Contraconditional

What kind of love is this? Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NKJV)

For a long time I have equated unconditional love with “agape” love, the Greco-Christian term meaning “the highest form of love, charity.” But, that God might care about me too much to love me just unconditionally is a new thought. I recently discovered in the writings of Dr. David Powlison a more complete concept – “contraconditional” love, closer to “high” agape.

Whereas unconditional love sends a message of detachment with no direct personal involvement, contraconditional love is a love that personally suffered for me, that went to the Cross for me, that conquered the jaws of sin and death for me. It rises much higher. Whereas unconditional love is said to be tolerant and accepting no matter what, contraconditional love is merciful and won’t ignore the cries of my heart for much more than toleration and acceptance.

God’s love is far more than a vehicle for “feeling good about myself” or being unchallenged in any way by manipulations, demands or judgments that are characteristic of conditional love. The contraconditional love of God goes way beyond taking me just as I am, and moves to making me new.

Turns out, there IS a condition – the condition of dependence upon what Jesus alone accomplished by God’s initiative, and not on what the recipients of God’s great love accomplished for themselves. The loving-kindness of God is the gift of unearned grace that is offered through the work of Jesus coming into the world to save sinners. This love is not a blanket approval of sinners like me. Instead, it is a passionate act of sacrificial love offered freely to those who would receive the gift in faith.

In educational circles, we often hear much about the needs of learners to possess self-esteem and unconditional positive regard. But, God’s contraconditional love won’t leave you alone with that flat, lifeless idea – being simply affirmed or indulged. God is very patient. His love seeks to change you, renew you, restore you, rebuild you. He seeks to lead you to repentance. God’s heart’s desire is to reconcile you to Himself through a Savior. God intends the end result to be transforming you into the image of Jesus so that you can share that same contraconditional love of God with others.

Acts 20:32 says, “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (NJKV)

What kind of love is contraconditional? John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

I don’t want acceptance. I want an inheritance.

Be Affected

Photo credit: The New York Public Digital Collection (EM2578), Jonathan Edwards engraving, 18th century.

Here’s something to think about. It might seem odd, but truly outstanding coming from Jonathan Edwards:

“I am bold in saying this, but I believe that no one is ever changed, either by doctrine, by hearing the word, or by the preaching and teaching of another, unless the affections are moved by these things. No one ever seeks salvation, no one ever cries for wisdom, no one ever wrestles with God, no one ever kneels in prayer or flees from sin, with a heart that remains unaffected. In a word, there is never any great achievement by the things of religion without a heart deeply affected by those things. The reason is this: they are not affected with what they hear. There are many who hear about the power, the holiness, and the wisdom of God; about Christ and the great things that He has done for them and His gracious invitation to them; and yet they remain exactly as they are in life and in practice.”

This Jonathan Edwards quote I heard from Matt Chandler (Lead Pastor/The Village Church/Texas) after a frustrating morning of trying to live stream my own church’s service. YouTube kicked me off at 5 minutes and 31 seconds. The audio cut off early into the sermon. I tried to access the live stream on my phone rather than my laptop… Needless to say, I was ready to call it quits until I heard this quote and its related sermon.

Chandler’s sermon was a call to “know (in your gut) what you know (in your head).” Why is this so difficult for Westerners? One reason is because we think knowing more will automatically change our lives. But, this is not so. Ephesians 3:17-19 is part of a prayer of Paul for believers. It goes like this (NKJV): “(I Paul, pray) that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

One of my favorite pastors, Dick Woodward (who is now with the Lord), said that the best book of the Bible to memorize is Ephesians. This is probably because he knew that Ephesians draws attention to spiritual resources that are available to us, that sometimes get overlooked and under-experienced. The things we need to know (in our gut) after we know them (in our head). The things that make us wrestle with and cry out to God. The things that disrupt our hearts away from clinging to unchanged life and practice.

We need to be affected by not just the Truth, but a genuine relationship with the Person of the Truth – Jesus Christ. It is the only way we change. We sail in wooden ships, but Jesus still walks on the water and stills the storms. We need to experience this. Sometimes great opportunity for heart change lies within the context of great struggles. Like a pandemic. Like social turbulence. Like an election year. Like personal safety being in shorter and shorter supply. What better time to experience the width, the length, the depth, and the height of Christ’s love which passes knowledge?

Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Only then will I experience 2 Corinthians 3:2-3: “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”

Being affected will happen when I will truly “know what I know.” From head level to heart level. I will be affected when I experience the Truth I have heard and read. I will be affected when the divine ink on my heart writes a genuine knowing. Being affected by the love of Christ which passes knowledge makes me seek God diligently, cry out louder in prayer, flee from sin, and allow the Holy Spirit to crush my heart of stone so it becomes flesh.

Be bold. Don’t let your heart be unaffected.

Tracing a Line From Woke

The most impossible-seeming thing we do on planet earth is to come face to face with our sin problem, requiring the grace of the Holy Spirit. Coming to grips with the Truth of our fallenness since Creation’s story means facing the BIGGEST LIES ever told – that a Holy God doesn’t exist, that we are our own gods, that we don’t need a Savior…

I John 3:11-15 says, “For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”

The conviction of the Holy Spirit is what exposes what’s rotten in my heart. The inability to repent simply resides in humans on planet earth. More specifically, I am unable to live a life of repentance apart from Christ. I confess my need of a Savior whenever I measure my perverted motives against God’s declarations about my inborn nature, my pride, my fear of man, my lack of goodness, my intent to destroy things. These inevitably line up.

Yes, injustice greatly bothers me. Especially my own contribution to it. And, we each contribute. We all contribute to the shadows of consuming hatred and divisions between peoples. Racial injustice threads back to Creation where you find that hate and murder are born into the heart of brothers. Maybe we have forgotten how Cain treacherously killed his brother Abel, “brother” being the operative word.

Just trace it. Our inborn slavery to sin is no less monumental that the notorious outworking of sin that brought slaves to America or that caused the Holocaust. Being “woke” to injustice, particularly racism, could be a constructive thing if it led us to the foot of the Cross in repentance. It would then lead us to a genuine love for Jesus Christ and for others.

In an article by Elijah C. Watson (okayplayer.com), I discovered that author William Melvin Kelley of Harlem coined the term “woke” in a 1962 New York Times essay entitled, “If You’re Woke You Dig It.” I will read Kelley’s essay later, but I understand from Elijah that, almost 50 years later, this term “woke” has bubbled into a cultural trend word. Along with it comes the sadness that restoration looks unreachable.

I also learned that musician Georgia Anne Muldrow introduced “woke” to Erykah Badu who then used the term in her recording, “Master Teacher.” Maybe you’ve heard it (I haven’t). Recent, resultant adoption of the term by the masses, meant to capture empathy for the black experience (the kidnapping of black ancestors and their movement into a hostile home), still hasn’t led to a loving dialogue among brothers in the human race. Yet, we hope…

What happened in the Garden, when America was far from existing, was the mishandling of things meant for good. This still happens. The “woke” dialogue that we pray for will not happen until we are transformed by a perfect Savior into people who desire to love their brothers. We have prevented ourselves from tracing the pattern back to original sin. The repentance that leads us to the Cross, and thereby the true meaning of God’s love, is the only hope we have for any kind of racial restoration or reconciliation. Ever.

We are stuck in agony because we haven’t traced “woke” back to the Garden of Eden – what happens when enmity between brothers is replicated over and over and over. Seeing the darkness of our own hearts and calling out to the God who made provision for us through Jesus Christ is our only real hope to bridge any kind of gap between hostile hearts. The American homeland is not just an inextinguishable, wearying battleground for black people. It is hostile for all people until forgiveness is found in a Savior.

We will know when we have passed from death to life. Because some of us have. We will come face to face with a Savior. We will love as Christ loved. We will have His heart. We will be more than woke.

Don’t Touch The Stove

God preserves my life when His Word prevents the fingers of my heart from getting burned by the hot stove of adversity and temptation. Think about this – rules created by parents are sometimes for the benefit of the parents, but more often than not, for the benefit of the children. “Don’t interrupt me while I’m on the telephone” is a much lesser guideline than “Don’t touch the stove, it will burn you.” God’s Word tells us what is hot and what not to touch.

Psalm 119:89-94 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; You established the earth and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve You. If Your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out Your precepts.”

God is the Perfect Father. God’s Word is like this – it is for the benefit of His children. It is life-breathing and life-preserving rather than life-snuffing. It is designed to benefit us and help us to live under the protection of our Sovereign Father God. When life’s heat comes, I need to know wherein lies my hope. I don’t want to get burned.

If I hear Him correctly, one of the most life-giving precepts we find in God’s Word is the practice of waiting. He is the all-knowing parent who knows what the end result is and how we should get there. If we will only wait for Him. Wait on His answer, wait to see His work, wait in order to experience the refining and deepening of our faith, wait in order to depend on Him more fully.

Micah 7:7 says, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” God will hear me, but do I first hear Him? God’s Word is so available, so near, so accessible. How do I so quickly miss the point of His laws, precepts, counsel?

When we don’t wait, we often touch the scalding stove. We find out, the hard way, why God’s directives were put into place. When we skate on the newly frozen pond, we find out that there are still vulnerable cracks that will cause us to sink. We should have listened. We should have believed. We should not have doubted.

Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” If I wait like I should, I may not get my heart’s first desire. But I will likely get a new heart’s desire in which I desire God more that my pressing first desire. If I wait, I’m confident that God will transform my heart so it lands in the place He always wanted it to be, with a bigger vision and better heart’s desire – Him.

James 5:7 says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” This is how I will withstand the burning heat of the hot stove of life. I will trust Him and wait for Him in all circumstances.

MIAWA

Anger is something God obviously feels when He describes Himself in Exodus 34:6: “And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.’ ” Psalm 30:5 says, “For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Anger makes a value judgment, assesses that something is wrong, says “I’m against that,” and actively stands to oppose that thing. Anger is definitely consistent with God’s character. Yet, without the work of the Holy Spirit guiding believers into applying biblical truth to our handling of anger, we will not know how to mercifully enact anger in a God-glorifying manner. We are tempted to vent anger in a harmful way, storming around, slamming doors, yelling, crafting vengeance, and/or implementing retaliatory violence! Or, we are tempted to stuff anger in a harmful way and passively, aggressively make people’s lives miserable including our own. Destruction is guaranteed to follow either way.

There is a constructive way. Ephesians 4:26 says, ” ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Action is called for. Many verses indicate that there is a godly way to handle anger without it leading into sin… God’s Truth gives us the only profound wisdom for allowing anger to inform our responses and actions in a God-honoring manner.

I am currently taking a counseling class entitled “Dynamics of Biblical Change.” My professor, Dr. David Powlison (now deceased), has written a challenging journal article called “The Constructive Displeasure of Mercy” (The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2006). He says that anger has three opposites. The first two are indifference and pleasure. The #3 opposite he calls “the constructive displeasure of mercy.” I see Dr. Powlison’s point is – be angry, yet withhold destructive hostility and simultaneously respond with patience, forgiveness, generosity, and mercy. It seems backwards. But, it is God’s heart. Indeed, the gospel turns so many things upside-down!

The #3 anger opposite (Powlison’s “the constructive displeasure of mercy”) confronts wrong and is pleased to get mercifully messy in the process. The #3 opposite also rescues sufferers and calls wrongdoers to honest accountability. Simultaneously, displeasure can be expressed mercifully. But, how?

To help process this idea, I offer this acronym. MIAWA. Mercy In Anger Without Aggression (it’s easier for me to remember). Inspired by Dr. Powlison, my own version of anger’s #3 opposite force is MIAWA. Mercy in anger without aggression means that, while I hate the wrong that is happening, I will do something about it. My anger is appropriate if I take steps to properly oppose what is evil…

Meanwhile, I’ll be slow to anger as God is, and won’t express anger wrongly. I will see evil clearly in all its aspects, but from God’s point of view. I will longsuffer with difficult people and events. I will be compelled by a different, but divine purpose. Kindness. Honesty. But, no counterattack. I’ll work tediously to solve what is bad, even if it takes a lifetime. In the face of stubborn evils, I’ll choose a merciful path.

Extending mercy while being angry? Extending forgiveness in the face of terribly evil things that get perpetrated on a regular basis on planet earth since Genesis? Seriously? I am sure the answer is yes. For a faithful believer, forgiveness doesn’t mean I’ll ignore or excuse what is wrong. I’ll need to name the evils, out loud at times, silently at other times, prayerfully at still other times. And then, prayerfully wrap those call-outs in God’s redemptive purposes.

Psalm 103:10 gives us the unvarnished Truth about God – “[God] He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” MIAWA is God’s pattern for redeeming what seems unredeemable. MIAWA returns kindness where it is most certainly undeserved. It does not cover up what’s bad and does not pretend all is well. Yet, with a kind heart, it energetically works to redeem the unredeemable.

Adopting a lifestyle of MIAWA (mercy in anger without aggression) cannot be done in our own strength. MIAWA must be supernatural. The Holy Spirit must move us to take action, to sincerely offer to others patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. And without venting or stuffing anger, but by processing it out in prayer. Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

So there’s God’s call. The Spirit alone must provide the dynamic. Now, this is my prayer. Dear God, please help me to express my anger with constructive merciful love, slowly and according to Your timing. Help me to remember what MIAWA means.

Hero of the Faith

In my lifetime, I have had more than a handful of heroes. I am very grateful. My dad and my husband are obvious ones. An amazing son and two great daughters. A few more include some great Christian school teachers, administrators, and professors. But, today I want to single out Ravi Zacharias, undoubtedly the foremost Christian Apologist of modern and postmodern times. This great hero of faith passed away on May 19, 2020 after a brief battle with cancer.

In my life’s trajectory, I was long ago privileged to be a Christian high school student who understood the importance of Apologetics. With excellent Christian high school preparation, I was able to navigate college and career and family life with a solid biblical worldview. I gained an ability to defend my Christian faith. As a Christian school teacher and administrator, I deeply respected the Bible teachers who embraced the urgency of Christian Apologetics and who worked diligently to well train their students to be apologists.

In recent years, one outstanding Bible teacher with whom I had the privilege to work also became a close friend. Karen was genuinely a gift to her senior high school students. Her ability to train them was fueled by the Holy Spirit and developed under the influence of Ravi Zacharias. I encountered one of Karen’s students a few months ago who heralded Karen for the excellent preparation she received that enabled her to engage in intellectual debate with her college professors and navigate through a culture of peers with philosophies and faith issues splashed all over the spectrum. With faith still intact, I must add.

Ravi’s God-given vision in ministry (RZIM) was, and still is, to help believers to think and thinkers to believe. Thinking and believing – also the reality in my friend Karen’s ministry to young people. I am doubly blessed. Thankful for the godly influence of Ravi Zacharias paired with the dedicated heart of Karen to teach Truth and how to skillfully think about Truth.

Not coincidentally, in the livestream memorial service for Ravi Zacharias on Friday, May 29, 2020, part of Psalm 37 was read by Ravi’s daughter Sarah Davis. This scripture was the inspiration of my blog that I started 5 years ago (that you are reading now). Psalm 37 provided comfort and truth to me at a time when I walked through institutional spiritual warfare never before experienced in my lifetime. The voice of Ravi Zacharias reminded me to expect battles to be intense, and to remember the Battle Winner, Jesus Christ. Not as if waving a magic wand, but based upon faith strengthened through an intellectually sound apologetic. Thinking and believing.

Psalm 37:1-6 says, “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit you way to the Lord; trust in him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun…” Even when the battle is intense, the Battle Winner is the trustworthy Lord.

Ravi’s daughter Naomi spoke about the blessing of her loving father. She testified that the most outstanding thing about her dad was that he loved her and saw her. Really saw her. Like Christ does. In a world where becoming invisible is on the uprise, Ravi, like Jesus, really saw people. He looked. He saw. He made people visible, cherished, valued, loved.

As God often does, in one moment He connects life events into a tapestry so that you can see His capable hands orchestrating a purposeful whole. During Ravi’s memorial service, God connected many things for me. Psalm 37. The music of Matt Redman and Shane & Shane. The message of Pastor Louie Giglio (Passion City Church, Atlanta, GA). The comments of Ravi’s brother Ramesh, showing me that the influence that one believer can have in one family is phenomenal. And the influence of a hero is a gift that continues giving long after his or her passing.

All these memorial reflections made me rehearse and be grateful for the spiritual heroes God has placed in my life. Those who helped me to think and to believe. Thank you Ravi Zacharias for helping believers to think and thinkers to believe. You are an enduring hero of the faith!

A Certain Kind of Joy

Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

There is a certain kind of joy that can occur when we endure an impossibly hard season. Be it a pandemic, a terminal diagnosis, a death, shattered bones, infertility, betrayal by a spouse or friend or colleague, loss of employment, or persecution because of our faith, we can still experience the unique! Joy. If we know Jesus as Lord, in particular.

I’m not talking about happiness. This joy is more about confidence. It is more about hope being fixed on what is unseen, what is coming, what is promised. It is more about security in eternal terms. No way will we be happy about what we are enduring in the now. But we can be happy that God is lovingly showing us whether or not our faith is genuine. Fire turned up on high. Dross burned off. Hindrances vaporized. What’s left? Strong faith.

There is JOY IN THE SHOWING. I Peter 1:6-7 (NASB) says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This proof reveals lives miraculously transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This evidence lets us know where truth faith is bubbling up.

There is JOY IN THE SEEING. God already knows the status of our faith. Weak or strong, marginal or steadfast. He already knows. The testing happens so that we can know it ourselves or that others can see the real live picture of Christ’s character in us. God sometimes uses the disastrous to thread perseverance through our lives. To make us dependent on Him. To make meaningful our wrestling. To prevent us from abandoning hope. To make us like Him.

Too, I have noticed that in Christ, one kind of suffering prepares us for the next season of suffering. When I replay God’s faithfulness and provision in the former seasons of my life, even if waiting on Him seemed endless (and it always does), I know His strength for the next season is accessible. This is a repeated revelation for me but, in one faith experiment I learned that I had a self-sufficiency problem. This was when I broke my upper right arm (after a trip and fall in CW). And yes, I am right-handed. I clearly saw the dross God wanted to remove. The testing of my faith was not wasted on that painful healing process! God exposed my dependence on myself and it definitely needed to be taken down a few notches.

There is JOY IN THE KNOWING. Settle assurance. I can make sense of my pain when my faith is being purified by my suffering. God allows it and God uses it. Like childbirth, I can even call pain productive. But, only if the process forces me to focus on the age to come instead of the temporal “sparks flying upward” (Job 5:7) life here on planet earth. I must see the unseen to be weaned away from obsession with the earthly. My heart must be lifted to unseen glories. Kate Warren defines joy this way: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” Unseen glories. Still learning this lesson…

Romans 5:3-5 (NASB) says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God have been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

In this, there is a certain kind of joy.

The Great Initiator

My musings are usually triggered by books I’ve been reading (or walks I’ve been taking while flowers are in beautiful bloom). In the last few days, I put my favorite historical novels aside to read Michael Horton’s book Christless Christianity. As a former math teacher, I am intrigued by directionality as an underlying theme in the universe (except when it comes to my driving acumen). I still see the number line posted above the chalk board in all my classes. I’m always interested in the sequence of things…

Somewhat crimped by Zoom meetings, my church community is still alive and mostly well. Staying at home as the pandemic marches on, I’ve had time to think about what I’ve been missing, especially in church. But, maybe some other things too. Horton’s insights have helped me decipher the negative and positive directionality of my faith.

Although the answers should seem obvious, Horton’s questions challenged my thinking: Do I measure everything by God’s holiness or by my happiness? Did Jesus come to improve my life on earth or did He come to usher me into a new creation? Do I default to WWJD instead of meditating on “what Jesus has done?” My direction is usually in the negative direction, unfortunately.

Just now finishing up the study of Acts and Letters of the Apostles in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), I have hovered over Acts 2:42-47 as the true picture of the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Sorting through some dichotomies that are in conflict in my heart.

Given: God is the Great Initiator. Then, He is the One who establishes the conduit to us, not vice versa. Positive direction. Horton says our devotion to Christ “is not a private inner garden where we walk and talk with Jesus,…but in a public garden with visible means of grace – there He forms a people, not just a person, by consecrating ordinary human speech as His Word, ordinary water as His baptism, ordinary bread and wine as His communion.” The public garden comes first. The private inner garden is secondary. Positive direction.

Grappling with the means of grace that God has initiated, I have come to understand that the Lord’s Supper is really a declaration of God’s action, not my willingness to remember something important. Direction. I see that baptism is an expression of God’s commitment, not mine. Direction. Preaching of the Word is God’s gift to us, but not the way I often receive it as a challenge to do more. And singing. No matter what my musical ability might be, singing is the vehicle for reviewing God’s countless mercies in His great Redemption story. It is the embodiment of Colossians 3:16 as we serve one another, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

God is the Great Initiator. He serves us through ordinary means of grace rather than what we often imagine – that we serve him through means of works. His intent is that we mature in Christ, become the new creation, through the ordinary life of the covenant community. He is forming a people. Ordinary speech, water, bread, wine. The preaching of His Word, baptism, communion, singing. The public garden. The positive direction – His initiation.

Measure all things by God’s holiness. Meditate on what Jesus has already done. God is the Great Initiator.

Do You Still Love Me?

Back in the day, my then young son would repeatedly ask me, “Do you still love me?” Granted, this was after some kind of misbehavior and some kind of “losing it” that I displayed. Shouting, screaming. Wondering why kids just can’t simply behave. I did all the things that parents probably shouldn’t do. Before kids, I remember witnessing moms losing it (maybe even smacking their children) in the grocery store while their kids were throwing tantrums. So public! So embarrassing. I said to myself, “I’ll never do that!” Of course, I would eat my words later.

“Just say, yes ma’am, and do it!” was my favorite phrase during my child- raising years, and I dreamed that my kids would just say “Yes ma’am” and actually do what I asked. Fat chance. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that I routinely overlooked the part of the job where parents are supposed to persuade their children that blatant misbehavior does not negate their love. That love is unconditional. That I would stand in front of an oncoming train to protect my kids. But, apparently that assurance of love was questionable in many cases. Either because of my lack of patience or my projected feeling that their misbehavior was a personal affront to me.

The little “Count Your Blessings” heart was actually given to me by my young son, I imagine for a Mother’s Day gift, but I didn’t keep the best records back then. Even this little treasure begged the question, “Do you still love me?” I’m pretty sure that my messaging was unclear, and at best, advanced a performance-based approach to life that continues to plague and uproot grace.

All I can say is – I prayed a lot when the kids were young. Through mistakes and traumatic scenes. Always asking God how I got myself into this intense parenting thing? Especially when everybody else made it look so easy? And how could I fix them into perfectly behaved little people? Was there a way? I surely wanted to find it.

Well, God’s answer to my prayer was that He was trying to fix me! Through and through. Yes, He was using my family, my children, to sanctify me and make me whole. Wish I had known early on. I would have preferred an easier route. After all, I was a first born achiever who fancied myself in control of outcomes. Oh no. OH NO! Instead, this was God’s priority for me – I Thessalonians 5:23 “May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Taking time to count your blessings is the antidote for insecurity. So, I’m counting my blessings now. The blessings of three beautiful children who were gifts from God to me. The blessings of three beautiful, but wildly different personalities that God used to get my attention. The blessings of three beautiful souls that, by God’s grace, call Him their Heavenly Father. The blessings of three beautiful thinkers that challenge me with their provocative ideas. The blessings of three beautiful influencers who are passing on the heritage of faith in Jesus Christ to their children. Talk about blessings. There is no argument here!

It is God Who is in control of outcomes. Genesis 49:25-26a says, “Because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with the blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, the the bounty of the age-old hills…”

My prayer is that my grandchildren will feel the deep assurance of first, God’s unconditional love, and then their parents’ unconditional love. No matter what the circumstances are. Including outright rebellion. Including wayward seasons. Including the small little foxes that spoil the vine. Including the unsettling or careless remarks that can’t be taken back. Including the most repeated word in the English language – “NO!” And, that the answer to “Do you still love me?” will always be an emphatic YES because of the love of Christ made manifest in their families.

I Corinthians 13:4-8a says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

My Cup Runneth Over

I have the privilege of grandparenting with three other sets of really wonderful grandparents! What a gift! These are the in-laws of each of my children. Turns out, they are all amazing, just the kind of grandparents you wish every child could have! But, there’s something else. There is an added gift among these in-laws. These are all praying grandparents!

I am serious. All these grandparents know the Lord Jesus and faithfully pray that God will watch over and protect our grandchildren, both shared and those whom we don’t share by marriage.

One of the grandmothers recently gave me Stormie Omartian’s book entitled THE POWER OF A PRAYING GRANDPARENT.

Here’s a portion of one of the prayers:

“Lord, I lift up my grandchildren (by name) to You. Help me to clearly see the spiritual inheritance I leave each one when I pray for them. Thank You for all of the wonderful promises in Your Word that declare You will bless my children and grandchildren when I live Your way. I know that children are a gift from You and grandchildren are a crown of glory upon my life (Proverbs 17:6). I know that whether I can see my grandchildren often or not, I can still be close to them every time I pray for them.”

During this time of pandemic anxiety, one of my grandchildren was born into the world. March 2020 will always be a memorable month! Her entrance into our family was a great reminder that God is indeed the Giver of the great gifts of life! And God indeed entrusts grandparents with the privilege of praying for these precious ones.

When those grandbabies were born, my heart overflowed with joy. Like a cup overflowing. Psalm 23:5b-6 says, “…You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

It’s good to know that I can still be close to my grandchildren when I pray for them, even when social distancing makes it difficult to visit at the moment. I can still experience God’s goodness and love, even when circumstances would prefer to steal my “grandparent joy” away and replace it with worry. I can still pray that God’s mercy surrounds my grandchildren all the days of their lives.

Since God’s dwelling place is unshakeable, I know one way to pray for these young ones. “That nothing can separate them from the love of Christ, not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (Romans 8:35).” That God’s goodness and love will follow them all the days of their lives. That they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is my prayer for you all – Kayla, Brooke, Ella, Caroline, Jack, and Ava. What gifts you are to your grandparents. And what a privilege it is to pray for you!