The Deception of Sin’s Sufficiency

Ready for a little bit of True Confessions?

Here we go.

I’m struggling big time lately with turning to my sin to mask and medicate my pain. And I realize I’m doing this. And it’s not working (duh), but I’m still doing it anyway.

And … it’s not even in the “big” stuff, either. It’s in the daily struggles and worries.

No. For some reason, I can see God on “the other side” of cancer, tornadoes, and the like. But it’s handling the pain of stubborn splinters that’s most difficult for me.

In any given day, I deal with some or most of these (I bet you do, too):

  • parenting issues, questions, confusion
  • overwhelm with work responsibilities, household responsibilities
  • financial concerns, worries
  • spiritual fatigue, hunger, and thirst
  • confusion over what’s God’s plan for my life, what am I doing here, and why does it all matter?

And, good gravy, if they don’t all but do me in!

Why? Because they all produce pain.

Sin is painful.
Photo credit: stockarch from morguefile.com

Identify what you feel when you experience these emotions, and I think you’ll agree that it’s pain:

  • boredom is painful
  • fear is painful
  • stress is painful
  • unrest is painful
  • anger is painful
  • loneliness is painful
  • hunger and thirst are painful

Here’s where I’m stuck. I’ve identified these issues. I realize these issues cause me great pain. I know that I don’t care to struggle with and experience the pain once or twice, much less multiple times over the course of my life.

So, I simply choose escape from the pain. I’ve noticed I—almost automatically—retreat to sinful thought patterns for a few moments of no-strings-attached imagination, which dulls the pain. For a second, sin is delightful, a welcome relief from the nagging pain of my life.

But then the deception is eventually revealed when the pain comes back, after the sinful thought leaves.

When is this cycle broken? When do I grasp that grace is sufficient for me? That grace is the healing balm for the pain? When do I have a greater appetite for the work of grace than for the deception of sin?

Like I wrote earlier this week, God is pruning me. I know by his grace, he reveals this destructive and sinful pattern to me. I know by his grace, he cuts away the death, in order to bring new and hearty growth.

I’m just eager to move on; that’s all.

~~~

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God’s Pruning Me—And It’s Not Fun

Growth (126/365)
Creative Commons License photo credit: LifeSupercharger

I heard a sermon a few months back about the idea of pruning.

At the Bernard house, we’ve learned the hard way that when plants, trees, and shrubs aren’t probably trimmed at certain stages of growth, they become unwieldy messes. Their limbs climb high and awkwardly or stick every which way.

During the last five years, we’ve lost three trees (or substantial sections of three trees) in storms because of our lack of pruning.

Yep. We’re pretty lousy at landscaping, but I digress. (Ahem.)

God, however, is a pruner and a refiner. He knows the right time to clip and crop. He knows how to shave away the awkward stubs.

He knows that dead limbs are hollow nutrient sucks, robbing life from our root systems and preventing real fruit-bearing.

He knows when and where to cut in order to maximize growth.

Ugh. This pruning is hard work. And painful. It’s just easier to let the landscape of our hearts go unattended, isn’t it? (It is in the Bernard yard, that’s for sure.)

For those of us in Christ, we know how our stories end.

But the stuff in the middle? That’s the hard part, right?

I’ll be honest. I’m having a tough summer. Maybe it’s the heat mixed with my kids’ boredom that parches my soul. But I feel particularly thirsty now. I’m counting on my “wild vines” to reach every which way, hoping to find water. When I’m parched, I don’t take cheerfully to pruning.

Yet I submit to the process. Sometimes willingly. Sometimes reluctantly. But I submit nonetheless.

So, what’s God doing?

God is cutting away the superfluous so that I must rely on the slating flow from my roots—his roots—the Living Water.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. —Romans 5:1-4 (ESV)

Oh, and it’s hard. That whole chain of suffering—endurance—character—hope stuff? Couldn’t I just skip that? Because I’d rather get a leaf or two damp than depend on God for sustenance during radical surgery.

But I pray:

God, you show me. You prune me. When I try to medicate with mindless entertainment, show me. When I medicate by stuffing my emotions and emptiness with food, show me. When I medicate by trying to rustle up my own self-worth by engaging in some behavior that’s self-serving and self-congratulatory, show me. Prune me. I want to endure the hardness of the pruning so that I may eventually possess hope.

God, may Jesus be my everything. Take away all my crutches so that Jesus can be my sole support.

Prune those stray branches that are nothing more than death wrapped in empty promises.

Amen.

How does God prune you? 

~~~

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What Is Robbing Your Time?

Last week, I wrote about the commodity of time in our lives. Mainly, I’m interested to explore this further because I live in the middle of a great paradox.

Most of the time, I’m running around, doing a million things and getting crazy amounts of things accomplished: running a home, working a part-time job, shopping, cooking meals, washing laundry, keeping gas in the car, getting to doctor appointments, haircuts, soccer practice, Girl Scout events, and church every week.

Yea. The family runs. Sometimes smoothly. Sometimes bumpy. But we—for the most part—stay on track.

But then I’m confronted with all the things that are not done: bulging closets that need to be organized, creative writing projects, unfinished baby scrapbooks, date nights, cleaning (ahem!) the house. Blogging and my online business.

Some of this quandary comes because I’m a Type 1 woman. I’m full of ideas and plans and see the myriad possibilities in everything. I really don’t think linearly very much; I’m a much more global person, which can be exhilarating and immobilizing at the same time.

Another thing that comes into play is my creative bent and my introvertedness. I really need the benefit of quiet and solitude. I need to disengage from structure often to keep my sanity. I have to be alone with my thoughts—stay inside my head for awhile—until I can reemerge energized and ready to tackle another project or do that routine chore (that has the tendency to bore me to tears).

So, to some, I know I look like I am “wasting time” or misusing the time I’ve been given. I struggle with this judgement on myself, as well.

One of my favorite websites is Grace Gems that features writings from the Puritans. I love to read these nuggets from hundreds of years ago. There’s something about the way they use language that sharpens me and always causes me to think of life and faith in a new light.

What do you think of this one, in light of modern-day time management? If you are juggling a million things and can’t seem to get your time to dovetail properly with your priorities, what can you learn here?

12 Time-wasting Thieves!


by Richard Baxter

… making the best use of the time. (Colossians 4:5, ESV)

… so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10, ESV)

Thief 1. One of the greatest time-wasting sins, consists of idleness or sloth.

Thief 2. The next thief or time-waster, is excess of sleep.

Thief 3. Another time-waster, is an inordinate adorning of the body.

Thief 4. Another time-wasting thief, is unnecessary pomp and extravagance in household furniture and domestic entertainments.

Thief 5. Another time-wasting sin, is needless feastings, gluttony, and drinking.

Thief 6. Another time-waster, is idle talk.

Thief 7. Another thief which would steal your time, is vain and sinful company.

Thief 8. Another notorious time-wasting thief, is needless, inordinate sports and games–which are masked with the deceitful title of recreations.

Thief 9. Another time-wasting thief, is excess of worldly cares and business.

Thief 10. Another time-waster, is vain, ungoverned and sinful thoughts.

Thief 11. Another dangerous time-wasting sin, is the reading of worthless books, plays, romances, and novels. And also unprofitable studies, undertaken but for pride and vain-glory, or the pleasing of a carnal or curious mind.

Thief 12. But the master-thief that robs men of their time, is an unsanctified, ungodly heart; for this loses time, whatever men are doing–because they never intend to do anything for the glory of God.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV)

As I read through Baxter’s list, I’m smacked with the truth that these “time stealers” are those pursuits we do for selfish motive and selfish gain. When we engage in behaviors or thoughts that we use to make us feel better, look better, or numb our pain, we are, in effect, stealing our time. Why? Because we are trying to control our situations apart from God. We are longing to solve our problems. We want to depend on anything except God.

Yes. I will do anything to wiggle out of my dependence on God. And in doing so, I create more hurt, more heartache, and more—wasted time.

Think about this: God created time. God offers time. When we use that which he made for us and gives to us for HIS good purposes and pleasure, won’t it be more abundant, more useful, and more effective?

Yet when we fill God’s time with our sin, it’s no wonder our schedules, priorities, events, and goals become a mangled mess, while our health and sanity dissolve into casualties of our obstinance.

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What’s Your Focus for the Journey?

Yesterday’s sermon was a piercing one for me. My pastor said something along the lines of this:

I simply want to be focused on God himself—not on the destination of the journey on which he has me.

That has resonated in my soul for the last 24 hours or so. Because I, too, am on a journey. I feel completely and chronically unsettled. I’m not always sure what “great thing” God wants me to do. Mostly, I’m convinced I am to be “ordinary” and, honestly, that frustrates and bores me.

But it’s not about the end result, the final outcome, the next big thing, or penning the Great American Novel. Why?

Because I already possess the highest prize and the greatest of glory, as I identify with Christ. This journey is not about me, and it never has been. Yet I continue to obsess over the details of the trip, as if one ounce of my planning, my ideas, my energies, or my participation can affect the outcome.

What is the secret to this life? Well, I paraphrase from another pastor, to whom I listened recently:

The secret to this life is really easy. It’s a continual decrease and decline of self so that you become invisible and people only see Christ, not you.

My prayer is that as I decrease and Christ increases, I would more desire the things of God.

And so, I continue the journey, struggling against my sin to move forward in blind faith, while craving so badly an inch of control. With everything I have, I want to engage in cause and effect behavior.

Yet God saves me from myself, moment by moment.

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Discerning God’s Call for Your Life

No—I don’t have a “special word from the Lord.” I don’t have a glimpse into the future.

But I do have some experience with questioning, soul-searching, wondering, asking, and praying.

After spending four decades on this planet, I’ve come to believe that finding God’s call is not a singular goal to attain. Rather, it’s a journey and an unfolding process from God to you as your sanctification progresses.

I’ve been thinking lately about the biblical truth that what God calls you to do, he will equip you to do. This passage in Hebrews sums it up:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
—Hebrews 13:20-21 (ESV, my emphasis)

We most often hear this sentiment cited in those situations where someone has been called to a seemingly insurmountable task. The person feels called by God to do something yet also feels ill-prepared for the assignment.

But take another look at the verse. God will equip us with everything good. Why? So that we may do his will. How do we determine his will? By looking at our equipment, of course.

Why would God give such equipment to someone if he never intended nor planned for its use? Would you give a bread maker to a family whose every member is allergic to wheat?

My question to you is: How has he already equipped you? How is he preparing you? What has he entrusted to your care and stewardship?

Remember the Parable of the Talents? The man gives talents to his three servants and he leaves. Two of the servants invested their talents and received more talents. They saw a return on their efforts, and the man commended them. The third servant, however, hid his talents in the ground. The Scripture says the man cast that servant into the darkness.

What has God given to you? How will you “spend” it, invest it, grow it, use it?
What’s the best way to glorify God with what you’ve got in your house right now?

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Photo credit: mensatic from morguefile.com

Do You Know Your Limits?

I was a little bit surprised to hear some words come out of my own mouth the other day:

“I know my limits.”

To which my husband replied, “Yes. But it’s taken you a while to get there.” (And, for the record, I am still a work in progress and struggle every day. The difference now as opposed to this time last year is that I’m more aware of the process.)

Finding and respecting limits of mental, physical, and emotional reserves must be an intentional process. Our fast-paced culture will not slow down for us saying, “Oh, I’ll wait right here with my demands until you can cope with me.”

Our responsibilities, concerns, and obligations will suck every last ounce of goodness out of us if we aren’t careful.

This past year has been a crucible for our family; all sorts of challenges have produced great periods of fiery heat and those impurities are melting away. Some of those impurities include my delusions that I’m super-human with limitless ability to love, serve, and work.

What about you?

  • What would happen if you faced your limits—and respected them?
  • What would happen if you surrendered to the inevitable and instead of fighting it, you embraced it as God’s perfect call for you?
  • What if you delegated responsibilities to others who enjoy and are good at them?
  • What if you concentrated on doing one or two things to the point of greatness instead of spreading yourself too thin?
  • What if you got enough sleep and laid off the fast food?
  • What if you prayed more and spent more time with God?
  • What if you pursued meaningful work within your gift and skill set?
  • What if you simply eliminated destructive distractions and instead focused intentionally on living in Christ?
  • What if you refused to be controlled by the tyranny of the urgent?
  • What if you looked around your house to notice God’s blessings and sincerely asked him for guidance in being a steward of his creation?

Dear readers, I pray that you (and I!) would prioritize and recognize that some things are just more important than others in this life. We deny God’s graciousness when we equivocate temporal “stuff” with everlasting souls.

Keep pushing decisions and responsibilities through that grid of priority and continue to evaluate. My guess is your limits—those beautiful boundaries of protecting restraint—will become vividly apparent.

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photo: Jenny Rollo

Work That’s Meaningful: Work Within Your Gift and Skill Set

I realized something cool the other day. I have a built-in check to evaluate whether or not I’m working within the parameters of my true gifts, skills, and talents.

In my previous business pursuits—everything ranging from data entry and broadcast journalism to school teaching and direct sales/referral marketing—I’ve tried super-hard to convince myself and everyone around me that I was good at my work.

Now—I don’t know that I’ve ever been completely rotten at a job (OK; maybe one or two), but I do know that I have struggled with jobs simply because they weren’t a good fit.

But I never wanted to be reminded of those struggles. No. I constantly sought validation from my husband—and other family members—that I was good at the job. I really wanted to hear, “You’re good at that. That’s a good fit for you. I know you are going to be successful,” and so on. And when those comments were not offered spontaneously, something triggered the doubt center inside. That’s when I’d “fish” for compliments and encouragement, knowing that I wasn’t very good at that pursuit and that some (or many) aspects of that business endeavor drained and bored me to the core.

The other day, Chris spontaneously told me how much he is enjoying this new blog, especially the podcasts. Those words of unsolicited accolade meant so much because I knew he meant them.

And? I had a hard time believing it. Really? I thought.

So, when I find it incredulous that someone would tell me they think I’m doing a good job; when I find it unbelievable that someone finds my work helpful and I actually have so much fun doing it, then I know I’m onto something.

Are you working within your gift and skill set? Or does work feel like a struggle, a bore, or an insurmountable challenge? Are you fishing for compliments? How do unsolicited compliments offer validation and encouragement?

Finding Purpose and Meaning in Your House

What's in your house? Link-up your posts at lookinyourhouse.com.

What's in your house? Link-up your posts at lookinyourhouse.com.

Announcing A New Weekly Link-Up:
What Do You See When You Look in Your House?

Since this blog’s beginning, I’ve been exploring this question with you through blog posts and podcasts.

I have a simple vision here. I want to encourage women to “look in their houses” to find the potential for purpose and meaning in what they already possess—material items, relationships, gifts, talents, skills, and so on. Our culture is automatically programmed to move on to the next bigger and better thing. I want to rein us all back in a bit to survey what’s before our very eyes. What deserves our attention that’s within our grasp. What is our privilege and responsibility to serve under our noses.

To that end, I’m going to start a Look In Your House Challenge every week. I’ll issue a weekly challenge for you to look in your house to discover what’s there. You write a post on your site about your experiences and insights then come here and link up. Every week, I’ll change the assignment slightly to give you a new writing prompt.

Let’s start with the front porch, shall we?

What do you see on your front porch (or main exterior entryway) of your house? What’s the potential for creativity there? How might God use your front porch for great purposes?

Write a post answering these questions and link your post next Wednesday. I’ll have my post there, along with the next week’s writing prompt, too.

Please link back to the post from your site and Tweet it and post on Facebook to spread the word.

Let’s encourage one another as we look in our houses to discover new and exciting things.


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Freedom to Be the Woman God Made You to Be

When I was 20, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I wanted to have it ALL. I wanted a successful career and a large house, full of kids.

God has taken me on a circular journey of sorts: dashing my dreams of what I thought I wanted (in my 20s, I thought it was career and financial success; in my 30s, I thought it was full-time homemaking and homeschooling) and bringing me to a place of total dependence on his plans for me.

This is a hard post to write because I have spent the last two decades chasing after something I wanted with my whole heart. And therein lies the confession and the stumbling block: my whole-hearted devotion has been focused on the wrong things.

Why did I want to become a famous newscasater? Public adoration, praise, and accolades for my talent and skill. Why did I want to become a full-time, academically and theologically rigorous homeschool mom? Public adoration, praise, and accolades for my “obedience” to God and subsequent churning out of great kids (though no guarantees, you know).

Within the last two years, though, God has brought me to the end of my assumptions about his plans for me.

I’m discovering the freedom in Christ that allows me to be the woman God made me to be, and I’m realizing she’s not much like the woman I had been pursuing.

That’s because God has called me to something else—a hybrid of all those characteristics. God has made me an entrepreneurially-minded, creative woman. I love my family to the extent I’d throw myself in front of a train for them, but too much “togetherness” and I begin to disintegrate. I despise housework (and am not good at it, to boot), but I love reciting the Catechism with my kids. I don’t have the affinity nor the attention span to glue together popsicle sticks to make wooden replicas of historic buildings, but I love navigating the hard topics of religion, politics, and—yes—sex, on a second-grade level with my daughter. I hate playing outside, but I love encouraging my kids in how to confidently shake hands and speak to adults.

The women of the Bible possess these types of complexities, I believe. I see the widow in 2 Kings 4 as having these various complexities: interests and abilities that are both creative and entrepreneurial. God meets this woman in her time of need by revealing his power through his prophet and through her.

How has God gifted you?
How has God used your gifts to meet your needs and bring glory to himself?

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Photo credit: dee from morguefile.com

What’s Really Necessary in Life?

Do you remember Martha?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (ESV, emphasis mine)

Most of my life, I’ve bristled at this passage a bit, believing that Jesus was somewhat harsh with the trying-to-please Martha. But more recently, I’ve seen it with new eyes. I believe the Holy Spirit gave us 21st century women (with our busy families, homes, and jobs) Martha and Jesus’ gentle rebuke.

I find it interesting that it is Martha who welcomes Jesus, yet she is too busy to enjoy his company.

How many things, people, or opportunities do I invite into my life, only to be “too busy” to give them proper attention?

In this portion of Scripture, the Holy Spirit tells us serving is a “distraction.” Isn’t it interesting that an action, normally commended, is discouraged. Why? Because even “good things” can distract one (especially us women!) from the ONE THING.

Jesus says Martha is anxious and troubled. All this serving and doing and busyness reap anxiety and trouble. Does anything good come of all this work? Nothing except that Jesus uses the opportunity to point Martha to himself.

Jesus calls the ONE THING “necessary.” It’s as if he’s saying, “Martha, you don’t need to be doing all that other stuff. There’s only one thing that you need to do and that’s to worship me, learn from me, talk to me, and listen to me. I am your one necessary thing.”

Had Martha just taken a closer, more deliberate look in her house, perhaps she would have rearranged her priorities.

How is your busyness distracting you?
How is Christ your ONE THING?