MEanderings

A Pledge of Allegiance: One Christian, Under God

Younger generations are suspicious of biblical ethics. Older generations, of biblical justice. Jesus says you must have both if you are going to follow Him.
Word AND deed.
Grace AND Truth.
Love AND Law.
Ethics AND Justice.

‘You must repent” AND “Remember the poor.”
The slippery slope is an equal opportunity hazard. Some slip away from scriptures in favor of secular modernist culture, others in favor of religious traditionalist culture.
(Scott Sauls)

The+grass+withers+and+the+flowers+fade+but+the+Word+of+our+God+stands+forever+_+Hope+Ink+Art

Scripture.Alone.

Skeptics have always existed. They exist inside and outside the Church. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the ebb and flow of what is criticized and what is idolized within faith communities. This is especially noticeable with changes in culture over time. I don’t think I will admit to being in the older generation just yet, but I guess the reality is that I’m more in it than I am the younger one. I still most often find myself somewhere in the middle … especially when it comes to finding a place in the so-called culture war. As conversations seem to more and more include a variety of thoughts, I have recently been pondering the exclusivity and authority of the scriptures* and why it’s important to let The Word of God stand alone and above all the other words. In today’s culture, how can we rely on ancient scriptures alone to show us how to apply the ethics taught by and the social justice demonstrated in Jesus? Does the gospel that has been preserved really affirm both? I think it does! But I think we may be focusing in the wrong direction.

In an attempt to summarize the scripture’s teaching on salvation, Protestant Reformers made a very public return to the Bible and discovered the gospel in a newly profound and practical way.  A radical pronouncement that faith alone, not works, saves us was given along with four other statements of belief, including a belief about God’s Word – the Bible (the Book of books). A quote most often attributed to Martin Luther says: We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. With this in mind, and based on the combined writings of John, James and Paul, I think we could also say: We are to believe the scriptures alone, but the scriptures that enlighten us are never alone.
As James puts it: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does.

In my own quest to hold the tension of truth & grace, it’s a bit ironic that I look to the reliability of God’s Word to teach me about grace, but I also rely on grace to keep me trusting in the reliability of The Word. That’s the beautiful nature of the paradox that so often permeates the gospel story.  Looking to the OT book most quoted in the NT, the psalmists have some relevant and practical insight into what we should do with our questions and confusion in our present culture. Even in their doubt and discouragement, they clearly communicate the pleasure they find in God’s law by connecting it with their love for God Himself (Pm 119).
As the redeemed ones, we find ourselves in the very same place. If not kept in check, our thoughts and emotions can quickly default to forgetfulness and fretfulness when we look around at the condition of the world and also the conflict among people of faith. It’s in these times that we may find ourselves reaching an extreme conclusion on one side or the other.

“When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless …
until I entered God’s sanctuary.”
Pm 73

Today, on this side of the Cross, we enter God’s sanctuary through our life with Christ (Heb 4), spending our days getting to know Him intimately. The Psalms encourage us to do this by meditating on God’s Word. I think the case could be made from all of scripture that the intention is a meditation on God’s Word … alone. (ie., “day and night” “all wisdom” “God-breathed” “eternal”) We meditate on God’s all-sufficient words, found in His everlasting Word, that we may think deeply about God Himself.

We meditate to build our spiritual arsenal against the enemy’s schemes.
We meditate to prepare our minds and hearts to be ready for processing all the information we read or hear.
We meditate because Scripture guides us as we create our filters for all.the.things.
We meditate because Scripture fuels prayer as we inquire about all.the.things.

While it may seem a basic task, if we don’t possess a humble but high view of scripture, meditation will be nothing more than a constant mind debate. In their desire to create those statements of faith I mentioned previously, the early reformers included the sole authority of scripture as a foundational tenet of one’s belief.
Sola scriptura.
Its origin is Latin, and it means that ‘Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian’. People who adhere to this concept would be considered to have a high view of scripture’s authority in their daily lives. Personally, I’m predisposed to this approach as I read, study and digest scripture. Although I don’t hold this view to be an essential belief for coming into The Faith, I would definitely see it as evidence of one’s Christianity.

So, yes. Sola Scriptura.
Scripture. Alone. Sufficient.

BUT…
the scriptures that enlighten us are never alone.
In my experience of defending the Bible’s accuracy and authority, I have recognized something very subtle that can make its way into my heart. As I attempt to use God’s Word as the foundation for everything I think or do, a kind of Pharisaical pride can take root in my heart. I would probably never identify it as ‘bibliolatry’ or ‘bible idolatry’ as some have (because, what is that??), but I do think it could be described as ‘personal interpretation idolatry’. Because there are so many things that are not specifically taught in scripture, it is tempting to create our own rules based on principles we find there and make them the filters rather than God’s Word alone. In doing this, we often lay on people a burden that God Himself does not intend for them to bear (Matt. 23). I realize this can be an extremely delicate walk through the pages of scripture, but I have determined that recognizing this tendency is crucial to seeking, treasuring, meditating, remembering, trusting and delighting in all of God’s Word (Pm 119). Resisting the temptation to make myself the authority is accomplished by seeking the presence of God Himself, Who is Truth. I create an awareness of my dependence on God by looking to the example of Christ, humbly requesting and relying on the Spirit to guide me into the Truth, and praying continually as I read and study. I also intentionally include others who are diligently and sincerely seeking to know God. I count on trusted church leaders to teach me and I reflect on the teaching by discussing the scriptures together. It is in this context of humble pursuit of Truth that we find the Bible to be “a perfect treasure of divine instruction .. without any mixture of error, for its matter … totally true and trustworthy.”

And that’s the more of Sola Scriptura. While we don’t have specifics to help us sort through all the social issues of the day, we do have what we need.
Thankfully, a confidence in scripture alone does not deny us the freedom to prayerfully come to the bible and find personal answers and application to our everyday concerns.
Since so many things that Jesus said and did were not included in the bible (John 21), we can reason that God intended us to have a general idea of what His life on earth was like. But more so, the Word became flesh and lived among us so that we can be introduced to Who He IS. As Sally Lloyd Jones puts it, “the Bible isn’t a book of rules or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. And at the center of that story is a Baby. And every single story in the Bible whispers His name.”

“Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money they recognize it.” Checking the Facts

Reliance on God’s Word as my sole authority allows God to be my ultimate teacher in all the things necessary for life and godliness. As simplistic as it may sound, God’s word has become my foundational go-to when considering an action or attitude. As I approach the scriptures, I do so through a “Jesus lens.” If everything that is necessary and binding is given to us in Scripture (2 Peter 1:3), and The Book is relatively concise, I also realize that there’s more to living the Christ-life than mere words on a page. I must read and meditate on all the teachings from Genesis to Revelation with the very same perspective – looking for Christ in The Big Story. My desire is to ultimately make my way to Him as I read and study. I look for Christ in all the scriptures by remembering and rehearsing His presence at Creation, His descension from heaven, His crucifixion in my place, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension back to His Father, His activity in our daily lives through the Spirit, and His return for His Bride – the Church. I read and reflect on all the ways that Jesus, the perfect, merciful living Word, is the focus of the pages in the inspired, authoritative written Word. The Jesus lens provides me with the clarified vision I need to trust that the Word of God in the scriptures is worthy of my allegiance apart from and above all other “words”.

My genuine allegiance to the Word of God in everything it says and means is demonstrated by my consistent submission to the will of God in everything He reveals.
This allegiance inspires a scripture-driven pursuit of liberty and justice for all.


*Scriptures: This post is not intended to be a bible history lesson on what is/is not considered “scripture” and why. I am quite aware that the issue is discussed and debated. But that’s for another time. And probably another person. 🙂

John Piper: Why I Trust the Scriptures

MEanderings

Verbiage: Pursuing the Art of Making Less Mean More

“Academic texts are often characterized by verbiage—the use of more words than are needed to express an idea. Verbiage does nothing but hide the real message of the text under a load of needless words, frustrate and dispirit the reader,
and weaken the credibility of the author.”

less is more
Too many words.

Most of my readers – and my faithful friends – know this about me: I often use too many words. I may even use different words, but I am actually repeating the same thing I’ve said. Instead of stating something simply, I feel the need to explain what needs no explanation. One simple sentence that has clearly communicated turns into three or four … and then there’s a paragraph.
(Surely by now my point has been made. :))

And yet I hope.
I’m clearly far from perfect in this area, but there’s progress. And I’m so thankful for the evidence of God’s grace in my life. He is working in me to produce more Christlikeness in every area of my life. I love how the NLT says it: Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.
He is working it in, and I’m working it out. Thanks be to God!! 🙂

But the struggle is real. And persistent.
In my lifelong journey with Christ, using too many words is not only annoying to my people (especially my patient but sometimes truthful hubby), it’s a habit that causes me to overthink. Meditation is good, but there are times when a brief statement contains so much truth that the impact of it rests in the simplicity of it. This is especially true when it comes to scripture – words penned by writers under the influence and inspiration of the Spirit of God. My presupposition about the authoritative nature of scripture leads me to conclude that all of scripture speaks God’s truth (2 Tim 3). So, not only are essential truths spoken concisely by Christ Himself, other writers like James and John share with us the essentials for obedience in simple statements, leaving us wishing for more words of explanation. (This usually happens not because the teaching is difficult to understand, but because we don’t find it particularly easy to apply.)

Just this week, I have been aware of my continued struggle with letting simple truths stand alone. As the amazing new song of Lauren Daigle (one of my very fave artists right now) has circulated in social media, I found myself wanting to clarify some things for her. As if the words of the song somehow needed my help to be true. Or maybe I mean, true-er.
Either way, THEY DON’T NEED MY WORDS.
I would like to think it’s my affection for context (the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed; the parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning) that makes me overly critical of simplistic statements or lyrics. But as I observed the impact of the words of this song on so many of my friends/family, it became evident that people need to remind themselves of what God thinks about His children. Some are actually craving to know what God says/thinks about them. Paul surely noticed that yearning since he prayed for his beloved friends to “comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge.”

Although it’s not wrong to hold up lyrics against the truth of scripture, believers don’t need to make it their job to place an asterisk by every song they personally feel needs more explanation. We can embrace texts that communicate an important aspect of God, as long as they don’t mis-communicate, even if they don’t “say it all”. We can celebrate deep truths with elementary lyrics. I am so thankful that something can be simplistic and right.
On this day, I’m thankful that the biblical message of God’s perspective toward us is being sung to the souls of those who so desperately need to be reminded:

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing.
You say I am strong when I think I am weak.
You say I am held when I am falling short.
When I don’t belong, You say I am Yours.
And I believe.
I believe what You say of me.

[And just in case you ARE like me, I was able to confirm that this chorus is filled with scriptural truths. Although the Word of God is most importantly a story about Himself, it includes us. “The LORD is MY Shepherd! Surely goodness and mercy chase ME … all the days of MY life.”]

Years ago, I had to wrestle with some unfounded skepticism during one of the bible studies in which I was participating and facilitating. Beth Moore was teaching us about believing God. I wrote down the five statements she gave us on a card and began to rehearse them, even saying them out loud at times. At first I wasn’t sure I believed what I was stating. And I really wanted to add more sentences to each statement. It seemed too basic! But as time passed and we dug into the scriptures, these confessions became so dear to my soul. God HAD said them. And there was nothing taken out of the context of His purpose. Nor had it been taken out of the context of His Word. Beth had just condensed them for us to remember easily. I have referred to these confessions many times in the past several years.
How beautiful is God’s grace in my life …. He pursues me with patient and constant love.

And I’m learning. All the time.

And I’m sincerely grateful for deep truths that are communicated in concise sentences for easy remembering … but have profound impact!

God is who He says He is.
God can do what He says He can do.
I am who God says I am.
I can do all things through Christ.
God’s word is alive and active in me.

Beth Moore, Believing God

MEanderings

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.
MEanderings

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!

MEanderings

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!!

MEanderings

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.

MEanderings

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!!