Thursday, August 28, 2014

Freedom to Love

Kyle Idleman wrote in his book Not a Fan, "Following Jesus is not about trying every day. It's about dying every day." For years I've been coming out from the burden of self-imposed legalism and when I heard those words last winter, they set the last bit of me free.

For years I tried so hard to please God. I knew that salvation from hell wasn't accomplished by my works, but somehow I believed inside that my sanctification - my becoming more like Jesus - was accomplished by my good works. If I do everything right, don't waste a moment of my life, and be as responsible as possible, I will earn God's smile - his "Well done, daughter!"

In my very personality, I want to get things right. I want to make people happy. Unfortunately for me. It became this almost sick obsession. I could take care of the needs of everyone around me and keep them happy. And doing that kept me happy. I felt satisfied. But the satisfaction didn't last and God started showing me that keeping people happy wasn't always what was best for them. Sometimes they needed some things to be hard or to go wrong, so they could learn dependence on God, not me.

And then God began revealing that he loved me just as me and I didn't have to DO anything to make him happy with me. Anything I did for him should be done because I loved him and because we had a relationship - not because I had to earn his favor. Grace is favor we don't deserve. God is so good to us.

But it was hard for me to connect the dots in a practical sense. We still have to put in work on our end of the relationship - that much is evident in the New Testament - we don't become more like Jesus automatically. But I was still trying hard. Too hard. And feeling like I was failing all the time.

That's when I began to understand that following is not about trying and failing. Following is about love. And love is sacrifice. Love is laying down yourself to meet another's needs. Just like God did in Jesus. He died to pay for my sins. The ultimate sacrifice.

Love in any relationship is sacrifice. Sometimes that means giving up the chance to make a person happy so that they can learn something on their own - in particular dependence on God. Sometimes it means stepping in to serve them, over and over again, with no reward. Sometimes it means give and take - you give and are blessed with a return. But you can't have a meaningful relationship with anyone unless you die to yourself in some way.

Jesus talked about this all the time.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
In his own death, the seed of his life brought forth a never-ending harvest of fruit.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Taking up our cross means DYING, not TRYING. I don't know how I got it confused but for literally years, when I thought of being Jesus' disciple, I thought of working harder to be a better Christian - giving more of myself and my resources, thinking less of myself, trying harder every day.

But it is relinquishing, not grasping. It is "How can I lay my life down today in sacrifice for my relationship with Jesus?" not "How many things on my 'Be Spiritual' to-do list can I scratch off so Jesus is happy with me?"

This is freedom.

1 John 5 says
This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.
In a way this verse has always confused me, because aren't commands in their very nature a kind of burden?

But not if they are kept out of love! God gives us commands in love - life goes better when we obey (I am always reminding my son!) - and he wants life to be the best it can be for us. So if I keep them because I love him and trust that what he says is best, I am obeying God because I love him, not because I want him to love me.

Oh, my heart. God is so good. And it is so good to breathe the fresh, free air of grace.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Power in your Words

Words have power. Been thinking lately about how our kids become what we expect of them in some ways. Today I was at a clearance event for a kids consignment store and was sifting through 50% off t-shirts and has to ask myself - "Is part of the reason our kids are so self-centered because we put them in t-shirts that say, 'It's all about ME!'" Or are they jerks because we talk about them like bad attitudes are all they are capable of?

I know it's not completely the reason, but could changing our words help our kids truly see themselves the way God sees them?

It's easy to label your kids. We call our boy "silly" and "crazy" all the time and I can tell he's starting to act that way more when we treat him like that's all he's capable of. I'm starting to use words like "strong" and "gentle" to define him and am seeing how that makes a change in his actions (on a good day, lol).

And what about our lives as adults? When I say all the time how overwhelmed I am, or how tired I am, it honestly is defeating, and in a weird way, I like to feel that defeat because it gives me license to feel sorry for myself. But what if I used words like "blessed" and said things like "My days are full but I have so much to be thankful for"? Then I would be worshiping rather than complaining. And I'd be refusing to let those negative words overwhelm me.

"Life and death are in the power of the tongue." Proverbs 18:21

Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: Beyond Bathtime

***I've written here before that God has given me a heart and a passion to write. I read mom blogs daily and am so incredibly thankful that God has laid a burden on so many women's hearts to write for moms. As of yet, he hasn't given me that same interest for writing lies in several different directions. But I value the blogs and books written by women about motherhood because I am a mom after all! In the past year or so I've read a handful of incredible books about motherhood and want to review them briefly here to encourage other moms to pick up these books and be encouraged. Most of them cost less than $10 on Amazon and are well worth the money.***

Beyond Bathtime

Erin Davis

Not long ago I heard Erin being interviewed on a podcast with Nancy Leigh DeMoss and was so encouraged by her words and her fresh perspective on motherhood from God's Word that I ordered her new book immediately. I just finished reading it today and was so blessed by every chapter.

Erin takes us to God's word to find our perspective for motherhood. Our culture views children as a burden; the Bible portrays them as a blessing. Beyond Bathtime uncovers lies in our culture and lays out the truth from God's word. I had never thought much about what a woman like Eve could teach me about being a mom, or how the fact that God chose for Jesus to come to earth through a womb and be raised by a mom (Mary) shows how he values the role of motherhood. And Erin's perspective on the story of the loaves and fish that the little boy brought to hear Jesus and ended up relinquishing for Jesus to multiply for the crowd blew me away:

Let's trace the journey of that little lunch. Mom packed the lunch. Boy carried the lunch. Disciples noticed the lunch. Jesus blessed and multiplied the lunch. More than five thousand people ate the lunch. And millions know that Jesus is God because the story of this miracle has been told for thousands of years.
That's how mom math works in the kingdom.  (pp 107-08)

Beyond Bathtime includes loads of practical ideas for putting truth into practice. My favorites were in the chapter about celebrating your kids. Her illustrations of how we show by our words and actions that our children really are more of a burden than a blessing really convicted me. Do my kids really know that they are a blessing from God to our family? How do I demonstrate that? Erin had lots of great ideas.

As a young woman I often felt like there were other ministries I would be better off giving myself to than motherhood. God has gradually been changing my heart, so these words from the book struck a chord with me:

If a woman surrendered her life to share Bible stories with children in an unreached people group overseas, we would consider that big and rightfully so. 

But your children are also an unreached people group. They don't come into the world with a knowledge and heart for God. It's your job to teach them, and it's a big job. (p 108)

Beyond Bathtime is not a long book - 10 easy-to-read chapters with questions you can answer to help soak up the information even better or discuss with friends. I've put this book down feeling more than inspired but more so equipped to view my daily life as a mom as actual work for God's kingdom. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Change


What a word.

In the past 8 months our family has had more changes than I can count.

We renovated a house and moved into it.

We added Baby #2.

We bought a van.

My husband began a new customer service job and then was hired full-time at the church. Two job changes.

My grandpa died.

My sister got married.

And those are just the outward, big, noticeable changes.

But the little everyday changes add up so much more, don't they?

The little changes in my attitude from day to day, learning to be more thankful, less stressed and less of a control freak.

The little changes in our two-year-old's behavior, his learning to obey, and adding words to his vocabulary, and whining less.

The daily growth and development of our new baby.

My husband's ever changing responsibilities with work and all that we've learned about money and taking care of a home and vehicles.

Change mystifies. But God is constant through it all. So thankful that he never changes and that he guides us every day toward fresh perspectives and new horizons.

Change is good. God is good above it all.