Hopes for 2017 

With just a few days before the start of a new year, I encourage you to make accurate, God-pleasing resolutions filled with hope in God and not yourself, results for the glory of God and not your own, and expectations of abundant joy. As we spend the days before 2017 evaluating what hasn’t gone as planned this past year, maybe even the aspirations that turned to hogwash, don’t lose heart. As I formulate my booklist, fitness/health goals, a vision to enhance my communion with God through spiritual disciplines, and relational goals amongst my family and community, here are a few questions I’m asking myself:
1. Is this resolve to do better founded upon faith in God and hope in his sustaining grace through Christ or an attempt to stand before God on my own merit? 

Galatians 2:16 clearly tells us that “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

2. Is this resolve due to proper evaluation of my heart and the lifestyle that flows from it or formed by the striving of others and hopes of being like them? 

3. Am I truly hoping to know God to a greater degree, increasing in likeness to Him, at his Word through this resolution, whatever it may be? 

We can share in Paul’s hope that he penned to the Philippians “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).

4. Are my relational goals (marriage, children, covenant community, missions) steeped in hope to share my own soul and learn the soul of others or simply to better them to reduce conflict and see exterior modifications? 

Paul and Timothy’s tender soul-sharing to the Thessalonians provide for us a hope for the relationships in our lives: “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

5. Have I prayed for God to help me in these endeavors, not to simply be my aid (though surely my source of all strength to strive well) but my goal? 

He is surely the ability-giver, eternal channel, and the very treasure of all our laboring. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

And a few images that make my heart tingle  inside (the random donkey is from an amazing trip with my husband 😜) as I consider this past year and hope in God for the next: 

Keep Your Heart, Then Your Home

I was recently over at Desiring God blog sharing some thoughts on the necessary work of internal housekeeping. I find it to be true, day in and day out, that the Lord is faithful, certainly most willing and able, to aid us in our fight of faith. 

A clean home provides minimal joy in light of eternity because we know this world is passing away, and Christ has gone to prepare a home for us. Yet a frequently-tended heart provides eternal rewards that we cannot see fully in this lifetime, but can taste in part.

I shared a few thoughts on self-glory within our local churches over at Desiring God yesterday. What a real struggle for believers! Head over to DG to read some hope for the self-exalter.

The desire to be set apart is good and right only when it is found under the umbrella of grace, when we recognize that we are right before God only through the righteousness of his Son, and we are now set apart to bring praise to the glory of his grace in this world.

It is not wrong to desire to be influential with the glorious gospel of grace that has been entrusted to us. Gospel-loving hearts love sharing in the gracious privilege of being used in its advancement. But as we share, we must sift our hearts’ motives with the reality that we have been grafted into the household of God for this very purpose: to behold Christ the Son, not hoping to receive a measure of that glory for ourselves.

Creation Obeys Him

untitled-designA couple of years ago, my daughter stood in the backyard looking out upon the open field and exclaimed, “The leaves are dancing, Mama!” Her gleefulness resonated deep within my heart, displaying to me that creation obeys our Creator. The leaves turn from green to the most extraordinary hues of mustard and crimson, appearing as a blazing fire to the eyes. It is incredible to witness fall become fall each year. But above the appearance stands the reality: it occurs because God annually exercises his sovereign reign over creation. That is a sweet, sweet thing to behold.

I treasure this in fall especially because I am not sovereignly reigning over the happenings in my own life. With little children, the fall ensues many Sundays away from worship with our dearest fellow believers due to a virus here or a runny nose over there. It often appears as a pile of bedding in desperate need of de-germing before bedtime. Of course, when we are on the up-and-up, we enjoy bustling through the leaves, parks, picnics, and thrilling family outings.

An Unchanging God with an Unchanging Purpose

Now, as I mother, I am constantly in a season with sub-seasons. Growing babies, new milestones, names to be written, Bob books to be read. Our children are constantly changing. And God is present through this time of uncertainty with the certainty of who He is and what He has done.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”- Hebrews 13:8

This image for me, of fall submitting to its Maker, points to the greater reality. God is reconciling not only His creation that has been submitted to futility (Rom. 8:20), but He is bidding mankind, of all ages, to come to Him. The Giver of life has devised such an amazing Christ-exalting plan to reconcile His people back to Himself.

The obedience of the fall trees and leaves provide an image for me of constant, seemingly-but-not miniscule acts of obedience in my daily life. When the children require discipline, de-germing, admonishing, instruction, and so much more—it is not only when we are frolicking through the leaves with gladness. It is also when, and even more so, the tears of owies, tantrums, and scary ailments are real and present. It is even as my own heart hurts due to some form of sin or suffering. Miscarriage, loss of a loved, and the pressing reality of the wickedness and neediness of those around me—sin residue in myself— can fill my heart with deep sorrow. Yet Scripture promises something sweet to us.

“Those who sow in tears, will reap with shouts of joy!” – Psalm 126:5

Obedience is a Sure Sign of Our Faith

Our faith leads us to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord. Our faith leads to obedience. If we are to please God in our obedience (Hebrews 11:6), we must believe that He is who He says He is and that His purposes and promises will come to pass, granting grace upon grace to His children all the while. Consider Noah. After being warned by God, he built a boat and separated himself from the stained world whose destruction was imminent. His faith led him to obey (Hebrews 11:7).

Every second of every day counts. It counts to be obedient to the Sovereign Lord that I have no good apart from (Psalm 16:2). It counts to ask forgiveness with tears as I sin against the ones I love. It counts to fight for joy and be in the Word and fight for time with the Lord all throughout my day.

I see the leaves preparing to fall; I am reminded of how my life is but a breadth. But it can count for something. I can sow in tears, working diligently in this world to point to the One that has come into the world to save sinners such as me. I can make it count. I see the glorious fall hues all along the road, so gently falling from their roots, and I plead with the Lord that I may exclaim how “the leaves are dancing!” knowing that I, even in my weakness, am striving in obedience. Not one falls without His call, and surely I can trust the One that demonstrates such power.

Obedience Marked by Gospel Hope

We run to things to make our ordinary seem much more special. We label ourselves as users of this or that, mothers who feed this or that, teach in this way or that, write for this blog or teach that class. All the supplements, coffee, grass-fed meats, and essential oils we use throughout our days help. But they aren’t the gospel. All of the secondary things we use to sustain us are not bad. They are hopeful means to a hopeful end. But the Risen Lord is our sure chief end. We can glorify and enjoy Him forever.

Rather than the go-tos we use as coping mechanisms to chaos, let us make Christ Jesus our go-to. The work of Christ in becoming man while remaining fully God, the perfect life lived, the death of deaths and glorious resurrection imputing His righteousness and justifying the unjust. With this glorious news, we can obey in freeing joy.

Consider and Obey—In Joy

My plea for me and you this fall is to consider.

This same-old-same-old season of motherhood is a good one. It is good in the sense that He is working all things together for the good of those that love Him (Rom. 8:28). It is good in the sense that the sowing in tears will reap joy, even if such joy is unseen on this side of eternity. So next time my days, maybe even yours, seem so outrageously ordinary and monotonous, consider the leaves. Consider who calls them, consider who changes them. But don’t stop there. Consider yourself. Consider who is changing us into His likeness. And he’s not done with us yet.

Not Just Another DIY

 {DIY} /do-it-yourself/

From painting to distressing to pallet art to you name it, I love crafting. That doesn’t mean that I’m especially talented at it, but I find plenty of joy in doing it. Pinterest has made DIY projects a craze, and boy am I glad to have a plethora of resources out there to fit my liking! But there’s this terrible temptation to make motherhood a DIY project too, and for that, I can sometimes find myself in a poor state. 

Motherhood is this really messy, at times exhausting, joy-enhancing, hug-filled, sin-revealing call from God to invest our life in souls he has given us for his glory. It’s a privilege. There’s no room for DIY in that (or any area of life for that matter). But fact of the matter is, there’s this huge temptation for it. We are bent towards self-reliance. 

There’s just not a plausible formula out there to do it right…by ourselves. There’s no self-motivating activity that can muster strength for mothering because let’s be honest- we all have our mommy meltdowns, mommy guilt, etc. and the big gut-wrenching reality is that we will keep having them. Thus, mothers must find a well to draw strength from that will last through all the diaper blow-outs and potty-training woes. 

Over the past four years that Josh and I have been in small groups with other believers, a reoccurring question has surfaced in my heart: 

Who am I fooling? 

I can try and paint my life to be this way and when someone looks at it from just the right angle they could get a false impression. I don’t have this marriage thing down. I don’t have this motherhood thing down. And frankly, I don’t know who does because we are all in desperate need of grace to be images of Jesus to our children and those around us. 

I recently read a post concerning the many sayings people believe are from the Bible that actually are not. The old adage that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” couldn’t be more unbiblical. He does. God isn’t sitting back waiting for us to be in utter peril so that he can swoop in and help. We are already in that peril due to our fallen nature. Our actions push God away and our mouths reject him. It is the sheer grace of God to reveal the gospel of Jesus Christ to us, providing saving faith that we are unable to muster on our own. Even after the point of salvation, we continuously face circumstances and sin problems that we are unable to go up against. I love the old hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour.” The refrain often finds a sweet place in my chaos: 

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

We literally need God constantly. God wants us to come to him for everything. EVERYTHING. Especially when it comes to his little ones. 

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God”  (Psalms 20:7).

“Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

My heart moves in and out of faithfulness, and I am tempted to work outside of the power of God which ends in soul devastation. But it’s a necessity to make reliance on God our heart’s posture. These children given to us are souls we are to be shepherding. To think that we, in all our sinfulness, can do it ourselves is silly. Stop trying. I am certain that what Jesus has done for us is surely enough. 

This passage describes the situation of our souls and what God has done, full of love and grace, to save us from ourselves in Christ: 

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

When I consider this reality, trying to be a mother with my own strength seems pretty foolish. That’s because it is. I have to fix my mind each morning on the joy and strength I have in Jesus to accomplish the tasks God has given me. When the piles of folded laundry get “sorted” by a helping toddler or an expected nap never happened because of a teething baby, it’s okay because I’m not in this motherhood thing alone. God cares about all the daily things that I encounter. And he cares about yours as well. They aren’t silly and unimportant. You aren’t expected to just grit your teeth and get through it. What we are expected to do is this: 

Through all the uncertainties and inabilities we have while mothering our children, God has none. Edward Payson provides such a clear description of what our role truly is: 

“The first thing implied in educating children for God is a realizing, heartfelt conviction that they are His property, His children, rather than ours.” 

And there we have it. We are simply given gifts to uphold as sacred, belonging to God, and invest our lives in counting on Christ’s finished work rather than any vain attempts of our own. What a relief.