Thursday, February 28, 2013

The First Time I Hoped For A Good News Day

Photo by emsago

The First Time I Hoped For 
A Good News Day
“How to Have a ‘Good News Day’ Part 2”

A few mornings ago I spent some time talking to one son about some of the mistakes I had made in parenting, and some of the bad habits that he and I had fallen into in our relationship.  I sprinkled some Gospel truth into the discussion, and the whole interchange was friendly and pleasant.  The morning routine ended up going fairly well.

As usual, after the kids left for school and I had breakfast, I read my morning devotionals and had some prayer time.  During that time, I was strongly moved with gratitude for all of God’s grace over the years in my life.  God’s sweetness felt truly amazing to me, and our time together was precious.

And, as usual, I hoped it would continue to be a “good day.”  Then that hope began to rise up as a sense of tension, of worry, of even a subtle demand toward God.  “I hope nothing bad happens” morphed rapidly into “Nothing bad had better happen!”

That was when God, for the first time, introduced me to my need to hope, plan, and pray for a Gospel-centered day in advance, instead of only applying the Gospel “as needed” if things got ugly.  This is what He impressed on my heart:

You want your son to understand and believe the Gospel, right?  
Do you think I want anything less for him?
Do you trust me that I know how to bring him to that point?
Do you remember that I had to bring you to a place of brokenness before you would repent and believe in me?
Are you going to demand that I not do the same for him?

That’s when I realized that I needed to hope, plan, and pray, NOT for a “good day,” but  for a Good News Day.  I needed to prepare my heart to live the truths of the Gospel no matter whether my circumstances turned out to be pleasant or horrible.  I needed to trust God that He was going to bring circumstances tailor-made for the kind of Gospel example (and perhaps even Gospel instruction) that my son would need that day.  
And it was not my place to tell God how to do His job.  It was my place to trust and obey.

So that’s what I prayed for.  Lord, help me to live the truth of the Gospel and to be prepared to speak that truth in love in whatever circumstances You wisely bring my way.  I am willing to be a tool in Your hands for the sake of my son, rather than trying to usurp Your throne.  Of course, I would LOVE it if You arranged pleasant circumstances, and I ask that You would do so if that would be best for my son.  But I yield to Your better judgment.   As Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.”

It was a whole different mindset.  And I had a lingering suspicion that He was not planning a pleasant set of circumstances for us.  But it was okay.  It was okay.

It wasn’t long before the phone calls started coming.  The school is a very good one, and the staff are wonderful, but by the second phone call it was clear that I had to come pick my son up.  He was suspended for the rest of the day.  Deservedly so.

Of course, that was not happy news.  Of course it was scary to go pick him up in the dean’s office, and even hear the dean somberly tell my son that, if he continued his current trajectory, they might have to think about expulsion.

But the Gospel tells me that we’re ALL hopeless without the Savior.  So I’m in no position to think myself superior, or to get up on my high horse.  In other words, the Gospel requires (and enables) me to be humble.

And the Gospel tells me that God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, to bridge the gap between man and God.  Jesus came to live a perfect life on our behalf, so that those who are united to Him by faith could have His righteousness credited to our account.  In other words, the Gospel gives me REAL hope to offer to someone in an increasingly hopeless-looking situation.

And the Gospel tells me that Jesus died to absorb the wrath of God on behalf of those who are united to Him by faith.  (It also tells me that His wrath remains stored up for those who will not believe.)  In other words, the Gospel gives me the proper perspective on sin (it really IS heinous), and does not belittle my concerns about the things my son is doing wrong.  But for those who come to Christ in faith, all of that is dealt with.  Real hope for real sinners.  The kind of hope that a sinner like me can gladly share with another.

And, the Gospel tells me that Jesus rose from the dead in order that all who are united to Him by faith might also have new life.  It also tells me that He sends His Holy Spirit as a seal on the hearts of those who put their faith in Christ.  This Spirit changes our spiritual DNA, if you will.  He begins to change us from the inside out.  The Spirit within us is our ONLY hope for real change.  My anger can’t change anyone.  That fact used to only increase my anger, fanning it to a helpless rage.  But with the real hope of the Spirit to offer, it’s safe to lay the rage aside.

So, when I talked to my son that day, I had Gospel truth with me.  Truth that enabled me to be brutally honest about the awfulness, of sin, but without arrogance or rage because I’m a fellow sinner.  It enabled me to offer real hope, to point my son to all that Christ has done for us on the cross, and to what He offers us now as mediator.  It gave me the priceless promise of the indwelling Spirit to share.  All things I’d talked about before, but that needed to be said again.  After all, I need to be reminded of these truths multiple times a day as well.

My son responded in ways that seemed hopeful, though I can’t know his heart, of course.  But the Gospel allowed me to come away from a painful experience with no regrets.  I know that I gave my son the best that I had to give.

I knew I wanted more Good News days.  After all, I’ve got plenty of regrets about my selfish “good days.”  That kind of living was yielding me a bitter harvest.  I wanted to put it behind me.

But the Enemy of Our Souls doesn’t let go.  Ever.  Until, of course, we go to Glory.  So he attacked viciously after this hopeful experience.  But that’s something for another entry.

Friday, February 22, 2013

How to Have a "Good News Day" - Part 1

Photo by Marcelo Terraza

How to Have a “Good News” Day
Part 1

Laying the Foundation

It’s a bad habit of mine to expend a lot of time and make a lot of compromises in order to get what I call a “good day.”  You know the kind of day I’m talking about … all pleasantness, few responsibilities (at least, few that I can’t ignore), and plenty of enjoyable things to do.  Plus, of course, having everyone around me cooperate with my selfish plans.


As you can imagine, my “good day” plans get smashed rather often.  And I tend to not be pleased about it.

What’s the solution?  Should I struggle to get more control over those around me, so I can force my plans on them?  But what about people and circumstances I can’t control?

Maybe I should just give up in cynical despair.  If I can’t give myself a good day, and God doesn’t seem to be bending over backwards to make life a bed of roses for me, what’s there to hope for?

Ghastly, isn’t it?  Yet I’d have to say that most of my adult life has swung between those two options.  Godless, self-centered, unloving, miserable options.  Sure, the ugliness has slowly gotten less pronounced as God has worked on my heart these past few years, but a lot of this nonsense has remained in my heart.

But, just within the past few days, I’ve been getting acquainted with an exciting new option.

What if I trade in my “plans for a good day,” not taking cynicism in exchange, but rather choosing instead to make plans for a “Good News day?”

What is a Good News Day?

If you’ve spent much time around Christianity, you probably know that the word “Gospel” is taken from the Greek for “Good News.”  And the more I learn about the Gospel and how it relates not just to salvation but to everyday life, the more I realize that I need to aim for Good News Days every day.

Good days, by my selfish definition, are often impossible.  Please bear with me as I explain...not for the sake of “complaining about my problems,” but just so that you, dear reader, won’t think I’m talking to you from my castle in the sky.  

My day-to-day life is complicated by such family funzies as Asperger’s Syndrome, full-blown autism, bipolar disorder, the teenage hormones of three boys, and all the ordinary challenges of family life.  One of my teens has been in a really bad state of rebellion lately, and has been getting in lots of trouble at school.  My husband’s job requires lots of odd hours on phone conferences with people halfway around the world, and frequent trips that last for weeks at a time.

To top it off, I deal with chronic back pain and occasionally recurring cardiac pain (despite being on daily cardiac meds since a heart attack in 2004).  Years and years of severe internal problems finally culminated in major surgery in November of 2011, which (thank the Lord) cleared up a lot of problems, but some pain still recurs.

So no, no ivory tower here.   And few entirely “good” days.

But every day could have been a Good News day, if I had only known.  Lately I’ve been having them.  And I know I always can have them.  Not because I’ve become an overnight expert in some divine secret, but because God gives a continuing supply of the good news freely to anyone who understands and believes in its simplicity.

A Good News Day is a day when the Gospel shapes my beliefs, my hopes, my plans, my actions, my interactions, and how I deal with sins and failures (both my own sins and those of others that impact me).

I’m finding that Good News days can be full of bad things, painful things, disappointing things...even failure.  And yet, at the end when I look back at them, they’ve lost their sting.  What once would have beaten me down no longer has that kind of power.  (Which, now that I think about it, is an answer to my regular prayer that I wrote about here, based on 2 Cor. 4:8-11.  Thank You, Lord!)

Have I become a stronger person?  No, not really.  I’ve just found the inexhaustible power of the Good News.

How have I found it?  Well, for years I’ve been steeping myself in excellent books like Future Grace, Holiness By Grace, Transforming Grace, Because He Loves Me, Give Them Grace, and many more.  (Please get these books and savor them if you can!)  The glorious truths in these books have gone a long way towards helping me change my hindsight.  They have helped to heal many of my hurts, by teaching me to look back on them through the lens of Gospel truth.  This is true for long-ago hurts and hurts from just a moment ago.

But that is only half of what they were designed to teach me.  And because I only got that half, the retrospective half, I still lacked a lot of Gospel power.

I still have tended to PLAN and HOPE for “good days” (as selfishly defined), while only applying the Gospel to comfort myself if the “good day” didn’t happen.  

Without meaning to, I had lumped Gospel truth into the category of “consolation prize.”  I’d hoped to get the million bucks, and I’d tried my best, but I’d lost.  So I would gratefully (and a little ruefully) accept the parting gifts instead.  They were better than nothing.

Oh, how tragic it is when we fail to see the lavish gifts we’ve been given as the treasures they really are!

It’s time to start hoping and planning for Good News Days.  Such days are not second best, they are what it’s all about.  They are the days of gold, silver and precious stones that will survive the test of God’s purifying fire (1 Co. 3:11-15).

Let me say it again:

A Good News Day is a day when the Gospel shapes my beliefs, my hopes, my plans, my actions, my interactions, and how I deal with sins and failures (both my own sins and those of others that impact me).

In future entries we’ll look at how we can plan and hope for such days, how we can live them, and what they might look like.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Selfish Religion Strikes Again

Photo by SheCat

It was one of those mornings when I just didn't feel "connected" to God.  Didn't feel like I had my act together, spiritually.

Uh oh.  Warning bells should be sounding already.

"Didn't have my act together spiritually?"  Who am I kidding?  Are there ever mornings when I DO have my act together spiritually?

Well, ok, maybe it was just a poor choice of words.

Or maybe it really should have clued me in.

The usual morning battle began with its typical frustrations, and I was struggling with my usual surges of frustrated anger.  And so the self-talk began.

"I've been reading all these wonderful grace-based parenting books, but this morning I just can't seem to access all the wonderful, inspired feelings those books gave me.  I don't want to browbeat this child.  I don't want to drive him further away from God.  I don't like how angry I feel.  I don't like the kind of parent I'm being..."

We often think of Pharisaism as the desire to be one's own savior via one's own righteousness, and that's true.  But Pharisees take it even further.

Pharisees (like me much of the time) don't just want to be our own saviors.  We want to be our own creators.  We like a certain religious "look," and we will orchestrate our behavior to get the "look" that pleases us.

"I don't like the kind of parent I'm being.  I need to be different."

We are determined to create ourselves in the image of what we like about religion.  If we like lots of legalism, we'll make ourselves strict legalists.  If we've decided we like grace, then we'll make ourselves gracious.

Except, of course, that grace is something we can't create.  We can only receive it and pass it along.  And we cannot receive it if we're too busy trying to create it ourselves.

So there I stood, frustrated and angry, looking at my child with my physical eyes, but looking at me-me-me with the eyes of my heart.  My feelings were quickly teetering towards the old familiar desperation, because of yet one more self-deception that we Pharisees labor under.  We stagger, crushed under the lie that we are to be our children's saviors.  We have to create ourselves into the religious image we believe is best, so that we can save our children.

No wonder we get so ugly and hateful and mean, when we're carrying such a heavy burden that we were never designed to carry, one we know we can't bear.  One that is crushing the very breath out of us.

There's only one way out of this kind of tailspin.

It's called Love.

And love, my friends, does not focus on self.  Not even with the best of intentions.

Pharisaism says, "What kind of parent do I need to be?"  It feels either arrogance, anger, or a terrified squeezing in the chest.  Because it's all about me.

Love says, "What kind of love and grace does this child need?  Father, what would you like to give him?  Savior, show Yourself to him."  Love may ask the child, "What do you need?  How can I help you?  How can I serve you?"  (Notice the "I" isn't's just not central.  It's not creator, savior, or controller.)

Love lives in a wide place, where the air flows freely and breathing is easier.  It throws off the claustrophobic self-absorption of Pharisaism, and the weight that we cannot bear.

Pharisaism seeks iron-clad control.  Love seeks to give itself away and, in the process, it hopes to influence in healthy ways.

The difference is profound.

Oh, love still hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot. But it hurts in the right ways, ways that our Lord has promised to comfort. And because love knows that God stands supreme, that Christ has poured out His love in our hearts (both for our sake and for giving away to others), love can relax.  Love knows that it acts as a conduit rather than as a self-sufficient creator.

And love has the power to transform us in ways that are far deeper and more real than any of our attempts at self-creation.  Don't you think I was a different mother this morning, the moment I stopped critiquing my performance and started simply loving my child?  Of course I was...and yet that's not the best thing that happened this morning.

The best thing that happened was that my child and I experienced some of God's love and grace, in ways that honored the Lord.  My joy is not primarily that I became something I can feel good about, but that the Lord and my "neighbor" (in this case, my child) were loved as they should have been.  True, the "benefits to me" and the "benefits to others" may be two sides of the same coin, but if I focus on the "me" side, the love quickly disappears, and ugly things arise in short order.

It all boils down to this...are we trying to love primarily for our own sakes, or for others' sakes?  If it's primarily for our own sakes, it isn't really love at all, and those on the receiving end of our hypocrisy will see that fact with painful clarity.

A. W. Tozer said it well:

"While we are looking at God 
we do not see ourselves - 
blessed riddance!  

The man who has struggled to purify himself 
and has had nothing but repeated failures 
will experience real relief 
when he stops tinkering with his soul 
and looks away to the perfect One.  

While he looks at Christ, 
the very thing he has so long been trying to do 
will be be getting done within him."

Which is, in fact, what 2 Co. 3:18 is trying to teach us.  (If you're reading the blog in a feed reader, you might want to click through to the actual blog page, where Scripture references appear as live links so you can read them.)

Remember that Jesus said that all the law and the prophets can be summed up in the command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matt 22:35-40).  And that kind of love is not something we can work up in our own strength, but as we walk with the Lord, we can rest assured that He will develop that love within us, so we need not be afraid to hope for it (see Rom 5:5).

Love the Lord, abide in His love, and love your neighbor.  As you do these things, the Lord will make you what He wants you to be.
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