Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Love


For my last Thankfulness Things post, I want to share the thing I am most thankful for:  unconditional love.  Humanity has trouble with this one—even the best of us—but God extends it freely. 

When we surrender our right to ourselves and ask Jesus to be our Savior, He exchanges our sin for His Righteousness.  He gets our rags and we get His spotless garment of forgiveness and love.  The trade is mighty uneven.  Even so, because of the shedding of Christ’s perfect blood for our sins, we are covered with “Jesus clothes” and our Holy Father sees as clean and pure.  We can do nothing to earn this; it is purely unconditional Love that gives it.  Because Jesus took our sins to the cross with Him, He is our ultimate sacrifice, our propitiation, our substitute, our payment—by His wounds we are healed.  I love this quote by Tullian Tchividjian in his book, One Way Love, The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.”

And because Jesus loves you unconditionally, you can be sure you are precious to Him.  The good day/bad day scenario doesn’t work with God.  He loves you all the time because of Jesus.  He sees you as righteous every day because of Jesus.  His judgment is assuaged because Jesus satisfied it.  He views you as He views His son, because of Jesus perfection—not yours.  God can love us unconditionally because all of the conditions of righteousness were met in His Son. 

We can do nothing to deserve His love.  That is why it is called “unconditional”, but we can extend to our family, our friends, even our enemies to show them what true love is.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 
~John 3:16

The love of God is greater far
  Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
  And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
  God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
  And pardoned from his sin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Sanctification


I love to walk in the early mornings and see the day wake up little by little.  The sky, usually deep dark blue when I begin, turns all shades of pink, purple, and orange as the sun peeks over the horizon.  It does this every day—whether I can see it or not; sometimes the clouds cover the splendor; other times, I don’t get outside until the sun is fully up and all I see is the big blue sky.  Regardless of the weather or my activity, though, the sun continues to rise.  When I walk, the verse, The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day”(Proverbs 4:18) often comes to mind and I am filled with gratefulness that God is continuing to work on my rough edges and selfish desires.  God promises me that if I will allow His Spirit to work in me and if I will obey Him when I feel like rebelling, He will be faithful to His job to change me into the Tori he intended since the creation of the world. 

Sometimes, when I have chosen not to use my renewed mind, or when my time in the Word is lacking, I struggle to act Christianly.  And sometimes, even when I am doing “all the right things”, I still mess up because I am human and faulted and weak.  The times that I fall are the times that I doubt God could ever use someone as clumsy and clunky as me.  But He can, because even though I am faulted and tempted by my rogue emotions, God uses imperfect vessels to carry out His perfect plans.  He does this purposely to help us remember we aren’t as great as we think, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”(2 Cor 4:7) because He is so much greater than we can imagine. 

In the same way that I can’t control the rising of the sun, I can’t control the speed of my sanctification.  I can, however, take hold of the promise that it is happening within me, even without my awareness.  God is good like that. 

“In general, the soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so, yea, most frequently when it imagines it is losing.” 
~St. John of the Cross

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thankfulness Things: God's Design


“In the beginning God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Once, when Brent and I were first married, I decided to impress him with my culinary prowess and make a big pot of chili.  I diligently followed the recipe that said to include “ 4 cloves of garlic, crushed”.  Being new to reading recipes, and especially new to garlic, I assumed “a clove” was the entire head of garlic—which I thought was plenty, but hey, garlic was supposed to be good for you—so I added FOUR ENTIRE HEADS of garlic to the pot.  Needless to say, because I didn’t understand the directions of the recipe, our chili was VERY GARLICKY and completely inedible.  Sometimes, I think we assume God did that same thing when he decided to create people; that He went about it haphazardly and things turned out all wonky. We think it strange that we are supposed to be “equal” but have different roles. We want to change His recipe for maleness and femaleness.

As a woman, I can be dissatisfied in the role God gave me—to be a help-mate, a nurturer, a life-giver in every sense of the word.  I can view my feminine role as weaker and therefore become a competitor to, rather than a completer of, my husband.  When I try to embody the role that God gave to men and I aggressively disdain the internal urgings of my feminine soul, I may be praised by the world, but I will struggle internally.  I will struggle because I was made to be a woman and the desires and instincts that make me want to care for others, do “home” things, and be sensitive to the emotions and moods of those around me are put there by an intentional God.  The book Designed for Joy explains it well, “[God] didn’t make one mistake in creating humans male and female. Why does this matter? Because for us to embrace our femininity, we must first understand that it wasn’t an accident.  This not only gives us confidence to trust God’s design; it should also bring us great joy.  The Lord of the universe created us like he intended—and called it good.”

As a woman, like the man, I am created in the image of God.  This realization should give me the freedom to eagerly display my femininity and, when living in tandem with Biblical masculinity, provide a way for me to show a full picture of our Father to the world.  God’s created design really is the best for us in all of nature (have you ever tried to fight against gravity?  You WILL lose) and in our personhood.  When we choose to stay under His Lordship and within His boundaries, we have so much freedom to be ourselves, and so much protection from the influences of our dark world.

It’s still okay with God if I bring home the bacon (to put in the chili, of course), as long as I do it with an understanding of who I am in Him.  I can do some masculine things and still have the heart of a woman who desires to please God by following Him and willingly submitting to His authority. 

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Sovereignty


I was always amazed when I read the story of Esther in the Bible.  At one point, Esther learns that her people are to be violently annihilated and she, as the queen, may be able to save them.  But, the law of the land was that no one (not even the queen) could enter the king’s presence unbidden.  If the king did not extend his scepter to this impostor, the penalty was immediate death.  Yet, Esther, fully trusting in the God she served said, I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”  She trusted more in the plans of her sovereign Father than in her own imminent danger.  And as the story goes, Esther is invited into the King’s presence and God’s people are saved from extinction.

Not only do I struggle with having the attitude of “…if I perish, I perish”, but I am constantly trying to control all of the variables so that I don’t have to even think about perishing.  In my finite mind I believe that if I can just get the safest flight, or the car with the most advanced air bags, or if I can consume enough spinach and quinoa, and if I never ever sky dive, THEN I will be fully insulated from anything bad that might happen to me. 

But here’s what really happens:  When I focus my energies on myself and my health and my possible demise, I am consumed with worry and I feel like everything is a threat; I feel out of control.  But when I replace those thoughts with words of surrender to God’s perfect plans, I can rest in His sovereignty.  He is after all, the One who is actually in control—I never have been.  As I read through the Bible, it doesn’t guarantee that I will be safe from harm, but it does say God is good.  He’s good even when I don’t understand His “goodness”.  It doesn’t say that my life will be all roses, but it does say God’s plans will prevail.  Now, if God is always good, and if His plans always happen the way he intends, then why do I worry, as if I had any power to change things?  I can’t, of course, throw all caution to the wind, as God calls us to be wise and use our transformed minds, but I can stop worrying about what is coming next and trust in He who is in charge of history. 

And I can even go skydiving if I want. 

But only if I want to speed my journey to heaven because I am sure I would die from a heart attack on the way down.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2

Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art; I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.  Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, and Thy beauty fills my soul, for by Thy transforming power, Thou hast made me whole.”

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thankfulness Things: The Word of God


When I was an eighth grader at Albia Community Middle School, my home-economics teacher, Rowena Hardinger, required us to complete a sewing project as part of our education.  Feeling ambitious and capable, I guess, I choose to sew a melon-colored terrycloth romper.  The pattern I chose showed a cute young girl with perfect hair wearing a one-piece shorts outfit and smiling.  That could be me, I thought.  So, in a hurry to become that smiling, romper-wearing teen, I lay out my pattern pieces upon the fuzzy fabric and began to cut—hastily.  My friends were completing their bags and shirts and skirts so quickly that I, finally sitting at my sewing machine, sewed with great gusto and soon finished my assigned project.  The final part of the plan for our creations was to model them at our eighth grade graduation, which would be happening later that week.  I took my item home so that I could try it on (I find it strange I hadn’t tested it out during the sewing process) before my modeling debut and found, to my dismay, that I had made one of the romper’s legs shorter than the other.  In my haste, I had neglected to measure correctly and was left with an imperfect product.  This mistake required me to stand in an unnatural posture when modeling since I was horrified by my ineptitude. 

I tell you all of this to introduce you to my third Thankfulness Thing:  The Word of God.  I am grateful for the Word of God because it provides a measure for me, and if I align my thoughts, words and actions against it, I can bring God glory.  If I forget my measure, or use our world as my ruler, I will end up letting my heart or popular opinion determine what is right, instead of the perfect and unchanging Word of God.  The world measures itself against itself and comes up impatient, unkind, and unhappy because they don’t know that the Word is right and true.  Our emotions often measure themselves against what our hearts say and end up taking us in directions that will destroy, not heal.  When we slow down to measure our behavior against what God has said is true, our lives will bless others and be a sweet aroma to our Father.  And we will be able to model Christ with confidence instead of shame. 

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.    
2 Corinthians 10:12

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?  
Jeremiah 17:9

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.    Hebrews 4:12

How firm a foundation you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Faithfulness


If you have read through the Old Testament of the Bible, you will find fickle people, just like me.  But, you will also find a very present and faithful God--a God of mercy, justice...and faithfulness.  I am so thankful for God's faithfulness because, as I said yesterday, there is absolutely nothing I have done to deserve it. God's character is always perfect, even with very imperfect children.  My sweet daughter-in-law, Jessica*, summarized this so well when she shared with me some musings after studying through the book of Hosea...

I’m no good with history. It’s hard for me to remember a lot of what I read in the Bible because it is contextual. The Bible is sweet in that way, it’s always connecting back to itself. But, it makes it exceedingly difficult with little scriptural knowledge to understand the sweetness of the words. I find myself especially lost in the Old Testament. I’m not sure when any of this happened, who all the people involved are, who is important for me to know and who can I forget, what the cultural implications for this scripture is, and what I’m supposed to do with it now.

I want to challenge myself to process more of the scripture I read. It’s a lot of the in one ear out the other most times when I read. So this is what I learned from the book of Hosea, through a women’s discipleship group in the fall of 2016. Initially we see a story about a man named Hosea who was directed by God to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him. It’s hard for me to get my mind around God telling Hosea that he’s walking into an unsuccessful situation and equally as mind numbing that Hosea was obedient. Hosea goes out and marries Gomer. Soon after their marriage begins she sleeps with other men. Hosea continues to provide for Gomer and she goes on with these other men, even giving them credit for the many blessings in her life. She thanks them for providing things like food, shelter, and provision when actually it was Hosea who was doing the work. Hosea is told to reconcile with his wife and to bring her back to himself. He does so and they make a new covenant with each other.

The story of Hosea and his wife ends near the beginning of the book. The story transitions from one about the marriage of Hosea and Gomer and focuses on the marriage between God and Israel. God was faithful to bring the Israelites out of slavery and Egypt. When they were saved they quickly gave the credit that was due to God to the things made by their hands. They worshiped idols instead of God. The Israelites fall into a vicious cycle where they go back to God again and again, and they fall away from him again and again. Their hearts are not sincere when they repent and ask for forgiveness and worship.

I find it easy to judge the Israelites. The worship they were taking from God was so obvious. Our misguided worship now is much easier to hide. I may not have a golden calf sitting in the center of my house, but I do give my worship to other undeserving things.  My heart is filled with desires to cook the perfect meal, have an organized house, and feeling “put together” as I leave the house. Just as quick as they repent they go back to sinning, but isn’t my heart the same? I repent, I tell God that I’m truly sorry, but I keep on sinning. I repent of binge watching TV instead of spending time in the word and I turn the TV back on. I feel disappointment when the meal I prepared isn’t as satisfying as I wanted it to be. I keep on choosing myself, my desires, and my flesh over the God who saved my soul from eternal separation from Himself.

I saw my heart with clarity as I read Hosea, especially near the end of the narrative I found myself saying “enough already! God stop!” God is rightly punishing the Israelites for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. But I was done with the wrath and ready for the mercy. I was ready for the God I knew and loved to show up. God was always faithful to them, even when He was executing His wrath on them. This is because His faithfulness is always first to Himself and then to His people.

Am I compartmentalizing God? Am I dealing with and pushing through His wrath and unsavory characteristics to have the love, grace, and mercy for myself? Am I putting myself and my judgment ahead of God? I think the answer is yes. I am thankful that through the book of Hosea I was reminded about my sinfulness and rebellion every day.  But I am most blessed to be able to know, understand, and love more about the character of God.

Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!
  Morning by morning new mercies I see;

             All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
         Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

*I'm also so thankful for Jessica...such a sweet sweet gift to us!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thankfulness Things: Grace

I really wanted to title this post, “All the things my dog has destroyed in the last 14 months”, but I didn’t think that sounded especially grateful, so that idea was nixed, even though you may see it creep in as a future post (I once did a post about all the things my kids have lost which is a very similar concept, but also mostly ungrateful). My real goal with this weeklong series of Thankfulness Things was to get my mind in the right place so that when wrong thoughts tempt to pull me into their grasp, I can immediately recall these very real blessings that I have in my life.  Here’s my first installment in the series:


I am thankful for grace because I am so very fickle. Two days ago, in the evening, I drove home from Bible study feeling committed and confident on my quest to eventually reach the Celestial City (we have just finished studying the book Pilgrim’s Progress, and the last chapter is gold!).  Filled with spiritual adrenaline, I had decided to “let nothing this side of Heaven possess my soul” and to keep my eyes on the prize—namely Jesus Christ.  But, as I turned into my driveway, I saw half of one of my very favorite blue rubber rain boots laying on the cement in the dark and the other half in glimmering navy shreds all across the lawn.  Immediately, I tanked.  I forgot to “set my face like flint” on the narrow path.  I forgot that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”.  I forgot that “God works all things together for good for those who love him”. 

I chose to believe that my life was now bad and that someone needed to take the blame.

All because of a rain boot.  Talk about first world problems.

I had allowed a destructive dog and a shredded piece of footwear to determine how I responded to my situation, my husband, and really, my God.  How sad is that?

Not too sad for grace.

I am so thankful that God has offered me grace when I let my very entitled attitude tell me that I deserve an easier journey--with less sweat and more even ground.

I am so thankful that God has offered me grace when I choose to pout in the “Slough of Despond” instead of pulling myself up with His great and precious promises.

And I am so thankful that God has offered me grace when I descend into the Valley of the Shadow because of my grief over a pair of $23 rain boots.

I am so thankful that God has offered me grace.

Because I will never, ever deserve it.  Yet, He gives it freely anyway.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!