Thursday, September 29, 2011

Today is brought to you by the letter "P"...

...and a really cool guy with a great name and a great story.

Tullian Tchividjian, pastor and a regular contributor at the Gospel Coalition, writes about preaching the gospel to yourself daily. He's got a lot to say about relying on Christ's performance rather than our performance. Good stuff, I say! Check it out...

"We no longer need to rely, therefore, on the position, the prosperity, the promotions, the preeminence, the power, the praise, the passing pleasures, or the popularity that we’ve so desperately pursued for so long.

Day by day, what we must do practically can be experienced only as we come to a deeper understanding of what we are positionally—a deeper understanding of what’s already ours in Christ.

I used to think that growing as a Christian meant I had to somehow go out and obtain the qualities and attitudes I was lacking. To really mature, I needed to find a way to get more joy, more patience, more faithfulness, and so on.

Then I came to the shattering realization that this isn’t what the Bible teaches, and it isn’t the gospel. What the Bible teaches is that we mature as we come to a greater realization of what we already have in Christ. The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation, but Christ’s external substitution. We desperately need an Advocate, Mediator, and Friend. But what we need most is a Substitute. Someone who has done for us and secured for us what we could never do and secure for ourselves.

The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of me and my performance and more of Jesus and his performance for me."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Remembering Sara

Today I'm remembering a girl I've never met but wish more than ever that I could have known. Her story of living with a chronic illness, one that had eventually trapped her in own home, has captured me. Yet she would not dwell on her limitations or may have even used the word "trapped", for she chose to accept the life that God had given her and saw her own suffering as a gateway to joy. Today I'm remembering a girl named Sara. I've never met her, but I can't wait to meet her one day in heaven.

I'm not sure why her story captures me, except that it convicts me and encourages me to run the race God set before me. You see, Sara had a disease that made breathing air toxic to her body. And yet she lived. She really lived. The first time I read her blog I had to stop and take a breath myself and let that reality sink in. My thoughts raced from "Why, God?" to "How can she not be bitter?" to "How does she really find joy each day?" As I read on and on I started realizing how abundant her joy and life was because she took what God gave, gave thanks, and then broke it for others. She choose joy. I also started realizing that Sara, in her physical limitations, probably knew more about joy than I ever have.

Just a few days ago Sara took her last toxic breath of air on earth and her first breath of pure air in heaven. And as I read on and on about her last days on earth from the people whose lives she so sweetly touched, I discovered a surprising truth. She was a simple Iowa girl like me. She was living her seemingly limited but ever-so-abundant life in the backyard of my hometown. We surely walked the same streets once upon a time. We probably ate at the same restaurants back in the days when she could. And we graduated from college in the same year. She was my age, yet she was ever so wiser in wisdom than our years. She had lived the abundant life that I long to live, and if only I could have met her face to face. I would ask her to teach me joy and teach me surrender. I would ask her to teach me to receive and teach me to give. And of course, I would also ask her to teach me to write like she does with transparency and authenticity and grace. She would be a great teacher, I'm sure.

I feel like I have met her, in a sense, through her writings. She has inspired me to choose joy each day and graciously receive what God gives me. I could say more, but her words are better.

In Sara's words...

"I think, for me, it has been about learning to want what He wants for me more than what I want for myself. It's a tall order and I don't say that flippantly. But my joy has truly come from Him finding His joy in me rather than me finding my joy in what I desire. It doesn't mean I don't long for different, it just means I find peace in fulfilling rather than understanding. In the knowledge that this life isn’t about me, it’s about Him."

Thanks be to God for the abundant life of Sara Frankl, who teaches us all that this life is really about choosing and finding joy in Jesus.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Community 101

I've been thinking a lot about community lately. A lot. So much that it makes my brain hurt and then I get a headache and then I need chocolate. Or something like that.

A while back a sweet friend let me borrow a book on the topic of community. It was Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. Sounded like something I could think more about. And since I hadn't finished his biography before the library requested it back, I thought reading a bit of the actual writings of the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be the next best thing. And while I have yet to read through and digest it all (it takes a lot of thinking and chocolate to finish), I am blown away by this man of God who left such a mark on history.

Here's a little nugget of what he has to say about Bible reading and personal application:

"Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God's help and faithfulness. All this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality. We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God's action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth. And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also."
Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I love how he makes the connection between how the Word of God becomes our story and how we are connected to the people we read about in scripture from long ago. Great thoughts!

And for a little different food for thought, our friend and pastor shared recently this YouTube video on community. Check it out.

Hmmm...So, what are your thoughts on community?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Welcome to the Story

Welcome to the Story by Stephen J. Nichols is the perfect title for this introduction to reading the Bible. Nichols offers an invitation to all to learn how to read, love, and live God's Word in a deeper, more meaningful way. Yet he makes it so simple and refreshingly understandable for someone who is reading the Bible for the first time or for someone like me who has read bits and pieces here and there over many years but is finally beginning to understand how it all fits together.

Nichols puts the pieces of the puzzle together by explaining the biblical framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. He weaves personal narratives and makes interesting references to history and contemporary culture so that each chapter even reads like a story. He helps the reader to understand how the individual stories in the Bible with unique characters and plots work together to tell one Grand Story of what God has been doing from the beginning of time until the end of time. Better yet, he points to how God is not only the author but the main character throughout the Bible and how to understand where we fit into this true Story.

My favorite parts were near the end of the book. He suggests how we can see ourselves in the diverse characters throughout scripture. He highlights how God is the main character and His glory is paramount. Throughout the book he also promotes the value of reading the Bible in community. He offers helpful questions to ask yourself while you are reading any passage of scripture. Finally, he focuses on loving and living the truth of God in such a winsome way that you leave really wanting to start digging into scripture out of a genuine love for God and not out of guilt or duty.

This book is perfect for new believers. It is perfect for teenagers and young adults. And it is a perfect refresher course for any Christian who wants to learn how to simply articulate a Christian worldview and gain a better understanding of the big picture of scripture.

Disclaimer: Crossway provided me a free copy of this delightful book in return for my honest opinion. I love this book because it helps me love God's word more. Plus, it fits with my blog theme!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Winds of Change

Change is in the air.

This fall marks a milestone for our family and a big change for us all. We sent our oldest off to sixth grade away from home. He's in a great school with a great teacher and great classmates, and I am truly thankful. I'm thankful for the years we've had at home together, and now I'm grateful that I can pass the baton onto others to carry out the vision of Christian education I long for our children to have. But it's not without a few tears and sadness. (All mine, not his, that is.) I'm also thankful for the opportunity to spend more focused time homeschooling our two still at home. A friend of mine uses the term "hybrid homeschooler," and it fits well for our new life of blending private school and homeschooling for our family.

These winds of change have caused me to reflect a bit. I've been reflecting on the pros and cons of homeschooling. (You may hear more about that sometime.) I've also been convicted about my lack of trust. I'd like to trust God with my children more than I have in the past. That sounds pretty lame to say that, but when I realize all the ways that I have forged my own path for my children and then just kind of asked God to bless it along the way, I am humbled by how much God even puts up with my arrogance, independence, and false assumptions. Not to mention my lack of faith in how much bigger God is than I am.

One huge way that I can trust God is through prayer. Prayer is a reminder that I am weak and He is strong. That apart from God, I can do nothing. That it is God who softens and changes hearts--not my parenting, or however wise or foolish a parent I might be from day to day.

I've found a great guide to help me grow in this area of praying for my children. It's inspired me to pray more purposefully this fall. There's 31 biblical virtues to pray for our children. Would you consider joining me in 31 days of prayer for our dears ones? Let our prayers be full of faith and hope in all that God will do in the lives of our children.

Day 1: Pray for salvation -- “Lord, let salvation spring up within my children, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (Isa. 45:8; 2 Tim. 2:10)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Unplug and Connect

My "short summer blogging sabbatical" turned into a "frantic fall get-back-to-school blogging sabbatical" has now turned into some possibly wondering, "Does she still blog?" Or maybe nobody is wondering at all. But the beauty of blogging is that you can blog for one or you can blog for one thousand, and you can take your own vacations and set your own deadlines. (I also needed a little bloggy pep talk recently to remember my original purpose and motivation to write in the first place. Thanks, Christan, dear friend, for getting me back on track.) So for my one reader who is left, here we go!

One of the many lessons I learned this summer is the value of unplugging and getting recharged. Time away from the routine. Time away from technology. Time away from schedules and demands and to-do lists and the stresses of the day to day. I love getting away to gain perspective and to help me once again see the big picture in life. And I love coming home again, too.

True recreation is time to re-create. Time to remember who we are, why we're here, and where we're going. {We don't do this so well in our American culture. We either work ourselves crazy, or we play at our work and work at our play.} But in this age of technology, it seems more important than ever to learn how to press the "off" button and set aside our electronic devices to enjoy the beauty of creation or possibly even the person sitting right next to us.

So this summer sabbatical I examined what drives me and the pitfalls of pursuing my identity in anything outside of Christ. Doug and I started asking ourselves once again where we are and where we are going and praying some big prayers to ask God to lead and guide. And this fall I'm asking God to teach me more about finding balance in life and in all things good. Balance--among other things--when to plug and when to unplug and truly connect.