Unless the Lord builds

Not quite seven years ago, my friend and I sat on my back porch discussing Psalm 127. I was presumably mentoring her but I was so shell-shocked at the time, and so very heartbroken, I really think it was she mentoring me. In fact, it is probably still she mentoring me to this day though she has since moved. Thanks to the wonders of technology she is only a text message away and I find myself often seeking advice and opinion and perspective.

At the time of our mentoring discussion, our church was in its very early stages. Psalm 127:1 was particularly applicable: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” How much we wanted the Lord’s blessing in this, the building of His church! How we begged for His work, not ours! We prayed together that day, my friend and I, and asked the Lord for those very requests.

My church began on a hot July day seven years ago in another friend’s driveway. Actually, I suppose you might say it began a Sunday night a couple of weeks before that when a bunch of us crammed onto my back porch in a swell of grief and shock. But it was there, on that July day, all of us fanning, kids wandering between the lawn chairs, the decision, the leap of faith as it were, was made.

We met first in a large conference room at my husband’s office, borrowing chairs from another church and setting up a makeshift nursery in one of the empty offices. It wasn’t long before we were able to rent a converted insurance office space large enough for our corporate gathering. We eventually rented three units in that same complex and there we have met for worship and Sunday school and fellowships and bridal teas and Vacation Bible Schools and all the other functions and privileges of church life over the past seven years.

However, this past Sunday we bid good bye to our “storefront” meeting space and we have spent this week moving chairs and desks and tables and bookcases and sound systems and everything else to our new church building.

Our building. Ours.

When we first began, a beautiful building with cedar columns and stone accents and gorgeous stained concrete floors was the very last thing on our mind. Sure, we would have liked a sink to make kool-aid and maybe some green space, but, really, as we brainstormed church names and drafted a church covenant and googled statements of faith, our overarching desire was to build a church, not a building, but a church and to do so together, according to the pleasure and provision of the Lord.

This week as we were sorting things to be moved and other things to be given away, my friend and I were surveying the pile of giveaway items. We realized we each had things we had donated, me a pack and play and a toy box and a few other nursery items, she various other things needed and necessary when the church is new and the budget small. She laughed and said, “We just kind of all threw our stuff and whatever we had in together didn’t we?”

That’s exactly what we did. We threw our lot in together seven years ago, for better or worse, richer or poorer. We had no idea where the Lord would lead or how He would provide. We loved each other and we loved the Lord and to us that was enough. The Lord would build the rest.

And so He did.

This Sunday we will worship together in a building the Lord in His rich and abundant grace has provided. We will humbly, gratefully acknowledge Him as we rejoice in His faithfulness to us. We know that unless the Lord builds it, we have labored in vain. We believe this is the Lord’s work. We have seen His hand, we have known His faithfulness, we are recipients of His mercy and His grace.

To God be the glory, great things He has done.

 

For the abortive mom

There seems to be an unspoken expectation in today’s blog culture that if one were to comment on the hot button topic of the day, one does so immediately and thoroughly, with carefully constructed opinions and arguments. In fact, I think this may be one reason, no doubt among many, for my tendency toward reticence in posting. Maybe I’m a wimp, but I generally shy away from the brouhaha of social media commentary.

Except for today.

I cannot read of the Planned Parenthood videos and not weep. I haven’t watched any of the footage; merely scrolling through my Twitter feed reading the headlines and quotes is enough to bring tears to my eyes. The screenshot of the hand in the tweezers, like so many have said, I cannot unsee it.

My heart is broken.

I grieve for these precious little lives taken so soon and in such brutal fashion. I grieve for the evil and the lies that call wrong right and right wrong. I grieve for the medical personnel who deal in such atrocity.

I grieve for the abortive mom.

My heart breaks for the many women who have endured the violation of abortion and are now seeing what before was only imagined or ignored. The hand, they cannot unsee it either.

I have friends who are post-abortive. Though they have found healing and hope in Jesus Christ, they will not hesitate to tell you that it is a horror that lingers.

I do not want to be overly dramatic but I am convinced we would be surprised at how many post-abortive women we each know who are suffering in silence. Yes, in your pews at your church.

Dear friend, if this is you suffering in silence, please know there is hope. You need not suffer alone. Your sin, like all sin, is evil rebellion against God and His ways. But Jesus bore the weight of your condemnation when He died on the cross. He paid the penalty for your sin, yes for the sin of your abortion, and He offers you His perfect righteousness. Repent in genuine grief over your sin against Him and turn to Him in faith, believing His promise to save, and His free and full forgiveness is yours. Forever. Completely. His grace covers all your sin, all of it, every single one.

And please, sister, talk to someone about your shame and your guilt. At the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteer, we offer post-abortive counseling. We have women there who know exactly what you are experiencing. They too aborted a baby and they want to offer you friendship and support as well as the healing they have found in the grace of the Lord. If you are local, you are more than welcome to email me and I can get you in touch with someone. If you’re not local, then please find a pregnancy center in your area that will support you as you work through these issues.

I know that the condemnation of the enemy in regard to your abortion—and yes, sometimes of the world, especially the evangelical one—is an ongoing attack. Stand firm, friend, and know that the grace of the Lord is not without effect. Remember your hope is in Christ! Remind yourself of the gospel, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And “no” means none. Zero. Zilch. You are free!

How I pray this freedom bring you joy and healing in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glory.

And to others who may be reading this, may we speak with care as we rightly condemn the horrific practice of abortion. It is an evil and it must be stopped. We must stand for the unborn and we must defend the image of God. But let us do so with speech that is as gracious as it is bold and uncompromising.

Please, Lord, have mercy on us all.

More words, more vanity

This morning I was thinking to myself that I might actually pop open the laptop and attempt to resurrect the blog, at least briefly. Most of y’all have been around long enough to know that any signs of life around here are generally short-lived.

What I had in mind was publishing one of the several posts I have in draft that I tweak and edit whenever the writing urge strikes. Despite evidence to the contrary, I really do (occasionally) get spurts of creative energy! I did not consider I would be writing the stream of consciousness sort of post that you’re seeing here.

Lucky you.

With the thought of perhaps publishing something today lodged firmly in the back of my mind, I commenced reading my Bible out on the porch as I generally do on a given morning. My reading today took me through the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes. I chuckled as I read Ecclesiastes 6:11, “The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?” I couldn’t help but think immediately of the words of this blog, and vanity, and wherein is the advantage?

I will say the context of the verse isn’t exactly words written by me or anyone else. Rather the passage is speaking of the sovereignty of “one stronger” and the folly of disputing the authority of the Lord God who reigns and who determines all things.

But the loose, out-of-context application made me laugh regardless.

I once wrote a post where I made the statement I had little vanity. By that I meant that I don’t really struggle with appearance; I probably worry far more about whether or not I should be worrying about my appearance. The post actually went on to describe an attempt at purchasing swimsuit so, yeah, hello vanity and insecurity and heaps of both.

One cannot engage in a hobby like this one, writing something and sending it out to the world wide web for whosoever will to read, and not admit some degree of vanity in the process. In fact, the Preacher’s next question in Eccesliastes 6:11 hits my vanity square on the head, at least in terms of writing and ministry: what is the profit?

We have lots of ways we measure the success of something, usually by its popularity. We follow the numbers game. We look for assurance and affirmation in our perceived like-ability. See how many people read your post? How many links it received? Or, we talk in terms of how many attend your church, how many likes your Instagram photo received, how many retweets and shares your status update boasts. Or maybe we look to the advancement of our agenda, or the assertion of our “rights,” or our measure against any number of chosen standards, from our children’s academic success to the cleanliness of our baseboards compared to our friends’.

Oh. Wait. Maybe we’re not talking just about “more words” and correspondingly more vanity. Truly our vanity, my vanity, manifests itself in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Bitterness, unforgiveness, unwillingness to give others the benefit of the doubt, self-consciousness, lack of love, defensiveness—all these and more find their root in vanity and pride.

I’m reading The Fruitful Life: The Overflow of God’s Love Through You by Jerry Bridges as part of my preparation to teach on the fruit of the Spirit in Sunday School. Interestingly, he begins his discussion with humility. Last I checked, humility wasn’t on the list of fruit the Spirit bears in the believer’s life. But Bridges asserts we must begin here, with a proper view of the holiness and majesty of God and a correct assessment of who we are before Him. Otherwise, we cannot grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all of which are starved and strangled by the pervasive evil of vanity. In fact, Paul follows his list of the fruit of the Spirit with the command to not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

In other words, lose the vanity. Repent of your pride. Humble yourself before the Lord.

And what is the profit? What is the advantage to man? Consider Isaiah 57:15 for just one example of the beautiful promises the Lord makes to the woman who will humble herself before Him:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Consider that! The Lord will dwell with the lowly! We also see in the Bible that Jesus is our example; He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross! (Phil. 2:8). Because of His life and death and resurrection, we have His Spirit within us willing and working for His good pleasure. He is our guarantee and He has promised that he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14, emphasis mine).

“More words,” indeed. It’s a long post, stream of consciousness or not. “More vanity,” please Lord, I hope not. The profit? May it be for the Lord’s glory and His alone.

To wholly follow the Lord

It is easy for me to read about Caleb and be impressed, inspired, and even a little intimidated. So brave and so bold, and, good grief, so very brave and so very bold at eighty-five years old!

I want to wholly follow the Lord but most days I don’t feel so very brave or so very bold. I don’t have the confidence or the strength to conquer giants. My life feels less like claiming the Promised Land and more like struggling in the same battles day in and day out…

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary here.

Seeing grace

My church girlfriends and I often exhort each other with the reminder that “there’s _________ grace,” grace for fill-in-the-blank with whatever challenge or insufficiency the other is facing. There is dirty-dishes-piled-in-the-sink grace and there is moms-of-teenagers grace and there is I-cannot-do-this-one-more-day-grace. We sometimes laugh in our exhortation but deep down we know it is sometimes hard to see the provision of grace that is ours.

I wonder why I am so blind to the graces in my life. It is true we are all busy, life is hard, our struggles blind us, and we need the gentle reminder of friends to slow down and see grace. Grace also demands I own my insufficiency and my inadequacy as well as my outright desperation and depravity. I must acknowledge the end of me before I begin to see grace in all its beauty.

Same for receiving grace. It is humiliating to freely receive a kindness, a kindness wholly undeserved and with no quid pro quo attached. For some of us, it’s even a little embarrassing. But that is grace, is it not? Free, humbling, even humiliating, openhanded goodness we could never repay.

Recently I read Kara Tippett’s book The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard. It was not exactly the funnest book to read because it’s about cancer and death and because of the nearness of Kara’s story to that of my friend who also lost her life to cancer last year. But it is a hopeful book and a beautiful book, hopeful and beautiful in that it is an unwavering testimony to the goodness and sufficiency of the grace of God even in the worst of circumstances.

Kara talks of receiving graces from friends and church members, gifts she could only receive and could never repay. She writes:

Seeking grace has been a theme since I met Jesus, but it wasn’t the very air I breathed to get through each moment—each scary, hard moment. The looking has now become my practice. The names of the graces, the gifts I don’t deserve, is new to me. But I do not believe you need to face cancer to see the value of looking for and naming the graces in your own moments, days, weeks, lifetime. To capture this beauty in this weariness, even if your story doesn’t look like mine, will enrich your moments, give you a new perspective, and help you lift your head in the impossibility and pain in living. Hard is hard.

What gave Kara the clarity of vision to see these graces? Cancer.

Cancer has given me the freedom to see my story with me utterly not in it. Sans Kara. I saw the grace of care and community when I could not reciprocate my love to the givers. Cancer showed me the beautiful community that could be built into a church that didn’t have me doing anything. Cancer showed me the gift and strength of weakness, that in the place of utter inability, Jesus was able. The beauty of the broken was the gift cancer gave to our family. Suffering taught us a new song of what ministry could be. How do I communicate that gift and help you see the love in the lack of the expectation without you facing such devastation in your own life? How do I communicate the gift of weakness, neediness, and utter dependence for each moment and the beauty it brought to our community? How do I encourage grace and the freedom to exhale from the endless expectations you place on yourself?

I can spot myself in so many mamas I come in contact with daily. I see so much going, doing, and wearing out in the effort to find grace. My heart is so full of love for the overachieving mom, and I long to share the heart of slowing and hearing. I see my former self in the mama who is doing every activity, seeking acceptance in her ability, and striving to capture goodness in her going. I recognize the tired eyes and the efforts at speaking with an energy she cannot feel. I want to encourage her to slow down, to rest, to stop—but I know I would not have listened to me. I would have politely smiled and kept moving to the next thing—the endlessness of the next thing.

May I slow down and look for and name the multitudes of blessings, of graces, the Lord grants me each day, each moment. I want to see grace, the beauty of the Lord’s mercy and provision in Christ no matter my circumstance. We value those testimonies of problem -> grace -> presto! no more problem. But, as Kara and others have testified, sometimes there is only the beauty of grace and glory of sharing the suffering of Christ and knowing His sufficiency in weakness. Life is hard and may not get easier yet there is always, abundantly _______ grace. Yes and amen.

Thank you, Elisabeth

The first Elisabeth Elliot book I read was Passion and Purity. I was in college, no doubt brokenhearted over some boy, and I grabbed my roommate’s copy not knowing who Elisabeth was nor anything of her story. I think perhaps I was hoping to find the secret to finding love, true love, and the kind of happily ever after that had thus far eluded me in my twenty years of life.

I read the book in one sitting. Yes, Elisabeth spoke, and quite directly I might add, of relationships but it was her passion for Christ that captivated me. She and Jim so young, so in love, their story so tragic, their abandon to the cause of Christ so complete–I saw in their testimony the beauty of a surrendered life and I wanted it.

I’ve since read several of Elisabeth’s books. As a matter of fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve bought–and lent out–Through Gates of Splendor twice. The pictures and images of that particular book stay with me: those young men full of zeal for the Lord and love for all the peoples of the world, the widows and their babies waiting for news, any news, Elisabeth returning to that same people group who had murdered her husband. Here’s Elisabeth describing how they viewed the possibility of danger:

God gave us peace of heart, and confidence that whatever might happen, His Word would hold…God’s leading was unmistakable up to this point. Each of us knew when we married our husbands that there would never be any question about who came first–God and His work held first place in each life. It was the condition of true discipleship; it became devastatingly meaningful now.

It was a time for soul-searching, a time for counting the possible cost. Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No…their compulsion was from a different source. Each had made a personal transaction with God, recognizing that he belonged to God, first of all by creation, and secondly by redemption through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This double claim on his life settled once and for all the question of allegiance. It was not a matter of striving to follow the example of a great Teacher. To conform to the perfect life of Jesus was impossible for a human being. To these men, Jesus Christ was God, and had actually taken upon Himself human form, in order that He might die, and, by His death, provide not only escape from the punishment which their sin merited, but also a new kind of life, eternal both in length and in quality. This meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed, and more than that, that He would provide the power to obey. The point of decision had been reached. God’s command “Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature” was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant.

I pulled Passion and Purity from my friend’s shelf because I desperately desired true love and the happily ever after of a fairy tale story. Yes, Elisabeth taught me the love of a godly man was worth waiting for, and she was right. She also taught me that true love, sustaining love, the love that will never fail, is found only in Christ. Happily ever after is no fairy tale and its reality is costly. In fact, it will cost my life. “Take up your cross and die” is Jesus’ call to any true disciple. For Jim Elliot it meant martyrdom. For Elisabeth it meant a long obedience in the same direction until, finally, yesterday, the gates of splendor and the glory of her Savior’s presence.

I am indebted to Elisabeth Elliot and her unwavering testimony of the power and sufficiency of the gospel. I am thankful for her life and that she has now received her reward.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you.

 

This nobody life

In my last post I mentioned teaching a women’s conference at my friend’s church in Louisiana. A few days prior to the conference, my friend texted me and told me a friend of hers had seen the flyers and asked her, “Who is Lisa Spence?”

Aside from me freaking out JUST A LITTLE over flyers posted around town presumably promoting me alongside the conference—I couldn’t even think about the possibility of there being a picture too—I told my friend that I hoped she had responded that Lisa Spence was “just a nobody.”

“That’s exactly what I said,” my friend texted back. “She’s a NOBODY! I yelled it with passion!”

You may not know my friend but I think you can detect her note of sarcasm even in a text.

I was talking to another friend of mine this week as she recounted the Lord’s faithfulness to her through the years. By the Lord’s mercy, she was saved as a young girl but endured many years of darkness and difficulty before returning to church as a young woman and finally, completely, wholeheartedly embracing the gospel of grace at the age of 40. She spoke of the Lord’s grace in saving her at an early age and how now she can see His hand in greater clarity even in the yucky and hard circumstances.

As I was driving home after our conversation I was thinking of my own testimony of the Lord’s grace and providence to me through the years. I thought of that text conversation with my friend from a couple of weeks ago and how in all honesty, as well as I can know my own heart, I embrace the nobody designation. I welcome it. I am grateful for it.

It hasn’t always been the case. I cannot reflect on my spiritual journey without considering those years of frustration in which I wanted so desperately to be a somebody. I wanted validation, I craved meaning and purpose beyond what I was currently receiving, I despised the perceived smallness of my life and ministry. “I want that,” I would cry out to the Lord, pointing to a specific ministry model, “not this!”

I wanted Beth Moore’s job. That’s what I confessed to my girlfriend ages ago when she and I were attending a retreat and we were instructed to share our most heartfelt dreams and ambitions. I wanted to write and to teach, and the adoration and adulation of thousands looked like a pretty good gig too, though I never would have admitted that last part. At least not out loud.

But I didn’t realize I had Beth Moore’s job and I have it still. It is my privilege to teach, not from the platform of the perfectly coiffed and expertly edited, but to a group of ordinary women I know and love and who know and love me in my ordinariness. I got to go to Louisiana, to my friend’s church, and share with a precious group of Jesus-loving women, most of whom, if not all, have never attended a women’s conference in any form or fashion, Beth Moore or Lisa Spence aside. That same week of the conference I was invited to share with a young mom’s group and we sat in chairs in a circle and I talked about weariness and the gospel and one mom cried and we boasted in the Lord’s faithfulness together.

In all this I am a nobody, at least how I would have defined it all those years ago, and I am glad. Theology and the deep things of the Lord are for ordinary women living ordinary lives, ordinary women striving to do their best as moms, ordinary women living on the bayou in south Louisiana, ordinary women serving as humble Bible teachers grateful for any and every opportunity to speak of the glories of the gospel in Christ Jesus.

The gospel is for nobodies too, maybe even especially so.

So as I think over my journey to this point, I am humbled. Like my friend I see the Lord’s hand at work and I am overwhelmed. I am thankful the Lord denied my presumptuous petitions for the nebulous “more” I thought I lacked and instead taught me contentment here in this nobody life.

Monday morning worries

For many years I taught ladies’ Bible study on Sunday nights during the Discipleship Training hour at my church. This meant I learned to dread Monday mornings when all that I should have said and didn’t and all that I did say and shouldn’t came back to haunt me. I know now it was a lack of faith and no small amount of self-consciousness that drove most of my Monday fretting, not to mention the very real need for evaluation and improvement.

I no longer teach on Sunday evenings but, hello, Wednesday mornings following Tuesday Bible study have the same capacity for despair. However, I learned through the years to stifle my insecurities, at least for the most part, as I realized that the Lord is sovereign even over my little class and my simple lessons and it is He who works to accomplish His will for His good pleasure. What freedom! What confidence! What grace!

I taught a women’s conference this past weekend. The conference was hosted by my dear friend’s church in Louisiana and I loved being with my friend and hanging out with her and the friend who made the drive with me, seeing my friend’s people, and meeting her lovely church family. I basically taught a crash course in Biblical theology, three sessions on Saturday and one on Sunday in place of the usual ladies’ Sunday school class.

I drove home Sunday evening and I awoke Monday morning with the same old Monday insecurities eating me alive and they continue even today as I type this on Wednesday. Maybe because I taught topically which is something I never do. Maybe because I am accustomed to being able to amend and improve my point with next week’s lesson in my usual Bible study setting. Maybe because I am self-conscious and self-absorbed. Maybe because it’s true that I really didn’t give my best showing.

I know that most of you are not Bible teachers but I imagine you well understand the plague of insecurity and doubt. It’s no fun and I do not want to wallow in it. I doubt you do either. Here’s what I’m telling myself today:

  1. Remember the gospel. You knew this was coming, right? Because of Jesus I am fully forgiven, completely accepted, wholly and perfectly loved. No matter what. My identity, my worth, my vocation, all are found in Christ, not in how well I taught a lesson or how much I am liked or esteemed. Jesus is my treasure and my life. My life is hidden in Him.
  2. Rest in the Lord’s sovereignty. He is at work and He will accomplish His will and it will prove to be good, acceptable and perfect. Though I am the Lord’s servant, it’s not up to me. I can trust Him to will and to work for His good pleasure.
  3. Humbly accept honest critique. I’ve no doubt I could do better and that there are areas I need improvement. These realizations are gifts of grace if I will accept them in humility and a teachable spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still stewing and worrying. But as I do so, I’m preaching to myself these truths. What about you? What do you do with your insecurities and doubts?

Hello there.

Well. Hello there. Yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, the blog really isn’t dead. Not yet, anyway.

I met someone recently who said to me “I heard you like to write.” I paused and stammered out some semblance of a reply, all the while wondering, do I? Like to write? I think I do. Or maybe I used to.

Anyway, that exchange prompted me to at least attempt to revive the blog, however short-lived said revival may be. And y’all know as well as I do that if past experience is any indicator…

Though I haven’t been blogging, I have been busy with real life and all its joys and responsibilities and laundry. Here’s a small peek into what I’ve been up to.

I finished up our year of Bible study a couple of weeks ago and y’all know how sappy that makes me. This year, this group, this study, it is no different. I love those ladies; I love studying God’s Word with them; I miss our Tuesdays together terribly. We usually break until September and I gotta tell you, that’s a long time! I told my husband it’s a pitiful thing for a Bible teacher to be without a class.

But I have been busy cramming preparing to teach a conference at my dear friend’s church in south Louisiana. Four sessions! I am so excited. And just a little overwhelmed. And humbled. And thrilled. And nervous. The last time I taught a multi-session event was at a retreat and I got the stomach virus. It was horrible. Here’s hoping for a better experience this time! Oh, and if any of you dear readers are in the area, shoot me an email and I’ll give you the details.

And…I’ve been invited to speak at a local moms’ group which is awesome. I love encouraging young moms, mainly because I needed it so much as a young(er) mom myself. :)

I do write, sometimes anyway. I wrote a post at Out of the Ordinary a week or so ago that I forgot to link here. It’s my second contribution in our series on the church. You can find it by clicking here.

To file in the surreal—as in I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening—category: we took my number three son on a college tour. I’m not sure how this is possible as I’m fairly certain that last time I checked he was a mere 8 years old. It’s not right, I tell you.

I am loving spring and sunshine and warm weather. Winter really did a number on me this year and as a result I cannot get enough of the sun. As I am writing this I am looking out to our back yard and the blue skies and bright sun and it makes me happy.

So there’s a brief snapshot of life as I know it. Since you can’t depend on the blog (obviously) you can occasionally find me on other social media as well. I’m on Twitter and Instagram, both with the user name @lisa_writes. You can click through the links to follow over there on the right sidebar.

If you’re reading this I want to say thank you! I’ve been plugging away at the blog for almost nine years, more or less. Okay, less. One thing that hasn’t changed is my bewilderment that anyone would actually care to read my rambling thoughts. So thanks, readers, and here’s hoping future posts find their way to the blog soon. Maybe. We’ll see…