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When the Countdown Continues

Humanity, it seems, loves a countdown. Sports fans count down the days until the next big game. Music-lovers count down the days to their favorite artists’ new release. Children innately countdown sleeps until birthdays. As an unabashed lover of all things Advent, we have various countdowns to the celebration of the Incarnation littering our entire home.

But what about when the countdown continues? What if we don’t have a quaint calendar informing us of the release or celebration date? Even worse, what are we to do if we don’t even know there will be a solution this side of glory?

In a season of joyful countdowns, let us not forget those whose countdowns are less cheery: the days until the next PET scan, the next pregnancy test, the next “first holiday” without a beloved family member or friend, the next court date, or any other number of heavy nexts.

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A Songwriter without a Song
Asaph came from a long line of song-writers and worship-leaders that began with the establishment of the first Temple. He wrote a dozen psalms as a poet laureate, of sorts, of God’s people. He was chosen and fashioned by God to be a tender-hearted artist to lead Israel into worship and wonder.

Yet, in Psalm 77, we find the beloved song-writer saddened by the silence of pain and depression. His songs of joy and awe feel a million ballads away. Day and night, he continues to cry out to God to show up, to move, to do something to stir his stagnant heart (v 1-2). He isn’t sleeping (v 4). The lover of words cannot even find words to express the crushing grief that continually weighs upon him (v 4).

The long wait and the song-less season temporarily warps Asaph’s vision, even to the point of assuming that the unchangeable God Almighty must have changed.

Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are His promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up His compassion?  Psalm 77:2-4 & 7-9.

A Shift in the Song
Up until this point in the Psalm, Asaph has referred to the Lord in the general term Adonai, meaning lord or master. However, a subtle shift takes place in verse 11. Here,  Asaph begins to refer to God by the more personal and intimate name Yahweh. Rather than get stuck in the song-less sameness of today, he shifts his focus to the annuls of the past. He begins to remember and call to mind intentionally all the ways God has historically shown up and shown off to His people.

I will remembers the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work,  and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known Your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Psalm 77: 11-15. 

The same arm that, based on countless translations of verse 10, Asaph assumed had turned against him, is now remembered as the strong right hand that had rescued throngs from Egypt.

Historical fact and evidence begins to trump feelings, as Asaph decides to count God’s faithfulness rather than count the days until God lifts the veil of present darkness.

An Old Song Offers Hope in the Song-less Season

The remainder of the Psalm focuses on a poetic retelling of the way God had rescued His people from Egypt. Waters fleeing, deeps trembling and skies thundering (verses 16-18), lead to the culminating and concluding two verses.

Your way was through the seas, your paths through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock,  by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77: 19-20. 

This Psalm does not tie up neatly with a bow, as some Psalms do. We don’t hear the end of Asaph’s countdown to experiencing God intimately again. The countdown continues, but now with a song-less man who has committed to re-singing old songs until the Lord brings him a new one.

Just as God left no clear heel prints as He rescued His people in the muddy bottoms of the  Red Sea, Asaph concludes that God’s ways are mysterious and untraceable, but also trustworthy and true.

 

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Love’s Beams

My how things have changed. I remember my father taking a whole weekend to untangle Christmas lights from the large cardboard attic boxes that held them captive in a knotty mess until December. Now, ’tis the season where people can now project an array of lights from a little magical box. To each his own.

While we don’t have such a magic projection box, my heart has been pondering on spotlights of late.

Beams of Attention
A few month back, I read an old tattered book by Keith Greene, and one little nugget contained therein planted itself in my soul. Greene likened his focused attention as a beam or spotlight, as seen below.

“It is as our attention were a powerful spotlight, the beam of which God lets us direct. We can shine the beam off into the past or future or into the eyes of the people around us in the present…I began to see that agape love rides down the beam of our attention into people’s hearts.” 

It is a challenging thought to think about agape love sliding down the beams of our attention. We live in a culture largely known for its short attention spans, and we house hearts whose attention beams tends to continually reorient around self. As such, it seems that much agape love that could be sliding from the Father of lights down the beams of our attention to a desperately needy world never arrives.

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Focusing Scattered Beams
For the past few days, I have been forcing myself to think about where and for how long I am focusing the spotlight of my attention. Rather than scanning over the horizon of the news, I allowed the Lord to focus my attention beam on the situation down at the border. While I recognize that it is a complex problem, the Lord allowed me to cry tears of sadness and buy some sleeping bags to be delivered by a friend. While it felt like the smallest thing, I felt a little agape love slide down the beam through friends to some soaking wet asylum-seekers at the border.

Rather than be utterly overwhelmed by the sheer number of women at our Church, I am asking the Lord to give me a few women upon whom I might focus my attention beam this holiday season.

At home, I find myself scanning a yard that needs some TLC, a pile of laundry and a pathetic pantry. When I catch the beams of my attention dissipating into a spectrum of to-do lists,  I have been asking the Lord to let my beam of attention linger a little longer on the hearts in our home rather than the domestic duties.

But more than anything, I have been found myself wondering at the multi-faceted, multi-colored, constantly radiating beams of agape attention that God directs at me. That the God who created the sun and lightwaves and the spectrum of visible and invisible light would set His affection on anyone is shocking. That He would set it upon me, one who constantly fritters my attention on self and shimmery fool’s gold, is even more shocking.

The Beams of the Father
When I read through the Gospels, I see a Christ who consistently focused the beams of agape love that He received constantly on whomever was set before Him. A poor widow. A wealthy, woeful centurion. A pack of crazy kids. A crowd of hungry paupers. A suspect tax collector. Christ was able to radiate what He received by consistently relying upon the approval of His heavenly Father. More than the strange star that had indicated his birth beamed, the beams of God’s love perpetually warmed the Son.

Yet, in those painful hours on that horrible hill, the beam of favor turned away from Him. All was darkness, within and without, to the end that the beams of God’s favor might be set once again on those who would call upon Him.

The spotlight that the Son deserves has been turned upon those who look up to Him for deliverance. The children of light, those who receive the steady spotlight of the Father, are invited to focus the light they have received into the lives of those still in darkness.

May we know the fullness of the beams of His favor towards us. May the beams of our attention bring Him glory this season. Amen.

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The Maestro in the Manger

Advent is about making space. Making space, first in our schedules, then in our souls that the Coming Christ may fill.

Such space is hard to come by in a season full of parties and presents, errands and end-of-the-year concerns. Just as there was no room for the imminent Immanuel in the inn, there is often no room in my head and heart for contemplating the Christ child in the season meant to commemorate Him.

Yesterday, I ran around like a crazy lady under the tyranny of the urgent. I ordered those Christmas cards that probably won’t make their merry way through the mail system until after Christmas. I printed the invitations to my precious middle son’s birthday party. You know, the one whose birthday was 2 weeks ago.

Today, by grace alone, the Spirit has stilled my scrambling heart. And just as Mary and Joseph rushed to fill what little space was offered them in Bethlehem, Christ ran to fill the space in my soul.

Every year, I ask the Lord to show me a new shimmering thread in the tapestry of the Christmas story, to keep sharp what sin and familiarity tend to sully.

May Christ be more than the cliche baby in the manger, the naive newborn in the nativity. May we know Him to be the multi-faceted, marvelous Maestro that He was, is and ever more shall be!

The Maestro in a Manger

The Maestro in a manger,
The brilliant become benign,
In a conspiracy of compassion,
Submitting to dad’s design. 

The Lord of Hosts hosted
By a makeshift, motley crew.
The steadfast, stable and steady
Born to parents passing through. 

The Deliverer delivered to Egypt,
A  place of both harbor and harm,
The Arm of Rescue rescued
From Herod’s lesser arm. 

The Stretcher of the Universe
Stretched over projects of wood.
The One granted filial freedom
Obeying a carpenter’s should. 

The One who came to cleanse
Dipped in a Dirty River.
The arrow shot from Heaven
Joined in our crowded quiver.

The One who told waves to stop
Drowned by waves of wrath.
The Way Maker for the wayward
Found a cave at end of His path. 

The Rock of Ages rose from the rock,
Second Adam, Firstborn of the dead.
The Maestro from the Manger,
Master of death, as God had said. 

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Decorated Homes & Dependent Hearts

In our home, we are shaking our tryptophan stupor off and decorating our way into December.  As we are only  1/32 elf in our family, we tend to keep the decorations simple. Yet, every year, when everyone goes to town with their tinsel, tree-trimming and twinkle-light-hanging, my heart finds itself in the same wrestling place.

Because I am not on top of things, I find myself frantically searching for a decent picture of our family to try to rush order Christmas cards. By decent picture I mean we are all clothed and bodily present with at least one eye looking in the general direction of the camera.

Next, I look at my meager two containers of light strands that have fractions of working bulbs. This will do.

All joking aside, this is the time of year when we love to decorate our homes, filling them with all the smells and sights of the holiday season. While that is not my strong suit, I am well-acquainted with a similar tendency: to seek to decorate our hearts and our lives to match our cheerfully decorated homes.

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An image painted by Frederick Buechner in his memoir Telling Secrets has been haunting me of late. Speaking of his aging mother’s tendency to remember only the high points of her life, he writes the following.

“The sad times she kept locked away never to be named, but the funny, happy times, the glamorous, romantic,  young times, continued to be no less a part of her life than the furniture…She liked to paste gold stars on things or to antique things with gold paint – it was what she did with the past too of course  – and lampshades, chairs, picture frames, tables, gleamed like treasure in the crazy little museum of her bedroom.”

While my house does feature any gold-painted furniture, I do notice in my own soul a  scary tendency to want to make things appear shiny and together. I find my heart desiring to place gold stars on hard seasons or circumstances. I want to decorate my own heart.

However, more than a finely decorated, neat and tidy heart,  God longs to have a deeply  dependent heart. One that invites Him into the mess and the mayhem, one that cries out to Him for help and hope.

He doesn’t want me to plaster and decoupage my anxious heart and hectic home with gold stars; He wants something far more for me and my family. He longs that we admit our neediness of Him, our limitations  and our deep hunger for far more than this world has to offer. As we present our hearts in humility and honesty before Him, He promises to shape in us a refined faith in Him, proved of more value than gold.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by  various trials, so that the tested  genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found  to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7.

In the midst of beautiful decorations and manicured Christmas card pictures, I long to fight my tendency to decorate my heart. Rather, I pray that God would give me a heart that is fully dependent upon.

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Traveling Light

We are a walking contradiction of a family. For years, we have been enamored with the Tiny House movement, even to the point of the boys drawing up plans for their dream tiny homes. However, when packing for one night of camping only 20 minutes away, we  barely fit into our large car.

So much for packing light and only bringing the necessities. Among our necessities included six Nerf guns, five books, four air mattresses, three bikes, two Rubix cubes, and a partridge in a pear tree.

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Perhaps because of my three-day endeavor to pack for less than 24 hours of camping or perhaps because of the migrant caravan, my mind and heart have been meditating on traveling light.

Christ was the Creator of everything: every shell that would shelter a snail, every rock that would become a den, every tree that would become a hollow or a plank for a home.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:1-3. 

Even more so,  He made His home eternally within the perfection of the perfect love, security, and shalom of the Trinity. Of this perfect Triune home, every yurt, cabin, nest and hive is a tiny, truncated picture.

Yet He left it all to come tent among us, to live, in many ways, as a homeless migrant. He packed light so that we might see the Light of the World. A light we rejected.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He  came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. John 1:9-11.

Yet, because He traveled light to come bear the heaviest burden, we are enabled to receive Him and learn to live as He lived, laying down both blessings and burdens that we might have free hands to carry others to Him.

Traveling Light

Looking around the throne room,
Thinking about what to bring,
His royal rights He did not pack, 
The righteous and rightful king. 

Bustling and bristling about the place,
The very pregnant Mary prepares.
A sudden census trip to Bethlehem
Caught she and Joseph unawares. 

Packing like the Son she carried,
Mary trusted in God to provide. 
The first night as family of three,
Among the animals they did reside. 

When a sudden flight to Egypt
Jesus’ safety did necessitate,
To leave it all behind in trust,
Yet again they did not hesitate. 

The foxes have holes, the birds nests,
Yet the young man Christ did roam.
The Creator of every rock and refuge,
A migrant without His own home.

The One who always traveled light,
Our bottomless burden did carry.
Because He bore the weighty cross,
In God’s presence we may tarry. 

Without a souvenir, empty-handed,
The Savior to His Home ascended.
Then emptying His hands again,
From Him the Spirit descended. 

As pilgrims He bids us follow Him,
Open-handed and open-hearted.
Traveling light in earthly plight,
‘Til to our home we’ve departed.

In a nation burdened by the weight of unimaginable blessing, may we learn to pack lighter and to live as those whose true Home is wherever our Christ is!

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Buried

My boys are attempting to do a Bible-reading plan for their morning devotions. While  this sounds picturesque, its execution is far more harried and humorous. Usually one of them is reading the day’s Scriptures aloud while the other two are scurrying about shouting, “I can’t my water bottle, or “Where are favorite socks?”

As often happens when someone else reads a familiar Scripture aloud, I was struck with a concept I had never really pondered before. As my oldest son read the account of Moses’ last moments on earth,  I marveled at the fact that God Himself buried Moses.

A few of our dear friends have lost beloved family members recently, reminding me of both the intensity and the intimacy of burials. God, the author and authority of all life,  the One who had breathed His breath into the humans He had shaped and formed, attended and presided personally over Moses’ funeral. He knew death up close. He dug a grave in which to lay his faithful friend. What a shocking, paradoxical thought.

I imagine God responded to Moses’ death much like Jesus responded to his good buddy Lazarus’ death: with weeping and great resolve. This is not how I intended life to be, yet I intend to personally and sacrificially end death as the end.

As I meditated this week on the death of Moses, I realized that Moses’ life story was bookended by burials: one early on at a critical juncture of his life and one when God Himself buried him after years of long and faithful service.  I imagine that as God buried Moses, He did so with the death of His own self/Son on the forefront of His mind.

Buried

He had a kingdom at his fingertips,
A future of potential lay ahead;
In a moment of anger at injustice
He struck an Egyptian down dead.

Realizing what he had done,
Frantically looking left to right.
Young Moses’ dreams derailed
As he buried a corpse in fright.

Fast forward to a different burial,
A different Moses on a different hill.
One hundred plus twenty years old,
Moses finally resting in His God’s will.

From heir of  Egypt to humble man,
From served royalty to servant of God,
His undimmed eyes had finally seen
Promised land his people would trod.

Humbled, hallowed by heavy service,
Having talked with God face to face,
God Himself did bury His friend
In a secret plot, without a trace.

The one who’d buried his old life
and had given Himself to God,
Finally completed his long circuit,
No more weary steps to  plod.

‘Twas a strangely sobering scene
When Yahweh buried his friend;
For only He knew the next chapter
When His own Son’s life He’d end.

Another life marked by burial,
The One to whom Moses pointed.
Then death itself would be undone,
Just as the same God had appointed.

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The Invitation Underneath Unforgiveness

Children of God are fully forgiven the moment they surrender and receive the atoning work of Christ packaged in the gospel; however, it takes a lifetime both to comprehend such fathomless forgiveness and to become those who forgive like the Father.

Jesus fully knew the depths of our sin-sickness when He swallowed to the dregs the punishment we had earned; yet, when we walk through the threshold of forgiveness, our knowledge of our own need for forgiveness barely scratches the surface of the canyon of our need.

Smuggling Unforgiveness
Periodically, usually when I am least expecting it, God reveals knots of unforgiveness that I have unknowingly smuggled into the kingdom of God. I don’t realize that I am still carrying such places of unforgiveness until God empties my emotional pockets, so to speak, revealing hidden remnants of hurt where forgiveness has not yet been fully applied.

Initially these moments of emotional exposure shock me and send me into a desperate clean up effort that still smacks of self. However, given some time and a long walk, God begins to shift my perspective to the invitation underneath the suddenly seen knot of unforgiveness.

When I receive an invitation, whether by snail mail or evite, I am being invited to a process. I open the invitation, process the information it reveals and then prepare and wait for the party. Likewise, when God exposes a knotted, gnarled place of bitterness in my heart, He is gently inviting me to a loving and often long process with Him.

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Underneath Unforgiveness
Underneath the ugliness of my unforgiveness is usually a place of deep woundedness and real pain. Underneath that place of deep pain is usually a hidden door into more gospel depths.

Like the man forgiven his massive debt by the king, I tend to find myself stingy in meting our forgiveness to those who have hurt me or triggered me in my most vulnerable places. My stinginess is a quiet invitation to enter another layer of the depths of the forgiveness that has been offered me in Christ. Clearly I must not understand the massive debt that He has completely forgiven me if I cannot forgive someone else his or her smaller, though serious debts.

I wish I could say that this descent deeper into my own sin and His costly love was quick and painless; however, I have found it to be quite the opposite: slow and sore.

To deal with my unforgiveness means to go to my most vulnerable places. My amygdala, that exquisite memory potion of the brain responsible for processing painful memories in an effort to protect us, often works against me at this point. When this complex component to my brain is triggered by a sight, a smell, a sound, a memory, I am tempted to fight or flee. However, I know what my amygdala does not; I am not who I used to be or where I used to be.

Security in the Savior 
My Savior then gets to speak into my deep and human need for security. Rather than go the easy way out of huddling my hurt around me as a protection and insulator from further such pain, He offers me another way. He reminds me that any security built solely or even mainly on circumstances or relationships is a deeply susceptible and inherently unstable security.

He reminds me that I don’t have to shield myself with unforgiveness as a protection or bitterness as a wall of safety.  He offers Himself as my shield and invites me to a safety that cannot be shaken, no matter what shakes all around me.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 125:2. 

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge,  my savior; you save me from violence. 2 Samuel 22:2-3. 

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Genesis 15: 1. 

I am safe and shielded in the arms of the One whom I used to raise my arms in rebellion against. He is my safety. Wrapped up more tightly into His strong arms, He will begin to unwrap and unwind the tight knots of unforgiveness that mar my heart in places of deep pain. It will be a process, but in the end, there will be quite the party to celebrate the stunning beauty of forgiveness found in Him and flowing from Him alone.

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The Fear and the Face of God

As promised, I have been studying the Proverbs looking for promises for my own fearful heart and for the hearts of my older sons as they approach the Middle School years. I haven’t gotten very far, because the Proverbs are too jam-packed with rich promises and stern warnings for a quick fly-over.

The fear of God is the stage on which the entire book of Proverbs is written and performed. Without a proper understanding of the fear of the Lord, the book will read as an ancient self-help book. As such, I have begun praying where the book begins: the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7. 

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding…then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2: 1-2 & 5. 

All wisdom begins with our all-wise, uncreated, all-powerful God. And all wisdom ultimately leads us back to Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

Derek Kidner wisely states, “In submission to His authority and majesty (that is, in the fear of the Lord), we alone start and continue our education…He is the beginning; He is also the end.”

After studying the first two chapters of the Proverbs, my prayer request for the boys hearts and my own heart is the same: that we would live in the fear of God before the face of God. 

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The Fear of God

Even if we were to replace the word fear with a more full translation of reverential awe, such a phrase would still likely fall on deaf ears because both are so little understood or practiced in our culture today.

Sinclair Ferguson made a helpful distinction between two types of fear: servile fear and filial fear. The word servile comes from the Latin word meaning slave, while filial comes from the Latin word meaning son. Ferguson speaks of the proper Christian fear of God as the latter, defining it as, “that indefinable mixture of reverence, fear, pleasure, joy and awe which fills our hearts when we realize who God is and what He has done for us.”

Such a filial fear of God must begin by scratching the surface of the vastness and otherness of our God. The Incarnation of Christ means less to us when we don’t first understand that the God who walked on earth is also the God holds all the oceans in the hollow of His hand. The baby who was found by the Magi under guidance of a single star was the one who calls out every star one by one and knows each by name.  Isaiah 40. Psalm 104. Job 38-39.  We won’t appreciate how small He became until we have as the backdrop the vast, incomprehensible God who spoke all things into being with a simple word.

My children have become increasingly adept at swimming since we live in a land so near the water and so sunny almost year-round. They have been known to brazenly cannonball into hot tubs and plummet into pools; however, when they stand before the enormity of the ocean, they experience healthy fear.

My prayer for them is that they would experience a similar adoring fear before the hugeness of our God who willingly humbled himself to become a servant (Philippians 2).

The Face of God

With the fear of God as the foundation underneath them, it is my prayer that they would live their lives in a conscious awareness that they are also living underneath the gaze of God.

Coram Deo is a Latin phrase that is translated, “in the presence or before the face of God.” The phrase captures the Christian idea that all of life is to be lived under the gaze and authority of, in the presence of, and to the glory of God.

This short and succinct phrase, when really pondered and applied, has long and lasting implications on the way we live our lives. While the writer of Proverbs doesn’t explicitly use this phrase, the idea it conveys is a major thread woven throughout the backdrop of the entire book.

God goes with my boys into the classrooms and locker rooms when I don’t. He sees all that I don’t see. It is before His watchful eye that I want my children to learn to live, not simply under mine.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9. 

I long for and, therefore, I will labor in prayer to the end that, my three sons will live in the fear of God before the face of God.

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On Puberty and Purity: A Fearful Mom Praying Through the Proverbs

If you have seen the Pixar movie Inside Out, you likely remember the moment at the end when Joy, Anger, Sadness and the rest of the gang finally get everything in order. The happy ending is neatly tied up with a bow when one of the characters sees a huge red button on the control panel captioned “Puberty.” Reaching out in curiosity to push it, the others scream to try to stop the disaster!

I feel like my heart is right there these days. We have weathered the early years of raising three little boys. To my great delight, we found God to be faithful through both the happiness and the heaviness of the early elementary years. Having been raised in a family of all girls, the thought of raising boys was daunting to me from the ultrasounds that revealed boy hardware so many years ago; however, over a decade into raising the three men-in-training that the Lord has entrusted to my husband and I, we are convinced that the Lord will, as He has promised, give us all that we need for life and godliness.

My biology predisposes me to anxiety, and my sin exacerbates and exaggerates my hard-wiring. As such, I tend to deal with fear and worry by studying and pre-emptive planning. Before we had our first son, I read twenty books in an effort to curb the rising tide of anxiety of the unknown. After an intervention by my very wise husband who sagely said, “If you read one more book, I am going to burn them all,” I traded the pregnancy books for more time in the Word of God.

As we find ourselves on the precipice of the puberty, I feel similar waves of fear, anticipation, hopefulness and anxiety. I am tempted to pitch a tent in Barnes & Noble for a month and read every neurological, physiological, emotional and spiritual book every written on boys and puberty. However, I want to learn from my pre-delivery anxiety.

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Rather than start by combing the bookshop and filling my Amazon cart, I want to start right here, in my own soul. I want to start by combing the Word of God for promises to claim both for them and for my own maternal heart as we enter the uncharted territory of the teen years. I am certain that I will read a book or two, especially those recommended by the mentors who have already passed through the dangerous passes of puberty. But I want to begin by anchoring my heart and this upcoming decade in the sure promises of God.

It is my prayer that this upcoming series of blog posts will be a strange mixture of humor, theology, practice and biology. If nothing else, the hours spent in study and prayer will assuage my anxiety by meeting my restless heart with the sure Word of the Heavenly Father. After all, He is One who knows everything there is to know about not only about the human brain, masculinity, and puberty, but also about the soul of a mother and the souls of her sons.

There is no better place to pray through puberty than the Proverbs. As Derek Kidner writes,  the book of Proverbs “is not a portrait album or a book of manners: it offers a key to life.”

Tim Keller once said that studying Proverbs is like sucking on a hard candy. It takes time to enjoy its flavor and to get to the heart of it. The God-centered wisdom laced in the book of Proverbs, which was written as parental words of wisdom to be passed on to a son, is not easily attained; however, there are riches there for those who are willing to linger awhile.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10.

To that end, we will begin at the fountainhead by praying that our children would fear Lord.  In the next post, we will dig into a biblical view of fearing the Lord and ways to cultivate such fear, so far as it concerns us.

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The Blessing of Being Small

 

My husband and I are minnows in a tiny puddle. But because the puddles we frequent are small, it is easy to begin to feel like important guppies in our family and the local flock. Every once in a while, the Lord lovingly places us into a larger pond for a day or two. And every time, I walk away blessed by reminding of our smallness.

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While speaking at a conference this past week and sitting at tables with people with multiple degrees and dissertations under their belts,  I initially felt puny and a little pathetic; however, after the initial waves of insecurity, I was able to receive the gift of smallness with great joy and freedom.

John the Baptist, the eccentric and electrifying prophet who cleared the path for his Chosen cousin, Jesus,  famously prayed, “He must increase,  but I must decrease.”  (John 3:30). 

As believers, we love to throw out that pithy, catchy statement; but we deeply struggle to live it.

John had spent the majority of his life in anonymity in the dessert. However, when the time came, he fulfilled the purpose for which he was miraculously born to his aged parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. He came boldly inviting the Jewish people to a priming baptism of water signifying their need for repentance and washing which would be brought with Christ.

After 400 years of inter-testimental silence, the people were finally postured to hear any word for the Lord, no matter how harsh or humbling. As such, people came in droves to be baptized in the Jordan. John gathered around himself an eager group of young disciples who joined him in his preparatory work.

One day, his cousin came to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan. As soon as John saw Jesus coming,  he was quick to point to Christ and away from himself and his thriving ministry. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who. takes away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man whose rank is before me’.” (John 1:29-30). 

After a moving and momentous baptism in which the sky opened and the voice of God proudly commended His son,  Jesus began to move into public ministry mode.

Some time later,  after having officially called together his strange assortment of disciples, performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana and spoken in secret to Nicodemus by night, Jesus and his crew head out into the Judean countryside. It just so  happens that his cousin John is performing water baptisms there. because water was plentiful there (John. 3:22-23).

From a first reading, the scene reads like a scene from West Side Story. Two crews doing similar work finding themselves on the same turf. The suspense would be building for a first time reader. Are we about to see a showdown? A ministry battle?

The young, immature,  mostly headstrong and ego-heavy disciples were feeling the tension. John goes out of his way to record what takes place.

Now a discussion  arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him,  “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan., to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing and all are going to him.” John 3:26. 

How would John respond to the minimizing of his ministry, to being shown to be a small fish in the presence of the One who had spoken into existence every fish species?

John received the right-sizing and minimizing of his small but significant ministry not as a burden or a punishment, but as a long-awaited joy and a welcomed blessing.

Then who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete. He must decrease, but I must increase. John. 3:29-30. 

I tend to imagine John saying that pithy prayer in a saddened sigh, but the context reads differently.  Rather than issuing forth from a resigned, depleted spirit, John’s “I must decrease” prayer welled up from a fullness of joy and completion.

I don’t have to decrease. I get to decrease!

This past weekend, I felt a little of what John felt: the blessing of being small in the presence of the Infinite One made Finite!