October 31, 2011

Day 31: Wholly His, More Yourself Than Ever!

This week, Colin and I (with the help of some friends) were able to give Elizabeth something special - going on the church hayride despite our unavailability to take her.  How delighted we were to provide something her little heart desired; how delighted she was to receive!  I was so thrilled to give her the news that she would be able to go with her friend Mei and her parents, because I knew exactly the joyful response she would have.

If you are a parent, doesn't it just tickle you to do something special for your child that you know he or she will love?

*     *     *

Jesus said something similar to this about our heavenly Father:
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 
   9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  
Matthew 7:7-12

Do you have some longing or dream?  Have you shared it honestly with the Lord?  He is the giver of good gifts!

This month, around the themes of abandoning the clamour of self-will and becoming more ourselves that ever, we have:
  • journeyed through the process of salvation by faith through grace,
  • lingered amidst some of our many sins and sought to apply the Gospel to those places;
  • considered how God works through our circumstances to mold and shape us, and
  • dwelt on the Holy Spirit, what Scripture says about Him and how we interact with Him.
I want to finish up the month by challenging you to take some time to think about what God might have you do next.  Are there things you'd like to ask Him for that you've never officially verbalized to Him?  Are there things you'd like to pursue for the Lord, but you've never had the courage to?  What's your heart's desire these days?

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4

Your desires may seem out of reach, but if there's an inkling there, chances are Someone planted it there.  God is not a tease; He's the good-gift giver!

*     *     *

A couple of years ago, I started prayerfully pursuing a dream.  I wasn't praying about it all the time, but I had become aware of the need to use my gifts in the church and also cognizant of some specific gifts and personality traits that God had given me.  So I began to work more intentionally at my writing, got bold enough to share my dream with others, attended a training conference, and kept read, read, reading.

What has ensued has astounded me.  While I was doing things to prepare for the future, God had the idea of delighting me with a little dream-fulfillment in the present.  Out of the blue, late last winter, I get an email from a woman at our church in Cambridge asking me to consider being their women's retreat speaker in the spring.  Wow!  (And the one who suggested she ask me did not know that part of my dream was a desire to speak someday for those dear ladies on their retreat.)  Then God took it another step further and allowed me to share what I had prepared two more times, for the women at our church here in Pittsburgh and at a retreat at a friend's church in Washington, D.C.

All I can say is Thanks, God!  with the same kind of enthusiasm Elizabeth had when she learned she would be going on the church hayride.

So I leave you with this final encouragement and challenge as we bid farewell to October and usher in a new month:  PRAY and PURSUE.

PRAY that God would open your eyes to gifts He's given you and ways He's equipped you.  PRAY and ask God for both the desires of your heart and how He'd have you use all He's given to you.  PRAY and give thanks for the many ways He's already worked in your life.

PURSUE means and opportunities to strengthen and exercise your gifts.  PURSUE growth in the fruit of the Spirit by reading the Word, praying, participating in the sacraments, and being with fellow believers.  PURSUE the God who pursued you, becoming wholly His, because by belonging to Him you'll become more yourself than ever.

May God bless you richly in the journey!

*     *     *

And, oh yeah, the book winners are ...

Respectable Sins 1st (first) edition Text Only
The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness [Book]

Congratulations, ladies!!

*     *     *

Special thanks:  This month has given me the opportunity to synthesize many things I've learned over the past  decade.  I'd like to thank a few people and resources who've been influential.

Kit - for the 31-Days idea (and for being my friend!) 
Biblegateway.com - for making it easy to post chunks of Scripture and to find Scriptures for which I don't know the reference 
Authors - Jerry Bridges, Sally Clarkson, Os Guiness, C.S. Lewis, (to name a few) 
Pastors Rick Downs and Matt Koerber - for faithfully preaching the Gospel on Sunday mornings 
Tom - for reading a lot and always passing along great book 
Friends and family - who have supported and encouraged me in life from the beginning until now through prayer and so may other means
God - for creating, redeeming, transforming, and giving hope to all His people

If you're just joining in, this is Part 31 of a month-long series you can learn more about by starting with Day 1 here.  There are many others doing super cool series this month as well, perhaps you'd like to see the list?

October 30, 2011

Day 30: Sabbath Giveaway Reminder

I pray that your Sabbath day is restful and that God meets you wherever you gather for worship this morning.

Tomorrow is the end of the series and giveaway day!  There aren't too many on the list, so your odds are high to win one of these great books by Jerry Bridges.  Click on the links below to learn more about each book or read others' reviews.  Both have benefited me enormously.

Respectable Sins 1st (first) edition Text Only
Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness [Book]
The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness

To enter the contest, please leave a comment here, letting me know whether you'd like your name entered for just one or both of the books.  If you have been with me throughout the whole month, I'll give you a bonus entry - be honest!  And if you post about the giveaway on your own blog or Facebook, I will enter your name yet again.  Wow, so many ways to increase your chances of winning; things are getting crazy around here!

Get your comments in before 7am tomorrow and look for the results of the giveaway in tomorrows final October post!

October 29, 2011

Day 29: The Greatest of These is Love

Wow, this is the next to the last "real" post for October.  I asked on Facebook a couple of days ago if you have any ideas for where we should go next.  Please share if you have anything you're dying for me to talk about: topics, single posts, whatever!  I will be cutting back from daily posts to 3-4 per week.  This month has been fun, but not something I can keep up in this stage of life (or any stage ever?!)  Thanks for joining me on this journey; it's been a blast!  If you're just joining in, this is Part 28 of a month-long series you can learn more about by starting with Day 1 here.  There are many others doing super cool series this month as well, perhaps you'd like to see the list?

*     *     *
Yesterday we closed with the cliff-hanger of Paul's statement Now I will show you the most excellent way, to eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Guess what the most excellent way is?


Perhaps you've read this passage:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 
 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 
 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In this description of love, we hear echos of the Galatians 5 description of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Real love encompasses all of these things.  In our reflection on who we are, what gifts the Spirit has given us, and how we might serve His church ... we have to take a look back at our hearts.  It doesn't matter how awesome your Spiritual gift-bag is, if your very character is not marked by love.  Are we growing in the fruit of the Spirit?  Or are we trying to maintain a facade when it matters and doing whatever we want otherwise?

Just today I had to clean up soup from behind my sink and dish drying rack that got there, not because a child was clumsy, but because a frustrated woman, feeling overwhelmed by what she needed to do this afternoon,* threw a half-full bowl into the sink in a very not patient and not kind way, hoping to release a little of that frustration.  The clean-up time allowed me to reflect on my need for a Savior, how much room I have to grow, to take note for the future that God's way of love is the better way.

Pressing into the Spirit (especially when we've just "failed"), asking Him to grow His fruit in us, actively working to change old patterns, confessing when we sin, praising God when we choose righteousness - in these things we will begin to see spiritual growth.  As we practice these habits of faithfulness, we'll find God molding us into exactly what He created us to be.  With good fruit growing inside, we don't become suddenly sinless or better than anyone else, but we do become more of who God wants us and designed us to be!

Elsewhere in the Bible it says that God is love.  Jesus came and lived that love - he could do astounding things, but He loved first - both God and man.  He knew that it didn't matter what kind of miracles He did, if He did not love.  Paul reminds us, in the context of thinking about our own unique calling and gifting within the church, that the baseline call to love God and love our neighbor is the same across the board.

What this all draws out for me is that there's always a lot going on when we're walking with the Lord.  Even as we love and serve in the church, we never outgrow our need for the blood of Jesus; we've grown and changed some, but God's always got more growth and change for us!  Jesus is always interceding on our behalf.  And the Spirit that is in us transforming and empowering us is the One who will also continually point us back to Him, to amazing grace.  As we gaze on the Savior and meditate on His love, we are drawn to love the Father that called us and to love the neighbors around us, with whom we are equal at the foot of the cross.

With that focus, using our gifts is just another way to love God and love others.  Our concern is no longer the specifics of the gifts, but rather the glory of the Giver, honoring Him by using what He's given to His glory.

In the here and now, to love God and our neighbor takes work, parts of us must die, we're constantly aware of our weakness, but Paul wraps up I Corinthians 13 with a breath of hope.  One day the struggle will be over.  We will see!  We will know!  We will worship in spirit and truth all the time.  Right now we're in preparation for those glorious days.

And they're going to be eternally spectacular!

*Ironically, I was overwhelmed by things I needed to do to get ready for the Sabbath and the need to post on the blog today - things that are invitations to breathe-deep and trust God!  How desperately we all need Him, huh?

October 28, 2011

Day 28: Christ's Body and You

Oh boy, Bible study makes me tick.  I'm so excited to dig into the rest of I Corinthians 12 with you today.  Let's start by reading it "together."

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desirethe greater gifts.  And now I will show you the most excellent way.

There is much that one could go into here, a lot of which I don't know enough about to instruct well at this time.  So, we'll proceed like we did yesterday, with a bullet list of overarching points (and a few comments.)  I love lists almost as much as I love Bible study! And I know that you have a finite amount of time to be hanging out here at Life in the Valley.

  • Diversity in the Unity - Christ's body, just as our own bodies, is a single unit made up of many parts that work together to make us whole.  The Spirit is our starting and unifying point; no matter what kind of body part we are, we all drink from the same source of life!
  • You're exactly the body part God wants you to be. I'm sure you've heard people say things like (or you've thought them yourself), He or she has so much more to offer, so I'll just steps aside or not initiate....  Dare we mock God and deny that in fact He has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be (v 18) and not seek to glorify Him with whatever He's given us at the moment, no matter how mature or immature, qualified or unqualified, sure or doubtful we feel?  (I am so guilty of this.)
  • You need all of the other parts of the body.  As my friend Kit pointed out in her post yesterday it's easy to hang with people like you, but quite another story to mix and mingle with those who are quite different ... or even a little different.  And yet, as we look around on Sunday morning or other places we interact with fellow Christians, we find more folks unlike us than like us, don't we?  And Paul strongly states here that we NEED each other.  We can never say, I don't need so-and-so in my life, they're too weird, too charismatic, too dry, too slow, too fast ...  (Guilty on this point, too!)  Perhaps they are the VERY with whom you or I need a relationship!

Dear Christian, not only do you need the church (the body), but the church needs you!  We're so united (whether it feels like it or not) because of the Spirit  that if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (v 26)  I cannot write you off, nor you me!!  God's always taking it to the next level isn't he?

Questions to consider:
  • How do I currently approach being part of the local congregation to which I belong?  How could this passage influence my future interactions with people and participation in the church?
  • What are some of the gifts God has given me (spiritual gifts as well as talents, life experiences, etc.) and how can I put them to use for the edification of the body?
  • How can I be looking out for others' gifts and affirming the "body part" that they are?

In the final verse of chapter 12, Paul says, And I will show you the most excellent way to desire the greater gifts, to be fully invested in and part of God's body.  We'll move that direction tomorrow; get ready!

Have a great day!

This is Part 28 of a month-long series you can learn more about by starting with Day 1 here.  There are many others doing super cool series this month as well, perhaps you'd like to see the list?

October 27, 2011

Day 27: The Spirit and His Gifts

As a follower of Christ, I know that His Spirit lives within me.  Jesus promised the disciples He would come; He arrived on Pentecost, enabling them to preach with boldness and in new languages.  A fire was lit, not only above their heads, but in their hearts.  Now, God's people had within them the power of the very Spirit of God.

When I was in college, I had this phase where I was trying to figure out how to "get the Spirit."  The root desire was that when I got the Spirit, I'd have it made, I'd get "the Christian thing" right, I'd be a superstar believer.  Yeah, really honorable, I know.  I honestly did want to follow God passionately and understand His will, but I was looking for an end, wanting to skip over the process of sanctification and my daily need for the blood of Jesus.  In the midst of searching for some Spirit experience, I missed the fact that He was already dwelling within me.  He was there; I just didn't get it.

Over the last several years, the Holy Spirit has become very dear to me.  I'm in awe when I have an inclination to serve someone or when someone comes to mind who I need to call or write, because I know the Spirit is prompting.  I'm even more in awe when my proud heart feels convicted of sin.  That's not a sign that God's done with me, that's a sign God's at work in me, whispering, Hey, it's time to repent and believe, little one.  The more we're aware of the Spirit of God at work in us, in fact, the less we feel like a superstar and the more we're drawn to worship the God at work in our hearts.  It's cool and I wish I could dwell more in that place ... so looking forward to heaven!

But we're here now, given days to love and serve God on this side of heaven.  What should that look like?  

Over the next few days, we'll consider a couple of chapters of I Corinthians, 12 and 13.  Here's how this connects to what we've been talking about there rest of the month.  God calls us as individuals to believe and follow Him, but he calls us into a new community, a new family.  He's got work for us to do there.  In previous weeks, we've looked at our need to be saved from our sin, several specific sins and how the Gospel frees us to admit them & root them out, and ways that God uses our circumstances to shape us - all of these are means God uses to help us abandon the clamour of self-will.  Now we're getting into the becoming more yourself than ever part of Lewis' quote.  Who are you?   How has God knit you together?  What do you bring to the body?  Beyond the basic call of all Christians, what specific calling does God have for you?

That's too much for one post, for sure, but we'll get started today and see where it takes us!
1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 
 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 
 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.I Corinthians 12:1-11

Some overarching observations for consideration (verses in parenthesis):
  • Spiritual gifts exist. (1, 4)
  • There are a great variety of spiritual gifts. (4, 8-10)
  • The variety of gifts come one source, the Spirit. (4, 11)
  • Spiritual gifts are given with a purpose: the common good. (7)
  • Spiritual gifts are given intentionally, just as the Spirit determines. (11)

Here are some things I think we can take away from those general points:
  • If you call Jesus Lord, the Spirit lives in you and you have been given spiritual gifts.
  • Though there may be some overlap, your spiritual "gift bag" will not be the same as others'.
  • Our differences should bind us together and we should encourage one another in using our gifts, because the same Spirit has given these gifts intentionally for the good of the church.

Differences too often drive a wedge between us.  I love the constant reminder through these eleven verses that all of that great variety of gifting comes from ONE source.  The Lord expressing Himself in so many ways through His people.  I think it's neat, to say the least.  It also challenges me to think differently about how I interact with those next to me in the pews on Sunday or fellow believers I know in other spheres of life.  We'll move on to that tomorrow, taking a look at the rest of chapter 12 to consider our interconnection with the body.  Then we'll follow that up with chapter 13 on Saturday.  Sunday will be a day of rest, and Monday I'll conclude the series and announce the book winners - comment here if you want your name in the running!

October 26, 2011

Day 26: The Spirit and His Fruit

This morning, Elizabeth said to me, "There's something I've never told you before.  But sometimes when I remember things I've done, I feel embarrassed."  I pried a little to understand what she was getting at, but she couldn't give me any specifics.  Nevertheless, what a delight to share with her that sometimes I feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment about things I've done and that are forgiven, but when satan tries to bring them up to keep me down and forget God's loving-kindness, I can look to Jesus (she can look to Jesus!) to be reminded of the Truth.

For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  Colossians 3:3


*    *     *

Today let's take a look at Galatians 5.  I love Galatians 5.  It so very well describes us in our sinful nature and so very well gives us hope for the work the Spirit can do in us.   The chapter begins:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

In verse 13, Paul continues:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

We're called to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit.  In doing so, we'll naturally be loving God and loving our neighbor, living by the two greatest commandments.  As we live by and keep in step with the Spirit His fruit begins to grow in us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control come more naturally as the nasty weeds of the acts of the sinful nature (self-dependence) are replaced with new blooms of Spirit-fruit.

Gardens need to be tended, cultivated, and protected to grow to their full potential.  And we get to participate with the Spirit in making our heart a place of good soil, fertile ground for the roots of His fruit to go down deep.

Paul draws an interesting contrast between the slavery of life under the sinful nature/law and the life of freedom that we have when we're in Christ.  We're free!  We're free, not to do whatever we want, but to confidently begin putting to death the passions and desire of the flesh, opening our hearts to the work of the Spirit.  The sinful nature gives us no choice, we naturally go it's way for it is a slave master.  In contrast, life in the Spirit is lived not under compulsion, but in joyful relation to a Father who calls us sons & daughters and friends!  When I walk hand-in-hand with my husband, I always adjust my steps so they match his.  Getting in step with the Spirit is like that, doing a quick skip-step to align ourselves with Him.  We won't do this perfectly, but the Spirit Himself will give us little reminders, so that in the middle of the day we see that our step is off and it's time to skip-step to get back in rhythm!

One final point before leaving Galatians 5:  Paul talks in this passage about using our freedom in the Spirit to love and serve others.  How much you think of and act on impulses to do things for others, withhold criticism of another, patiently wait for someone, faithfully pray for someone, etc, is a great litmus test for your "keeping-in-step-ness."  Walking in the Spirit will keep us from the conceitedness Paul warns against, because our eyes are fixed in the proper place.

Let me be clear, your salvation does not ride on how well you're keeping in step with the Spirit.  Jesus' blood has secured your standing before the God if you've believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth that He is Lord.  Paul is reminding us, however, that in that new identity we're called to a whole, free, and wonderful new way of life, life in the Spirit.

For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  Colossians 3:3

*     *     *

This past Sunday we read the first question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism.  I'll leave you to meditate on that for the waning hours of today:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my Own,
but belong body and soul, in life and in death-
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. 
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

October 25, 2011

Day 25: Times of Transition

Over the last few days, I've shared a little from my experience about how God uses relationships to mold us.  Today I thought it might be helpful to consider how He uses times of transition to do His work in us.

In Sunday school, (by the way, City Reformed folks, if you are not attending this Sunday School class, you need to be), our pastor has been talking about how when we live under self-rule, we're in essence wanting full independence from God.  But when we begin the life of faith, we move into full dependence on God.  Times of transition can be used by God to deepen our faith as the comforts of the familiar are diminished or removed and we're forced into fuller dependence on Him.  

Think of the many natural changes we might experience in this life: marriage, a child, new job, moving to a new city, starting or graduating from college.  Sometimes we're rolling along and things are going "according to plan" and we're excited by the change.  Other times the move comes too suddenly, the job's more or less than expected, or our dreams are not as fulfilled as we anticipated, and we despise the change.

Change is hard, even when it's one you're looking forward to.  A year ago June, we moved back to Pittsburgh after 7-3/4 years in Cambridge, MA.  When we moved to Cambridge, we were in a time of LOTS of transition: freshly out of college, newly married, two new jobs, and a new city.  But we were young and fancy free, so all the change was rather exciting!  Leaving Cambridge felt less natural.  I'd put down a lot of roots there, loved the people where we lived and at church, both our babies were born there, had my roles and places in my groups, and Cambridge and Boston are really fun cities to live in.  At the same time, we were coming "home."  I grew up in Pittsburgh, Colin moved here for middle and high school, we both went to college in Pittsburgh, and both of our families still live here.  It was almost like living the dream, returning to a place you'd long called home, familiar streets, taking the kids to places I loved growing up, and so on.  Talk about a bitter-sweet transition!

What has been most interesting to me, however, is what transition does to one's identity.  Having been in Cambridge for a while, I knew who I was there.  I'd developed a sense of self and my role where we lived and at church.  But I think God knew I was getting a little too comfortable.  I was losing a little of my welcoming edge and sliding into sticking with people with whom I was comfortable.  Maybe that's partially because I knew we were moving soon, but either way, it really was time for the boat to be rocked.

So we moved.  And I'm so very glad to be here, despite the somewhat frequent desire to hop on a plane for a quick visit to Beantown - mostly for the people with whom I'd love to sit, chat, and drink coffee.

Transition is hard, because when we're new in a new place, we're not known.

But the God who is there knows us and draws near to us both to cheer and to guide.  Taking me away from my comfort zones and dropping me into new relationships, a new neighborhood, and new church has required that I wrestle a with and confess my selfish insecurities.  But it has also forced me to think about the ways God has gifted me and the importance of sharing those gifts within the church and with my neighbors.  Just because I don't have my cozy blanket of familiarity to huddle down in, does not excuse me from serving God where I am with what He's given me.

Transition does not excuse any of us from loving God and loving our neighbor.  How quickly we can slip into our natural self-absorption and use the time of change as an excuse to check-out for a while.  I've wanted to do that, to wait for people to come to me, welcome me, make me feel loved.  But I am loved.  My identity is in Christ.  I can initiate friendship, be the welcomer, love God by loving others RIGHT NOW.  You can, too.  Not only do you need the church, but the church needs you, fellow body part, to be the best ear, nose, eye, or mouth you can be!

The Good Shepherd has not let me stay where I am, and in the process is teaching me about myself and about how to listen to Him, follow His lead, and enjoy being who He created me to be, regardless of where I am at a given moment.  (I've sure got a long way to go; I thank the Lord for his long-suffering love!)

There's always more in each of us that needs to die.  But believe it or not, it's good news, because there's a Savior there giving life, breathing newness into old dead places, carrying light into the dark, dismal corners of our hearts, cultivating His good fruit where only weeds used to grow.  Times of transition can bring into focus new places for growth and change in our hearts so we may abandon the clamour of self-will and become more ourselves than ever.

If you find yourself in the midst of a transition right now, how are you?  Do you see how God is at work in you?  Let Him know how you're really feeling about the situation, be comforted by His love and faithfulness, ask Him where you need to repent and believe, ask him for the things you need (He knows before we ask, remember!), and give Him thanks that He has not abandoned you.  I pray that He'll amaze you with His goodness to carry you through and bless you with all you need to trust Him more.

 This is Part 25 of a month-long series you can learn more about by starting with Day 1 here.  There are many others doing super cool series this month as well, perhaps you'd like to see the list?

October 24, 2011

Day 24: Child Rearing ... (and a giveaway!)

This is Part 24 of a month-long series you can learn more about by starting with Day 1 here.  There are many others doing super cool series this month as well, perhaps you'd like to see the list?

Pretty much everyone will tell you that having a child changes your life.

That is true.

The statement is usually it's in reference to the loss of freedom that comes with having a living, human being for whom you're completely responsible.  Yeah, it's a big deal.  And when they're tiny, they demand every ounce of your energy (something I'm trying not to think too much about with the February due date getting closer and closer!)  As they get older, their practical day-to-day neediness decreases, but their need to be loved, nurtured, and encouraged remains.  (Think even now about yourself; don't you still want to be loved, nurtured, and encouraged?)

But that life change need not be only approached from the negative angle, Look at all that I'm losing.  For Scripture attests to children being a blessing.  From our children we can gain new insight into the depth of our own need for the cross.  Believe it or not, this is a HUGE blessing - no matter how painful - and can take us from a look at the freedom lost to a look the freedom gained; praise the Lord perspective.

*     *     *

When Elizabeth was small, I thought I was a pretty good parent, mostly because I had rules and Elizabeth needed to (and often did) obey them.  Comparing myself with other more lax parents was my measuring stick. At least I was doing it "right."


As a result of my authoritarian parenting, I was so hard on Elizabeth.  My expectations were high, as she was generally a compliant child.  And my fear of what others thought of me as a parent was also high - leading to unnecessary harshness on many occasions to "get" her to obey or not embarrass me.  I can remember one occasion being really mad at her coming up the stairs to our apartment, or maybe it was crossing the street to get to the building, I don't remember the circumstances exactly.  But I remember how I felt,

angry, irate, furious.

She was walking way too slow and I was carrying a bunch of heavy things.  Could she not just hurry up so my arms wouldn't break?  For.   goodness.   sake?!

Um, no, she couldn't.  She was one and a half, with short chubby little legs that had only been walking for a handful of months.

Dear Lord, have mercy.  I hate that memory, and others like it.  I could have made two trips with all of the stuff in my arms and gently gotten E to where she needed to be, without the rage.  But I was so very self-absorbed.

*     *     *

Parenting a child will open up so many new doors for a parent to see new depths of his/her depravity, if one's eyes and heart are open to seeing.  Early on in the series I spoke of death having everything to do with moving into the new life to which Jesus calls us.  Admitting that I, as a parent, have a heart problem and it's not just my kids that "make me" do things, means that a little bit more of me has to die.  But as the old sinful habits, reactions, and behaviors begin to change, we're ushered into a new era of parenting - no longer a constant battle of wills, but rather a training ground for both you and your child(ren) to trust the Lord for help with our actions and reactions.  God brings freedom from the tyranny of getting it all right, with our kids' obedience indicating "how we're doing" as parents, and gives us freedom to entrust their little souls to Him, as much as we've entrusted Him with our own.

It is important for our children to be trained and disciplined, yes, but they also need to be respected as individuals with thoughts, feelings, needs, and unique personalities.*  That's where the transformation has had to happen in me.  Embracing the call of motherhood, not only to give my children rules to obey, but to disciple them, guide them, show them compassion when I know how hard it is to consider others before myself, to study their unique personalities and know when they need discipline versus when they need to be put to bed, etc., has made all the difference in our home and in my heart.  (Special thanks to God for Sally Clarkson and MomHeart ministry.)

As a parent you've been called to raise up your little (or big) ones.  When God calls, He provides all we need to pursue the calling.  But he never promises it will be easy.  Think about the call on our Savior's life, that cost Him his life! Most of us will not taste physical death as a result of rearing our children, but we may need to put big prideful chunks of ourselves to death to move forward in faith in this calling, becoming more of the parent God wants us to be.

I do hope and pray that my sin does not have deep, lasting effects on my children.  Anyone else think this at times?!  But knowing that the Jesus I point them to when they find themselves in sin is the same Jesus that I need each day puts a beautiful spin on being their parent.  When they find it hard to share, not hit, respect their father, or obey, I can point them to Jesus.  When I find myself getting all up in a tizzy or having an irritable day, I can say to them, "Wow, mommy's not doing well today.  Please forgive me for taking it out on you.  Please pray that I'll have self-control or patience, or whatever I need."  (I had to do this just today, in fact - and, praise God, it really turned our day around!)

Parents, God bless you as your love, nurture, disciple, discipline, and train your children.  It really is an endless job, but you are not alone and God has good things in store for you and your kids.  Trust Him in and with it all!

*     *     *

Next Monday our 31-Day journey comes to an end.  One more week.  Phew, this has been a delightful and intense adventure in writing!

To celebrate, I'm going to give away a couple of books next Monday, October 31!  Jerry Bridges is an author who has profoundly influenced my faith, so I'd like to pass along two of his gems.

Respectable Sins 1st (first) edition Text Only
Respectable Sins:
Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness [Book]
The Discipline of Grace:
God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness

To enter the contest, please leave a comment here, letting me know whether you'd like your name entered for just one or both of the books.  If you have been with me throughout the whole month, I'll give you a bonus entry - be honest!  And if you post about the giveaway on your own blog or Facebook, I will enter your name yet again.  Wow, so many ways to increase your chances of winning; things are getting crazy around here!

Entries will be received until 7:00 am on Monday, October 31.  I'll announce the winners in the final post of the month!

*I wrote a 3-part series last year on What Should We Expect From Our Children.  Click to read:  Part I, Part II, Part III.  The final post has a list of some of my favorite parenting/motherhood reads, if you'd like to go more in depth on this topic.