This Time I will Praise the LORD

My post is a little different today. Instead of my own thoughts, I’m sharing a story of a sweet friend and young mom. Our girls met and lived with her in Africa. Keely became like a sister to them. Her (along with her now hubby and 2-yr old son) journey over the last 6 months is one of heartache and triumph.
But it’s mostly a story of God’s presence.

Today, August 7, her little boy met Jesus. I share the story of Judah … as told by his mom, along the way…

img_1344


Feb 1 

Finn’s sharing the news! These Beasleys are going to be a family of four come August. We’re over the moon and can’t wait to meet our tiniest little.

April 17img_1345
Mama and Baby Brother, Week 23 

Oh, friends, what a journey these past few weeks have been for all four Beasleys. After our first ultrasound of Baby Beas raised some concerns, we were referred to a perinatologist for a closer look. He too had concerns, even more than we expected. The weeks that followed held several doctor visits, a round of tests for mama, and lots of waiting for us all. Prayers upon prayers. Today, at last, a diagnosis: little brother has Trisomy 13, a very rare and severe chromosomal disorder. Many babies with T13 are lost in the womb, and of those that make it to term, most will not live past their first week of life.

Our doctors have suspected this diagnosis for some time, so today’s news does not feel new or shocking to us. We have felt nearly everything one could over these past few weeks from despair to hope, deep heartache to amusement over our tiny, twelve-fingered son ☺️.
We are learning to have much grace with ourselves as we process, grieve, hope, and walk forward into each day that we’ve been given with our little boy. He is still growing and kicking and is seen minute by minute by our God who loves him even more than we do. We‘ve felt God so near, the Holy Spirit bring so much comfort, and been reminded throughout these providential weeks of Eastertide that we are people who live daily in light of the resurrection, hope and life that flows from suffering and death. We know and trust that God is working out a beautiful resurrection story in our lives and the life of this little boy. This is not the journey we expected, and not one we would have asked for, but goodness, how greatly we have seen God’s kindness and mercy in these hard and tiring days. Thank you, sweet friends and family, who have already started this journey with us. We love you all more than you know and are thankful to celebrate the life of this little boy with you, for all the days that we have him. #trisomy13

img_1339April 21
Since the first days we learned of little brother’s diagnosis it has been our wish to find a meaningful name for him. We’ve been eager to call him by name, to speak of him by name, to pray for him by name. In the Bible, Leah, burdened by her reality, seeks comfort in her ability to bear children. After three little ones, she is drawn beyond herself, and casts her eyes on the Lord. What she believed would bring her joy and contentment was never meant to fully satisfy. “And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ Therefore she called his name Judah.” Judah. “Praise,” “Confess the name of God.” A name of strength and certainty. She had learned to praise God despite her circumstances. Our sweet Judah, even in his earliest weeks of life, has already led us to praise the name of the Lord time and time again. To see His goodness and kindness, despite our suffering. Lawrence, Aaron’s middle name and one that has been passed down through several generations, is one given to our son in love. A reminder that he is now and forever our family. Judah Lawrence Beasley, we love you so much. #trisomy13 #judahlawrence
May 6
There have been some hard days this week. As Judah continues to grow and I get farther along in pregnancy, the anticipation of what’s to come feels heavier and heavier. It has made me often feel physically tired. Pregnancy is long. Your body goes through so much. Then labor. Then months of healing and recovery. But those things are mixed in this beautiful, wonderful way with the arrival of a new little life to enjoy and learn and know. Today I am weary of the thought of one without the other. I feel it deeply. I sometimes question what to share and what to keep to myself, after all these are such tiny glimpses in days of living. We still hope. We still remind each other of truth. But these hard, weary days are part of Judah’s story too and we need to welcome them in, in all their discomfort. #trisomy13 #judahlawrence

June 11img_1349
The time we’ve had with “our judah lawrence” has opened our eyes to see God’s provision and love for our family so plainly. I can’t tell you how many of our prayers have been answered, just in the last few weeks. He has provided rest, connection with a family who has also walked this road, a trained hypnobirthing instructor willing to freely share her knowledge and training with us out of her own generosity, an abundance of dear friends who have and are continuing to share their various gifts to deeply bless our family in these months, and so much more. Thank you, Judah, for opening our eyes. Your life has already changed us. In these months we have surely seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living because of your meaningful life. You are a gift to us. 

img_1340June 18
All the feels over here as I look at this photo from our ultrasound today. Tiny, snuggly, heartbreakingly sweet Judah, who kept smiling while we watched. Next to it a check from the church we were a part of in PA, sent freely as a love offering for us to use as needed. Grace upon grace. As we learn more about crafting our birth plan for Judah, receive new resources from our doctors and care team, and read more stories from other families who have lost a baby, we hear reminders from every direction of how important it is to have a network of care. That having support from friends and family is invaluable as we prepare to meet Judah and as we enter the grieving process. I could cry buckets for how thankful we are for each and every one of you. You all have watched Finn for us when we’ve had long doctor appointments, you’ve given financially, you’ve spoken words of love and encouragement, you’ve sent gifts, you’ve prayed, you’ve wept with us, you’ve admired his tiny ultrasound photos with us, you’ve offered yourselves as helpers for when Judah finally arrives, and so much more. You have tangibly reminded us of God’s deep and vast love for our family. I’ve never experienced anything so humbling than being on the receiving end of so much hospitality, kindness, and love. It speaks the Gospel to us again and again. Thank you, dear ones, for showing us that we are not alone or forgotten, but seen, known, and loved. #ourjudahlawrence

June 25

“Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to your God to order and provide;
in every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul, your best, your heavenly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul, the God does undertake
to guide the future as He has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious will be bright at last.
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds
still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on
when we will be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we will meet at last.”

“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep; and they woke him up and said, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ The wind ceased, and there was calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” | The Gospel Hymn, The Gospel Reading • All Saints, June 24

July 13
There are days that feel heavier than others. Yesterday was one. The nearer we get to Judah’s due date, the more it sinks in that our time with him on earth is coming closer to its end. We make countless decisions and process logistics for his arrival which gives us some measure of comfort but what we really want in the depths of our hearts is a healthy baby boy. We speak extra words of truth to each other on these harder days when we feel saddened by those who avoid acknowledging Judah for fear of saying the wrong the thing, or when strangers in the grocery store ask when I’m due and if I must be excited for Finn to have a brother, or we buy milk and realize that by the time of its expiration, Judah may be with Jesus.
We feel our God draw nearer still to us on these days. And we take a moment to gather up treasures from friends and loved ones, thanking Him for these tiny, tangible reminders of love for our sweet boy. Today I see God’s kindness in a basket of blueberries, and the eyes to see it have been given to me by my son. #ourjudahlawrence #trisomy13

img_1338

July 18
Little Judah bear and me at 36 weeks ☺️ Today was our last scheduled ultrasound before we meet our little boy face to face in the coming weeks. His growth is right on track! 5 pounds and 13 ounces today, all snuggled up like a cozy little pretzel. Judah, we love you so. #ourjudahlawrence #trisomy13

August 2img_1342
The sweetest gauze outfit handmade by dear friend… This week has felt like such an advent in our lives. Judah is coming and with anticipation we wait for the holy, sacred moment of his arrival. God is with us. Dear ones have waited with us, speaking truth and hope to us in our moments of deepest heartache. We’ve known such deep fellowship. People are praying. Fasting. Interceding for our family. It is often hard to describe the overwhelming power of God we have experienced, ushered in by the life of our son. Even this morning our home has felt like a sanctuary. God is so near. The prayers of the saints so palpable.
“Jesus’ death continues to bear fruit through all whose death is like his death, a death for others. In this way, dying becomes the way to an everlasting fruitfulness. We touch here the most hope-giving aspect of our death. Jesus says, ‘In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest’ (Jn. 12:24).  This is the mystery of Jesus’ death and of the deaths of all who lived in his Spirit. Their lives yield fruit far beyond the limits of their short existence” (Henri Nouwen).
Thank you, dear and faithful family, for waiting with us. Praise to you, Lord Christ. #trisomy13 #patausyndrome

August 4
Our precious Judah Lawrence is here!! Born alive around 3:30am, weighing 7 lbs. We are in love and praising God for answering so many prayers that have brought us to this unbelievable, sweet moment. We are well, sleepy, and snuggling with our sweet boy. #ourjudahlawrence

August 5
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Praising God for waking this morning to lots of snuggles at home with Finnegan James and “our judah lawrence.”
Judah, you’re a whole day old! Thanks be to God!

Little Judah bear is snoozing on the back pew. Oh what a miracle and joy that he could meet his sweet church family today!

August 6
Another day with “our judah lawrence”! Thank you, God, for these sweet days we have to treasure. Our hearts are so full of gratitude for this time and for the prayers of so many that have bathed our days in peace and rest. God is powerful and good. ❤️ #trisomy13

August 7
Judah is with Jesus ❤️ This morning has been so powerful and so peaceful. We had the most perfect morning as a family of four. It was quiet, we ate breakfast together, and felt so thankful for the most ordinary of moments enjoyed together. As soon as we finished breakfast, Judah passed quickly and peacefully. No struggle, no panic, no pain. We didn’t feel scared or alarmed. Friends, family, and pastors came, we prayed and wept and rejoiced together. Everyone left and we said our last earthly goodbye to Judah bear. God has answered a thousand prayers and we have been recounting them all this morning. We feel His presence in our home so strongly that it feels like we can see and touch Him. Like the fourth person in the furnace in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago. We could not have imagined a sweeter way to say farewell to him. Judah Lawrence, our sweet son, you have been the very best gift. We love you now and always. ❤️ #ourjudahlawrence #trisomy13

img_1336
Aaron and Keely Beasley with
JUDAH LAWRENCE
A name … of strength and certainty.

Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go

reckless love

Scandalous: causing general public outrage by a perceived offense against morality or law.
Reckless: rash; showing no regard for consequences.

I am fairly certain that I was born a skeptic. But when I was re-born, Jesus began the process of transforming me through the study of His word and the power of the Spirit (Romans 12, 2 Cor 5, Eph 4, Col 1, Titus 3). Slowly, but surely, I’m exchanging cynicism and a critical spirit for hopeful expectation. While I will never reach perfection this side of heaven, I am thankful that I have seen progress. There’s evidence that Jesus is working on and in me to make me what I ought to be (or maybe I should say, who I am now in Christ).

One of the most evident – but SLOW – changes in me has been my perspective, especially as it pertains to the love of God. I was graced to have been born to an extremely loving father. Even so, overcoming misunderstood ideas about the perceived conditions of God’s love has been a challenging battle in my soul. I have gone to war in my mind and heart many times … rehearsing the Truth and rejecting the confusion and misconceptions. To fully believe that God’s love for me has nothing to do with my behavior or performance has been a lifelong pursuit. Grasping the truth that my obedience is to be FROM love rather than FOR love did not happen immediately. Being the score-keeping, rule-following fairness police that I am, I have had to be very intentional to sing the songs and speak the words of Truth to my soul. In my human frailty, I can not reconcile such mercy being shown to me without me earning it in some way. The fact that the gracious Father demonstrated His love to me while I was a sinner is nearly inconceivable! (Rom 5:8)

“The condescension of God towards penitent sinners is very great. He seems to stoop from His throne of glory to fall upon the neck of a repentant sinner. God on the neck of a sinner! What a wonderful picture! Can you conceive it? I do not think you can; but if you cannot imagine it, I hope that you will realize it. When God’s arm is about our neck, and His lips are on our cheek, kissing us much, then we understand more than preachers or books can ever tell us of His condescending love.” Spurgeon

Several years ago I read a book by Elyse Fitzpatrick that was deeply impactful (Because He Loves Me). In it, she emphasizes how the extreme forms of both legalism and lawlessness completely miss the heart of God. I have had to repeat to remember: God loves me … because He loves me. His love is based solely on His character, not mine. Paul tried to describe this kind of love as he prayed for the saints. But as much as he did comprehend it, there was even more depth to it than he could fully grasp. There’s a sense in which we should pray to know “the length and width, height and depth of God’s love”, but even still it “surpasses knowledge.”
As recent conversations have occurred in Christian circles regarding lyrics to a popular song, I have pondered the arguments and have concluded that words like “reckless” and “scandalous” are not inappropriate nor do they misrepresent God’s nature. In fact, I think they communicate exactly what a skeptical heart like mine needs to hear and know.

In Matthew 11, the enemies of Jesus mockingly called Him a friend of sinners. And thankfully, He WAS! The very calling of His life was to enter into our world to save us … sinners as we were.
The love of Jesus WAS scandalous—it offended people, it shocked people, and it ultimately made them mad enough to kill Him. It was also reckless. Jesus showed love to widows and lepers and prostitutes and the diseased and the tax collectors and the children. He was consistently rebuked but showed no regard (humanly speaking) for the consequences of publicly demonstrating such mercy. In fact, He often used these opportunities to tell stories and make the outcasts the heroes. What it must have been like to be a witness to that scandalous moment when Jesus made a Samaritan the “good guy.” Or the time the tax collectors came to Jesus with their questions and the religious leaders were infuriated: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (They thought they were insulting Him.) So very little did they understand the Father’s mercy and goodness that it paralyzed them from moving toward Him. Even still Jesus was undeterred in His mission to help them see what great love the Father has shown to us rebels. As if to strike a massive blow to their legalistic hearts, He then began to share the story of stories about the heart of God that is in contrast to the self-reliance that leaves us empty. It’s a story about a Father’s love so great that it’s lavished on the most undeserving of all. A story about a father who would run toward his rebellious son with open arms of celebration, while the loyal and law-abiding son stood bitterly in the shadows, blinded by his cynical and jealous mindset.

“In this story, the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well. Paul writes: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses’ (2 Corinthians 5). Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal [reckless; extravagant] toward us, His children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience.” Keller

So I preach and sing to my soul again and again. It’s so true: to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky. The more I know of His love, the more I realize how impossible it is to fully comprehend such love. It truly is amazing … that the sovereign God of the universe would literally love me to death.

The love of God is greater than we dare to hope or dream!
The hold of God is stronger than we dare to hope or dream!

Overflow: Because He has Blessed Us

because

Because the Lord our God has blessed us.
Deuteronomy 12:7

I have always delighted in a weekend get-away that includes road trips, eating out, laughing with friends, singing with a bunch of saints, and bible study. I’ve been graced with many opportunities to engage in and enjoy wonderful times like this. I usually return home spiritually refreshed (though physically exhausted) and re-energized. There’s something about being together with others in an uninterrupted time of focus like a conference, that unifies us and also solidifies what we heard and learned. The most recent event like this came on the heels of a week spent with my newly born grand-daughter. So, after two amazing weeks, I was exceedingly pumped as I prepared for my re-entry into the world of routine, even as we arrived in the wee hours of Sunday morning after a 15-hr drive home.
Worshiping with my church family at SCBC kept me alert and revived until I crashed for my afternoon nap. I made myself get up long enough to make it to our Life Group last night, and I’m always glad when I do.

But Monday. 🙂
The Monday after such an incredible few days can sometimes be a letdown. In reality, a weekend like I just had could never be sustained. Life just isn’t like that (well, mine isn’t). Getting away, eating at our favorite spots, staying in a really nice hotel, moment by moment being surrounded by thousands of women who desire to grow in the grace of Christ, and hours of singing & praying & studying God’s word … this isn’t what my norm is. Daily life is more like cooking and cleaning and laundry and planning and work (with some nice little coffee breaks sprinkled in).
And today it happens that it’s about 50° and raining … in JUNE!! While that’s great weather for napping all day, it’s not particularly great for feeling motivated and energized.

So when I awakened this morning, I had a choice. I could wallow in the dreary weather of a Monday, or I could bask in the beauty of the Lord. By God’s grace, I have chosen to remember and rehearse all the good things. I decided to fill my heart with the joy of knowing the goodness of God. Even though a weekend like I just had doesn’t represent all my days, I remain in the grip of a God who is good and faithful and true.

Every.Single.Day.

It is with that assurance that I have deliberately chosen joy.
I close my eyes and turn my thoughts to those recent sweet days of riding through God’s beautiful creation with my person. And those precious moments of holding my new grand-daughter, of reading to and playing with my grandsons, and of time spent with my daughter and son-in-love.
I smile, thinking about how my sister and I were able to steal a few minutes from our schedule to see our parents and eat lunch with a friend we met in Israel. I always cherish the time spent with my sis. She so enjoys life and even a moment with her always bring silliness and laughter.
I glance over at the stack of resources I gained at the conference, and I know that I haven’t come close to grasping all that I heard from the messages in Deuteronomy this weekend. I have plenty to keep me pondering for days. And what a joy it is to have experienced it all with great friends, which included my sis and one of my daughters!

So on this Monday morning, I’m not sitting here all blue.
I’m standing here, all amazed.

In reflecting on the theme of the conference, which was “Listen and Live”, I can’t help but remind myself to remember these impact words: Listen. Live.
We focused on the bible book of Deuteronomy, and as we did so we considered the promised grace for rebel hearts. I don’t say this flippantly: there was not a weak spot in the conference. Every speaker, panel and song spoke to my rebel heart. Since we have recently concluded a series in Romans at our church, the way that Deuteronomy was tied together with the gospel message found in that NT book, it was even more meaningful to dig into the passages.

It would be impossible to pick a favorite session, but there was a statement by DA Carson that seemed to sum up the conference for me. Actually, it kinda sums up my life. It’s found in Deuteronomy 12:7 and answers the question, ‘WHY has the Lord blessed me so?’ It’s the kind of answer that settles everything, yet leaves us bewildered. It’s the kind of answer that provides deep abiding peace when filtered through the unchanging truths of God, but that provokes angst when in my humanity I try to reconcile things too high and deep for me. It’s not the kind of answer we should always give our children (since we’re flawed), but it is the kind of answer that we must humbly receive from our good, good Father.

Why has the LORD blessed me so? Because He has blessed me! 🙂

The rest of the chapter in Deuteronomy, and really the whole book, contains a picture of a God who keeps His covenant because He’s a covenant-keeping God, and not because we are a covenant-keeping people. We worship God because He is worthy of our worship. We have received grace upon grace because God is a Giver of grace. Every good gift … every single one … has been bestowed on me by the Father simply because He decided to give them. Any other kind of thinking does not grasp the character of the God of the scriptures: Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. By His own choice, He gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
I’m the recipient of God’s goodness and grace, because He’s chosen to be the giver of these gifts. Why? Because He has blessed me.

If tomorrow holds blessing, nothing about God has changed.
If tomorrow holds heartache, nothing about God has changed.
If tomorrow holds gain, nothing about God has changed.
If tomorrow holds loss, nothing about God has changed.

Since He is worthy of my praise simply because He’s God, joy in Him is not limited to certain days. My lifesong is rooted in the truth of these words: “by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home”. God has given me the pleasure of pleasing Him with my worship through obedience, driven by His grace. He would never command anything He doesn’t care about. Surrendering our lives to Him in obedience should not be because we desire to make ourselves look good, but because we desire to make Him look good.
Why has He blessed me with such grace – the grace that will lead me home?
Because He has blessed me.

Behold the bright and risen Son, more beauty than this world has known.
I’m face to face with love Himself – His perfect spotless righteousness.
A thousand years, a thousand tongues, are not enough to sing His praise!!

I’ve Always Loved You the Best

favorite2

One of the best compliments a parent can receive is when all of their children think they are “the favorite.” When we raised our kids, it was definitely no easy task to send that signal to each of them. In fact, I’m pretty sure we didn’t always do it well. And let’s face it, most kids go through seasons where they make liking them nearly impossible!

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I have been thinking about the difficult task parents of multiple children have when attempting to instill in them that they are all equally loved and valued. Our kids remember that when they whined about our unfair treatment related to a sibling, we’d often say it was because “we like them better.” Most all parents understand that delicate balance of communicating the reality that fairness doesn’t always mean equal.

For several years (pre-Josh), I kept the following newspaper column on my fridge. This year I remembered it again and wanted to share the goodness. Because whether we have 3 kids or 13, a mama’s love is big enough to love them all the best

To the First-born: I’ve always loved you best because you were our first miracle. You were the genesis of a marriage, the fulfillment of young love, the promise of our infinity.
You sustained us through the hamburger years. The first apartment furnished in Early Poverty … our first mode of transportation (1955 feet) … the 7-inch television set we paid on for 36 months.
You wore new, had unused grandparents and more clothes than a Barbie doll. You were the “original model” for unsure parents trying to work the bugs out. You got the strained lamb and three-hour naps.
You were the beginning.

To the Middle Child: I’ve always loved you the best because you drew a dumb spot in the family and it made you stronger.
You cried less, had more patience, wore faded, and never in your life did anything “first,” but it only made you more special. You are the one we relaxed with and realized a dog could kiss you and you wouldn’t get sick. You could cross a street by yourself long before you were old enough to get married, and the world wouldn’t come to an end if you went to bed with dirty feet.
You were the continuance.

To the Baby: I’ve always loved you the best because endings generally are sad and you are such a joy. You readily accepted the mild-stained bibs. The lower bunk. The cracked baseball bat. The baby book, barren but for a recipe for graham cracker pie crust that someone jammed between the pages.
You are the one we held onto so tightly. For you see, you are the link with the past that gives a reason for tomorrow. You darken our hair, quicken our steps, square our shoulders, restore our vision, and give us humor that security and maturity can’t give us.
When your hairline takes on the shape of Lake Erie and your children tower over you, you will still be “the Baby.”
You were the culmination.

Erma Bombeck

To my seven “kids” (even the ones grafted in through marriage): I truly love you all THE BEST. Each one of you makes our family better in different ways.
It’s a wonderful joy to be a mama.

His Mercy is More and Ours Should be Too

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2

I have been the one!

The one who interrupted the scene with judgmental thoughts. When I have encountered someone who goes against the flow of what I’ve always thought, I have been the one who abruptly thought or said: that’s just dumb. My initial reaction has been to dismiss the person and to disregard their history that may have influenced their way of thinking/acting. That attitude was a reflection of my own heart. It became a stubborn way of living that is not based on the totality of God’s love. I thought I was living lovingly since I knew that biblical love “finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth”. But this kind of love is lacking the characteristics of what completes it. I was not bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. (I Cor 13)

I have been the one who judges the validity of someone based on what I see/perceive. I have been in circumstances way too often in which I assessed people and situations quickly and harshly, with very little consideration of what had occurred before that moment. I have given opinions that I considered righteous (and maybe they were), but my heart was filled with attitudes of moral superiority. I have assumed that the more I knew, the more it would only confirm my suspicions about a lack of credibility or innocence. So I have refused to look beyond the encounter, to understand the why.

I have been the one to object to the misdemeanors of life. As a rule keeper (generally), I tend to criticize the law breakers – or benders.
I have gloated when the one who sped past me on the highway is now sitting on the side of the road in front of a car with blue lights.
I have cheered when a cheating team loses.
I have assumed that the one trying to break in the line of a long string of traffic (that has all moved over and waited in the correct lane) is a spoiled entitled brat.
I have defended the gate-keepers who make the rules, define the rules, adjust the rules, and maintain the rules.

Yes, I am the one who has dismissed and excused my own feelings of disdain toward others because I have qualified the feelings as “justified or righteous indignation.”

But God!
His mercy has chased me all the days of my life. The gospel has been as effective in growing me daily as it was in saving me initially. Thankfully, in the more recent years of my life, I’ve prayed for God’s grace to permeate my heart with the kind of love that sees beyond what is right in front of me. The kind that reminds me that there’s much more to the story than I possibly know. The kind that seeks to understand, not just to be understood. In this process, I’ve wrestled with thoughts about how scripture speaks to my sinful Pharisaical attitude toward those who are not like me. Some of those have other opinions. Some have grown up in a very difficult environment. And some are a different color than I am, and have experienced life from a perspective quite unlike mine.
I finally begin to choose to wait. And listen. And learn.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life thinking that my truth-telling, rule-keeping kind of Christianity is essential for society to function well. And though these aren’t evil characteristics, apart from love they can hinder the witness of the person who desires to walk the Jesus Way. Leaving little or no room for mercy can lead to frustration and cynicism, which is actually a detriment to society. It’s simply another form of entitlement. Some feel entitled because of their economic status. Or age. Or race. Or nationality. Or position of authority. OR … their law-abiding, hard-working, self-motivated, minding-your-own-business philosophy. Yep , I can feel entitled to be the judge of people that appear entitled! 🙂
It’s interesting that the book of the Bible that would speak so much about joyful living contains the following thoughts: “But in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2)
The joy that I’ve discovered as I consider others before myself has far outweighed the satisfaction I may have felt when the lawbreaker “got their’s”. I have found that peace has come from seeking to enter another’s injury and really hear their pain.
There is definitely a place and time for judgment, but that’s not to be my initial or personal heart response. And there has been so much freedom that comes in releasing myself from the mission to always speak up in defense of my version of fairness! Because it’s just possible that what a person has experienced explains a great deal about their actions. And I want to extend a merciful disposition and listening ear to their stories.

How shall we know when to do justice and how to show mercy?
By getting as close to Jesus as you possibly can. I know of no hard and fast rules in Scripture to dictate for every situation. And I don’t think this is an accident. The aim of Scripture is to produce a certain kind of person, not provide and exhaustive list of rules for every situation.
The beatitude says, “Blessed are the merciful,” not, “Blessed are those who know exactly when and how to show mercy in all circumstances.” We must be merciful people even when we act with severity in the service of justice. That is, we must be:
poor in spirit,
sorrowful for our own sin,
meekly free from defensiveness and self-exaltation,
hungering and thirsting for all that is right to be done,
perceptive of a person’s distress and misery,
feeling pity for his pain,
and making every effort to see the greatest good done for the greatest number.
You will often support the claims of justice and recompense a person the way he deserves, in order to bear witness to the truth of God’s justice and to accomplish a greater good for greater numbers of people.
But if you are a merciful person, then even the way you spank a child or prosecute a criminal or dismiss an employee will be different. The mercy will show. The parent may cry. The attorney may visit the criminal and his family. The employer may pay for remedial training.
The heart of mercy will show.
(John Piper)

More and more I have come to realize that Jesus’ scales of measuring are so different than mine. In my human nature (void of the Spirit), I measure circumstances and people by the standards of justice that I’ve personally created. I want “those bad people” to be punished immediately, and I want the punishment to be administered my way. It should happen quickly and must also meet my standard of fairness. That standard includes known scripture as well as the laws of the land. Mostly, the standard has been determined through years of personal experiences and how those experiences relate to the known commandments or laws.

I am still in the process of uncovering these subtle and hidden sins of assumption and pride. I continue to pray for and pursue a heart that listens out of sincere love for others – believing the best about them and hoping the best for them. So, these days when I turn on the news or read the most recent social media debate (some would say debacle) it’s best to turn to prayerful consideration of how Jesus lived and taught. His was a life of perfect paradox: He personally submitted to authority because He possessed a high view of righteousness and justice, but He publicly spoke against accusation and retaliation because He possessed a high view of mercy. (Luke 23)
The law-abiding religious leaders needed lessons in humility. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God would include mercy for the Samaritans, for women, for children, for the poor, for the leper, for the prostitute, for the thief (on the cross) …
and for ME!

What love could remember no wrongs we have done?
Omniscient, all knowing, He counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore,
our sins they are many,
His mercy is more!

What patience would wait as we constantly roam?
What Father, so tender, is calling us home?
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor!
Our sins they are many,
His mercy is more.

What riches of kindness he lavished on us.
His blood was the payment, His life was the cost.
We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford.
Our sins they are many,
His mercy is more!

Praise the Lord!
His mercy is more!
Stronger than darkness, new every morn!
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more!!

My Hope: An Answer, not an Argument

resting.place

My heart is leaning on the Word, the written Word of God.
Salvation by my Savior’s name, salvation through His blood.
I need no other argument, I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.

My faith looks up … and in … and beyond. Faith provides the lens through which I see everything.

The leadership development company I work for teaches principles that encourage people to assess their own potential for leadership – in their jobs, their families, their communities and even within themselves. The philosophy of the company is rooted in the foundational belief that everyone possesses a worldview in which they see everything. That worldview shapes how we live, why we live, what we appreciate, what we reject, what we love and what we hate.
My worldview has at its foundation a faith in Jesus Christ – the One in whom I’ve placed my trust.

I’ve been thinking lately about where my faith rests. Although a quick word study will most often produce information about “faith” in religious terms, it’s interesting to note that one definition of faith is “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” At first glance, that bothered me a little. No proof?!? Then I realized that the bible says basically the same thing!
In a particular verse of scripture that I’d probably cite to define what kind of faith I have, the different versions include these words: assurance, conviction, certainty, evidence, confidence and proof. Good, solid words. What’s a little unusual is that all these words are linked with the phrase “what is not seen/what is unseen“. So, in essence, my faith does indeed rest in a firm (certain and confident) belief in something (Someone) for which there is no present proof (unseen).  And this kind of faith has led me to a specific Faith.  A Christian Faith. [For clarity purposes, I’m going to distinguish my specific Faith – that is, Christ-based- by making it a proper noun.] In other words, this hopeful certainty in what I can’t yet see has produced in me a “firm belief in God and in the doctrines of the Christian (Jesus Christ-based) religion, based on intellectual assent and spiritual trust, which result in commitment and obedience to the One who provided my salvation.” (James 2)

One of my favorite things in life is listening to people share inspiring testimonies about how they came to Faith. I have heard testimonies of people who had been so destroyed by their personal choices that it sent them into a dark and downward spiral. Others have shared their stories of growing up with very little knowledge of God or the Bible, but hoping deep within their souls that surely there was more to life. I have been especially intrigued by the testimonies of a couple of friends who, after much research and great academic achievement, began to conclude that it was very unlikely there was a God at all.  As I listen to these, I am fascinated at the way God uses all kinds of means to bring unlikely people to Himself.
There are also those like me, who grew up with sincere Christian influences that taught them what the Bible says about Christ. These influences possessed a strong belief in the authority and reliability of scripture that had led them to a conclusion that Jesus was/is the only Way to eternal life.
Although the people in these stories have had different starting places, they all ended up at the same resting place. Eventually, each one was brought to a gospel understanding that led to belief that led to trust and faith in the Person of Jesus Christ for their salvation. Rooted in soulful consideration (mind and spirit), they all made a faith decision to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator God. A relationship made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son.

Calling the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” Mark 8:34

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. Rom 10:17

Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. Heb 11:6

Listening to people tell their faith stories brings me deep peace and joy.
But, in an attempt to understand others, I also like to observe and engage people who do not consider themselves people of Faith. It’s not always simple to converse with people who have strong opposing beliefs. The main thing I have noticed is that this Faith (grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone) can often stir up angst, anger and frustration within those who believe it to be ignorant or arrogant. The reality is that all too often the kind of faith that has convinced us of an unseen surety is not the kind that can be communicated by argument alone. Peter encourages us to never shy away from sharing the reason we have this hope within us (1 Peter 3), but he does so with a warning that we should maintain respect and gentleness. I think this implies that our faith may be met with skeptical questions and doubt. Even so, we share and live out our faith consistently and continually with graceful dispositions.

The natural man is no less certainly a man of faith than the spiritual, but his faith is in the ultimacy of something other than the Word of God. The spiritual man is no less certainly a man of reason than the natural, but his reason, like that of every man, functions within the perspective of his faith.
Edward T Ramsdell

Sharing our faith shouldn’t be rooted in a desire to convince someone of their wrong lifestyle or their wrong beliefs. If our kind of faith is rooted in the specific Faith I have mentioned, then we will understand that apart from the Spirit’s work, it will be impossible to convince someone that they need Jesus to save them. But if we are of The Faith, we will also never stop building relationships with people who are far from God, because we believe that coming near to Him is the only way to live forever. This belief should produce in us a deep longing for people to know the Jesus we know – the One who claimed to be The Way, the Truth and The Life (Jn 14). So even though people may push against our beliefs that to them seem foolish, if we are convinced the convictions are true, we can do nothing less than continue to make known our desire for them to build their life on this Faith.
If this Faith is indeed foundational to me, I simply can’t NOT talk about my faith. Because with my commitment to this Faith comes a mission to share it. Based on Christ’s teaching, they are inseparable. (Mt 5:16, Mt 28:19-20)

We will most certainly be met with skepticism and criticism. We will be challenged and condemned. We will be considered as fools and as foes. Even so, this should not shake our faith in our Faith. We won’t have an answer for every person with an argument against our beliefs. We may feel unprepared for those who wish to discredit what we cannot prove. Even so, do not lose our hope. We are ready again and again to share the reasons we have such hope. After all, God IS knowable (1 Cor. 2:11), even though we must stay mindful that He is simultaneously incomprehensible (Rom. 11:33–36). God CAN BE known, but He cannot be known completely (Deut. 29:29).

Thankfully, in the midst of the frenzy of disbelief and disrespect, I’ve found a hopeful resting place:
“Everyone who has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our Faith.” 1 Jn 5

Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Christian faith is incarnational. God became man; God with us.
But without the clarity of a well-informed, robust, scripturally-based Christian worldview, our engagement with the culture will be flawed. In Scripture, we are given the stable truths that must undergird our work in the world. The “imago dei” is the grounding for all of our interactions with others, including those on the other side of critical issues. The fall and its consequences for both individuals and communities clarify what is at the root of all of the world’s brokenness. And, the obedient work of Christ stands at the center of history, promising the restoration of all things and compelling us to make the invisible kingdom visible.
John Stonestreet

THE One Thing: Gaze on the Lord

398AE2A0-7947-42A4-97A8-071576E0978E

While I was conversing with friends recently, I mentioned to them some of the thoughts that had been rolling around in my head/heart. One of them laughed at the intensity and layers of the subject, and then acknowledged that it gave her something to ponder since most days she merely had marbles rolling around inside her mind. 🙂
That gave me a chuckle, but I confessed to her – again – that my overthinking is not pretty.
I overthink by pondering more than praying … I overthink by considering opinions of all the people more than the Word/words of God … I overthink by leaving too much space for doubt in my mind instead of submitting to a God who has declared that His “thoughts are not [my] thoughts, and ways are not [my] ways” … I overthink by being distracted by what’s in front of me, rather than dwelling on the One Who resides with/in me … I overthink by adopting the microwave mindset about deep things that can only be processed in the crockpot of eternity. Oh my goodness. “What a wretched woman I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Thankfully, the conversation with them made me face the reality that my overthinking has been in overdrive lately. (That’s a double negative in mindset language!) My mind is a whirlwind of thoughts as I take in lots of information at once. Yep, just like a plate of spaghetti noodles. The thoughts tend to be twisted around one another, stuck together but separate. They are thoughts with loose ends that can’t be tied up neatly. They appear in one place – that is, my mind – but they aren’t connected enough to bring me resolution or satisfaction.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a shelf within my reach that contains tidy boxes providing all the answers to life’s questions. We may live in the Information Age, but still I do not have the indisputable evidence I sometimes crave. You know, that one final answer that will settle it for all inquiring and doubtful minds. It truly pains me to read one of those agonizing conversations on social media. The ones in which no one can produce even one plausible explanation that would deflect the suspicions and cynicism of the critics. And there are so many layers to all.the.thoughts. New discoveries are being made in science, medicine, archaeology and more. With these discoveries, viewpoints take shape in brilliant minds. For some, previous impressions and beliefs are modified, adapted to make room for a new way of thinking based on the discovery.
Again, all.the.thoughts.

Typically, western culture regards an open-minded person to be more humble, generous and kind. It is a characteristic that is equated with positivity and growth. And even though most people will acknowledge that having a completely open mind isn’t beneficial, I have found that the majority of people who consider themselves intellectuals/thinkers regard people as ignorant who maintain concrete beliefs.

“If you have never changed your mind about some fundamental tenet of your belief, if you have never questioned the basics, and if you have no wish to do so, then you are likely ignorant. Before it is too late, go out there and find someone who, in your opinion, believes, assumes, or considers certain things very strongly and very differently from you, and just have a basic honest conversation. It will do both of you good.” Vera Nazarian

Hmmm. Wow!
Though I completely disagree, maybe it was essential for me to acknowledge my “need to know” for what it really is. It is insecurity, steeped in fear and pride. I am way too concerned that someone else may have considered and discovered something I haven’t. And if they have, maybe that will prove that I am ignorant. At the very least, I will look ignorant. So I read and I wonder and I fret.
But is all this thinking and pondering and doubting and questioning good for my soul? Should it consume me, night and day? My answer to myself is a resounding no. There is no amount of contemplating that will fully satiate my craving for complete understanding of everything. I am beginning to relate more and more with the feelings Solomon had when he wrote about the vanity of life in Ecclesiastes. After all my musing, I’m often left with even more uncertainty. That is, until …

Until I am still.
And remember the one thing.
“When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless … until I entered God’s sanctuary.” (Pm 73)

We all deal with a certain amount of busyness. For some (like me) it’s a busy mind. For some, it’s busy days. Some are always busy with work. And some are plain ol’ busybodies.
Being still before the Lord doesn’t mean laziness. It doesn’t mean we are spiritual or physical or mental sloths. It means that we pursue and maintain a peaceful heart and mind and soul in the midst of our questions. Like Mary, we are to choose the best thing. Like the Psalmist, we choose the one thing. They both knew the importance of gazing on the Lord. There was a confidence in His presence. They wouldn’t suddenly receive answers to everything. No, it was much better. They would receive the presence of God Himself. At the end of all his fretting, Solomon even agreed with their conclusion.

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately.
But beyond these, be warned: There is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.
Ecclesiastes 12

So, I think I’ll stick with Solomon’s conclusion rather than Nazarian’s. I resolutely refuse to open my mind for the purpose of changing the fundamental tenets of my belief just because someone will think I’m ignorant. I realize I can’t answer every critical thinker who wishes to unravel the threads of faith woven through scripture (and Christian history). Nor will I be able to reconcile every perceived contradiction that the skeptics argue. And I am most certainly incapable of producing undeniable evidence for all the doubters who ask for a sign.

What I am able to do is to rest my soul in Christ. Because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me UNTIL THAT DAY.

Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, and yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. For who has known the Lord’s mind, that  he may instruct Him?
But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2