God of Delight

He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

Here is a truth that I feel like I can never fully grasp– that my God delights in me. Spending, as I do, all my time with myself, I know just how extremely un-delightful I can be. I won’t pretend to know my own heart, but I will say that the more God reveals of the inner workings of my life, the less delightful I realize I am.

And yet, somehow, this great Creator of all things– this Almighty God, whose voice is like thunder and hail and burning coals— this Lord for whom only one “holy” does not suffice, whose throne room is filled with the songs of angels crying out “Holy! Holy! Holy!“– this God who is so far above me that He knows all the stars of all the galaxies by name— this amazing, awe-inspiring Master of all things knows me, and more than that, He finds delight in me.

This God loves me so much that He did the unthinkable for me– He sacrificed His own Son for my rescue. His own Son– the only truly delightful person to ever walk the earth– perfect and sinless and compassionate and deserving of nothing short of all the honor and all the glory for all eternity– how He humbled Himself for my sake! I do not know any words to describe the agonizing mercy of the cross. The price of my rescue was incomprehensibly high. And yet– He delights in me.

What is there for me to do but to worship this amazing God? How can I withhold even the smallest part of myself from the adoration and service of this merciful and gracious Lord? The only response that makes any sense– the only reasonable act of worship— is to offer my whole self as a living sacrifice.

But I am so inclined to climbing off the altar– to singing “I Surrender All” even while I’m contemplating my escape. I am so foolish in my rebellious neglect of the cross I am called to bear— the gentle and easy yoke of my meek and lowly and loving Savior— in favor of my own ridiculous burdens that drag me down and cause me such sorrow and heartache.

Here is where I must return– always here: daily worship of the great God of the universe, for as I come face to face with His holiness and His greatness and His love and His justice and His delight in me I am made humble and willing again to draw near and take once again His yoke. I must return always to daily confession, falling again before Him, naming my sins and claiming His forgiveness, repenting again and turning back into the path He has called me to walk. I must return again and again to Scripture– to His Word of truth that sanctifies me.

All of this for love, for the love of Him who made me, who paid the price of my ransom though I was never worthy of such a price being paid. All this for the love of Him who delights in me. How can I not delight in Him?

He becomes daily the desire of my heart.

What If . . .

Perspective

What if this heart that is breaking
Is opening up to know grace?
What if these eyes that feel blinded
Are seeing the light of His face?

What if these hands that are empty
Are soon to be filled with His gifts?
What if this ground that is shaking
Brings me nearer to God as it shifts?

What if the hard place I’m fighting
Is really the cleft in the rock?
What if this narrow valley
Is a pasture where He feeds His flock?

What if wind that is blowing
Creates a song only emptiness sings?
What if the darkness I’m cursing
Is the shadow of His wings?

What if in sorrow and hardship
I trusted and refused to fear?
What if out of all the suffering
Jesus’ face is about to appear?

And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

2016 by Erin Jo Kilmer
togetherforgood.wordpress.com

The God of Peace

As we consider God’s prescription for fear and worry, we discover that God has even more for us than even peace that surpasses all understanding. He so often desires to give us so much more than we even think of asking for! This amazing God of love and compassion wants to give us more than just peace– He wants to give us His very presence, that we might be held safe and sound.

In my last post, we looked at God’s instructions for accessing the peace of God– His description of what it really means to have faith that can turn away from fear and choose peace instead. As we found in Philippians 4:4-7, faith rejoices, stays calm, gives thanks, and brings each request to God. Today we turn our attention to verses 8 and 9, in which Paul teaches us the secret of drawing near to the very presence of the God of peace.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Step 5: Faith Fills Its Mind with What Is Good

I struggled for years with my thought life– with this guilty knowledge that I was expected to control my thoughts, but without any kind of real understanding of how to do that. Scripture says to set your minds on things above, but I had no clue how to do that when my mind was continually being inundated with things of the earth. Controlling my actions was hard enough– how was I supposed to control something as nebulous as my thoughts?

This understanding has come to me over time, and I certainly still struggle with a mind that is so very full of earth. However, as I look back, in God’s grace He has given me a good deal of victory in the area of my thoughts, teaching me this process of dealing with thoughts that are impure, unholy, doubtful, or filled with fear or worry.

Recognize, name, and confess sinful thoughts. At first this is a near-constant process. This is what it means, I believe, to take every thought captive. When I realize I have succumbed to worry, I need to call it what it is– a sinful lack of faith– and confess it to God. (The same is true for any other sin of the mind, be it lust, anger, envy, discontentment, pride, etc. I believe the steps to overcoming those sins are the same as for overcoming worry and fear.)

Turn away from things that tend to cause sinful thoughts. Obviously, we cannot turn away from all of the responsibilities and circumstances of our lives that tend to cause us worry. But we can choose what we allow into our homes and our minds. I can turn off music when it includes ideas or words that I don’t want in my mind. I can stop reading a book that is full of inappropriate relationships or racy descriptions. I can be more selective about what I watch on television. I can unsubscribe from blogs or withdraw from social media if I realize that what I’m reading or seeing makes me feel jealous or discontent. And if my thought life is a real, ongoing struggle for me, then I can find a friend to hold me accountable to do those things.

Turn toward things that cause holy thoughts. Paul gives us a list of what we should think about– what is true, what is honorable, what is just, what is pure, what is lovely, what is commendable, what is excellent, what is praiseworthy. Once I have recognized and confessed an impure or incorrect thought, I need to replace it with a pure and correct thought. What does this look like? Well, for me, most often it means Scripture. If I am struggling with fear, then I focus on a verse that speaks to my fear– I am with you always, even to the end of the age; or nothing is able to pluck [you] out of my hands; or nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing is more true than Scripture, and the truth of God’s Word is able to drive out the lies of the enemy and the world and our own deceitful hearts. That is why it is so important to hide God’s Word in our hearts. I truly believe it is our best defense against worry, fear, doubt, impurity, and deceitfulness in our thought lives.

Other ways we can fill our minds with what Paul tells us to think about include reading good books– books on Christian topics, yes, but also just good books— books that are excellent and lovely and commendable. We can deliberately put beautiful things around us in our homes or workspace– even on our phones– things that draw our attention back to what is pure and lovely. We can fill our homes with music that is excellent and praiseworthy and full of truth.

All of this is a deliberate choice. It will not happen by accident. It requires us to be submitted to God, willing to sacrifice whatever God requires in order to have our thoughts made holy– that we might find ourselves in the presence of God. And it is a process that will not happen overnight. God call us to be faithful in the midst of the battle, trusting that the outcome will be what He has promised.

Step Six– Faith Obeys

Paul told the Philippian church to follow his example, doing the things he had taught them and shown them and lived out before them. Basically, he told them to obey– to live out their faith. The book of James is full of this idea– that our faith must result in action or it’s not really faith. Faith is not just a warm fuzzy feeling; it is a catalyst that causes change and action in our lives.

I have spent many mornings pouring 0ut my fears and anxieties before God, only to have His Spirit gently remind me that I have not obeyed Him where He has led me. So often my worry and unsettled feelings are the result of a bothered conscience. Here is a truth that I fight against far too often: If I am disobedient to God’s clear leading, then I will not have access to the presence of the God of peace. Disobedience is turning away from God. How can I expect to come into His presence when I am turning away from Him?

A real faith that leads to real peace in God’s presence says “How high?” when God says “Jump,” knowing that if God says to jump there’s a good reason for it. A real faith obeys the Word of God when it says “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,” or “Go into the world and make disciples,” or “Be subject to the authorities . . . for those that exist have been ordained by God,” or “Love your neighbor as yourself.” A real faith obeys when the Holy Spirit’s prompting says to turn off that television show, call that friend you had a fight with, close your mouth, share your faith.

And this is the real faith that ushers us into the presence of God, where we experience His great and sufficient power in our weakness, His glorious beauty and holiness, and the peace and security that can only be found when we are near to the God of all comfort.

Friend, if you long to be nearer to the God of peace, it’s time to stop merely longing and let that longing drive you to doing. Believe that He wants to comfort you and be near to you. He sent His Son to die for you to allow you this priceless access to His presence! Believe that He has given you clear directions to His presence. Think about what He commands you to think about. Do what He commands you to do. And discover the joy that comes in the holy presence of the God of peace.

The Peace of God

I love the book of Philippians. I’ve probably studied it more than any other book in my Bible, and it’s all marked up and underlined and circled and notated because it seems like every time I turn there God teaches me something new.

Last fall, when I was facing a very real battle with fear and anxiety, God brought me back to Philippians 4 once again. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this passage– I have memorized most of it at one time or another– but last October is when I really came to an understanding that here was a prescription for worry, fear , and anxiety.

Sometimes I get frustrated by believers (and even Scripture passages) that say things like “trust God” but don’t explain how I’m supposed to do that. I’m a practical girl. I want to trust God, but I need to know what that looks like. I think for a lot of years I thought of faith as a satisfied, contented feeling of happy trust. Like that awesome feeling I have always had when my dad hugs me. The problem is, I seldom have that feeling when I really need to have faith. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t force myself to feel happy and contented and satisfied. Especially when I’m scared, worried, and being attacked by an enemy with a seemingly endless supply of fiery darts of doubt.

That’s why it was such a beautiful thing when God brought me to Philippians 4 and showed me that here is God’s way to combat and overcome fear. Over the next two blog posts, we will look at how to find the peace of God, and how to know the God of peace. God’s peace, that passes all understanding, is available to us today as we seek to obey God’s instructions in this passage.

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

Step One: Faith Rejoices

How do you rejoice when you’re in a deep valley, when you’re surrounded? This verse is clear that we are not just to rejoice when things are awesome. We are supposed to rejoice always— which means in sorrow, in fear, want, in desperation. This is audacious rejoicing. It is opening up my mouth and singing every song about joy I can think of out loud even when I’m scared. It is turning up the music and dancing around the kitchen with my daughter. It is writing down a list of who God is and what He has done, that I may have something to focus on. It is saying out loud, “Lord, I praise you for this trial.” It is praying for joy and then living like I have it until I start to feel it. This joy comes from the Lord, and it is a great strength when we are weak.

Step Two: Faith Stays Calm

I had to do a little bit of word study on the word reasonableness up there in the quoted Scripture. It is translated multiple ways in different version of Scripture: gentleness, gentle spirit, moderation, graciousness, humility, forbearance, fairness, modesty. All of these words speak to me of the quietness of faith. In a hard time, in a battle, in fear, faith is still gentle and compassionate and gracious. How convicting is this? I know that I am so prone to freak out on my kids when I’m experiencing worry. Instead I need to pray for God to set a watch over my lips. I need to do all those things I tell my kids to do when they’re upset and about to lose their temper– to take a deep breath, to count to ten, to get some exercise, to pray. I am reminded of the verse In gentleness and quietness is your strength. And of the loving example of Christ, who opened not His mouth even when accused. If I pray in the morning for God to guard my lips, He never fails to remind me when I’m about to open them to say something unkind or cutting or angry. I have also found that quiet music playing in my home helps me to stay calmer.

Step Three: Faith Gives Thanks

Gratitude is a major antidote to worry. “Count Your Blessings” isn’t just a good hymn. It is a way of life that protects us from fear and anxiety as we discipline ourselves to bring to mind the good things the Lord has given us. Speak your gratitude out loud, or write it down. If you can’t think of anything to be thankful for, turn to Psalm 103 and thank the Lord for His benefits. Turn to Ephesians 1 and thank Him for the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. Nothing can change these things. Make a list. Make a poster. Take pictures of special gifts and post them where you’ll see them. Write a note to a friend and tell her why you thank God for her.

Step Four: Faith Brings Every Request to God

Pray! Pray pray pray pray! Pray out loud and pray silently. Pray for an hour and pray for ten seconds. Pray alone and pray with a friend. Pray every time the worries come to your mind. Tell God you are casting your cares on Him and that you believe He will care for you. Ask Him to help your unbelief. Tell Him every single little thing that is filling you with fear and worry. And enlist the help of other prayer warriors. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again here– prayer is the thing in my life that has made the biggest difference in my walk with God.

As we do these things– as we rejoice, be still, give thanks, and pray– God promises that His peace will guard our hearts and minds. Isn’t that what we need when we are in the valley, in the battle, in the desert? Something to guard our hearts and our minds? This peace– it is beyond understanding, and it shines out to the world around us as God works in our lives in the midst of our sorrow, our fear, and our anxious moments.

Friend, you do not have to give in to fear, to worry. Trust and obey. Test your good Father, and see if He will not pour out His peace on you as you walk in obedience to His good plan.

Faith in the Fog

faint fringes fogIt’s foggy out my kitchen window this morning. The window nearest me faces east, and many mornings I sit and watch the sky change from black to deep indigo to dark blue to fiery red and orange before regular old daylight streams through. Keeping an eye on the sunrise while I have my quiet time is one of my favorite things to do.

But this morning, the sky changed from black to indigo to gray. The trees are fuzzy and indistinct against their nondescript backdrop, and they are perfectly still in the early morning mist. Some mornings are like that. And some mornings bring raindrops rolling down that window; they bring storms and and high wind, dark skies and thunder. Some clear and hot mornings the sky goes from dark to light with no glorious flash of sunrise beauty.

My favorite days are the sunrise days, of course. The days when I glance up and see brilliant orange and pink and golden clouds, when it takes my breath away and I have to stand up and go to the window to get a better look. It always feels like this beautiful reminder that I am not just sitting here, crazy early, scribbling away in a journal– that I am meeting with God and that He is here. Sunrises always feel like a personal gift to me from their Creator– my Creator. He gives this jaw-dropping beauty and the eyes to see that it declares His glory.

But today, with its fuzzy fog making everything out my window drab and nondescript, is not an indication that God is not with me. How foolish would I be to look up at the sky and think that because there is fog, I am here alone. The reality is that God is always near me, whether He chooses to send me an extra hug via the Sunrise Express or not. He is with me when the lightning flashes and the wind whips the trees and I wonder if the power will go out and I get distracted by the romantic idea of having my quiet time by candlelight (until I remember that the coffee pot requires electricity). He is with me when the sky is uniform iron gray and cold with the promise of snow and ice. He is with me regardless of the weather.

All of this feels so basic, so obvious, and yet so many times I live like He’s not near me. I ask Him where He is when He has told me I am with you always, even to the end of the world. I flail about in panic and fear when He has told me that He is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Friend, there are times when God gives us beautiful skies and sunshine and glorious painted sunrises and clear vision of the path ahead of us. And there are times when He gives us fog, or rain, or the dullness of routine, or skies cracked with lightning and danger. But none of that changes anything, if we belong to Him.

He is with us every single day, asking us to walk by faith, to trust Him to reveal the path a step at a time. He is with us, asking us to take that step of obedience up the cloud-topped mountain, out into the mist-veiled valley, across the howling desert, or over what seems to be an empty precipice. He asks us to hold onto Him– onto hope– and to trust that He is leading us to someplace beautiful, someplace where we will see more than a beautiful sunrise, someplace where we will see the very face of Christ and be transformed.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Hearts Bound to His, part 3

I think that one of the places where the 21st century church is most broken is in the area of accountability. I don’t know if I’ve ever, in all the years of Christian school and Bible college and wonderful church families, been a part of a situation where healthy confession of sin and accountability was the norm.

I expect most of us have been in some kind of Christian environment where we were judged (or saw others being judged) so harshly for sin, where gossip and condemnation were the normal responses to confession or getting caught, that we have internalized the lesson that believers are not safe people to share our sin-burdens with. And I expect that most of us who have been part of the church for a long time have been guilty on multiple occasions of gossip, of judgment, of uncomfortable chair-shifting and subject-changing and murmurs of you don’t need to air all your dirty laundry here.

The problem is that there is nothing shameful about struggling with sin. The shame is found in the dark and secret places, in the giving in, in the fear of being caught, in the fear of being known. The shame is found in my heart when I feel like nobody else could understand, that I will be judged, that this must stay a secret no matter what. A secret struggle will most often end in defeat, because God created us to need each other.

I have written here before about my desperate struggle with food and eating. I will tell you that the thing that finally helped me find consistent victory– where the little stumbles did not turn into all-out defeats– was accountability. It started with my sister, then as God worked in my life I was able to open up to some of the ladies in my church, and then I wrote about it here in my blog. Each step in opening up more completely has led to greater victory, because I know that people who love me are praying for me and are going to ask how I’m doing.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been many times when writing in this blog and putting things out in the light for everyone to see has felt like public nakedness. There have been times when I have hit “publish” with my heart pounding and a sick feeling in my stomach. But openness has been such a powerful thing in my life as I fight the sin that so easily takes over. And I have learned that I don’t need to protect my fragile heart– that being clothed in the righteousness of Christ and the full armor of God is protective covering enough, far more powerful than keeping everything locked tight and shut away.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you go post about last night’s knock-down-drag-out family fight on Facebook. I’m not even suggesting you start a blog. What I’m suggesting is that we, as the body of Christ, seek to truly be part of one another’s lives. I’m suggesting that when you are facing a sin that seems to just keep getting control, it’s time to invite someone else into that secret space and ask for prayer and accountability. I’m suggesting that you pray today and ask God to show you a trustworthy person or group of people who will walk with you through your battles and encourage you and pray for you.

And, perhapseven more importantly, I’m suggesting that all of us seek to be that trustworthy person in someone’s life, that we repent of our judgmental attitudes and our personal discomfort when someone confesses a sin struggle. I’m suggesting that we ask God to open our eyes and remind us of exactly who we were before Christ saved us, that we stop and take a good look at the Cross and the price required for our own salvation, that we seek to respond to the sin of others with the same mercy and compassion that Christ did. I’m suggesting that we seek to make the body of Christ just that– a body that is knit together and that supports its weaker members and does what is needed to strengthen and uphold them.

This past spring I sprained my ankle, and for a week I was on crutches. As I limped and hobbled around my life, the other parts of my body had to be stronger than normal to bear the burden of my injury. My hands carried my weight on the crutches. My uninjured foot worked extra hard. The muscles in my back and my shoulders strained, and my core muscles tightened to help me maintain my balance. This is what a body does. It can’t help it. It works together to support the weaker parts, because if it doesn’t, it falls. And in the end, my ankle healed and was again able to do its work.

Friends, this is how we are supposed to be as the body of Christ. My ankle couldn’t keep the pain a secret from the body– every part of me was affected by it. Its weakness was well-known throughout every fiber of my being as I fought with the crutches and the ice packs and the pain. If I had ignored it, or if my other parts had failed to come alongside and share the extra burden for awhile, I could have seriously injured myself trying to walk normally on that weak and bruised ankle.

We are not meant to keep our pain and our bruises and our weaknesses to ourselves. We are not meant to struggle on alone, and we are certainly not meant to ignore the needs and hurts of other members of this Body of Christ.

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Oh friends, let us love one another with this kind of strengthening and building love. Let us grow up, supporting each other, binding our hearts to our good Savior and to one another as we speak truth and pray for each other.

But God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ.

Opened Doors, Expectations, and Obedience

The real test of obedience doesn’t come on Friday night at camp, when you raise your hand, when you respond to the preaching and the impassioned invitation and the beautiful music and go forward and “make a decision.” It doesn’t happen on Sunday morning, when the pastor’s plea touches your heart, or at a woman’s conference when you see the distance between your reality and your “ought to be” and decide to make a change.

That decision is a beautiful thing. But it is, at best, the opening of a door.

The real moment of truth comes Monday morning, when you set the alarm, get out of bed, and open God’s Word. It comes on Tuesday afternoon, when you take that opportunity to share Christ with your friend. It comes on Thursday, when you seek someone to hold you accountable, and on Friday when you keep your mouth shut and refuse to join in with the corrupt communication of your friends or coworkers or teammates. It comes on Saturday morning, when you spend your time in prayer instead of sleeping in, and on Sunday at church, when you follow through with that decision you made to get more involved in the ministries there.

I know that not everyone just got back from an emotionally-charged week at church camp, but I think we have this habit of expecting God to do huge things at camp or conferences or whatever, of responding to His work in our lives during those times, and then of not following through when the emotional high is over. This is a cycle I have seen in my own life, time and again, through years of being named a Christian.

It is amazing to get away and to expect and then see God work, doing great things. It is a beautiful thing to be refreshed in that way, with our responsibilities temporarily lifted so that we can really focus on our walk with the Lord.

But what if the main reason God works so mightily in those weeks or weekends away– camps and conferences and retreats– is because that is when we’re expecting Him to do His work? What if we are limiting God’s ability to work in our lives because we’re not expecting Him to show up and do something amazing on a boring old Tuesday morning?

And what if what He really desires to do is meet us every single day and do a great work in our lives? What if Thursday afternoon in the middle of a regular week of school and work and life could be just as incredible as Friday night at camp?

One of the things that came up a lot with my girls at camp last week was personal devotions– time with God each day, reading His Word and praying. I think this is an area where a lot of believers feel a lot of guilt, because we know our time with the Lord is not a high priority, or not as good as it should be, or seems pointless. We’re not sure where to start or what to do once we’ve got our Bibles open. And for a lot of us who were raised in the church, we feel, perhaps secretly and guiltily, that the Bible is so familiar that there isn’t much else for us to learn.

The truth is that God’s Word is the expression of the heart of God, a heart that is so far beyond our ability to understand that we will literally spend all of eternity on our quest to know Him fully. This means that we can never plumb the depths of His Word during our time in this life. And I think most of us would mentally assent to that, but still struggle to believe it. We would make the decision at the conference or the special church service, but still scratch our head over Noah’s ark on Monday morning, wondering what there can possibly be in that passage that we haven’t heard a million times before.

Here is what God has taught me: I must come expectantly to God’s Word each day. I must trust that the Bible has something for me every single day, that He is as amazing as He says He is, that He wants to teach me and meet me in the pages of His inspired Book. And so I must open my Bible and read it, study it, expecting that I will find words of life for me today. Faith says I feel like this is so familiar and like there can’t possibly be anything new here, but God says His Word is profitable and will not return void. So I am going to read it and trust that there is something profitable here for me.

And then– and this is extremely important– once God has revealed something to me, even if it is something basic, I need to obey it. I really believe that one of the reasons we don’t see anything new in the Word of God is because we’re not obeying what we already know we’re supposed to be doing. It’s like we’re standing at the bottom of a long flight of stairs, looking up. I can memorize every detail of all the stairs in front of me, but if I don’t take the step up the first one, I’m never going to see what waits higher up.

Friends, don’t wait for the next scheduled spiritual mountaintop to expect great things. God wants to start doing a good work in you today as you step out in faith-filled obedience.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Monday Meanderings, Week 16

So last week I went to camp. As a counselor, because apparently 37-year-olds are not allowed to attend as senior campers and their screening process for counselors is pretty lax.😉

Seriously, though. What a great week. I had the best group of girls and a co-counselor named Katie who was a total kindred spirit. We had so much fun and laughed so hard that hyperventilating was a near-constant threat.

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God blessed me with a bunch of amazing young ladies in my cabin– several that I could relate to on a pretty deep level as homeschoolers and pastor’s kids. They were such an encouragement to me and blessed me in so many ways. I did have this traumatic moment on Thursday when one of the girls asked how old I was and then told me I was the same age as her mom (traumatizing on its own– these were high school girls and in my head I am NOT old enough for that!) but that I seemed way older. Erm, thanks? I suppose to a 16-year-old maybe that seems like a compliment.

I am still really trying to process my week, because at church camp it seems like God is always at work doing big things and you’re just kind of caught up in it. But in the middle of the amazing times of worship and preaching and one-on-one conversations with my girls, I had a ton of fun.

I went down the zipline, which is always amazing.

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These are the fabulous girls in my cabin. I miss them all so much! They were such a joy!🙂

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Camp is a fabulous place for selfies, as you can see.

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Cheering on our team during a game called “Scandball.”

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In the following picture, we are enjoying a delightful camp concoction called a Chipper. Amazing. Also you can see the t-shirt I tie-dyed, at least part of it. It is a glorious creation. We enjoyed our treats while cheering on the boys from our church in the football tournament. They won silver, so go team! (Their team name was Trees ft. the Shrubs, which in my opinion should have won them first place just by itself.)

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Here we are flaunting our gold medals, which we won for cabin cleanup on Thursday, much to our surprise.

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On Friday afternoon our whole cabin hung out in the Craft Cabin and made bracelets. Mine caused me a bit of a struggle at first but eventually I got it, and trust me when I say that the finished product is a thing of beauty.

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On the last night of camp, they had a huge bonfire and we all sat on the hill until our back ends were numb, singing songs and eating treats and listening to testimonies. Also taking selfies. I have no idea who half the girls in this picture are, but at least they were smiling, am I right?

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What an amazing week. I’m so thankful for my parents taking the kids so that Art and I could both go as counselors. I’m so excited to see what God is going to do through each of these precious girls. And I’m excited to see what He is doing in me as a result of this experience.

He is a great God, and He is doing good things.🙂

 

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

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