Thursday, July 31, 2014

Where Does My Help Come From?

I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth - Psalm 121:1-2

This verse screams conviction at me. In theory, I believe it with every fiber of my being. I know that  I can do nothing without God's sovereign help. But in practice, I act like I'm a tower of competency all on my own. I believe that my help comes from the Lord, but I act the exact opposite.

This is a regular battle in my life. I go through seasons where I am overwhelmed by my circumstances, cry out to God for help, recieve said help, and then praise God for the moment of relief. But when the relief comes something else starts to happen in my soul. I feel pretty sure of myself. I made it through the difficulty on top (or at least without dying). God gets pushed to the side and Courtney moves front and center. I may pay lip service to God's almighty help in my situation, but in my heart I'm screaming "Me, me, me! I can do this!"

Recycle and repeat.

God has been taking me on a journey (a long, long one) of learning to trust him not only in the moments of weakness, but when the weakness dissipates, too. When all is going well it's easy for me to think that the goodness I am experiencing is owing only to my skills, and forget God all together. It's when the heat of life is blown on me that I am forced to run to him for cool relief.

And that's a good thing.

I felt that very heat last night. It's not unlike countless nights before it. Insert any situation that has threatened to swallow me in overwhelming despair or just straight-up exhaustion, and I know I have been there before and seen the same comforting results. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. He's been kneading this truth into my life these last many years, and it's been good for my soul, but often painful to endure. He will have no proud and self-sufficient children. And I am no different.

So when I awoke this morning, Daniel had placed this verse on the counter for me to see. I am so often tempted to look for help in what I can see with my own eyes. But my eyes like to play tricks on me, especially when I am physically tired and emotionally weary. How do I know that my help comes from the Lord? The second part of this verse provides a helpful clue: "the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

The same God who spoke something out of nothing, said one word and creation burst into existence, and formed his people out of the dusty ground he made, is the God who is our help. Every earthly help that promises to sustain us or satisfy us bows in submission to the creator of the entire universe. There is no security apart from our great God. There is no help without him. He sustains what he created. He helps what is rightfully his, namely us, his image bearing children.

When I went to bed last night I wished for rest and got another exhausting day instead. Sure, I was a little less tired than I was when my head first hit the pillow, but the sleep is never enough. The day's duties were waiting for me and I felt anything but competent to tackle them. But God is not surprised by my weariness. In fact, he welcomes it. It is in my sleep that the God who never sleeps is working actively. It is in my weakness that his strength is so beautifully displayed. It is in my inability to get everything done that he is shown to be supreme over all things, even a to-do list and busy toddlers.

Where can we look in our moments of despair or weariness? The God who is our help and is sustaining us by his very word.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Our Speech Held Back

I've talked about why I need this exercise in thinking through how I speak. I've also talked about who we are addressing when we use our words for good or for evil. But I've also been convicted lately about the need to restrain my speech. I'm a talker. I like to use my words. When I'm happy, that's a good thing. When I'm angry, not so much. In the heat of an argument or when my feelings are hurt, words fly like fiery daggers. I even would go so far as to say that I feel as if it's my duty to throw words in a moment of rage. If I don't, who will? If I'm offended, who will speak in my defense? If my feelings were hurt or I was wronged in some way, how will that person (namely, my husband) ever know how badly he needs to change if I don't say something right then? So I load the ammunition of words into my mouth and fire away.

My sense of justice is my guide.

But I think scripture provides another, more helpful, way.

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends (Proverbs 17:9).

Now, I am not talking about offenses that are physically harmful, recurring, or out of the ordinary. I'm talking about the day to day offenses that arise because we are sinners trying to live together in a fallen world. The mundane offenses that threaten to undo us. Your husband forgot something important (like planning a date), again. Your wife neglected you after a busy day at work, again. Your roommate went behind your back, again. Your friend talked only about herself, while failing to ask how your difficult situation was going again. All of these offenses are hurtful, sinful, and can damage a relationship. Which is what the writer of Proverbs is getting at.

Suppose your spouse or friend confesses this sin to you. They understand what they did was wrong, yet you still feel the sting of rejection and hurt. What do you do? Do you make them pay with your words? It's an easy out for me. I understand the temptation. But the writer of Proverbs gives us a better way. He tells us that repeating the sin will be the death of the relationship. And who hasn't seen that happen, right? But covering the offense is actually the loving thing to do.

So how do you "cover an offense"? Does simply saying "I forgive you" make it go away? Anyone who has ever tried reconciling knows that doesn't always cut it. Throughout scripture we are given a picture of God covering the offenses of his people. And we feel the tension of the Old Testament when God covered the offenses of the Israelites, yet they continued to go back to their sin. There needed to be a better, more complete covering, to deal with the magnitude of sin. When we are sinned against we feel it, too. I imagine that is why we feel the need to use our own words to wound. In our hurt we want the sinner to pay for what they have done to us, and in our pride we think our words will suffice.

But like the Israelites before us, there is nothing in us that will ever truly cover the offenses done against us and within us. This is why Christ had to come. Unlike the Israelites, we do have a way forward in covering the offenses of others. We live on the other side of the cross. As Paul tells us in Romans 3:25, Christ was our propitiation (our covering) for the sins we have committed (and will commit). It is only through his blood that we can truly be cleansed from our unrighteousness and covered with his righteousness.

So what does the propitiation of Christ have to do with our speech?


We can cover the offenses done against us because of the cross. The cross assures us that the sin done against us was paid for by Christ, if the offender is a believer. And if not, the cross assures us that one day Christ will come back and judge that sin on the last day. The bases regarding all sin committed against us are covered. There is nothing left for us to add to it.

This should free us in our conversations with others. When we are hurt, we can forgive because of Christ's blood and coming judgment. When we are offended, we can cover the offense because Christ has either paid for that offense or will judge it one day.

Jesus' blood is powerful enough to cleanse even the greatest offense we endure. He frees us to love, not hate when we are sinned against. He frees us to restrain our words in times of emotional crisis, and use our words for good, not evil. His blood shed for us is the means by which our speech is held back, even when our hearts tell us that our only defense is the dagger of our words. We can choose another way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How The Church Became Our Family

Most of us can recall a time where God gives us something we think will be the end of us, only to find out later that it was the exact thing God used to strengthen our faith—or give us a better portion than we could have hoped for. Maybe it’s the break-up with the person you were certain you would marry. Yet years later you meet another person, one more suited for you and better than you could have hoped for. Maybe it’s the dream job that fell through. Yet after another unlikely interview somewhere else you get the job you never even thought to dream of. God works like that, doesn’t he? Because he is sovereign, and we are not, his hand is in the details we cannot even see, let alone attempt to control.

When God withholds something from us, his purposes are always to give us something better. Of course, we may not perceive it as better at the time, or even in the immediate future. But he is good and we are not. He is wise and we are not. He can see infinitely into the future and we strain to see what is standing right in front of us. This is why we can trust him. I know for myself, some of the darkest moments of feeling as if God has completely abandoned me have turned out to be the moments where I ultimately saw him working in ways I could never have imagined. In the desert he is working to bring water to his thirsty children. In the storm he is our strong refuge who gives us a rainbow on the other side. He does not forget us, even if we feel forgotten sometimes.

For most of my adult life I have lived away from my family. I never thought much about it except on the occasional birthday or holiday when other members of my family were gathered together to celebrate and I was left to experience the party by telephone many miles away. I missed them, but I never thought I would live near them. My life didn’t lend itself to living in their proximity and I was okay with that. When Daniel and I got married, we appreciated the forging of a new family that came with living in a city away from both sets of parents and all of our siblings. It was good for us. When we moved to Arkansas we had a church, friends, and a whole lot of time with each other that made transitioning all the easier. Again, I didn’t think much about my life away from my parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. I cherished the moments I got with them on holidays, but was content with where God had us.

Then we had twins.

There is something about becoming a momma that makes you long for your own momma, you know? Maybe it was the fact that I was pouring every ounce of energy, sleep, and whatever leftover adrenaline remained on two very tiny, dependent baby boys. I just needed my mom to come rub my head and let me take a nap on her. In God’s kindness, my mom came a lot to help in those early months of the twins’ life. But in the interim periods between her visits to help us I noticed a recurring pattern in my own life.

When it got hard I would threaten to pack up with the twins and move to Florida. If we had a dollar for every time I said I was going to do that in that first year I’m pretty sure we would be rich by now. Some of that particular threat was rooted in my own tendency towards escapism, but some of it was rooted in the fact that for the first time in my adult life I really, really missed being around family. Of course I missed them before this time, but this was different. As I watched my little boys grow up right before my eyes my heart broke knowing that our parents and others would only be able to experience this wonder through pictures and the occasional Skype call.

But there was something more serious in my cries of despair. I was missing the treasure of hope that God was literally laying at my feet nearly every week.

During the entire time the boys were in the NICU (five weeks) our church family brought us meals and gave me rides to the hospital. Because I had a C-section, I couldn’t drive up there every day and Daniel had to keep working, so without the rides I would only be able to see the boys once a day for a couple of hours. Many women in our church sacrificed their time to pick me up, drop me off, and pick me up again two hours later. They gave me rides to the store to pick up essentials we were missing. They brought us meals so I could rest when I wasn’t at the hospital. They were our family in the absence of blood relatives.

As the time has progressed and I am in a different season, my missing of my family has only intensified. But again, we have not been left alone. When Daniel travels, friends come to help me with the boys and keep me company. When we miscarried a few months ago, many women brought us meals as we grieved and recovered.

Yes, we miss our family. Yes, we wish our boys could grow up around our parents and their aunts, uncles, and cousins. But in their stead the church has become our family. They have cried with us, rejoiced with us, and served us like we were their own. If we had received the desires of our heart, namely the seeming ease of being around our own parents, we would have missed this beautiful picture of God’s family being joined together through Christ in our own lives.

God knew what I needed in those days of despair over missing my family. He could see what I couldn’t, that the church was my family. These people who he sent his son for were (and still are) my own through Christ’s blood. And I love them like my own family.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"I Want to Read My Bible More" - Thoughts on TGCW14

It's been almost two weeks since I boarded a plane by myself to spend the weekend in Orlando listening to the Bible taught by godly men and women. In a lot of ways the daily realities of my life now make the time spent there seem like a distant memory. But the impact of the weekend has not left me, and I pray it doesn't for a long time.

This was the first TGC women's conference that I have ever been able to attend. Since it's only the second conference, I'm glad I'm not too far behind on the curve! But I did listen to all of the previous conference's plenary sessions, so going in to this conference I was eager to listen to some teachers I have never had the privilege of hearing much from before. Paige Benton Brown was one of them. I had a hard time making it to things on time while at the conference (maybe it's because I was childless for the weekend or maybe it's because I loved talking to people, or both), but I made sure to get a seat on time for her. Not only does listening to her speak make me passionate to know the Bible like she does, but she also opens up the scriptures for me in ways I never would have seen otherwise. She makes the Bible come alive and she makes her audience want to drink deeply from the fountain of God's word with her. I also went to her breakout session with my sister-in-law and we both left the session wanting to go spend some serious quality time examining the Bible for ourselves. She has a gift of making God's word appear as the treasure we often forget it is. I needed that desperately.

It's hard to capture the value of a weekend filled with teaching and fellowship with other likeminded women. Whether you spend your days with toddlers (like me) or spend your days staring at computer screen or some other daily grind, we all need rest and retreat. While there wasn't much sleeping (at least on my end), the fuel tank of my soul was filled to the brim. My husband says that everyone needs something like this every once in a while, especially if you struggle with discouragement or losing your joy in the midst of the mundane. And I was right there going into this conference. I didn't even know how much I needed the break and refreshment until I was there drinking it deeply.

More than anything I walked away from the conference with a renewed passion for God's word. Ever since the twins have been born, like many moms, I have struggled with finding joy in reading the Bible. My mind races about all that needs to get done instead of focusing on the words in front of me, or the moment I sit down to read I hear a baby cry. When I am in the midst of calm or silence, I find myself wanting to do other things (like watch TV or even read a book) rather than read God's word. Over the last 17 months I have wondered if I would ever delight in God's word again. I have had pockets of joy interspersed among the mainly dry valley of caring for twin boys.

But God met me in Orlando.

It wasn't with much fanfare or even in a burst of wisdom from the pages of scripture. I simply left with an excitement to read and study God's word. I left with a greater passion to write within the season God has given me and for his glory, not my own. I left with a love for God's people and a desire to see them love his word with all of their heart and mind.

It was good to be at TGCW14. It was good to see old friends and make new ones. It was good to see family. It was good to hear from God's word and see how God is moving in the lives of others. But more than anything, it was good to taste again the sweetness of God's word.