on pleasure, displeasure, & steadfast love…

Tonight at dinner it was one of those rare moments when I was not hurried to clean up the dishes or get Jackson to bed, but instead we were all sitting around laughing. Jackson was minicing the crazy sounds Kevin was making and giggling so hard he was spitting applesauce…it was a good time. Then he got so excited he picked up his food and threw it off his tray (which he knows has been a no-no since 6 months old!) Kevin and my smiles immediately turned stern and we said “No-no” in a very direct way. Jackson knew what he did was wrong, in fact I think he was a little surprised he threw the food to begin with! He looked at our stern faces and his eyes started to well up. His lip was quivering, shifting his gaze from Kevin, to me, and back. And then after about 10 long seconds of the saddest face you could imagine, huge, silent, alligator tears rolled down his cheeks.

My heart sunk.

I immediately wrapped my arms around him which made him full-out cry, and it took a few minutes for him to calm down again. I’ll never forget that moment.

Jackson was finding so much joy in our company tonight. He saw the pleasure in our faces and knew we were enjoying him too. All was the way it was meant to be. But when our faces turned to displeasure because of his disobedience, he was grieved to the point of tears. What a powerful picture!

Because of Christ’s death on our behalf, our sin no longer separates us from God’s steadfast love. In the same way, nothing could EVER change my love for Jack. There is nothing that he could do that would lead me to turn my back on him or disown him. However, just as life with Jack is more enjoyable when he is obedient and we are able to laugh together instead of discipline him, life with God is more enjoyable when we are living godly lives and communing with Him the way we were created to. It saddens and displeases the heart of God to discipline us, even though it is for our good, in the same way we are saddened when Jackson disobeys.

The grief that Jackson displayed tonight when our pleasure turned to displeasure was a very dramatic, emotional experience for me. I long to feel that kind of grief when I see my sin and the way it hurts my Heavenly Father. I pray that I would only long to bring pleasure to the heart of God always. However, regardless of whether I’m at my worst or my best, I have assurance that I am loved, accepted, and kept forever by God. As Jackson grows, I hope that I can always communicate to him that even though I may have to discipline him, he is never outside of my love.

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at the end of myself: a reflection on my sin.

Recently I have been finding myself at the end of myself. In this stage of life, I have tried every scheme in the book to follow Jesus. I have tried rigid quiet times, I have tried no quiet times, I have tried studying theology, I have tried only reading Psalms, I have tried serving in multiple ways at church, I have tried being a faithful wife and mommy. With every effort, I come to a dead end. It does not bring the magical, passionate change of heart I hoped it would. If God judged me on who I am and what I have to offer, I would be dead. And I fear that if I continue trying to follow Jesus by a system or equation, I will die.

Yesterday I just had the realization that I need Jesus to stay close to me. I need him to cover me with his life so that I can live. Apart from him, I am incapable of following him into my thirties. This awareness of my depravity takes me back to my college years. I felt unable to move apart from Christ and the holy spirit empowering me. I saw so much wickedness in my heart and the capacity to flee from God, I knew my only hope was to hide my whole identity in Christ. Today in this normal, ordinary stage of life, I find myself suffocating under my own independence and search for right standing with God. I need the full, grace upon grace that Jesus brings. I need the grace that atones for my failed attempts at standing right before God. I know that this grace is final and certain for me forever, but if I don’t confess my need for dependence on Christ everyday, I fear that I will be one whispered of when I’m 45, “remember when she was following the Lord?” It makes me shutter. So Lord, stay near to me, because I do not know how to stay near to you on my own.

My prayer is that we would all return to the end of ourselves, and see our desperate need for a God who saves and carries us til the end.

thoughts on radical forgiveness.

I don’t have a lot to say recently. Most of what I am learning lately has been working on my heart more than my head. Thus, sometimes the heart work is hard to put into words.

The last few weeks the Lord has been teaching me about forgiveness. It is always hardest to forgive the people who seem to sin against me in the same way over and over and over again. I have been prone to say, “seriously God? How many more times do I forgive my brother or my sister? Isn’t there a point where I require some action along with that confession? Isn’t repentance a two-sided coin?”

I feel like this comes up most frequently in my marriage, although I have seen it often in my friendships. We have this frustration when people don’t change or immediately stop the ways they hurt us, even after asking for forgiveness. On a particularly hard day last week with Kevin, I was tempted to stop being so gracious, and give back what he deserved. My plan? Go spend a lot of money on things that were not in the budget. This is something that would totally hurt and disrespect him. Luckily the Lord gave me a day off and led me to McDonalds to read, instead of to the mall.

I was struck by Matthew 18, when Jesus tells his disciples to forgive 70×7 times. This number is not meant to be a limit, but rather a principle: You keep forgiving him. He explained that in the kingdom of God, it will be like a king who forgives all of your debt. As Christians, our only hope is to plead before the throne of Christ and ask for the mercy that comes from His atoning work on the cross. “Therefore,” the king says, “should not you also have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

Everyday I stand before God and plead my right standing on Jesus’ behalf. Never ever will there come a day when I do not need the full and free forgiveness from the cross. And now, as God’s chosen, beloved, and holy children, we are commanded to put on Christ’s likeness everyday. We are called to be humble, meek, patient with sin, and forgiving. All of this embodies love (Col. 3) and if we don’t have love, 1 John says we don’t have anything. This is the truest form of Christ-likeness!

And so sure enough, I attended the Oaks this weekend, and Pastor Bryan preached on the end of Genesis. Joseph wept when he realized his brothers doubted his genuine forgiveness of their wrongs against him. Joseph’s response: “I can’t punish you, I’m not God. He used your evil against me for good.” Joseph realizes the sovereignty of God and then continues to step out in this radical, unbelievable forgiveness. Bryan compared it to buying lunch everyday for a year for the guy who stole your job or got you fired.

It challenged me in the way I give forgiveness. Usually I verbally forgive my husband or friend, but then still close myself off to them for a while to make them “think about what they’ve done.” Never would I bake Kevin’s favorite dessert for him immediately after he repents of sin to me?! But why not? If I understand just how much I have been forgiven from, and the reward I have been given in return, I ought to respond to sin in a radically loving way. How much more would the gospel be shown to our brother or sister? What picture of grace would they see. I think it would speak volumes.

Disregarding the 20. Focusing in on the 80.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

I never understood this verse. I thought it to be really flowery and I usually skipped over it. But recently, I began to understand its meaning! And oh how it has been transforming my thought patterns! In relationships (I see it springing up a lot with my fiancée), I hold expectations on people. When they fail to live up to some of those expectations, I am let down. The thoughts that run though my mind are usually not loving and affectionate, but rather critical and harsh- narrowing in on the other’s faults and weaknesses. Entertaining this pattern, will only lead to a cold, distant, and sometimes bitter, heart toward that person.

Elizabeth Elliot teaches that we let people live up to about 80 percent of our expectations. The other 20 percent we desperately want to change. We can either persistently and bitterly chip away at that 20 percent for the rest of our relationship with that person (without reducing it very much) OR we can simply enjoy the 80 percent and both will live happily.

Paul enlightens the truth that we are all sinners in desperate need of change, and instructs us to rather think about these things– whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise.  In doing so, we are choosing to delight in the radical nature of the other’s gospel change and evidences of grace annnd give glory to the Father! Not only will we feel affection toward that person when we might otherwise feel disappointment or frustration, but we will grow in our own sanctification, and feel the satisfaction of God being most glorified. Amen.

Father we humbly ask- change our thinking.

The Call to Fight

I recently read “Fight Clubs,” by Jonothan Dodson and was extremely encouraged by its boldness and eagerness in the call to fight against sin and for truth in our hearts.

The book began asking this question: Do we work equally hard (as other things in our lives) to improve our understanding of grace and defeat sin? Do we spend hours in from of the Gospel? Many Christians are content to entertain themselves and others to death, while surrendering the fight or faith.  Are you fighting, and if so, why do you fight?

The call to fight:
We all face the temptation to project a false image of ourselves because we find the real image inadequate. We want to be more beautiful, more successful, more creative, more virtuous, more popular, and more intelligent than we really are.  The problem is not that we really lack beauty, success, creativity, virtue, popularity, or intelligence, the problem is that we believe the lies that obtaining those images will actually make us complete, happy, and content people. And so, believing the lie, we fight rigorously to obtain or retain our image of choice: we discipline ourselves to lose weight, climb the vocational ladder, learn new techniques, make moral decisions, and strive to be in the know….all to gain the image we so desperately want.  We will fight with whatever it takes: money, time, overworking, sacrifice, or lying.  Why do we fight and scrap to obtain our desired perception?  We believe that being perceived a certain way will make us happy. We express faith in what is false and believe a lie.

Once we realize that we are building our identity on these things that are untrue and unreliable, we can begin to sink our identity in to what is actually true and reliable.  This kind of image building moves us towards Jesus.

Christianity is about image.  We were created in God’s image and when we fell our image became distorted and conformed to the image of the world.  We desperately need renewal in Jesus.  The gospel restores and renews our image.  It holds up the image of Jesus as most glorious and desirable and aligns us with him.  The gospel is about correcting our vision and reshaping our image so that we can see and reflect “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4)

We become what we behold. If we behold and harrold the beauty of Christ we will become beautiful like Christ. This happens over and over in the Christian faith.  To follow Jesus is to so look at him that we actually begin to reflect his grace and glory in everyday life.  But this transformation does not come without a fight.  Our sin nature prefers to behold and become like lesser images.  We must fight against lies against the lies behind our sins in order to enjoy the truth of the gospel.

This fight is possible through the spirit. we must realize our failures in fighting before the fight of faith can begin.  Gospel change comes though pain, struggle, suffering, and staring your ugly sin right in the face.  The trick is to stare it down with truth.  Nobody sins because they want to be deceived, we sin because we believe what sin offers is true. Instead of expressing faith in these lies of sin we must labor to have faith in the truth of the gospel.  However, our thoughts don’t naturally drift toward Christ– we are called to tenaciously struggle in order to believe what is ture, charish what is beautiful, and live out what is good.

We need to fight to believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection is OUR death and resurrection–the lie-believing, image-chasing life is dead and in its place we have received a truth-believing, Christ-cherishing life.  Until this faith is made sight, we must fight and struggle.  Believing the gospel is not a passive, one-time decision; it is an active, continual fight for faith in God’s Word.