyard is yours."

On the surface, 1 Kings 21 is a straightforward story of two wicked rulers scheming to commit injustice and offending a holy God. But if you look a little more closely, you see another main character. Ahab and Naboth and Jezebel aren't the point of this story--and, for that matter, I am not the point of my story.

Check out my post at Pick Your Portion today to read about how I see Jesus in the story of Naboth's vineyard

And while you're there, subscribe! I count it a privilege to be a part of Pick Your Portion. The concept is brilliant and unique: a group of writers and artists gathered around the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan. Each weekday, a contributor offers an essay or a piece of artwork as a reflection on one of that day's Scripture readings. Founder Lisa Velthouse explains:
There is sitting at his feet, and there is everything else. His word is the good portion, other things are distraction. They are distraction even in the shape of a welcome wagon for the Lord of the universe. Christ’s implied question to Martha—to anyone—is clear: Are you here for what you’re doing, or are you doing what you’re doing because of me?
Pick Your Portion is an effort in sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to his teaching. Our aim is to provide a pause among the everyday fragments of life, reminding ourselves and others to stop and long for God’s voice as it echoes all around. We’re here to be mindful—among relationships and responsibilities, troubles and anxieties, grocery lists, meeting requests, and laundry piles—of the good news of our Redeemer. This site lives in wonderment about who God is and what, through Christ, he has accomplished.
The contributor lineup features almost two dozen women - single and married, younger and older, in the workforce and staying home, mothering and not. And these talented women from various seasons of life are helping me see the beauty of Jesus all over Scripture, helping me remember the Main Thing.

If you're like me, you barely read any blogs these days unless they show up in your Facebook feed--so follow Pick Your Portion on Facebook and you won't miss a post.

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Treasures :: A Broken Piece of Cornerstone

This is the first post in a series that has been brewing in my heart for over a year. I thought the 31 Days challenge would delay publishing it, but I realized it fits with this month's theme of seeing Jesus--these are stories, after all, of how God has been at work in my life over the course of three decades, breaking and healing and shaping my heart, drawing me to Himself. As I look back and remember, I see Jesus' active love so clearly.

A while back, I read Leigh McLeroy's book Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps. In it, she tells the story of receiving a cigar box after her grandfather's death, full of tangible objects he had chosen for some reason to keep. She then explores the way we hang onto precious tokens of our memories, and suggests that God has his own collection of treasures:
"I've known God longer than I ever knew my grandfather, although I have never seen Him. I've not once touched His face or heard His voice or felt the weight of His hand on my own. Still, I suspect that He has left more than a few scattered bits of His rich and mysterious identity for me to examine, tucked away deep in the pages of His Word. An olive branch here. A golden bell there. A faded strip of fabric, spotted brown with blood. A length of scarlet thread. A few grains of barley. These keepsakes tell His story, and they help me to understand my own. He treasured them, and He treasures me too."

By the time I finished reading, I was inspired to start writing. I wanted to build my own treasure chest, to ask: What tangible pieces of my spiritual history would I place carefully in my own cigar box for safekeeping? What stories have shaped my journey with this ever-faithful, treasure-keeping God? Below is the first.


I. A broken piece of cornerstone

We gathered that sunny afternoon, gray-haired men and women, families with young children, to remember and celebrate. Our church, with its polished wood beams, vast expanses of stained glass,  curved balconies and blue-cushioned pews, was 150 years old.

We probably potlucked that day, and oh, the potlucks we used to have. My current church hosts a potluck lunch every single Sunday, so the concept has lost its glamour. When you have to bring food to share week after week, you bring the same simple dish, you bring what’s quick and easy, you buy a package of chips on sale. But when you potluck only on special occasions, a few times a year, that potluck is a FEAST. The ladies bring their specialties: tables are laden with the casserole she’s famous for, the award-winning beans, pie after mouthwatering pie. We’d all file down to the low-ceilinged fellowship hall, load up plates at tables stretched the length of the basement, and gather to eat until we were stuffed.

After lunch, we headed outside. The gray cornerstone of that beautiful brick church was a time capsule, and today was the day to break it open. Men carefully chipped at the mortar that cemented it in place alongside the front steps, and we waited eagerly to see what our grandparents in the faith had sealed inside.

I don’t remember a single thing that was raised to life out of that cement tomb, but I remember even as a child sensing the anticipation and the gravity of the event. I picked up a jagged piece of stone and tucked it away, a tangible memory. I was inclined even then to save treasures, to gather stones of remembrance.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church was potlucks and singing “Arky, Arky” and finally growing old enough to wear a red robe and be an acolyte. It was Sunday school flannelboards and youth group games and sitting with my friend whose grandmother passed a plastic bag of butterscotch candies and brought fun activities to occupy us during worship. It was Mother-Daughter banquets and Christmas pageants. It was the place where I sang my first solo and preached my first (and only) sermon (at the tender age of 12!). It was home.

My parents chose this church when they were new in town; I was just two and a half. I don’t know how they selected St. Paul's over the five other churches within two blocks, but they visited, and they stayed. They remained for 28 years, even when other families fled to hipper, newer churches, even when the pulpit seemed like a revolving door.

I spent too many Sundays passing notes with my youth-group friends in the balcony, but I can still recite one pastor’s pre-sermon prayer with the exact inflection he used every week, words rising and falling to the same cadence. I hear his voice in my head whenever I read Psalm 19: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be holy and acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer…Amen.”

I left that church during college, when it was no longer the right fit for the woman of faith I was becoming. Yet I left with a wistful heart, for as much as I needed to go, these were my people. Finding a new church meant saying goodbye to my Sunday school teachers, my cherub choir directors, my confirmation mentor and my Chrysalis sponsor. This was my faith heritage, and though I would find that the theology needed revising and replacing, I could never replace these saints who had loved and nurtured me.

However much I may have grown to differ from the Methodists, I can’t deny the fact that in that old brick church, a cornerstone was laid. While I was there, I came to know Jesus, and the foundation endures.

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Other Treasures in the series:
II. A sharp pebble
III. A pastel index card

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Failing, Freaking Out, and Learning to Be Served

So. Um.

Obviously the silence on the blog yesterday means I get a big red FAIL for 31 Days. I am both OK and not OK with that.

It's OK, because ultimately this blog is a tool. When I decided to take on this challenge, I promised Steve and myself that if at any point it was really not serving my family well for me to put up a daily post, I would prioritize accordingly. And the fact is, it would not have served my family for me to spend an hour on my blog yesterday. I was out of town all weekend, and had pre-written and scheduled articles to publish while I was gone. But I had nothing ready for my first day back, and between a kindergarten field trip, catching up on sleep after a late-night flight, quality time with boys who missed their mama, and a soccer game, my blogging time was pretty much shot. Such is life.

On the other hand, it's not OK because of how alive I have felt the last two weeks. Writing is good for my soul. It has felt so right to be back this month, to be cranking out words. Unfortunately I have not yet figured out a balance between writing and all the other normal life stuff I'm still responsible for. Spending so much time on the computer last week meant pulling meals out of the freezer and letting Mount Laundry pile up and ignoring the state of my floors. I obviously can't do that forever, and the sad truth is that my shower, instead of cleaning itself while I was out of town, actually had the nerve to go and get even more disgusting. (WHEN are they going to invent self-cleaning showers? The shower is the bane of my existence. Give me a toilet over a tub any day of the week. Meanwhile, I would be truly mortified to have anyone use my bathroom at this point.)

Back in college, I was crazy-busy, and I accomplished a lot. I have found in the past that when my time is fuller and more limited, I manage it better--I have to. It feels like life has cranked into high gear around here, and my poor self-discipline and time-management skills are sputtering to catch up.

So I appreciate your patience as I re-learn how to juggle writing and life. And I appreciate Steve's patience as he picks up the slack. If I have to name one way I have seen Jesus the last few days, it is in the kind eyes and serving hands of my sweet husband. He consistently reflects the selfless, sacrificial love of Christ to me, and this past week has been no different.

From Steve's generosity in buying me a plane ticket to go visit a dear friend, to his solo parenting the boys for three solid days, to his tackling a pile of dishes this afternoon while his panicky, anxious wife sat down and did a brain-dump of the million tasks jamming up her mind...y'all, when I got home from my little vacation at midnight on Monday, Elijah's lunch was packed and ready for the next day. Laundry had been folded. Children had been read to and played with and well fed. This man is a keeper.

So when Steve started in with the dishes tonight, after patiently rubbing my back for a few minutes while I freaked out, I squirmed inside. A big part of me wanted to say, "Please stop being so amazing. Stop doing the things I should have gotten done today. I feel so guilty." It is hard to be served sometimes, even as it is wonderful--trust me, being married to this man, I know.

Instead I bit my tongue, and I gave thanks. The reality is, I am needy. I *am* guilty. And the ways my husband meets me in the midst of my weakness and failure and loves me enough to do what I should have done but did not do? Well, Steve provides a tiny picture of the way Jesus loves me, the way He stoops down into the messes I have made. He obeyed perfectly where I do not. He patiently, sweetly calms my anxious heart, promising that when I am weak, He is strong. When I don't have it in me, He is enough. When I make stupid and selfish choices, He will lay down His life for me. And as if all that weren't enough, in His lavish generosity, He gives me a husband who will quietly remind me of who He is without saying a word.

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Monday, October 14, 2013

Prayer Paves the Way for Seeing

It bears repeating that we aren't going to see Jesus if God does not open our eyes. I am so quick to rely on my own strength and so slow to learn that I must humbly ask for help. So today I'm reminding myself how critical prayer is by reflecting on this analysis of the gospel of Luke, from David Helm's excellent book One to One Bible Reading: A Simple Guide for Every Christian:

"Luke doesn't want us to miss the fact that prayer is the instrument God uses to ready us for His revelation. a consequence of prayer, people will come to recognize Jesus for who He is, they will learn what it is to be his disciple, and they will be equipped to serve him well."

Luke 3:21-22 - "The curious but not-yet-believing crowds were first told that Jesus was God's 'beloved Son' at a time when Jesus 'was praying'."

Luke 6:12-16 - "His new followers were called to him the morning after he 'went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God'."

Luke 9:28-36 - "...those whom Jesus was training for expanded roles of gospel service--Peter, James and John--caught a glimpse of his full glory at a time when Jesus had pulled them aside 'to pray'."

Luke 9:18-20 - "...when it began to fully dawn on Peter that Jesus was the Christ...that famous encounter began with these often-forgotten words: 'Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them...'"

"One could almost argue that in Luke's Gospel, whenever the gospel is seen to be taking root and growing, it does so in the soil of previous prayer."

--David Helm, One to One Bible Reading, p. 21-23

Let's keep asking, friends! Keep seeking and knocking, believing that God delights to open blind eyes and display the beauty of His beloved Son. 

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Open the Eyes of My Heart

For this Sunday, a throwback to my high school and college days. I can't begin to count how many times I sang this in chapel services, camp meetings, etc. 

Just in case the embedded video malfunctions again, here's a direct link to it on YouTube.

May God open the eyes of your heart this week, so that you can see how high and holy He is. May He pour out His power and His love into your heart, that you would know Him better and love Him more.

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Lesson in Art Appreciation

Earlier this month, I got a lesson in seeing Jesus by way of a lesson about art appreciation.

I have the privilege of being part of a group blog project that has recently launched, called Pick Your Portion. Lisa Velthouse (you may remember my review of her memoir) has gathered a group of writers and artists around the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan. Each weekday, one of the women offers an article or a piece of artwork as a reflection on one of that day's Scripture readings.

I love the concept, and I've been excited to see what the various women have come up with. The art contributions especially intrigue me, since I am decidedly *not* an artist.

True confession: When I first glanced at the painting published as a response to Ezekiel 34, I thought it looked like a sloppy mess--the kind of thing highbrow art critics applaud, but regular people like me find difficult to appreciate.

But before clicking away, I scrolled down to the comments and saw two other contributors effusively praising it, remarking thoughtfully. “This is beautiful. So beautiful,” the first one said. Really?! I thought, eyebrows raised in disbelief. The commenter continued, saying the painting “reminds me of the trust required if we are to fully see God’s blessings as the gifts they are. Sometimes his work of provision in our life feels a little scary—a little wild and uncontrolled. But, wow, is it beautiful.”


The second commenter weighed in: “There’s so much movement in this, and at the same time, there’s something subdued about it too. So often I think God’s blessings should come at me like a crash—and they do, but it always looks a little quieter than I initially expected. I love the way this art is helping me think about God’s showers of blessing.”

Well, I thought. Clearly these women are more mature than me, more humble, able to see God’s truth everywhere. They have eyes to appreciate what was certainly a careful piece of work, not a haphazard creation, however it may initially appear.

I scrolled back up to reconsider, and I saw the tree, bent over with the weight of all this color. Showers of blessing. How often does my life look like a mess? I can’t see or make sense of what God is up to in all this. But if His grace is all these colors running together, my tree can hardly be seen for the abundance of it. He overwhelms my life with grace. At first glance, His blessings don’t always seem beautiful. Some are dark, streaked with pain. He pours out grace that humbles, bends these branches low.

Clearly it takes the skill of a practiced, careful painter to make a painting like this. It takes the vision of a creative, talented artist to produce deliberate strokes, layered with meaning. I am not an artist; I have no idea how pieces like this are created, how beauty is brought from a blank canvas and some paints, a brush, a cup of clear water.

And I am not the Artist, the Storyteller, the Creator whose thoughts and ways are far above my own. Dare I ever call the holy masterpiece He is producing ugly? Dare I pronounce his downpour of blessings a mess?

Life is a beautiful mess: because He is beautiful and I am a mess. And He hides the tree of me in the brilliantly colorful glory of His Son, grace running off the page because my one life is too small to contain it.

In the end I was amazed by the painting after all, and it indeed helped me think about God’s showers of blessing in ways I did not imagine. I thanked the artist, for sharing her gift, and the commenters, for setting a reflective example that made me look twice so I didn’t miss beauty.

Fine art isn't made to be glanced at and passed over. I imagine its creators intend for viewers to gaze carefully, linger long, reflect. Similarly, the value of the masterpieces God is at work producing in this broken world can't be immediately discerned with a casual glance. Sometimes we have to look long and hard to see Jesus; sometimes we have to admit He does not look like what we expect. But He is there, and He is beautiful--and unlike with fine art, which is arguably subjective, if ever I do not find His work stunning, the problem is my blindness.

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Power of the Inheritance

This theme of inheritance keeps coming up over and over in my life lately--which is always a sign I need to pay attention. As I work to fix my eyes on Jesus this month, I'm reminded of a sermon our pastor recently preached on Acts 20:33-38.

As Paul prepared to go to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing he would probably be killed, he said goodbye to the Ephesian elders. He encouraged them that God's grace was "able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). Paul then reviewed his own ministry among the Ephesians, and our pastor outlined how Paul's actions demonstrated the power of this inheritance:

The inheritance breaks the bondage of covetousness.
How could Paul say "I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel" (v. 33)? He didn't long for these things because he looked forward to his inheritance. He knew he had something far better than money or clothing. Paul had God Himself, and he was satisfied.

The inheritance cultivates a heart of diligence. 
Paul alluded to his work as a tentmaker and exhorted the people to work hard. He was a master scholar, but he wasn't above getting his hands dirty and working. You see, Paul knew that now was not the time of his retirement. So many of us have bought into the American Dream; we are willing to work hard for a few years only so that we can enjoy a leisurely, carefree retirement of travel and hobbies and relaxation. But Paul looked to something far better and more lasting than an earthly retirement. He knew that his entire life on earth was time to spend and be spent in order to maximize his eternal enjoyment of his inheritance. 

The inheritance opens the springs of generosity. 
Paul worked so hard that he was supporting his gospel co-workers--people like Priscilla and Aquila, or Timothy. And he urged the churches that "by working hard in this way we must help the weak," reminding them, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (v. 35). Even here Paul was motivated by his inheritance. The Bible is full of discussion about reward. God intends to motivate us with promises of the goodness He has in store for us--most of all, the gift of Himself. As we imitate Him in giving, we are storing up future blessings of knowing Him better and having richer intimacy with Him. 

The inheritance creates a sweetness of relationship. 
As Paul said goodbye, people wept and embraced him. This was a man who once ripped fathers and mothers apart from their children and killed them for worshiping Jesus. And now Christians love Paul and want to be around him so much that they are moved to tears when he leaves! It was Jesus who transformed Paul from one who hated the church and loved rules and self-righteousness, to one who loved the church so much that he was willing to suffer for them.   

At this point, we might be impressed with Paul. But Paul is only a miniature picture of Jesus, who supremely displays all of these qualities: 

Covetousness: Jesus "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself" (Philippians 2:6). He had no place to lay His head; He did not hold onto His reputation. 

Diligence: Jesus had a clear agenda. He was up early to pray and up late teaching; He did not waste time. "My food," He told His disciples, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work" (John 4:34). 

Generosity: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). 

Relationship: Jesus' gifts to us are intended to melt our hearts. He doesn't just command us to sit down, shut up and obey OR ELSE (even though this would be within His rights as Creator of the universe!). He loves us; He offers His very self to us and desires intimacy with us, drawing our hearts to want to follow Him. "I have called you friends," He says (John 15:15).

Jesus' perfect humility and sacrifice cover my covetous, greedy heart. His diligence covers my laziness. His generosity covers my selfish, stingy inclinations. And His love for me, in spite of seeing all this ugliness in my soul, draws me to trust and obey Him. 

It was "for the joy that was set before him" that Jesus "endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2). And now that He is "seated at the right hand of the throne of God," He graciously invites me to share in that joy, promising that I too have an incredible inheritance to live for.

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chattanooga Vacation, and My Longing for More

Last weekend, we took our first official just-the-four-of-us family vacation. We had heard great things about the city of Chattanooga, just a couple hours’ drive away, but in eight years we had never made it over there (despite trying twice). Our first big adventure was Rock City, an enchanting place that we all loved exploring.


After that we took a trip up Lookout Mountain on the Incline Railway.

Later in the day we toured the city on a “truck boat”—an amphibious WWII-era vehicle owned by the Chattanooga Ducks.


The tour guide was fantastic, telling all kinds of fascinating history about the city, and we even got to watch the sunset from the Tennessee River.

On Sunday, we ventured underground to see Ruby Falls, which was an impressive and worthwhile tour.

Since Elijah and Jude are both somewhat obsessed with trains, we stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel...

...and ate pizza aboard a train car (The Silver Diner).
Then on Sunday afternoon, the boys experienced their first-ever ride on a REAL train. The Missionary Ridge local uses real steam engines to take passengers six miles down the track (including under a tunnel!). Everyone disembarks, and they demonstrate the use of a huge turntable to turn the engine around before heading back to the station.
We packed in a lot of fun, but given that we were in Chattanooga less than 48 hours, we weren’t able to fit in all the things on our list, much less all the other attractions the city had to offer. And as we drove home on Sunday afternoon, I was tempted to feel disappointed. “Man, I wish we could have gotten to the model railroad museum—the boys would have loved that.” Or “I sure wish we could have spent more time downtown.”

Rather than reflecting with amazement and gratitude for the wonders we'd seen and experienced, my heart wanted more. I had this desperate sense of, “Who knows when we’ll go back? We have to do as much as possible now!”

Don’t we often approach life with that same mindset? “I might have 70 or 80 years, and then it’s all over. This is it. I have to see and do as much as possible, maximize my pleasure while I can.” I pursue all the fleeting pleasures that seem so appealing to me right now, all the experiences I think will satisfy my heart and bring me joy. It’s never enough, so I chase more, demand more, devour more in hopes of recapturing that initial ping of happiness.

The reality is, yes, this lifetime is like a vapor. But when my years here are over, the only thing that’s truly over is my foolish pursuit of empty idols! It’s then that I will finally know real, full, lasting joy.

The inheritance I will one day receive in Heaven far surpasses anything I enjoy today. It is beyond my wildest dreams, and it will never fall short of my expectations and leave me feeling disappointed. It is “imperishable, undefiled and unfading”; no thieves can steal it, no weather or sickness can dampen it.

But I don’t live like I believe that. I am so often blind to the inheritance Jesus won on my behalf. Like the prodigal son, I want to flagrantly spend my riches now; I want to selfishly devour my Father’s gifts apart from Him.

My little boys are infected with the same craving for more that afflicts their mama. As we drove back from Chattanooga, Elijah whined, “But I don’t want to go home—I want to do more fun stuff!” Trying to refocus us both, I reminded him: “We already did a lot of fun things this weekend. Instead of whining for more, let’s choose to remember and be thankful for all that we got to do.” This is good advice, but it doesn’t answer the deeper question: Why do we keep looking for more?

Because we were created for more. God made our hearts to be filled and satisfied with Him. Anything less will leave us feeling empty, longing for something greater. In His generosity and kindness, He showers us with glimpses of joy here on earth. The trick is to enjoy those gifts for what they are—not ends in and of themselves, but pointers to our ultimate inheritance: God Himself.

When I find myself grasping for more, I must recognize that what I really need is not a longer vacation. At bottom, my heart is hungry for Jesus. I have to constantly reorient my heart to see the pleasures of this life as types and shadows of a greater inheritance to come, rather than living for the types and shadows and never being able to pin down the joy they seem to promise.

Steve pointed out that as we had marveled at the beauty and majesty of rock formations and the technology that God has enabled humans to produce, how much more amazing will the New Earth be? We'll revel in the creativity. We'll all get to be explorers, discovering new things God created just to delight us. We'll experience all of the awe without any of the fear or danger. And our discoveries will be worship-driven, not profit-driven. We won't have to charge for admission or police the premises so that no one will deface them!

I hope we’ll eventually make it back to Chattanooga. But in the meantime, I want to learn to put my hope not in vacations, not in making my way down a bucket-list of natural wonders and cultural attractions and highly rated restaurants, but in Jesus. I want to remember that real joy will only be found in knowing the One who left His home, the most wonderful place in the universe, and endured a hellish journey so that I could one day make my home with Him, exulting in Him and His creations for all eternity.

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Rebellion, Curses, Disobedient Sons: Jesus Fulfills the Law

My friend Ashley posted the following bite-sized gospel reflection on Facebook this afternoon, and I'm reposting it here with her permission--I loved how she saw Jesus so clearly in the Old Testament law, and how she exults in the beauty of our Savior and His work in just five short sentences!

"Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:17).

I am this son who has rebelled and dishonored. I deserve death. Jesus, the perfect Son who never rebelled or dishonored His earthly parents or His Father in heaven, died the death I deserve. His death has brought me life. He has fulfilled all righteousness!

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Jesus Cancels Mommy Guilt

Is there a mother among us who doesn't intimately know the feeling of "mommy guilt"? Sometimes it comes at the hands of others--we feel like inferior mothers when we read certain articles or talk to certain people, their accusatory tone declaring that we are ruining our kids. Other times we heap it upon ourselves, comparing our worst moments to the polished and published lives of other moms and condemning ourselves.

I was at a gathering of moms today where this topic came up, and with one exception, the general consensus was that we all struggle with it, that it's a part of being a woman. The solution? Something along the lines of "stop feeling guilty...realize that you have your own strengths...stop comparing yourself to others..." etc.

You already know how I feel about "stop it" as a response to heart struggles, so I asked myself: What CAN we do with this pervasive sense of guilt, this burden of shame that so often weighs us down?

I think the first step is to assess whether our guilt is legitimate. Am I feeling guilty because I *AM* guilty? We tend to treat "guilt" as a dirty word, a negative emotion to be shed like a too-tight pair of shoes. But sometimes guilt is the only appropriate feeling. If we have broken God's law--if we have sinned against Him and against our children--we should feel guilty, and trying to shrug off that guilt won't make it disappear. The real solution to real guilt is to repent!

The good news is, if we really are guilty--if we've yelled at our children, if we've treated them with impatient contempt, if we've escaped at the computer instead of loving and engaging with them--there's a Savior for that! Guilt isn't an end in and of itself; its purpose isn't just to make us feel miserable and hopeless. Instead of wallowing in our guilt, we have to take it to Jesus. He is infinitely patient and gentle; He always loves sacrificially. He bore the punishment that our mom-failures deserve.

Beating ourselves up over our sin, while it seems like a good idea, is actually the height of arrogance. It says, "Jesus, your death on the cross isn't enough to atone for my sin. I must add to your sacrifice my own misery and self-punishment, and *then* once I've suffered a while myself, I can return to you and regain good standing with you." No. Jesus is most honored when we see our sin and RUN to Him--when we realize that nothing we do can add to His perfect redemption, that His death was completely sufficient to atone for every one of our sins.

That's the response for real guilt. But not all our guilt is legitimate--often, we labor under false guilt. We feel guilty because our Pinterest projects end up on a fail blog instead of re-pinned by admiring fans...because we aren't juggling a successful career on the side...because we aren't serving perfectly styled bento lunches...because we aren't doing X or Y or Z as much or as well as that other mom.

Surprisingly, the solution to false guilt is also to repent. Not because these kinds of failures are actually sinful--we aren't offending God with our lack of sewing skills or our inferior cooking abilities or the fact that our home doesn't look like a magazine spread. Rather, the offense here is secondary: it's idolatry.

When we beat ourselves up over all the ways we don't measure up to so-and-so, we're making so-and-so our god. We're looking to other people's standards as law, holding our own standards up on an equal plane with Scripture's commands rather than looking to God alone as Lawgiver and Judge. We're depending on others' opinions for our identity and security, declaring that if only we had this person's approval, then life would really be worth living. Mamas, God is jealous for our hearts. He won't sit by and let us pursue empty, soul-destroying idols like this. He loves us too much to let us chase the wind. He commands us to repent from our idolatry, to fear and worship Him alone.

The good news is, Jesus died for this kind of sin, too. Our idolatry should bring condemnation, but if we are hidden in Christ, trusting in Him, we have no condemnation--we are clothed in His righteousness, accepted and loved and welcomed. He invites us to come to Him and find rest for our weary souls. In Jesus, we can shake off the chain of false guilt; His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Two kinds of mommy Savior who is sufficient to set us free from them both. That's real hope for a guilty mom.

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Monday, October 07, 2013

Back Up the Sunbeam [Multitude Monday, Take 301]

I debated whether or not to continue my typical Monday gratitude lists during this month's 31 Days of Seeing Jesus series, but I think it fits. It fits, that is, if I do not focus on the gifts as ends in and of themselves, but if I receive them as pointers to the Giver of all good gifts.

This is a challenge, of course. Counting gifts can so easily become a practice of merely "writing down things I enjoy" rather than "recognizing God's kindness and generosity and practicing gratitude for the good things He blesses me with."

So as I keep counting this month, I'm asking God to help me see Jesus in these lists by drawing my attention "back up the sunbeam to the sun." 
"…I have tried to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different… Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun."
–C.S. Lewis, "Reflections in a Toolshed," from Letters to Malcolm 
With that in mind, this week I have experienced countless pleasures; here are a few I am trying to "make...into a channel of adoration": 

5678. fifteen-minute power naps
5679. a lesson in art appreciation
5680. Elijah scoring a goal at his soccer game!
5681. the joy and excitement on his face
5682. oldies station on Pandora

5683. the Book-It program at Elijah's school = accountability to keep reading to him
5684. fond memories of my own personal pan pizzas with that little blue ticket
5685. cross-references in my study Bible
5686. the way I feel more alive when I am writing
5687. enjoyment of God's Word and hunger to study more

5688. the ability to take a family vacation and enjoy fun activities
5689. the beauty of creation, high on a mountain and hundreds of feet underground
5690. safety on rails, roads, water
5691. sunset on the river
5692. pizza on a train car

5693. warm water in a swimming pool
5694. the founder of Ruby Falls witnessing to the glory and goodness of God
5695. digital photography
5696. the boys' faces aboard a REAL train
5697. gospel conversations with Steve in the car

5698. the awesome inheritance that awaits us, far better than the best vacation, never ending like every vacation must

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Look Up

Choosing to quietly sing this Sunday instead of churning out more words. I just discovered this new take on a simple, old-favorite song, from a very favorite musician of mine, Nichole Nordeman:

Well, it appears I'm having some technical difficulties embedding the video...but you can listen on YouTube.

Here's to turning our eyes this week upon the most lovely and wonderful thing they will ever see!

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Giving All You Have: Jesus and the Widow's Offering

God has been so kind to give me a husband who sees Jesus clearly. I am frequently amazed and blessed by Steve's ability to see and apply the gospel--so I would be cheating you if I didn't feature some of his insights during this month's challenge. Bonus for you, he's also much more concise than I am :) He recently shared these thoughts on another familiar Bible story: 

"Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4)

How many times has this passage been read with the end result being guilt? "Jesus expects our all, even to the point of giving away our last penny for His work." Since I'm not giving my all right now, how can I feel anything but guilt?

Two observations about the widow:

1) She gives a shocking amount in her worship to God. Just reading the passage slowly makes me go, "You can't do that; you have to be able to eat something! There must be another way to worship God. Don't be so foolish and give up everything you have."

2) In her giving of the gift, she is singled out and praised by the Creator of the Universe. Though she could get no lower in the eyes of man, she was raised up high above all men in the eyes of God.

Where I see Jesus/the Gospel:

1) Jesus gives a shocking amount in his worship of God. He gave up His position at the right hand of God, was a poor, homeless man on earth, and then gave up His very life (to paraphrase verse 4, "He out of His poverty gave up all the blood He had to live on").

2) Even more shocking than this, in Jesus' giving of His gift, *I* am singled out and praised by the Creator of the Universe. Though I should be the lowest in the eyes of God, I am raised up and made an heir with the Gift-Giver. This is like Jesus watching the widow give her gift, then looking at the rich man and saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been made righteous because she gave everything she had." How great an injustice this would seem to be!

Yet this is the shocking, upside-down reality of the gospel. The widow's sacrifice is admirable, and we should certainly aspire to give our all like she did. But we will be most inspired to give sacrificially when we humbly receive the gift of salvation, when we see the generous heart of the One who literally gave all He had so that we could receive His eternal inheritance.

[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Friday, October 04, 2013

Keep Asking

Whenever I have a realization about how I need to ASK GOD to work in my heart--ask Him to show His power in my weakness; ask Him to help me be the mom my kids need; ask Him to soften my heart and cause me to be moved by His glory--typically it goes something like this: 

1. Conviction that I need to be asking. "Oh yeah! This is HIS work! I have to ASK Him. Duh."
2. A couple of days of earnest prayers along this line. Maybe a week. Two weeks, tops.
3. Forgetfulness. Discouragement. Faithlessness. Return to old patterns.

I am a product of our 21st-century instant-gratification culture. I want results, and I want them yesterday. When God doesn't transform me on my timetable, I'm sorry to say that I am incredibly quick to lose heart.

But as Dr. David Powlison has said, "Change is incremental. The actual process is usually slow. God seems content to work on a scale of centuries with the church, and a scale of decades with individuals. ...The unfolding process is invariably messy."

DECADES! No wonder I get impatient!

I have seen Jesus this week, and He has been beautiful. This in itself is a sighting of Him: If He were not at work in my heart, if His Spirit was not active in me, I would not have eyes to see Him or a taste for His goodness at all. I would not have a hunger for His Word. So the fact that I have experienced these things in some measure over the last few days encourages me; it helps me see Him even more.

But I am not suddenly, magically a new person. I am still so often shortsighted, still easily discouraged when change doesn't come quickly enough. So I am reminding myself (and you) again: Keep asking. Just as the apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian church--not once but continually

"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."  (Ephesians 1:17-19 NIV, emphasis added)

 The power at work in the hearts of those who know Him is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, Paul goes on to say. And we can be certain that God will use that power to enlighten the eyes of our hearts, because He longs for us to see and love the glory of His name even more than we want to see!

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Who Can Deliver You? Jesus Seen in Daniel 3

One of the most exciting things I've learned over the last several years is the way all of Scripture points to Jesus. For most of my life, I had this understanding that New Testament = Jesus, and Old Testament = morality stories about various characters, plus a handful of amazing prophecies pointing to Jesus (like Isaiah 9, for example).

But in reality, the entire Bible is about Jesus--from Genesis to Revelation, the writers are looking forward to His coming, describing His work here on earth, pointing back to His life and death, or anticipating His final return. Jesus Himself told the Jews that the Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) "bear witness about me" (John 5:39). And after He died and rose again, as He walked with His disciples on the road to Emmaus, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).

When I began to read Scripture through this lens, I was amazed at how clearly and beautifully I could see Jesus in familiar Old Testament stories. So one of my goals for this month is to give you a taste of reading the Bible in search of Jesus, and inspire you to dig in and look for Him yourself!

If you attended Sunday school as a child, you're probably familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. These three friends, exiled from Jerusalem and taken into the king's court in Babylon, were determined to worship God alone, regardless of the wicked culture around them. When King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image and commanded that everyone bow to it, these three simply ignored him. Furious, the king demanded that they worship the image or be thrown into a fiery furnace. Still they refused:

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (v. 16-18).

At this point the king went ballistic. After ordering the furnace overheated to the point that just standing near it killed his own servants, he had Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego (can we just go all VeggieTales at this point and call them Rack, Shack and Benny?) thrown into the flames. But to his amazement, they were unharmed. They emerged without even smelling like smoke, and Nebuchadnezzar (to his credit) acknowledged the supremacy of their God above all others.

Typically our take-away from a story like this is along the lines of, "Be like Rack, Shack and Benny! Don't bow down to false gods--remain faithful to God and trust that He can save you from wicked men!"

This is true. It's good advice. But casting these guys as the heroes of the story falls far short of recognizing the glory of the true Hero of this and every story.

Some say that the "fourth figure" seen walking in the flames with the three friends (v. 25) may have been a pre-incarnational Christ; we don't really know. But ultimately Jesus did not just go into the fire *with* His people. He endured the flames *instead of* His people. Consider:

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace after wicked men conspired against them. They chose to remain faithful to God, not knowing whether He would deliver them. As it turned out, they escaped unharmed.

...Jesus, on the other hand? He, too, was sentenced to execution after wicked men conspired against Him. Unlike the men in Daniel 3, Jesus had the power to save Himself, yet willingly submitted to the torture. He chose to remain faithful to God even knowing that God would NOT deliver Him. And He suffered the fullness of God's wrath, harmed beyond what any human has ever known.

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were delivered as they trusted in God.

...Jesus, on the other hand? He was the only man ever whose trust in God was perfect, without wavering, never doubting--yet God did *not* deliver Him--because by His suffering, He could deliver forever those whose trust is weak and faltering.

I don't know about you, but that inspires my trust...and my awe, and my much more. King Nebuchadnezzar asks the question, "Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" (v.15) The answer is glorious: The God who will put His own Son, His very self, into your hands in my place. "He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again" (2 Corinthians 1:10).

 [This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]