Monday, August 14, 2017

Don't Worry, Stay Rooted: 3 Reminders for Homeschooling Families

What or who are you rooted to?

In all areas of life we should be asking ourselves that question periodically, but specifically as we begin this new school year, we'd do well to take a look at our hearts and ask: what am I basing my confidence in as a homeschooling parent? Is it the perfect curriculum, daily schedule, weekly routine, or homeschool group? Or is it in the One Who called us to homeschool in the first place?

Before our school year even starts, let's make sure we are rooting ourselves and our families in Christ alone – that we are firmly planted in His life and Word, drawing on Him only for strength and support each day, trusting that He will uphold, sustain and grow our family and us individually into the beautiful, unique reflections of Him that He has ordained for us to be.

My husband and I were blessed to visit Olympic National Forest this summer, and while we were there we learned about these incredible fallen trees called “nurse logs.” As we walked through the forest, we noticed these huge sleeping giants lying on the forest floor that now had other trees sprouting up out of them!

a nurse log supporting new trees
I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with the picture of Christ that these nurse logs displayed – how He laid down His life for us, and when we are firmly planted in Him through faith, He gives us new life, sustains and empowers us to grow into new creations, and as long as we remain rooted in Him we are able to do whatever good He has called us to do.

So if you're feeling ill-equipped for the task of homeschooling, that's okay – to some extent, we all are. But Christ is not, and what He has called us to He will equip us for (Heb.13:20-21, Phil. 1:6, 4:13).

We don't need to worry, we need to stay rooted in Him. That's the first of three little points I feel God wants us to remember as we start this year together – first off...

Do not worry.
  • Our natural inclination as parents is to worry – what if we totally mess this homeschooling thing up? But if God is our school's Headmaster, if He is at the helm of our ship, we can't mess it up, no matter what the surface outcome looks like.
  • This year, let's make it a goal to spend less time worrying (aren't there just endless things to worry about?), and more time praying. God delights to show Himself powerful in our lives, even in the seemingly little details (Phil. 4:6-7).

Seek God.
  • Instead of worrying, let's seek God together this year. Let's spend intentional time with Him, meditating on His Word and praying for Him to work powerfully in our own hearts to grow us into His image and lead us in our homeschooling.
  • And as we seek Him, let's remember to rest in Him and...

Trust that He has a good plan for your family.
  • We will not all look the same – God is so good at variety! The forest is not all made up of the same type of tree, thankfully. On our trip to Washington, we noticed that in certain areas of heavy foresting, they went back and planted rows and rows of the same type of tree, and it was so monotonous, boring and just unnatural to look at compared to the organic way a forest grows, with all sorts of varying plants – spruces, firs, pines, ferns - intermingled together. Variety is part of what makes the forest beautiful, and it's what makes a community of believers beautiful, too. We are all different, yet we can each reflect a unique aspect of God and His character so that we can minister to each other in the specific way He designed us to. (1 Corin. 12:4-6). We should never compare ourselves with each other, but only glorify God for the way He is manifested uniquely in each of us (1 Corin. 12:18-20, 25-26).
  • God is at work for our good and His glory – He's the Master Teacher and He has the best lesson plan ever already at work in our lives. Our job is to do our best  in His strength to His glory, delight in Christ and His Word, and then to sit back and rest – firmly planted in Him (remember that nurse log?) - trusting that He will bring the fruit that we are toiling for in our families.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
- Psalm 1: 1-3

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Who is Your 'Nurse Log'?

- nurse log supporting the growth of a new tree - 

This summer, my husband and I paid a bucket-list visit to Olympic National Park in Washington State. Walking through the cool, quiet forests of the park, amongst many stunning sights, you can't help but notice the fallen goliaths lying all around - trees that once proudly brushed against the heavens, now humbly resting on the forest floor. Upon closer inspection of these sleeping giants, you can clearly see little seedlings of new trees now sprouting up out of their fallen comrades - the death of one living thing springing forth the life of another. In this way, the dead tree, now sweetly named a "nurse log," lives on through the new trees it is supporting.

I couldn't help but be taken aback by the picture these nurse logs paint of the Gospel. Of course, as they all tend to do, the analogy falls apart at some point, but to an extent, the nurse log is just one more clear example of Christ that God uses to display His love for us in nature (I love it when He does that! The pictures of His grace are everywhere, if you really look. Rom. 1:20).

Like Christ, this nurse log once reached the heights of heaven, glorious in splendor. Like Christ, it humbly descended to the earth, ultimately dying so that others might live. Like Christ, now all that are firmly planted in it can have new life. 

But here is where the analogy breaks down - because those new trees that have begun their lives on the back of the nurse log will ultimately die themselves. 
But those who are rooted in the evergreen life of Christ:
  • are made alive forever in Him through faith in the saving work He has done on the cross (Eph. 2:4-6),
  • experience the abundant life now on earth and the fullness of joy that can only come through having one's identity established in Him (John 10:10; 15:4),
  • are given strength and support that will never decay beneath them (Matt. 7:24-27).
Where is your life rooted? Are you trying your best to anchor yourself in your own strength to the shifting soil of this life? Are you attaching yourself to a different "false comforter" who promises to support you, but is ultimately as feeble as any of us? Or are you firmly planted in the true Tree of Life - Jesus Christ - Who will never leave you nor forsake you, Who alone can offer life abundantly now and eternally in the future? 

May we be firmly planted in the evergreen life of Christ alone.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Weeds and the Master Gardener

I'm a novice gardener – I really love digging in the dirt, sticking some seeds in the ground and then watching God do His thing to bring forth life. It's an amazing process to me how God can make so much come from such a tiny little seed. Now – I'm definitely an amateur gardener and really have no idea what I'm doing, but one thing I do know: weeds are bad! So every few days I find myself hunched over, pulling those wretched intruders up and away from my precious budding fruits and veggies.

As dirt piles up under my fingernails and my hand fork busily loosens up those stubborn weeds, I can't help but liken them to the sin in my life. Like weeds, sin incessantly threatens to take over my heart each and every day. Like weeds, sin can grow in all shapes and sizes, sometimes even mimicking something beautiful, but turning out to be toxic in the end. Like weeds, sin may start out as a small thing, not seeming to be much of a threat, but left untended, can develop into an ugly monstrosity that will wreak major havoc to the life around it.

If you know anything about weeds, you know you can't just mow over them (they'll come right back up with a vengeance) – you have to yank the suckers up by their nasty old roots. So like pulling weeds, I should ask God to help me daily attack sin at its root – even though it can be mighty frustrating and seem hopelessly futile at times, it is a part of life as long as I am planted on this earth.

As Rick Countryman says, “Like a garden that's unattended, sin will grow like weeds in your life. We don't have power over the weeds, over sin. But God does. Jesus, the Gospel, is the RoundUp for the sin in your life. It's the only thing that can deal with it.”

So, even though my natural self wants to bar the gate, I must be diligent to allow the Master Gardener into the garden of my life to do His digging and pruning, painful though it often is. The soil of circumstances in which His divine purposes have placed me are the perfect breeding ground for not only potential beauty to grow, but also for the latent sin that still lingers in my heart to be revealed.

Just as a garden cannot be untended and expected to not be overrun by weeds, there will always be work to do in the soil of my heart, till the day God calls me home. And on that great day, when my spirit is set free from this place, there will be no more weeds – no more sin to struggle against...there will only be pure beauty, thanks to all that Jesus has done! Until then, He promises to faithfully prune my heart, lovingly pulling away all that hinders my growth in Him. And even though I often struggle against His cultivation processes, I'm forever thankful that He will never give up on the garden of my life.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit
he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” - John 15: 2

...the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
- Hebrews 12: 6

Friday, February 3, 2017

Wisdom for Mamas, New & 'Seasoned' Alike

The following post is by guest-writer, Heidi Gifford, and was originally a devotional presented at the baby shower of a new mom-to-be - but the wisdom she shares is perfect for new and seasoned moms alike! Enjoy. :)

Dear New Mom-To-Be...

It's hard to believe that in just a little while longer, you will be holding your sweet baby in your arms! I know that you have anticipated becoming a mommy and have spent much time planning and preparing to care for baby when he makes his debut! The journey that you and your hubby are about to embark on together is an incredible gift from our gracious God - one that will drastically change your life and will be used by God to make you more like Christ and train your heart to trust Him more. I know that your desire is to raise baby in a way that honors God.

But where do we start?!

Deuteronomy 6: 5-7 says,
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”

The starting place for all of us moms is our own hearts. We see that in these verses as we are exhorted to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might before we are instructed to diligently teach our children all day everyday. While none of us love God perfectly, we can and should be growing in our love for Him day by day.

But how?

By God's design, the way we do that is by the study and application of His word, by the power of the Spirit, and through prayer. The Bible is God's revelation of Himself to us. It is the primary tool that He uses to cause us to grow and mature in Christ.

Psalm 19 says,
“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb."

‭‭Make time every day to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus and learn from Him. Stand in awe of who He is and what He has done for you, and that will fuel your obedience to His commands to you.

As you grow in your own relationship with Christ, you will be equipped to teach your sweet baby. We have a unique opportunity to make disciples in our homes!! For 18 years (Lord willing), our children live under our roof and under our authority! You and your hubby get to go on this journey together, growing in your own faith, and pointing your son to your Savior! Live authentically and intentionally. Let your child see you loving Jesus by how you live. Let your life be evidence that you really believe what you will be teaching him.

And do teach him! Tell him about who God is, show him his sin and his need for Jesus, and tell him about what God has done to make a way for him to have a right relationship with Him. Behold the glory of the Lord Jesus with him in the Scriptures and in the world around him. Dazzle him with the glory of God! I mean, have you ever slowed down and really pondered the complexity of the world we live in and stood in awe of the fact that not only did Jesus create it all but He is sustaining it all at all times. Look at the stars, watch the ants, examine the trees..."Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty!! The whole earth is filled with his glory!"

When you are blown away by how awesome God is, consider the fact that people are His most treasured creation. The Creator of the universe became a man in order to live perfectly and die for sinful people to have a way back to God! It is mind blowing! Talk about all these things and encourage your child to "taste and see that the Lord is good."

It's no small task, being a parent. The days to come will stretch you beyond your limits, expose sin you didn't know was hiding out in your heart, and some days you will feel like you're losing your mind! But God is working!! According to Rom. 8:28-29, for those that love God, He is working ALL things together for your good and His glory.

The good He is working for you is your conformity into the image of His son. God is not interested in giving you an easy life. His will for you is your sanctification, and you can count on Him using these years that you are in the thick of parenting to work toward that end. It doesn't always feel good, but it is good and it is His grace toward you. He is training you to depend on, and to trust Him and Him alone. Apart from Him, you can do nothing! As 2 Cor. 12:9-10 says,
"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I remember bringing each one of my babies home from the hospital, looking at their tiny little bodies, and feeling totally inadequate to be all that they needed me to be. I had no idea what I was doing (I still don't!), but I wanted so badly to be a good mom - to feel good about my performance at the end of every day. I wanted to be the perfect mom, but I wanted that for all the wrong reasons.

But God, in his Grace, has and continues to teach me that I am inadequate. I can't be a perfect mom and He doesn't expect me to be. God wants my heart. He wants me to depend on and trust Him. He wants me to walk by faith with Him and be an instrument in His hands in the lives of my kids. He wants me to be faithful in parenting, not so I can feel good about what I'm doing and not even to get results from my kids. He wants me to be faithful because it pleases Him. How freeing that is!

In the book, "The Faithful Parent,” Martha Peace says,

“Faithfulness, not perfection, is rewarded by the Lord. That's because we can no more live a sinless life than we can make our children do the same thing. Only our Lord Jesus is he “who knew no sin” (2 Corin. 5:21). He never sinned, but we do, and he knew we would need his help and encouragement to raise our children faithfully as he desires. The astounding good news is that by God's grace Christian parents have been placed in a position where they can learn and obey God's will more and more, because they have God's Spirit indwelling them. A person who is striving to honor the Lord in parenting, repenting, and changing is a faithful parent. Although we will not be perfect parents, we can, day-by-day, learn to live out God's instructions. Some day, we can hear the Lord say to us what the master told his slave, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).”

Mama, you won't be a perfect parent. None of us are. But by God's grace, you can grow in faithfulness day by day. Commit yourself to following hard after Christ. Trust Him in every circumstance that He allows, knowing that it is for your good, that His grace is sufficient, and that in your weaknesses, His power is perfect in you. And, enjoy each season! You'll hear this a thousand times, and it's so true - the days are long but the years are short. While parenting is challenging in a lot of ways, it is also so much fun! It is a tremendous gift to be a mama!!

May God grant you and your hubby much grace as you pursue Him together, and seek wisdom from the Lord to raise your child with the goal to please Him in all that you do. I pray that your heart will rest in the knowledge of God's goodness and faithfulness, and that He will equip you to be a mommy that leaves a legacy of loving and treasuring Jesus, and living a life of joyful obedience to the Savior of your soul.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

He Hears the Needy

"But I am afflicted and in pain;
Let your salvation, O God, set me on high!
I will praise the name of God...
When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy..." -Psalm 69: 29-30, 32-33
We each have our own stories of feeling like we're drowning, sinking down into the mire, being attacked by the Enemy and so wearied from crying out for deliverance that our throats have grown hoarse and our eyes cloud with exhaustion (Ps. 69: 1-3).
We are needy, even if we don' realize it or won't admit it.

When the floods of life threaten to rush over you this week, where will you turn? To the rickety, unstable towers of the world or your own coping mechanisms?

David - a man pursued and battered by his enemies if ever there was one - gives us the clear solution to surviving the inevitable storms of life in Psalm 69:
humble your heart and seek God with praise and thanksgiving.
Father, we praise and thank you because You hear us! In our afflictions, help us to see them as divine opportunities to trust You with the frailty of our lives. Let us have the humility of heart to see that we are needy. We "need Thee every hour" - no, every second. Shine Your light on the areas in our hearts that still turn to false comforters or ways of dealing with stress that aren't from You. Revive our hearts, Father, and may all the trials we walk through become beautiful pathways leading us to an ever-deepening nearness to You. In the midst of our storms, show us how to praise and thank You in our hearts, trusting that You DO hear us and that You are at work - and when we do, let the light of our belief join with Your children's praise to shine brightly on the beauty of Jesus' glorious Name.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Unfair Expectations

As providence would have it, I just so happened to be struggling with anger and unforgiveness in my heart at exactly the time I began to prepare to write this devotion on - of all things - forgiveness.

For a few days or so, there had been this icy undercurrent of a vague sense of anger and hurt flowing through my spirit toward a very significant person in my life. I couldn't exactly put my finger on what it was that had caused me to begin to feel this way, but there was no denying its presence. I'd get up in the morning for my quiet devotional time, and there it was, hovering over my heart like a murky cloud, stopping up my sense of connection with my Savior.
I felt stunted, short-circuited, cut off and confused.

But then, within only a few minutes of pouring over Mark 11:25, God's Spirit convicted me of my unforgiving, angry heart.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
- Mark 11: 25

It was clear as day. I couldn't run from the awful truth that I had allowed my pride to place unreasonable expectations on this precious person in my life - and when they failed to meet them, my sinful heart began to harden in hurt, anger and unforgiveness.

What I'm learning is that sometimes unforgiveness stems from real hurts inflicted by others...but far too often in my life, I have to own up to the fact that I feel hurt because others have failed to meet the unfair expectations that I've subconsciously put on them - I feel like they must act in a way that protects my sense of self-worth and if they don't, then I struggle with disappointment and hurt. All of this is rooted in ugly pride! So, ultimately I begin to see that I am the one who needs to seek forgiveness from my Father (and those I've hurt in anger), and I don't necessarily need to forgive those with whom I'm angry because really they haven't even done anything wrong in the first place! Phew!! What a mess our hearts can be...

But praise God that He uses the power of His Word to gently probe us and show us what sin we need to deal with - all with the purpose of reconciliation to Him and others. I thank God that I was able to go to the person with whom I was unjustly angry and make amends, restoring our relationship to an even deeper level of intimacy. That's what Jesus is all about - restoration of the broken through His power of forgiveness.

In this season of Thanksgiving, let's praise Him for this gift - that through His
forgiveness offered on the Cross, we don't have to sludge through the heavy, murky waters of unforgiveness in our hearts, but we can be washed clean by His Spirit's power to forgive and start fresh every day.

Monday, September 19, 2016

More Jesus, Less Me

We've all been there - felt that stab of jealousy as someone else gets whatever it is that our own hearts are set on. We're just born with the desire to be on top, to be first, to be recognized by others as the best. Hang out with small children for more than two seconds and you're bound to witness at least one fit if someone else wins the game, gets to be line leader, Star Student, or whatever place of honor another child covets. As grown ups, we still struggle with our smoldering selfishness - we've only gotten better at hiding it.

But here, in John 3:30, we see a radically different way of thinking - a way of viewing oneself that is completely foreign to natural man. John the Baptist's disciples anxiously approach him about Jesus' rise to popularity among the masses, but contrary to our natural knee-jerk reactions of self-preservation, John responds in beautiful humility. It's this Christ-exalting position that Jesus praises, calling John "the greatest man born of women" (Matt. 11:11). John's response sets the example for all who would follow Christ with seven earth-shattering words: He must increase, but I must decrease.

This should be our singular goal throughout each and every day - more of Christ, less of me. But, how do we do this? How do we go against the grain of the very fiber of our naturally self-promoting hearts?

First off - through prayerfully seeking God's strength to do so. We can't muster up such an upside down view of things in our own feeble power. But He can. If we are in Christ through saving faith in His work on the cross, then that same Spirit that raised Him from the dead is available to us! He is able to do miraculous works in our hearts, scrubbing us clean and removing impurities in our personalities, through the power of His transforming Word (Rom. 12:2).

Secondly, we see Christ increase and ourselves decrease in our lives by settling our sense of self-worth in Jesus, not in how we perform or what accolades we're given. If we are in Christ, the question of "am I valuable?" (which is at the root of so many of our selfish ambitions) is already answered with a resounding Yes. So there's no need to frantically struggle for appreciation in this world - we are bonafide children of the could we ask for anything else?

Thirdly, we decrease and Christ increases when we make it our aim to treasure Him more every day - to see Him as supremely beautiful amongst all else in life. We must constantly remind our wandering hearts that Christ is what it's all about (Col. 1:15-20).

Is there a constant undercurrent of self-preserving thoughts flowing through my mind throughout the day? Am I striving - even subconsciously - to have my name honored? As Christians, we might not even dare to admit that we have that thought - but God knows our hearts. He calls us to "do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more significant than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3). If we're honest, we all struggle with this. Ask God to make Christ supremely beautiful in your life, to grow your love for Him more and more, which will gradually stamp out self-concern. May it be that each night our heads hit our pillows, we can look back on the day and see less of ourselves and a bit more of Jesus shining through our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.