Hearts Bound to His, part 2

Part 1 of this series

I grew up in church, almost literally. We were there all the time, beginning when I was just a few days old. I went to Sunday School and I went to Children’s Church and I went to AWANA and I sat in prayer meeting when AWANA was out for the summer. I sat through the evening service every Sunday and spent my entire educational career in two Christian schools and one Bible college. In all that time, I learned a lot of Bible verses.

Memorizing Scripture is one of the main things you do in AWANA, from the three-year-olds in Cubbies learning “He cares for me” to that horribly long passage in Thessalonians about a twinkling of an eye that I remember trying desperately to stuff into my head. At school we had verse quizzes every week, and who could ever forget ninth grade Bible and trying to memorize the book of James? (For the record, I failed. But I still remember Mr. Carrier’s voice as he led us through the beginnings of the book– “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.”) Even in Spanish class we learned Bible verses– en Español, obviously. Bible college was a long line of verses learned for a variety of classes– key verses for books of Scripture, proof texts for doctrines, practical Proverbs to commit to memory for guiding us in our classrooms one day.

I faked a lot of my memorization, honestly. Sometimes I felt like my brain was about to explode and I rolled my eyes when yet another adult in my life said I should memorize Scripture. I had, as a kid, what my mom lovingly referred to as “a brain like a trap” and I could learn verses and say them pretty quickly, although I didn’t expend the effort to hide them in my heart so much as to hide them very briefly in my brain until I could expel them. Nevertheless, I find myself continually surprised as I get older how many of those verses– at least bits and pieces of them– come back to me when I need them. The references are more of a struggle, but the good thing is that the internet is super helpful when you can just remember a phrase of a verse.

I have really begun to see the value of having God’s good Word hidden away in my heart. The Bible is the thing God uses to speak to us and to guide us. The Holy Spirit leads us, convicts us, and transforms us by means of Scripture. Its pages include encouragement, inspiration, beauty, help, hope, guidance, and life. Whatever we need, we can find it in the Word of God. We are so blessed in 2016 to have so many resources that put the Bible at our fingertips, but we should never take for granted the easy availability of God’s Word.

I have shared this in other contexts, but I was really struck by the words of Corrie Ten Boom in a book I read not too long ago. When they knew that things were about to get very bad for Jews and those who helped them, someone told the Ten Booms that they should learn Morse code so that they could communicate with one another from their cells, should it come to that. Dutifully, they learned Morse code and, I believe, taught it to some of the people they had hidden in their secret room. But when she found herself in prison, and in a concentration camp, Corrie said, Morse code was not the thing she needed or relied on. It was the words of God– the Scripture she had hidden away in her heart– that helped her the most. As she shared His precious Words with others, she blessed and encouraged them and gave them hope, and found her own hope and faith renewed.

What if today you were taken away from everything you consider precious, and the only hope and strength you had came from the Word of God that is already hidden in your heart?

My point is not to produce fear or guilt. My point is that I have been convicted of my own past attitudes toward Scripture memorization and lack of gratitude for the opportunities I have had to learn God’s Word in the past. And I neglected this discipline for many years because, honestly, I was sick of memorizing Scripture. Lovely, huh?

Earlier this year, God really began to work in my life in this area. He convicted me that the bits and pieces of His Word that I learned twenty years ago are not some sort of bed to rest on, but a foundation to keep building on. He convicted me that I needed to lead my kids in learning the Word of God as well.

And so, back in February I believe, we started to learn John 15:1-17. I am the True Vine, and my Father is the Vinedresser . . . And oh, memorizing is so much harder at 37 than it was at 7 or 17. My kids are constantly correcting me, reminding me of the exact phrasing, accusing me (justly) of skipping whole verses. But it’s been so good to do this with my children. So good to find the very words of God coming to mind when I’m praying, when I’m encouraging my kids, when I’m speaking with others or writing in my blog. His Words are so very powerful, so much more than my words could ever be. After we memorized the passage in John 15, we moved on to a passage of pure praise to God– Psalm 103. It is just sheer, unadulterated, glorious worship, full of beautiful reminders of who God is and what He has done. Every time we say it together is a reminder of the eternal love and mercy of my God.

We work on our verses at breakfast every morning, so often they are recited by kids with mouths full of food, or interrupted by someone’s toast popping or milk spilling. I know that my kids don’t always appreciate this discipline I am foisting upon them as they shovel eggs into their mouths or spread peanut butter on a bagel. But looking back, I am so glad that I was forced to learn Scripture, and so I am trusting that God will bless these seeds planted in their lives, if not today, then in the future.

Friends, I truly believe that every verse hidden in our hearts is another stitch binding our lives closer to our amazing God. Yes, memorization is hard. It requires discipline and time and concentration. But it is worth it. His Word is a lamp to guide us, a sword to defend us, a mirror to show us our hearts. It protects us from sin, and it brings us joy and renewal and change and enlightenment, and it brings us nearer to the heart of God because it is the revelation of His heart.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

It is never too late to begin memorizing Scripture, never too late to reap the benefits of a heart bound more tightly to the Lord’s.

Hearts Bound to His, part 1

I’ve talked a few times here about the important of spiritual disciplines as a means of binding ourselves to God. In my mind I picture each discipline I choose, each act of obedience, as a little stitch that is sewing me more tightly to my Savior. If I limit myself to one stitch per week– Sunday morning church, for example, or a weekly Bible study– I am leaving days in a row without even one little stitch, and I cannot help but sag away from the heart of God. Drawing near to God is a daily conscious decision, one that must be made one little choice at a time.

I believe that there are some spiritual disciplines that God calls some of us to but not others. For me, eating properly is more than a physical discipline; it is a spiritual one, because I have learned over the past few years that if I fail to eat properly I find myself very far from God. Each food choice, each calorie counted, is a tiny little stitch that binds me more closely to God in dependent relationship. That might sound crazy to you. But for me, food is a major issue that quickly gets control over my life. I expect that you have areas of your life that are similar– areas that so quickly gain control of your heart that they drive you far from God in what seems like the blink of an eye. God very well may call you to stricter discipline in that area than He calls another. In my experience, fighting against God’s calling leads nowhere, but submitting to God’s leading in this area is the way to deepen your walk with God beyond anything you may think is possible.

But that’s not really the point of this blog post. The point of this blog post is that I would like to share, over a series of posts, a few of the spiritual disciplines that God has led me to over the last few years that have made a huge difference in my walk with Him. These are not things that I do to gain God’s favor, because He has already poured that out on me beyond measure. These are things I do that act as little daily stitches in my life, binding me close to the God of the universe, my Creator, my Savior who gave His life for me. I am so prone to wander, but as I daily choose to tie myself more closely to God it becomes harder to get very far away before I am drawn up short by the disciplines I have set up.

Yesterday I mentioned transcription in my blog post. If you didn’t read it, since I forgot to put it on Facebook, you can here. It has pictures of my children in it as well as a few funny things Pooka has said recently, so it’s totally worth the time.😉 Anyway, transcription is simply copying Scripture. I fell into this quite accidentally several years ago, when God was first beginning to lead me into a daily, consistent time with Him. I started in Psalms, and it took more than a year for me to copy all 150 chapters. But by the time I had finished, I had fallen in love with the simple act of writing God’s Words down in my journal.

I know some people do this in special notebooks, but I’m a keep-it-simple-stupid kind of girl, and I can’t have too many notebooks in my life or I get overwhelmed. I have one journal for everything– Bible study, sermon notes, prayer, and transcription. It’s a huge jumble of my walk with Jesus, which is pretty much exactly what my walk with Jesus is, so I’m okay with that. In truth, I love having everything in there all together, because it helps me see the really amazing ways God uses what looks like chance and seemingly unrelated disciplines to teach me. You would be amazed how many times the passage I’m transcribing, the passage I’m studying for Bible study, and the Psalm I am using to guide my time of adoration all line up to teach me the same thing. This is God’s Holy Hammer of Conviction and it’s a good thing.:)

Right now I am transcribing Matthew and it has been such a blessing. I am nearly to the end of it, and I’ll have to make a decision about what to copy next. That’s always the hardest thing! But God generally leads me pretty clearly. Matthew has been hugely convicting as I copied the beautiful words of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ strong warnings to the religious leaders. Writing out the story of His death on the cross was terrible and beautiful and such a convicting reminder of the price paid for my salvation.

What I love about transcription is that it’s just me and God’s Word. I generally use Bible study books as I study the Bible, to guide me and ask questions I might not think to ask, but transcribing a passage forces me to slow down through familiar passages and really think about what they mean, enjoy their beauty, and let the Spirit speak to me about sin in my life. God’s Word is so powerful. When I limit myself to Bible study books there is a tendency to never really just expose myself to Scripture alone, to look straight into the mirror of the Word and let God show me what He wants me to see. Transcribing passages is one way that I have found that places me in front of that mirror and really slows me down to look at what is in there.

If you’re interested in giving transcription a try, I recommend starting with a smaller book than Psalms! Paul’s books of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians are amazing, shorter books full of really good stuff. 1 Peter is also a favorite of mine. And the book of Ruth in the Old Testament is a beautiful love story of redemption. If you want to start with a Gospel, Mark is the shortest one with just 17 chapters. Often when I am ready to transition to a new book, I pay attention to passages that keep popping up around me, or even what my husband is preaching. Sometimes God clearly leads me into a new book that way.

Don’t wait for it to be perfect– the perfect notebook, perfect translation, perfect pen, perfect time. Just get started. Who knows what amazing things God has for you as you linger over His good Word? Let every word you copy be a stitch that binds your heart to the heart of Your Maker, the great and holy God of the universe.

Oh God, bind our wandering hearts!

Part 2

Monday Meanderings, week 15

Last week Pooka was sick most of the week, which cut back on the fun stuff we had planned to do, like a picnic with the grandparents. And Angry Ranger was away at camp getting sunburned and exhausted (but apparently not getting any girls’ numbers, for which I am grateful), so all I’m saying is it was a pretty boring week.

Except for Pooka’s comment to her brother on Saturday morning, when he was telling her how good he was at MarioKart: “Well there’s no need to be pride about it.”😉

Also the moment at the doctor’s office when Pooka saw a magazine with a mostly undressed woman on it. “Mommy,” she whispered, “I see something embarrassing.” “Me too,” I whispered back. “Don’t worry, Mom,” she said, and then ran across to the offending magazine and covered it up with something else. “There,” she said breathlessly as she returned to me, “I helped her out.”

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One of the things I do every morning is copy a passage out of the Bible– the technical name for this is “transcribing,” which makes it sound fancy. Anyway, right now I’m transcribing Matthew, and today I was in the story of Christ’s crucifixion. And then I turned to Isaiah 43 for my time of adoration, and these words–

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.

And after reading–writing down– the horrific description of what was done to the Son of God, I found this verse to hit me right between the eyes. What a price was paid for my redemption! Jesus was not like me– at any moment during the whole ordeal He could have cried “Enough” and had all of heaven’s armies at His side. He was not held to the cross by the nails, but by His love for me– for me, lost in sin, rebellious and stubborn and so very unworthy.

He has called me by name– He has paid the immeasurably high cost of my redemption– I belong to Him– so if this God who made me and loves me this much says “Fear not,” well, that seems fair. What have I to fear when God has already given me His own Son? Would such a God ever, even for a moment, forget me or neglect me or fail me? When the worth of my life was the life of His Beloved, Jesus?

I think maybe we don’t spend enough time contemplating the cross. Every sacrifice God asks of us pales in comparison to what we have been given.

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Next week I am embarking on an epic adventure called Counseling at Senior High Camp. I have to confess that this is making me pretty nervous as it gets closer. Last week I counseled at junior girls’ camp, and that was super fun, but I feel like teenage girls are a bit of a different animal and I might come back scarred for life. Or maybe it’ll be entirely awesome. Either way, if you think about it, pray for me.

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Angry Ranger came home from camp on Saturday and I may have squealed when I saw him standing outside the back door. He was just as happy to see me.

welcome home

That evening we were required to have a Silly Hat Celebration because all of us were together again. Logic demanded it. Obviously.

Mhat celebration

My phone’s camera clearly did a great job on this picture.

And here’s a random one of Pooka after her shower on Saturday–I had never wrapped her head up in a towel like this before and she seriously thought it was the funniest. thing. ever. Of course, when the camera came out, so did the crazy pose.

towel

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And finally, with all the racial tension in our country right now, I feel like I need to share the experience I had the other evening at Barnes and Noble in Omaha. Art and I were going into the store, and there were a couple of kids– African American boys, one a teenager and one I assumed was his younger brother. That older boy went out of his way to hold the door for me until Art could grab it, and then to hold the second door for both of us. It made me smile. I feel like maybe small acts of kindness might do more to relieve pressure between races than all the hashtags in the world. Let us be the hands of Jesus to one another.:)

Have a great Monday, and may your meanderings remind you that you are so loved!

Nearer

Sometimes I think we get things a little bit backwards in our walks with God. I was thinking about this last evening when a song came on the radio that asked God to “draw me near.” There’s one in our hymn book too– “Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord . . .”

This is a lovely thought. And of course it should be the desire of our hearts to draw nearer to God. I used to pray this all the time– draw me near to You, Lord God. And then one day I stumbled upon James 4:8.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Here is what that verse says. We have to draw near to God, and then He will draw near to us. Crazy, huh? But think about that for a minute. When I pray and ask God to draw me nearer, without doing the work of moving nearer to Him, I am trying to bypass His commandment. When I pray for Him to draw me nearer, I shouldn’t be surprised when He does so by bringing circumstances that drive me to my knees. Because THIS is God’s chosen way of drawing near to me– I am to start moving near to Him.

I’m not talking to unbelievers here. God’s Word is very clear that if God did not initiate the work of reconciling us to Himself, we would NEVER be able to come near to Him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

This is why Christ came– to die for us, pay the penalty of our sin, and make clear the way to God. And He is the One who draws unbelievers to Himself, for if He didn’t, we are all so lost and foolish and blind and stubborn that we would never come on our own.

 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

However. The verse in James– draw near to God, and He will draw near to you— is written to believers. And so is this one, from Hebrews 10.

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.

Christ has opened the door, done all the work, made the way clear, and invited us in. And once we know Christ as Savior, we are daily invited nearer and nearer to the God of the universe and His throne of grace– invited to come boldly and without fear, like a child running up to his daddy. And the promise is that when we run up to our Father on that throne, He stoops down and scoops us up. He draws near.

I think that a lot of the time when I’m praying draw me nearer, what I’m really asking for is some kind of emotional confirmation. I’m asking for a sign or a feeling of special peace or bluebirds to fly out of the sky and sprinkle heart-shaped confetti on my head. But that’s not what faith is.

Faith says, “God, You have said that if I draw near to You, You will draw near to me. And so I am choosing to draw near to You today. I am choosing to open Your Book and obey what it says. I am choosing to spend time with You. I am choosing to love You and to love others, and I believe that you are near right now, even though I can’t feel it and the bluebirds are far away and in fact this feels much more like a desert in the dead of night than the glorious presence of God.”

Faith lives like God is near– knowing He is because He has said He is– even when there is no emotional confirmation, even when there are no signs, even when everything seems to point in the opposite direction. Faith presses on, eyes on Jesus.

And when I draw near in full assurance of faith, believing that I am near to God because He says He is drawing near to me, I discover that He is true to His promises. I discover that there is enough strength for every day. I discover that He does renew my strength, that He does satisfy me with good, that He does bring forth a harvest in His own perfect timing. I discover that in all this drawing near, my roots have gone deep and I am able to flourish when the hot sun beats down or the wind blows hard or the night lasts on and on and on.

God is who He says He is. But I never truly learn that until I step into nothing and discover Him there.

Oh Friend, I hope you know that these things are truths that God is just beginning to teach me, that I fail far more often than I succeed in my walk of faith. I hope you know that all the things I share here are things I am learning, that if it weren’t for the grace of God I would be so far away from this place right now. I am, in the words of my old college president, a beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.

And if you are reading this and do not know Christ as your Savior, if you are trying to draw near to God on your own steam or are running from Him entirely, please know that Jesus died to give you the privilege to draw near to God. That way was completely blocked to all humanity because of the offensiveness of our sin to the pure holiness of God. Only Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, completely holy and undeserving of death, was able to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind– for my sin and yours. And He invites you to come. This is a gift, freely given by a God who loves you. Trusting Jesus, accepting His gift opens the way to eternal life in the presence of God, and daily abundant life in that same presence. You are invited. Will you accept this invitation, this free gift?

We have all been invited to draw closer to God today. Let us draw near in full assurance of faith to this glorious God of the universe who loves us unconditionally and welcomes us with open arms.

That You Bear Much Fruit

faint fringes berriesDo you ever have a passage of Scripture– a really familiar one, maybe even one you have memorized– jump off the page at you and hit you over the head with its holy hammer? Just when you’re thinking that maybe you’re starting to get things just a little bit figured out, you turn the page and WHAM! There it is, the Word of God, living and powerful and sharper than any sword, piercing you right to the quick.

For me lately, it’s been this–

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . .

I distinctly remember when I memorized the fruit of the Spirit– it was a Vacation Bible School at my church in Wisconsin, and I was pretty little. The theme that year had to do with gardens and the theme song’s chorus listed all the fruit, and even now thirty years later I can’t usually get past kindness without singing the song to myself.

For a lot of years I thought that these fruits were like Christmas tree ornaments and I would try to hang them on myself and make myself look nice, which of course is missing the whole point of this being the fruit of the Spirit that we’re talking about here. That is a big problem with legalism. I would read these and know that they didn’t describe my life– that, in fact, the works of the flesh mentioned in the preceding verses described me much more accurately– and so I would write down a detailed list of How I Was Going To Get Self-Control. Get up early. Read my Bible. Eat less. Work out more. Keep a planner. Stick to my planner. Do my work on time. Go to bed on time. Work harder. Be Better. BECOME GODLY.

I’m not saying those aren’t good things, good goals, all things I need to do. But becoming godly is the work of the Spirit, not the work of a checklist. And the work of the Spirit comes as I learn to abide in Christ–

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.

And that is a slow process, one that takes time and constant returning again and again to Scripture and to my Savior. And I’ve discovered that the fruit in our lives isn’t like the fruit of an apple tree that follows a predictable growth cycle. The Holy Spirit knows what needs to be dealt with and sometimes we’ll see lush growth on one branch while others still seem barren. And sometimes there will be one lonely little fruit hanging there, but it will be the most beautiful fruit that has been created by a time of hard pruning and digging deep and discipline. It might not look like much to everyone else, but the God Who Sees knows that it is glorious.

All these things I have learned over the last few years as God has graciously and patiently worked in my life.

And now He takes me again to Galatians 5 and says, Woman, look at your life and look at this fruit that I want to bear in you. We have work to do.

Sometimes that sword cuts deep; the hammer hits hard; and I know the pruning shears are next. None of this feels nice. We don’t like to admit it, but the words of spiritual growth and walking with Christ are painful words– words like prune and sword and crucify and yoke and work. But the help that comes– things like grace and joy and I am with you always— this makes it possible and makes it entirely worthwhile.

Today, the mirror of God’s Word tells me that on the branch of my life that says “motherhood” I am failing to bear much love or joy or patience or gentleness. We have work to do, the Spirit whispers, and then He reminds me Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season you will reap if you do not give up. He tells me that I am loved and that I am accepted in the sight of my Father, but that He has something better than mediocrity for me.

I don’t know what God’s Word is saying to you today. If it’s not saying anything, maybe it’s time to prayerfully open it up. We are all invited into the best of God’s plan– holiness and the privilege of His presence. I would like to encourage you with this reality: Whatever the world or other believers see in your life, one real piece of fruit brought forth out of suffering and pruning and hard faithful obedience is worth infinitely more than a whole tree’s worth of fake plastic fruit tied to the branches. Let God keep working in you to do His good work, in His time.

And don’t be surprised when, now and then, the Sword of the Spirit pierces you to the quick. Don’t be surprised when things are tough.

 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

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For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Deep breath, everyone. Eyes on Jesus. Let’s trust Him to change us, to bear fruit in our lives, to do His good work, and to help us every step of the way.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

 

Monday Meanderings, week 14

I know. It’s Tuesday. Tuesday night, actually. But this is my blog and if I want to do my Monday Meander on Tuesday night, I feel pretty much okay with that.

first day

Last week, in true Weird Homeschooler fashion, we started our new school year. We had a decent first week, with no unexpected drama and only a little bit of the kind I pretty much expect. That would be Math Drama, because we’re not really very brilliant in the area of math in our family. Angry Ranger wants to be an engineer, though, and he has really committed to working toward that goal by working super hard at math this year. He’s doing two lessons a day so he can get through two years of math (pre-algebra and algebra 1) this year. In eighth grade. Because he’s amazing.

first day 2

I really feel the need right here to give another shout out to the All About Spelling curriculum, because after two months off Darth Piggy has retained probably 95% of what he learned last year– with the other 5% being mostly rules he learned right at the end of the year. I can’t even tell you how amazing this feels to me. This is the first time we have EVER had a retention rate like that in spelling. Can I get a woot woot?

first day teacher

Pooka is not having very much fun with math, because subtraction is literally the worst, so we’re slowing down a little bit to really work on those math facts and the concepts that go along with subtraction. Both my boys struggled some in second grade, so I think it must just be a hard year. But Pooka is super crazy excited to learn to write in cursive, and we are working on the learning books of the Bible and she gets to make a special Bible bookshelf craft with all the different books color-coded by type, and she gets to learn all about maps which is super much fun. So in spite of math I think she’ll have a pretty good year.

first day teacher 2

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I am currently listening to Moby Dick on audiobook while I do exciting things like housework. I’ve never read it before and I think it would have driven me nuts a few years ago, but I’m finding it really enjoyable. Today Darth Piggy came in while Melville was waxing eloquent about the mysterious power of the sea, and he said, “What are you listening to? Is that Moby Dick? That doesn’t sound right.” He read a super-abridged, simplified children’s version in like second grade and so now he’s an expert, obviously.

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After a week at a church conference (with all five of us sharing a hotel room), Fourth of July weekend (fireworks! every! night!), and the first week of school (complete with thunderstorms for three nights straight, beginning after the last night of people shooting off their fireworks), I was just a teensy bit tired this weekend. So yesterday I read an entire novel from start to finish. It was the bomb. And I got rested up just in time for another round of thunderstorms AND a kid with a fever last night. Yay!

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This week Angry Ranger is at camp and the rest of us are doing school. He’ll make up the missed days over the rest of the year. Anyway, the younger two are going to be working on science projects this week so maybe if Darth Piggy’s rock in a cup turns out I’ll post pictures next week. And if it doesn’t, I might still post pictures, but don’t tell the boy.😉

Time for me to go . . . may your day be full of happy meanders!:)

All These Loud Voices

It’s just me and my wiggly daughter stretched out on our bellies on her bed, under a purple patchwork quilt with my Bible open in front of us. These bedtime devotions are a new thing for us– Boys downstairs, girls upstairs.

My daughter is seldom the one expressing deep theological insights, asking piercing questions about the nature of God, or overflowing with compassion for the needy as a result of whatever we’re reading in Scripture that day. She wants to know if it’s going to storm again or if she can go get a drink. She wishes she had more of the quilt or was wearing cooler pajamas or hadn’t left Bear downstairs. In the middle of my passionate discourse on the nature of God’s forgiveness, she is distracted by the realization that she may have forgotten to brush her teeth that morning.

We’re reading in John, but she has decided it would be better to discuss Jonah or Jude or Junie B. Jones.

“Mommy,” she says, “today I drank out of the hose at my friend’s house and her daddy told me not to but not until after I did it and I didn’t mean to be naughty.”

Or possibly, “Mommy, I wrote with Sharpie on the wall. See, over there?” That was three years ago, but apparently it fills her with great guilt because she confesses it regularly. Hence the discourse on forgiveness.

It’s no different when we sit at the dining room table and I show her how to regroup numbers or review the definition of a noun or how to count by threes. My firecracker daughter’s mind moves six miles a minute and seldom on the same track mine is on.

Parenting these three kids of mine has been so much different than I expected when I was expecting. My dreams were all rocking babies to sleep and taking them to ride on roller coasters and singing with them in church and idyllic afternoons of reading on the couch. I had no idea what I was doing when I started. Sometimes I feel like I have done nothing but make mistakes.

It is very easy for me to look at the mothers around me who have children with different flaws than my children have, and to think those mothers must have the secret, that I must be doing something wrong, that maybe I’m just the worst mom ever. And if that’s true, then I’m probably the worst wife ever, the worst pastor’s wife, the worst person. Of course that’s all very melodramatic but I know it’s not just me. We are all so prone to insecurities.

I think motherhood brings those out more than just about anything else. So much of what we do is unseen and seems to have no real effect on anything. And then we look at that mom at church or at the grocery store with all her neatly-dressed, quiet children in a row with their hands to themselves, and we look at our own pew or aisle full of what seems to be four times as many children as we actually have, squirming and fighting and dropping things and basically looking like we tried to bring a family of octopi to church instead of a family of human children. And we think we must be doing something wrong.

2016 is filled with so many voices telling us what we are supposed to do, look like, act like, think. This is true for everything, not just parenting– for our marriages, our jobs, our friendships, our churches, our physical health. There are a million people all shouting for our attention in their blogs and social media posts, on the news and even in our Bible study books. And sometimes those voices can be helpful– obviously I think that or I wouldn’t be adding my voice to the cacophony. But if we listen to too many voices, we are going to become confused, frustrated, and eventually despairing. Because the voices don’t agree with each other, and they seldom have any idea of the whole story of our personal situations.

There is only one Person who knows the full truth about our lives, our families, our personal situations. One Person who also knows exactly what is the next right step. One Person who created us, planned our lives, delights in us, walks with us, leads us, and has more than enough grace to cover every mistake, every failure, every grievous sin.

That’s why I keep saying this here– Eyes on Jesus. Because He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Because He is the Creator of our lives and of our children. Because His is the voice we are to listen to and follow.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

It takes work to hear the voice of the Shepherd, because His voice is quiet and gentle and doesn’t usually yell above the voices of everybody else. If I am to hear my Lord, to recognize His voice, to know His approval and His plan and His love for me, then I have to quiet myself with His Word, shut out all the other noise, and listen.

Eyes and ears, all for Jesus.

Not looking to the super homeschooling mother with her color-coordinating lesson plans and her amazing brilliant children.

Not looking to the super fit mom with her super athletic children in their matching 5K t-shirts, eating celery sticks and hummus.

Not looking to the amazing woman with her immaculate house and immaculate kids and immaculate fingernails.

Not looking to the soft-spoken mama who somehow never raises her voice yet manages to keep all eight of her children in perfect order at all times.

Not looking to my friends with the fabulous careers, the fabulous vacations, the fabulous abilities, the fabulous abs.

Looking to Jesus.

Friends, God puts voices in our lives– people to listen to and model ourselves after, people to advise us and to lead and guide us. But the enemy puts voices in our lives, too– voices of condemnation and comparison and just NOISE that drowns out truth.

The only way we’ll ever know the difference is to look to Jesus, to learn to recognize His voice, to humbly ask Him to teach us and guide us, and then to welcome with open hands the gifts He gives, even when they wiggle and ask inappropriate questions and struggle with spelling and bait their siblings and seem so imperfect.

I am so imperfect too. How glad I am for a God who loves me anyway. Why would I want to turn my eyes away from Him, even for a second?

Eyes on Jesus, everyone!

Fear and Truth

Today I feel weighed down by the responsibility of writing in this blog. As I have sought to be more faithful to write here, believing it to be part of God’s calling for me right now, I have been so humbled by the response of my friends. I feel so very inadequate and underqualified to attempt to teach or lead or disciple or help. I have no doubt that I sometimes come across as some kind of expert– or at least as someone who believes she is some kind of expert– but I feel the opposite.

With every post and challenge and invitation I feel more and more small. I feel like a child, ankle-deep in the ocean, shouting instructions to the deep-sea divers. What right do I even have to talk about this stuff? I get discouraged when I don’t think people are reading, but when I know people are– then I get panicked.

What if I fail?

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

What if I mislead someone? 

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

What if I fall to the grievous hypocrisy that Christ so strongly condemned in the Pharisees?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Remember when Jesus was tempted in the desert, and Satan used Scripture itself to tempt Him? He seeks to do this to me, and I imagine He does the same for you. I have learned that I must be on guard against anything that causes me feelings of fear, guilt, or condemnation. These feelings are not from God!

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit uses Scripture in our lives to convict us and to lead us to greater purity and obedience. The above verses are really important. I must take heed lest I fall, and I must keep my heart right before God every time I write in this space, and I must recognize and root out sin in my life that causes me to be a hypocrite. But I must not give in to fear or guilt or feelings of condemnation. The Holy Spirit leads us into truth, not into lies. And those things are lies.

Scripture says that I am not to fear or worry. I am commanded to not be anxious about anything. I am commanded to fear not. And so I know that when I am confronted with fear, that that is absolutely not the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Not fear, but love. Not fear, but power. Not fear, but self-control.

We are all called to fight a battle against the enemy of our souls, and he is called the accuser for a reason. His accusations hit deep– You’re not good enough; you’re going to fail; nobody cares anyway; you’re such a hypocrite– you should be ashamed of yourself; you’re going to lead someone astray; if only these people knew the truth about you; what right do you have to say these things?

I have found that when the battle of doubt and fear rages in my heart, two things together bring me the greatest peace and quiet confidence in my Savior and His call in my life.

First, I need to confess that I am giving in to worry and fear and doubt. This was a huge realization in my life. Fear and worry are sins. I know it sounds so harsh, because we feel like we have no real control of our fears, but the truth is that there isn’t a single sin I can conquer on my own. I need the help of the Holy Spirit– the Spirit of power and love and wisdom– to overcome every sin, and that includes fear. But how can I expect Him to help me if I refuse to admit my fear is a sin in the first place? Confession just plops my ugly, insidious fear and lack of faith out there and invites the God who can do anything to do something about it. It is so freeing.

Once I have confessed my fear, I need to put on something else, and God has given me His armor to enable me to fight against the wiles of the devil. The shield of faith says that I trust God to give me the power to do what He has called me to do. I pray almost daily for God to help my unbelief– to grow my faith in Him into a mighty shield that Satan’s darts can’t permeate. And then, I need to fight back with the Sword of the Spirit– the very Word of God.

When Satan comes against us with lies, we must fight back with Truth. And there is nothing truer than the Word that sanctifies us. I’ve already shared some of my favorite verses to fight fear with– God has not given us a spirit of fear is one of them, and no condemnation is another. But there are so many more.

 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? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these 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.

***

 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

***

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.

***

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

***

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

the good fightI am still unworthy, unqualified, unable on my own to ever teach, ever lead, ever counsel, ever disciple. That never changes. What changes as I fight Satan’s lies is my perspective. I am unworthy, but I am called and so made worthy. I am unqualified, but I am daily given what I need to do what I am asked to do– given it by the hand of a good Father who is strong in all my weakness. I am unable, but He is able and He is in me. And that is enough.

He is always enough for me.

And today, my friends, He is enough for you.

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Disciplines, Drawing Near, and He Who Promised

It is 7:13 AM on July 5, and in just a couple hours my family will be embarking on a new school year.

I’m pretty sure this is a thing crazy people do– go to the Fourth of July parade and fireworks one day, and bust out the new Math 6 book and a well-worn copy of First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind the very next day.

Next week one kid will be at camp and so will miss a week of school, right at the beginning. In three weeks Art and I will both be gone as camp counselors, and so all three kids will miss a week then. What is even the point?

The point is December and the desperate need to take that month off of school so that we can focus on Christmas programs and shopping and decorating and family fun without losing our minds entirely. The discipline now– waking up less than six hours after the neighbors finally quit shooting off fireworks– will pay off later.

Discipline is an ugly word, and one we believers who love grace sometimes struggle with. It can so quickly become a synonym for legalism in a Christian’s life. But as God has led me into a more disciplined life, He has shown me the rewards that come with it.

I’m not saying this to brag. It has taken me so long to get to this place, and I have so very far to go. I spent nearly thirty years dabbling in my faith before I finally started taking it seriously, and it grieves me a great deal to think of the time lost. I had to quit dipping my toes in the water whenever I had time or as in a desperate situation. I had to dive in, far from shore, and let God keep on drawing me deeper and further from my comfort zone. So often the things that have drawn me deeper into Him have been disciplines.

Here is what I have learned. If I don’t tie myself nearer to God– seek to bind myself to Him by means of worship, study of His Word, prayer, fellowship with other believers in my local church, and obedience to whatever He gives me to do (in other words, disciplines)– I will fall away from Him. I am so prone to wander. And God loves me too much to allow me to wander away from Him for very long. He will draw me up with another kind of discipline– with chastisement. Just as I discipline my own kids if they don’t have the self-discipline to obey, so my Father does with me.

When Pooka was a toddler, we were those parents who put her on a backpack leash when we went to the State Fair. She was a runner, and she could pull her little chubby hand out of my arthritic one faster than you can imagine. She didn’t have the self-discipline to stay near to me, so I kept her near by putting that backpack on her back and the other end of the tether around my wrist. And then I held her hand. But I knew that if she tried to run, she wouldn’t get far.

In my mind’s eye, this is what spiritual disciplines do for us. They tether us near to God. And we can look at them as chains that bind us and keep us from going our own way and having fun– or we can look at them as a means of drawing us nearer and nearer to the amazing God of the universe. I think that if we would quit straining against our tethers and turn around and truly look at the One to Whom we are tethered we would very quickly realize that we are missing out on absolutely nothing of value or worth.

Today, on this day when I am trusting that the discipline of starting school on July 5 will pay off on December 5, I invite you to trust that the disciplines of the Savior are worthwhile. I encourage you to come humbly near to the God of all creation and bind yourself near to Him, trusting His promise that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. Maybe you need to spend more time in His Word. Maybe your prayer life is lacking. Maybe you need to spend more time praising your Father. Maybe you need to be meeting together regularly with God’s people. Maybe you need to memorize Scripture, or fast, or share the Gospel, or serve others. I expect that if you think about it, you know exactly where you are lacking in obedience– exactly where God wants you to start.

Therefore, brothers,since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

We are invited into the holy places that were once closed to us– if we will turn away from the shiny vanities of this world and discipline ourselves to turn instead toward the One who offers abundant life. He who promised is faithful.

Saturday Morning Poetry, edition 7

faint fringes moonAdoration

Oh God, who made the light of day
with just a word, and from the clay
made man himself, that turned to sin–
Lord, give me glorious life within.

Your light shone out of darkness then,
and You shine glory on me when
I look into my Jesus’ face.
Oh, wondrous glory! Wondrous grace!

And now I gaze with face unveiled
upon the One that all shall hail
as Lord of lords and King of kings,
Master of all created things.

Oh, who could look upon this One–
this glorified and wondrous Son
of God– who on His face could gaze
and now fall down in humbled praise?

********

Poetry2016 by Erin Jo Kilmer
togetherforgood.wordpress.com
Photograph2015 by Irv Cobb
Faint Fringes Photography
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