Flourish {where you are}

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We swore that our roots would be the last place we would come back to. There’s no way we were heading back there. Soul-set on the other side of the globe and no looking back. China. Just married, passports ready, apartment awaiting our arrival. China. All the education, praying, and searching built up to this. China. Ready as ever to become whatever He needed us to for the sake of His Name (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

That didn’t happen though.

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26)

I think there’s this huge cloud on us like a blanket, convincing us that we will arrive when this happens. We can’t seem to shake it, and we embrace the fog and wait and wait and wait for the sun to peak through and then we know we will be where we need to be. I’m so convinced of otherwise though. Right now is what we are given. Our neighborhood, our city, our families. And all of that could change quickly if God so chooses.

And we aren’t stuck.

We are divinely placed.

Jesus executes the will of God, we don’t.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33)

“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6)

The Bible tells me exactly what my inheritance is:

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-14)

Jesus is.

Our moving plans fell through. We found out we were expecting and were certain that was why we stayed. Weeks passed and no heartbeat. Nope. That wasn’t the reason after all it seemed. With heavy hearts we stayed. Maybe in a year, right? Yeah, that’s all. We just need to get this marriage thing figured out and then we’ll go, we told ourselves.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,
equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

All of these momentary pains haven’t taken God by surprise. The lot didn’t just fall in his lap and he shrugged his omnipotent shoulders. What God has prepared beforehand for his children is for love to abound in him and through him and to him. The love of God is sweetened by the reality of his sovereignty through our life-changing circumstances.

Never before had I experienced such soul-comfort as I had the moment God revealed how we must lift him up through the loss and change just as we had through preparing to go to China. Also, my soul rested in joy, tear-stained joy, knowing that God’s creating power never dims or fails.

That year, Thanksgiving with family was a blast as always. Delicious meals, contagious joy, and relaxation in abundance. Josh and I were dropping off my old college roommate that joined us for my family’s meal. There we were at her apartment, and I got sick all over my university campus. Ew. I mean I get carsick but not like that.

Pregnant with Norah Grace!

There was my calling. Plain as day and in the sweetest of forms. A soul to steward and invest in. What a mission! A little girl to teach God’s global gospel to. And now, The Lord has added another. All of this culminating to this reality:

Flourish where you are.

We can be completely who we are meant to be in God’s global, redemptive work when we hope in God. I have no how-to outside of simply believing the gospel. Preach it to yourself and your family/friends daily. All the creative gifts God has endowed you with are meant for his glory now. Flourish in them with joy, knowing that in this very hour we are doing kingdom-sized work whether we are in the confides of our own home or on in third-world slums.

God showed Josh and I quickly how we could be on mission for Him globally. We may be State-bound, but the money that God gives us to steward is not. Support missionaries! Pray earnestly for God’s work through them. When I read updates from our missionaries, I often feel as though I am there with them, and guess what? The God that has saved me and keeps me IS.

Consider this:

How many people have no Scripture?
Around 98 million speak languages where there is no known Scripture, and a further 81 million speak languages which need Bible translation but where there are no current activities underway. (Per Wycliffe Bible Translators)

Josh recently preached on missions are our church, and I’m still working through his words: “How do you live missionally? Are you? It’s our calling. “God does not save us to be apathetic and lazy with the gospel.”

We so frequently dislocate our affections to other things.

Josh also asked these questions: What is the greatest problem with us and missions? What is hindering us from living missionally? He states that it is the worth of Christ. It’s a matter of how much we value Christ and his accomplishments. THAT’S where our affections should be.

We are all called to lived missionally, and it’s not a matter of location, it’s a matter of the heart. Flourish where you are now.

Desperation for Attention

All the likes on Facebook and Instagram aren’t soul-satisfying. Jesus is. That approval is all too tempting (guilty), all too fleeting, and a sin to put to death in this social media-crazed day and age. Can these be used as platforms to make Jesus famous? Most certainly. So let’s be quick to do that and not so quick to post another “selfie” when we know in our hearts what we are really wanting through that. Does that mean everything has to be a bible verse? No. God uses the everyday gifts to increase our joy in him and I am all about sharing that, but let us be watchful and alert, always searching our hearts for motives. Take a listen to a convicting Ask Pastor John episode:

Killing Our Addiction to Human Praise (Episode 466) #askpastorjohn

Leprosy of the Heart and a Bible Recommendation for Little Ones

There’s this huge narrative that believing adults spend a lifetime reading through, memorizing, and changing as a result of. It’s unlike all other literary works in that it’s Author has actually written life itself. Breathing creation, raising dead men, parting seas…using whatever He determined necessary to bring His “Secret Rescue Plan” to fruition.

The Bible.

God-breathed.

For the glory of God.

For the redemption of His people.

It’s truth is life-giving to the dead, and it’s realities go against what the world teaches. Man and his glorification are not the chief ends in this book. God is. And in the holy scriptures, it’s regenerated audience finds soul-enjoyment. The pursuit of God for his name’s renown is beautifully entangled with a simultaneous pursuit of saving sinners and loving them with an unquenchable, unearned, never-ceasing, contagious, Son-centered love.

And with that, I introduce and recommend The Jesus Storybook Bible. We have now read it cover-to-cover several times over, and it is phenomenal. The author, Sally Lloyd Jones, expresses God’s redemptive plan as the “Secret Rescue Plan.” From the Old to the New Testament, she is pointing to Christ. The technique and style are genius, tugging at the minds of both children and parents alike.

The fall of man is about Jesus. Noah and the ark are about Jesus. David and Goliath are about Jesus. Namaan and the slave girl are about Jesus. And the list goes on. It teaches children that the bible is not actually just about them but about God Himself.

Jones desires for children to see the following through her book:

“That the Bible isn’t mainly about me, and what I should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

That the Bible is most of all a story — the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

That — in spite of everything, no matter what, whatever it cost him — God won’t ever stop loving his children… with a wonderful, Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.

That the Bible, in short, is a Story — not a Rule Book — and there is only one Hero in the Story.”
(Read her article from Desiring God in its entirety here.)

Yes, God loves sinners and has set up this redemptive plan so that he could set his affection on us through the work and power of Christ crucified; however, misleading a child to assume the bible is merely a feel-good book of truth when one is down is detrimental to their souls.

This is a truth-filled work for little ones & nourishment to parents.

My heart was so moved by Jones’ rendition of Namaan and the slave girl from 2 Kings 5.

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Here we see Namaan, a general with much room for boasting considering Syria’s victory (verse 1), and he is literally dying. Physically and spiritually. God chooses to move in the heart of his slave girl (Jones does well to expound upon the girl’s loss, yet she seeks Namaan’s betterment) to direct Namaan to Elisha. So what does Namaan do with this proposal? He brings with him a payment for healing. He approaches the king of Israel rather than Elisha himself. Summoned by the prophet after approaching the king proved unsuccessful, Namaan is then sent word by Elisha’s messenger to “go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean” (5:10). Wow, simple- right? No! Not at all to Namaan. He was furious! Stripped of the honor he assumed was due him, Namaan was told to bath in a dirty ole’ river many times over for his cure. Not quite the royal fix he was imagining. God then uses his servants to bring him back down to reality. Has God not provided an escape from the pain? Namaan then went and washed as advised “and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (5:14b).

There we are…leprosy covering our hearts. Increased pain as each day passes. There’s no way out. We are intrinsically sick. We hear of hope, yet we bring our rags as an attempt for payment for grace.

We are Namaans.

God has displayed grace for us through His Servant – Jesus Christ.

“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” – Romans 5:15-17)

What the blood of Christ has purchased for us is the eternal cure from our leprosy of heart. No longer is death reigning, but righteousness in and through Christ.

Mulling over this has set my heart ablaze with the reality of what God has accomplished for us in the gospel. If we cannot grasp how sick (outright dead) we are, how ability to cure ourselves is non-existent, then the finished work of Christ is just something we can reach for/attempt to work for ourselves rather than the gift of grace that it truly is. That is no gospel at all! There’s no reaching. We are dead. God swoops in and removed a heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. He puts His Spirit within us, and completely cleanses us from all unrighteousness through Jesus. This is gloriously God-wrought. And I am gloriously transformed by the word of God through the Jesus Storybook Bible. God has used a morning bible reading with my children to show God’s saving grace and love to our family. My prayer is that such truth would steep in the hearts of our babies and God would do what we are forever unable to do for them – save.

And a bit more solidification to read the JSB:

“I would urge not just families with young children to get this book, but every Christian–from pew warmers, to ministry leaders, seminarians and even theologians! Sally Lloyd-Jones has captured the heart of what it means to find Christ in all the scriptures, and has made clear even to little children that all God’s revelation has been about Jesus from the beginning–a truth not all that commonly recognized even among the very learned.” – Tim Keller per TGC

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

As a mother, I feel the greatest weight of my obligation and calling to steward my children and their hearts well. I want to so engrain in them that our hearts without Jesus are forever sick, broken cisterns unable to hold water (Jeremiah 2:13.) This episode of Ask Pastor John (though it is actually Dr. Tripp) gives practical ways to do so. And I end this short post with the last verse of 1 John: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” as it my intent to teach my little ones to do so through the power of God for the glory of God.

Helping Children Discover Heart Idols (Episode 441; Tripp) #askpastorjohn

A Spurgeon-Sized Kindling

The words of Charles Spurgeon always seem to digest well into my soul and stir my affections for the gospel early on in the day. Today, that is especially the case.

Basing his devotional off of Romans 3:26, “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” Spurgeon says regarding God’s justice that “judgment now decides for the sinner instead of against him. Memory looks back upon past sins with deep sorrow for the sin, but yet without dreading any penalty to come; for Christ has paid the debt of His people to the last jot and tittle and received the divine receipt.”

Let’s steep that thought a bit more with this:

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear…no one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly…Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men…we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities…The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay…And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD.” – Isaiah 59:1-2, 4a, 9-10, 11b-12, 15b-18a, 20

Just as God so radically opposes our radical disposition to sin, he radically makes a way for the impenitent to be united with him through the blood of Jesus. Isaiah’s indictment against the Israelites is the indictment against all of mankind. We are dead men groping in the darkness in midday! However, theres this phenomenal redemption. God, in his good providence, sent the second Person of the Trinity, to die for the unjust, and justify through His blood alone.

God justifies the ungodly.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” -Romans 5:6

So if you happen to be like me on certain mornings, and it feels like you can conquer the world after your first cup of coffee, your to-do list is totally feasible because you are on your A-game or, if you are also like me at other times when you feel so unable to muster up the motivation to press on gladly, let’s take a second and consider this:

“Therefore, Jesus having taken the place of the believer-having rendered a full equivalent to divine wrath for all that His people ought to have suffered as the result of sin-the believer can shout with glorious triumph, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” Nor God, for He has justified; not Christ, for He has died, yes has risen again. My hope lives not because I am not a sinner; but because I am a sinner for whom Christ died” – Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening,

THERE is where I find my soul’s energy. It’s not the cup of coffee or the checking off of one’s daily to-dos. It’s not even the self-motivation we try and feed ourselves.

It’s solely the justification by faith through Christ.

With this reality, my heart wades in joyous waters.

I can look to this truth in the midst of chaos (because we really aren’t promised a relief from the chaos.) And especially with fall cultivating so much worship in my heart these days, I can look at daily graces with my kiddos and be glad in The Lord that has sent himself to provide the needed sacrifice due for my sin.

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The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

I’m going to preface life in the Spirit with a term that is one of the most crucial words in my vocabulary, a word my soul must come to grips with and understand regularly:

Depravity.

The definition of the word is simply “moral corruption.” This is the problem with all of mankind. We are bent towards sin, and I mean completely bent, meaning we are unable to un-bend ourselves.

Prior to God saving us, our affections are fixed on self-gain and self-glorification. They are God-belittling and glory-robbing. It is entirely the faith alone in God provided by his glorious grace that we can seek God’s glory instead.

We are in a unique place in history, however. It’s referred to as the already, but not yet. [Refer to this article from Ligonier Ministries for further explanation on this tension.] We have already been saved, but that salvation is not perfected. We still sin and have to deal with that in our lives. We are fighting to kill the sin and pursue holiness for the glory of God.

Our previous pastor, Matt Chandler, used an illustration when we went through the book of Galatians. He said that if the past 48 hours of everything in our hearts and minds were broadcasted before the church, we would probably leave ashamed and unable to return based on the filth within.

Depravity is a foundational understanding of your (my) salvation in Christ. You see, if we are completely corrupt, there’s simply no way we can help ourselves. Someone, The One, has to step in, remove sin, and replace our wretchedness with His righteousness.

Now, a quick overview on the book of Galatians:

I find the reformed doctrine of justification to be the clearest description of what Galatians is all about:

Sola Fide –> /faith alone/

[read J.I. Packer’s further explanation of this doctrine here.]

Paul is indicting the Galatians for what they have allowed to creep in.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” –Galatians 1:6-9

Paul is serious about this. He goes on to call out Peter for succumbing to this distortion of the gospel by bowing to the circumcision party.

Then Paul restates the realities of the gospel and concludes with the theme of our text: the FREEDOM we have in Christ found in chapter 5.

Works of the flesh vs. Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:1

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:6

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

Works of the flesh, our vain attempts, keep us bound and found wanting; but the fruit of the Spirit is the produce of our faith in Christ. The first will keep us caged, the later will free us to joy.

It is important to note that it is not the “fruits” of the Spirit but “fruit.” It is holistic. We aren’t failing in love and flourishing in gentleness. That simply doesn’t make sense.

Sisters, when we lose our grip on self-reliance, we will effortlessly experience the fruit of the Spirit, because then it is God at work in us rather than our vain attempts. I am not saying that we are to be lazy in our pursuit of holiness because it’s just supposed to happen. That would be contrary to scripture. God has called us to work…in the Spirit. The difference lies in our affections. When we work outside of the atoning work of Christ, we are laboring for all that will perish. Just as our sin prior to Christ was not premeditated per say, so our bearing fruit will be natural in the God that gives us faith.

How can we flourish in the fruit of the Spirit?

First and foremost, communion with God is essential. Read his word. Talk with Him. Fast. Journal. Look for ways to stir your heart’s affections for the sweetness of the gospel. Let me touch on an area I also believe to be key. I find this to be so essential in our spiritual growth because I have experienced it first hand at our previous church. God also calls us to it.

Community.

We need to be so in each other’s lives that we can help each other grow in holiness. We will be found lacking until the day we die, and that will discourage us. However, we each have our own strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are mothers, others are single, some work in the home, others outside the home, some are in college. We are all so different and live different lives. But we have the one unchanging circumstance in common: The gospel of Jesus Christ! Let’s forget the comparing we so often do with one another, and instead look into each other’s faces and remember that we are all aiming for the same thing: conformity to Christ.

John Piper says the following:

“But the mentality behind the fruit of the Spirit is the mentality of faith depending upon grace. People who bear the fruit of the Spirit know they are worthy only of condemnation. They know that the only pay they can earn is the wrath of God. Therefore, they have turned away from self-reliance and look only to mercy in Christ who “loved us and gave himself for us” (2:20). They do not expect anyone to be their debtor because of their worth. Any satisfaction will be a free gift of grace. They bank on the mercy of God and entrust themselves to his Spirit for help. And out of that mentality of faith depending on grace grows not “works” but “fruit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness . . .”

We have been freed to FREEDOM in Christ rather than slavery to sin. There’s so much to boast in and so much encouragement to be had and shared in each other’s lives.

I recommend listening to the followings sermons on this text:

John Piper’s “Walk by the Spirit!”

Matt Chandler’s “Life in the Spirit”

 

Doctrine and Joy

This morning I read a post by Tony Reinke over at Desiring God, and it’s a must-share. I would like to highlight as Mr. Reinke did the words of John Piper on Calvinism and joy because they are not mutually exclusive but rather inclusive. You can read it here.

While I spent a semester at a linguistics institute obtaining my minor in undergrad, we studied the intelligibility of languages. It must be understood that location does not always have a bearing as to the intelligibility of one language in a village/state to the next. There are instances of course where this is the case. Languages within a region may be derived from a mother language and it could be very possible for a person from one village traveling to the next to get by in their own mother tongue without knowing the other. (Susie, if you’re reading this be sure to correct my memory of this concept😉.)

I use this to paint an image of the always intelligible nature of the doctrine of Calvinism and joy. To know TULIP fully and walk in its realities are cisterns filled with living water, deep wells of truth that leave us longing for more satisfying, identifying realities of God in all his glory. There is no part of it that is devoid of God’s intent for his own pleasure and his people sharing in such.

Piper states the following:

We need to rethink our Reformed doctrine of salvation so that every limb and every branch in the tree is coursing with the sap of delight. We need to make plain that [T] total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy; and [U] unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed; and that [L] limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of the covenant; and [I] irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights; and that the [P] perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forever.

I think God is often painted as gruesomely wrathful, as Van Gogh was likely to intend via Tony’s post; however, God is, in fact, operating for supreme pleasures rather than fleeting happiness and his providence is one of immeasurable goodness toward his children.