Why We Can Quit Trying So Hard

I want to receive God’s love so fully that it fills up my own heart and spills over onto others. Yet it’s so natural to do things that are, well. . . unloving.

I see someone at the library I met once before who just had a new baby. Instead of congratulating her and asking how she’s doing, I check out my books and slip past her.

At the grocery store, someone comments on how happy my children are, and I miss a chance to tell her that even though they aren’t always like this, we have a reason to be happy because we have Jesus.

When I’m cooking and don’t answer my son’s question right away, I respond in anger to my son’s impatience with me.

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I don’t listen well when my husband suggests an idea for cleaning up my email inbox. I assume that my way is the best, and selfish pride keeps me from even wanting to take the time to understand his method.

These convictions and missed opportunities used to lead me to despair. How could I confess to love Jesus and act this way toward others? Haven’t I been a Christian long enough to know better? Will I ever get it right?

No. No I won’t. And I don’t have to.

Instant Righteousness

Jesus’s death paid for all the guilt and shame of every sin I’ve ever committed and will commit. But our lives don’t become a blank slate so that we have to start all over with trying to be good enough. When I receive Jesus, I receive His righteousness as if I’d acted perfectly. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

As if I truly loved every person in every interaction I’ve had and will have.

As if I gave glory to God in every response to others’ questions and comments.

As if I sacrificially loved and disciplined and responded perfectly in every situation with my children.

As if I always put my husband’s needs before my own.

That’s what Jesus did when He lived this life on earth, and that’s what the Father sees when He looks at me.

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I don’t need to impress God because He’s already been impressed by Jesus.

I don’t need to hide my shame when I fail because Jesus bore it on the cross.

Yeah, But What Are We Supposed To Do?

When we sinfully let someone down, we apologize and point them to the One who will never fail them (and who always lovingly listens to every question, comment, and request).

Each time we are aware of our sin, we respond in worship to God, thanking Him for His righteousness given to us.

We spend time reading His Word, getting to know His character and how He cares for His children through the Old and New Testament, and how it’s most fully revealed in Jesus. We learn His ways.

And when our minds are filled with who He is and what He calls us to, His Spirit can lead us to repentance, seeing the crushing weight of our sin not crushing us but crushing Jesus to death, bringing us the peace and healing we long for. (Isaiah 53:5)

“For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:14)

 

We keep walking toward God, knowing that Jesus walks right in front of us, never faltering or veering off the path. 

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And maybe, some of that love just might start to spill over onto those He brings to us.

When Our Inefficiency is Pleasing to God

My three-and-a-half year old son loves crawling up on the counter and helping me cook. He likes to taste the flour and basil and ask all kinds of questions about what I’m making. Cracking eggs is accomplished by simultaneously squeezing and knocking the egg on the side of the bowl, as the egg goo runs through his fingers.  

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Before I had kids, it was much easier to plan out what I wanted to get done on a certain day, with only the occasional phone call (or teacher request during my planning period). By working hard, I could get my lessons written out and be ready for the next day.  

In this season of life with little ones, my tasks are constantly punctuated by needs, requests, questions, and exclamations of “Mommy, look at me!” Many times, I feel like I’m swimming upstream, against the American value of efficiency. Efficiency is defined as, “able to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort.” As some equate time with money, I have often associated efficiency with success

In the roles God has entrusted to me, I am certainly called to get things done, but when I dig down to the roots of my heart, I realize that instead of my actions stemming from a heart of active, humble service to my Good Master, the roots are really pride.

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One definition of pride is “pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.” I want people to see what I’ve cleaned or written or decided is important and appreciate me. I focus on being an expert multi-tasker. When our pellet stove stops working, or my son chooses to whine rather than obey, I think that if I could only snap my fingers and fix the situation, I would be happier–until the next baby cry or unkind word from someone brings another wave of frustration.

In my pursuit of satisfaction in what I get done, I usually end the day feeling like a failure. And when I’ve been so determined to get everything crossed off my list, without considering anyone else’s desires or requests, I feel defeated in my relationships.

Transforming the Roots

I need to be brought back to the gospel. Today and tomorrow and every day until I reach eternity and fall on my face before the “Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 5)

Jesus paid for all my pride, selfishness, and shame on the cross. He was perfectly faithful to the Father’s vision for His life, and He gives that faithful righteousness to me. His Spirit is living in me, making me more like Jesus and convicting me when I need to repent.

Through that repentance, grounded in His righteousness on my behalf, God has pointed me to a few ways to keep fighting the battle against pride.

  1. Be in awe.

The God who filled the oceans and flung galaxies into place created us to be in relationship with Him. The most popular movies and novels echo our desire to be in relationship with someone who will never let us down. Advertisements try to convince us to buy things for our benefit, yet the One who satisfies us invites us to “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1) His everlasting covenant is ours through Jesus’ death and resurrection before we ever lift a finger in service to Him.

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2. Rest in God’s Sovereignty.

Preparing meal after meal after meal for my kids is a constant reminder that God isn’t in a hurry. 2 Peter 3:8-9 says “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Sometimes, it feels like there are a thousand years worth of needs in one day, and yet God in His steadfastness, wants to carry me through each moment of my life.

3. Look back at His faithfulness as recorded in the Bible and in my own life.

God has always chosen to dwell with His people–through pillars of fire, the tabernacle, His Son clothed in human flesh, and now His Spirit at work in our hearts. His plan to save us literally unfolded over thousands of years (and is still unfolding as people from every nation are swept into His kingdom.)

4. Embrace His part for me.

God has given us limits for our good. Our limits point to His infiniteness, and the way He chooses to use a whole Body of believers in every part of the world to be a part of His kingdom work. Even when we are faithless and disobedient, He is always faithful to accomplish His purposes.

5. Keep working in gratefulness for His acceptance of me through Jesus.

Recently, Nathan Rittenhouse, a speaker for Ravi Zacharias ministries, came to our church to speak. He shared from Matthew 20 about the Parable of the Vineyard and the way it highlights God’s generosity completely apart from our ability to work. When we are satisfied in the good Master and what He has done for us, we can get up early the next day and be one of the first workers in the field. We can love and serve from a place of joy and thankfulness in the good way He wants to accomplish His will in our lives, rather than being stuck in our own vision or even someone else’s vision for our lives.

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If God wanted to appear efficient, He definitely wouldn’t have chosen to use us to be a part of reaching the nations with the gospel. Like my son trying help me cook, dropping egg shells in the bowl, splashing batter, and spilling oatmeal, God welcomes our uncoordinated help, worship, and love. If anyone else were to peek into our hearts, they would see a mess—toys on the floor, half-finished projects–they may even turn away in disgust when they smell the stinky diapers of our sin.

Yet, because of Jesus, God lovingly steps over the toys, picking up a few at a time when necessary, and changing us so that we don’t have to sit in our stink. When we cry, He holds us. When we pester Him with incessant requests and forget to thank Him, He listens. When we start to get the hang of walking, He celebrates with us, and when we lose our balance or hit our head on the coffee table, He picks us back up and holds our hand as we start again. Never longing for a break from us, he doesn’t sigh with relief when we finally fall asleep for the night.

His love is that unconditional.

Why Your Children Need the Gospel (Instead of Another Lecture)

At some point every day, I can count on hearing, “Mom! Look what she’s doing!”

Now that Hosanna is mobile, there are almost constant opportunities for friction between her and three-and-a-half-year-old Isaiah. As soon as she crawls toward something, he wants it. And if he’s building a tower out of Duplos, all she wants to do is knock it down and try to eat it.

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Isaiah often begs me to keep her from touching his toys. It’s tempting to get frustrated and want him to just share, but then I realize how I can get in the same mindset, wanting my kids to stop dropping food on my floor, taking dishes out of my cupboards, or squishing play-doh into my carpet.

Recently, Isaiah was trying to convince me that other people disobey, but he doesn’t disobey. He is more than happy to let me know when Hosanna is doing something I have forbidden him to do, like throwing food on the floor or chewing on a library book.

If my ultimate goal becomes outward obedience, my son may continue his Pharisaical thinking, that if he follows Mom and Dad’s rules closely enough, he will be a good boy. He would fit right in with children whose parents follow other religions and have excellent behavior management apart from Christ (as long as his sister didn’t bother him too much). Maybe I’d become so convinced by his uprightness that I’d recoil in horror when I caught him hitting his sister or speaking unkind words to a friend.

Maybe he doesn’t need to be told he’s a good boy as much as he needs to be taught the gospel.

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All About Jesus

In a recent panel discussion on Teaching Our Children About Jesus, Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, shared that Jesus had little brothers and sisters and treated them perfectly. Jesus knows that my son struggles to share with his sister, and that I struggle to share my time, energy, and picked-up home.

My son is not called to love his sister most of the time, he is called to love her all of the time, just as I am called to love them and my husband in a thousand opportunities for self-sacrifice each day.

When unconditional love is the standard, it’s not something that can be faked.

When I name sins for what they are, I can point my children to the One who never sinned, and the forgiveness He freely offers. I can tell my son, “That wasn’t kind when you pushed your sister out of the way. Jesus probably didn’t like it when His sister got in His way, but He never pushed her. Even though He was never unkind, He died to pay for all the unkind things we have ever done.”

I can also confess when I sin against him. “I’m sorry for yelling at you to come brush your teeth, rather than simply asking you and disciplining you when you didn’t obey.” or “I’m sorry I acted angry when you spilled your rice on the carpet. Will you forgive me?”

A couple weeks ago, I saw my son rip a toy out of his sister’s hand. When I asked him to apologize to her for taking it, he said he didn’t want to. I felt led to put my hands on his shoulders and pray for Jesus to give him a soft heart that would want to apologize to his sister, thanking Jesus for loving his brothers and sisters perfectly.

Another time, we did work on what it sounded like to apologize using a kind voice, saying specifically what he did that was wrong and trying to look his perpetually-active sister in the eyes. After a couple silly-voice attempts, I thought he had done an okay job and asked if he wanted to go outside. He said, “Yes, but first I need to do something.” He turned to his sister. “Hosanna, I’m sorry for pushing you over.” Then he smiled up at me, “Okay, I’m ready to go.”

Though I don’t have school-age children, Elyse gave some great principles about what it looks like to place the conviction with the child when they sin against someone, rather than forcing them to mimic apologetic words they don’t mean.

Nurturing And Evangelism

God has placed a desire in our hearts as women to nurture. We don’t want to see our children skin their knees. We wish we could take their sickness away. We enjoy fulfilling desires for cups of milk or another helping of the supper we cooked. But do we really believe that Jesus loves them more? Do we tell them? Will we ask God to use whatever is necessary to draw them to repentance, or would we rather make sure they always feel good about themselves?

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If you are the mother of little ones, you are guaranteed an opportunity for evangelism. Day in and day out, you love and serve hearts that are not surrendered to Christ, souls that do not have the indwelling Spirit guiding them in love, patience, kindness or self-control. If you’ve surrendered your life to Christ, you reflect Him as a priest, interceding daily on behalf of the souls in the next bedroom, and practicing life-on-life discipleship.

If you’re feeling discouraged about your children’s heart behavior, look to Jesus. He has the power to turn stone hearts into flesh. To replace selfishness with His Spirit’s love.

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Jen Wilkin, in her newest book, None Like Him, said that “Jesus demonstrated power over the physical realm to point us to his power over the spiritual realm. Every visible miracle Jesus performed during his earthly ministry was a whisper. . . pointing to the most dumbfounding miracle of all: the display of his power to transform the human heart from stone to flesh.” (134)
Loving Father, thank you for loving our children more than we ever could. Would you show us how to point them to you, even as we look to you for the strength to do it? We surrender our children to you again today.

How To Read the Old Testament to Treasure the Gospel

A friend recently told me that she’d been feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to know about God and the Bible. But then the Spirit reminded her that she has her whole life to learn, study, and delight in the God who made her.

At this stage of caring for my little people, my Bible meditations are constantly being interrupted by baby yells and requests from my preschooler to watch him knock his building down. Mealtime prayers are punctuated with bibs being pulled off and cries of “Mom, I dropped my spoon!”

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No longer can I count on having a certain hour of the day free to read the Bible and pray, which has challenged me to appreciate the gospel in a new way. Just like my kids’ requests (and cries) continue from the time they wake up to the time they ask for a story, a drink, a prayer, and music to listen to as they fall asleep, I am reminded of my constant need for Christ. That He is the only One who can satisfy me and give me the hope I need to get through days (and nights) of needy little people. It is His grace, pulling me out of what is predictable and into a life that demands that I choose where I am going to look for strength.

God has used this holistic way of viewing my need for Christ to challenge me in the way I read Scripture, and especially the Old Testament. Rather than going to Scripture for a verse to carry me through the day, I’m realizing that every God-breathed passage I read is shaping my understanding and love for the Shepherd who is leading me through the weariness, whining, and messed-up plans (and floors).

Digging Deeper

A number of months ago, God used my friend Jessie to lead me to a great resource called One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm, (which is also immensely exciting to use while reading Scripture one-on-one with someone else).

Since I’m reading through the Old Testament historical books right now, I’m using David Helm’s list of Old Testament narrative questions, first reading for comprehension–noting the context, time and place where the narrative is happening and writing down things that are confusing. It allows me to start with a real-place-and-time foundation before trying to look for a main point or theme.

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Once I think about the main point (or what I might be missing if God hadn’t put that passage in the Bible), I get to my favorite part, when I get to ask, “How does the passage point forward to what God is going to do in the future? Does it prophesy or anticipate Jesus Christ in some way?”

After asking myself this question day after day, the Spirit has given me a new lens to view each passage I read from the Old Testament. He brings to mind passages from the New Testament that help explain God’s purposes in the tabernacle, the priesthood, and His never-changing desire for people to reflect His glory.  (And if you want to help your children understand how everything points to Jesus, rather than as just a collection of so-called Bible heroes, The Jesus Storybook Bible is a great place to start).

Prayer becomes a way of responding to what I’m learning moment-by-moment. I can thank Him for the map of my life He’s ordained when I read about God leading Abraham, or how He works through all our mixed motives and even sins when I read about Jacob and Rebekah’s deception to receive Isaac’s blessing.

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When I get to the end of Exodus, where God gives the dimensions and instructions for the tabernacle, it’s a chance to praise our God of details, because if He gave such specific instructions for an earthly tabernacle, how much more will the place He has for us on the New Earth be carefully prepared?

When I read about Aaron and his sons being clothed in their priestly garments, I can praise Jesus for clothing me in His righteousness, for being faithful on my behalf so that I can be inscribed with “Holy to the Lord.”

Even as I read Leviticus, I can rejoice that one reason for the animal sacrifices was “that the glory of the Lord may appear to you,” and that Jesus was clothed in flesh to become the true sin-forgiving, righteousness-giving sacrifice and to reveal the Father’s glory so that we might worship Him as His children.  

Rather than taking what I’ve learned and figuring out what I need to do, Helm provides the last two questions to lift my chin back up to God, asking:

How does this passage challenge your understanding about who God is and what he is like?

And then, as I invite the Holy Spirit’s specific conviction, I can ask:

Is there some attitude or behavior you need to change?

The sorrow I experience over my sin is a gift as it draws me to repentance and remembering again the grace and forgiveness Jesus stayed on the cross to give.

Like a diamond, when we study each facet-passage of Scripture, we can enjoy a different glimpse of Jesus and His glorious gospel. It doesn’t matter if we have six years left or sixty. Every day that we take time to read His Word is a new chance to treasure Jesus and hold our gospel diamonds up to the light for others to see.

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Which facet of Scripture will you ask Him to help you understand so that you can enjoy Him more?

You can get the free PDFs of David Helm’s questions for each genre of Scripture here.

Or you can get the entire book here.

Jen Wilkin also has an excellent guide for deepening your study of Scripture called, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds.

When You Don’t Feel Successful

Isaiah had gotten the hang of walking and was delighted with his new level of freedom. When I decided it was time to sweep the floors of our tiny basement apartment, I would set up some toys for him to play with and rush over to the kitchen with my broom. About two seconds later, Isaiah would innocently (or not so innocently?) wander over and stand right in the middle of the pile of crumbs I had just gathered. Or he would want to help, and spread the dirt with the broom in a perfectly even layer across the floor again.

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With two kids now, tasks that I used to get done quickly now take at least three times as long (some kind of weird exponential thing, I’ve found).

One time, we had a couple Chinese international students in our home for a meal. They were surprised that I stayed at home and kept commenting on how clean our apartment was. (I guess clean is a relative term.) I wasn’t sure if it was because in some Asian cultures people don’t visit each other’s homes but instead go out to eat together, or if they were trying to validate my role as a wife and stay-at-home mom, or because they knew those words in English. But it made me think about how I spend my time each day.

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Sometimes it feels like I’m stumbling through each week, not even sure what is making me so busy. The whirlwind of Bible reading, housework, child care, training, email, writing, people interactions, budgeting, shopping, and food prep compete with the unexpected car repairs and “Honey-could-you’s” for the same 24 hour period.

When tasks don’t feel like they are running smoothly, it’s easy for me to get discouraged, thinking I should be using my time better. I try to convince myself that I should have been able to predict the future, with all the unexpected changes to my day, because doesn’t God want me to be efficient for Him?

Being Like God

Jen Wilkin, in her newest book, None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us, wrote the specific words of conviction I needed to hear:

We must recover the truth that was obscured by the Serpent: rather than being like God in his unlimited divinity, we are to be like God in our limited humanity. (25)

It feels much more natural to spend my energy trying to predict my baby’s nap schedule, figure out how I should have spent my writing time, or run myself ragged trying to get tasks crossed off my to-do list, rather than asking God to work in me to reflect His goodness, mercy, holiness, and faithfulness.

Jen Wilkin puts it this way:

So it has been ever since [the Fall]: human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect his glory, we choose instead to rival it. . . Rather than worship and trust the omniscience of God, we desire to be all-knowing ourselves. Rather than celebrate and revere his omnipotence, we seek ultimate power in our own spheres of influence. (23)

How often do I dismiss the requests of my preschooler to read him a book or help me in the kitchen because it doesn’t fit in with my time table?

How often do I get frustrated by the unexpected phone call that comes as soon as both kids are down for a rest? Or my husband’s vision for the evening looks nothing like mine?

Faithful Is Successful?

My mentor Natalie told me about a book she’s been reading called Faithful is Successful. When I told her that I wasn’t sure how to feel about my writing goals and ministry desires that I don’t have time for, she asked a question along the lines of, “What if God wants to grow a faithful heart in me?” (rather than being proud of the accomplishments I’ve produced). What happens when the success becomes old news?

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She reminded me that even in the church, it’s natural for people to value serving others as efficiently as possible, to fulfill as many people’s desires as possible, so that we can reach out to as many as possible. But what if God wants to use me for a task that would take someone else half the time or less?

In Exodus 3, Moses spent almost the whole conversation around the burning bush trying to convince God that he wasn’t the best man for the job. But God didn’t respond with, “I chose you because you are so gifted and will make me proud.” He tells Moses that He will be with him. He gives him His name, “I AM.” He shows him signs of His power. And he gives him his brother Aaron to help.

In her chapter on God’s infinite mystery, Jen Wilkin reminded me of the way God sees me. 

Apprehending with complete accuracy the best and the worst of me, he is neither impressed nor horrified. He accepts me as I am because of Christ. Nothing is hidden before the One who formed my inmost being, and because I am fully known, I am fully free to love the God I only know in part. (38)

I may not understand everything about the way God’s kingdom is coming, but I can trust HIs leading and get excited about what God is doing with and without me. But the details need to be left up to Him. When I move forward and bump up against my limitations, it is a way for God to bring about His timetable in my life.

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As I’ve continued to edit and re-write my novel, I’ve been discouraged when I’ve felt like I didn’t get much done before the dishes, laundry, and little voices started calling loud enough to pull me away. But as my mentor said, “What if the process of writing creatively is to bless me right now?”

What if writing is something God is providing for me? Something to let a completely reckless part of my brain dance around and try something new? A chance to enjoy reflecting the Creator, who is the only One who can create something from nothing?

What if, rather than pursuing a feeling of “I came, I saw, I conquered” by the end of the day, I laid what did happen at Jesus’ feet, inviting Him to redeem it–even my unkind words to my preschooler or the living room that didn’t get picked up–according to His good plan for my life? What if Jesus freed us from the illusion that we could accurately measure our level of success anyway?

Or, as Jen Wilkin puts it:

“Praise God that his plans do not rely on my faithfulness, his joy doesn’t hinge on my good behavior, his glory doesn’t depend on my performance. I stumble along, chasing my own agendas and plotting my own ends, occasionally offering him the reverence he is perpetually due. He is unruffled and unharmed by my inconsistency. He is pleased to be glorified either through me or in spite of me, but he does not need me in the least. And yet he loves me, deeply and eternally, for no other reason than “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:3-6). (60)

Echoing Moses

Moses, the man who asked God to send someone else, wrote a song filled with what he had learned about God and about himself as he saw God deliver the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, toward God’s promised land.

What if we began our days, echoing his words?

Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (
Psalm 90:2)

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What if we numbered our days, remembering that we are dust?

What if, in the same breath, we asked Him something that He longs to do for us? “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (90:14)

What if we asked Him to help us see His splendor and share it with our children?

What if we started and ended each day with the last verse?

May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

When God is the One establishing our work, it is enough. Maybe He’s preparing us for opportunities we could never imagine. Maybe the desires we do have to host a Bible study, or visit sick people at the hospital, or go on a trip to encourage missionaries overseas, are desires that God planted but wants to grow into reality in a different stage of our lives.

Can we trust that what God is doing in our lives now will connect with what He is going to do in five, 10, or 20 years? Do we need to see how He’s connecting the dots? (so that we can approve of it beforehand?)

When I am seeking to be faithful, it helps me to see how my family is a part of what God is establishing, rather than an interruption of it. I won’t be trying to yank everyone around me into the swirling funnel of my plans so that we’ll all fall out the bottom into my desired outcome.

I’ll be able to help my children and husband be who God created them to be. To welcome others into a home where it’s okay to make mistakes. To talk of God’s faithfulness and what He is teaching me over the dinner table (or changing table), rather than the number of times the potty was remembered too late.

Father, would you forgive us for trying to establish ourselves without you? Give our hearts a desire for faithfulness. Please establish the work of our hands today. We are Yours.

When Suffering Feels Meaningless

The kids had gotten up earlier than usual, so I threw some French Toast on the griddle and got together our vitamins, juice and dishes. I heard branches start to drop on our roof and looked outside our back door window to see the forest of trees behind our house swaying back and forth–so much that the solid trunks appeared as flimsy as their branches. Isaiah and Hosanna were already in their booster seat and high chair, and as soon as I went to sit down, I heard an enormous cracking sound, followed by a crash that shook our entire double-wide. I screamed and Isaiah started crying. (Ten-month Hosanna seemed to hold up the best out of the three of us.)

I went to the same back door window and saw that a tree about a foot in diameter was leaning against our house, and an even bigger tree was laying in the backyard nearby.

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img_1190Though we now have a hole in our roof and a couple cracks in the office ceiling, I’ve tried to remind Isaiah of God’s protection each time he hears the wind blowing and gets scared, (and how God promises to be with us when we do get hurt).

It’s scary to talk about suffering because I want to have all the answers. When someone shares their pain with me, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. It doesn’t feel like a fair fight when my words are coming up against their real, raw pain. I have to keep the lies of empty motivational phrases from trying to wriggle their way out of my mouth, because that’s what people say when they’re trying to cover up the fact that they don’t know what to say. It’s all the world has. Either feel guilty because there are so many worse off than you, or try to believe phrases like:

You’ll get through this. You are a survivor. You are stronger than the pain.

It might even make someone feel like they are not allowed to feel the pain fully–that it would be better just to ignore it and look to the future.

But what if the future isn’t better but only delivers more pain? What about those who face injustice and persecution until their last breath?

All I know is that whether someone follows God or not, the only hope I can offer is Jesus. If I can’t receive the gift of faith to believe in His sovereignty, justice, and goodness (notice I didn’t say feel), I also probably won’t be able to cling to the hope of eternal joy with Him on the New Earth. If this life is all there is, I have no comfort to offer the hurting.

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But if, when I read His Word, my soul strives to believe and submit to not understanding the ways of the One who is Infinite and also the source of all love, I can cry and scream and pour out my emotions before Him. I can feel and not ignore. Allow myself to claw through the pain of losing someone I love. Speak the disappointment of forfeiting another night of sleep to a fussy newborn. Grieve when my child yells at his cousin, doesn’t want to share his toys, and doesn’t want to apologize. Feel weary when my husband’s responsibilities take him away from helping at home.  

As Hosanna continues to conquer new territory through her crawling, I have needed to intervene on behalf of library books and her own safety. My back and shoulders have taken on a new ache, causing memories of past chronic pain to try and make me fear that the discomfort, discouragement, and limitations are ready to take over again. That the rhythm I’ve found doing life with two Littles is going to be impossible to maintain.

What if I let the Holy Spirit use the fear as a trigger to respond to Him?

When I see my need for Jesus and that apart from Him I can do nothing,  it prepares my heart for His strength to enter into the pain. When I tell him how scared I am or how much it hurts, it opens the way for His Spirit to lead me to a response. (Here’s a great short video on this by John Piper.)

When I mentioned to my dear friend Jessie that my word for this year is surrender, she wrote back these words:

“Surrender to an enemy would be terrifying, but surrender to one who has your highest good in mind, who is the Lover of your soul? That sounds positively wonderful, the very thing our souls are longing for, but often don’t admit. To just let go and be loved. To open our hands and receive.”

Letting Go

When I’m not trying to control my life so much that any pain becomes a bitterness-producing interruption, I can receive the way God wants to use it in my life. Maybe He wants me to leave my plans behind and walk with Him into something totally different. Maybe He wants to comfort me with a promise I’ve never had to set my heart on before.

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When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, there was no mistaking His power. When He brought water from a rock and bread from heaven, there was no mistaking His provision. But before each of those things, He allowed suffering. Slavery. Hunger. Thirst. Fear.  

I recently worked through a Bible study on 1 Peter where I asked the Lord to show me what He has done in my life through allowing suffering. This is what He brought to mind:

  • A deeper knowledge of God’s care and faithfulness
  • Seeing my need to depend on Him more clearly
  • A longing for heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • Freedom from the perspectives of this world by growing in obedience and purity. (Hebrews 5:7-8)
  • Deliverance from the temptation to be prideful in what I can accomplish or perform. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
  • The chance to comfort others with the comfort I have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)

Suffering as Ministry

1 Peter 3:15 is often quoted when talking about evangelism, but I’d never taken time to really look at the context:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

What if God chose to draw others to Himself as they saw my faith in suffering?

What if they were reminded of Jesus’ example of submission through suffering when they saw me suffering unjustly?

What if I talked through my own suffering with others rather than trying to give all the answers to their pain?

What if I was able to speak about the benefits I’ve experienced because of suffering, even as I expressed my current pain honestly with others? (Rather than simply depending on inspirational phrases that decorate my living room walls or web images that pop onto people’s Facebook feed to do the job.)

When God brought the plagues and split the sea, one of the reasons He did it was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 7, 13) The Egyptians did, and some even joined the Israelites, leaving their security behind to follow a God of glory and power.

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God is not afraid to use suffering to draw people’s hearts to Himself, because fellowship with Him is always better than escaping painful circumstances.

He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, and has made a way for us to know Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Will we speak that hope to ourselves and others when they ask?

What benefits has God allowed you to see as He’s worked for your good in suffering?

What anxiety is He longing for you to cast on Him?

What promise is He inviting you to grab onto today?

When Your Plans Get Thrown Out the Window

A few years ago, my mom challenged me to come up with a word for the year, something that I wanted to invite God to do in my life as I considered what might happen in the coming year. Some of my words from past years have included: Spirit, dependance, and presence (which was my word last year as I anticipated Hosanna’s arrival and my life being turned on its head, courtesy of my newborn).

This year, I’ve been a bit nervous about my word. As if by saying it, I am inviting opportunities to need it. But maybe I am. My word is surrender.

As I anticipate the critical training time now that Hosanna has learned how to crawl (and will soon be communicating more), as I hope to get my novel to a place of sending it to publishers, as I continue to ask God to send people into my home who need to hear or be reminded of gospel truths, it is scary.

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I’ve always found safety in the familiar, especially when I’m the one creating the schedule for everyone else to stick to. But God, in His grace, keeps bringing these living, breathing, factors into my life to open my eyes to the pride of wanting to do exactly what I want, when I want. When I’ve tried to make others see that my perceptions and solutions are the best, without considering their own desires, the only thing I’ve gained is a deeper sense of discontent.

Listening to My Heart?

When I see anything that sways from my intentions as annoying interruptions, (like my son vomiting on the carpet or the “accidents” that make me keep my vinegar spray bottle handy), my heart is really believing that God doesn’t know what He is doing and can’t possibly work it together for my good. Better to suck it up and hope the next day is closer to my plans.

But what if my plans get completely thrown out the window?

What if my brothers sold me into slavery because they were jealous of me? And even when I tried to respond to a situation in a righteous way, it led to me being falsely accused and put in prison?

What if I was told to leave my home and believe promises that wouldn’t be fully fulfilled until after I’d died?

What if I was sent to a place where I took on the neediness of a baby, grew up to be consistently rejected or misunderstood by those I was trying to reach, and spent the night before my execution asking the Father if there was any way His plan could be fulfilled in a different way?

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What if by laying aside my plans done in my way, all the little times I “shared in His sufferings” pointed directly to Him?

Joseph’s Journey

I recently read through Joseph’s story in the book of Genesis and was surprised by how this righteous man’s life pointed to Jesus in so many little details.

Both lives were exchanged for silver.

Both were betrayed by people close to them.

Both were falsely accused when they had acted righteously.

Both were thrown into a pit. (Joseph was tossed in by his brothers, and then the jail Potiphar sent him to was referred to as the pit. Jesus tasted the pit of Hell’s punishment for us when He died on the cross.)

Both caused people to give glory to God in response to their actions, and gave God glory for their abilities.

Both were raised to a high position and became a channel of blessing to the nations. (Joseph advised Pharaoh and provided food during the famine. Jesus, through His resurrection and being raised to glory, offers His righteousness to us so that we might be forgiven and raised to the glory of our eternal home with Him.)

Both submitted to the Father’s will in forgiving and welcoming those who had done them wrong, (Joseph told his brothers that what they had intended for evil, God used for good. Jesus brought forgiveness to us, while we were still sinners.)

Both had to look forward to a future inheritance. (Joseph only had Jacob’s blessing and his affirmation of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and himself. Jesus conquered death through the cross, but waits to receive the full number of His inheritance (us!) even as He prepares to come again and usher in life on the New Earth.)

It’s only through God’s Word that we can grasp the Big Story of His plan of redemption for the world and see His steadfast love at work, even when we are sinned against, and especially when we sin.

May the Spirit help us to trust the Divine Author who is fitting together all the pieces of His redemption story. We are a part of His story, and every happy ending to every book is a mere reflection of what it will be like to enter into the happiest eternity of fellowship with God.

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Opening our Eyes

But how can we actually see God’s Sovereign, Loving, Good hand at work every time our nose starts to run? (Or feel the dread of getting sick when other family members get it first.)

Every time our toddler finds something else to dump out (or hide)?

Every time our baby starts working on a new tooth?

Every time our preschooler comes up with another question to ask (or keeps re-asking a question when he is not satisfied with the answer given)?

Every time our children refuse to pray, refuse to thank someone for a gift, or choose to value a toy over the value of their sibling?

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Maybe, as we sweep Play-doh crumbs off the floor, we feel more like we’re stuck in a pit than experiencing the joy of being raised with Christ.

Maybe the routine of sorting, washing, drying, folding, and putting away laundry feels like a never-ending circle of responsibility.

What if we asked God to open our eyes to the bigger story, to how it points forward to what God is going to do in the future? Or how it can remind us of what Jesus has already done?

What if we could see each load of shirts bringing us one cycle closer to the moment when we will lose our earthly clothes and be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness?

What if each meal planned, prepared, eaten, and cleaned up, gave us a hint of how much better it will be at the marriage supper of the Lamb, when it’s not really the food that satisfies us but is only an accompaniment to our enjoyment of the One who satisfies us completely?

What if we saw each training opportunity as a way to reflect what God wants to do in our lives–teaching us His ways, disciplining us when necessary, and allowing us to take part in the fruit of righteousness, blessing, and joy that comes from living in obedience.

What if each failed attempt to reach the potty in time, each attempt to pull-up on the couch without falling, and each baby cry that refused to be comforted, pointed us to hope in the God who is walking with us, all the way to our final home, when we finally “get it?”

Spirit, would you open our eyes to see what You are doing and trust your loving Hand with the rest?

If you’d like to share your word for the year, I’d love to pray it with you.

How to Fill Your New Year’s Resolutions With Hope

I wrote this article last year, but as I look forward to what God might have in 2017, I wanted to share it again. 

I can’t even count the number of times growing up, whether it was public school or youth group that I was challenged to “make a difference in the world.” That I could be a part of seeing life-changing transformation in the lives of those I reached out to.

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Fast forward a few years to my current life filled with laundry, meal preparations, and conversations about screwdrivers, milk, and pretending to jump in imaginary pools of water.

Surely if I could somehow get these responsibilities over with, I could get to the really important stuff, (followed up by letters of appreciation from people telling me how their lives are so much better because of me and God must surely be pleased with all the people I am impacting.)

At times, it’s easy to see my toddler as an obstacle to what I am trying to accomplish, rather than part of my purpose.

It feels like the Christian life should be separate from wiping the hairs off the bathroom sinks, paying the electric bill, and picking up another box of diapers from Walmart.

But most of the time, those tasks are exactly what my days consist of.

What happened to changing the world?

How do we have a vision while still holding our plans loosely (because little people aren’t as predictable as we might like them to be)?

How do we invite our families to be part of that vision, instead of imagining all that we could do if we had a break from them?

In Philippians 3, Paul lists his accomplishments and reasons he would look pretty important to the average Jew. But in verses 7-9, Paul says,

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

In verse 14 he goes on to say, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

What is Paul’s goal? It wasn’t changing the world (though God used Him to share His truth in many places).

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His goal was knowing Jesus and living in the hope of the gospel for today and for eternity.

This goal was meant to be pursued as we go about our responsibilities, instead of getting our everyday tasks finished as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can get to the really important work.

Picking up toys for the hundredth time and organizing leftovers can be part of God’s work as we let His pleasure and presence give each task meaning.

Rachel Jankovic, in her book Fit to Burst, shares that “It does not matter what is on the table when the people around it aren’t at peace. It doesn’t matter how clean your house is when bitterness is growing in the hearts of your children.” (p.31)

Goals vs. Desires

So is it pointless to have dreams? Should we throw all our goals out the window?

It’s important to make a distinction between goals and desires. Goals can’t involve others’ behavior, because we don’t have control over that.

I can desire to get my closets organized, but if my son starts running a fever, or my husband has to work late, I can’t consider the unaccomplished task a failure.

On the other hand, if my goal is to invite Jesus and His joy and favor earned on my behalf into every task and interaction I have, I can keep working and fighting to reach it.

Rachel Jankovic shares that “[Our children] should see us setting realistic (but maybe difficult) goals, and working hard toward them. They should see us being visionaries who are anchored firmly in reality. . . They should see us laboring hard to make a beautiful life for them while not losing sight of the them in it.” (p. 31)

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It’s exciting to be around people who are passionate about something. When my husband comes home telling me all about how he’s learning to use the incredible software that designs the metal parts at his company, it makes me smile.

When I have the chance to talk about the draft of my novel with someone, I can hardly choose whether to talk about plot, character, or the storylines I’m trying to weave together.

It’s good to want to make changes to be healthier in mind, body and spirit.

But when the snooze gets pushed too many times, or moments to write get sucked up by phone calls, or I end up dealing with a tantrum when he should have been napping, I can still be succeeding.

If my ultimate goal is to know Jesus and invite His gospel truth to fill my mind each day, the actual circumstances are only the avenue for accomplishing the goal.

John Piper, a pastor and teacher shared in one of his sermons that “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

Will you trust the God who shaped the universe and has all the power to accomplish His perfect plan (and let you be a part of it) as He leads you into the future?

Will you lay your desires for this next year in His hands?

Will you let your children see what it means to “press on toward the goal” in His grace?

12 Days of Scriptures about Jesus to Meditate on this Christmas

Are you ready?

This advent season, we join with God’s people throughout all of history who waited for their Messiah, their Deliverer, to come. But our waiting is different. We get to celebrate the climax of God’s redemption plan in sending Jesus to earth to pay the price for our sins, even as we await His coming again, when we will join with the angels in celebrating Him, and take part in the marriage supper of the Lamb.

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The shepherds were amazed and terrified when they saw God’s messengers giving glory to Him as they delivered the good news. Just imagine what it will be like when we will join with the angels and elders and living creatures praising the Lamb on the New Earth.

Rather than spending twelve days trying to figure out why a true love would give turtledoves or milkmaids, I put together twelve days of Scriptures about Jesus to meditate on this Christmas season. I’ve also created a PDF you can print out to use for yourself or your family. (And if you want even more resources, you can check out Paul Tripp’s excellent Advent series and Betsy’s 25 Advent Readings for the Very Young.)

May the joy of Christ fill your traditions, family times, and difficulties this Christmas. He is here. . . and He is coming.

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Day 1

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2-7 ESV)

Day 2

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Day 3

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)

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Day 4

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

Day 5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1-18)

Day 6

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35-40)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:7-11, 14-16)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)

Day 7

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

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Day 8

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

Day 9

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

Day 10

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:8-11)

Day 11

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:6-14)

Day 12

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. . . Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:6-8, 11-16)

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10 Gifts We Can Receive From God This Christmas

When we were in elementary school, my brother and I used to crawl around the base of our Christmas tree to examine the packages each evening before Mom called us for dinner.  My brother would count the number of gifts for each of us kids to make sure they were equal, all the while begging Mom to open “just one” before Christmas.

One year, I had this gloriously mysterious triangle one. I showed it to my friends when they came over, until one of them guessed what it was, (which definitely took away from the excitement of opening the watch on Christmas day).

Each year, I’d always hide my gift to my sister underneath other packages, because she was somehow always able to guess what her little sister tried to be so sneaky in buying her.

After all the presents were unwrapped, I often felt twinges of disappointment—that it was all over until next year, and none of the gifts had been able to make me perfectly happy.

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Now, I worry about how to find something that will be meaningful for the person I am giving to, hoping it won’t sit up on a shelf or go in a Goodwill box by the next year. And as other opportunities for giving flood my mailbox–baby chicks that kids can help their family raise and sell for food, life-saving medical procedures for people in other countries, and Bibles for persecuted Christians–the choices can feel overwhelming.

This Advent, I want my giving to reflect the joy that God feels in giving gifts to His children, while still remembering that their only true satisfaction can be found in Jesus. I want to give toward some needs, knowing that God mourns the brokenness in the world and is bringing restoration.

But most of all, I want to receive. Not only the things that make me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, but also the baby cries, stuffy noses, and lost sleep He uses to make me more like Himself.

Because God’s ways are true, and He is perfectly good, we can trust Him to give us what is best. And because He is the best, He gives us Himself. Immanuel—God with us. God in us. God through us.

As you read the following verses, I invite you to imagine each as a physical gift that you are unwrapping, then looking into your Father’s face and thanking Him for it.

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  1. His Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness

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. (Psalm 103:8-13 ESV)

  1. His Righteousness

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. . . For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21)

  1. His Conviction

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. . . I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:1, 5)

  1. His Discipline and Use of Suffering

For [our fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 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. (Hebrews 12:10-12)

  1. His Instruction

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)

  1. His Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

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  1. His Love

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. (Romans 8:38-39)

  1. His Sovereign Control of our Circumstances

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

  1. His Help

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (Psalm 46:1-3)

  1. His Peace in His Presence

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

May each of these gifts draw us to a greater awe for who He is as we celebrate one Christmas closer to our heavenly home.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)

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