Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Not Shifting Our Hope

"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. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." (Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Behind the Curve
I can understand right alongside you how easy it is to shift our hope. Daily, I read blogs, see Facebook posts, and read Twitter tidbits that preach a different kind of gospel. They say that in order to be a good mom, 
"You must stop exposing your family chemicals."
"You must have a themed birthday party every year."
"You must read to your kids for 30 minutes a day - minimum."
"You must keep up with mom blogs."
"You must start doing educational activities at home no later than 12 months."
"You must dress your kids in unique artisan clothes (eco-friendly, perhaps)."
"You must take family pictures every year."
"You must make sure to document your child's first day of school with a sign."
None of these things are bad, evil, or wrong in and of themselves.  In fact many of them are good, and hold benefit for ourselves and our families.  But what are we to do when these 'good things' start to burden us, making us feel like we are constantly behind the curve?

Re-Adjusting Our Hope
When we feel burdened to the max, throwing stones of mom guilt in our backpacks until we can't go on anymore, what are we to do?  (Maybe now would have been a good time to experience the benefits of those Pinterest circuits we were going to incorporate into our daily routine.)  The answer isn't to just try harder to mimic the moms who seem to be carrying their heavy backpacks just fine.  NO.  The answer is to just stop and take it off, because there is someone who will carry it for you.  His name is Jesus.

In him, all things hold together.  He is over this world of expectations, trends, and pressures to be a certain kind of mom.
In him, we have peace through the blood of the cross.  PEACE.  Not striving to do better and be better.
In him, we are no longer alienated and hostile in mind.  No longer do we need to strive to make a name for ourselves, because the only name that matters is the preeminent one, Jesus himself.

Paul says there is something we need to do if we are going to continue in our faith, to remain stable and steadfast and it is this:  we cannot shift our hope onto anything other than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our hope can't be found in the physical health of our family.
Our hope can't be found in how well we prepare and educate our children.
Our hope can't be found in how versed we are in our culture's norms and trends.
Our hope can't be found in how good our parenting looks to others.
There is nothing to add to what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf.  He has paid all of our dues so that we don't have to keep trying to be a perfect mom.  When we know and trust him, we are seen as holy and blameless before a holy and blameless God.  And if we can say that is true, then we have nothing to fear in this life.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
A favorite hymn of mine goes like this:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

If you are having a hard time with the burdens of motherhood or the burdens of the world, there is only one place to look that will make them grow dim, and that is into the face of Jesus.  You can learn about him and know him through the word of God given to us in the bible.  You can find out about this magnificent Christ who was the firstborn of all creation.  I am confident that getting to know him won't make your life easy and perfect, but it will fill you with joy beyond comparison.

You might also like The Gospel (for moms)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On finding a good bible study...

Stumbling into Study
In 2009, I was recently married and seeking to do something more intentional with my time.  Haphazardly, I was also looking for a bible study as a way to add another activity to my week and have some community.  I had no idea how this choice would change my life!  Although I had been a Christian for a few years, was reading many biblically based books, and was trying to navigate the bible on my own, I had not really "studied" the bible in a structured way.  This meant I did a LOT of picking and choosing and a LOT of reading out of context.  While God is gracious and able to use any of our bible reading to grow our knowledge and love for him, I had no idea the richness of scripture that I was missing out on with my random reading.

Next week, I will begin my 6th year of in-depth bible study.  In the past 5 years, God has transformed the way I read and understand scripture - and in turn, He has transformed my heart.

Making Bible Study a Priority
As I enter another year of in-depth study, I want to encourage you to consider some questions, and pray about how God might want to answer them in your life.

1.  Is the bible a key aspect of your relationship with God?  
2.  Do you read specific scriptures in context and seek to understand them in relation to the greater narrative of the bible?
3.  Do you have people in your life who regularly hold you accountable to reading and studying scripture?
4.  Are you involved in a community of believers with whom you can discuss God's word and its implications for daily life?

Reading the bible is not a requirement for being or becoming a Christian.  The only requirement is that you put your faith in Jesus Christ, repenting from your sin and trusting that his sacrifice for sin on the cross has fully cleansed you and reconciled you to God for all eternity.  However, the implications of this type of faith includes a transformed heart and a strong desire to know God more deeply, obeying him and following his instructions.  If this is a strong desire of yours, then it also logically follows that reading and understanding the bible is an important part of living out your faith and being continually changed.  Because the bible is the way in which God speaks to us, thus transforming our minds and hearts.

Doing a bible study is hard, and it requires sacrifice, but the rewards are eternal.

If you haven't ever studied the bible, why not start now?
I went almost 3 years into my walk with God before participating in a bible study, and it greatly affected my my faith when I finally started.  Studying the bible is different than just reading it at face value, and there is an infinite depth of knowledge as you get to know God through his word.  This is achieved as you give specific portions of scripture your full attention, meditate on the meaning, and pray about how it impacts you.

If you haven't been very consistent in reading your bible, stop worrying about it and get back into it!
God doesn't love you any more or less because you read the bible.  He loves you because of what Jesus did on the cross.  Having time in the bible isn't something for your to-do list, it's something you do because you love God.  So stop feeling guilty, pray and share your heart with God, and get started again!

If you can, join a good bible study and be accountable to other believers!
This could be through your local church, a friend's church, or a para-church organization.  Having a regularly scheduled time when I had to show up, discuss what I read with other Christians, and complete specific study questions was what impacted me the most.  Without fellow believers and a structured study, I'm pretty much still a person who randomly reads my bible here and there without much direction or practical application.

This isn't about being a "better Christian" or adding another thing to your proverbial to-do list.  This is about the truth that God's word is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword.  It will pierce your very soul, transform you, strengthen you, give you peace, and offer deep wisdom.  God will speak to you through it, and draw you near to himself as you ponder who He is and what he has done through Jesus.  Go and enjoy what he has richly blessed you with...an opportunity to study the bible.

Resources and Study Options
Many studies take a break over the summer and start again in September...so now is a great time to get involved!
  • Your local church:  Most local churches have good bible studies or even a Sunday School class that might have material to review throughout the week to help you stay consistent.
  • Bible Study Fellowship:  This organization holds studies in many cities all over the country (and the world).  You can go to their website to look up a location near to you, and visit the welcome class to get involved.  It runs for about 9 months (with breaks for holidays and summer).
  • Precept Ministries International:  This is another organization with wonderful in-depth studies all over the country.  Visit the website for more information and locations.  It runs for several weeks to several months depending on the length of the study.
  • She Reads Truth:  This is an online study where you can also connect with a computer and use an app on your phone or your blog RSS feed to keep up with it.  I think you can also invest in hard copy materials if this is easier for you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When we travel...

We change diapers in cars, throw pacifiers over our shoulders, and tell babies to 'hold on' as if they can understand our gibberish from the front seat.

We wear kids like backpacks, let Lewis run ahead, and sweat profusely.

We hike, and switch kids around 2-3 times until everyone is comfortable (doubling the time needed to get from point A to point B).  We smear bug spray on everyone only to realize there aren't many bugs, and we listen to the question, "why?" dozens of times.

We take self-timed photos, rejoice if everyone is smiling, and go "oh well" if try number 10 was still unsuccessful.

We neglect to pack all the right clothes, so we bundle our kids under blankets.

When we travel, we pose for pictures, hoping the moment doesn't slip away too quickly.

We try to get cute pics with our kids, only to have them refuse to look anywhere near the camera.  When we travel, we want to document the 'fun' moments, and when they don't come, we snap anyway.

We climb on rocks, but try not to be too disappointed that we have to turn back and stay behind because mommy can't get over her fear of slipping while holding a baby.

We feed endless amounts of cheerios and goldfish...or anything it takes to buy minutes of patience.  We skip naps and roll around in tiny rock piles.

We cherish our sweet kiddos, who have no idea what lengths we go to in order to keep them safe and relatively happy.

When we travel, we endure unexpected tantrums and tears and try to just take it in stride.

We let Lewis throw things...because really, he wants to do that all the time and at home we say no.  Hey - he's on vacation!

Traveling has been more difficult since we've added two sweet babes to our family.  It really caught me off guard (shouldn't have), and unfortunately I spent most of our trip feeling internally stressed and disappointed in our new normal.  It's times like this that I'm thankful for God's grace, because even though I think I've arrived as a sacrificial mom, my desire for everyone else to serve me creeps up without warning.

Praise the Lord for the opportunity to travel, and for the perfect example Christ gave in laying down HIS life for us, when he was the one who deserved to be served.

(In case you were wondering, we visited the North Shore area in Minnesota on Lake Superior.  We stayed in a house near Lutsen and visited Duluth and Grand Marais.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Just wait - I'm working on it!


It's VERY common in our house for children to have to wait for things.  I'm one mom with two arms and three boys.  Sometimes they all need something at once, and other times, I'm in the middle of other important things and they just have to wait a few minutes.  That's okay, and from my perspective as a mom, it's hopefully teaching long-term character qualities like patience and contentment.  I don't want my kids to have an attitude of 'want it now, get it now'.  So honestly, their waiting doesn't bother me much anymore (at least not as much as it did when I was a first time mom).

It would be easier for everyone if babies and toddlers could just comprehend statements like, "I'll working on it!" and "Hang tight, mommy knows that you are hungry!".  I'm often hopeful that they can be reassured of three things:
1.  That I hear them.
2.  That I'm doing something about it.
3.  That my timing is going to be good.  (even when I choose for them to wait)

Unfortunately, babies aren't like adults.  All they know is that they have a need...NOW...and you aren't taking care of it fast enough.

I'm convinced that one of God's ways of sanctifying us as parents is showing us little glimpses into our relationship with him as "Father".  And I think if we are honest, our hearts are much like babies and toddlers sometimes.
  • We cry (complain / grumble / whine to our friends) because we want and need things.
  • We don't really trust that our Father hears us - so we keep trying to either take care of it in our own way or we remain bitter and upset.
  • We aren't really sure that our Father knows our needs, and don't feel confident that he is doing something we can't see.
  • We haven't considered that our Father might be wanting us to wait for bigger and greater purposes (maybe even to teach us patience or contentment).
  • We don't believe that our Father has our best in mind and has better perspective than we do.
When I say, "Babies - I'm getting your bottles ready...I'm almost done...just wait a few minutes!", I'm reminded that God is in the process of meeting my needs too.  I might be doubting it or feeling confused about how God is going to take care of a situation, but I need to have faith that my Father is "making my bottle" (so to speak).

Of course one thing that doesn't carry exactly in this analogy, is that sometimes when we think we need something, God's answer might be "no" or "wait a really long time" or "I'm going to give you something completely different".  And even in this, I pray I can respond more like an adult who is okay with waiting a while (even for a lifetime), trusting my Father to give me only what's best for His glory and kingdom.