Continuing

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Growing up, I had a pastor in the house (He was my dad). With a resident theologian nearby, I became familiar with an incredible amount of Biblical and historical material at a young age. There was a vast array of commentaries, Bible study tools and various books a few steps away from me at all times. I had Bible verses and characters and stories all memorized and categorized in my little brain. My worldview was established very early – through the lens of Biblical plots, terminology, and concepts.

My daughter is three years old, and suddenly we have been thrown into the “WHY” year. I stress at times, wondering how she will learn all the same information I had without a resident pastor in the house. But, if you tell your preschooler a few Bible stories, and mention a few connections between life and Godliness to them, you will launch yourself into a barrage of questions –  seemingly out of nowhere that send you scrambling for just the right answers – for the preschooler and for yourself perhaps. As in any field of study or skill, teaching the concepts are sometimes the best way to fully grasp the answers.

Throughout life, I’ve questioned enough to solidify my own personal beliefs and worldview, but I never questioned the reality of God. I have trampled through a few figurative minefields, confirming my belief in the goodness and love of God. I am determined to teach my children about God in a way that reflects His grace and goodness and without tripping into clichéd language and un-intentional theological pitfalls.

So, we have started on the quest to read Bible stories regularly, to teach her about sin, about our neediness, about Christ’s sacrifice, about redemption and about how each of these things affects every day life. We pray, we talk about Bible verses, and we try to help her understand that by Him all things consist – along with all the implications of that concept. Recently, some of the questions that have come out of her mouth are:

 

  • Will God be mad if we do X?
  • What does Amen mean?
  • Why do we pray at bedtime?
  • God will heal my boo-boos, right?
  • Are Jesus and God the same?
  • Will God be happy with us if X happens?
  • God will not love us anymore if we do X, right?

I have been extremely careful to explain to her that God loves His children no matter what. I was floored the day she mentioned some action and proposed to me that God would not love us anymore if something specific happened. Here in a little three-year-old brain was a question with which adults grapple often. I realized, sitting there in a mall parking lot, that the oldest human struggle between good and evil was taking place. In the parking lot, on a rather boring day, I was talking about God’s grace to future generations,  denying imaginative views of a fair weather God.

Once again, I saw God at work in His ordaining of parenthood. Parenting is not an egotistical boost where we see beautiful little creatures, looking just like us, carrying on our best character traits while prancing around in adorable Ralph Lauren clothing. Parenting is a reflection into the window of God’s nature.  Parenting forces God’s nature to glint and bounce like sunbeams into the glass, piercing our sight. These questions from little mouths, learning about and processing thoughts on faith, drawing connections between Heaven and Earth, make parents constantly indulge in thoughts about our beliefs. While we may not doubt God, the re-telling of our beliefs reinforces our own faith. We look at the whys of our convictions from new angles, with new perspectives. These little people who drop crumbs on our floors and climb in our beds at unearthly hours of the morning are a means God uses to make us continue in the things WE have learned and been assured of, to strengthen our resolve as we continue trusting in Christ. God, as a loving Father, is revealed to us more clearly as we watch and hear these small creations learn, think, connect, and question.

There is a distinct reason that the Bible uses the analogies of parent and child and the language of generational continuance in faith over and over. Throughout history, stories of Scripture are given from one generation to another. Tell a few Bible stories that you learned as a child, share a few connections, and suddenly the faith of past generations meets the rising faith of future generations. Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Continue in the things that you have learned. Over and over, the plea is given from one generation of Christians to another – learn, believe, share, teach, remain steadfast.

This generational connection occurs between biological parents and children. It also occurs between spiritual parents and children. Paul refers to Timothy as his son in the faith. The analogy of parenting, of teaching and nurturing, while simultaneously growing and modeling, holds firm even beyond biological confines. This is discipleship in its most organic form. But, the incredible reality is this – we tend to think of parenting and discipleship as one sided and nothing could be further from the truth. I may not learn from my daughter in the sense that she is not teaching me Greek translations of the Bible. I may not learn new Biblical facts or figures from her. But God is using her existence and her questions to teach me more about His nature, His sovereignty, about His ordination, about His calling of sons and daughters to Himself. He is teaching me that His power to draw future generations goes beyond the stacks of commentaries, beyond the seminary degrees. Those things are needful, but He  transcends their presence and absence.

The concept of continuing in beliefs goes far beyond feeling empowered and inspired during a week of camp, a semester of Bible college, or a weekend conference. Rather, it is a way of life on the dripping rainy days, and in the routines of brilliant sunshine. Continuing means knowing or finding the answers to questions; it is the belief that finding unknown answers is a worthwhile endeavor. It is the understanding that questioning is normal and right and that God’s sovereignty is stronger than any doubt. Find one of your kids or a friend’s kid, or a kid who no one will hang out with. Let them ask you a few questions and you will suddenly view a broad canvas with God’s loving care surrounding you, stretching far away beyond yourself, arching over you, from one generation to another.

 

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, and Wonderful Day

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I woke startled, realizing I had slept later than planned. I stumbled into the hallway and noticed the Swiffer mop propped outside of the bathroom, left there by my husband, after an attempt at “post-sickness” bathroom cleaning. At 6:45am, my day commenced as I re-cleaned vomit from corners of the bathroom that I didn’t know existed– a bathroom that had JUST been scoured the previous day.

By 10:00am that morning I had re-scoured the bathroom, been spit up on multiple times, and changed my children’s clothing twice each, thanks to typical small child issues. I was annoyed, aggravated that some days make life seem like a sadistic wheel of repeated tasks, trapping me, messing with my mind. As one task finished, another mess sat laughing at me from the corner. On top of my aggravation, I expressed my frustration in a way that made my little girl cover her face with her hands, in tears. I hate seeing her suffer at the expense of my own shortcomings.  It was, an epic failure of a day, as a parent, as a human.

As I considered how the day had gone, and how it should have gone, I tried to tell myself that everyone has “those days.” I tried to think of ways I could be a better parent and wife. I tried to remember that some days I am a great parent, who is patient and fun.   Surely those good parenting days outweigh the bad parenting days.

Reality often crumbles the pedestals we camp out on. The reality is that every day we live is an epic failure – without Christ’s redeeming power. We have no goodness of our own, no strength within ourselves to be patient, kind, loving, and wise. No matter how hard we try. Our hope can only be in Christ and His gospel that transforms us. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

What does this truth of failure and transformation mean for us? Christ, as our Savior, is sitting at God’s right hand, interceding for us, saving us, keeping us, even as we show our sinful natures to our children. And, He is also able to help us live well with our family and others. (Romans 8:34) Through the power of Christ’s work on the cross for us, He has taken our self proclaimed good days, which are like polluted garments, (Isaiah 64:6) and our bad days that are equally trashy and scoured them clean Himself. He removes the need for our pitiful human efforts and makes us instead, into treasures redeemed for His glory.

The words from the hymn, Arise My Soul, Arise, came to my mind.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
 His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
 His blood atoned for all our race,
 And sprinkles now the throne of grace.”  

 When I wrench life away from my children by wounding their spirit, Christ’s blood remains poured out. It atones for my horrific, life quenching sins. That blood covers our acknowledged “bad” days, and our piously “good” days. His blood is sufficient to draw out children to redemption despite our best and worst efforts.  The implication for us is that, as His children, Christ is interceding for us. His blood, poured out once, has paid for our sin – not just one time, but through every single moment of each day.

Our days on Earth are only of value to our families, to our churches, or to our workplaces as Christ’s redemption is realized in our lives. While our children should not suffer at their parents’ expense, it is important to remember that God is a powerful Father, working in their hearts to teach them the neediness of humanity and the beauty of redemptive transformation. Despite our best efforts, He is the one who captures and keeps their souls. We are to be responsible stewards, but even our stewardship is empowered by the cross.

The truth is that without those terrible, horrible, no good days, we would fail to see and want the wonderful reality of His grace. On the days when frustration builds and threatens to trample us, we see our need for the cross. Without these days we would sail through our lives, proud of our abilities and righteousness. The next time that epic day of failure comes to visit we can give thanks for our scars, confident that Christ has battled sin and won for us. We embrace His strength, knowing that in this strength, we are not captive to scars, wounds, and failures, but freed and living by His mercy.

Reciting When the Winds Shift

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When the year shifts and the breezes come in from a different direction, the air swoops in from an unknown place. With new air comes restlessness, bringing with it questions about life and mulling about identity and wondering what the present tense will look like in the future. When questions and mulling come, doubt and demons sneak through the cracks in armor, riding on the breeze in through the chinks. Suddenly people seem judgmental. Life seems threatening. Retreat seems the most inviting option. Hiding looks like a palpable answer. But instead one breath at a time keeps life moving forward.

This is the point in time that professionals tell their clients to think positively, to rehearse their dreams, to visualize their goals.

It is at this intersection of life that rehearsing the goodness of God drives a person farther to real success than any visualization of dreams ever could.

It’s June. Exactly a year ago, I had a brand new baby and a few brand new ideas. I was emotionally and mentally finished with working in an office doing mindless work all day. But I had no idea where to turn. I had a small bit of teaching experience, a masters in Teaching, a blog, too many years of administrative work on my resume, a toddler, and a new born.

It’s been a year. The prayer I prayed for months leading up to last June was for employment where I could spend more time with my children, forge into a more fulfilling career,  and for provision of our tangible needs. Terrified, I made choices where no clear path was cut in the jungle.

Running through the warm summery, morning air, I thought about the choices I made. No matter what we do, dragons and demons blow fire across our paths and serpents try to convince us, as they swirl around overhanging tree branches, that our failures equal God’s failure to us. That our doubts exist because God is not good and does not really want our happiness.

But just as the nation of Israel shouted with a loud noise, crashing down the walls of Jericho, so the noise of our voices, both aloud and silently, speaking the goodness and care of God annihilates the vassals of the Destroyer.

I spoke to myself and to God, remembering my prayer. More time with my children, in order to be their mother. A more fulfilling career path. Provision of tangible needs. And as I spoke, I recognized that all of these items were specifically answered in the past 12 months, in ways I would never have planned or initiated without God’s loving care and brilliant sovereignty.  Obviously, I would like to kick back and rest, knowing my career is set, my parenting skills are perfected, my financial investments well managed.  I would like to think that every choice I make will have fabulous consequences that will play out for the rest my life and my children’s lives. But God gives manna, not lottery winnings. The “happily ever after” is reserved for Heaven, not Earth.

And so we rehearse prayers answered, promises found, and goodness felt, over and over, telling ourselves, telling our children, that all things work together for good for those who are called of God, whether it’s sunshine for our picnics or rain on our parades.

The words from Be Still My Soul wander through the breezy air.  “Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain.” And as I leave the ordering and providing, I keep reminding myself of His faithful remaining.

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For fathers, for children of fathers

Never mind “Faith of Our Fathers.” Below is a hymn for fathers, for those who wish they were fathers. It is a hymn for the children of fathers and for the fatherless and for those who feel emptiness instead of a father’s love. It is the pleading offer from God the Father to look at His Son and be His Child. To quench your thirst in the water that He wants you to drink. It is the voice of the open heart of God, seeking to heal, to hold, to be a father. For anyone who finds Father’s Day hard, or any other day for that matter, for those adore God because of their fathers or who worship God in spite of their fathers, the invitation to drink this life giving water knows no categorical qualifications. This is a hymn for the father who pursues faith and works to cultivate redemptive grace throughout his home.

Never mind the faith of our fathers (or the lack of faith in some fathers.) Their faith, while a valuable legacy, cannot quench our thirst. While our heritage may be in pleasant places, each of us must come to the waters. The father who had no faith does not negate his child’s ability to take this healing offer. No one is marred beyond the repair that our Father has ability to unmangle. Cynicism is never more powerful than grace.

And so we read these words and absorb them. We sit equal to each other, a needy people. We are each given the offer to be a child of a Father, part of a family, fully whole. Come and drink deeply.

 

Come to the Waters
James Montgomery Boice

Come to the waters, whoever is thirsty; drink from the Fountain that never runs dry. Jesus, the Living One, offers you mercy, life more abundant in boundless supply.

Come to the River that flows through the city, forth from the throne of the Father and Son. Jesus the Savior says, “Come and drink deeply.” Drink from the pure, inexhaustible One.

Come to the Fountain without any money; buy what is given without any cost. Jesus, the gracious One, welcomes the weary; Jesus, the selfless One, died for the lost.

Come to the Well of unmerited favor; stretch out your hand; fill your cup to the brim. Jesus is such a compassionate Savior. Draw from the grace that flows freely from him.

Come to the Savior, the God of salvation. God has provided an end to sin’s strife. Why will you suffer the Law’s condemnation? Take the free gift of the water of life.

(http://www.reformedresources.org/music/hymns-for-a-modern-reformation-booklet/)

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