Jesus Pushed the Elf Off the Shelf

“Mommy, if there really was a naughty and nice list we would all be on the naughty list.”

This statement from my seven year old had much greater theological depth than she knew. Her observation didn’t come from a manipulative self-pity over being naughty. It came from a clear view of what she knows about the gospel: “None is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).

As the traditions of the holidays swirl around my children, my hope is that they will learn to distinguish the law from the gospel. I want my kids to know that God is not another Santa Claus. I long for them to embrace the fact that they are not capable of being good enough to receive anything but coal in their stockings and that our hope for goodness can only be found in the only One capable of perfection.

With the advent celebration and family traditions intersecting this season there is a very clear battle between law and gospel going on. Many parents set an elf on a shelf to watch over their children leaving notes such as, “I saw you steal a cookie today. If you are good from now until Christmas I promise that I won’t tell Santa. If you are extra good then maybe you will get that iPod you asked for.” It’s just another extension of the naughty and nice list. It’s the law kicked up a notch and it gives parents a way to manipulate their children’s behavior as they deal with children high on Christmas treats and anticipation, and who can blame them. If I weren't so lazy and uncreative I would be doing the same. 

The Elf on the Shelf can be a fun Christmas tradition but unfortunately it is often a more intense reality of what many children are taught all year long. Do good and you will be accepted by God and will receive good things. Do bad and you will be punished by God or worse yet, be turned away. It’s the law, masked as Karma, masked as parenting.

Thank God for the Gospel! Thank God for the incarnation of the Son who came down to save us from this filthy mess into which we’ve gotten ourselves. Thank God that we no longer live under this burden but now live in the freedom of Christ. Is that not what Christmas is about in the first place?

We no longer have to live within the confines of the law. The Holy Spirit was not left to look over our shoulder to make sure that we are being good enough for God. Jesus didn’t come for those who were good enough and He certainly didn’t come to tattle on us. The Son Of God humbled himself into the restricted form of a human body, lived a sinless life worthy of one million iPads, and willingly hung on a tree to die for those who deserved not only coal but much worse. He did this all knowing that we could never be good enough to appease the Father.

We could not earn a righteousness of our own so God’s gift to us was the righteousness of his Son wrapped up in a blood-stained, tragic death, which culminated in a cry of “It is finished.”

“It is finished” declared Jesus’ annihilation of the naughty and nice list. It was with that cry that He pushed that elf off the shelf so that we could be free. My friends, rest in Him this season. Rest in His goodness and not your own. And please, give your children the greatest gift that they will ever receive: the grace that tells them that they have a Savior who loves them and has come to rescue them from the crushing news that they will never be good enough.

You are Forgiven!

There is something so sacredly beautiful in the announcement of forgiveness. Just three words alone, "You are forgiven" can unbind a burdened conscience, restore a broken relationship, and free a troubled soul.

As my pastor says, “Forgiveness is the very air we breathe.”

Without forgiveness all we have is guilt and shame. Without forgiveness we cannot approach those we have hurt. Without forgiveness we dare not take one step forward toward the Throne of Grace.

 

How do we come by this forgiveness that is so freely promised?

Forgiveness always comes on the lips of another.

We need to be told that we are forgiven. We need to be reminded that the blood of Christ has removed all guilt and shame. We need to hear the good news from outside of ourselves in order to break through the lies so we will believe it. 

There was a time not too long ago that I did not understand my need to hear absolution from the lips of another. In fact, I thought the pastor at my kids’ Lutheran school was absurd (and maybe even a heretic) when he would announce that he forgives our sins in the name of Christ.

Excuse me? He forgives my sins? The very sins that I have committed against the Father and others? This guy is telling me that he has the authority to proclaim forgiveness over me? Hold on! He didn’t know what I had done. Wasn’t I to go to God about this? Didn’t the reformation cut out the middleman?

Having come from a faith that made the Christian walk so much about me and what I was doing for God, this confession and absolution deal made me awfully uncomfortable. I didn’t think anyone else should be butting into my relationship with God. If I needed forgiveness I’d ask him myself, damn it!

I’m glad to say that things changed for me in the absolution department but not without heartache. Several years ago I had a friend commit suicide. If you have ever had someone close to you take their own life then I do not have to explain to you the guilt and the questions that come with such tragedy. Prior to her death I had purposefully pulled away from the friendship. I had done some unkind things in order to avoid her, in order to not be hurt again. I had killed the relationship. So yeah…I had a lot of guilt.

The week of her death was met with me gasping for a breath of forgiveness. I knew that God had forgiven me but what about my friend? It was too late to repair the brokenness between us. It was overwhelming.

After days of agony I woke one morning with the word “absolution” on my mind. I couldn’t shake it. I suddenly understood why the pastor stood in front of the church and absolved us. I needed the freedom that forgiveness brings but I didn’t know how to find it. I needed to hear it from someone else. I knew that my own pastor would talk to me but I also knew it would be more of a conversation about me going to God and me trying harder to believe that I am forgiven, both good things in their own right but not what I needed to hear.

Knowing that the formal act of confession and absolution is practiced in liturgical churches I called my Episcopalian priest friend. I was hesitant but a mutual friend assured me that he would be happy to help.

Over the phone and thousands of miles away I confessed my sin to someone else's pastor. He read into the phone words of absolution, words of freedom to my burdened soul. He assured me that my sin against my friend had died along with her, that just as God remembers it no more, she also remembered it no more.

Freedom had come on the lips of another.

 

I am now a member of a Lutheran church (although I am not very Lutheran) for the very reason of absolution and confession. Every week as I confess my sin along with my family and my community words of forgiveness are spoken back to me. I am declared forgiven by another. I breathe in deep.

Every day we need to hear the good news. Read it, listen to it, claw our way through until we find that voice that will speak it to us. And in turn we can be that voice that speaks forgiveness into the lives of those around us.

Let the words on our lips proclaim the freeing truth, “ In Christ, all is forgiven.”

The Strongest Faith

The weakest believer among us receives the same strong Christ as does the believer whose faith seems unmoved.

This is good news for all of us because it’s not the strength of our faith that gives us hope; it’s the strength of Jesus’s faith.

Let me explain:

One summer my family was invited to enjoy a day of waterskiing and lounging on the lake with some friends.

The lake was choppy and with each passing speedboat came a wake that caused a big thump and jolt of our boat, which subsequently elicited a scream from my then four-year-old son.

You see, he had very little faith in our safety as we hit those large bumps in the water. However, having grown up and spending my days on ski boats, I knew that we were perfectly safe.

I had complete faith that those wakes that were tossing us from side to side were merely bumps and that the boat was certainly strong enough to endure them. My calm demeanor showed my trust. I could relax.

My child, however, showed very little faith as he screamed with each wave and ripple.

We couldn’t have been more different: me, a grown woman with full assurance, knowing that we were safe, showing my confidence in the boat, free to enjoy the sun and spray splashing up on me; and him, my four-year-old, huddled on the floor trying to eat a granola bar, certain that it was his last meal.

My faith in the boat was unshakable while my son’s was just barely hanging by a thread.

And yet here we were, two souls on the same strong boat, heading toward the same destination.

Here’s the big question: Did the strength of our faith make any difference in the strength of the boat?

Of course not.

The boat’s strength was not affected by how much faith either of us had put in it on that particular day. It wasn’t weakened by my son’s doubt, nor was it strengthened by my confidence.

Just as the boat was immovable and never swaying in its ability to bring us safely home,  Christ remains our strength even when doubts fill our minds and our faith wavers. 

In fact, it’s Christ’s faith we stand on! It’s His strength that gets us through and not our own.

Christ’s life was one constant stream of unwavering faith.

Even though He had the power to abandon the mission at any moment, He continued on in humility and perfect faith to fulfill God’s redeeming plan. Knowing the pain that was to come, He pleaded with his Father to let the cup pass from His lips (Luke 22:42).

As the answer became clear—that the cup would not pass from Him, that He was to be beaten, mocked, and stricken with sorrow at the separation of perfect union with His Father—He remained faithful on our behalf.

This has become our record. This is now our strength.

Even in our moments of greatest weakness and doubt, Christ remains our strength, holding us up out of the water, confidently taking each blow from the waves with which life is unrelentingly battering us.

When everything around you is falling apart,

the job is lost,

the child rebels,

the spouse falls in love with someone else,

the friends who said they’d never leave walk away,

life has fallen apart at the seams,

and you just don’t know how to find hope.

All the while Christ is unmoved and you are perfectly safe. He will hold on to you to the very end.

Your strong faith—or, more appropriately, your lack thereof—is not connected to some cosmic feeding tube of God’s grace.

God does not dole out His love and faithfulness based on the strength of our trust.

The gospel assures you that He loves you and is holding on to you whether you are lounging about enjoying a time of confident faith or clinging to the bottom of the boat, waiting for the ride to be over.

His perfect faith  —

is counted as yours.

*These words can be found in my newest book, Beloved Mess. If you need hope and love in the midst of your mess then this book is for you.

Loved in the Midst of the Mess

I live in a small town.

I love that everywhere I go I see someone I know. But at the same time I hate that everywhere I go I see someone that knows me.

The people sitting behind me in the drop off line at school watching me wrestle my reluctant child out of the car are the same people that I may have accidentally cut off that morning. And the people that saw me at the store in my pajamas buying cheap wine and Cheetos after a bad day are the same people who see me stuffed into my bathing suit at the public pool. There is no hiding.

In a small town there is no anonymity. I’d much rather not be known. To be known by others means there is a chance that they will see my messy side and reject me. I often forget that it is not this way with God. To be known by God is to be nothing other than deeply loved and accepted; mess and all.

Whether we wear it on our sleeve or hide it deep inside there is no denying that we all have messes. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. God is the only one that knows every detail of our messy lives yet loves us right in the midst of it all; just as we are.

Romans 3:10 tells us that “Not one of us is righteous. No not one.” Not one of us can keep God’s law. Not one of us is perfect or ever will be.

You see, in order to keep God’s law (everything He commands in His word) you must keep all of it perfectly in every thought, word, and deed. There is no wiggle room. There are hard and fast rules such as thou shalt not murder, do not covet, and love your neighbor.

Maybe you haven’t murdered anyone today but you may have wished them off the face of the planet in your heart. Maybe you haven’t coveted your neighbor’s house but you sure do wish you had a body like hers. Maybe you did love your neighbor and helped her clean out her attic but as you walked home you patted yourself on the back for being such a great friend and pride crept in.

Do you see? No matter how hard we try, it just can’t be done. The law was set at such a ridiculously high standard that there is no reaching it. Was this a cruel joke by God? Does he hold it out of our reach and laugh at our efforts? Of course not! The law was never meant for us to be able to complete it. The law was given to show us that no matter how hard we try all of our efforts are actually quite pathetic.

According to the law, each one of us is a mess. But because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection each one of us is his Beloved Mess. The gospel frees us to live a life of freedom knowing that we are loved as we are. The law is good. It shows us how short we fall and delivers us into the arms of our Savior.

We are in need of rescue. We are in need of the One who perfectly obeyed the Father. The One who perfectly loved, perfectly served, and perfectly gave his life on our behalf so that we can now stand before the father in all of our messiness and be loved. And through Christ we have just that.

 

*For more on being loved in the midst of your mess check out my new book, Beloved Mess.

 

Rest for the Wrestling

"True Christian religion does not first present God in his majesty, as Moses and other teachers do. It commands us not to search out the nature of God, but to know his will presented to us in Christ, whom he wanted to take on flesh and be born and die for our sins; and he wants this to be preached to all the nations. 'For since is the wisdom of God the world in its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe' (1 Corinthians 1:21). So when your conscience is in conflict, wrestling against the law, sin and death, in the presence of God, there is nothing more dangerous than to wander amidst curious heavenly speculations, searching our God's incomprehensible power, wisdom and majesty - how he created the world and how he governs it. If this is how you try to comprehend God, attempting to pacify him without Christ the mediator, making your works a means between him and yourself, you will fall as Lucifer did and in horrible despair will lose God and everything else. God is in his own nature immeasurable, incomprehensible, and infinite, and so human nature finds him intolerable.

If you want safety, then, to flee from perils of conscience and salvation, bridle your presumptuous spirit, and seek God in the way that Paul teaches: 'We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom.' (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). So begin where Christ began - namely, in the womb of the virgin, in the manger, at his mother's breast. The reason he came down, was born, lived among men and women, suffered, was crucified, and died was so that he might present himself plainly to our eyes to fasten our spiritual sight upon himself, so that he might keep us from climbing into heaven and from the curious searching of the divine majesty."

-Martin Luther (Commentary on Galatians, pgs 34-35)

I Need to Hear it Again

I Need to Hear it Again

It seems like the end of the school year is just one big streak of painfully long weeks. Every day is crammed with what feels like pointless projects, obligatory award ceremonies, and cookie and juice parties that feel like death for this introvert. Everyone is talking about summer schedules and vacation plans and I’m just standing in the corner asking Jesus to help me not kill my children.

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Bikinis, Bra Straps, and the Righteousness of Christ

 

I made myself a pair of cut-offs before heading to the beach last week, only this time I cut them to hit a whole four inches above my knee. Gasp! Scandalous, I know! But for me this is yet another step in my freedom from the life that I was once bound to; a life of rule keeping, list embracing, and a shame-based moral code with no room for error.

You see, for a woman like me who once donned only skirts and dresses that fell below my knees, believing that pants were immodest, that I should wear shirts with neck lines up to my ears, shorter shorts are a big step in a good direction. For a woman like me, and maybe like you, modesty has been yet another mask of the imposturous self; another link on the chain of imprisonment.

While my life may have looked proper and pure on the outside, clothed from head-to-toe during those years, the extra yards of fabric only hid my fear of others discovering who I really was and the mess I had made. The worse things were on the inside, the better I had to make them appear on the outside. It was exhausting! I used a list of rules to secure in my mind that I was doing ok. My self-righteous heart told me that if I dressed more modestly than others then God would love me more; it was all just an effort to cover up the ugliness of eating disorders, self-injury, anxiety, and depression.

It wasn’t until I began to understand the gospel that I could see what I really was. I had just as much of a dirty heart as did Gomer (Hosea 1), yet I was living the life of the Pharisee. For years I tried to clean myself up on the outside so that I could make myself approachable to God, until Jesus interrupted my life with the same strong words that he used for those whose behavior he detested, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27)". And then I came to understand that God loved me as I was, not the me that was properly covered up, not the me that was doing it right—or thought she was doing it all right. He loved the real me – his beloved mess.

As someone who once dreamed of running away and joining the Amish so I would feel more at home, I have stayed miles away from this controversial subject. When I hear the call from blogs, books, and conferences to theoretically button up my shirt or lengthen my skirt, I feel as if I have just been punched in the stomach. Maybe you do too. You see grace is not grace if it comes with a set of rules. It is not grace if it is followed by a “but”, and it is not grace when we pair it with an “if.” Grace is only grace when it stands alone in all its scandalous freedom.

So if grace stands alone then where does it leave us on the whole modesty issue? It leaves us in a free-fall; a glorious, liberating fall into trusting our sisters to the hands of their redeemer. Grace leaves us without the list of how-tos and without the question of “what-if?”. Grace leaves us to cling to Jesus and nothing else. And as we cling tighter and tighter to Jesus the doors to our prison cells are opened, our hearts are transformed by His one-way love, and we are set free to revel in God’s favor because we already have it in our nakedness.

Christ didn’t die for the way we dress, he died for the condition of our hearts; hearts that cling to sin whether it be in rebellious immodesty or in self-righteous cover-ups. He lived a modest life in every sense because he knew that we wouldn’t. He embraced whores, prostitutes, and tax collectors without reservation and pursues us with just as much longing and acceptance. He chastened the ones who thought that their outward appearance would impress his Father, the ones who couldn’t stand the company he kept.

Christ didn’t come for the righteous; he came for sinners (Luke 5: 32). That’s you and me. That’s the scantily clad and the covered-up. And that, my friends, is good news.

Grace for One of Those Days

The sticker on the back of the jeep in front of me threatens to crush my weak spirit. It has the words, No Bad Days encased in a fish outline alluding to the fact that there are no bad days with Christ.

What? No bad days?

The guilt and condemnation pour over me as I think about the “bad day” that I was having. What had I done wrong? Perhaps it was my pessimism coming to a head again. Maybe I just needed a more positive attitude. Or maybe God was punishing me for my unkindness to my children as we were getting ready for school that morning. I should have kept my mouth shut. I should have prayed and asked God for patience before entering into a discussion with my daughter about her unbrushed hair.

Then there was the broken dishwasher, the mess from the dog, and the unruly rooster that attacked my daughter, drawing blood from her leg.

As I sought to sleep off my frustration and annoyance with a quick nap, my husband informed me that the school had called to say that my son hurt his arm and possibly needed to go to the emergency room. In an instant, my feelings of what had transpired over the course of the day came out in one tired, selfish word, “Seriously?”

Perhaps you have had a day like mine recently, so full of chaos that you can’t seem to escape. Nothing catastrophic has happened, yet there have been enough little mishaps to label it a bad day. Or, maybe it’s been one of those days when tears gather on your lower lid, waiting for a blink to push them out. Maybe it’s one of those days where you try to find an explanation for your urge to fall apart; a continual holding-it-together-hoping-to-avoid-a-trigger day because if you cry you won’t be able to say why. You know…just one of those days.

If you are like me, you may believe that you are the only one who has bad days. You may look at others in life and only see No Bad Days plastered across their foreheads. You believe the lie that if you are a Christian you are not allowed bad days. You may have been misled to think that once saved your life would simply be a tiptoe through the tulips and you wonder where you’ve gone wrong.

Maybe you believe that your bad days are a punishment for your sin. As if you are finally getting what you deserve from God. If that is the case, please rest in Romans 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” There is no wrath left for you, and the unraveling of your day is NEVER a barometer of God’s affection. In fact, as our days start to spin out of control, we can be assured that because we now have Christ’s righteousness God continues to be as pleased with us as he is with his Son.

It is in the midst of our bad days that our sin and weakness is magnified, showcasing our desperate need for the strength of Christ. And these are often the days that he is most glorified as we are reminded of our need to be rescued and we turn, once again, to Him.

God is the lover of those who have bad days. He loves to love you in your weakness. He pursues you in your pessimism. He desires you when you are undesirable. He loves you when you are unlovely. Believe that no matter what kind of day/week/year/life you have had–whether good or bad–that you remain His longed for beloved His heart’s desire and His beautiful bride. There is no sin or circumstance that will ever change that. Rest. You are free. You are loved.

The Gospel For The End Of The Day

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

Last night I told my daughter that she needed to stop thinking about her day and just go to bed. It’s something that I have to tell myself often because there is a natural self-examination that happens at the end of the day; an examination that tries my faith and leaves me with a scorecard in hand.

For some reason, I find it necessary to look over the events of the day, tally up my sins vs. my successes, and place myself in one of two categories: “good enough” or “not good enough.”

It’s my law bent heart that drives me to always check to see if I’m making the mark or not. And do you know what happens when I do this? I’m either left feeling like I can’t go on or feeling proud and self-righteous, all of it depending on my performance that day.

You see, we all having a longing to justify and prove ourselves. When we forget the gospel our lives become all about our personal performance. The law tells us that we must perform to meet its demands. But the gospel reminds us that the demands of the Law are met and we can now rest. Jesus said it Himself, “It is finished!” Our hearts can rest because of Christ.

If we don’t have Christ to still the pendulum in our hearts, swinging between pride and despair, we will go on trying to justify ourselves by what kind of day, hour, or moment we’ve had.

Without the gospel we will live for what other people think of us and what we think of ourselves. We will judge ourselves by whether or not we make people happy, whether we had all the right responses, and if our hearts really wanted to be serving our neighbor.

Jesus Christ came and perfectly loved, perfectly obeyed, and was perfectly humble on my behalf because He knew that I would snap at my husband, join in the chaos of my fighting kids, or throw the towel in and quit.

As I come to the end of my day I don’t have to weigh the good against the bad and hope that I’m still in God’s favor. Christ came and threw away the scale of the law to set me free.

Because of His finished work for us, we don’t have to go to bed and scheme about all the ways we need to try harder and do better the next day. We don’t have to beat ourselves into obedience with judgment and condemnation. We can rest knowing that Christ is the keeper of our souls and the purifier of our hearts. We don’t have to live wondering if we’re accepted. We don’t have to convince ourselves that we’re good enough.

It’s true that our actions certainly deserve the condemnation that our hearts want to live in. We can even agree with the accusations of the enemy that we’re not good enough because his accusation is surpassed by the proclamation of the gospel. According to the law we will never do enough, be enough, or even care enough. But, according to the gospel, Christ IS enough on our behalf.

So we can be free to lay our heads down at the end of the day. We can be free of condemnation, shame, and pride because God’s love for us is not based on how hard we’ve tried today but rather on the every day reality that His Son lived perfectly on our behalf. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8.1), not today, not tonight or tomorrow morning. Now that’s freedom!

Five Truths Everyone Needs This Mother’s Day

*I wrote this for mothers but don't worry, If you aren't a mom this list is for you as well. After all, we can all use a little Good News today. 

I’m guessing that anyone who is interested in reading a blog post about motherhood cares enough about what she does for her family that she doesn’t need to be told to do more. Most likely she already knows that her role in the house is incredibly important and she feels the weight of that every single day. She has probably spent this past year working hard to be the best at what God has called her to be yet she still feels as if she is not enough. She may even feel like God is angry with her over what seems like constant failures to be the mom who she thinks she needs to be. She is exhausted and she doesn’t need another list of how to try harder to do better. What she needs and longs for is rest.

So in efforts to avoid laying more burdens on the already overloaded shoulders of mothers and to hopefully offer a bit of freedom, I present to you a list of truths to remind yourself of when the burden becomes too much, when you forget where Christ fits into motherhood, or when you just can’t read another list on how to be a better mother. 

 

1) God’s promise to be faithful is a one-sided promise.

Our faith is not in what we do but rather in who he is; a merciful, gracious, redeeming, Savior. Even when we feel like we are barely hanging on we can be sure that God will not let us go. We aren’t holding onto him, he is holding onto us.

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”

-2 Timothy 2:13

 

2) Our slate has been wiped clean and replaced with Christ’s perfect record of righteousness.

We don’t have to wake up every morning and get to work on creating our resume’ of righteousness. His record is now ours.

"...and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith..." -Philippians 3:9

 

 3) There is nothing that we can do that will cause God to love us any more or any less than he already does through his Son.

God’s love for us is not fickle. It’s not manipulative or abusive. God is not passive-aggressive or codependent. He has no requirements except that we need him. He loves to love us. He rejoices over us.

“The Lord your God is in your midst,   a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
 he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.” –Zephaniah 3:17

 

4) God’s grace is sufficient for you in every weakness.

We can boast in our weakness because Jesus is strong. We have nothing to prove because he has proved it all on our behalf. His power is shown to be perfect through our weakness and failures.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2 Corinthians 12:9–10

 

5.) We can rest because the work is done. It is finished!

Priests never sat down because their work was never finished. God sent us a great High Priest and his name was Jesus. Jesus was the only priest who’s work was ever fully finished.

"And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ2 had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." -Hebrews 10:11-14

 

The call to motherhood is not about you and your ability to raise your family; it’s about a Savior who has called you to serve him as he fulfills his beautiful redemptive plan. He has prepared the good works he has for you and enables you to do them. Whether you are working joyfully or struggling to keep your head above water, he is loving you and working all things for his glory. 

 

The Truth About Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is the day that my kids will smother me with the cards and crafts they have made that read “#1 MOM” or “Mom of the Year.” And while they do this I will want to sit them down and talk to them about how we should be honest and how we shouldn’t lead others to believe that they are something that they are not. That sounds ridiculous as I write this and while I obviously don’t do that, I can’t help but think it while I smile and enjoy the extra hugs and attention.

Now, I know that I am a “good” mom. I mean, my kids are clothed, schooled and fed; I really could be doing much worse. In fact my eldest told me yesterday that she has never experienced hunger the way that people in books describe it and came to the conclusion that she has never actually been hungry. You can be sure that I gave myself a big self-righteous pat on the back for that one. But “Best Mom Ever?” I think not.

I’m not the “Best Mom Ever” when my harsh words and anger cut through the morning air announcing that “Nobody ever listens to me” loud enough to scare the chickens in their coop. I’m not the “#1 Mom” when I tell my kids to use their words to build one another up only to tear them down with my own words when they start fighting. I’m not the “Mom of the Year” when I care more about my daughter’s bangs that are hanging in her face while she is talking to me than about what she’s trying to tell me from her heart.

I even fail to be the “Best Mom Ever” when I spend all morning making special Star Wars shaped pancakes, snuggling with my kids on the couch instead of being on Facebook, or driving them and their classmates on field trips with my purse locked and loaded with healthy snacks for everyone to share.

Not one of us is always the mom that we need to be to our children. You and I both know that we have failed miserably. All you have to do is browse Pinterest, Facebook or mommy blogs and you will soon feel that anxiety of needing to do more for your kids rising up within you. It really doesn’t take much more than looking at someone else’s family picture with nicely dressed children, sitting and smiling all at the same time for us to feel as if we are doing something wrong.

You see, this thing called Motherhood is not about us. It’s not about being the “Best Mom Ever.”

Motherhood is not about loving our children perfectly; it’s about needing a Savior because we fail to do just that.

Now that I’ve given you the bad news and made the (burnt) toast from your Mother’s Day breakfast in bed drier than dirt and the (cold) coffee and scrambled eggs (with shells) have lost their appeal, let me give you the good news.

Romans 3:23-24 gives mothers the good news that we so desperately need to hear,

“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” We have all failed but because of his great love for us he has given us the gift of his righteousness."

In other words; Christ died for moms!

My friends, let’s stop living as if this truth were not a reality. If anyone needs to know that their calling is not about perfection, it is us mothers. Motherhood is messy. It is a beautiful, gnarly, exciting and exhausting calling. And if we make it about us, condemnation or pride will be hiding around every corner.

Jesus knew what it was to care for others. He knew the patience needed to deal with the immaturity of those who didn’t understand. His very ministry was to the messy, the broken, and the demon possessed maniacs that our children all too often emulate. He did this all for us. Yes, for you and for me. Every act of kindness that wasn’t deserved, every extension of grace, and every patient tone in his voice was done in our place. Every single one! With you and me in mind he perfectly and flawlessly cared for those around him when he could have so easily thrown in the towel. Never did he show a twinge of bitterness, knowing that this was the Father’s will for him and exactly what we needed as mothers. Do you see the love there?

We needed this love. We needed the blood of Christ to wipe our “bad mom” slate clean. But a clean slate would not be good enough, would it? If we simply had a clean slate set before us every day our lives would consist of trying to rewrite it with the words “Best Mom Ever.” But thank God that he didn’t leave the slate clean for moms. No, he wrote across it with permanent marker the title that was meant for him, “My beloved with whom I am well pleased.” Our record today remains as perfect, beloved, God pleasers; on the good days as well as the bad.

Do you believe this, my friends? Do you believe that God has pursued you with a furious longing since the beginning of time? Do you believe that he loved you so much that he chose to die for you because he couldn’t live without you? Do you believe that his pursuit of you, his beloved, continues every minute of the day and that he won’t ever give up on you? No matter how much you make a mess of motherhood, no matter how much you fall into the sin of thinking you are a better mom than others, He loves you just as much in your good moments as he does in  your bad moments.

This is our God. This is motherhood. We are his beloved! Let’s do the hard work of believing that we are just that.

And if I can leave you with one thought on this Mother’s Day let it be this, Christ loves mothers as the messes that they are, not as the cleaned up mothers that they think they need to be. Not one of us is as she should be. This is great news!

The Gospel for the Good Days

“And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9).

I walked through my bedroom door patting myself on the back and feeling quite pleased about what a great job I had done with the kids that day. It was true.

I was kind, patient and loving all while being exhausted and dealing with exhausted cranky children.

I was delighting in my goodness; proud of my great accomplishments.

Then it crept in. My mind dwelled on the idea that God must be really pleased with me and my actions. Believing that because of the great day that I had with my kids I was just a little bit more loved, a little bit godlier.

You might say "What's wrong with being good?" or "Why can't you just enjoy the fact that you had a good day?"

Shouldn't we all be good for goodness sake? Isn't that what this Christian life is about? Finding our kindness and sharing it with others?

Well, no.

The Christian life is not about me being good, it is about my utter dependence on the God that saved my soul by sending His son to live the life I couldn’t live, to die for my failures, and to be resurrected for my justification that I couldn’t earn. It's about remembering that I am a sinner who, by the grace of God, has been given the righteous record of Christ by faith so that I don't have to earn my way. Anything good that comes from me is a result of the work of Christ who lives in me.

The Christian life is not about trying harder to be good but rather worshipping the only One who truly is good.

When we start to believe that the goodness that comes out of us is something that we have manufactured or something that can get us closer to God then it all becomes about us; it becomes about earning our way by climbing a ladder of works and forgetting that the way has already been earned.  We struggle against the flesh, and that means our tendency toward self-righteousness.

We are prone to take what God has given us and call it our own. Our heart desires acceptance. Our heart wants to justify itself.

Some days, like yesterday, our hearts desire a ladder to climb because we’re sure that we’re doing great and will make it to the top. Other days, like today, the rungs of that ladder seem to break every moment we try to do something good.

But the gospel...the glorious, honest gospel comes and destroys the ladder. It tells me, it tells us, that there is no climbing into heaven by good works. The gospel tells us there is no more failure, no more striving, no more broken rungs. Jesus said, “It is finished.” And it truly is finished.

Christ came and smashed that ladder across His knee by fulfilling every work on my behalf, by forgiving every rung broken in failure and every rung climbed in self-righteousness. There is no more ladder!

So, what should we do with the good days? The same thing that we do with the bad:

Remember what Christ has done and rest in His goodness in our place.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:28-29).

Imperfect People of the Imperfect Church

If you were to ask me what kind of Christian I am (as in what denomination do I belong) I would most likely tilt my head, throw up my hands, and shrug. I might say something like, “I don’t really know. I guess I’m a bit of a mixed bag.”

I don’t like being a mixed bag. I really don’t.

I am a member of a community church with a Reformed Baptist pastor. I often attend two churches on Sundays, one of those being Presbyterian. I read Lutheran theology for fun and faithfully listen to my Anglican friends’ online sermons.

As you can see, I don’t fit in with any one denomination. My husband and I are still trying to figure this all out.

I am not saying this to be different. I’m not trying to be a mystic and have Jesus my own way. Or create my own special worship “Happy Meal” by picking and choosing from the theological menu that is offered hoping it comes with a new prize that I don’t already have. I’m not a rebel or a trailblazer as some have misunderstood me to be. I’m not out to join a movement or change the world. I just want to worship Christ and him crucified.

Just the other day I was lamenting to a likeminded friend that it feels that there is no room for someone like me; a square peg amongst the round holes of churches with neatly thought out doctrinal statements that I can’t seem to wholeheartedly embrace. I believe my words to her were, “I’m not sure that I am a Calvinist, I’m not broadly evangelical, and I’m not a Lutheran/Anglican/Episcopalian. Where is there a place for people like us who are not on the baptism bandwagon yet love law/gospel and long for liturgy?”

Maybe there was some self-pity tied up in this statement. Actually there was quite a bit. What I was really saying was that I want a church that serves me everything. I want a church that I can wholeheartedly embrace and trust and never have to engage in hard conversations with.

The problem is that the Christian life is not a comfortable life. A thinking Christian will always have questions. There is danger in blindly tying yourself to one church, one ministry, one man etc without having the hard conversations.

I know that some of you have been sadly burned by the church. You hurt and long for a place of safety; a place that you can trust. You hear others speak of their churches as if they have found Mecca. They boast about the pastor dropping gospel bombs and their small group’s never-ending love and care for their family. You wonder why you can’t find a church with even an ounce of what they seem to be experiencing.

I’ll let you in on a secret…though it may appear so; they have not found the perfect church. You will never find the perfect church. I will never find the perfect church. Perhaps maybe we need to start asking ourselves more questions about why we don’t feel like we belong instead of why the church can’t seem to meet our needs.

I’m not denying the fact that it’s hard to find a church that faithfully delivers the goods week after week. I’m not ignoring that sad reality that there are destructive churches out there that we should run far, far away from. I am simply suggesting that we (yes, me too) ask ourselves the hard question of “What do I expect? What is my pride holding me back from accepting doctrinally or maybe even just practically?”

It’s easier to sit at home and listen to the sermon of my choosing. It’s easier to hand pick a group of people that I get along with and agree with theologically. It’s easier to dream about a church in which everything is run how I want it to be, preached how I would preach it, and have the programs that I want to be involved in. But then I remind myself that living with others isn’t easy. Church isn’t always easy. Family isn’t always easy. Life here on earth just isn’t all that easy.  What did I expect?

Instead of looking at the church and other Christians as threats, perhaps we can look at them as fellow believers, gifts from God to help us to grow in Christ, fellow saints who have also had to ask hard questions and confront their own pride in order to be there. We can run to Christ, ask him for clarity and contentment knowing that he longs for us to have a body to serve and be served in. Part of Christ loving us is providing for us the opportunity to be involved in a local church.

The church is a big part of my life and I don’t plan on giving up on it. But one thing that I have learned is that while it is good to have high expectations for the church, it will never provide for you what Christ alone can provide. It simply cannot fulfill your every longing. It is a means of grace, a gift to help us to grow. And as we all welcome growth we know that it often comes in ways that we would not choose.

The church is messy and we may never feel like we belong. Such is life for those who live between the already and the not yet. Thankfully every bit of Colossians 3:4 is true,

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Christ is our life right now and forever. And one day all of the questions and the hard conversations will exist no more. One day we will all happily worship together as a perfected church. Until then we press on imperfectly serving imperfect people in an imperfect church. And God gives us the grace to do just that.

 

 

Easter is for Losers

Holidays sometimes make me feel like a loser.

It’s a time that I let the comparison crud creep into my heart more than others.

It’s all around me, in my face: the crafts, the traditions, the moms who make every day special (or so it seems).

It’s what I begin to rate my motherhood by.

Am I doing enough? Is it special enough, unique enough, healthy enough, elaborate enough, simple enough, spiritual enough, fun enough?

I make excuses in my head about why I can’t seem to get it right. I blame my lack of _____ on my limited resources, my meager gifts, my ample number of children.  I compare because I want to believe that I’m keeping up.

I compare because I want my work to be enough. I compare because I want to somehow prove to myself that I’m not a loser.

And then I remember.

I confidently cut the comparison crud and stop trying to prove what I am not and start rejoicing in what I am – a far bigger loser than I will ever believe that I am, with a far bigger Savior than I will ever comprehend.

So while I call myself a loser, He calls me beloved. While I fret about dying eggs and filling Easter baskets, He is pleased to pour out His mercy and kindness on one who has not once proven herself worthy. It is for this very reason of grace and mercy that He takes pleasure in proving Himself over and over.

It is for the losers that Christ came and lived the sinless life because we couldn’t get it together. That’s all of us. Not one of us has kept the perfect law; not one of us ever will. He knew this and willingly submitted Himself to the Father to take our place.

He quietly suffered the mocking, the spitting, the torture, the scathing, the whipping, the torn flesh, the unbearable pain, the spiked thorns, and the unthinkable separation from His perfect union with His Father; for me…for you.

As the darkness crept on, the relentless pain of separation continued tearing at His heart until the work was done. The final cry of “IT IS FINISHED!” was not a cry of death but a cry of life and freedom for all whom He shed His blood; a plea for us to stop trying to prove our worthiness because His gift of righteousness has made us worthy.

And if that wasn’t enough, He proved Himself by the resurrection. He fulfilled His promise and continues to pursue those whom He loves: us. He rose that we might be freed from wondering if what we’re doing is enough. He rose that we might have life—abundant life.

He died, was resurrected, and ascended so that He may reside in us by the Holy Spirit, bringing comfort to our thirsty souls and reorienting our wayward hearts that don’t always believe that the “It is finished!” is for us, the losers.

It is enough because He is enough.

 

Love, for Cynics Like Me

Valentine’s Day...

As one of my teenagers pointed out, “If you don’t have a significant other, you spend your day wishing you did. If you do have one you spend your day hoping not to disappoint them or be disappointed by them. Everyone is miserable. What’s the point?” God bless my little cynic.

As disparaging as this statement may be, I wholeheartedly agree. Every Valentine’s Day, no matter what my relationship status, has been filled with some degree of angst (that was until I married another cynic and we threw the holiday out all together. Thank you, Jesus!). For some, February 14th conjures up an incredible amount of expectation and hurt. And for others, the hopeless romantics of whom I cannot relate, it is a temptation to self-righteously cling to their giant boxes of chocolates, perky bushels of roses, and sappy love notes wondering what everyone else’s problem is. Or even worse, believe that their Valentine inspired works might just get God to check the yes box on their latest “Do You Love Me?” note.

Cynic or romantic, perhaps today (and every day) we would all be better off looking to the only Lover who truly speaks our love language without ever getting it wrong.

The First “I Love You”

Christ's incarnation, life, death, and resurrection were the first "I love you" spoken to this world. A gift of love from a God who longed to save us through His son.

-It was Love that reduced Him to the size of a seed in His mother's womb.

-It was Love that was helpless at the hands of first time parents.

-It was Love that grew as a boy, being completely God and man, under the submission of sinful parents.

-It was Love that perfectly served an imperfect family.

-It was Love that resisted every temptation known to man.

-It was Love that was falsely accused, mocked and beaten.

-It was Love that went to the cross without opening His mouth.

-It was Love that was humiliated and spat upon in open nakedness.

-It was Love that saved the sinner next to Him while in suffocating pain.

-It was Love that was separated from His Father, void of perfect fellowship for the first time.

-It was Love that took the most tragic day in human history and redeemed it for our Salvation.

-It was Love that united us to Himself, leaving with us the Holy Spirit so that He would still be near.

He loved you when you had no love on your lips, when the other four letter words outweighed the L-word. He knew you'd struggle to love Him back yet He chose to love you. He knew you'd love yourself more than you love others yet He pursued you as His bride. He knew you'd hate your enemies yet He chose to love you even when you were His.

His Beloved

Some of you have heard the tender words of "I love you" since the moment you caught your first breath. Yet others still await the words you've longed to hear since you were a child. But as you and I walk in the shadow of the cross we both hear the same sweet whisper from our Savior's lips, "You are my beloved child."

No matter how many or how few times we hear the enchanting words "I love you" here on this earth we know that there is only One that truly loves us. There is only One that can speak these words and fill our souls with a love that is pure and can never be taken back.

There is a precious Love that breaks through to the broken, the self-righteous, and the cynical hearts like yours and mine. His name is Jesus and he calls us his Beloved.

How Taking Xanax for Lent Makes Surprisingly Rational Sense...at Least for Me

First of all I need to clarify that I am not a medical professional, counselor, or even a Lenten expert. This post is in no way trying to convince you to go out and get on meds. It’s simply an outpouring of what God has shown me through my weakness and in my need for him…and for Xanax.

I went to my doctor sometime during Lent this past year. I told her how much I have struggled with anxiety my entire life. I told her about how exhaustion exasperates my anxiety and during very stressful times I tend to spiral out of control. Or at least what feels out of control to me. I told her about the depression that comes; the demon that waits for me at the end of the paralyzing tunnel of fear I live in. I told her how my mind never stops. Like never. Like, I end up watching TV all night long to numb my racing thoughts.

Then I told her that I have four kids. She chuckled as if everything started to make sense when I said that. With a compassionate smile she proceeded to tell me that she would like to write me a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug called Xanax. We talked about how it has taken me 40 years to come to terms with the fact that this isn’t going away. We talked about how I have been counseled over the years, and we discussed how some of my closest friends are counselors and how much they help keep me sane. We talked about how I needed physical and emotional rest. And though I did not mention it, I knew in my heart that I needed spiritual rest as well—rest from the false guilt and condemnation that my mind tricks me into believing.

I have always thought that meds are only for the weak. I have believed that it was sin to rely on medication or anything other than the Lord for emotional health. I believed that if the person considering meds would just try harder to do what God was asking of them, pray harder, read their Bible more, if everything was right in their spiritual life, then they certainly wouldn’t need such a crutch. After all Christians are supposed to be strong so we can show the rest of the world a better way, right?

WRONG!

The life of a believer is a life of weakness. Using medication may actually increase one’s ability to trust more fully in the Lord. I know this now only because I have crashed and burned 10,000 times over in my attempt to fix myself by myself.

So what does lent have to do with any of this? First, you must know that I know very little about Lent. I am a member of a non-denominational community church with a reformed Baptist pastor who quotes Martin Luther. So…I guess I’m a bit of a mixed bag. There is no official church calendar, daily lectionary or the likes to follow. Just a church preaching Christ crucified. My only exposure to Lent was through the Lutheran school that our kids attended for a number of years. And even then, the only inquiry I ever made about it was when my kids came home and told me that they weren’t allowed to say “hallelujah” at school anymore. What the?!

I have quite a few Lutheran and Anglican friends who talk about, write about, preach about Lent and every year I ignore it. For this non-liturgical girl who has an allergic reaction to anything that she might perceive as religious, I’ve just thought of it as something that the church was telling me I needed to do. In some cases this is true, but the true meaning of Lent is so much more.

The day my doctor prescribed Xanax for me felt like death. It was humiliating to reveal my emotional weakness and ask a stranger for help. Later that day I listened to a sermon by my Anglican friend, Curt Benham. (You can listen here.) All I could say was “Wow.” There I sat, folding laundry, shaking my head in amazement at what the Lord was saying to me through his sermon on Lent.

He said the following things:

“Lent is the season of giving up. Not giving up this or that food or activity but about coming to terms with the fact that I am not in control of anything.”

“It’s a season to stop learning how to look to ourselves to get better and about looking to Christ to save us.”

“Lent is about learning to die until we are dead. It’s a season of honesty. A season of weakness, not strength.”

Death is about realizing how very little control we have over our lives. It’s about the realization that we can’t do it on our own anymore. It is a desperation. A crying out for Christ’s strength. This is the Christian life. This is the way of the cross.

So how did my taking Xanax for Lent make any sense? After all Lent is about giving up not adding something new. But that’s the point. Every morning when I go to the medicine cabinet and take that tiny white pill, I am giving up. I am dying a death to myself, a death to believing that I can do this in my own strength, and picking up the cross of Christ.

It’s not about giving up on life. I’ve been there and I can tell you that there is an incredible amount of selfishness and self-reliance in that. I’m talking about giving up on believing that my righteousness depends on my emotional health. That my strength is defined by what I do or do not put in my mouth. It is a dying to self, not in a work hard to deny myself sort of way, but in a humiliating, sickening, it-hurts-so-bad-not-to-be-able-to-do-things-my-way way. It’s a picking up my cross and following Jesus because that’s my only hope.

“Taking up your cross is doing nothing in the midst of that which will kill you other than trust in your savior. It’s a white flag of surrender, a learning to stop trying to fix all your problems.”

And so, I took up Xanax for Lent this year as a death to myself and new life in Christ. And as Curt said, “Death is something we can live with. It’s the dying that’s so hard.”

What are your thoughts on taking meds? Or better yet, what have you been told by well meaning people about the use of meds and the Christian faith? I'd love to hear what others are saying.

Bucking Horses, Failing Moms, And The Grace Of God

 

Picture this:

A mom puts her little girl on a horse that has already tried to buck her off. She pressures her daughter to do more, and in an instant, her little girl is thrown from the horse's back. Scared and hurting, she sits in a heap in the dirt. The mom checks for broken bones and blood and then callously demands that the girl get up and stop crying. When she will not, the mom gets on the horse and runs him up and down the ring trying to get him to buck with her, all the while yelling profanity at the horse in front of her ten-year-old daughter.

This mom has snapped. Her anger is out of control. The pressure of being that “good mom” and doing all the right things for her children has gotten to her. She finally puts the horse away, throws the saddle on the ground, and locks herself in the tack room of the barn to be alone. She feels ashamed of her actions and can't face her family.

After some time and good conversation with a friend, the mom sees how the Gospel speaks to her situation. She sees her actions as a window to the depths of her heart. She also sees how they are nothing new under the sun. Her God has seen this kind of thing before, in her and in others. She doesn't have to punish herself or try to make things right by working harder. She thanks God for showing her how weak she is. She runs to him and finds forgiveness. She is doused with a scandalous heap of grace.

She goes to her little girl and asks for her forgiveness as well. She tells her how mommy is a great sinner who has a great Savior. She gives her little girl a powerful picture, not of a well-mannered mommy who loves perfectly but of a mommy who needs Jesus and who is loved by Jesus unconditionally.

What if I told you that the mother in this story was me? Does that make you cringe? Have I lost your respect?

That's okay.

Nothing To Prove

You may wonder how I can share this humiliating moment, this private and ugly scene, with the perfect strangers who I hope will read this. The answer is that I have no shame because Christ has covered that day with grace, and that grace has set me free to admit that I am weak.

When Jesus told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), Paul concluded that no matter what happened, he was not only content to be weak but would even boast in his weaknesses, “so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b–10). And that’s why I don’t mind writing the story about how I lost it with my daughter and the horse. I can boast in my weakness because Jesus is strong. I have nothing to prove because he has proved it all on my behalf.

The Law tells me there is no room for error; it says I must find within myself the strength to be perfect. This is bad news for you and me. None of us will ever be able to be the parent, spouse or friend that the law requires us to be no matter how hard we try.

But the Good News is that Christ met all the requirements of the law on our behalf and poured out his grace upon each of us so we may be 100 percent acceptable before God...even when we fail. No wait, especially when we fail!

Remember Who Loves You

Unlike my sin-polluted love for my children, there is nothing tainted about God’s love for us; because Christ took all the wrath that we deserve upon his back on the cross, God can only love his children perfectly. He doesn’t lecture us, nor does he withhold good things or send us away because he can’t stand the sight of us. No, when we have failed to do what’s right and have sinned against everyone within a mile’s radius, our heavenly Father calls us over, lifts us up into his lap, gently corrects us, and lavishes us with his love. He tells us how much he loves us and how what we just did has been forgiven.

We cry out to him as Father because that is what he is (Romans 8:14-17). Then he sends us on our way—not with a command of “be good and try harder or else I will be angry,” but with tenderness, calling, “Remember who loves you! Remember the one to whom you belong!”

This is an excerpt from my book Christ in the Chaos.  

What's So Hard About Being Nice?

With having four kids in the house I feel like my anthem has become, “Be nice!” It seems as if I am telling (or more often yelling at) my kids to be nice all day long.

Yet in my ministry to the rest of the world I seem to be preaching a different message. You see, in my heart I know that Christianity is not about being nice. But wait, is that true? What about the command to “love my neighbor.” That seems kind of important if you ask me.

The Law tells me to be nice by loving my neighbor but I still find myself elbowing my husband when he snores, scowling at my kids when they are too loud, and ignoring the needs of others. No matter how well we might think we are loving others and being nice, the truth is, according to the law, we are failing miserably. Even one selfish thought about the person next to us is grounds for disqualification. Actually, we were all disqualified a long time ago the first time we selfishly grabbed a toy from another toddler or whacked our little brother over the head. We were born sinners. No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot fulfill the commandment to love others more than ourselves!

As I once again whined to my girls this morning, “Why can’t you just be nice to each other?” the words slapped me in the face. Would I tweet that? Would I stand in front of a group of women and whine law at them to get them to change? Didn’t I just tell my kids yesterday that telling someone to change won’t change them?

You see, the law cannot change our heart, it can only slay it. The law can only kill all hope that we could ever fulfill it. The law can make demands but it gives no power to the hearer to actually do what it demands.

It does not beat us over the head yelling, “Love your neighbor” until we submit. No, it just beats us over the head until we’re dead; it slays us with its sword, killing all notions that we can actually do it.

Unfortunately, many of us believe that Christianity is all about being nice, being a better person, etc. There is even a popular Christian song that urges us to look within and “find our kindness.” I don’t know about you, but the last time I looked deep into my heart all I found was a heart that is “deceitful and wicked above all things.”

The Good News is that we have hope aside from the Law. We desperately need the Gospel to deliver us because the Law leaves us utterly hopeless. Once the Law has done its deed in slaying every hope that we have ever had of being able to do what we have been commanded to do, the Gospel comes swiftly in to deliver us from our despair. It saves us, bringing life to our dead souls. As C.F.W. Walther says,

“The Gospel does not require anything good that man must furnish: not a good heart, not a good disposition, no improvement of his condition, no godliness, no love either of God or men. It issues no orders, but changes man. It plants love into his heart and makes him capable of all good works. It demands nothing, but it gives all. Should not this fact make us leap for joy?”

You see, there is only One who ever loved his neighbor the way that the Law demands. And he did it for you and me. He did it because his name is Love and his heart is pure.

Jesus did not come to make us nice; he came to save us because we aren’t nice.

So the question is, “Should I stop telling my kids to be nice and just let them pound on each other?” Of course not. There is a place for kindness but it can’t come from the command to be nice, it doesn’t come from “within,” and it doesn’t earn our righteousness. As Luther says, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” God doesn’t need my daughter to stop giving her sister dirty looks or saying rude things but her siblings sure do.

Because we have now been freed from the curse of the law, we are liberated to a life of good works. We can go ahead and love our neighbor, we can be nice to those around us, because it does not earn us favor with God; we can go ahead and love our neighbor because we have his favor now, when we are nice or not. We can love others because we’ve first been loved (1 John 4:9). And, as Luther says, “It is not that the righteous person does nothing, but that his works do not make him righteous, rather that his righteousness creates works.”

So you see, we have been freed from having to be nice just because we are told to be nice. We no longer have to look inside of ourselves to find our kindness. It’s not up to us. As Reinhard Huetter puts it, “Christian freedom rejoices in God’s commandments and welcomes them as creaturely ways of embodying our love of God and neighbor.”

Because He First Served Us

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” -Romans 7:6

”By faith we receive blessings from above, from God; through love we give them out below, to our neighbor." -Martin Luther

Grace has done its work. You have heard the gospel in a whole new light. You have come to understand the outrageous power of a grace that comforts, a grace that transforms, and a grace that loves you just as you are. You have been told to rest and told that there is nothing left for you to do because “it is finished.” These are the mind-blowing truths of the gospel. This is our hope – we have a Father who has saved us while we were in our worst of worst ways and continues to love us in our mess (Romans 5:8). For this we can rejoice!

Yet in all of this gospel goodness and freedom from the law you may be left asking one question: “If Christianity is not about doing but rather about resting then how will anything ever get done?”

Perhaps what we need to do is ask a different question, “Now that you are free, what will you do?”

Christ came to serve the church, his bride, and he did it perfectly. He knew that you and I would shy away from waking up early to bake muffins for the women’s retreat, he knew that we would often find it inconvenient to pick up the elderly woman who needs a ride to church, he knew that every time we would be asked to work in the nursery we would want to jump off a cliff. So he did it all. He became a man in order to serve us and he not only served those around him perfectly but he served us in his obedience to the Father. Facing what he did not deserve, he served us by picking up his cross and carrying it to his death. He served us by being spat upon, mocked, and tortured; all to be our replacement, our representative, our sin. What did his service gain him? A terrible death and a separation from his Father so that we would never have to know that pain. Not only did he serve us in his suffering, but he also served us in giving up his record. He took upon himself our record of poor performance and replaced it with his perfect, complete resume of righteousness. He did this for us. Christ is our righteousness. Christ is our freedom.  

Now that we know that we are free from having to serve we are free to serve and with great joy. Why? Because Christ fulfilled the demands of the law (love God and love your neighbor as yourself), and, thus, the Law’s condemning voice is silenced (Galatians 3).  We no longer need to fear God’s displeasure because in Christ we are already pleasing to him.  We no longer need to use others as a step stool to further our own righteousness, because our service to others does not earn us merit with God.  We no longer have to use our good works and our service to others to prove ourselves worthy, to feed our incessant desire for approval, or to “pay God back.” The pressure is off.  Our good works, which flow from our faith, are not for God, they are for our neighbor. In other words:

Works no longer dominate us; rather, we have dominion over them (as it was in the beginning).

We have been freed from the curse of the law, and we are liberated to a life of good works. We have been given a new desire to love our neighbor (whoever they are); a desire that comes not from fear about what will happen but out of gratitude for what has already happened.

The Gospel isn’t about us and what we are doing for God. It’s not about earning more brownie points in heaven. It’s not about being able to look back at the past week and count all of our works of service. It’s about Christ and what he has done for us. It’s his undeserved and unearned love for us that compels us to want to shower grace upon those who (also) don’t deserve it. The more we look to the cross and relish in the amazing act of love that was bestowed upon underserving sinners (us), the more we will move toward our neighbor in service and love; this is what grace does. Grace is dynamic and not static; it will move us toward others. We serve because Jesus first served us.

“It is not that the righteous person does nothing, but that his works do not make him righteous, rather that his righteousness creates works” -Luther

The Mom Fail

I wake up to the sounds of my youngest microwaving himself a quesadilla while he sips on a soda. My pre-coffee conscience is slammed by the phrase “mom fail.”

I think of the shame that I should feel for not getting out of bed and fixing the kids a healthy breakfast.  I’ve convinced myself that every other mom, regardless of her situation, was up before her kids cooking up something healthy, unlike me. And then it hits me. Why am I trying so hard to cling to my self-righteousness through a plate of scrambled eggs and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice?

It happens without notice. It’s the air we breathe and the food we eat. It’s the incessant need to compare ourselves to others. We need to be the best we can be, or at least to measure ourselves against someone who is struggling to make sure we aren’t failing too badly. While these sentiments definitely indicate our heart issues, I’ve seen how these thoughts are built into a worldview regarding motherhood. The world tells us that unless we are Pinterestly perfect, Facebookly faultless, Instagramly interesting, and Twitterly terrific, then we have failed.

In my life I have experienced days when TV and video games are all that I have to offer my kids. There are days that a corn dog and a juice box are sufficient for lunch and then again for dinner. There are days that my bed has been filled with crackers, Legos, glitter, and scraps of paper as my kids have had to live life in the only spot that mommy could rest.

It’s my brokenness, my mess, and all of my failures as a mother that continue to draw me into the arms of Jesus. It is by the grace of Jesus Christ that I see the silliness of the idea of “mom fail,” as though I am perfect 99.9% of the time and that this little “fail” is just a little blip in my well-programmed system. The truth is that the whole operating system is broken. Crashed! Kaput! And I am in great need of outside intervention. I am in need of Someone who can do for me what I cannot do for myself. Christ has taken on my sin, failures, and the weaknesses that beset me, and he’s redeemed me at the cost of his own life.

We have all failed miserably. I’m not talking about “fails” like the time that you let the two-year-old out of sight and she painted the toilet with nail polish. Or the time that you poured milk from the baby’s bottle into your toddler’s cereal because you didn’t want to walk to the kitchen. I’m not even talking about the less cute failures of yelling at your husband or lying to your friend so you didn’t have to babysit her kids.

No, I’m talking about the failure of all failures…the crucifying of the Lord of glory. The tragic event that happened on Calvary 2,000 years ago was because of your failure and my failure. It was the most epic fail of all mankind. The necessity of the crucifixion of the perfect Son of God exposed us all for the failures that we are. No one is righteous in God’s sight—no not one.

When we understand that the cross was about us and our sin and our failure, we see that there is nowhere left to hide. We no longer have to fear exposure. The cross said it all. And as the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all,” so we can stop pretending that we really aren’t that bad. We can start loving the people around us because we know that we really are that bad and so are they. The shame and the masks and the walls… they all come to a blinding halt. The beauty of the cross is that we no longer have to bedazzle our proverbial fig leaves with the words “Mom Fail” across the front. We’ve been found out.

It is finished, moms. Every true failure has been laid upon Jesus’ back and every masqueraded self-righteous “mom fail” has died with him in his death to be remembered no more. You are free!