The grace of thanksgiving

My friend’s father died suddenly last week. We stood in line for two hours Monday night in order to pay our respects to the family, to hug our friend, to tell her how much we love her and her family, to grieve with those we love who grieve.

Death and loss and grief, these sober us, give us pause, make us think. I’ve been strangely–or not so strangely–nostalgic all week as I not only contemplate mortality but also as I contemplate life and grace and providence. As I ponder, I am thankful and this gratitude serves to teach me important, difficult truths about the grace of thanksgiving…

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

Status Report, November

Sitting…at my dining room table

Drinking…coffee, black. Guzzling may be a more apt descriptor.

Breaking…from Bible study prep to bring you this status report. All for you, dear reader, it’s all for you.

Winding down…our fall session of Bible study. Just two more lessons before we break until the new year. I can’t believe it. I mean, how is it November already?

Sharing…my thanksgiving again this year across social media with the hashtag #novemberthanksgiving. Join me and other friends as we chronicle the Lord’s goodness to us throughout November! Speaking of thanksgiving…

Talking…thanksgiving over at Out of the Ordinary all this month. Click here to find out how you can join in the fun there as well!

Enjoying…Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Thanks to my friends on Twitter for the recommendation! I guess I was under a rock or something when the series originally aired?

Also enjoying…Serial podcast. I’m nearly caught up so I’m pacing myself. I’m fascinated. Anyone else?

Reading…well, nothing at all at the moment, outside of the books and resources I’m using for Bible study. I just finished PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace and liked it. A lot. The chapters “Outrageous Grace” and “Overcoming Grace” were especially good I thought.

Loving…Mrs. Meyers’ All Purpose Spray in Basil. I bought a bottle on a whim at Target during my most recent trip to the big city. It smells so good! It might even prompt me to clean something. Maybe. ;)

Grieving…with my friend who grieves a heavy, heartbreaking loss. Tonight we will go to the funeral home and offer our condolences, our love, and the promise of our prayers. Death is brutal and I am grateful yet again of the hope we have beyond this life.

Returning…to my lesson notes.

Happy November, friends! May you know the goodness and kindness of our Lord in abundance this month and may your hearts overflow in joyous gratitude!

 

Reformation Day and why it matters to you and me

It is October 31, Halloween. It is also Reformation Day and longtime readers (anyone? anyone?) know that I have devoted space here at the blog in years past to posts highlighting Reformation Day and why it matters to you and me. I do so for a couple of reasons. What happened this date almost 500 years ago carries profound significance to us and we are indebted to the courageous reformers who risked so much. Yet a lot of us, most of us perhaps, who profess Christ are largely uninformed about the Reformation. I know I knew little to nothing about it growing up.

On October 31, 1517 a monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. His theses comprised his objections to many of the practices of the Catholic church. The church had grown quite corrupt, the sale of indulgences being perhaps the grossest contradiction to the teachings of the Bible. Church leaders were in effect selling forgiveness and assurance of salvation, often at very high prices.

Luther in the meantime had been engaged in a serious and diligent study of the Scriptures and began to realize the truth of justification by faith alone. He began to teach that salvation was not a product to be sold or purchased but a gift of God’s grace through faith in His Son. This teaching was revolutionary, indeed it sparked not just a revolution but a Reformation and forever changed Christianity.

It seems a little obvious to us and we may be tempted to be a little blase about the whole thing. I mean, seriously, hadn’t anyone read Ephesians 2? Actually, they hadn’t. Not the common Joe. The Bible at that time, and in fact all church services, were in Latin, the language of the educated and not of the ordinary man and woman. Luther and other reformers not only fought for the doctrine of salvation by grace but also for the Bible to be translated into the language of the people so that the common man or woman could not only read the Bible for himself or herself but could also hear and understand it being taught. This too was revolutionary.

So revolutionary in fact that many reformers were imprisoned and many others were murdered. That’s right, some of our brothers and sisters in the faith died a martyr’s death because they fought against the sale of salvation and proclaimed God’s free saving grace instead.  Others died because they believed you and I should have access to a Bible in the language we speak, read, and understand.

Luther was arrested, brought before a council at the Diet of Worms, and offered the chance to recant his teachings. After taking some time to consider, he famously replied, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” In the providence of God, he managed to escape custody and teach for several more years.

As I sit here at my laptop there are two Bibles within arm’s reach. They are mine; I not only own them but I can read them. This past Tuesday I taught from Philippians 3 and I joyfully and passionately testified of the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus. On Sunday I will gather with my church that I love and we will sing together of the glories of Christ and I will have the privilege of hearing God’s Word preached and the gospel proclaimed.

Today I thank God for the reformers who fought the good fight with great courage and faithfulness and at great risk for these privileges to be mine.

For more information on the Reformation, I encourage you to check out these links:

And here’s a clip of Luther’s refusal to recant from the movie Luther:

Happy Reformation Day, friends!

The more I seek

As I begin this post, it is Monday and I am in the middle of preparing my Bible study lesson on Philippians 3:1-11. By virtue of the text at hand my lesson can’t help but contain all the very best a good, gospel-rich Bible lesson should and will thus be representative of all I love about teaching the Word. So I am excited as I wade through notes and commentaries and books in order to construct what I hope will be a lesson that is encouraging and challenging and faithful to the gospel.

I am a little, I don’t know, nostalgic too. My heart is tender as I make my way through these verses. I have taught and prayed over Philippians 3, particularly verses 7-9 many, many, many times. There was a season of my life and ministry where I scarcely taught a single Sunday school or Bible study lesson without quoting those verses, often in the amplified version:

Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One)

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly]

~Phil. 3:8, 10 AMP

As I said, I prayed over these verses as well. I had them written out on notecards and in great fervency of spirit I would cry out to the Lord, begging Him for this kind of knowledge and intimacy and passion and zeal. I wanted Paul’s single-minded desire to know the Lord.

I wanted more. I wanted to know Jesus more. I wanted more love for Him, more passion for Him. I wanted the overwhelming preciousness and the surpassing worth of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him. I wanted my determined purpose to be to understand the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly. I wanted more.

I had no idea how the Lord would answer that prayer. I do know much has happened in the intervening years that I could not have imagined. So much so, in fact, that sometimes I feel almost a stranger to who I was then.

I don’t think that this, who and what I am now, is who or what I thought I would be when I begged the Lord for more. Maybe I thought I would have more confidence? More drive? A clearer sense of purpose? More success? I don’t know. Those weren’t exactly the things I was asking for all those years ago but I think maybe I assumed they would be part and parcel to the whole determined purpose deal.

But I can say this, with great humility and with great certainty: I have known the Lord’s faithfulness. I still believe, realizing afresh that my faith is as much a gift of grace as any other of His mercies to me. His grace to me was not and is not without effect! He who began the work in me has been and will continue to be faithful to complete it right up to the end. Yes, even and especially in my less-zealous days. For it is God who works in me to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Yes and amen.

Maybe this will encourage you as it does me: the Lord is faithful in ways we cannot imagine and in ways we often fail to see. Or feel. But He is faithful. He is indeed the more I seek.

On hormones and the hope of heaven

Well, well, well. Looks like I pretty much crashed and burned on the whole write-for-31-days deal. I figured I would. Which is why, you may remember, I kind of hedged my bets from the beginning with a vague, sort of non-committed commitment. I wasn’t sure how or when but I knew I would fall and fall spectacularly.

Oh, I have my reasons and plenty of them, most of which would not make for pleasant reading and are thus best kept to myself. We’ll just say it has mostly to do with me being a 46 year old woman and all the idiosyncrasies and imbalances therein. I’ll leave it to you to read between the lines. Let’s just say I think for all the recent Internet chatter about why women are leaving their blogs one very important factor is being overlooked: some days we are crazy and barely hanging on to our sanity much less our emotional stability and the very idea of blogging anything is, well, not only laughable but impossible. Throw in a migraine and you see what I’m talking about.

Or maybe that’s just me.

So, yeah. Hormones. Sorry, guys, but there it is. If you male readers (anyone? anyone?) want to click away, then by all means. Before you do, please know this isn’t really a post about hormones but about heaven. And hope. And Jesus.

Today as I was attempting to climb ever closer into some semblance of normality of life and emotion, I was working on Bible study. I’m doing something a little different this fall. In the past all instruction has been via lecture, the Tuesday mornings that I love so much. This year I’ve also been putting together weekly homework, a page or two of questions intended to encourage engagement with the text.

This morning as I was writing some of the upcoming homework my efforts led me to Phil. 3:20-21 where Paul reminds the Philippians of their citizenship in heaven. “From it we await a Savior,” he writes, the Lord Jesus Christ, “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body…”

Setting aside for a minute the obvious application of our bodies being transformed, I thought of the hope inherent in the kind of waiting Paul describes. The Philippian church surely struggled to hope. They were enduring persecution and various difficulties and disunities. There were false teachers, “evildoers” Paul calls them, among them. Paul, their leader, was in prison, suffering not only that very real hardship but also the pain of having his reputation questioned and defamed among those who should have been his colleagues and his co-laborers.

In and to this circumstance Paul calls the church to remember who they are and where their true citizenship lies. “You belong to heaven,” he tells them, “and you are waiting for your Savior and this promise of His sure return to save and restore and reign will empower you to endure.”

Not only that but they are able to rejoice in their sufferings because hope will not disappoint (Romans 5). Eagerly anticipating the appearing of their blessed hope, their great God and Savior Jesus Christ, will grant grace to them to renounce godliness and pursue godly, pure lives (Titus 2:13). They hold fast for He who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23).

I know, I know, persecution does not exactly equate to a hormonal freak out episode. But as I struggle with what is and what should be, I too long for things as they will be. I hope for heaven and, glory to God, this hope will not disappoint. Life is hard here on earth, hormones no doubt the least among our struggles, but even this difficulty serves an important purpose: it will teach us to look to heaven, to await a Savior from there, to anticipate our blessed hope, our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. As we do so, we find grace to endure with joy, knowing the light and momentary troubles of this world are nothing compared to the glory that awaits.

And what hormonally-challenged woman in her mid-40′s will not find hope in the promise that He will transform our lowly bodies? Yes and amen.

 

Worthy

In Philippians 1:27 Paul exhorts the church at Philippi to “only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” As I prepared to teach this passage and considered its application to me and my fellow Bible students, I concluded there is no end to the messages to women, many of them conflicting, about how to live worthy.

Whether you use birth control, how you dress, your decision regarding school choice, what you eat, even your demeanor or personality–all can fall under someone’s definition and resulting determination of whether or not your manner of life is worthy of the gospel. Do you work outside the home? Are you organized? And, hear me on this one: what do you read? Can you define and discuss such theological terminology as propitiation and justification and sanctification? Yes, it’s true. Maybe even the more theologically minded among also have our own system by which we draw a line of disdain.

The gospel clearly and unequivocally speaks of our complete unworthiness. Check out Ephesians 2, just for one Biblical example. There Paul describes our state apart from grace as dead, following the price of the power of the air, living in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, by nature children of wrath. It is by grace–and grace alone–you have been saved, Paul asserts, and nothing of yourselves. It’s a gift, given as such because you could have never ever ever deserved it.

So how then could we walk worthy as Paul commands in Philippians and also in Ephesians and Thessalonians and Colossians? We get one clue from the first rule of Biblical interpretation: check the context. Live worthy of the gospel, he instructs in Phil. 1:27, and then goes on to clarify what he means: standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. Clearly our living worthy has a corporate aspect.

We need the church. You need the church. I need the church. We need the fellowship, the accountability, the instruction, the mutual encouragement, yes, even the rebuke. When we were saved, we were saved as individuals, yes and amen, with incredible and amazing benefits to each of us as individuals. My sins were forgiven and I receive eternal life in the presence of my Savior.

But I am also saved to and for the church. You cannot read the New Testament and escape this fact. The church is the body of Christ and we are its members. Here in Philippians Paul paints a picture of a church unified around the bold proclamation of the gospel, standing firm, striving, bold and confident before opposition. This is more than “just being fed.” Rather, this is “all in.”

We live worthy of the gospel when we are joined together with a local body of believers and submit ourselves to its authority and accountability and fellowship, bound together in one mind and one spirit by the unity of the gospel.

I think too we can consider the idea of worthiness in the sense that it ascribes worth. Not earning worth, as we’ve already stated, but reflecting what is most worthy.

So this begs the question: what is most valuable to you? Where is your Treasure? Is it Christ? Have you tasted the gospel freedom He graciously offers? Do you love Him with a joy inexpressible and filled with glory? Is the cross your only hope?

Here then is Paul’s injunction: live like it.

Go, live like the gospel is real, like grace is grace. I don’t know what that looks like for you, exactly, but I do know this: whether you homeschool or eat organic or only clean your bathrooms every now and again, when your one boast is in the cross and the grace of Jesus to save, and when you come alongside a family of believers to work for the advancement of the kingdom, you show Christ as worthy. Your manner of life is then worthy of the gospel as it shines the light of Jesus into the dark corners of this world like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden, to the glory of God alone.

Yes and amen.

That’ll blog

So I actually set the timer yesterday and wrote for five minutes from the prompt given at the 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes link up….but never published. It wasn’t fear keeping me from pulling the trigger, I confessed to Leslie, who is doing her own 31 day series on geocaching (Did you even know there’s such a thing?). I think it’s more the question of thirty one days of free writes? Sounds easy enough but would it get tedious for you the reader and me the author?

Maybe I need a better topic, one I am more confident of my ability to write about. This was the subject of mine and Leslie’s email conversation a few weeks ago. We both want to write and write more consistently; here is a great opportunity; now what do we write about? Leslie finally settled on geocaching, a fantastic and fascinating topic. Me, I’m (obviously) floundering.

Thirty one days of favorite lipsticks? Thirty one days of favorite novels? Thirty one days of boring? It’s a small and ordinary life I lead, as I’ve confessed many a time, sometimes in joy, sometimes in humility, sometimes in the realization that ordinary can also mean boring.

Silliness and topic suggestions aside, I think, really, deep down, it’s the idea of announcing and thus committing myself that gives me pause. I know myself. Even more so, I know myself as a blogger. Have I ever blogged for 31 days in a row?

I suppose it’s the legalist in me that tends to despise inconsistency both in myself and others. I hate it when I can’t live up to the standard, whatever that standard may be. This is why I rarely read parenting books; they subject my inconsistencies and insufficiencies to the glare of a parenting standard I could never live up to and then I hate myself.

In all my despising, of course, I am forgetting grace. There is grace for the inadequate mom, yes and amen, and there is grace too for the inconsistent 31-day blogger. Legalists, even recovering ones, overlook grace in their exaltation of the ideal. I’ve told you before about me reading a book about grace years ago and when I got to the end of the book, I closed the final page and said to myself “That can’t be right.”

Grace isn’t right. Grace is, above all things, unfair. It is the ultimate inconsistency! In grace I do not get what I do deserve and get instead what I do not. Grace in salvation is more than forgiveness of sin, though, praise God, it is that. It is also the favor of God bestowed upon the sinner. The Lord doesn’t only graciously forgive; He also graciously grants love, affection, good will, and, can you even believe it, His righteousness. This is grace: God’s free, unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor. Grace that saves. Grace that sustains. Grace that grants life eternal. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

How is this grace found? Repent of sin. Believe Jesus.

What does this have to do with blogging? Not much, really, except for this: in blogging as in all things I am a pauper to the grace of the Lord Jesus. I blog–just as I parent, teach, love and serve my husband, clean house–out of grace and because of grace and to testify of grace. This is my testimony: because of the great love with which He loved me, the Lord saved me and this not of myself, it is a gift of grace. Yes and amen.

That’ll blog.

For 31 days? Maybe.

 

Status Report, October

Sitting…at my dining room table

Drinking…coffee, black

Wondering…how many of you were surprised to see a post from me after my last bit of drama, even if this is a only mere status report!

Confessing…I’m just as surprised as you are!

Laughing…just a little at myself. I mean, in my last post I referenced that Kenny Rogers commercial where he is (supposedly) singing with annoying repetition. Ironic, isn’t it, that I am probably guilty of a similarly annoying repetition? I mean, I am pretty certain I’ve asked similar existential questions and lamented similar blogging conundrums in posts past. Several posts past. Oh well.

Grateful…for you all and the kind encouragement you sent my way after that last post. It means so much to know my words are both wanted and appreciated. Y’all are the best. Thank you.

Considering…a 31 day blogging challenge to jumpstart the blog. I know, crazy, right? There’s Nester’s 31 Day Challenge beginning today but I’m pretty certain it’s well beyond my capabilities. For one thing, I can’t create a button to save my life (I know, I know, what, seven, eight years of blogging and not even the most basic blog skills to my name!). And, I for sure cannot blog semi-intelligently about a single subject for 31 days straight, should I even be able to come up with said single subject. However I am intrigued by this challenge within Nester’s challenge. So who knows how my day will progress? You may see a five minute post show up later on today and maybe, just maybe, for 30 days after that… Maybe.

Reading…Middlemarch by George Eliot. Longtime readers (and I mean long, long time) might remember me attempting to read this, purportedly one of the greatest novels ever, several years ago. This is how it went down: after going to the library with the intention of checking it out I noticed my name scribbled on the card three times and this without me having ever finished the book! Well, embarrassed yet determined, I then just bought my own copy of the book. No way was I going to check it out four times to read it for the first time. But that’s as far as I’ve ever gotten.  So I’m trying again, muddling through, waiting for the greatness to sweep me away. Will it?

Adjusting…to life as a family of four. It is so weird. I was getting out the plates for supper the other night, four of them. Only four. I told my husband that this just isn’t right. It’s not right. We are a family of six! Now, I know my oldest has been out of the house for a year and a half but the way I see it five is still pretty close to six, you know, if you round up. But four? It is weird.

Loving…the cheetah print bag my girlfriends convinced me I needed when we were shopping in Orlando before TGCW14. I mean, at 80% off I didn’t need that much convincing and did I mention cheetah? But my friends know me well and I love it. And them.

Podcasting…again. My Bible study lessons are posted online each week. You can find them by clicking the “Teaching” tab above or by searching by my name on iTunes. If you listen in, I’d love to know what you think!

Realizing…again how much I love–and need–to teach. Is it weird to say I need it? I think I do, but not in some sort of unhealthy idolatrous way. At least I don’t think so. The Tuesday mornings I spend in the Word with the women in our study are so precious to me. What grace to be granted such a privilege! I love it.

Welcoming…October with open arms and eager excitement. Like my friend Melissa has said, the -er months are my favorites! But then again I even like January and February so there you go.

Happy October, friends!

You’ve got to know when to fold ‘em

Y’all know that commercial with the punchline about playing cards with Kenny Rogers and he’s singing “The Gambler”? I was thinking about that today when I was pondering the blog and its future: you’ve just got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run…

“I just don’t have anything to say,” I confessed to my husband the other day. We were discussing the blog, this one, and whether or not I should just shut ‘er down, fold ‘em, walk away as it were. It’s really not *that* momentous of a decision, I realize, except for the fact that the renewal payment on my domain will come due before too long so, yeah, there is something of a financial obligation at stake, albeit a small one.

“All writer’s have writer’s block,” he said and I suppose he’s right though I have my doubts if what I do here could rightly constitute writing per se. But blogger’s block? I got that in spades. What has it been, two months of silence? More? Not even a humble status report to maintain some semblance of life?

I listened to a podcast about blogging thinking maybe I’d rediscover some inspiration and inclination toward writing or blogging or whatever you want to call this. It was encouraging and informational and no doubt a great help for someone who already wants to blog. But where’s the podcast for the uncertain blogger, she who can’t find anything to say nor the desire to say it? Is there a litmus test, a flow chart, a quiz to determine definitively, finally, once and for all, yes, go forth and blog, or, no, sister, it’s time to fold ‘em?

In the podcast the blogger being interviewed confessed to never, not once, feeling the sort of block I am muddling through. This did not encourage. Of course, in my defense, I’ve been at it a lot longer so maybe I’m just old. In blog years I mean.

In real life it’s been a strange couple of months, months marked by transition and some degree of sadness and, well, the sort of nebulous strangeness that tends toward private introspection over the kind of public confessional that constitutes blogging, at least the kind of blogging engaged by this blogger. So maybe it is a stage of life deal.

But life is good too. I don’t mean to sound all melodramatic and melancholy (though admittedly sometimes I can’t help it!). We’re right in the middle of some of our favorite times of the year and of life, enjoying football games and celebrating September birthdays and anticipating all things autumnal. I’m back to teaching Bible study after our summer hiatus and I love it more than ever. The kids are great, church is awesome, and, like I said, life is good. There is much to enjoy, much to anticipate, much to be grateful for.

So will I write more? Will I write at all? Should I cut my losses and close shop? I am undecided. Do I love blogging enough to push through writer’s / blogger’s block? Does it matter? I have no ambition beyond just the blog so, really, why fret so over what is really, in the end, a hobby? Will I know when, if, to fold ‘em? I guess we shall see!

Can any of my blogger friends relate? How do you rediscover the joy of writing and of blogging?

Favorite reads of the summer

I, like all true bookworms, make reading a priority all year long, sometimes all day long if it’s an especially good day! However, there are those times of year that seem naturally suited to reading. The week between Christmas and New Year, for example, is a stretch of days where I tend to do not much more than lounge on the sofa with a book or two or five.

Summertime is another season that seems all the better for the happy enjoyment of a good book. Since we are now in September and at the close of another one of those perfectly suited reading spells, I thought I’d offer to you a list of some of the best of the best of the books I read this summer and I read some really good ones!

Read my list of summertime favorites at Out of the Ordinary.