Saturday Morning Poetry, edition 4

Exceedingly Abundantly More

glory

As if forgiveness weren’t enough
–the crown of thorns, the cross of shame–
You give me joy in life today,
And gladness in the midst of pain.

As if salvation weren’t enough
–the death for life, the opened way–
You give me fruit that will abide,
Abundant growing every day.

As if redemption weren’t enough
–the blood that flowed from feet and hands–
With love you take away my shame
And give me confidence to stand.

As if Golgotha weren’t enough
–the crushing for iniquity–
You crown my life with all Your good,
Pouring your glory out on me.

2016 by Erin Jo Kilmer
togetherforgood.wordpress.com
based on a sermon by my favorite preacher
April 24, 2016

Seven

cutie 1She and I are loud in the car, singing at the top of our lungs. Her voice is young but true, shameless and without embarrassment as she mangles the song lyrics and belts out the chorus.

She and I are locked in a constant struggle about math and whether she can count by sixes or add a column of four numbers or write 5 facing the right direction. I send her to her room and she stomps fiercely up the stairs, knows better than to slam the door. I hear her screechy complaints from the kitchen, where I resignedly wait for her to get over it and try again. Five minutes later she is back at the table, pencil in hand, writing 6-12-18-24-30-36 on her math worksheet as though she’s been counting by sixes since she learned to count.

She is in the bathroom, talking to the wrong end of me as I bend over the toilet with my rubber gloves and scrub brush. She keeps up a constant stream of chatter about her friends across the street, how hard it is to do a backbend at gymnastics, how funny Olaf is in Frozen, how she fell asleep last night curled up in a ball with her fingers in her ears and her face squinched tight because there was thunder and she just really doesn’t like thunder very much.

She is flopped down in a chair, reading Junie B. Jones Is a Beauty Shop Guy, giggling and reading her favorite parts out loud. “But Mommy,” she declares very seriously, “I used to try to cut my hair, but now I know better and Junie B. was very naughty when she did that and I would not ever do that.” I nod, and put the scissors up a little higher.

“Mommy,” she asks, “Why is that lady on the radio singing about “Your presents, Lord?”

cutie 5She is dressed in a fluffy black tutu and a unicorn t-shirt, helping her daddy in the garden, fearlessly carrying around the worms she dug up.

She comes in from riding her bike through mud-puddles, streaked in grime and splashed with mud, and asks if I can put a princess braid in her hair because she wants to play dress-up.

She is screaming bloody murder because her brother sang, “Happy birthday to you, you live in a zoo, you look like a naked mole rat and you smell like one, too.” Two minutes later she is singing her own version– “you look like a skunk, and you smell like P.U.”

cutie 4She has covered the table in glitter and Legos and crayons and glue and paper. She is making cards for her friends, notes for her cousins, a grocery store or maybe an ice cream shop or a hotel or a picture that says “I love you! Mommy Gracie loves Mommy fourever.”

She is putting away dishes, so busy talking to me about the dream she had or how she was playing with Bear this morning or how she just really really wants that million-dollar Lego set and she doesn’t know how she’s ever going to get money for it because she is too little to mow lawns like the brothers. She stands with the same dish in her hand for five minutes as I scurry around her, scrambling eggs, stirring oatmeal.

She is mad at me and I am frustrated with her, and she is crying and I am sending her to her room again.

Her arms are flung around me in a fierce and wild hug; she is begging to be snuggled and tickled and picked up and carried.

cutie 2She insists on painting her own toenails– two shades of blue on one foot, two shades of pink on the other– gets mad when I say I will do her fingernails. “I want to do it myself, Mom!” she says, with an eyeroll that would do a girl twice her age proud. Half an hour later she is crying because she doesn’t want to be by herself in her room at bedtime. I win both arguments. Ten minutes later she is asleep, fancy two-toned pink nails clutched around her teddy bear.

She stands in the shower with a washcloth over her eyes while I rinse her hair, and she sings “Praise Him, praise Him, all you little children! God is love! God is love!” Five minutes later she is shivering on the rug, wrapped in a towel, complaining that she is cold and she doesn’t want me to comb her hair and she doesn’t want to go into her cold room and put on her cold pajamas.

She is wild swings of mood and wild affection and wild anger, and she is not what I expected when God gave me a girl but she is a gift of His sweet favor and His sense of fun. She is laughter and tears and screaming and whispering, writing in journals and on the walls with sharpies, reading long words but pretending she can’t read the short ones. She is hugs and kisses and dirt and worms, a strange mixture of sugar and spice and dirt and fearless bravery and terror of thunder. She carries worms but shrieks about flies; tries to do gymnastics on the pews at church (gets in trouble); stomps in puddles in her rainboots.

cutie 6She loves bread and butter, pasta and butter, toast and butter, plain butter. She loves her Daddy, her brothers (usually), her friends. She loves fluffy dresses and also grungy sweatpants, bike rides and books, fancy sparkling dress shoes and the grimiest pair of tennis shoes ever. She loves singing (but not in public), teddy bears, writing, reading (but not math!), dancing around, pounding on the piano, coloring, and baking. She doesn’t like mashed potatoes, fried eggs, bacon, or being alone.

She is seven years old, and she is a whirling, shrieking, wild reminder of His wild unceasing grace.

Happy Birthday, Pooka. Mama loves you forever.cutie 3

Doubt and Faith and an Unsearchable God

surrenderI wake up with a wild, questioning heart. Half awake, half asleep, I dream? think? and it’s all about a little girl and cancer scans and scary words like lesions and low counts. It’s about her mama, her brothers and sisters, a road already walked and so many questions. It’s about doubt and grace.

I believe that God allows suffering into our lives that we might grow, that He might be magnified. That’s all great when it’s me suffering. But a child?

My heart recoils in horror at the thought of a God who allows children to have cancer so that He might have glory. I can’t help it– it is a gut reaction, a fleshly cry against a God I love. A God I can’t understand.

In the last several months, I have learned to love my Savior more deeply than I ever expected, and I know He is good and loving and merciful and faithful and I know these things in the depths of my soul and so when I see something that doesn’t fit into my understanding of Him my heart reels and kicks against it.

I am reminded of Job, who blessed God but questioned Him, who came face to face with the Lord of the universe and was given no answers– just a glimpse of Who exactly it was he was talking to. And Job repented in dust and ashes. I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Who am I to put the God of the universe in a box? To expect the Creator of all, infinite and holy and so far beyond me that I can’t even begin to comprehend Him, to fit into the neat and tidy package, tied up with a pretty little bow?

I am reminded of Peter and the Twelve, after many disciples had left Jesus because of His hard-to-understand, controversial teaching. He asked if they also wanted to leave, but Peter knew the truth– Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Job walked through unspeakable suffering and did not sin, and he was given the privilege of seeing God. The Apostles, when faced with teaching they surely did not understand, recognized that though they were conflicted, they must stay near to Jesus because He alone had the words of life.

And this is what I understand, though I understand so little about my God. I understand that nowhere else will I find what I need. He is breath and life itself. I can do nothing– I am nothing— without Him.

I understand that I see dimly, through a darkened glass, with eyes that are far too small to really see and a mind that is far too simple to truly understand the great God of the universe.

I understand that my God has never failed me and that He has proven Himself faithful and true though trials and storms and all the doubts of my feeble mind, my old nature, my wild heart.

I understand that the Creator of the universe, who upholds it all with just a word, who juggles galaxies and nurtures the tiniest of living organisms, is worthy of all praise and glory forever.

I understand that my Savior loves me, though I am entirely unworthy– though I never would have turned to Him on my own. I understand the language of the cross– the unspeakable horror and pain and rejection my Savior endured, all for me. I understand that there is nowhere else I can go to find life.

And because I understand these things, I can believe that God is good, even when friends die, even when children are laid in the ground, even when I see so much fear and brokenness around me. I can believe that there is a plan, and it is a good plan, and that my Father will not start failing now after an eternity of never failing.

I can say Yes, Lord, You are good and Your way is best. I can live a life of joy and gratitude even in a world of anger and fear and sorrow.

I can surrender my doubts and my questions and submit to His perfect way and I can know that in the darkest places of loss and suffering– that is where we see God, because He is always present there, and the light of His glory shines out brighter in the darkness of our pain, our fear, our grief.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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pray for taylorFriends, will you pray for my friends’ daughter Taylor? She beat neuroblastoma a few years ago, but her scans yesterday showed lesions on her spleen and low counts that have the doctor concerned. Let’s lift her before the throne of grace, along with her parents, Randy and Julie, and her siblings and extended family.

Light

pot of light.jpgToday I’m supposed to be blogging about spiritual battle, but I feel like I need to go in a different direction this morning. My post yesterday came as a surprise to me. If you had told me a year ago– six months ago– that I would willingly be writing about my food struggles in my blog I would have either laughed in your face or turned away and cried. I had absolutely no idea that I even could write with honesty about that deep battle of my heart until I did it yesterday morning. Make no mistake; this is all grace.

Every morning I sit here with the cursor blinking at me and I pray that God will guide my words. I don’t want to write from my own agenda or to ever come across as a know-it-all who has it all together. My prayer is that God will be glorified in these words, and that these words will be only what He desires them to be. Yesterday morning when I sat down here, God had something to teach me as I wrote. He taught me that I have experienced much more healing in the area of food than I had realized.

For two years, this struggle has been like an open wound in my heart. It was the area I shielded the most from the eyes of others. Because some people can’t understand the idea of food as a spiritual battle. Because it was so deep, so personal, so shameful and difficult, that I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone knowing it was happening. Because I was afraid that if people saw or knew what was really happening in my heart, they would lose respect for me, for my God. I was afraid I would hurt my husband’s ministry in our church, damage my own reputation. I felt so desperate and out of control in my cravings and in my continual falling into the same sin again and again.

God never stopped working in me. While I don’t believe that He ever wanted me to sin, I believe He allowed me to stumble again and again until I realized I needed Him only. My reliance on myself and on my pride had to go. It took a lot of falling down for that to start happening. And much of the process was horribly messy, painful, and humiliating. So I didn’t share it. What would they think of me? I couldn’t handle the idea of anyone knowing the deep painful place in my life– this sensitive spot where I was constantly falling prey to the arrows of an enemy who never shows mercy.

But yesterday– yesterday I wrote about it and I did so without fear. And I did so without feeling like I was exposing an open wound. And that is all grace. All the work of God. I hadn’t even realized how much real healing had taken place until I hit “publish” and didn’t feel all shaky and scared inside. He has brought healing to my wounded heart.

Why am I sharing this? Truthfully there are a few reasons. First of all, if you are struggling with a similar sin, I want you to know that there is hope for you. Keep getting up and fighting the battle again. Even if you fall every day for six months in a row, there is still hope. God promises forgiveness as we confess our sins. Keep turning back to Him. Bind your heart to Him. Step out in faith-filled obedience and plead with Him to change your heart. He will. He can. He wants to.

Second, I want to share that one of the things that has really made a huge difference for me in this journey– is still making a huge difference– is accountability. Back in October, when God really stripped away a lot of what was blinding me and holding me captive, one of the things He impressed on my heart was that I needed someone to hold me accountable. I had tried accountability partners before, with little success. Because when I fell off the wagon I would quit responding to their inquiries. Mature, yes? I am blessed with a sister who has been exactly what I need. She won’t leave me alone. She asks nearly every day how things are going, and she encourages me when I’m struggling. She doesn’t make excuses for me when I fall, but at the same time she doesn’t berate me. She has been a blessing beyond description, and her prayers and her texts have been a lifesaver to me, truly.

Accountability can be hard because it exposes that open wound to another person. Choose wisely. Find someone who loves you and loves Jesus and who won’t take excuses but who also won’t cause more trauma to that broken place in you. Pray about it and ask for wisdom. Listen to the leading of the Spirit.

Third, I want to talk for a bit about transparency. Because I don’t think that we as believers can have any kind of real testimony before the world without honesty. And I don’t think we can be encouraging one another, spurring one another on to love and good works, without honesty. We have allowed our churches to become places where people don’t feel safe to be transparent. We have put on this pretty outward veneer without ever showing a lost and dying world that we have desperate need as well. We allow hurting people into our churches and they come in and feel alone in their hurt, their doubt, their struggle, because no one has ever dared to be honest with them that we are all struggling, doubting, hurting.

What this world needs– what our fellow believers need– is to see God at work in our lives, and how are they ever going to see that if we aren’t willing to be honest about the places where God needs to work? Why should “refreshing honesty” be so unusual among God’s people? We say we have the answers to what this world needs, but we refuse to let anyone actually see God in our questions, our problems.

You know what, friends? We are fooling nobody. They know we have problems. All we are doing is stealing from them the opportunity to see the answers– God at work within us.

I’m not saying we all need to be airing our dirty laundry all over the place. As God has worked in my life in the area of food, He has restrained me from blogging about it until I was ready. First I had just a few people I felt like I could talk with honestly– my sister, my mom, my husband. Then He gave me opportunities to share with some trusted friends in my church. And now– now He gives me freedom to write about it. In fact, He asks me to write about it, to share this story, and promises to give me strength for the new temptations that will undoubtedly arise as I speak publicly about my struggles.

There is somebody who needs to know your story. God works in our weaknesses. If we hide our weaknesses, we are blocking His ability to be greatly magnified in our lives.

This year of opening is teaching me to trust God as my Protector. He is the shield about me; and I don’t need to shield myself by eating, by refusing to share my struggles, by putting on a show of Good-Little-Christian-Girl-Pastor’s-Wife-Ness. He is a far better shield than I could ever be anyway.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Let’s step into the light, my friends. Let’s let the Light of the world shine through all our broken places.

Because this world needs the Light so very, very badly.

Of Desperate Need and Hearts Bound to Him

Bible2It’s there every morning in my time with the Lord– brought back to me every day as I teach another math lesson to a child reduced to tears– hammered deeply into my head when someone hurts me. It takes me by surprise when my children fight and I respond with less than grace– brings me to my knees when I face temptation– flattens me desperately to the ground when I can see no way out.

I never knew how much I need Jesus.

I spent such a huge part of my Christian life thinking I needed Him for salvation (obviously) and definitely on Sundays and probably every morning, although really I did okay if I didn’t return to Him then. I believed I needed Him when my budget was tight or someone I loved was sick or my car broke down, but regardless of what I might have professed to believe, my life said that I didn’t believe I needed Him on a random Tuesday morning in April.

My God has worked slowly in my heart, over a space of years, to bring me to a knowledge of my deep need for Him. It started with a commitment to read the Bible every morning for thirty days. Ten minutes and a quick prayer and I was done. That was all He needed to start His work. Mornings in His Word became a part of my life, and after more than two years of morning Bible study, He began to convict me that my life needed to include real prayer as well.

I was afraid to pray, afraid to surrender in this area. I was so reluctant– felt like I had no idea what to say to God, other than what I said every mealtime, thank You for this food, or at prayer time at church, please watch over the missionaries and heal so-and-so. God had decided it was time, though, and truly there is no fighting His will when He starts to really work in a heart. I had been a pastor’s wife for a year and a half when I finally committed to pray. It was the beginning of something completely new.

Around the time I began praying in earnest– writing my prayers in my journal, praying more deeply and seeking God’s heart with more regularity– I also began to struggle with food in a way I never had before. Don’t get me wrong. I have always loved food. I was the kid sneaking the Little Debbie snacks up to my bedroom, the kid spending her babysitting money on candy at the drug store, the kid whose lunch in high school often consisted of nothing but chips and a candy bar– washed down with a Mountain Dew. As an adult I would lose weight and put it on again.

junk foodIn 2013 I went on a diet and over the course of a year lost 50 pounds. I was working out regularly and eating healthy and it was awesome. And then there was 2014. I started on a new medication that gave me cravings and made the weight stick to me like it was glued there. And I started this struggle with food that hit me out of nowhere. I started bingeing until I felt sick to my stomach– and then I would eat some more. I prayed about it, would do okay for a week, then would fall again. I gained 30 of the pounds I had lost. I would say I was getting back on the wagon and I would fail, not just a little, but spectacularly– alternating days of healthy eating with days when I couldn’t stop putting food in my mouth. There was this desperation I couldn’t explain, and I felt so ashamed by it.

I read amazing books about eating and I did Bible studies and I would do well, sometimes for months at a time, but I was not losing weight even when I worked out and restricted my calories. The discouragement would drive me back to eating.

My spiritual life was growing in ways I had never expected as a result of my commitment to pray, but this one thing– this food thing that I couldn’t beat– was destroying my joy and causing me to feel defeated, shamed, and hopeless. No matter how well my day went, if I binged I felt like a failure. I confessed over and over again. I turned to God over and over again. I truly desired to do what was right, but when the cravings hit– it was such a deep thing. I felt completely out of control.

Friends, this lasted for more than a year and a half. I think it’s the first real experience I had with spiritual battle– and I wasn’t prepared for it. And I think God let me fall, several times, to teach me of my deep need for Him. Just Him. He is enough.

Last year, as I fought this daily battle with varying successes from day to day, God began to show me how the cravings of my flesh were an outward manifestation of the need of my heart for Him. I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that there are so many references to spiritual food in the Bible. Jesus is the Bread of Life. He gives us Living Water. His Word is compared to pure milk, to rich meat, to sweet honey. And as I began to ask God to teach me what that meant for me, He began to teach me that He is truly enough– truly sufficient for each temptation. He began to teach me that even if I never had another bite to eat, I could find real satisfaction in Him. He asked me to step out in faith and to believe that.

In October of last year the Holy Spirit showed me that I had been using food and eating to dull my senses to fear and to pain. It had become a kind of protective armor, a source of comfort even though I hated it. When everything was out of control, at least there was food. When someone said something hurtful, at least there was food. I was using food to comfort me, to protect me. It had become this idol that I thought I needed in order to be safe. And God wanted me to lay it down. He wanted me to trust Him to protect me and comfort me.

My year of sacrifice came to its head in October, when God brought me before an altar and asked me to lay down my idol of self-protection and trust instead to His armor, His Spirit, His presence. At that point it had been a year and a half since I started fighting this horrific battle of ups and downs, stops and starts.

Here is what I know. For me, food is a daily issue. It is not something I can ignore, not even once. It is a serious chink in my armor and Satan will attack me there every time I feel like I’m doing okay. I need Jesus here, in this area, every single day. And as I have yielded to Him, as I have fallen and gotten up again, He has taught me that placing boundaries around my eating is a way of binding myself to His heart. Daily I am reminded of my need for Him– this deep, desperate longing that will never be satisfied by food– as I deliberately and intentionally commit to limit my calories and to limit my sugar and to hold myself accountable before others.

Sometimes my flesh screams and rebels. That is what our flesh does, my friends. But it’s just flesh, and we are called to crucify it. God is greater. His Spirit in us is far more powerful than the strongest craving of my flesh. He teaches me to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to pant like a deer for the Most High God, not for ice cream or potato chips or fresh-baked bread.

This is my daily weakness, and I expect I will fight it for the rest of my life. But what a precious weakness it is, for it is the thing that most draws me back to my Savior. Daily I need Him. He is my daily bread. I need Him when I choose what to eat for lunch, when I go out for dinner with my family, when there is a whole groaning table of desserts at the church potluck. I need Him. And so I go to Him, and He gives strength and the sweetness of His presence. And when I fail, I need Him then too. And so I go to Him, and He pours out forgiveness and so much beautiful mercy.

threadThis post isn’t really about food. It’s about need. And I fully recognize that some people will think it’s about food and won’t think it’s for them. I get it. But while you might not have a problem with food, I have no doubt that there is a thing in your life that pulls you away from daily trusting God. You might read this and wonder how could food be that big of a deal? but I will guarantee that there is something in your life that daily threatens to derail your faith and your walk with the Lord.

That is the thing that God wants to use to daily tie your heart closer to His. Each day I set up my boundaries– so many calories, so many treats– and I look at it as one more stitch in the binding of my heart to His.

And there is no better place to be than close to the heart of the One who loves me so very much.

 

Monday Meanderings, Week 10

We have reached Monday again, and it has been a glorious day in Tiny Town, Iowa. So thankful for spring! What a beautiful season.:) Last night there were thunderstorms and rain, and this morning everything looked fresh-washed and glorious.

Tomorrow is the first day of our last week of this school year, and we are all so ready to be done! It’s been a good year, I think. I’ve seen all my kids making great progress in so many areas. It’s nice to think of putting the books away for the summer with a good amount of progress to show for all our work. We will be taking May and June off, and then returning to school in July. I know that’s early, but we really enjoyed taking December this school year. Starting in July makes that possible.

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reading reclinerSomeone in my house is turning seven years old on Wednesday. I am having a very hard time wrapping my brain around this fact. In my head she is still my baby. In her head she’s perfectly capable of everything her big brothers do. This causes some trauma and problems in our lives.

She has become a strong reader in first grade, after a rough start. It’s exciting to see her grow and change and learn– exciting and hard, because she is my last baby and my little girl. But I love how our relationship is growing too. Having a daughter is a sweet and highly challenging blessing.:) She is having a Frozen birthday this year, so I have been obsessively purchasing blue and white and snowy decorations. Should be fun!

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I am having some issues today determining what to blog about. All week I’ve been thinking, “That was awesome. I’ll have to write about it on Monday.” And guess what. I have no idea what any of those things were. LOL. Maybe I need to write throughout the week and just post the whole mess on Mondays.

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Tonight I am busy planning an upcoming getaway for our family. We are all so excited to get out of Iowa and see family! We will be visiting my sister in Louisiana and Art’s sister in Indiana, so we are titling this trip the Epic Sisterly Road Trip of 2016. Obviously. Because “family vacation” is way too simple. Anyway, the ESRT2016 will be so much fun for our kids. I’m just thankful to have our sisters a bit closer so that our kids can know their cousins better. Plus, look at this baby I get to love on at my sister’s house.

pouty lip This was his face when his mommy told him it was still going to be more than a week before Auntie Erin came for a visit. Poor thing. You can tell he needs lots of hugs from me. It will be hard, but I will sacrifice myself to be a blessing to him and meet his needs.😉

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me n boThis boy informed me today that he was writing a story where the main character wears sunglasses because he is cool. Obviously said character is patterned after me. Right?

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I’m giving up on this post now. Have a happy day!:)

Saturday Morning Poetry, edition 3

Treasure

treasure in heaven
shining like gold
lasting forever
without growing old

treasure in heaven
a glorious crown
to carry to Jesus
and gladly lay down

treasure in heaven
oh, let me live
all glory to Jesus
forever to give

2016 by Erin Jo Kilmer
togetherforgood.wordpress.com

Standing Up

standingYou’ve got to stand up for your rights!!!

Indulge yourself. You deserve it.

Never settle for less than you deserve.

Always stand up for yourself. . . . No one in this world is more important than you are.

Don’t let anyone stand in the way of your happiness.

If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?

Be yourself: . . . think your thoughts, indulge your tastes, follow your inclinations, behave in ways that you decide are to your liking.

Those are some quotes I gathered in about ten minutes of googling things like “what I deserve,” “stand up for yourself,” and “indulge yourself.” They are a perfect snapshot of the way our culture and our flesh look at self. They are a lie from Satan.

We fall into a terribly seductive trap when we start to seek our own rights, what we deserve. But I hear people all the time– believers– encouraging one another to “stand up for yourself” and “not take anything from anyone.” I hear things like, “You have to do what’s right for you,” and “You deserve to be happy.”

I have told myself these lies, told them to others, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are lies. I know they are lies because they are opposed to truth.

How I wish they were true! How I wish I could indulge my flesh and tell myself that I deserve it! How I wish that God’s greatest purpose for me were to make me happy! How I wish that I did deserve good things. I don’t. You don’t either.

Friends, if we are going to truly live as Christ lived, we have to give up this idea that we deserve anything besides eternal punishment in hell. We have to give up the idea that we have a right to freedom, to happiness, to self-indulgence, to put ourselves first.

This is so hard to write. It goes against everything our culture says. But this is what God’s Word says:

 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus . . .

The mind– the attitude we are commanded to have is the attitude that Jesus demonstrated while He was on earth.

. . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped . . .

“He was in the form of God” means that He was God in His inward nature. But He did not greedily clutch His rights as God! He did not cling tightly to the things He deserved because He was the holy, eternal, omnipotent, glorious Lord of all eternity.

. . . but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Jesus Christ gave up all the splendors of heaven, all the worship of the angels, all the perfect holy beauty of eternity. And He didn’t just do that. He came as a servant. A slave.

 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

You want to talk about rights? About what we deserve? About our personal happiness and its great importance over all else?

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Friends, this is the attitude we are called to have– the attitude of God Himself made flesh, surrounded by darkness, serving sinners and outcasts, giving up not only glory and beauty and eternity but life itself and His precious fellowship with the Father.

You know who deserves everything He wants? Jesus Christ. You know who doesn’t? You and me. In fact, our sinful hearts have earned us one thing– death.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Death– exactly what Jesus experienced in our place, so that we might have life.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Every time I demand my rights– every time I indulge my flesh under the pretense of this being “something I deserve”– I spit in the face of the Savior who endured the cross, scorning its shame, for me.

Here is the teaching of Jesus about my right to be angry:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

My right to revenge:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

My right to cling to my own plans and belongings:

And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

My right to hate others:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

My right to be recognized for my good deeds:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

My right to earthly treasures:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

My right to worry about my physical needs:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

My right to pass judgment on others:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

My right to life itself:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

In fact, as far as I can tell, the only rights we are really supposed to be concerned about are the rights of others

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

God’s requirement of us is to do justice, not to seek it for ourselves.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Love– the greatest of all of Christ’s commands– is characterized by selflessness, not by self-seeking.

[Love] does not insist on its own way.

All through Scripture, the teaching is this– God’s people are to be humble and generous, and when they seek justice it is to be for those least likely to obtain it– orphans and widows, the oppressed, the poor, the weak.

How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

This is what James calls pure and holy religion–

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

take up cross.jpgFriends, I’m going to be honest. I find myself daily buying into the lies of the world that I deserve this, that I should be seeking what is best for myself. I might do good things, but they are so often from a desire to make myself feel good or look good in the eyes of others. And as hard as it is to admit to myself, this is sin. This draws me away from the best that God has for me– serving others as Christ did, humbly, with no expectation of recognition or reward.

I want to make it clear that there are situations where self-defense, leaving abuse, or making clear boundaries are absolutely necessary. But I think that for must of us, most of the time, when we are standing up for our “rights” we are in truth selfishly pressing for our own comfort, our own affirmation, our own ego, our own personal belongings. When we indulge in what we desire because we “deserve” it, we are merely making an excuse to sin. And none of those things are godly. They are a far cry from the life of self-denial we are called to.

 I have been crucified with Christ.

When we seek nothing but our own rights, we miss out on so much that God is waiting to offer us when we turn to Him alone for all our needs. When we do that– when we truly allow our precious flesh to be crucified with Him, we experience the satisfaction of our God.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Oh, friends, today, let us seek not to stand up for our own rights, but to stand against the enemy. Let us stand strong against sin and injustice for those who are needy, even as we lay our own lives down. And let us learn from experience that the steadfast love of God that meets us in our death to self is far sweeter and more precious than anything we can imagine.

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

 

 

Weariness, Well-doing, and a Wonderful God

fruitEvery day I sit with my kids, one after the other, and I teach them. I drag the proper spelling of words out of their bored minds. I cajole good handwriting out of their scribbly fingers. I explain again and again and again how fractions work or how counting by threes works or what a past participle is. I mark up papers with a red pen and teach and explain and beg them to get it right this time before my head explodes. Sometimes their progress zooms forward like a fighter jet. Sometimes I feel like I am the mule dragging their unwilling minds up a very steep hill. Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart.

In the mornings we sit at breakfast and they squirm and kick each other under the table and stand up to get the cereal box and interrupt to inform me that someone isn’t listening as I lead them through morning devotions. They dutifully recite John 15 with mouths full of scrambled eggs, offering criticism because someone said “this is my command” instead of “this is my commandment“– completely missing the point that the commandment is that they love one another. I plead and cajole and I pray for them to have tender hearts and most days I feel like I might as well be pleading with the refrigerator to love its neighbor the broom cupboard. As soon as I say “amen” they are off, racing to the sink to fight over who gets to wash dishes first. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, either.

Every week we show up at church to teach the kids from God’s Word. Numbers are low. I open the Book and tell them the old, old stories– awesome stories, true stories, about the Red Sea and the battle of Jericho and Elijah calling down fire. About a Savior who paid for our sins so we wouldn’t have to. About a God who loves them. They slouch in their seats and whisper to their neighbors. They ask questions about completely unrelated topics. They rush through memory verses for a piece of candy and can’t remember a single word five seconds later. A week later they can’t recall anything about the story, the verse– anything except how so-and-so promised the coveted corner seat or that we could play soccer this week at game time. Teaching children isn’t for the faint of heart.

Can I be honest? Many days it feels like I am teaching rocks instead of kids. Argumentative rocks. Sometimes I wonder if there is any point at all to the time and energy these things require. Seriously. We all want to make a difference. We want to see some kind of fruit for our work. And we are promised fruit, right?

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

We will reap– that sounds like a promise to me!

And don’t forget this one:

 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Do good–> reap a harvest. Abide–> bear fruit. Seems pretty straightforward.

So what about when we don’t see the fruit? What about when we are actively choosing to abide in Christ, actively drawing on His power so we do not grow weary, actively seeking His direction for each obedient step, and we still are seeing no fruit? I am not an expert in these matters. I have not mastered this life in Christ; after 32 years as His child I feel like I am just starting to step out of the kiddie pool and into the deeper waters of this vast ocean. But God has been teaching me.

1. God’s Schedule Isn’t My Schedule

I am small, and my life is barely a blink in the vast incomprehensible ages of eternity. In due season isn’t according to my tiny timetable. God is eternal and everlasting, and He sees time completely differently than I do. He promises a harvest– but I must trust His good timing.

For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

2. God’s Ways Aren’t My Ways

The way God brings forth fruit in our lives and ministries isn’t always the way we expect. It is seldom a linear, logical progression. I might be praying and working really hard in one direction, only to discover unexpected fruit in another area completely. I might be pouring my life into the church kids with little to show for it, but meanwhile God is growing His good fruit in the life of someone else in the church. This doesn’t make sense to me, honestly. But so many times, as I have followed God in obedience in one area, He has given fruit in an area I was barely paying attention to.

Often the fruit shows up in my own life. When God wants to cultivate patience in my life, He gives me a kid who needs to learn fractions and has a mental block about it. And while I pray for that child to understand and for wisdom to help him get it, God is growing patience in me, and a deeper compassion for my child.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

His ways aren’t mine. I must submit to that and trust Him– and keep my eyes out for fruit in unexpected places. God is never not at work.

3. God Desires Faithful Obedience

Faithful obedience means trusting God enough to do what He has given me to do, day after day, week after week. It means showing up again and again and giving all I have, even when there seems to be nothing to show for it. It means surrendering my expectations and my desires to His will, His timing.

My faithfulness to my calling is based purely in the faithfulness of God. Is God faithful? I believe He is. I say that– but am I living it? As I live it, I am proving His faithfulness to myself and to those who might be watching my life. Here’s truth– God has never stopped being faithful to me, though I have many times proven unfaithful to Him.

If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

So when I can’t see what He’s doing, the least I can do is be faithful to Him. And as I step out in faith and obey my good God, I experience His grace in unexpected ways.

4. He Is Always Enough

Sometimes my desire for fruit is based more in my own pride and desire for affirmation than in a real desire for God to be glorified. When I don’t see the fruit I am hoping for, striving for, well, in that moment God is still enough. As I faithfully follow Him and trust His timing, His perfect ways, He draws me near to Himself. I follow in Christ’s footsteps– He was obedient to His Father also, and at the Cross His life surely looked like a failure– and I meet Christ there.

Friend, if you are struggling to see the purpose of your work, looking for fruit, frustrated by the hard days of seemingly pointless work, may I suggest you look to Jesus? He is your strength, your help, the Author and Perfecter of your faith. He is the joy of your heart, the Bread of Life that keeps our souls satisfied. One moment in His glorious presence, one glimpse of His love for you– it is enough to keep you going.

He is amazing. Keep abiding in Him, and let Him do His good work in you, in His time, in His way, all for His great glory.

 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Good Fight, Part 6– Actions of a Warrior

the good fightBefore we look briefly at the actions of a warrior in this spiritual battle we are all called to fight, I want to refer you to last week’s post about the attitudes of a warrior. These actions must flow from a heart that is in a right relationship to God. We must let God work in our hearts first, or we are attempting to fight in our own strength. There is no faster way to experience burnout, discouragement, pride, legalism, and fear than trying to fight a spiritual battle in our own strength.

Many of the actions we will consider today will be expanded on in coming weeks as we consider the armor of God. Today I will attempt to be brief. I’m not saying I’m going to succeed.:)

1. Cast Off Sin

Paul calls our sin “deeds of darkness” and holds them up in contrast to the “armor of light” in Romans 13:12–

 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Our culture tells us that sin is normal, natural. We see sins that were once at least hidden away in the dark and secret places being brought forward and glorified, and we see holiness treated as sin. Regardless of all of this, our personal responsibility before the holy God of the universe has not changed. We are called to live holy lives– lives that can stand up not to the warped spotlight of the world, but to the pure light of the very glory of God Most High.

Peter tells us that our fleshly lusts wage war on our souls. They are serious. We must deal with them.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)

Often, the casting off of sin is a spiritual battleground. This is not some simple exercise in self-discipline, but a daily surrender and yielding to the strong leading of the Holy Spirit. Anything that causes us to sin must be cast out of our lives, no matter how precious it is. In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that even those things we think are necessary to life– our own body parts– must be cast aside if they cause us to sin:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Christ was so very serious about this concept that He repeated it again in Matthew 18. We cannot fight against the enemy if we’re not willing to also fight against our sinful flesh, doing whatever it takes to cast aside our sin.

2. Keep Serious Watch

Sober-mindedness is something I should have included last week in the attitudes of a warrior, for we see it here in Peter’s exhortation to us to be alert–

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

We must be serious-minded, and we must be keeping watch at all times. Think of a battleship on high alert as opposed to the guys in the crow’s nest on the Titanic as it neared the iceberg that destroyed it.

Temptation is going to come. Pressures will arise that make us more vulnerable to the enemy’s fiery darts. Sometimes we will be caught off guard by the battle– usually about three minutes after we fall flat on our faces we will realize that we are under attack. But if we have a sober mind and a watchful stance, that will happen less and less. We will begin to recognize our vulnerable spots and be able to set a guard around them. We will recognize signs that we are under attack from the enemy and be able to shore up our defenses.

I will give you an example from my own life. I recently realized that I have this tendency to fall into a particular sin right after some stressful event. I would resist well all through the stress, but as soon as I relaxed I’d find myself back in that sin. And I realized that this is a place of vulnerability for me, and that I needed to set a more careful watch there and be more serious about setting up strong boundaries for myself. As I recently went through another time of stress, I asked friends to pray for me and I kept myself highly accountable in this area. And God brought me through it, because that is His desire. Victory!

Here is what God has been teaching me about this– I am vulnerable right when I think I am standing firm. That’s because of pride. Paul addresses this very thing in 1 Corinthians 10:12–

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Those words take heed— that is exactly what we’re talking about. Pay attention. Keep watch. Dig your heels firmly into the Rock, and stand.

3. Put on the Armor

We will spend several weeks talking in detail about the armor of God, so we’ll just touch on it here. The armor of God is what protects us and prepares us for battle. We are naked without it. Lately I have found myself entrenched in an ongoing battle that requires me to daily pray through the armor and ask God specifically to clothe me in it. As I have begun to do this daily, I have experienced far more victorious days and far more consistency in my ability to resist. Paul’s teaching about the armor of God is in Ephesians 6–

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

We have to remember that this is a spiritual battle against spiritual enemies, and that we cannot expect to fight it with anything other than spiritual weapons. And when we use the weapons and the armor that God has specifically provided us, we find they are highly effective– more effective than self-help books, motivational tricks, positive self-talk, any of it. Because we’re not able to help ourselves, friends. Putting on the armor requires us to recognize our inability to help ourselves and our deep need for Him and His strength.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Cor. 10:3-4)

4. Stand Strong and Resist!

The commands to stand, to be strong, and to resist appear over and over in Scripture with regards to spiritual warfare. Look again at Paul’s words in Ephesians–

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firmStand, therefore . . . (emphases added)

The exhortation to stand and to be strong also appears in 1 Corinthians 16–

 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

Ladies, don’t be offended at that “act like men” thing. Be a soldier, a grown-up. Stand up and be strong. Resist temptation and endure when you have done everything else you could have done. And remember that in our resisting, we must do it from a place of nearness to God.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Did you catch that? That promise? Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Because if you’re standing firm in your faith, standing close to God, clothed in His armor, ready for action, Satan just can’t stand that. So keep standing, friend. In the evil day, when you’ve done everything, keep standing. Who knows. You might be just moments away from the devil’s fleeing with his tail between his legs. Don’t give up. You have been given victory in Jesus Christ!

5. Fight!

My promise that this would be a brief post has clearly not been kept. So far we have dealt with the defensive postures of the believer as he faces spiritual conflict. I will wait for this last command– to take the offensive and fight the good fight– for another day and another post.

As we face battles in our life, let’s do so with seriousness toward our sin, with sober-minded vigilance, with the armor of God surrounding us with protection– and let us stand and resist.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

There is a purpose in the battle– we will be restored, confirmed, strengthened, established. And will will experience the eternal glory of the amazing God of the universe.

This battle we fight– it will be worth every blood-stained, hard-won inch. Have faith.

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