Category Archives: Comforts and Calls

Sell It All

horses in a line“Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” (Bonhoeffer, “Life Together”)

Unity is God’s desire for the church. Jesus prays and pays for it, Paul pleads for it, the Spirit works for it. Christian relationships are not primarily built around our personalities, our shared interests, or our commiserations. I have spent a good deal of time lately thinking on where I get hung up on turning relationships away from Christ and toward myself.  There are MANY places, but I thought I’d share a few places I’ve found freedom:

  • Secure identity in Christ alone. (Gal 2:20) This is the big one that the others flow from. It is true that we need to depend on other people and that Christ uses the body as a means to sanctify us, but we also work, and think, and die alone. Our salvation is both a group project and it is Christ’s personal application of his blood to individuals. While we need the church and friends, our position in justification rests squarely and only on Christ. Our true need, to be made right with God, is met by Christ, and his church exists to give him glory and remind each other about him, not about each other. Whenever we need ultimate affirmation that we are ok, (i.e. justification) from other people we will become oppressive in those relationships, demanding another sinner die for us. But of course, only Christ, the God-Man, has died the satisfactory death we need.
  • Honesty. When we are secure in Christ, we are free to be totally honest. We are free to take ourselves before the Scriptures and consider our ways and our heart according to his law. And when we are examined by others, our answers are not filtered through how we fear the other person might misunderstand us or even use our honesty against us. We are free to say what is true about our sin and Christ’s forgiveness and leave it at that. One of my biggest fears is that if I confess sin or even where I disagree with someone, they won’t understand the nuances or the complexity of my heart and that I will be locked in to that identity forevermore. And the thing is, it will happen. People will use my honesty in a dishonest way (and I’ll do that to others), but that is to be entrusted to the one who judges justly (1 Pet 2:23). When I try to answer in such a way to stay out of trouble then I am robbing myself of the opportunity to confess sin to the body and be healed (James 5:16).
  • Cheerful giving. Identify with Christ in his relational sufferings. We have not suffered pain or injustice that he has not carried and been victorious over. He has known loneliness, being lied to, his love spurned, his person misunderstood, oppression, relational misunderstanding. We are privileged to be worthy to suffer after our Master.Similarly, Christ has been tempted in every way we are yet without sin (Heb 4:15). We are not just victims of others relational ineptitude, we are predators. I am clumsy at best, often defensive and self-protecting, and at worst looking for my own glory in relationships. And here again Christ has both felt the struggle and conquered for us. He sympathizes with our weakness. Because of his suffering, dying, and living for us, we are free to give ourselves cheerfully, not under compulsion (Philemon 14). He is the one worthy to open the scrolls and judge, we don’t have to keep track of fair and unfair. We get to just give what we have received with a happy, thankful heart.
  • Relationship trouble is sanctifying for all parties. Some of the times I’ve come closest to giving up on a relationship is when I am convinced that another person’s goals for me are just not something I’m interested in and that all the strife is a waste of time. But then I remember that maybe I’m not the only one being sanctified in the situation. Our God is efficient in his work and is likely working something out of them too. It could be at times that my job is to stand firm, cheerfully, honestly, confidently in Christ, and lovingly firm.

Unity is a word that people love to attach themselves to without much thought. But Christian unity requires counting the cost. To be united to each other we must be united through Christ, first and last. And that means death, to sin and self. And death can get expensive.

But Jesus rose on the first day of the week, and so it also means life, a glorious resurrected, paid for life where we will relate intimately and without fear to Jesus and his saints for all eternity. Go sell all you have, He is worthy.

Trickle Down Stressonomics

photo (2)May is the time of year to plan for the next.  School has wrapped up, and like grocery shopping on a full stomach is wise, so it is to make next year’s decisions while the fatigue is fresh. I generally start with a vision renewal- a “wait, what was I doing in here again?” kind of reflection.  Then after a little refresher on the big picture of the glories of providing my kids with a custom-made, Christian education I feel revived to get back to the guts of it.

The process generally looks like asking myself several questions regarding the value ratio of the last year’s choices. I compare the time, effort, financial costs to the critical thinking and social-relational benefits earned. I ask my friends what they’ve learned or plan to do differently.  And I look to successful school models to tweak and borrow ideas from. One of my favorite models is Logos School in Moscow, Idaho, a classical Christian school started by a man whose principles, methods, and fruit I admire.

This year while I looked through the elementary curriculum, I took notice that this school, started by one man’s vision, is now run and operated by many other like-minded people. Even more impressive than the 6th grade literature list, is the study in good leadership that the school exemplifies.

We are all leaders in one role or another and my dad would say, “Leadership leads whether it wants to or not.” Our vision or lack of, our joy or stress, our enthusiasm or boredom will overflow and trickle down the path of least resistance- those under our care and influence.

Planning for next year, curriculum and activity choices are important, but the best cost-benefit ratio to me and my husband, children, and friends, is to spend myself on my personal holiness. M’Cheyene’s appeal to fellow pastors easily applies to anyone in a position of influence:

“Study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this, for your sermons last but an hour or two; your life preaches all the week. If Satan can only make a covetous minister a lover of praise, of pleasure, of good eating, he has ruined your ministry. Give yourself to prayer, and get your texts, your thoughts, your words from God.”

The best plan in the world void of God will be a waste of life and worthy of His wrath. Without gospel hope, I will carry out all plans seething with stress. I will slop this mess over onto my kids, teaching them that learning is pressurized and joy is passively had in fleeting pleasures and performances. So I must fight the right fight. That I will overflow is a given, part of how God made the world.  I can’t stop the trickle so I will fill myself with God. Through his word and prayer He will spill his blood on me and fill me with himself and then I will be blessed to spill his work on those around me.

You Can’t Call Your Kids “Further Up and Further In” from Behind

This photo has nothing to do with this post.  But only proves that summer exists.  Won't that be nice?

This photo has nothing to do with this post.  But is does prove that summer has existed once, and if once, perhaps it will visit us again sometime.

I have a tricky relationship with sugar.  Or really it’s not tricky, I would just prefer to eat like a 6-year-old who gets paid in Sweet-tarts for working in the Snickers factory.   We swim in the white stuff in this time and place; the only natural shorelines are body image and health. Vanity is no godly motivator, though looking your best is not sin. And we live in a culture obsessed with health and safety, which of course reacting to by reckless living would be foolish.   I rebel against an asceticism that will not change the heart, and yet I take that too far to rationalize my own indulgence.  So maybe it is a bit tricky or more biblically put, requires wisdom.

All that to say, I committed this week to 6 days without desserts or snacks.  Self-denial is not my strength. Give me an action or inflict pain and I’ll take it like a woman, but ask me to wait without… NO!!  Anything but that!

So why torture myself in this way?  First, to gain the perspective that this hardly qualifies for torture. I have much to be thankful for.  Second, because self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that overflows to all of my life and produces more worship to its rightful Owner.  And third, because I have little people following me whose spiritual senses have barely tasted the sweet fruit of righteous living, but who increasingly face the bitter enticements of the world.

I think one of the most legitimate frustrations kids can feel is knowing that the parents who are to lead them can not say “follow,” but instead insist on “you go first.”  It’s pretty sick when you think about it- burdening a child with a weight you won’t carry.  Or I’m often guilty of the reverse- we’ll all just stay down here and wallow together.

In order to lead our kids, we have to go first.  This week, I’m tasting what I haven’t for too long, the hard fight of self-discipline.  And the result so far has surprised me.  I am calling my kids to higher standards with more mercy because I know the climb is grueling, but I can also assure them the view is worth it.  You can’t call someone further up and further in from behind.

And Be Thankful

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We had a lovely dinner with good friends tonight.  The kind where the food was great and the company even better.   We talked the gamut of topics and for a while landed on thankfulness, that familiar platitude we teach our kids to say and sign our messages with.  But though the phrase is frequent, the virtue can be hard to come by.

I read somewhere recently of a pastor visiting the US from a developing country, and when pressed to give one constructive criticism of Americans he said, “I think, because you have so much, you complain so much.”  Ouch.  Our sin is always more obvious to those around us, and we’ve just been called out for entitlement.  What are we to do?

Be thankful.  I didn’t come up with that solution.  You can’t get through many pages of the Bible without running into some variation of the command to be thankful.  As my friend pointed out, in just 3 verses in Colossians we are called to be thankful 3 times!  God is never redundant; he is kind to make sure we get what we need for life and godliness.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col 3:15-17

What are we to be thankful for? Well, everything.  Have you ever thanked God that your orange comes in a protective peel until it’s ready to be eaten and then it’s already pre-divided into bite size slices?  It’s amazing!  Do you thank God for your shoes or for your bed that you spend most of your time in either one or the other? Are you thankful for medicine and science?  For grocery stores and pre-butchered chickens?

How about for the freedom to worship with hundreds of fellow believers on Sunday morning?  Are you thankful for singing?  For the word of Christ to flow out of you so gently that even your admonishments can be sung?  It’s hard to be harsh with a thankful heart.

Are you thankful for the Bible?  I love the book of Ezekiel.  I’m thankful for the poetry and the imagery, and for the intense picture of God’s wrath.  (I’ve not always been able to say that.)   I’m thankful for the affection for Christ that swells into my heart when after my stomach starts to turn and my jaw clenches and my knees shake because I don’t deserve to escape,  I remember that Jesus sweat blood and drank the cup of God’s wrath for me.  He was forsaken, he suffered, he died, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God (1 Peter 3).

Therein lies the basis of all thankfulness.  As Pastor Jason reminded us Sunday, grace then obedience, grace then obedience.  When we draw from the filled well of His grace, we will find ourselves pulling up buckets of thankfulness.

Little Van Tils

pile-upWho has time to blog with all these cuties to raise?  I sure haven’t lately.  But, I bet the laundry can wait another day (it has heartily survived several already) to send out a little encouragement today.

Born out of my own waning motivation to think hard lately, I fought back by picking up Van Til’s pamphlet, “Why I Believe in God.”  It got the blood flowing again.  I highly recommend the read. It’s potent enough to stimulate brain activity and short enough for a busy mom.   The pamphlet is a response to Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian,” in which Van Til does not set out to show that Christianity is merely reasonable or more probable, but boldly asserts, “unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else.”   It’s important stuff to think about- worship and obedience provoking stuff.

And an application I found along the way was a reminder not to waste my time with my kids.  As parents we’re having to constantly go between our wide angle lens and our zoom, aren’t we? And sometimes we get caught up in the details. Especially with school, I have settled into a rut of, “finish your math problems, read your science book, check, check, check, check,” missing opportunities  to preach the grandeur of our Creator.  As we fly through our checklists week by week, I’m reminded that time is short and a little dull. But when I look up to behold our God, I’m reminded that our time is but a vapor, I have no time for twaddle, and that we are privileged to have a lasting mission in a grand adventure.  I want more than top ACT scores and college acceptance letters. I want little Van Tils.

“In it [his Christian school]  I learned that my being saved from sin and my belonging to God made a difference for all that I knew or did. I saw the power of God in nature and His providence in the course of history. That gave the proper setting for my salvation, which I had in Christ. In short, the whole wide world that gradually opened up for me through my schooling was regarded as operating in its every aspect under the direction of the all-powerful and all-wise God whose child I was through Christ. I was to learn to think God’s thoughts after him in every field of endeavor.”
-Van Til from Why I Believe in God

Don’t Forget to Pray

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School is starting (Alice is ready). Schedules, and systems, and plans, oh my! Whether you do school at home or farm some of that out, most moms are busy setting up a new year on a clean slate. And who doesn’t love a clean slate? These days you don’t even wash the chalk dust, just give the iPad a wiggle and -voilà! – a clean screen.

Problematically, there is no such app for ourselves or our children. No wiping, wiggling, voice command, or button will erase the sin that thwarts all those well intended schedules, and systems, and plans.

I’m only a couple days in to implementing section 1 of plan A in our homeschool and already I’ve been frustrated in my progress, blaming 6 year-olds for my lack of a cheery disposition and for otherwise disturbing the peace and comfort of all who want to learn in this “loving” environment.

Unfortunately, I’ve been lost in this familiar territory too often until I make it to James 1:20, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Ouch. Put off wrath. Check. But now I’m naked.

Looking around for something put on, I see the rationalization hamper full of dirty laundry. I could choose cowardice (give up and listen to Doc McStuffins all day), hypocrisy (make some more rules and demand outward compliance), or old, well-worn comparison (take a carefully selected sampling of “other” kids I’ve heard about and decide at least we’re doing better than that).

Of course none of these will do. Only Christ’s righteousness can cover our sin and produce the righteousness of God. How is this put on? By repenting and believing. How do we help ours and our children’s unbelief? “This kind only comes out by prayer.” Mark 9

Prayer, the most powerful, always at hand, inexhaustible resource given to help me, that I pridefully forget until a last resort. Let me be your 2014-2015 cautionary tale. Pray first, pray next, pray last, pray again. He will wipe away the tears and the sin behind them. He says:

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4

And again:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11

Part 5, Some Principles

What are some Principles to keep in mind while we study the Bible:

1. The centrality of preaching. How will they hear if no one preaches? (Rom 10)  The Apostles did not go around establishing churches and then leave people only with a stack of letters to read as individuals, they established preachers and overseers to teach and protect sound doctrine that was often distorted.

After attending URC for a while, I noticed a change in my reading, I could hear Kevin ask, “Why is this here?” or “A basic hermeneutical principle Continue reading