Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Good News for My Daughters

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As a new parent, I remember hearing someone say that our greatest comfort is that the two things we tend to worry about most– our children’s physical wellbeing and the spiritual state of their souls are not, ultimately, under our control. After having visited the ER with our first daughter for stitches, finding a baby at the top of the stairs with an open gate multiple times, an “I did not see that one coming” accident last week, and many more close calls, I have been experiencing how true that first bit is. It’s good to know that God is ultimately in control of the health and safety of my children when I start seeing how, try as I might, there are a thousand potentially harmful situations out there that I haven’t taken into account. (Seriously, after becoming parents, Jeff and I often comment how it is a miracle that any of us have lived to adulthood!) I desire my children to be healthy and safe, and though I may have deep fears about disease, sickness, and accidents, knowing that I don’t control it but God does has brought some measure of peace to my otherwise worry-wired heart.

But Jeff and my greatest desire for our children is not that they would be healthy and live long lives, which is why we may be tempted to worry about that second part– the spiritual state of their souls.  Our greatest desire and prayer for our girls is that they would love God and love people. We want them to know God personally, to trust him with their whole hearts, to taste the sweetness of being in relationship with him, and to count everything else as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. We want them to be driven by one passion– his glory– and to commit their lives, with joy, to live, and even be willing to suffer and die for the cause of the gospel. And we want more than anything for this to come out of a heart that is made new by God. This isn’t about being good church going kids, moral people, or having “prayed the prayer” at one point in their lives. We pray that God would work and that we would see fruit of obedience out of love for God stemming from new, Holy Spirit wrought hearts. Hearts that are awakened by the Holy Spirit to put faith in the saving work of Christ and do and desire things that dead hearts never could. We want them to know his love and have their lives marked by a deep experiential knowledge of grace.  Our commitment to the gospel and personal experience of it in life is that it is the good news that God isn’t in the business of making bad or good people better, but dead people alive, and we pray and plead with God that he would bring this about in our children even now.

In recent years as I have come to love this gospel more deeply, I have been made undone over and over again with gratitude for God’s sovereign choice to make me, once dead, alive. I know, not just because of teachings about Biblical interpretation or theology, but in the depths of my being that had not God opened my eyes to see and value him, I would not, and am left with trembling awe at the thought. The sovereign will of God in initiating and bringing about salvation has been a source of great gratitude, joy, and humility in my life, but in recent years as a parent, somehow it shifted into a subtle source of fear, not verbalized even in my mind, but still there. The question lurking there and that if thought about enough would bring tears: What if God doesn’t choose to save my children? And so, the knowledge of sovereign grace that has brought me joyful gratitude considering my own life has started to wear away and burden me as a mom. That is, it did until a few weeks ago, when I was brought low in my own eyes that God’s mercy may be lifted up.

It has been a consistent set of those “fail” weeks, that are not just a general “I’m a bad mom” feeling, but ones where I know what I’m doing wrong, how I’m being unkind, and still have not changed. It’s been a stripping-away week of pride in my abilities to parent and I am, by the grace of God, being brought to the end of myself again and again. With clarity I saw a few weeks ago that I was doing so many of the things I never wanted to as a mom. I was, and still am more than I ought, comparing, speaking out of irritation, overly concerned about the opinions of others (too strict? not strict enough?), being inconsistent, and other things that, if left unchanged, would mean that our family would be on the road to being one full of fear, bitterness, ungratefulness, and hurt. It was in the midst of feeling the weight of my failure and as I thought about the hearts of my girls, anxious and unable to sleep, that the thought came clearly to me: Do I want my girls to be at the mercy of my parenting, or at the mercy of God? That was the turning point for me from anxious grief to joyful trust and rest (and with that, thankfully, sleep).

This was the question that cast a light on my prideful fear and offered me a chance to step into grateful, humble trust. Do I want my girls to be at the mercy of my parenting, or at the mercy of God? In other words: Do I want their futures– and namely the state of their hearts, whether or not they love Jesus, and where they will be for eternity– to be at the mercy of my ability to be the right kind of godly mom? Me, inconsistent at best, and love them as I may, still selfish and still foolish at times? Or do I want them to be at the mercy of God who is abounding in love and mercy, unchanging, able, and willing?

Up until feeling the increasing weight of my own failure to know and do what is right as a mom, I was unconsciously saying I’d rather have the first be the case. This showed in my fear of God’s sovereign choice and of our complete need for him to do the heart change, granting us faith to make us alive in him (aka “monergism”). I’d rather be told and taught what to do and pray, or at least how to have the right heart, attitude, and guiding principles, and then be able to say that through those means,  I’ll know my girls will love God and live for him. It’s subtle because I would never have said that through having right rules or teaching, I could change their hearts. But still, underneath it all, there was a fundamental trust in the choices I’d make as a parent–  my own strictness or non-strictness, in how much I discipline or give grace, in how consistent or how flexible I am, and in my own ability to love God. With trust in self high, my heart says “What?? I could do everything right and my kids still could reject God and be messed up? How scary and unfair.” And though I’d never say that out loud, it shows in my fear that a sovereign, powerful God could “undo” or work against all that I do right and well. His election and grace and mercy in it are begrudgingly assented to, but not rejoiced in.

But with a realistic taste of my own self as a mom, sinner, and imperfect and unable to produce the type of family that I desire– with a picture painted of what my family would really look like were it all up to me– God’s sovereign mercy and grace brings about a completely different reaction. It’s “What?? I can do everything wrong and my kids still have a chance of loving God?? THANK GOD THERE IS HOPE!” Like the parable of the workers, I begin to see myself as one of those who have worked much less in the day but still have been paid more than I deserve, and I walk away in awe of mercy given at the free will of the owner of the field.

It’s not that I think I can do whatever and it doesn’t matter what I do as a mom because, hey, God is in control! I, as a mom and as a person will answer to God one day for everything I do and say. I want to do what’s right by him. I also don’t want my children to have baggage to carry, (too many) issues to work through because of me, or to have a twisted view of who God is because of my inaccurate portrayal of him in their lives. Those things go without saying. But I have seen God work in the family I was raised in to bring about gospel reconciliation and change– he still is doing that now. And one of the greatest witnesses to me and others through our family has been not what was done right by us, but how God is still making us new and how there is hope in the gospel to heal. Through that, one of my core values and hopes in life is that in the same way my family now, with my own children, would be a picture of gospel grace. Not just that we would be known as people who are gracious or that we would experience grace through one another, but that people looking at us would see that indeed that God is a gracious God to have had mercy on ones such as us. To know that he had mercy on us, the worst of sinners,  so that “Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16 ESV)  And so, I am needing to repent of the ways I have been standing on my own merit, trusting our own family’s standards or hoping in parenting methods and advice, instead of falling on the mercy of our exceedingly merciful, compassionate, gracious, and sovereign God.

Reading through the Bible about families used to scare me. All these godly people having evil children, especially seen starkly in the lines of the kings. And yet, maybe that’s because I was thinking of myself as on the wrong side? Elisabeth Elliot quotes Thomas Fullerin in her book, Gateway To Joy:

Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations. (1) Reheboam begat Abijah; that is, a bad father begat a bad son. (2) Abijah begat Asa; that is, a bad father begat a good son. (3) Asa begat Jehosaphat; that is, a good father a good son. (4) Jehoshaphat begat Joram; that is, a good father a bad son. I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.

Good news for my children indeed.

So we still plead–for new hearts, for mercy, but not in fear but in faith with gratitude. We put kindling around them– teaching, loving, disciplining, instructing, repenting– and we pray, pray, pray for the Holy Spirit to send fire. If you would, pray for our kids that they would love and know him and be given new hearts to trust him? Praise God for his sovereign grace. There is hope for them and hope for me.

Church & Ministry

Staying Christian Post-College: A Word to Graduating Seniors

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Looking over her future college campus…Kidding! (kind of)

A week ago, our family went to visit our alma mater with the girls. It was good to see our friends the ColvinsWens, catch up and see how God is leading them in their lives. Jeff flew a kite on campus with our daughter, and it was crazy thinking that not too long ago, we were among the stressed out students walking by us, thinking about upcoming final papers and exams on the last week of classes.

It’s May, which means that many students are transitioning out of their campus ministries to go back home or to a new city for work. Jeff told me the other day about being in college and having a college graduate visit. He told them that his life just consisted of going to work, coming home, and playing video games. His point in painting this bleak post-college life was to tell them to make the best of what they had now in college because they’ll never get it again. Unfortunately, when I was a student, I heard people say things like that too. I am convinced though that this is not how God desires us to live our lives or “encourage” our college-aged brothers and sisters!

I understand that the post-graduation transition looks different for each person depending on the experience they had in college/ campus ministry and the places they are moving back to. At our church and the church Jeff interned at during seminary, many students commute to school or live nearby. These students are involved in the same churches they will be in after they graduate and the transition is more seamless (though starting to 9-5 job is a not a small change for them either). But for those who studied away from home, like us, or really experienced God at school learning to love, follow, and serve him first in the context of a campus ministry, I have noticed that the transition is often more complicated.  I have seen some of my friends really take off spiritually and grow much more after college, and I have seen many others who have struggled.

Having been a college student myself away from home, staffed with a campus ministry, and talked with friends through their post-graduation experiences, I want to offer a few words of encouragement for those stepping into the post-college world in the upcoming months.

1. Prepare yourself to find a good local church, settle in, serve, and give your heart there.

This is the one thing that I have found makes the biggest difference between my friends who have graduated and thrived and who have really struggled with their faith after school. It’s not that the friends who found good churches were more spiritually mature or serious about their faith, but that the Christian life is impossible to live out alone.

While there are extreme cases where Christians may have to go through a time of isolation from other believers (being in an unreached people group, being jailed for the faith, etc.) and God is able to preserve them even in those circumstances, Scripture gives us stern admonitions to not neglect meeting with other believers because we cannot make it apart from them (Heb. 10:24-25). This isn’t because going to church proves our faith, but because we were never meant to make it on our own. Some college graduates mistakenly believe that their faith was never real and their spirituality was only an act of conforming to those around them. They think this because after they graduated, they stopped pursuing God. While there is something to be said about our faith being tested and God humbling us from our prideful view of our own spirituality, I think more often than not, it’s because these Christians believe that having true faith would have meant they would be able to continue to walk with God without being settled into a solid church.  In reality, Scripture says that we cannot live the Christian life apart from the local church and the means of grace God has given us through the church. (I’ve written about some of that here for those interested: When You Don’t Feel Like Getting Up For Church)

I encourage all who are moving on from campus life to start looking for a church that is gospel-centered and is solidly committed to preaching the Scriptures, loving God and loving people. Learn a bit about what to look for in a church if you’re not going back to your home church and start praying about it even now. (You can start here: 9 marks of a healthy church). I know it’s easy to get discouraged when looking for a new church, and without people around you it gets easier and easier not to go, so I encourage you to even try to get connected with other Christians you know that are already in your new city before you go. You can also look up churches online for example at the Gospel Coalition Church Directory or Redeemer City-To-City churches.

2. Don’t try to replicate your college experience, but find out what it means to follow and serve God in your new stage of life.

College is a unique time and college ministry is a unique place.  Life is different because as a college student, the amount of time you have, your responsibilities, and circumstances will never be replicated again. That’s one of the reason why in many ways, college is a special time many begin to experience God in fellowship with other Christians, serving him by making choices about what they spend their time doing, and sharing their faith with the students they have constant interaction with in the dorms, classrooms, and dining halls.

Life after college is different. There isn’t anything inherent better or worse about it, it’s just different. The responsibilities, opportunities, and day-to-day life routines will change– and that is a good thing because it is a God thing. God is the one who controls your circumstances, and you need to trust that there is no better place to grow to love him and love people than the one he has sovereignly placed you in. This doesn’t mean it’s wrong to seek to change your circumstances (like if you’re in an unhealthy church, or in  extreme cases like an abusive relationship, etc.), but that there is no “ideal” life season, job, or situation you need in order to love God, love people, and grow mature in. It will be really hard for you if you think that the only way to keep loving and serving God is by doing what you did when you were in college. Why? Because you won’t be in college anymore. So, as I did when I became a new mom and moved into a new stage of life and as I am still doing now, I encourage those transitioning to pray and ask God what it means to serve and love him now. The heart of what you learned and practiced in college will remain the same– treasuring his word, growing to know him more, loving people around you– but the way it looks will be (and should be) different.

I have found that many who think that serving God at work will look the same as what they did in college end up either feeling guilty about not being able to do the same things and/or not knowing what it means to do their God-given work in a Biblical sense. Some even give up, discouraged, and “settle”. I believe that many Christians struggle because they don’t know how to make sense of the mundane work that makes up most of their days. One recommendation I have is to read up on some resources about God and work that I’ve referenced before on this blog. (There are some at the end of this old post that can get you started: Why Does My Work Matter?)

3. Humbly bring back what you learned from college to the new (or old) churches you’re going back to.

I am so thankful for the work that college ministries do on campus.  I was heavily involved in my campus ministry when I was in college and worked at one post-graduation. But I think that one thing that many college students aren’t prepared for is life in their local churches after they have had a really great time of growing and learning in the context of their campuses.  This sometimes leads to major discouragement, discontent, frustration, and disillusionment.

This is where finding a good, solid church is so important because it will help you to see what it means to live out the Christian life in a fuller scope than just the college years.  I also think that recognizing that serving and loving God will look different for different people in different seasons of life will help many to adjust to going back to churches or entering churches that aren’t filled with college students. At the same time, I believe that those who have experienced God in deeper and new ways at school can still bring back what they learned to the churches at home (or their new churches). This doesn’t mean necessarily starting or leading the same type of ministry that you saw in college, but seeking to see what the vision of the local church and the leaders are, coming on board with that, prayerfully considering and asking the church leaders how you can serve, and using all that you have learned in order to build up the local body of Christ. It is okay to recognize the unique experience you had or even see some of the things that may be lacking or needed in the local church. But rather than using your college experience as a measure to judge other places, see the experiences and lessons you have learned as entrusted to you by God. When you see them as a gift to be stewarded, you can humbly pray for opportunities to serve and use your gifts or perspective in support of your church’s vision, and in time they can be used and leveraged for the sake of the church and for the glory of God.

 

4. Direct thanks to God for your time in college rather than getting lost in nostalgia.

There isn’t anything wrong with missing friends or fellowship (or free time!) But nostalgia in and of itself often leads to a discontent that ultimately indicates a heart that says “God, you have placed me in a worse place than before. What you have given me now is not best.” In college, I loved taking long walks on our beautiful campus, sometimes hours at a time, praying, thinking, journaling. I remember such sweet moments of communion with the Lord as I prayed to him, sang to him, and reflected on all the things I was learning. Now, with two young girls at home, I can’t just take spontaneous breaks like that anymore. I can be tempted choose to react to these memories with a sense of loss (“Oh, I’ll never get that again. Those were the good old days.”), or dismiss them as not “real life.” But I don’t think either of these reactions is what pleasing to God.

Remembrance is one of the themes of the Bible, particularly remembrance of what God has done. But this remembrance isn’t empty nostalgia, longing for the good old days. Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Rather, the remembrance we are called to is one that reflects on the way God has delivered and God has helped us already in a way that strengthens our faith in his promises for the future. This is seen most importantly in our remembrance of the work of Christ on the cross, and in smaller ways, in the specific works of God through our lives. In 1 Samuel 7:2, after God delivered the Israelites from battle, Samuel set up a stone, named it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help,” in order to remember that “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” For me, instead of being sucked into longing for my college days, going to Cornell is sweet when this type of remembrance is in view. I remember who I was before college, how God worked powerfully in me at that time, and I give praise to him. I get to remember places I prayed, what I prayed there, and how he has answered since then. I am reminded of  how far he’s brought me since graduation and how he is so good and so faithful to me.

I encourage upcoming college graduates who have experienced God deeply and loved their time at their campus fellowships to rather than look at what a campus ministry was able to do or at the “college life” with longing, to look to and give thanks to God who was the one who worked in your heart during the time there and through the people you knew there.

5. Resist cynicism. Trust him with your regrets, recognizing and clinging to the grace of God.

While there are some people who can’t stop longing for their college days, I know some who can’t look back without being dismissive of their college selves, campus ministry experiences, and anything college-related. I understand. It took a while before I could look back at my freshman self, full of zeal and immaturity, without cringing and just shaking my head. And then, there’s the mistakes I made, sins I committed, and people that I hurt that I feel regret for still, even after 10 years.

Sometimes, I see cynicism form because stepping into the “real world” from the “college bubble” was tough on the faith of some and they stumbled and fell. Sometimes it’s because people had rough experiences in their campus ministries and only after stepping out did they see how it impacted their view of God and the church negatively. I see some who question their faith, God, and Christianity and begin to question of whether or not what they had in college was “real” or even whether it was their “real self.”

There’s much I can say here and each person’s struggle is unique, so just briefly, I want to encourage you to look at the signs of grace in your life and consider that God knew completely what was in your heart and what was going on around you, and see how he was working in you despite yourself and despite imperfect Christians around you. As you go look back at your younger, less mature, more naiive, less sanctified self (which was really you at the time, just all those things–less mature, more naiive, less sanctified), don’t rest your gaze there. Let the grace of God bring you to a place of deeper gratitude, worship, humility, and grace. Gratitude for his blood that covers your sin and his patient perseverance with you in spite of yourself, worship for his immeasurable love and mercy with which he loves you now even though in a few years by the grace of God you will more mature and Christlike than today, and humility and grace towards others who are more immature and young in the faith than you. When you do this, you can be honest– both about the ways you fell and failed and about the ways he truly did work in and even through you by his grace and to his glory.

6. If you don’t end up struggling, praise God! And pray for your friends who are having a hard time.

Some of you already have a strong local church to go home to and a healthy understanding of work, God, church, and life. Praise God for this! I just encourage you to remember and be kind towards your friends who have a harder time transitioning. Instead of saying (or thinking) “what’s wrong with you?” I encourage you to consider that while you are strong, you have a unique opportunity to strengthen the weak. Pray for your friends, particularly those who became Christians in college, to find and settle in good churches. Listen to and lift up those who are struggling, and thank him for his grace toward you in your transition.

7. Lastly, consider the faithfulness of your God and look to the future with joyful hope!

I have always resisted a doomsday portrayal of college graduation. Why? Because it makes it seem like God is the God of the college campus and not of the rest of life! Or that his grace and the gospel which began a good work in you is insufficient to carry you through to the end (as opposed to Phil 1:6.) This is simply not true. In the same way that many of us may not have sought God as we entered into college, but he worked in us miraculously to bring us to himself and into a community of people who love him, it is not our faithfulness to him that will sustain us through the years, but his love and faithfulness to us in Christ.

Your life will change in the coming year, but look to him who has not, does not, and will never change. His grace and the knowledge of his mercy has not been exhausted in your 4 (or 3 or 5) years in college. He saved us so that in the ages to come, he may show to us the immeasurable riches of his grace! (Eph. 2:4-7) That does not end after graduation! He has worked in your life up until now, and he is able to keep you from falling– from the day you walk in cap and gown until the day of his coming. Be encouraged, looking to him who alone does not change, who has been with you up to now and will continue to carry you through to the end.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.  (Jude 24-25 ESV)

Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

We’re In the Same School or “Dealing With Mommy (& Kid) Guilt”

When our older daughter was an infant, someone said to Jeff and me, “I don’t know if you’ve experienced this yet, but as a parent there are so many choices to make and you don’t always know if you’re making the right one.” Two and a half years in, I have probably prayed more for wisdom in these last two weeks than I have my whole life. I have never felt like I didn’t know what I was doing on a daily basis like I do now and with this new awareness of my own need, I have come to cherish the Scriptures more for the way it informs our parenting and gives us a firm place to stand.

These days, one way I am seeing Scripture shape our parenting and bring clarity is in dealing with sin — both my own and my children’s. A friend recently observed that on Facebook, she often sees posts by friends complaining about their kids and that it seemed like the same friends often felt guilty, posting about how they were bad moms. Guilt-ridden confessions were then usually followed up with reassuring comments from friends. I am thankful for more seasoned moms who can tell me what I don’t need to feel guilty for — like when I needed to supplement with formula, or needing to nap or sleep in, or not being able to constantly present educationally stimulating material to my toddler and infant. And in the same way, I’m thankful for godly moms who can let me know what kind of behavior is normal for toddlers and I don’t need to worry about. But what about the so-called mommy guilt that comes from things that I do that are actually not okay, but wrong? Like losing my temper or being impatient? And what about the kind of behavior in my child that comes not because of childishness, but from a heart of rebellion and selfishness? In other words, how do I approach and deal with our sin? It’s not enough here to just hear “it’s normal.” It is comforting in a way to know that others struggle with the same thing that I and my children do but that doesn’t justify the way we sin against God and each other in our actions.

The biblical understanding of the process of sanctification and how God works in the hearts and lives of believers to make us more Christlike has been shedding light for me in terms of how I think about sin in the context of parenting. One illustration that has really helped me is from Doug Wilson’s series on parenting. In it, he says:

“Godly parenting is a function of becoming more like Jesus in the presence of little ones who are also in the process of becoming more like Jesus…It’s like a school of sanctification with the parents being in the upper grades and the kids being in the lower grades…Where the kids are, the parents once were. And where the parents are now, the children will be.” (Why Children Matter #4)

Here are some ways that understanding that my children and I are in the “school of sanctification” together as we walk through life is changing and challenging the way I think about their, and my, sin:

1. Not “you”, but “we”

When I was taking a counseling course with Ed Welch, he often said that you make progress and breakthrough with a counselee when you learn to say “we” and not “you.” He referred to finding the  “normal in the abnormal” because in counseling, there will be issues that at first seem uncommon until we see that at the heart of the struggles are things that we all deal with. I am learning to say “we” when I see sin in my daughter’s life. Yes, I may not throw temper tantrums in the same way that a toddler does, but in my heart, do I ever complain? Or fuss? Am I ever impatient and demanding? Am I selfish? And am I doing these things at the very same time I am trying to correct my daughter?

I was reminded of this in seeing a friend after instructing her child saying “yes, I know it’s hard. We all want to be selfish and keep everything for ourselves.” It is a humbling place to be in, and I am finding that the very behaviors and attitudes I correct in my daughter, often show up in me at the same time. When I keep in mind my own process of being sanctified– that I have been there and in many ways am still dealing with the same flesh that my daughter does, I am able to sympathize with her weakness. It doesn’t mean that I excuse it, but in remembering that sanctification is not easy, my tone and prayers will change. I of all people ought to understand that it is hard to deny myself, to submit to doing what is right, and that obedience does not come naturally and easily.

2. Not discouragement, but joy

After a particularly hard day last week and much frustration (on my part) I started to feel really down. I was starting to see how dealing with sin in my own life and in my little girl’s heart is tiring and can be really discouraging. Then, it hit me: this is what parenting is about. I don’t have to be discouraged that discipline is involved and needed in our lives because parenting is all about being sanctified and bringing up my children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  If I see each revelation of sin as an opportunity to be brought up into maturity in the Lord, I can rejoice at the end of the day that I am doing what I am called to do as a mom and that God is continuing to do his work in me.

3. Not perfection but progress

Similarly, the fact that there are battles with sin does not have to lead me to anger or despair when I think about the fact that as Christians, we understand that sanctification will occur throughout our lifetimes until we see Jesus face to face. Though we are declared righteous before God and he no longer holds our guilt against us when we are in Christ, in this life, we will fall and sin and struggle with our flesh. Or as Luther said, we are simul justus et peccator at the same time righteous and sinners. If I expect there to come a time when my children and I no longer need correction or discipline in this life, then at best I’ll be constantly discouraged when I see our sin and at worst, I’ll be constantly angry or given over to despair.

Instead of looking at whether or not we are still sinning, understanding that we are in the “school of sanctification” means that we can look together for signs of progress, not perfection. I can rejoice that my daughter isn’t struggling with the same things that she did a few weeks ago and thank God for his grace in her sanctification. Rachel Jankovic writes about this in Loving the Little Years,

“If you have been faithfully disciplining your children, I guarantee you that there are many, many problems that they no longer struggle with…Oftentimes we don’t even notice that they aren’t doing it, because something else has replaced it. Try to notice these little mile markers on the path of sanctification. If the sins have changed, it can be a sign of growth. It is not as though our children are going to emerge from heir current problems into perfect holiness only if we give them enough swats. They are going to emerge from one set of problems into the next, and that is good. that is the way of the Christian walk. (21-22)

In my own life, I can thank God that he has freed me from the hold of certain sins that I never thought I could be free of years ago. And in our family, we can rejoice together that although we continue to wrestle with sin in our lives, they are not the same ones that we did in the past. God has brought us this far along and we can be encouraged to see evidences of his grace.  I love how Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15 that he is to immerse himself in obedience to the things commanded so that all can see his progress. We can look for the same.

4. Not mommy, but Jesus

It hit me sometime during my first year or so of parenting that the hardest fact for me to accept is that my sin most deeply affects those I love and want least to hurt. It scared and deeply saddened me to think about and see the way that my sin could do damage to my family. But in that moment, I was reminded that the most important thing that my daughter (now daughters) could learn from me is the gospel. They need to see and know the gospel through my life. They need to see it when we correct them and teach them, as Jeff says, the “language of repentance” by  helping them say sorry to us and turn to Jesus in prayer after we discipline them for disobedience. They need to see it in my admission of sin to them when I lose my patience. (This is so hard for me!) And they need to see that where there is sin, grace abounds so much more in Christ.

This is the lifeline that I am clinging onto and trust that I will be coming back to again and again in the next 20+ years: As much as I love them and by God’s grace will give my life to serving and loving my children, I am not the hero, Jesus is. Jesus died for their sins and mine. Jesus rose again and broke the power of sin over their lives and mine. And in faith, we trust we will one day stand before him, washed clean by his blood, presented blameless before him with great joy. (Jude 1:24)

Pray for us

I struggled in thinking about whether or not to write this post because the lessons are so fresh and I am so new at the whole parenting thing. In the end, I decided to share it because it is wisdom that I didn’t come up with but learned from others and am being blessed by. I am still working all this out in real life and it is hard. With the arrival of our second daughter has come more diapers, tiredness, joy, laughs, and repentance (on my part) as I see more and more of my sin and need for grace. God is gracious and I am thankful to be reminded through my children that he is still working on me. Prayers would be much appreciated (and needed) for our family as we go through school together!

Church & Ministry, Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

Salvation Testimonies & Growing Up Churched

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one of my close friends as our daughters played together. As she talked about how her daughter will grow up knowing the gospel in a way that she herself didn’t, and how her daughter will never have the memory of hearing it for the first time, she asked me about my experience of growing up in church. It got me thinking as I reflected on God’s work in my own life and later came across two blog posts, one about not having a dramatic testimony, and one sharing a testimony of a fifth generation Christian.

Here are some thoughts regarding salvation and growing up churched that I’ve had in light of considering myself and now our girls as they grow up in church:

1. Churched-background or not, salvation is about being brought back from the dead.

Being delivered from Satan, sin, and death is anything but average or boring. Having your sins forgiven and being redeemed and made alive is mind-boggling. The idea that anyone’s testimony of blood-bought salvation could be uninteresting or unspectacular is a defamation of the work of Christ…No testimony that involves the Son of God bearing your sins on the cross in order to bring you to God  could ever be mundane or boring. (65)

Gloria Furman, Glimpses of Grace

 

I had the gospel explained to me for the first time I remember when I was around 7 or 8.  And though I do have experiences in my life that marked drastic growth in my desire for God and understanding of his gospel, I don’t remember ever not believing in God. When I was younger, I used to wonder if that would mean I wouldn’t ever be passionate about his salvation or as grateful as other people who were more of the “younger son” in the prodigal story. But as I have come to know and continue to grow in knowing God more through the ordinary means of studying and hearing the Scriptures, my sense of awe and gratitude at his saving grace has grown too.

Because I know that I, by nature am a rebel against God, sometimes when I come to understand more deeply how great God is, how sweet his promises are, or how true his word is, I remember that without his intervention in my life to open my eyes, I wouldn’t be able to see any of it– and I am absolutely floored. The outward changes in my life may not seem so dramatic to others, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that without his saving work, I would be blind to his worth and reject his word, and I thank God that by his grace alone I am not and do not.

2. My salvation is much grander in scope than a story about me and my conversion experience.

Michael Horton writes in an article challenging the emphasis on individualistic, one-time, “radical” decisions in thinking about salvation:

So then, to queries concerning our salvation, we ought to reply:

1. When? Before creation, at the cross, in my lifetime, and in the future. Let this replace, “On July 10, 1965, during the eighth verse of ‘Just As I Am,’ when Brother Fred held a revival at our church.”

2. How? By God’s electing grace, redeeming grace, calling, justifying, and sanctifying grace, and by his glorifying grace (Rom.8:29-39). This can take the place of, “By raising my hand, going forward during the altar call, and praying the prayer after Brother Fred.” As John Murray writes, “It is necessary to guard against a wrong use of introspection. It is not by looking within, in the attempt to discover the movements of God’s regenerative grace, that faith is evoked. It is preoccupation with the glories of the Saviour that constrains faith. We do not rest upon that which is done in us, far less upon that which is done by us. Faith does not feed upon the saving experiences that it evokes” (Col.Writ.,vol.2, p.259).

3. Where? In the church, where the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) unite me to Christ and to his people. This is a more biblical response than, “In the privacy of my own heart.”

4. From What? From the guilt and control of our sins in this life, and from the presence of sin in the next. This stands in the place of, “Lack of self-esteem, unhappiness, sickness, etc.”…

5. Why? In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Let this replace, “So I could enjoy the happiness of the victorious Christian life,” or other explanations which have oneself at the center.

 

My testimony isn’t about a day “I decided to accept Christ.” And it isn’t even about my parents “raising me right” or my church doing a good job. It about the God who is able to bring dead people to life for his glory– of which I am an example. He chose me before I knew him, he worked in me before I could believe, he is continually saving and changing me, and I will be saved on that day when I see him face to face.

3. God is faithful not just to individuals, but to his people. 

Michael Horton writes in the same article:

As the apostle Peter assured his audience that the gospel promise was still “for you and for your children,” so too we must challenge any conversionistic evangelism which ignores the covenantal context of conversion.In this way, the anxiety of Christian children about being converted or born again is removed. They are called to deepen their understanding and experience of God and their inheritance with the saints, but they are not to turn inward, searching for that one radical change in their behavior which they brought about one day when they decided to follow Jesus.

And Rachel Jankovic in the blogpost I mentioned at the beginning:

All of us who have faith have it as a gift – and how humbling it is to know that the very fact of your faith, as well as your life, is part of God’s faithfulness to others…My Grandpa Jim gave us all Valentines roses this year, my girls too, and in his very formal but increasingly shaky hand, right before he signed off, he wrote, “You are part of Exodus 20:6, ‘But showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.’”

My faith is a story of faithfulness – the faithfulness of our God. It is a story of God doing what He promised He would do. My life and my faith and my prayers for my children are all part of a beautiful and intricate story of God’s faithfulness to His people.

Today, Jeff asked me what I thought were the 10 most pivotal events of my life. I asked him if I had to answer limited to events that happened within my lifetime. He didn’t let me answer things like God’s choosing us before the foundations of the earth, creation, Christ’s life, death and resurrection, etc. etc., (can you tell I was giving him a hard time?) but allowed for out of those ten events to have happened before my birth. Both his and my first answers went back to when either our parents or great-great- great(?) grandparents first came to know Jesus. God has been faithful to them and we are a testimony of his faithfulness.

4. Boring testimonies are testimonies of his grace in forgiveness of sins as well as in his grace in being kept from sins.  God’s grace in keeping us from sin hit me when I first read Augustine’s Confessions. In it, he writes:

Thou hast forgiven me these great and heinous deeds of mine, and hast melted away my sins as they were ice. To Thy grace I ascribe also whatsoever sins I have not committed ; for what might I not have done, who even loved a sin for its own sake? Yea, I confess all to have been forgiven me ; both what evils I committed by my own wilfulness, and what by Thy help I committed not.

The sins I have committed are pardoned because of his mercy and grace. And the sins I have not committed, I was restrained from by his mercy and grace.

How We’re Praying

Jeff and I are praying that even now, God would grant new life to our girls and that it would show in their lives as the fruit of faith in the coming years.  We are praying that their testimonies would be a wonderful demonstration of God’s faithfulness to keep his promises to believers in generation past, and of his mercy to grant them new hearts to live in grace– grace to forgive them for and keep them from sin. We are praying that our girls would have a “boring” testimony that they would understand with all their hearts and minds is anything but boring. 

Truth & Orthodoxy

There Really Is A Tree

This quote from Tim Keller’s new book Every Good Endeavor sums up well why in the past year or so, the vision and promise of the church as the future perfect Bride of Christ has constantly strengthened me to not lose heart in ministry. It explains why lyrics like “Dear dying Lamb Thy precious blood shall never lose it’s power til all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more!” have been so moving and Scripture like “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” and 2 Corinthians chapters 1-5 have been so precious to me. The “tree” and “leaf” that Tim Keller writes about has to do with a story he summed up earlier, but the quote should make sense nonetheless:

Whatever your work, you need to know this:  There really is a tree. Whatever you are seeking in your work- the city of justice and peace, the world of brilliance and beauty, the story, the order, the healing- it is there. There is a God, there is a future healed world that he will bring about, and your work is showing it (in part) to others. Your work will only be partially successful, on your best days, in bringing that world about. But inevitably the whole tree that you seek- the beauty, harmony, justice, comfort, joy, and community- will come to fruition. If you know all this, you won’t be despondent because you can get only a leaf or two out of this life. You will work with satisfaction and joy. You will not be puffed up by success or devastated by setbacks. (p. 30)

And here’s another one that has to do with what I’ve been learning as a stay-at-home mom (I have been writing a blog post on this in my mind for a while now…):

Everyone imagines accomplishing things, and everyone finds him- or herself largely incapable of producing them. Everyone wants to be successful rather than forgotten, and everyone wants to make a difference in life. But that is beyond the control of any of us. If this life is all there is, then everything will eventually burn up in the death of the sun…Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference…Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, purposed in response to God’s calling, can matter forever. (p. 29)

Looking forward to getting into this book more!

P.S. If you buy Every Good Endeavor right now from wtsbooks.com (link above), you get 70% off your first copy! $8.09! Whoohoo! I’m reading my copy right now.