Raising Up a Samson

God’s Word puts forth the promise and plan of redemption. And the perpetuation of the Christian faith and the building of Christ’s Church comes in part by his operating through us, his people, in the passing on of our faith to others (Matthew 28:20). This great commission applies to our own children (Deut. 6:8).

And in his kindness to us God weaves throughout the Bible many parenting examples, both good and bad. We can look at the beauty of Hannah’s heart that fully grasped that her long-awaited son belonged to the Lord and not to her. A few chapters later we might cringe when we read of old Eli who loved the ark of God so much that he died when it was captured yet didn’t have the backbone to stand up to his own sons. My heart wants to cheer for the parents who had the courage to bring their babies to Christ for a blessing rather than the priests, swimming against the cultural current and facing ridicule from their society. And who can’t identify with King David who seriously blew it with his young adult son, permanently injuring their relationship?

Samson’s Parents

Another fascinating parental example occurs in Judges.  Judges recounts a dark time in Israel’s history.  The Bible tells us that the nation had deteriorated so greatly since Joshua’s death that every man was doing right in his own eyes.  The Lord sent them judges, or short-term tribal deliverers to help them fight their enemies. In chapter 13 God tells us what happened before Samson was born.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s mother to tell of the birth of a child who would be “a Nazirite unto God from his birth and a deliverer of God’s people.” (v. 5) She reported the event to her husband Manoah. Manoah’s reaction was to pray that the angel would come again.

The angel did come again and Manoah asked him, “How shall we order the child?  And what shall we do?” (v. 12)

What strikes me first about Manoah’s prayer is his faith. Even though the couple was infertile, he never questioned the truth of whether a baby was coming.  Secondly, his deep sense of responsibility.  He realized his unsuitableness for the work of training up a child that would be so used by God. The angel had already given his wife these instructions but that wasn’t good enough for Manoah. He wanted to hear it for himself. He was so impressed with the weight of their calling as parents that he asks for the angel to come back and repeat it for his own ears to hear.

What a contrast this is to the thoughtless self-confidence many of us feel when it comes to raising up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We overestimate our wisdom and abilities. When met with parenting dilemmas I have often sought some sort of quick-fix to band-aid the problem, rather than turn to the Lord in prayer or even the real-life Titus 2 women he has placed in my life to help me love my children well.

We need the Holy Spirit to fit us for the work of each day. Because it is work. We may be tempted to think we’re doing something wrong because we’re having to work so hard.  Nope. It’s hard for everyone. All of us. Sometimes physical and always spiritual.  And we deceive ourselves if we think we’re smart enough to figure out every parenting dilemma on our own, apart from the Lord’s help.

I want to be more like Manoah, feeling and confessing my ignorance and asking for God’s help to persevere in faith and obedience each day. Manoah understood this was a spiritual responsibility that he was unequipped for apart from the help and instruction of God. Prayer is the best weapon of all parents in raising up their children for Christ because God will not leave grace-seeking parents alone in the work He assigns to them.

The Surprising “Non-Answers” Given to Samson’s Parents

So how did God answer Manoah’s prayer of how to raise up the child?  If you read Judges 13 you will see that God had nothing new to communicate at all. He just repeated what he’d told Manoah’s wife already. And I think this is a very important principle for us in 2019. We may labor in prayer and get no new answers. Often I rise from prayer with no new solution or plan for change in what is burdening me. But I am renewed in keeping to the principles that God has already laid out in His Word. They have not changed and will never change. The Lord has already spoken. I am reminded that His character is trustworthy. He will not leave us alone. Manoah received no new word than what he already knew.

And imagine a first time mom like Manoah’s wife! I can imagine she was eager for every tidbit of information she could get to prepare for her joyous new role. But what short instructions she received. Maybe she wished like I do sometimes for a script or some foolproof steps to make sure she’s doing the best job she can do. It would be easy if parents always knew just what to say or the perfect action to take to make certain the Lord will regenerate our children and mature them into useful tools in his hands.

God didn’t give those kinds of instructions to her and he doesn’t give them to us either. The regenerating work done in their souls is His alone. But he did tell Samson’s mother one thing. She had to be something.  If the child was going to be a “Nazirite from birth” then she had to be a Nazirite herself. She too had to be set apart.

Who we are is so much more important than what we say or what we do. And not just when our children reach an age old enough to notice our hypocrisies. What we say and do is only a reflection of what we truly are – are we in Christ? Resting in His finished work? Repenting of sin? Loving our neighbor? Pursuing holiness and obedience?

 

May the Lord give us the realization of our neediness and dependence on him.

May he give us great faith and an understanding of our responsibility.

May he use our children to change us even as he uses us to change our children.

May we not place more effort in doing, than we do in being.

 

 

 

Seven Discipleship Resources for Children

adult blur books close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of my first priorities of summer was to clean out closets, throw away all the used-up, favorite pencils that my kids couldn’t bear to break fellowship with during our school year (sssshhhh), and purge the bookshelves of books that weren’t worth the space they were taking up. While culling the mediocre ones I paused to hug a few of my favorites.

Christian parents have taught their children the scriptures for centuries with only a Bible. Now there are tools available to parents that make this even easier.  There really is no excuse not to spend consistent time alongside our children interacting with the scriptures and it’s bearing on our lives. This doesn’t take a lot of time but it is very easy to let it slip through the cracks of life. Most of what our children learn from us will be by the example we put before them in our day-to-day living, the love we give them, the practical obedience we give to God in the home and church, and what our priorities are day in and day out. Our actions will speak whether Christ is precious to us or not. But a habit of coming together to study the truths of God’s Word is one component of training them up in the way they should go.

I admit I can be gluttonous in this area of, well, books in general but especially when it comes to enjoying them with my kids. So in declaring which are my favorites, I made the criteria strict:

1.) It had to be a book I’ve used multiple times over years of parenting and has the marks of heavy use.  Therefore…

2.) It is a book that I would never consider purging from the shelf because it’s so spiritually beneficial that I hope it makes it into the hands of my future grandkids.

3.) It is a book that has also benefitted the adult who was reading it.  The best tools are ones that we can all learn from together.

 

1.) Teaching Hearts, Training Minds

training hearts, teaching minds

Our copy of this book is worn down to a frazzle.  In fact, I would say that over the last 15 years we have only taken brief breaks from using it.  At some point I had it spiral bound for easier use. Recommended for preschool to adult!

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds contains the 107 questions of the Westminster catechism with six days of short (think 5 minute) devotions for each question. The short devotions expound on the catechism answer very simply. As an adult if you have never studied a Bible catechism, this book is a great place to begin learning the vital doctrines of our faith. Joel Beeke said, “Catechesis needs a revival in homes.”  Even before kids can understand much, they can memorize.  And who knows but that God might be pleased to reap a spiritual harvest from our patient and diligent sowing of seed in their minds.

If you are unfamiliar with the use and benefit of catechisms or would like to see different versions simplified for children, the Reformed Mama has a helpful comparison chart.

 

2.)  Big Truths for Little Kids 

big truths

Anything written by Susan Hunt is on my radar, and we’ve read through this book with our 4-10 year olds more than once.  Big Truths is also a Westminster catechism inspired book that tells the story of a family who is learning the catechism together and how they apply what they have learned to what is going on in their day to day lives. This one is engaging and fun and provokes great discussion times with little ones. I see there is now a sequel to this book, but I have not read it.

 

3.) Balancing the Sword

BTS

Balancing the Sword is a great place to start in helping you or your older kids with the habit of daily Bible reading.  It was hard to fork over the money for these books but they have more than paid for themselves. I start my children in these once they can write comfortably without stress. I give them a notebook and tell them I’ll not be checking for spelling or handwriting. The point is to help them begin the habit of reading their Bibles alone, consistently and not rushing.

Every chapter of every book of the Bible is in Balancing the Sword with fill in the blank answers to find.  These are easy to use and no parental involvement is required once you show the child how to use the books.

 

4.) Window on the World

window

 

This book is incredibly engaging.  Pictures from many other countries and information on false religions and political climate really help us understand the needs of other parts of the world. There is information on each country’s main religion and what mission work is going on there currently. There are specific ways listed that you can pray for the people of the country and the missionaries living there.

 

5.) Dangerous Journey

dangerous

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan should be read by every Christian because it teaches us sound doctrine. Dangerous Journey is a shortened version of Pilgrim’s Progress with illustrations that draw you in and make you want to pause and think on the words of the story.  The illustrations can be a little intense for sensitive kids so use your own judgement on who is ready for it.  This book brings me to tears when I read it and gives a wonderful motivation (or refresher for older kids and adults) to read the real Pilgrim’s Progress.

 

6.) The Ology

the ology

Creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Boom. You get the big picture of God’s redemptive plan through the scripture in easy-to-read and quick lessons, each about 5 minutes worth of reading. Both views on baptism are given. This book is a favorite. This is systematic theology for children.

 

7.) Building on the Rock

beeke

I’m including this one as an evangelistic tool.  Joel Beekes’ five volumes of short stories tell of true conversions or God’s miraculous provision to his people. If your family Bible time (whatever that looks like for you) is getting stale, these short stories could stop the yawning. I really like that the stories vary in length.  Some are only a page and some are 5-10.  So you can skip around in the book, picking and choosing what you have time for.  Each story has discussion questions at the end that you won’t want to skip.

 

If I hadn’t made such strict criteria, I would share more.  There really are so many great resources available to parents that this post could go on much longer. May the Lord be pleased to bless our efforts in discipling our children to become his followers, no matter how often we fail before him and them.

“The gospel’s simplicity is precious but that simplicity never robs it of profundity. Aim to raise stalwart, doctrinally knowledgeable sons and daughters who will, by grace, hold fast the faith with conviction. In dependency on the Spirit, aim to bring your children, who are the heritage of the Lord, to the Lord who is the heritage of covenant children.”   Joel Beeke

 

Robed in Splendor, Infinite in Power

ocean

When we first laid eyes on our home five years ago it didn’t have much appeal. But there was an enormous tree in the backyard that enraptured me. I envisioned the low branches providing hours of healthy playtime for our children. It promised shade that went far out into the yard, making bearable even the hottest days that Texas might dish out. The variety of birdsong coming from it was alluring. The amazement we had for this tree helped sway us into buying the house.

Five years later the awe that swept over me when I first saw that tree has dwindled. I sometimes worry that the kids are so comfortable up in the branches that they will be careless and fall.  I get tired of cleaning up the acorns that litter the yard.  The birds in it get so loud in early spring that they wake me up in the middle of the night. The limbs need ongoing maintenance or they hang too low and threaten to break. What excited and overwhelmed me at one time has grown dim in my mind.

We can lose our wonder of God too. We forget the magnitude of his power. We stop admiring the unity and perfection of his attributes. It becomes old news. We’ve heard it before.

Thankfully, creation and the Word never stop their reminders.

Rhetorical Questions

In his kindness God has condescended to explain himself to us in anthropomorphic language (expressing himself with human qualities though he is not human) so that we can understand him better. You see this well in Isaiah chapter 40:12-31 as he asks Isaiah some rhetorical questions about himself, particularly his “hands.”

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand

and marked off the heavens with a span?”  Is. 40:12

Have you ever tried to hold water in your hand?  I tried it and was not able to hold even a tablespoon without spilling.

By contrast, God can hold the water of every ocean in his hand. Two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered in water. In places it is several miles deep.  If we wanted to measure it in gallons the number would be beyond what we can imagine.

Compare this to my wimpy tablespoon of water. God means to show us here that there is an unfathomable distance between the Creator and his creatures.

More Questions

“Who has…. marked off the heavens with a span?”

(NIV says, “the breadth of his hand?”)

Last year my children and I worked through a solar system unit, studying the stars and planets. We read that the nearest star is twenty-six trillion miles away so astronomers measure it by light years. And the distance across the entire universe would be another incomprehensible number to us. Yet God says that he measures this with his hand. The breadth of my own hand can only measure about five inches.

The smallness of the human hand should show us the immensity of God, who can deal with the most complex-to-us parts of creation as if they were trivial. And Job says,

“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways,
and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?”  Job 26:14

Sometimes my five-year-old asks heavy questions and I know the answers will overwhelm and frustrate her. So I give her answers that I know she’ll be able to manage with her lack of maturity and understanding. I give her the “outskirts” of an answer. Similarly, the tiniest bit of understanding we have of God’s immensity and power is only the outer fringe of what he has done. It’s all that our human minds could tolerate because he is beyond explanation. We often need this awe and wonder of him restored.

Why?

Because otherwise we are apt to compare him to our own abilities. We can’t fully understand his power and wisdom, so we try to bring him down to a manageable- to- us position.

Psalm 50:21 says, “You thought I was one like yourself.”

We try to compare God to ourselves.  We compare him to our circumstances, our problems, and all the social issues that surround us. And they often seem bigger than he is.

But God is not like us. The Westminster catechism says he is infinite, eternal, unchangeable.

“To whom then will you liken God,” Is 40:18

“To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.”  Is. 40:25

 

A god who is like me only a little bigger is not going to have my trust when I’m hit with pain, confusion, disappointments and suffering. A god who is simply a little smarter than I am is not going to compel me to live my life on mission for his glory rather than my own. A god who is like me only a little more holy is not going to inspire in me obedience and submission to his will.

The living God who is far above me, so high with power and wisdom that I’ll never unravel the intricacies of his nature (yet who condescends to manifest himself to his creatures!) has my trust. Cherishing his unfathomableness is what makes the fear of him steadfast, worship of him reverent, and trust in his providence firm. Because the God who said, “All things work together for good” is not a god who is telling us every cloud has a silver lining.  The very next verse says that those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Ro. 8:29). This conforming can be painful. Do I trust that momentary afflictions are achieving an eternal weight of glory? My wonder and awe of him must remain intact if I’m going to believe that it is, and live my life for his honor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hypocrisy in Prayer

“We tend to think of sin as we see it in rags and in the gutters of life.  We look at a drunkard, poor fellow, and we say, there is sin. But that is not the essence of sin.  To have a real picture and understanding of sin, you must look at some great saint, some unusually devout and devoted man, look at him there on his knees in the very presence of God.  Even there is self intruding itself, and the temptation is for him to think about himself, to think pleasantly and pleasurably about himself and to really be worshipping himself rather than God. That, not the other, is the true picture of sin.  The other is sin, of course, but there you do not see it in its acme, you do not see it in its essence. Or to put it in another form, if you really want to understand something about the nature of Satan and his activities, the thing is not to go to the dregs or the gutters of life.  If you really want to know something about Satan, go away to that wilderness where our Lord spent forty days and forty nights. That’s the true picture of Satan, where you see him tempting the very Son of God.”

Martin Lloyd Jones

Jesus wanted to protect his true followers from the dangerous “leaven” of the Pharisees.  What was this subtle influence? Hypocrisy.  None of us are immune to the temptation of hypocrisy.  If we think we are, we are self-deceived. We perform our spiritual duties, like prayer, and yet never gain his ear because we never humble ourselves, seeing ourselves as we are (Rev. 3:17). There is no sacred ground for Satan.  He follows us to the very throne of God, tempting us with our greatest desire – elevation of self.

The Pharisees should have been Christ’s greatest supporters but they were his greatest enemies because his righteous words and deeds condemned their hypocritical practices. They had habits of performance without passion. Living and performing spiritual disciplines without the heat of love is to attempt to take a short-cut to God. I too feel this pull toward heartless duty. It can become a pattern of our lives without us even realizing it so I praise God if I have been made aware and you should too. It’s God’s mercy and help to us, to make us aware. It’s why we’re called to be watchful in prayer.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”  1 Cor. 16:13

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Col. 4:2

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion.”  1 Peter 5:8

Hypocrisy is more than self-excusing. It is also just not seeing ourselves for who we are because we don’t want to see. We don’t even want to think about it.

May the cry of our hearts forever be, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”

 

 

Why Mothers Need Stamina

girls May 2019 b

Obedience to the will of God is often difficult. I have this inner prosperity gospel preacher that tells me life is supposed to be like a Christian movie: get my spiritual ducks in a row and then bam, all the problems of life resolve within 90 minutes. But the crucified life involves joys and struggle from beginning to end no matter what work God has assigned to us. Including motherhood.

Motherhood is multifaceted. It is a miracle full of great joys and at times great sorrows. It is packed with sowing and reaping, delight and pain, laughter and tears. This is the way of love. If you are going to love people deeply, there will also be pain involved. The two are inseparable.

Mothering Like Moses

Moses is an example of the ups and downs of leading and caring for people who depended greatly on him. He had to “mother” the children of Israel.

“Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.’ ” Numbers 11:10-15

I have often felt this way too, crying out to the Lord that I am not able to carry the needs of my children alone. I cannot even know all their spiritual and emotional needs, much less meet them, without divine help and wisdom. Moses felt the weight so heavily that he would rather die than try to carry it alone. Any mom ought to identify with his sentiment. Raising up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a massive responsibility. Thankfully, the Lord does not leave us to do it alone.

Yet God allowed Moses to suffer through the work he gave him, and sometimes moms do too. While Moses was away praying and fasting on Mt. Sinai, the people had begun to riot. An idolatrous cult was formed around the worship of a golden calf, that Moses’ own brother had made. In hot anger Moses smashed the tablets of the law God had given him, ground up the calf, and disciplined the people by making them drink it.

Moses suffered through his assignment from beginning to end. The people would promise obedience, then disobey. When they met difficulties they pouted and complained that God didn’t love them. They continually forgot God’s miracles and acts of mercy toward them. God wanted to destroy them at times. Then Moses would intercede for them and God’s wrath would be appeased. But the test of the faithless crowd was so great that Moses’ faith failed. He struck the rock, when he was told only to speak to it (Num. 20:11). He was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of it.

By human standards Moses wasn’t getting a fair shake. Think of all he suffered for the people and now he wouldn’t even see the Promised Land. Yet he continued doing the will of God day by day. We see no evidence that he resented the people for all the trouble they were, or wished he could throw in the towel. He persevered in obedience to God.

John Bunyan said, “Perseverance is keeping one hand on the plow, while you wipe the tears away with the other.” This describes any work of ministry, including the ministry of motherhood.

I pray for Moses-like stamina and perseverance because motherhood is an assignment that will not be finished until our lives are over. No matter how old our children grow to be God will keep using faithful mothers as instruments of his love. Eighty-year-old mothers of sixty-year-old babies will keep on demonstrating “my life for yours” because that is the principle of the cross.

Moses knew that if God was not with him he couldn’t go on carrying the people.  And if Moses remained obedient to God, trusting in Him throughout so many trials, he will help 21st century mamas persevere in training their littles in honor and obedience. He will help modern mamas keep putting meals on the table. He will help the exhausted ones who are up at night nursing newborns. He will give his wisdom to parents of teens who relentlessly carry them to the throne of grace multiple times a day. He will provide the energy mamas need to get everyone ready for church another Sunday. He will help the moms of adult kids and grandmothers, who feel like their hearts walk around on the outside of their bodies, put on the armor of God one day after another and go to war with their fear and worry.

Hallelujah, our God does not change! After 23 years in the ministry of motherhood, his immutability has been to me one of the most fortifying, stabilizing and peace-giving of his attributes. He has not changed since the time he helped Moses carry the responsibility of a nation.  I am not alone or at the mercy of chance. I am not adrift in chaos. There is Someone behind the events of our lives, in the big and seemingly meaningless.

“…and as your days, so shall your strength be.” Deut. 33:25

On Reading Well

books

Our family just returned from the I’ll Be Honest fellowship conference that we attend yearly. Our heads are full and so are our hearts. One of my favorite things about this conference is the emphasis on spiritual growth. At this small conference of less than a thousand people, there is a book selection that could compete with the largest of Christian conference events. There is a scheduled book tour each day and the pastors and teachers walk in front of the book tables picking up books they see that have impacted their growth in Christ. Then they share thoughts about the book with the rest of us.

Questions are always taken from the attendees and one young man had an excellent question: He asked the pastor to share some tips to help him retain more of what he reads.

So here I’ll share the answer he received to that question as well as some additional thoughts that have helped me as a reader also.

  • Always read with a pen in your hand. Make notes in the margins. Write out any questions you have about the author’s idea, especially if it is new to you.
  • Use your time well.  Do not say you don’t have time to read. If you have a 30 minute lunch break, use it to read instead of checking your phone. You can read several books a year, depending on length, by chipping away at them 30 minutes per day.
  • Read widely.  Choose books from different categories and resist the urge to only read books in areas where you are already strong. Read in areas where you are weak. Read about theology, church history, spiritual disciplines, marriage and family, the doctrines of grace, the doctrine of the church, attributes of God, how to study with proper hermeneutics, cultural apologetics, evangelism, creationism and more. And never ever leave off biographies!

 

On choosing books:

  • As you read, pay attention to who the author quotes, especially if it is a book that is heavily impacting your thinking. This will often lead you to your next choice of book. Always scan the bibliography too for what might interest you.
  • Last year this same pastor shared that the Lord will often have our eyes open to books that teach in an area where he is already working in our lives. So true! If you see a book that excites you and the author/publisher is solid then get your hands on it even if you are a planner and it wasn’t next on your list.

 

My Own Habits

  • Index cards have been a help to me.  I’m not sure when I began doing this but sometimes I leave index cards in the books I read that summarize a chapter or two. Also I will sometimes make notes in the back of the book that are longer than what I jot down in the margin. As a mama I also have my children in mind, knowing one of them might read the book later.
  • If I pick up a book that is free or really inexpensive, say as a Kindle deal, I will sometimes get started and realize this person is preaching to the choir. I might get bored with it even though it’s been highly praised by others and would have been something I really benefitted from three years ago. I still close the book.  This is an indication that I’m gorged on this topic.
  • I personally do not read books that I know are not sound, just for the sake of critiquing. This is mostly due to the time I have available. I’m super thankful for other Believers who do this though. Sometimes the very title of the book makes you shake your head.
  • At the end of a year I make a plan for the upcoming year of what I will read.  Many bloggers and friends share their favorite reads from the past year, like I did. I hold the plan loosely in case an unplanned-for book captures my attention.
  • I try to vary the books between old authors and modern day.
  • If there is a book that I anticipate will be hard to put down, I will sometimes keep it on my shelf for weeks or months before I take the plunge and open it (like this one). Surely this is the height of book nerdom.
  • Write.  Reading is like inhaling and writing, exhaling.  The main reason I wanted to try blogging in 2019 is an experiment of better internalizing what I read.

 

When to Read

Like many of you I am a busy mama. Many people and duties compete for my time. But the biggest hindrance to my reading is not my three-year-old, but my phone! Even though I enjoy reading there are times that I have to make myself read. I think it is fair to say that if we want to grow spiritually we’ve got to pray and implement social media habits that do not allow us to fritter away our time each day.

I usually spend about 30 -45 minutes reading each morning and 20 reading at night after the kids are in bed. I also read while riding in the car and occasionally in the afternoons during naptime.

Since we homeschool I am able to read a lot of classic literature and fiction aloud to my children during the day. We are about to finish up the Little House series and this is my third time through those books (which never get old :)).

 

 

All you book nerds out there, feel free to chime in with your own reading habits that you have found to help in your spiritual growth and learning.  Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Children are the Champions of Praise

palm branches

My little girls and I made homemade play dough one day last week.  What is it about a lump of soft dough that will keep a child’s hands and mind busy for so long?  Sharlotte Hosanna (3) shaped animals and flowers and different foods with her hands. She and her sisters served me on tiny plastic lids and urged me, “Take a real bite, Mama!!”  Their salty little fingers went on to make many more masterpieces.

 We’re told of some simple finger work of God in creation: the moon and stars.

“Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8: 2-4

It was no hefty shouldering or back breaking work.  It was as easy as shaping play dough with the fingertips. But it was the solar system. We ought to let that sink in. We should let our hearts take in the grandeur of God’s wisdom and power. His fingers created the solar system.

When the Psalmist thinks on the magnitude of the moon, stars, power of God and then on himself, he asks,

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

What is man in comparison? If the stars are puny work to God then how insignificant must humans be? Why does God take any thought of us? We’re pretty pathetic. Not only does God have more wisdom and power in his pinky fingertip than the entire human race has had since time began, we actually dare to have delusions of our own wisdom.  We question him. We go our own way. As if there are times that we are smarter than him. It is utterly laughable.

Yet he has stamped us with his image. Mankind is the only creation that bears the title of image bearer. This is the answer to the Psalmist’s question of “Why do you care about pitiful, pathetic mankind?” Genesis 1 shows us that man is the grand finale of God’s creation. This is why God values life.  This is why we should also value life. Man bears the image of God.

Yet we have fallen so far into sin and rebellion since the time of creation when man was in an exalted state.  And this should draw our minds to worship Christ. He was the perfect image of God and also the perfect image of what man had been created to be. And he became our substitute, that the creature would have peace with the Creator again.

“Hosanna, to the Son of David!”

“out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.”

During his triumphal entry into Jerusalem Jesus quoted the first phrase of this verse to the chief priests and teachers when they complained and said the children should be silenced from praising him. But Jesus knew, and the chief priests knew, how the verse ended.

“….because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.”

The chief priests knew what Jesus was implying. They were his “foes and enemies.” They were plotting his death. And he knew it. But the chorus of praise coming from the children in that moment drowned them out. Those high pitched, lisping voices silenced Christ’s enemies.

Someday the enemies of God will be silenced forever, in judgement. For now the assault comes through praise. And God is so high above his enemies that the very weakest of his image bearers can silence them. The cause of God succeeds even when his champions are infants and children.

When I sit next to my children in church and hear them lift their voices in praise, this verse often comes to my mind.  The Lord would have praise from his babes. There is strength from God in the feeblest of his people. Their weapons are not in their strong bodies, great intellect, or guns and bullets. Their victory over the enemies of Christ comes through their praises.

Hosanna, to the Son of David!

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Someday even death will hold no power over God’s people. Creation will be restored and mankind will be what God originally designed us to be. Until then all creation groans. We lament for what we once were and what we should be. We long for and eagerly await the day that creation is set right again.

But in the meantime we bring praise, along with the infants and children. And in this we silence the enemies of God.

Hosanna, to the Son of David!

 

(This is one of my favorite artists and one of my favorites of his work. Email readers will have to clink the link to view it.)

 

 

 

Getting More From the Psalms

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Call me an old fuddy duddy but I just couldn’t use the word “hack” in the title of this post.  But I wanted to share something simple and practical that has helped me recently as I read in the Psalms. I am usually the last one to figure things like this out, so if this is old news to you – my apologies.

I try to read five Psalms each day, depending on their length. If I overslept and only have a few minutes, my five Psalms are what I prioritize in the time I have to spend in the Word before my house gets as loud as an airport runway. We also sing Psalms during family worship. My little girls and I sing Psalm 51 or the Lord’s Prayer as I tuck them in at night. I believe there are rich rewards to living life surrounded by the Psalms.

The Psalms draw us in and teach us of the saving work of Christ. They teach us that even when we experience intense emotions like grief, confusion and discouragement, we are still anchored to Christ. They teach us why and how to rejoice.  They teach us how to complain in faith rather than selfishly. They remind us of the truth of God even when the reality of our sufferings would make us question Him. These are all reasons I want to be saturated with the Psalms.

John Calvin said, “I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, ‘An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;’ for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”

A Book of Hebrew Poems

There are several genres of literature within the scriptures. The Psalms are a book of poetry. The only poetry I am familiar with is English poetry and very little at that. But I’ll assume most of us are English readers and are used to poems that depend on rhyme or rhythms of the words.  English poems also build gradually, gaining momentum. The critical piece of information or the main point of the story or argument is at the end.

Not so in Hebrew poetry.  An important difference in Hebrew poetry is that the critical verse is often in the middle rather than the end. The center is where you’re going to find the big guns. A declaration of truth or statement of faith, if you will. Very often the anchor of the poem is in the heart of it. You see this especially in the Psalms of lament. For me, it is also easiest to see in the shorter Psalms.

Psalm 23 is a simple example.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

The first four verses have a shepherd theme but then things change. By verse five God is no longer portrayed as a shepherd but as a host at a victory dinner. The final thought in the Psalm is of God’s people dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. So what happened to the sheep? What unifies these three elements of the Psalm? The words at the center: for you are with me.

This is the center of the Psalm.  You could say the phrase after each part to illustrate how it unifies the themes.

The Lord is my shepherd

for you are with me

 

I shall not want

for you are with me

 

He makes me lie down in green pastures

for you are with me

 

He leads me beside still waters

for you are with me

 

He restores my soul

for you are with me

 

all the way to the end…

 

My cup overflows

for you are with me

 

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life

for you are with me

 

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever

for you are with me

 

Hallelujah. He is with us. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t be reminded of this often enough.

Worth the Effort

The Psalms can sometimes seem obscure, especially in the way they develop in thought. They change themes as they progress, from worship to warnings or from declarations of faith to petitions. They are divided into five books, each one with a theme, but sometimes it is hard to find the common thread. Sometimes the pronouns seems to jump around – God is addressed as “he” and then “you.” Sometimes I feel like there is treasure to be found that is just beyond my reach.

But the Psalms are worth the effort of careful reading. I am learning more about outlining them. The Psalms are a prayerbook, a hymnal, a poetic “medicine” for our souls when they are bruised and weak from battle.

I want to know them better and better.

 

 

 

The Fruit {and Pain} of an Exposed Heart

heart

A bloody elbow was the result of a recent roller blade race in our driveway.  A quick clean up and a band-aid and my son was back on his wheels. But later that night when bath time arrived and the band-aid had to come off, the stinging sensation returned. He grabbed at the dirty band-aid and asked, “Can’t we just stick it back on, Mama?”

Like a raw wound meeting air, heart exposure can be even more painful. I avoid it if I can. I am satisfied with the way things are. I’m content with a little bit of growth, a little more theological understanding, a little more maturity. And if my parenting seems to be working out okay, if my marriage is coasting along without conflict, the finances are not a total disaster and my health is fine and my church is good then I’m satisfied.

But God is not satisfied with that. I am willing to settle for much less than he is. He tells me to keep my heart with all diligence because all the other issues of my life flow out from it like rivers from an ocean.  But He knows that I can’t keep a heart that I won’t examine. So he exposes my heart to me, making me look even though it is painful. Why? Because by grace he starts a good work in us and then continues on to complete it.

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thess. 5:23-24

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil. 1:6

We serve a loving, kind and dissatisfied Redeemer who will not turn from his work of grace even when we resist it. We continue to need his intervention whether we realize it or not. He sees under the surface, he sees behind the mask, he sees the secret heart.  And he will not abandon the work of his hands. He will rescue us again and again from ourselves.

So we end up in situations we would rather not be in. Like when another Christian addresses the sin they see in us and we’re faced with the choice of hardening our hearts or letting the spiritual sight of others help us grow. We usually wriggle out of it by inwardly arguing how much more righteous we are than they, or we resist the instrument we think is less mature than we are, as unqualified to help us. Sadly, we reject one of the means of grace, the Body of Christ, to help us see our hearts because 1.) We fear offending (cause then someone might not like us) and 2.) We get offended easily. We find it difficult to be humble in either position.

But there is another way the Lord will make us face what is in our hearts: trials.

Often it is trials that rip off the band-aid before we have a chance to lunge for it. It is the unexpected, the unplanned, the new diagnosis, the financial mess, the prodigal child, the troubled marriage, or the chronic wait for something we have asked for but that God hasn’t granted to us yet.

This is when the nights get darkest. You discover just what a rebel you are. You learn just how deeply your pride runs and just how small your faith is. You realize how willing you are to step over the boundaries God has put in place for you in his Word. You spot roots of bitterness that you’d have sworn did not exist. You shake with fear of the future. You lament your ability to pray for more than five minutes. You get much more acquainted with the heart you’ve been told to keep but haven’t seen clearly. And you’re shocked and ashamed and laid low in your spirit.

And this is when you realize that what you’ve read, sung about and spoken for years is true: you really are nothing apart from Christ.  You understand afresh that your “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Because if your relationship with him depended for a millisecond on your own faithfulness, you’re sunk. He lived the perfect life that you will never live and then laid it down in sacrifice for you. So that now there is no condemnation.

This is where sufferings take us. None of us want to go there, but go we do. They take us low. To that place called “poor in spirit” that Jesus calls blessed. To the realization of our depravity. This is where we need to be. Weak. Repentant. Humbled in the dust like hurt little children with dirty faces and runny noses, looking up into Christ’s eyes for the truth that no, his love has not failed us and yes, his blood has covered that sin too. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Eph. 3:17-19

The face is lifted. The child is restored. The wound underneath the band-aid still stings but He’s helping you to bear it. You know your Father loves you, even at your worst. And He won’t leave you to bear these circumstances alone.

As long as we are on this fallen earth we will be susceptible to seductive voices of temptation. We’ll be vulnerable to lies of unbelief. We will lose some battles. And we will avoid the exposure that our hearts need, preferring instead to be satisfied with comfortable lives and superficial behavior changes, with no inward understanding of how depraved our nature is and how beautiful is the gospel that transforms us. So exposure is painful but necessary. May God give us grace to accept it as a gift.

 

 

Fear, Faith and A Cure For Sinful Thoughts

There is a direct correlation between fear and faith. When fear rises it is because faith has fallen. When I look at myself (weak), my resources (few), my future (uncertain to me), I will always conclude that I do not have what it takes to do what God is asking me to do or face what I have to face.

How many times are we told in the Bible not to fear? Many times, and it is because the Lord knows how vulnerable we are to fearful thinking. He knows how quickly we forget what He has told us. To the degree that I have forgotten who God is, the covenant promises that are mine as his child, and what I have been given by grace to persevere in this life, fear will be my default emotion. Forgetfulness is ultimately the cause of fear.

Recently I shared on social media some ugly cheat sheets I made to help me with remembering and not fearing. Apparently they were helpful to a few people and I wished then that they weren’t so ugly or were at least shareable. So here are some helps on curing sinful thoughts (fear was the sinful thought that was on my own mind, but these hold true for any type of sinful thoughts), as well as having courage. These are not original to me. They are just notes I took from my own reading in the works of Stephen Charnock cited in the book Voices of the Past, Vol. 2.

To Cure Sinful Thoughts

1.) Serious mediation on the Word every morning.

2.) Avoid entangling self with the world.

3.) Avoid idleness.

4.) Awe your heart with the thoughts of God’s omniscience (He sees and knows these thoughts you are having. Are you okay with that?)

5.) Keep a constant watch over your heart.

6.) Examine and test the thoughts by the Word.

7.) Put a “check” on the thoughts immediately “as you would a spark on a heap of straw.” – S.C. Do not excuse it because it is little.

8.) Use the thoughts to your advantage: to renew repentance, raise thankfulness, and quicken obedience.

9.) Continue your resistance (Ja. 4:7)

10.) Pray. Christ joins me at the Father’s throne.

 

For Courage

1.) Resign all to God.

2.) Set your faith on the promise of Romans 8:28.

3.) Consider that God’s presence is with you in all trouble (Ps. 91:15).

4. Know that he moderates all our troubles to make them bearable (1 Cor. 10:13)

 

I also recommend looking up scriptures with the word “mind” in them. This is easily done using any Bible app. but you can see some of my favorites on the resource page. You can also look up scriptures using the word “fear,” “remember,” or “forget”. Any time we spend in the Word is time well-spent.