Taking Heart

Mourning

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Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

“Do bad people live on this continent?” my sweet girl asked as she lay in bed. “Yes, bad people live everywhere.” What about here, she wanted to know, in our neighborhood? She was afraid. Was the door locked? What if someone bad tried to come in? She wanted me to give her my word, tell her no one could ever come in and take her away.

“You know, God will always be with you, no matter what happens… Do you want to pray to him that no one will come take you away?” She did, so we prayed, and her little heart was comforted. And my heart started breaking in a new way that night– in the knowledge that though my girl would have believed whatever I said (and though we live in a safe neighborhood) I could not give her the absolute promise of safety she wanted because we live in a fallen world.

The painful reality of living in a broken world punctuates our lives in thousands of ways. Sometimes they are pinpricks to the heart, like realizing how we live in a legitimately scary world as we talk with our fearful child. At other times, this reality is a heavy shadow cast over our days and weeks, with fresh images from the devastation of war or natural disaster. Still other times, our pain is personal, so close and so deep it threatens to crush us completely.

I have wondered at times what it was like for Jesus to walk on this earth. How could he have lived here without being completely overtaken by sadness every moment of every day? He knew the world untouched by sin. He knew the beautiful intention of the Father in creation. And then he lived, breathed, and suffered in the devastation wrought by our rebellion. A witness to broken bodies, hardened hearts, warring nations, hateful unbelief, how could he have been joyful, which he must have been as one filled with the Spirit?

While he walked our soil, Christ declared one feature of Christian blessedness this way: blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessedness, mourning, comfort, all three come together in our Savior, a man filled with the Spirit and yet familiar with sorrows. Jesus knew the resurrection that laid ahead and pressed on for the joy set before him. Still, he wept over death and destruction. Though not as one without hope.

Scripture speaks to us in our darkness and gives us many reasons we can grieve with hope. He has purposes we have yet to see and we trust him. In comparison to the glory ahead, our troubles are light and momentary. Still, we grieve. And far from carrying platitudes and quick fixes, we enter into dark places with Christ and weep. We who know how things were supposed to be have the most reason to grieve over and in the world we live in. We know that unlike what others may say, this isn’t how things always have been. We know from the depths of our souls this is not how it was meant to be.

And in these places, dear ones, he is near to us. He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. In the fire of our mourning, he is forging hope that because of his suffering, there is comfort awaiting us– a new day when our hearts will be healed and the world is restored.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore,
for the former things have passed away.

We live in this strange in-between as believers in this age. In between Jesus’ two comings, he has resurrected, but we still have not. So we wait for the day he comes and everything sad is going to come untrue. And as we wait, we cling onto the truth that our Savior who is lifted on high is also a man familiar with sorrows, near to us even as we cry for him to come and make things all things right again.

Maranatha, come O Jesus.

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Looking Unto Jesus

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If you’ve studied physics (or ever played QBasic Gorillas), you know it only takes a slight difference in launch angle to completely change the trajectory of a moving object. Likewise, in the Christian life, there are many seemingly subtle nuances which actually have massive impact on our worship of God and lives with him.

I enjoyed this devotional from Charles Spurgeon on “Looking Unto Jesus” and am struck by the fact that though there is a world of difference between looking to Jesus and looking to ourselves, sometimes the initial shift feels so slight we don’t realize we’ve turned our gaze inward.

Sometimes, it isn’t until we find ourselves despairing, doubtful and discouraged that we trace back our struggles to trying to find hope in ourselves and our own faith or spirituality. And sometimes, we need to hear someone articulate for us the difference between hoping in Christ and hoping in self to make that connection.

So, here’s an excerpt from the prince of preachers today:

“Looking unto Jesus.” (Heb. 12:2)

It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.” All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep thine eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to him; when thou liest down at night look to him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

( June 28, Morning by Morning. Tip: Access Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening daily devotional at Biblegateway.)

Yes!

The Christian’s hope is not how much faith he has. It is in Jesus who trustworthy.

It is not in the progress in sanctification she’s making or how she is doing spiritually compared to others. It is in Jesus who sanctifies.

It is not in yesterday’s experiences or our own “decisions for Christ.”  It is in Jesus’ finished work on the cross and his ministry of intercession for us today.

It is not in our promises to “do better next time.” It is in he who finishes the work he began in us.

It is not in our penitence and sorrow over sin, but he who receives and purifies repentant sinners.

It is not in our fruitfulness as branches. It is in the life-sustaining vine.

It is not in our faithfulness as sheep, but the Shepherd’s steadfast care.

Dear Christian, look to Jesus today.

And take heart. Because in the final count, what matters most won’t be how well you did looking to him, but that his gaze was ever upon you.

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Christmas For Every Longing Heart

One of the more difficult parts of the holidays to navigate is the expectation to make happy memories and for things to be cheery. It doesn’t really make sense that a date on the calendar or a few weeks declared the “holiday season” would magically make things wonderfully happy, but for whatever reason we expect or hope for it which deepens the disappointment when things are not merry and bright— when instead of peace, there is strife in our family and hurting relationships. When there are unfulfilled secret hopes in our hearts or we are in the midst of grieving loss. When we’re burnt out from serving and maybe just tired from normal life and don’t feel particularly Christmas-y.

Personally, this year has been one with great joys and deep sorrows, and in light of this I am meditating on two prayers we can pray this Christmas as we face things we struggle to reconcile with the joyful celebration of Christ’s birth:

Jesus, this is why you came.

Jesus, come again soon.

Continue reading “Christmas For Every Longing Heart”

Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Being In The Waiting & Room For Sorrow

Christianity is often portrayed as unable to withstand the weight of reality, and I understand why some people would feel that way. As a younger person, I had a passion to share with others my conviction that the Bible and the Christian faith can more than take on our intellectual doubts. Having had my fair share of questions, I deeply desired for others to feel free to ask questions without thinking that Christians believe use of the mind is antithetical to faith. I still believe that the church should be a safe place to bring our questions about God, but these days, I am experiencing a deepening of another conviction about Christianity and how it relates to reality. Namely, that not only can the Scriptures withstand our intellectual questioning, but that the vision of God and life laid out in it withstands the full range of human experiences, especially suffering.

There are many wrong ways to think about suffering and trial. We may expect that as Christians, we won’t face difficulties because we are children of God, not realizing that Scripture says he disciplines those he loves and that we are meant to receive difficulty as his discipline for our holiness (Heb. 13). We may think of trials as punishment from him, not knowing that the Scriptures say there is no longer any wrath left for those of us who are in Christ (Rom. 8). We may see suffering as meaningless rather than purposefully given to us from a loving Father for our good (Ja. 1, Rom. 5). Or we may not realize that God may be purposing to comfort others even as we suffer and receive his comfort. (2 Cor. 1) We may miss the richness of God’s purposes accomplished through our difficulty in a myriad of ways, so I am grateful for the way that God has been forming my understanding of suffering through theologically sound preachers, teachers, and books.

Lately though, I am finding that as I’ve grown in the knowledge of these rich truths about God’s purpose in our suffering, I have often failed to grasp the full picture given in Scripture and thus erred in the application of some of these truths in my life. Slowly, I have begun to think that since I know these things, my experiences shouldn’t feel as hard and I tend to try to think of hardships clinically and analytically. There has slipped in the subtle wrong view that an understanding of the joyful and glorious final purpose of God in and through our sorrows means I ought not to so sorrowful, and there is a temptation to push through in my own strength.

God is showing me these days through the Scriptures that oftentimes he doesn’t expect or ask me to respond in the way I may feel I ought to. I am experiencing that as one who is struggling, I find good company in the stories and poetry of Scripture, and that there are deeper measures of comfort in it than I had previously thought.
Continue reading “Being In The Waiting & Room For Sorrow”

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.