Twenty Seventeen

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If you’re feeling insecure….

In his book The Importance of Being Foolish, Brennan Manning writes: “What keeps me feeling insecure are my addictive emotional needs, which must always be satisfied. When reality does not live up to my expectations, I become frustrated, angry, bitter, anxious, and resentful. “For example, say you meet me on the street and tell me you found this book to be a complete waste of your time and money. Your criticism triggers my inside programming, and I sink into a swamp of sadness, self-pity, and depression. Reality has not lived up to my expectations. I anticipated at least constructive criticism, possibly appreciation, and maybe even praise. “But you are not the one who has destroyed my inner equilibrium. I did that. “Inordinately attached to my preconception of what I need to feel secure (in this case, your approval) and willfully convinced of the way the world should run, I have needlessly deprived myself of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and the abundant life that Jesus promised. “The Lord passed through the world as a figure of light and truth, sometimes tender, sometimes angry, always just, loving, and effective, but not insecure. Spending time with those who attracted the disapproval of all, he never wavered from his desire to offer them his kingdom. “When we cling to a miserable sense of security, the possibility of transparency is utterly defeated. The kind of trust that depends on the response it receives is a bogus trust, one based only in anxiety. Jesus Christ calls us to hand over our autonomous selves in complete confidence. Only when that decision is ratified . . . are transparency, certainty, and peace achieved.” Searching my own heart Manning’s insight is like a merciful mirror for my soul: Am I expecting others to satisfy my gnawing appetite for understanding, affirmation, and security? Am I too easily affected by others’ responses to me? No matter how close a friend might be, no human being was created to satisfy the cravings of my heart. Instead, these cravings are beautiful invitations to enter into Christ’s presence and find what I need in him. To put it rather humorously…. So the McD’s chicken nugget wasn’t a juicy steak. What did you expect? Don’t hate on the nugget—you’re just trying to fill up on the wrong meal. Let that poor little nugget make you all the more thankful for the fancy steak dinner at your fingertips! Who’s the chicken nugget in your life? Who are you putting God-shaped expectations on? Who are you letting “destroy your inner equilibrium”? Instead of grudging over their shortcomings and expecting them to be who they cannot be, let their human frailty highlight God’s jaw-dropping goodness. Go to God and get your heart filled up. (Here is one sweet and simple way of doing that.) Our frantic attempt to find security in one another is not only an anxiety-inducing relationship buster, but it is also proof that God is who we need most. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.” Psalm 73:25

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Bible study

“Get to God, dear heart”

I love praying Scripture back to God. It wakes up my sluggish heart, it focuses my scattered thoughts, it helps me sense God’s presence. And it’s been one way for me to heed C.H. Spurgeon’s advice: What you need is to get to God through what you read, and not merely to come to the Book. The Bible…or the most pious prayers cannot save you; you must pass through these things, which ought to be helps, and not make them into barriers…. You have to get to God, dear heart. As I pray Scripture out of a desire to “get to God,” my goal is to pray with feeling. When I used to act on stage, I would read a script with all the fervor and intention it takes to create a person wholly different from myself. My lines were there to breathe life into my new character. So even when I was sick or exhausted or heartbroken, I stepped out on that stage and said my lines with all the emotion I could summon—because my character’s very life depended on it. In a similar way, I ask God to help me engage with his words in a way that makes me feel the life in them, even during my deepest funks and fatigues. After all, his Script is “no empty word for me, but my very life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). Below are two passages I’ve prayed in recent days as a way to “get to God”: Jeremiah 32:37-42 Lord, make me dwell in safety today. Let me live in the shelter of knowing that I am yours and you are my God. Give Eddie and me one heart and one way, that we may fear you forever, for our own good and for the good of our son. Thank you for making an everlasting covenant with me, that you will not turn away from doing me good. Put the fear of you (not man) in my heart, that I might not turn away from you. Bring me great peace as I remember that you rejoice to do me good, and you have planted me in this land of faithfulness with all your heart and with all your soul. Help me to believe that you want to bring upon me all the good that you’ve promised me—even in the wake of disaster. Psalm 37 O my soul, don’t fret about the wicked and wickedness all around you. Don’t envy their power and exaltation and ease. For they will soon be mowed down like grass and wither like green herbs. Lord, I want to trust in You and do good. Help me to dwell in this land faithfully, joyfully. O Father, even now my head and heart are all over the place, but I ask you to let me delight in you above all else today, and I trust that as I do that, you will give me what I most desire. Once again today I commit my way to you; I trust in you and know that you will act. You will act on behalf of me, Eddie, Jeremy, our circle of friends, those we want to come to know you. Be active in all of our lives today! Let my righteousness in you shine as the light, my justification in you like noonday. Help me be still before you and wait patiently for you. Again, don’t let me worry about those who seem to be prospering while we suffer, nor about those who carry out evil plans! Give me the grace to refrain from anger—help me run from wrath. Give me the grace to not fret because I know it tends only to evil.

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Imagine this….

I’m not sure where the idea of a harps-and-clouds heaven came from, but it’s as far from the truth as we could get. The God of eternity, and his new heavens and new earth, are so fantastical that the apostle John in his book of Revelation didn’t have a vocabulary for what he saw—so he resorted to similes to give us context for the stuff that made him fall flat on his face. Below are some Scriptures I compiled many years ago for a group of high school girls I was discipling. I wanted to help them look beyond their small high school existence and get glimpses of jaw-dropping eternal realities. (Turns out, I needed the perspective every bit as much as they did.) These passages paint surreal, breathtaking—and at times even slightly disturbing—pictures. As I try to fathom these realities, Christ becomes even more staggering to me. This blazing, thundering, warrior God pushed Himself down, condescended to be with us, to save us from our sins and make us His own. The God of fire became God in flesh. For us. I return often to these passages, because on my own I am small-minded and infatuated with the finite. The Spirit takes these and enlarges my fear of God, puts today’s pressures and pains in perspective, and grows my heart bold for the lost. May I encourage you to spend some time in these too? Find a quiet space, play some epic instrumental music, and use every bit of your imagination to enter into the marvels described here. (And if you’ve got a little one in your life—read these to them too! Even superheroes look a little dull and droll after this. Let God wow them early.) Eternity with the Messiah King is going to be a forever phenomenon. Dear one, just imagine this….   Revelation 1:12-18 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Revelation 4:1-11 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 19:11-16 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Ezekiel 1:26-28 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of

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I have several friends in their fifties and sixties who are living proof that a woman can grow more beautiful with age. Isn’t it hopeful to know that a heart at peace and a life of joy can transform our faces and attract people to our God? As I celebrate my 41st birthday this week, I’m returning to a poem I wrote years ago, when I had far fewer grays, spots, and lines; when time had not yet begun to leave its mark on my body. This is the kind of imperishable beauty I long for…. BEAUTIFUL Her face was weathered, wrinkled—altogether older now. Facials and lotions, expensive beauty potions— she had turned them in. For in the end, when life was done, she wanted her heart to be the most beautiful part of her. Sure, she missed that glance, the eyes that danced to look at her (in her younger days when beauty’s ways were upon her). But now people stared long and hard at her heart that shone on her face. Plastic Beauties who saw her walk by envied her—the life in her eyes that sparkled, undaunted by aging and time— and almost mesmerized they asked her the reason for her smile. And she would stop awhile and tell them (oh, she loved to tell them) of the One who made her beautiful. ~~~ “Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5 “They shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord…” Jeremiah 31:12 “‘And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect,’ declares the Sovereign Lord.” Ezekiel 16:14 “Oh, the soul of man is more worth than a thousand worlds! It is the greatest abasing of it that can be—to let it dote upon a little shining earth, upon a little painted beauty and fading glory—when it is capable of union with Christ, of communion with God, and of enjoying the eternal vision of God.” Thomas Brooks

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My dirty, sweaty 5-year-old is sitting on the back porch happily humming and throwing fistfuls of birdseed on the lawn. We’ll have an aviary here by morning. And my heart swells with joy as I take in this moment. Little boys are magic-in-the-raw. They’re a composite of lizards and sticks and rocks and snails. They climb and jump and track mud into the house and never flush the toilet. They leave Legos in high-traffic areas and half-eaten apples in hard-to-reach places. They eat as if the grocery budget is made of gold. Well, at least mine does. He’s all boy and I love it. And sometimes these boyish moments make me catch my breath with the beauty of it all. But I know there’s life beyond the back porch. Motherhood isn’t a quest to secure an idyllic, protected existence for my son. But then what is it? What makes a good mom? And how do I prepare my child for the hard knocks and deep wounds and a world that wages war on the truths we cherish in our home? ~ ~ ~ ~ I occasionally paint for the enjoyment of it, for the way the colors and patterns and repetitive brush-strokes relax me (definitely not because I’m gifted at it). And while I know very little about the technical aspects of painting, I do know you need some raw materials, including paints and brushes and canvas. When my son was born with multiple health complications, my world went spinning. Nothing prepares you to watch your child writhe in pain, gasp for breath through the wee hours of the night, and live with food allergies that ostracize him in social settings. It’s taken us five years to begin getting clear diagnoses of his conditions, and still we have unanswered questions. And though we haven’t faced anything life-threatening, there have been moments in this journey that have wrecked me. But it’s been the desperate days that have given me a dark canvas on which to paint bright truths of a good God. When my son tells me how it feels to be the only kid without an ice cream cone, or when he has to go for more blood-work or begin a new treatment, those moments are gifts: I get to hold him tight and remind him that Jesus sees and understands and cares. He suffered too so He knows how to comfort us in our own sufferings. I tell him how I see God growing him in courage, and I retell him stories of men in the Bible—like Joseph and Daniel—who learned to be courageous because God was with them. It’s easy for me, as an inexperienced mom with a myopic paradigm, to get sucked into the whirlpool of endless parenting resources, opinions, and methodologies. And while those can be of some help, they won’t hold me through the toughest days of motherhood. (And the toughest days may be yet to come.) I need to keep before me, and my son, a great God who does great things. ~ ~ ~ ~ As a painter looks long at a landscape, imitating each color and shadow and line, she does so to let others see what she sees, to let others marvel at what she marvels at. So it must be with my motherhood. At this young age my son will see the God I see, he will begin to marvel as I marvel. The puritan Isaac Ambrose wrote: “I look upon as chief and choice of all the rest [of my duties] the duty I call Looking unto Jesus.” The great work of my motherhood is not in the sum of my daily duties—clothing, cleaning, feeding, instructing—vitally important as those are. The great work of my motherhood is “looking unto Jesus.” And as I look, I tell my son what I see. It’s the very essence of Deuteronomy 6: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. In our human nature we complicate and over-regulate what God has made simple and accessible to us through His Spirit: the command to love Him with all that I am and to let that love shape my motherhood. Keep God constantly before me (like “frontlets between my eyes”), then tell my son about Him daily, diligently—when we get up in the morning, when we’re in the car, when we’re eating, playing, working, resting. What did I learn this morning as I met God in the Word and in prayer? How can we see God’s awe-inspiring creativity in creation today? How have I totally messed up and needed Jesus? What stories from my life show God’s goodness and faithfulness? Whose salvation can we pray for today? How is God working around the globe? Orange and red and turquoise and gray—we parents get to paint pictures of Almighty God on the canvas of our children’s hearts. They aren’t the best nor the truest pictures (we see dimly this side of eternity), but they are invitations to marvel at what our hearts are made for. I can’t control outcomes. I’m not given any guarantees for how my son will turn out. And my motherhood is riddled with weakness. But I can keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. And I can ask Him to open the eyes of my son’s heart—so he too might look and be amazed. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

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“The sacred art and mystery of forgiving”

Forgiveness may just be the hardest thing we do in life. At times it can be downright agonizing, amen? But agony meets ecstasy, and forgiveness is an enviable invitation into the very heart of Christ. When we forgive at great expense, dying to ourselves and our desire for self-justification, we know Him better. We experience the miracle of His life in us. We wade deeper into the ocean of His love. And what does His love look like? C.H. Spurgeon put it beautifully in his sermon on Ephesians 4:32: All our transgressions are swept away at once, carried off as by a flood, and so completely removed from us that no guilty trace of them remains. They are all gone! O ye believers, think of this, for the ALL is no little thing: sins against a holy God, sins against his loving Son, sins against gospel as well as against law, sins against man as well as against God, sins of the body as well as sins of the mind, sins as numerous as the sands on the sea shore, and as great as the sea itself: all, all are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. All this evil was rolled into one great mass, and laid upon Jesus, and having borne it all he has made an end of it for ever. When the Lord forgave us he forgave us the whole debt. He did not take the bill and say, ‘I strike out this item and that,’ but the pen went through it all—PAID. It was a receipt in full of all demands, Jesus took the handwriting which was against us and nailed it to his cross, to show before the entire universe that its power to condemn us had ceased for ever. We have in him a full forgiveness. Dear one, I have too often been the hypocrite—the one who was freely pardoned $1,000,000,000 only to be caught violently demanding repayment of a $5 debt. To put it another way, if my sins were all the sand of the world’s seashores, your offense against me would be a solitary grain of sand. When I withhold forgiveness from you, I betray the fact that I don’t understand calvary love at all. But what of the times I’m obediently forgiving—yet tempted to make much of it in my heart? Do I secretly believe I’m the only one being wronged, the only one perpetually pardoning others? Again, Spurgeon says it so well: [Ephesians 4:32 says] ‘forgiving, one another.’ One another! Ah, then that means that if you have to forgive to-day, it is very likely that you will yourself need to be forgiven to-morrow for it is “forgiving one another.” It is turn and turn about, a mutual operation, a co-operative service. In fact, it is a joint-stock business of mutual forgiveness, and members of Christian churches should take large shares in this concern. You forgive me, and I forgive you, and we forgive them, and they forgive us, and so a circle of unlimited forbearance and love goes round the world. There is something wrong about me that needs to be forgiven by my brother, but there is also something wrong about my brother which needs to be forgiven by me, and this is what the apostle means—that we are all of us mutually to be exercising the sacred art and mystery of forgiving one another. Let us begin our Christian career with the full assurance that we shall have a great deal to forgive in other people, but that there will be a great deal more to be forgiven in ourselves, and let us set our account upon having to exercise gentleness, and needing its exercise from others, ‘Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ Who have we received forgiveness from today? Who do we need to forgive today—in such a way that “no guilty trace remains”?    For more thoughts on forgiveness, read 5 Ways to Pursue Peace in a Difficult Relationship. 

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