Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Joy and Sorrow of Gospel-Centered Parenting

48 hours ago I was plagued by the thought, “I am a bad mom.” That complete sentence ran through my mind, seemingly uninvited, multiple times throughout the evening. I would try and push it out, but the truth was, it was gaining significant ground. Deep down, in those moments, I believed those words to be true.

24 hours ago I overheard a podcast that my husband was playing on his computer. One speaker encouraged listeners to remember that parenting is much longer than a day. She reminded me that when I lift my eyes up and see 5, 10, 15 years down the road, I gain a completely new perspective of my job as a mother. When I’m focused just on this day- when I wasn’t patient or kind during bath time, and the kids seemed to be sustained on sugar and “screen time”- I have a much harsher ruling for myself. Bad Mom. When I remember, however, that I am called to parent them to see Jesus exalted, for all of eternity, today’s bath holds much less sway. Yes, a lifetime is made up of seemingly “little” moments, and their weight is not to be completely dismissed. Yet, it is my entire purpose as a mom that is refocused when I consider worshipping before God’s throne forever. I am not a significant player in that picture at all! My ability to control a situation or procure the attention and obedience I think I deserve is revealed to be utterly insignificant, and an erroneous pursuit in the light of God’s overwhelming glory!
The second speaker on that much-needed podcast discussed our complete dependence on Jesus. She reminded me that as a regenerate believer in Christ, I have died to myself and have been raised to life in Him! (Romans 6:4) It is when I remember and rest in my identity in Jesus that I can live on mission and full of joy, more accurately displaying God’s love and glorifying Him as He deserves.
Rather than respond to my discouragement with self-esteem boosters and affirmations of, “No! You’re a great mom!” the Holy Spirit lovingly took my eyes off of me and put them where they need to be. On Jesus.
My primary goal as a mom is not to ensure that my children meet our culture’s standards- whether that be in regards to diet, entertainment, education, dress, activities, or any other myriad of topics. I am commissioned to teach my kids about Jesus. I am given the extreme honor and privilege of telling them about the God who creates, redeems, and restores. As part of teaching them about who God is and what His kingdom is like, I am also called to teach them about sin.
Mine is clearly on display, so I must respond biblically, demonstrating repentance and refusing to become complacent. It is vitally important that my kids not only hear me say, “I’m sorry,” but that they also see me engaging in battle to slay my sin, by grace alone. Sin threatens our relationships and darkens that already-dim mirror through which our children see the Lord reflected (1 Corinthians 13:12). Reading the Word and praying, therefore, become far greater than duties which I must check off my daily chore-chart! In addition to addressing my sin, I also must lovingly teach them about theirs. Remembering that our children are born sinful and are dead apart from Christ’s life-giving work prevents me from focusing on behavior modification more than spiritual discipleship. As difficult as that is, and as foreign as it feels in our culture today, teaching my kids about their sin will set them up to fully revel in God’s mind-boggling grace!

12 hours ago I walked through the Columbus zoo, hand-in-hand with my 6-year-old son. He’d been wanting to go on their “Pirate Island” boat ride for quite a while! He had been hoping it would still be there since our passes expired last season, and when it was closed on our first visit of this season, the forbidden fruit became even more desirable! He finally got to ride it with his dad today. Afterward I asked him how it was, and he said, “It was so fun! I wish I could’ve gone twice.” I immediately recognized my own tendency to feel this way. By God’s grace alone I was able to tell him that we all experience the feeling of good things not being enough, of being sure that something will make us happy, only to find that we still want more.
I told him the reason we feel this way is that only Jesus can fully satisfy us. Only Jesus meets our true needs and meets them completely!
I don’t know if he’ll remember that exchange. It only lasted about 30 seconds in its entirety. But I am encouraged that the Spirit guides my thoughts and words in those moments, despite my many shortcomings, to teach Eli the gospel once again. Therein lies my joy!

As Christians our calling, no matter what life-roles we fulfill, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Eternity is our timeframe, and the perfectly righteous Son of God is our advocate. So take heart, return to the source of your fulfillment and identity, and keep walking forward.

Recommended: The Village Church Podcast Show EPISODE 31 - June 9, 2016
Gloria Furman on Missional Motherhood

Friday, March 18, 2016

My Anxiety Idol

We sold our home today! We signed the papers, handed over the keys, and completed the seven-month process which has often felt all-consuming.

Each stage at times seemed overwhelming- from the painting and redecorating at the beginning, to the actual packing/loading/moving/unpacking at the end (and all the "Hurry up and hide the toys, we have a showing!" in between). But overwhelmed is the perfect soil in which beautiful dependence can grow.

There were moments on this journey when the fatigue and stress felt more real than anything else. On too many mornings consciousness immediately ushered in a mental to-do list. I hated the gnawing, low rumblings of anxiety just as much as I hated the snapping tone I heard come from my lips. There were times when the weight of all I felt responsible to accomplish was crushing.

Do not be anxious about anything... 

I was believing a lie. The circumstances were difficult, yes, but they were not what made my chest tight and my heart heavy. What did was believing the lie that I was responsible to affect change, to make sure that things went as planned, and to hold it all together. It was the moments when I took my eyes off of Jesus and not only noticed the waves, but then believed I needed to make the water still again. It was pure, modern-day, totally-understandable-in-the-eyes-of-our-culture idolatry. Deep in my heart I was not trusting that God really was who he says he is, or that he would really do what he has promised. And in response to this blatant treason, my Savior King never left me alone. He never pointed a condemning finger or cast me away for my sin. The Spirit convicted, and he lovingly drew me back.

...but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 

Apart from God's grace I would not desire to pray, nor have the ability to access the blessings which prayer was designed to give. In my own strength, even on my most disciplined day, I could not drum up the righteousness to grant me access to the Holy, All-Powerful, Righteous Creator of the universe! He alone, out of the overflow of his own goodness and love, pursued me and granted me that access by the shed blood of his perfect Son, Jesus. He is very well acquainted with my broken condition and knows every moment of idolatry- past, present, and future. Yet He bids me, "Come." He tells me to bring my anxiety and fear to him, as minuscule as they are in comparison to his greatness. And this Omnipotent God, who holds the stars and planets in place, bends to minister to me. A housewife in Ohio, who is disobeying him robbing him of the glory he's due. He draws me into his presence. As I lie on my cluttered bed, tears and repentance flowing, the Holy Spirit does what only he can. He exposes the lies, interposes the Truth, washes, comforts and redeems. His commands are always for our joy, so when we're told to be thankful instead of anxious, it is not another item to add to our to-do list. Rather, the Lord knows that anxiety cannot remain when we remember the greatest reason of all to be thankful... We get HIM! When we are in Christ Jesus, the reality of our right-standing before God, our temporary time here on earth, and our future, eternal home with him IS the truest reality. The tasks don't disappear, but instead of believing that the outcome is dependent on my own works, I trust and rest. Rest in God's economy is not the absence of any activity or movement, it is a heart-state that recognizes his ultimate authority and our position before him.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Peace. The perfect antithesis of anxiety. Just as my idolatry-produced-anxiety robs God of glory in my life, his perfect peace graciously given to me frees me to rightly enjoy him, thereby more rightly reflecting him to others. John Piper's assertion that, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him" is confirmed right in the midst of partially-packed boxes and piles of laundry. I talk to my kids more like Jesus when I am filled with his peace. I work on the to-do list with joy and grace when I remember that God is ruling and reigning, and that he loves me. My heart and mind are guarded against anxiety in Christ Jesus. I am freed to rest in the truth that he not only saves me, but he also keeps me, all for the praise of his glorious grace! 

(Philippians 4:6-7)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Gospel in the Van

I’ve heard the “big picture” of the gospel- God’s creation, the fall, Christ’s redeeming death and resurrection, the sending of the Holy Spirit, all the way to the second coming of Christ and eternity in heaven- described as “The Gospel in the Air.” Conversely, the “zoomed in” view of the gospel, how it applies to me and impacts my life, has been termed “The Gospel on the Ground.” As I thought about what to share in order to glorify my King and encourage others, I thought of where the gospel most often intersects with my life… in our family van.

I often feel the impact of the gospel while driving my three kids- 5 and under- around in the van, because that is most often when I see my depravity and need for a Savior. My sinful “grids” include a lot of lies about where my value and worth lie, mainly in my own performance. Those distortions, which I all too readily believe, bleed over into so many daily interactions! Our emotions don’t exist in a vacuum. What we believe to be true, even in a seemingly mundane moment, directly impacts what we feel and what we do (and say). So when my anger flares in that trusty, crumb-coated minivan, what is really happening?

I am a good mom when my kids obey.
I am a good wife when I’m productive.
I am a good person when meet all of society’s expectations.

So, when we’re running late for an appointment, leave the house a disaster, and the kids suddenly forget how to put shoes on or what a coat is, I feel angry and end up yelling at those precious little ones. I’ve forgotten the Truth.

I am a blood-bought daughter of the Most High God.
Jesus alone is the source of my value.
Life is not about my comfort, convenience or about ME at all.
Everything God has entrusted to me, most especially my kids, are for Him. For His glory alone.

Nothing I do, or don’t do, affects how God feels about me or changes my right-standing before him.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures…But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:3-7
Wow! Now that realigns things!
I can breathe. I can enjoy the little moments, even the chaotic ones. I can address my children’s disobedience from a gospel-centered perspective rather than from angry, personal offense. I am no longer first in my own thoughts and affections. Jesus is. Now, the thoughts and emotions that would normally rob me of joy and inhibit worship of my Savior, are replaced with ones that spur me on toward connection with Him.
Do you read things like this and think, “Yeah, that makes sense. That’s great. I’m sure there are super-Christians out there who always operate this way. But not me.” What do we do when we fail miserably at this, as I so often do? I can tell you with confidence what we ought not do. 

As a follower of Christ, with a regenerate heart and a mind awakened to the truth of God, you do not do shame and guilt. There is absolutely no rightful place for shame in the Kingdom of God. Because all shame was taken by Jesus on the blood-soaked cross. He was shamed. He was stripped, beaten, lied about, and hung naked in shame. So I don’t have to walk in shame. He took it in my place! And he didn’t stay there… he powerfully and finitely defeated death and the grave! It is finished. So my guilt has been absolved and I am found innocent, ONLY because of the blood of Jesus. So what charge can be brought against us, Church? What accusation can the Great Liar point at you? Is our sin more powerful than Christ’s absolution? Are we really so arrogant as to believe that his redemption isn’t quite enough for our mess? No. It’s been paid for. By the most beautiful, gut-wrenching, expensive, free grace. All of your sins were future sins when Jesus chose the cross. So he is not surprised or caught off guard by your failures, by mine. He is outside of time, and knew full well every single sin we would ever commit when he hung in agony on that torturous, beautiful cross. So we don’t do shame and guilt.
We do repentance.

The truth of Jesus’ monumental sacrifice merits one appropriate response. We fall to our knees.

Our culture emphasizes independence and self-sufficiency. Our innately sinful hearts rebel against submission to our King. So, it is a beautiful, merciful work of the Spirit when we feel convicted and are lovingly drawn toward repentance. Don’t fight that, friends. Don’t harden your hearts. Instead bow your knees and enter in to His rest. How peaceful it is to remember that we are not in control, that He knows what is best for us. Worshipping and enjoying Him truly is where our best life is experienced.

“I’m so sorry I yelled at you, guys. Mommy has a sinful heart. I need Jesus to forgive me and make me clean again. And he does! Isn’t that amazing?”

And we go on. We have dance parties, read the Jesus Story Book Bible, cuddle and laugh. And I yell, and pull away emotionally, even spank in anger. And I’m convicted. I’m graced by God with the reminder of what’s True. So I bend the knee of my heart and say I’m sorry. God’s inexplicable, completely un-human grace meets me and heals my broken grids once again. I get to worship and enjoy Him, and tell my kids about his mind-boggling goodness. And we repeat.
Right there in that old minivan I am “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor 3:18) Don’t run from Him, Church, run to Him! Refuse to do shame and guilt. Do repentance instead.

All glory to God!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Taking Fear Out of Friendship

She sits across from me, perched on the edge of her seat. She makes limited eye contact as she begins to describe the circumstances which have brought her to this room. It’s obvious she doesn't feel very comfortable, but the hope for help and expectancy of change hold her here. She needs something. She’s weary and searching for a hand to reach out and grab on to.

I’ve had the privilege of being the biblical counselor sitting on the other side of this scene, asking the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom and gospel-clarity to share. These kinds of moments, however- when pain reaches out and love attempts to reciprocate- should not be unique to a counselor’s office. This is what is meant to happen every day, in living rooms, coffee shops, and crowded playgrounds. God, in his mercy and through his Spirit, has equipped every follower of Christ to be able to speak gospel truth and encourage others with the Word. Unfortunately, I haven’t witnessed this to be the norm for relationships in local gatherings of the Church. The need for more of these gospel-saturated friendships, which facilitate real growth, healing, and change, should drive us to ask, “What keeps these kind of friendships from happening? What keeps me from pressing in to this?”

In my life the answer to those questions has been fear. Various fears- judgement, rejection or ineffectiveness- have driven me to stop short when it comes to developing deep relationships. By God’s grace alone I’ve learned how the gospel speaks directly to my fears and have been freed to taste and see how good true community can be.

“What struggles can I share this week in group that won’t make me sound too bad?”

I can remember thinking and operating this way. I was so afraid my friends would find out how truly sinful I was, and that they’d politely opt out. I was worshiping others’ perception of me and denying what God had already declared about my identity! When God, out of the overflow of his love and by his grace alone, brings a dead heart to life and grants sight to spiritually blind eyes, he doesn’t begrudgingly tolerate us. He adopts us into his family and delights in welcoming us to his table! The perfect blood of Jesus atones for our rebellion and changes our identity completely. The Father looks at Jesus and says, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Father looks at me and sees Jesus. The Father looks at me and is well pleased! When my heart is awakened to this beautiful truth, my worry of how I will look to others begins to fade. Humble gratitude stirs worship within me, and I let the veil of my own perceived self-righteousness be torn down. I can share my struggles openly, as well as extend judgement-free grace to others.

In addition to the fear of judgement or rejection, I have also seen how the fear of “not having anything good to offer” keeps men and women hiding behind the walls of surface-friendships. In Christ we see that we can actually look this fear dead in the eye and say, “Yep. You’re right.” In our own flesh we don’t have anything good to offer. But by God’s grace we can echo Paul and affirm that, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

When I’m afraid to enter in to someone else’s hurt because I won’t know what to do or say, I’m forgetting what that other person truly needs. 

They don’t need impressive sounding advice or more how-to’s; they need Jesus. So, all I need to do is move out of the way and let him love on them. The details of how God will work in each relationship will look very different, but we can trust that he will work.
And what a joy it is to be a part of sharing Christ’s love with someone else! God doesn't need me in order to accomplish his will. I get to be a part of his work, and as my joy in him grows, he is even more greatly glorified through me.
Remember,  you have been redeemed for a reason. Jesus not only saves us from, he saves us to. When we are rescued out of the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son, it’s for a specific mission! God has chosen to use each of us to bring the message of hope to the hurting world around us, and it is solely in him that we will find the ability to do so. 

The same Spirit who defeated death indwells each regenerate believer, empowering us to do his work, right in our own small circles of influence! 

So take heart, you do have something great to offer, the most beautiful Gift to give. Trust the Wonderful Counselor to lead, he is forever faithful.

Right now is the perfect time to prayerfully consider how God may be calling you away from fear and into more of his mission. As social media explodes with reactions to our culture, the Body of Christ must be ready to respond…not just in 140 characters or Likes, but in real, sit and listen to your pain, in it for the long haul, repent and forgive, on-the-ground, gospel relationships. 

May we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and allow him to remind us daily- moment to moment- of who he is and what he’s done. Only this will rightly inform who we are and what we are called to do. May we go forward in humble boldness, looking past headlines and into the eyes of the hurting. And may we all know what gospel-saturated community truly feels like.