The Rock That Doesn’t Move

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I get to go to the beach next week. I get to sit and read books. And maybe once in awhile I’ll get up and go for a walk. And when I’m not doing that, I’ll just sit and watch the waves go in and out along the shore. Once a year we take that kind of vacation — the kind where you just stop and take the time to think.

I always enjoy watching how different the beach looks throughout the day. Sometimes the waves are pounding on the rocks and the beach is narrow and close. Other times the rocks are exposed, clicking and dripping with starfish, anemones, and mussels, with the beach broad and white.

During the course of a day, as the tides come in and go out, it can look like the big rock has moved. In the afternoon it has the waves around it; by evening it’s standing alone in the sand.

But the rock hasn’t moved.

Our emotions, like our eyes, can deceive us. When we’re going through a difficult trial or feeling overwhelmed, or suffering deep loss, it’s easy to feel like God has moved away from us.

Samuel Rutherford, a 16th century Scottish pastor, understood that feeling. He wrote,

Believe God’s love and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your rock is Christ, and it is not the rock that ebbs and flows but the sea.”

We will never be separated from God’s love, no matter how much it may feel like He has withdrawn His love in our affliction. As the tides of our emotions and feelings go back and forth, Jesus stays the same.

He is the rock. God sent Him to die for us. That love will never change.

I remember a trip to Victoria with my parents when I was young. We were watching over the deck rail of the ferry, waiting for our little voyage to commence. I was trembling with excitement.

The commotion below us finally quieted, and suddenly the dock was movingI couldn’t believe it! I hurried to ask my father what was happening.

He smiled and pointed out, much to my embarrassment, that we were the ones who were moving.

When we’re tempted, as we go through trials, to think that God is moving away from us, or that He doesn’t really love us, or that He has turned His back on us, we need to remember two things:

  1. God did turn His back on His Son, as Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.
  2. And because of that, He will never turn His back on us.

God doesn’t move away from us in our trials. He’s right there, waiting for us to turn around, teaching us to run to Him.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

 
(Photo by Peter Mahar)
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In the Furnace

Who of us doesn’t know someone who is suffering deeply? Who has lived a life free from trials and pain?

We surrounded by pain and suffering. 

I thought about this fact while my husband and I enjoyed a few days on the coast this summer.

In the Furnace 100714Glass-blowing1We had visited one of our favorite glassblowing studios in this artsy beach town, and after watching the artists work, we ventured further south to another studio. It was a grayed cedar building, hidden in the trees, and we spent a half hour admiring the beautiful vases, bowls, lanterns, and other glass items on display.

Just as we were about to leave, the glassblower picked up a piece of metal tubing and headed toward the furnace. So we sat down to watch him in action.

We’ve watched glassblowers before, but no one has ever explained what they were doing. This man did, and it was fascinating.

The glassblower uses two different furnaces as he works. The first is the furnace that contains a crucible of molten glass. This furnace is heated to over 2000 degrees F.!

He dips a hollow steel tube into the hot molten glass and rolls a glob onto the end of the tube. Rotating the tube all the time so the hot liquid glass doesn’t fall off, he takes it out of the furnace and rolls the blob of glass on a metal table called a marver to shape it and cool it.

To open up the inside of that blob of glass, the glassblower blows into the tube and then covers the hole with his thumb. I’ve always naively thought glassblowing was like blowing up a balloon. You just blow until you get the size you want.

Wrong.

He explained that the moisture in his breath turned into steam in the heat and that is what causes the bubble of air to expand inside the glass blob. He can’t just get a big blob of glass, roll it a few times, and then blow it into the vase or bowl or lantern that he wants.

It’s a slower process.

He gets the bubble started. The glass starts to cool. So he puts it back into a second cooler furnace (“only” 1600-1900 degrees) to make it more malleable again. He rolls it more on the marver.

He dips it back into the molten glass in the hottest furnace to make it bigger. He rolls and shapes and cools it again on the marver. He blows to make the bubble inside bigger.

The glass goes back and forth between the hottest furnace for more molten glass, the marver for shaping and cooling, and the secondary furnace for more heat to make it malleable again, while the blower continues to blow more air into it, always watching to make sure the walls don’t get too thin and break or too thick to be beautiful and usable.

So every time the glass starts to lose its ability to be molded, it goes back into the heat.

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That blob of glass had no idea what it was going to become under the skill of the glassblower. It submitted itself to the heat, the shaping, the blowing, and it became a beautiful, glorious, serviceable piece of art to adorn someone’s home or workplace.

Can you see the picture of God at work in our trials and suffering?

In and out of the furnace we go. God knows exactly how much heat we need — what will cause us to break, and what it takes to make us malleable as He works in our lives.

He shapes us, and then puts us back into the heat so He can continue His shaping work. He’s making us into something beautiful, a reflection of His glory, a picture of His Son. And He’s making us usable, someone who is ready to trust and serve Him.

The Holy Spirit blows His breath into us, changing us from the inside out, while circumstances and trials work on us from the outside.

And through it all God is carefully overseeing the whole process – watching us grow, knowing what He wants us to become, and applying the heat and the pressure to bring that to pass.

Remember that secondary furnace, the one that is only 1600-1900 degrees hot? That smaller furnace is called the glory hole!

That immediately brought a verse to mind.

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

God puts us into the fire to change us. He’s making something beautiful, preparing us for glory. And sometimes, as God puts us into the fire, we get a glimpse of that glory.

We understand in a new way how great and powerful God is.

We appreciate more deeply the privilege of having a high priest “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” — a priest who bids us come near to the throne of grace so we can receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.

 

 

 

 

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Training Children for Their Good

Training children for their goodWhen I wrote about Discipline vs Punishment a few weeks ago, I was surprised by the animated discussion that followed. In the comments and in a post update I added, we talked more specifically about what discipline and punishment look like in the home and what constitutes biblical discipline.

About the same time, I discovered an article entitled Training Children for Their Good, by Andy Naselli. I found this very relevant to our discussion, and I want to share it with you. The full article is 13 pages long (plus footnotes), but it’s worth your time. It brings Scripture to bear on some important questions, and it will make you think!

The author begins the article by examining Hebrews 12:4-11, which describes how God disciplines us as his children, and he extracts seven propositions about discipline.

He then surveys the primary verses from Proverbs that relate to discipline, noting that godly discipline begins with teaching, followed by warning. Physical discipline is the final step a parent should take, only after a child chooses to disregard instruction and warning. The fourth level of discipline (severe punishment) is not the job of parents, but of the state. Hopefully, children who are disciplined by godly parents will never reach that level.

Next he addresses some good questions raised by writers who are opposed to spanking, including “Is spanking antithetical to the gospel?”

Finally, he draws some of his own conclusions about parenting, based on the Scriptural observations already laid out. These include the necessity of multiple levels of discipline, avoiding extremes, and emphasizing love for our children.

Overall, this article reminded me of some important things:

  • First of all, training children takes dedicated effort on our part!
  • Loving discipline, including instruction, mercy, and sometimes pain, does indeed reflect the character of our Heavenly Father, as He deals with us, and as He’s dealt with His people throughout history.
  • Spanking should not be our first or our only tool for discipline. In fact, it’s something of a “last resort” to be used only if our careful instruction, warning, and confronting has been disregarded.
  • Godly discipline is a big part of pointing our children to the gospel. If we don’t explain God’s law, our sin, and the punishment we all deserve, our children won’t have a framework for understanding God’s grace and mercy or for valuing what Jesus has done for them.
  • Finally, when we’re studying what the Bible says about a topic like this, it’s important to practice real exegesis. We must seek to draw out the intended meaning of relevant Scripture passages and interpret these passages in light of the rest of the Bible.

If you read Training Children for Their Good, please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

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Lessons from a Honeybee

Honeybee092314No3I always have to keep my eye out for bumblebees when I pick flowers in the garden. Sometimes a hard-working little fella doesn’t make it home before bedtime, and he sets up camp on the colorful cushion of a zinnia for the night. He’s not always real happy about me shaking up his campsite.

The honeybees are a little more easy-going. They’re so busy working, they don’t have much time to worry about me. They love the mint that is flowering next to one of the chairs on our deck, so I’ve had a front row seat to watch their late-summer labors. The basil down in the garden is another of their favorite hangouts. The row usually buzzes with the sounds of their diligent work.

Honeybee092314No2I had to smile (and be careful) one morning out on the deck. I had picked a box full of basil. Some of it had already started to flower, and the bees were objecting to me disturbing their work. I took the box up to the deck and sat down to listen to a sermon online while I stripped the leaves off their stems. Leaves were going into a bowl for pesto, and stems went into a grocery bag.

I caught myself, though, as I started to drop some more stems into the bag. Down in the shadows of the bag, happily doing what God has made him to do, was an industrious little bee, going from flower to flower, deeper and deeper into the bag, sipping that sweet nectar one last time before the remnants got tossed into the compost pile.

Honeybee092314No1That faithful little bee was an inspiration. He wasn’t questioning God. He wasn’t complaining. He wasn’t waiting for someone else to do the job. He didn’t appear to be thinking it was unfair that some of his fellow bees were back at the hive while he had to fly around all day gathering nectar. He wasn’t giving up when the job got hard. He was going above and beyond the call of duty as he followed those basil blossoms into that bag.

He was just doing the job God has given him, and he was glorifying God and blessing others — especially me — while he was doing it.

Lord, help me to be like that little bee.

 

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A Prayer for Our Children — and Ourselves

I wish I had noticed more fully a prayer of Paul’s while we were raising our six children. I would have memorized it. I would have prayed it — every day. 

I can still pray it — for my adult children, for myself and my husband, for my grandchildren, and for my fellow believers in Christ.

Paul is writing to the believers in Philippi, his beloved, his joy and crown. He prays for them as a father might pray for his children:

PrayerForOurChildrenAnd it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11, ESV).

Let’s take this prayer and claim it for our children.

Lord, we pray that our children’s love for God and for each other would grow and increase.

We pray that this ever-growing love would be rooted in a vigorous knowledge of God and His truth as it is revealed in their study of His Word.

We pray that they will understand God’s love for them and that His love will inspire, motivate, and drive them to share that love with others. Give them insight into loving others in a godly Christ-like way.

We pray that they will test and approve the things that are excellent, that they will know what is best and what is true. Please give them wisdom to choose rightly between morality and grace, between the teachings of men and the teachings of God, between the earthly and the heavenly, between the temporal and the eternal.

We pray that their faith will be sincere and without hypocrisy or pretense. May their repentance be accompanied by the fruits of true repentance, and may they live with consciences that are free from offenses against you and others as they confess and forsake their sins.

We pray that their lives will be filled with good works — the fruits of Christ’s righteousness in them. Help them to live lives of fruitfulness and obedience, not to earn your favor or to gain the approval of men, but to glorify You as they live and serve in Your strength.

In Your precious Son’s name,

Amen

 

 

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Discipline vs Punishment – What’s the Difference?

Dad talking to son

I remember, not too long ago, looking a child right in the eye as he begins to slowly, deliberately tilt the full cup of water in his hand. “Stop – don’t you pour that on the floor!” I say, as I watch him do exactly that.

As the water hits the floor, my first thought is “You’re really going to get it now!”

I want to swoop in with the swift punishment that such clear disobedience surely deserves.

But I have to stop, and reconsider my motivation. It’s not just punishment that he needs, it’s discipline.

There is a big difference between punishment and discipline, and it’s important that we understand it.

What is punishment?

What is discipline?

So the goal of discipline is to bring about change, to alter the course, while punishment merely metes out justice, or even revenge.

Our job as parents is to administer firm, loving discipline that leads our children to repent of their sin and walk in righteousness. This discipline is both driven and tempered by the grace God has shown us in saving us from the punishment we deserve.

Update: Thanks to the moms who pointed out the need for some practical application here. I’m going to list some reactions that could be considered straight-out punishment, and then let me describe what discipline looks like in our home, on a good day, with an almost-three-year-old.

First let me caution you that this is merely our method for applying these principles. It’s not a formula everyone needs to follow. But hopefully it will help you see how punishment and discipline might look different in real life.

What would punishment look like in the above situation?

  • Yelling at my son (what I usually feel like doing).
  • Immediately hitting or spanking him without talking to him.
  • Pouring water on his head.
  • Giving him a “time out” but never talking to him.
  • Making him clean up the mess but not addressing the disobedience.
  • Doing nothing, but being angry at him for the next hour.
  • Ignoring instances like this all week and then finally blowing up at him or spanking him when it happens for the fifth time and I’m fed up with it.

What would discipline look like?

“Uh-oh. You made a mess.”
“You also disobeyed Daddy. We need to have a spanking. Please go to Daddy’s room.”

(In the room. We sit on the edge of the bed. My son is in my lap and I’m looking him in the eye.)

(seriously) “Did you obey Daddy?”

(solemnly) “No.”

“God says you should obey mama and daddy.” (This is a good time to look at the If-Then Chart together, if you want help explaining what he did wrong and what God says about it.) “When you disobey, I have to give you a spanking. We’re going to have two spankings now.”

(bend over knee and give two spankings on the bottom)

(hug until done crying)

“I love you.”
“Can you say, ‘Daddy, I’m sorry for disobeying’?”

“I’m sorry for disobeying.”

“I forgive you.” (hug again) “Will you obey Daddy next time?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Let’s pray for you. Dear Jesus, I thank you for ____ and for making me his daddy. Help him to obey Daddy next time. Thank you Jesus that you forgive us when we sin. Thank you that you love us. Help us to obey you. In your name we pray, amen.”

(Usually by this point he is back to his cheerful self, and we may chat about something else or play around for a minute before leaving the room.)

“Now, let’s get a towel and clean up the mess.”

(Work on it together until done.)

With a younger child, you’d probably have less discussion, just explaining what he did wrong and why you have to spank him. With an older child, you might have more discussion, give him a chance to tell you what he thinks he did wrong, and maybe more creative discipline based on what you know will motivate him.

It takes time. Especially when you’re the only parent at home, it’s hard to take the time to discipline like this. But in our experience, the time investment will eventually pay off.

 

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Leading by Example

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I was recently trying to decide what to talk about for a devotional at the bridal shower. The bride works for one of my favorite grocery stores. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to live near one of the 418 Trader Joe’s in the world. I decided to do a little research about this chain of stores.

For several years Trader Joe’s has ranked first or second as consumers’ favorite grocery store. (Who wouldn’t like shopping at a store where all workers all wear Hawaiian shirts?)

The cheerful, helpful workers that make Trader Joe’s so pleasant to shop at, are happy, in part, because they like working there.

One employee review states, “Everyone always asks why the employees are so happy at TJ’s; it’s because they treat their employees extremely well. Great pay, great benefits, and a great atmosphere to work in.”

Another describes the management at Trader Joe’s, “All the managers actually work with the crew members!!! They get on their hands and knees and restock the bottom shelves, they clean the toilets, scrub the floors… They work just as hard, sometimes harder than the crew members!!! Trader Joe’s has a ‘Lead by example’ policy that their managers listen to.”

Here’s something we can take and apply to our parenting! Here’s a few questions to think about:

  • Do our children like being in our homes?
  • Are they cheerful about working?
  • Are we leading by example? Do our children see us down on our knees, willingly doing the same work that we ask them to do?
  • Are we humble enough to work alongside them, or do we just tell them what to do?

Jesus didn’t just tell us what to do. He gave us an example. He humbled himself and left heaven to become a man. He lived with us, in the midst of all our sin. He healed people’s diseases, fed them when they were hungry, and then allowed them to kill Him — all to secure our salvation. He stepped down from heaven, reached into our lives, and showed us what real love looks like.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus . . .” Let’s show our children what it means to lay down our lives for others. We can lay down our lives as we get on our knees and work alongside them. Let’s lead by example.

 

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Too Fast.

TooFastNo3082614Do you have little children — you know, those charming, unpredictable, exhausting little ones that always lead people to say, “Oh, they grow up so fast. Enjoy these days while you can”?

I remember sweet white-haired ladies and elderly gentlemen saying those sorts of things to me while our six young children and I all marched through grocery stores or poured one-by-one out of the van.

Those comments were so much better than the just-wait-until-they-turn-into-teenagers comments. But I can still remember wondering sometimes if those dear people were remembering how much work it was when their children were little. How could “tomorrow they’ll all be grown up” possibly be true, when there were days I didn’t think the next eight hours would ever end so that I could go to bed?

But it is true, and I’m sitting here with my gray hair and my almost-empty nest, looking at a living reminder of that truth. It’s a tree our son planted. Many years ago he dug up a little seedling under a sprawling black walnut tree on the side of a lane our family often walked. He brought it home, put it in a pot with some soil, and let it grow.

One day, as we ceremoniously buried a family pet, he pushed that tiny little sapling into the soil and encircled it with a piece of fencing  to protect it from stray volleyballs and overzealous lawnmowers.

That must have been a dozen or more years ago.

I could write several posts about the lessons that tree has taught me over the years. But today, as I hauled tomatoes and zucchinis out of the garden and turned on the sprinklers, it reminded me again of how quickly time passes. Wasn’t it just yesterday when that tree was pushed into the soil? Now it’s probably twenty feet tall. It will give us walnuts this year.

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And the boy who planted that tree — he’s grown up, too. He’s running our business. He’s loving his wife and training his children. By God’s grace, he has grown into a God-fearing, hard-working, family-loving man.

Believe those people when they remind you that your children are going to grow up way too fast. Take hold of these days God has given you with them. It’s the only chance you get. Other things can wait until your children are grown and gone, but you won’t get another chance to love and train your children in your home.

Are you making the years count? Are you guiding your children down the path toward mature, godly, all-for-Jesus adulthood? Are you showing them what that looks like in your own life?

Pray along with David, “ So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Then sit down, write up some real plans, and train those precious children before they’re all grown up and gone. 

 

P. S. I didn’t write this post to promote these books, but I should at least offer the reminder that Doorposts has two books designed specifically for helping you purposefully take hold of the years you have with your children. If you’re looking for help, Plants Grown Up for boys and Polished Cornerstones for girls will give you hundreds of practical ideas for training your children in godly living.

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Less Is More.

LessIsMore081914I’ve had a garden every summer for the past thirty-five years. It’s generous to call some years’ efforts a garden. Different years meant different babies newly arrived or still in the works during garden seasons. Babies were born in April, May, June, August, September, October (of different years, obviously :-) ). Those years were a bit more challenging. I called the gardens of those years my treasure hunt gardens. Go out and see what you can find in the weeds.

In thirty-five years, I’ve managed to learn a few things  – what we will eat and what we never get around to using (kohlrabi is amusing to look at but not very exciting to eat), how much lettuce to plant at one time so a whole row doesn’t go to seed all at once, which seeds never seem to germinate for me (no parsnips for us this year :-( ), which seeds I should plant thickly in order to get enough to sprout.

But one thing I’ve never seemed to learn is how to thin seedlings without feeling bad.

Actually, I have learned that it’s important to thin seedlings. I usually just can’t bring myself to kill all those hopeful little baby plants! Right now I have lettuce that I need to go out and thin. I always tell myself that I’ll wait until the plants have grown some, and then we can use the thinnings in a salad. It’s a nice theory, but I don’t always get around to it.

And so I end up with lots of small, crowded lettuce plants in the same space that seven or eight heads of lettuce would thrive in if they had enough space. The same thing happens with the beets — lots of small ones instead a fewer big ones. Swiss chard and carrots often suffer the same neglect.

Sometimes less actually means more. Less plants in the ground often means more actual food to eat. If fifty lettuce plants aren’t all fighting for the same 10 feet feet of soil, we actually get seven or eight nice big heads of healthy lettuce.

Sometimes less means more when it comes to raising our kids, too. It’s so hard to say “no” to so many good activities, but how many things can we actually cram into a 24-hour period and do them all well? How many lessons, how many sports activities, how many church commitments, how many social gatherings?

If we try to squeeze too much into our lives (and into the lives of our children), none of our busy-ness ends up bearing much fruit. We end up with a lot of activity, but not much deep learning or real joy in what we’re doing.

When we’re too busy, the best things often get crowded out, like the Yugoslavian Red lettuce I really like that is getting crowded out by the overpopulation of ho-hum green lettuce. It needs space to grow. I need to give it that space.

When our lives get too full, we often sacrifice the best parts of life and the parts God holds us most responsible for — things like relaxed, un-pressured time spent with our children and with our spouse, time learning together from God’s Word, time thinking and imagining and planning, time building relationships, time when Mama isn’t cranky and stressed as she tries to keep up with everyone’s overbooked schedules. (I can remember some too-busy seasons of our family life when I’m sure I was not very fun to live with.)

We’re supposed to teach our children God’s law when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise up. That means we need to spend time with them — time when we can really give them our undivided attention.

As we are about to launch into a new school year, stop and reevaluate. Do you need to do some “thinning”? Should you reconsider how many extra classes and activities you want to encourage your children to participate in? Pray about this. What does God want you and your family to do? What is really going to matter twenty or thirty years from now — or more importantly — in eternity? Are you making those things a priority?

Discuss this with your husband, pray together, fortify yourselves, and start plucking out the good things that are going to keep you from doing the best things and doing them well.

I’m heading out now to face that row of lettuce. :-)

 

 

 

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A Giveaway Winner!

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Thank you all for your responses to our giveaway! It is so encouraging to hear what God has been teaching you through His Word. And thank you for all your words of thanks and encouragement. I count it a privilege to have studied together with you all!

My prayer is that the lessons we learned in our study will stay with us and change the way we view and live our lives. Our lives are all about God — who He is, what He has done, and what He will continue to do in our lives and in the lives of those around us as we love and obey Him. Stay in the Word! :-)

Comment #73 by Trish was randomly drawn as the winner of our $50 gift certificate! Congratulations, Trish! We’ll be emailing you soon!

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