Archive for the ‘Following Christ’ Category

Family worship (or, quit complicating things so much)

November 9th, 2017

We knew even before we had children that we wanted family worship to be a thing in our household.

We also knew that the thought of family worship was overwhelming and intimidating. We knew how hard it could be to be consistent in personal devotions – and how many times we’d stopped and started at attempts to spend devotional time together as a couple. How on earth could we do family worship?

It just so happened that we have children who don’t do a great job at sleeping – and I started reading Tirzah Mae a Bible story from The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories by Mary Batchelor (which my mom gives a story a baby shower gift) every night before putting her to bed.

Then, last Advent, I got out the Advent wreath and we made a point to light the appropriate candles and sing a Christmas hymn after supper each evening.

As we got ready to put away our Christmas decorations, it struck us that we’d been complicating the idea of family worship overmuch – and that we were missing out on a great opportunity to train our children as a result.

We combined the Bible story I’d been reading with the hymn we’d made a habit of singing, added a time of family prayer at the end – and now we have family worship almost every evening.

It turned out to be that simple. We get the kids in their jammies after supper and then choose a hymn to sing. We read from a story Bible (we’re actually reading through The Ology by Marty Machowski right now, having gone through the Old and New Testaments in story form twice now – we plan to alternate going through the storyline of Scripture and doing something more theological/doctrinal like this.) Finally, we pray together – Tirzah Mae and then mama and then papa (Louis isn’t quite talking yet.) Then it’s kisses and toothbrushing and off to bed.

Simple and totally doable, now that we quit complicating things so much.

Repeating my Father’s words

April 5th, 2017

One of the most fascinating parts of being the mother of a verbal toddler is having a window into Tirzah Mae’s thoughts.

Her internal dialogue is external. She speaks whatever is on her mind.

When she’s debating whether to follow my instructions or not, she repeats my common refrain: “You have a choice” and congratulates herself with my own “good decision.”

And then there are the dogs. Tirzah Mae is terrified by dogs – and our next door neighbor has three or four large ones that bark often.

When Tirzah Mae sees or hears them, she often runs to me in fear pronouncing “Doggie woof-woof!”

I’ll remind her that the doggies are behind the fence, that they can’t hurt her. And I’ll let her hang on to my leg as long as it takes before she resumes whatever she was doing.

But after dozens or hundreds of reminders, Tirzah Mae has started reminding herself. She’ll be outside playing and the dogs will bark. Then I’ll hear her reminding herself “Behind the fence, can’t hurt you.”

Hearing her childlike trust in my pronouncements, hearing how she is constantly reminding herself of the truth that came (originally) from my lips, I am challenged.

I’m challenged because, while I’m not afraid of dogs, there are plenty of other things I’m afraid of. And I debate obedience more often than I care to admit.

Will I respond with the irritation I feel or with the soft answer I know God desires me to use? Will I dwell in the fear-world that says I’ll never have friends in this still-sometimes-strange-seeming-place or will I continue to reach out to people? Will I believe the inner voice that says I deserve [a bath, a plate of nachos, to not be touched for just a few minutes] or will I believe that serving my family is a privilege? Will I let myself be lured into self-pity over not having time to blog or will I trust that God has called me into this time and season and that it is good, even if I’m not blogging all about it?

Tirzah Mae’s internal dialogues spoken out loud challenge me to reframe my own internal dialogues.

Instead of running over my own words again and again and again, I would do better to repeat my Father’s words. He is trustworthy.

I need to remind myself of the truth of God’s word.

When I want to respond with irritation, I can remind myself of God’s patience with me. I can remind myself that I want my words to “bring grace to all that hear” (Eph 4:29). When I feel alone, I can remind myself that Jesus was rejected by those he came to serve – and I can remind myself that I have been given the “Helper, to be with [me] forever” (John 14:16). When I want to tell myself that I deserve my own comfort, I can remind myself of Christ who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7). When I am tempted to self pity, I can remember that “for those who love God all things work together for good” that I might be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:28-29).

Like Tirzah Mae, I can repeat my Father’s words, reframing my internal dialogues to conform to the truth as He has revealed it.

Lord, help me to do so, day by day.

The Christian and Clinical Depression or Anxiety

January 25th, 2017

In recent years, I’ve seen an increasing number of articles for a Christian audience about clinical depression and anxiety. Most have sought to explain why “just get over it” is unhelpful advice (amazing that needs explanation!) and why having clinical depression or anxiety does not mean that one is unspiritual. More than a few have derided the use of Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing” or Psalm 42/43 “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God” when talking to someone who is experiencing clinical anxiety or depression. These articles have served a necessary role of educating believers on the psychological conditions many believers suffer with. They have helped believers become more understanding of the multifaceted aspects of anxiety and depression. They have hopefully helped believers understand the benefits of physical and pharmaceutical approaches to managing depression and anxiety.

But I fear these articles have had an unintended (at least I hope it’s unintended) consequence of allowing believers suffering from clinical depression and anxiety to justify disobedience to God.

Now, lest anyone mistake what I am saying, I am not saying that using medication, talk therapy, or a variety of stress management techniques is being disobedient to Christ. I use medication, light therapy, and a variety of lifestyle management techniques to manage seasonal affective disorder and have used medication and lifestyle management techniques to deal with bouts of major depression. I do this with a clear conscience, seeing no Biblical evidence that using these tools to manage my depression is wrong.

But I fear we can easily take the leap from “clinical depression and anxiety are biological with biological cures” to “clinical depression and anxiety are biological therefore I don’t need to be obedient to God’s commands regarding my thoughts and attitudes.

This, friends, is a lie from the pit of hell.

Just as a broken leg doesn’t exempt us from our call to “not neglect to meet together” (Heb 10:25), even though it makes assembling with other believers more difficult, neither does depression or anxiety exempt us from our call to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5), even though it does mean that there are perhaps more and more persistent thoughts to take captive.

You may need more than just taking thoughts captive to help you manage clinical depression and anxiety, but you certainly don’t need less.

When I am in the throes of depression, my thoughts often take a terrible turn. I contemplate my lack of energy and think “I’m worthless, I never get anything done.” I contemplate my seclusion and think “No one loves me.” I contemplate my thoughts and think “I’ll never be free of this depression.”

But I must not allow these thoughts to take over my mind. As fast as the arrows may volley forth, I must not surrender to them. Instead, I must take them captive to obey Christ.

When my thoughts say “You’re worthless. You never get anything done.”, I reply “My worth is not dependent on my accomplishments but on Christ’s, for ‘God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved [me] even when [I was] dead in [my] trespasses, made [me] alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4-5).'”

When my thoughts say “No one love you”, I reply “but God shows his love for [me] in that while [I was] still [a sinner], Christ died for me. (Rom 5:8)”

When my thoughts say “I’ll never be free of this depression”, I reply “Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25)”

Most of all, when depression turns all my thoughts inward – to myself, to my own shortcomings – I must turn my face resolutely toward God. I must say with the psalmist:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”
~Psalm 42:11 (ESV)

For those of you who suffer from clinical anxiety, this does not negate your call to “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil 4:6)” It probably means you have a lot more anxieties and requests to make known to God than I have, but just because it’s harder for you to be obedient doesn’t mean that you’re excused from that call.

Now, are you starting to feel like I’m bullying you? Placing a burden on you too hard to bear? Are you feeling the need to escape to one of those articles about the biological basis of anxiety and depression?

At various times in the midst of depression, I would be tempted to feel that. But this is not bullying or a burden.

Have you ever heard of cognitive-behavioral therapy? It’s the best proven form of therapy for anxiety and depression. And you know what it is, basically? It’s identifying untrue thoughts and unhelpful actions that contribute to anxiety and depression and replacing them with true thoughts and helpful actions.

You know what that sounds like to me?

“Take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience.” (2 Cor 10:5-6)

So to you, dear sister or brother who suffers from clinical depression, take every physical means necessary to deal with your condition. Take the medicine, go to therapy, get your rest, exercise, do any one of the myriad of things that can help you manage. But do not neglect to take your thoughts captive. Do not neglect to turn your eyes to Christ.

2016 Goals in Review: Prayer

January 13th, 2017

The primary goal in my “relationship with God” category was to “cultivate confident dependence on God by establishing a vibrant prayer life”. I resolved to do this by 1) establishing daily times of prayer, 2) establishing a method for recording prayer requests and answers to prayer, 3) experimenting with prayer “styles”, and 4) reading books on prayer.

I was helped along greatly in this goal by our Tuesday morning women’s Bible study, which happened to be going through D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul during the spring semester. Having my “public” Bible study and teaching correspond with my current spiritual goals kept me focused and provided both tips and accountability. For example, my Bible study discussion leader mentioned the “PrayerMate” app, which I looked up and found to be helpful for objective 2, which was “to establish a method for recording prayer requests and answers to prayer.” Also, although I wasn’t required to, I read Carson’s book (rather than just the discussion guide) along with our study – allowing me to complete just one book on prayer this year (objective 4).*

So Tuesday Connection helped me with objectives 2 and 4 – but what about objectives 1 and 3?

I never did end up doing anything with objective 3, unless you count using Paul’s prayers as a model for prayer. I didn’t do any prayer walking or praying published prayers or following specific formats (Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication, for example). It just didn’t seem to fit this year. And that’s just fine.

Objective 1, to “establish daily times of prayer”, got off to a good start. I resolved to pray consistently with Tirzah Mae before our meals and snacks and before her bedtime, to pray during my personal time in the word, and to pray while doing dishes. At the beginning of the year, Tirzah Mae and I were eating 3 meals and 2 snacks daily (pregnancy while breastfeeding is a doozy!), affording me plenty of opportunity to pray. Dishes were a convenient “peg” to hang prayer on – they’re something I have to do daily and they’re a rather mindless activity, which allows me plenty of opportunity to pray.

But then Tirzah Mae got older and started “helping” with dishes. What was once a relatively solitary and mindless activity (for me) became a busy activity, requiring all sorts of brain work as I attempt to keep Tirzah Mae from dumping all the dishwater on the floor or from putting dirty dishes in my rinse water or from transferring muck from the dirty dishes onto the clean dishes drip drying in the drying rack. That prayer time, where I had been making most of my petitions and praying over the requests (recorded in PrayerMate), disappeared. It took me most of the second half of the year to find a new rhythm – and this year I’m picking up my intercessory prayer during my after-breakfast and after-lunch cleaning times (Tirzah Mae only helps with segments, allowing a little more time for prayer!)

So what is the state of my goal to “cultivate confident dependence on God by establishing a vibrant prayer life?” I certainly wouldn’t say that my prayer life is vibrant at this point. But I also wouldn’t say that all has been lost. Establishing the habit of prayer (even though part of it, daily petitions and intercession, fell by the wayside for a significant portion of the year) has indeed served to help me cultivate confident dependence of God.

One of the reasons I chose prayer as my spiritual goal for the year was because I was noticing in myself a significant tendency towards self-reliance. I felt that I could do things on my own – and, when I couldn’t, I despaired. That wasn’t what I wanted though. I wanted, and still want, to live a life of dependence on God – a life that recognizes my need for Him and hopes in Him. Last year’s focus on prayer has helped in that. Where once I went to my phone to text my husband in despair or to Facebook to write a frustrated post or where I once gritted my teeth and cleaned the house/parented/pounded out the letter/whatever with a bad attitude, I find myself more and more turning to God, breathing those little Nehemiah prayers “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 2:4b ESV).

By the grace of God, this was a good goal – with a good outcome. I pray God would help me continue to grow – both in dependence and in prayer.

*While D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul was the only book on prayer I completed last year, I did read about half of Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare and was greatly encouraged by Spurgeon’s reflections.

Set forth Thee: A Prayer

September 9th, 2016

Lord, grant us calm, if calm can set forth Thee;
Or tempest, if a tempest set Thee forth;
Wind from the east or west or south or north,
Or congelation of a silent sea,
With stillness of each tremulous aspen tree.

Still let fruit fall, or hang upon the tree;
Still let the east and west, the south and north,
Curb in their winds, or plough a thundering sea;
Still let the earth abide to set Thee forth,
Or vanish like a smoke to set forth Thee

~by Christina Rossetti

Calm or tempest.
Wind or stillness.
Fruit falling or remaining.
Stillness or wind.
Remain or disappear.

What makes this antonymous collection not only bearable but desirable?

That God might be glorified.

“I know how to be brought low,
and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance,
I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger,
abundance and need.”
~Philippians 4:12 (ESV)

Lord, bring me low, if dejection set forth Thee;
Or cause me to abound, if abundance set Thee forth;
Teach me the secret of contentment
whatever my circumstances may be

Let my home, my heart, my hands be filled with plenty
If plenty lifts You high.
If hunger makes You great,
may I never eat again

Still let this earth, and I, abide to set Thee forth,
Or vanish like a smoke to set forth Thee

He will deliver thee

June 18th, 2016

I’ve been slowly reading through C.H. Spurgeon’s Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare after my morning times in the word – and this week, his text has been Psalm 50:15 “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee.”

The morning before we were admitted to the hospital, I read the following words:

“I write this with all reverence: God Himself cannot deliver a person who is not in trouble… The point is, my reader, your adversity may prove your advantage by offering occasion for the display of divine grace… When you are in adversity, then call upon God, and you will experience a deliverance that will be a richer and sweeter experience for your soul than if you had never known trouble.”

I did not know the trouble that would come – but I knew the trouble I had experienced in the past, and I knew that it was indeed an occasion for the display of divine grace. While I would never choose adversity for myself (would any of us?), I know indeed that God’s deliverance does prove a richer and sweeter experience for my soul than had I never known trouble.

I remembered those words as we entered the hospital with a pregnancy in trouble again, rejoicing that my God is present, inviting me to call upon Him, willing to deliver me.

Yesterday morning Spurgeon reminded me of God’s promise: He will deliver me.

“Hear Him say, ‘I will deliver thee,’ and ask no more questions.

I do not suppose that Daniel knew how God would deliver him out of the den of lions. I do not suppose that Joseph knew how he would be delivered out of prison when his master’s wife had slandered his character so shamefully. I do not suppose that these ancient believers even dreamed the way of the Lord’s deliverance. They just left themselves in God’s hands. They rested on God and He delivered them in the best possible manner. He will do the same for you. Simply call upon Him, and then ‘stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord’ (Exod. 14:13)

…God may likewise subject us to many trials. Yet if He says ‘I will deliver thee,’ you can be sure that He will keep His word.”

And that is the promise in which I can trust – not that I know God’s means of deliverance or the timing of his deliverance or any such details. In fact, I am reminded of Hebrews 11:36-38

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whome the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (ESV)

In this life, these saints, commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised.

But in the life to come?


Today, that great cloud of witnesses – the ones who received their deliverance in this life and the ones who received their deliverance in the next – urge me to look to Jesus, the truest testimony that God will deliver me.


“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Romans 8:32 (ESV)

He will deliver thee.

Memory Stories

January 11th, 2016

I hear Tirzah Mae screaming and take a trust fall out of bed. I go to her crib, pick her up, and cuddle her close. We walk into the living room where I put the CD player on pause and drop to my knees to pray. A golden father dripping with glittering olive oil hands me a ghost carrying the book of Proverbs and wearing a gigantic pair of glasses. The ghost gives me the glasses, which I put on my chest. I can now see a basketball hoop hanging over the windows, with gold coins raining down through the hoop onto the couch. A man grabs hold of the hoop and begins doing pull-ups…

A really trippy dream, huh?

Well, not quite.

Instead, it’s my attempt to use memory tricks to assist me in memorizing Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23.

Lisa discussed memory palaces in Day 7 of her 31 Days to Memorizing a Bible Chapter – and referenced Moonwalking with Einstein, which I’m reading through on her recommendation.

The idea behind a memory palace is that you attach things you’re trying to memorize (in a memorable and visual way) to location cues that are familiar (and also memorable). Mine is a little different because I haven’t attached everything to locations, per se – but I’ve created an outlandish but memorable story (outlandish is good when it comes to memories) to help me remember key details from the passage I’m memorizing.

Let’s see if I can share how that works.

I HEAR Tirzah Mae screaming…

“For this reason, because I have HEARD…”

…and take a TRUST FALL out of bed.

“…of your FAITH in the Lord Jesus…”

I go to her crib, pick her up, and CUDDLE her close.

“…and your LOVE toward all the saints…”

We walk into the living room where I put the CD player on PAUSE…

“…I do not CEASE to give thanks for you…”

…and drop to my knees to PRAY.

“…remembering you in my PRAYERS…”

A golden FATHER dripping with GLITTERING olive oil…

“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the FATHER OF GLORY…”

…hands me a ghost…

“…may give you the SPIRIT…”

…carrying the book of PROVERBS…

“…of wisdom…”

….and wearing a gigantic pair of GLASSES.

“…and REVELATION in the knowledge of Him.”

The ghost gives me the GLASSES, which I put on my CHEST.

“…having the EYES of you HEARTS ENLIGHTENED…”

I can now see a basketball HOOP hanging over the windows…

“…that you might know the HOPE to which he has called you…”

…with GOLD COINS raining down through the hoop onto the couch.

“…what are the RICHES of his GLORIOUS inheritance in the saints…”

A man grabs hold of the hoop and begins doing PULL-UPS…

“…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his POWER toward us who believe, according to the working of his great MIGHT…

I don’t consider myself a particularly creative person, so coming up with a story to help me remember the key points in this passage was difficult – but while I don’t have the whole passage down word-for-word yet (I started last Monday), just the practice of coming up with this story made me able to paraphrase these five verses with a reasonable degree of accuracy the day after I came up with the story.

Have you ever tried using a memory palace or other mnemonic devices to memorize a passage of Scripture?

The Difference Thanks Makes

October 19th, 2015

As we get close to November and start thinking towards Thanksgiving (and before the 30-Day Thankfulness Challenges start popping up on Facebook), I’ve been noticing thankfulness in daily life.

Now, I usually think of thankfulness in terms of thankfulness to God – and generally get frustrated when the focus is on thankfulness towards other people (don’t even get me started on what I think of how “the pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians on the first thanksgiving.”)

And thankfulness to God is essential. He is, after all, the source of every good gift (See James 1:17).

But being thankful to God doesn’t preclude thankfulness to others. In fact, I think thanking God should naturally flow out into thanking others. As I become aware of God’s gifts, I become aware of how he uses others as gifts in my life. That’s when I can give thanks, like Paul did in Romans 16:3-4: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.”

Recognizing that God never commands being thankful to anyone other than Himself, I still think that thankfulness to others can be a powerful part of the Christian life. Why?

Because even if we aren’t commanded to be thankful to others, we are commanded to encourage one another (See 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14). And thankfulness is hugely encouraging.

Because even if we aren’t commanded to be thankful to others, we are commanded to love one another (See John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 5:2 and others). And thankfulness is nothing if not loving.

The best example I can think of for thankfulness to others (and how it encourages and demonstrates love) is my husband.

I cook dinner for us almost every evening, and it almost never fails that sometime, in the course of the meal or the evening, Daniel will thank me for making dinner.

When I make a phone call or post a letter or run an errand for Daniel, he makes sure to thank me – verbally, in a text, in an email.

I sometimes often get discouraged with my housekeeping abilities or my time-management skills or a dozen other real or perceived faults. And almost always, Daniel’s response is thanks.

“Thank you for taking care of our daughter all day.”

“Thank you for doing dishes.”

“Thank you for folding the laundry.”

“Thank you for growing us tomatoes.”

“Thank you for listening to me.”

It’s not big things that he’s thanking me for. If I chose, I could brush off his thanks with a “no problem.” And those things aren’t a problem (usually). But that’s not the point.

The point is that when he thanks me, I feel encouraged. I feel strengthened. I feel loved.

That is the difference thanks makes.

And it challenges me to do the same for others.

C.S. Lewis to Bloggers

October 16th, 2015

In his masterful turn-the-world-upside-down book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has his diabolical character Screwtape write the following:

“It remains to consider how we can retrieve this disaster. The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert [his conviction and subsequent remorse] into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act.”

I felt the sting as I read.

But will I convert the conviction of the Lord into obedience?

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

~James 1:22-25 (ESV)

Legalism and Lawlessness

October 14th, 2015

Suppose you were six years old and your parents had just given you some new boundaries for riding your bike.

You could ride from one next door neighbor’s driveway to the other next door neighbor’s driveway – a distance spanning approximately two yard widths.

Elated to learn your new boundaries, you hop and your bike and ride as fast as you can to the far edge of your next door neighbor’s driveway – and sit there looking at the next driveway down until your mother calls you in for dinner.

Ridiculous, right?

So what about this one?

Given the same boundaries, you reason that if you get on your bike and start riding down the sidewalk you might not be able to stop and turn in time to avoid outriding your boundaries. So you get on your bike and sit in the center of your own driveway until your mother calls you in for dinner.

Equally ridiculous.

When I was six (or whatever age I was) and those were my boundaries, I’ll tell you what I did. I got on my bike and rode from one driveway to another and back again. Over and over and over again until my mother called me in for dinner.

I trusted that my mother meant what she said when she gave me those boundaries. I trusted that meant I wouldn’t go wrong as long as I was inside them – and that something would go wrong if I was outside them. And so I fully enjoyed life within those boundaries (except the times when I didn’t – because even six-year-old me was a sinner, who sometimes thought life was better outside her boundaries – but that’s neither here nor there as this example goes).

The above scenarios are what I think of when I see Christians who don’t seem to know how to get together without drinking alcohol. They’re what I think of when I see Christians who want to forbid anyone from drinking alcohol lest they cross the line from drinking to drunk.

The above scenarios are what I think of when I see Christians who only listen to secular music. They’re what I think of when I see Christians who get upset because any other Christian is listening to secular music.

My little scenarios are simplistic, I know.

A wise little girl would recognize that she needs a certain amount of space in which to turn – so she leaves herself that space when approaching the boundary. And a wise Christian recognizes that if she has a personal or family history of alcoholism, she may need to abstain.

A loving little girl might recognize that her three-year-old brother has more constricted boundaries than she – so she might choose to play with her brother inside his own boundaries rather than pushing on to play where she legitimately may.

But it seems to me that, so long as I am neither going against my own conscience nor offending my brother, God is glorified when I fully enjoy everything within the boundaries – neither confining myself to the fence nor to the point farthest from the fence.

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