Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Great Quote from MLK, Jr.

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I just read this on someone's facebook page and had to post it on my blog.

I'm not offended by a whole lot, but there are a few things in life that truly offend me. At the top of that list are apathy and indifference; especially toward the pain and suffering of others.

When asked to make a choice where right and wrong are involved, we must always ask ourselves if we are motivated primarily by our own interests above the pain and suffering of others. We must be willing to face the truth and be willing to change.

Have we been a true friend to those in pain?

Have we been silent because it keeps our life less stressful?

Have we been more indifferent than we have been loving?

*Love as a verb, not a noun (as in emotion). Love responds.
--Feelings are meaningless without actions.--

Are we focused on our own self-preservation?

Are we willing to risk the rejection of others in order to take a stand for right?

These are questions we must ask and answer daily. But there are times of great significance when all our choices and priorities are reflected in the answers.

Our silence (our indifference, our apathy) will be remembered by God.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Growing in Love (Obeying the Great Commandmant, cont.)

In my last post, I shared from the book I'm reading about some of the motives, other than love for God, from which we can obey. I'm not saying I don't ever fall back into fear or guilt or wanting something from God as a motive for obedience. But it has helped me to realize that when I am motivated by those kinds of things, I am not obeying from a heart of love. Those are selfish motives. No matter how much we convince ourselves they are about God; they are really about us. And any time we make something all about us, it's not about our love for God.

God knows our hearts better than we know our hearts. And we may succeed in fooling ourselves, but we never succeed in fooling Him. Many times, we are not even fooling other people when we are successfully deceiving ourselves. One of the serious pitfalls we can fall into, as Christians, is to lie to ourselves about our own hearts. If we convince ourselves that our motives are right when they are selfish, we won't repent because we already feel self-justified and self-righteous. But the truth is that we are only justified through confessing our sins and repenting and pleading the blood of Jesus. By deceiving ourselves about our own hearts, we literally commit spiritual suicide. We can't receive God's grace and His forgiveness while we continue to justify our actions and our hearts -- claiming they are pure. We must face the truth about ourselves in order to receive the justification that God has provided in Christ. On the other hand, we must not fall into self-condemnation.

If we believe God loves us in proportion to our performance, we may try to hide our sin and attempt to manipulate God (and people) through an outward obedience that is not from the heart. I don't want that kind of obedience to prevail in my life. I want to obey from a heart of love.

Our obedience cannot be motivated by love for God until we are so secure in His love for us that we don't fear acknowledging our sinfulness and repenting.

From The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges:

How then can we develop this love for God so that our obedience is prompted by love instead of some lesser motive? The Scripture gives us our first clue, or point of beginning, when it says "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Our love to God can only be a response to His love for us...To love God, I must believe that He is for me, not against me (Romans 8:31), and that He accepts me as a son or a daughter, not a slave (Galatians 4:7).

What would keep us from believing that God loves us? The answer is a sense of guilt and condemnation because of our sin. Charles Hodge said, "The great difficulty with many Christians is that they cannot persuade themselves that Christ (or God) loves them, and the reason why they cannot feel confident of the love of God, is, that they know they do not deserve his love, on the contrary, that they are in the highest degree unlovely. How can the infinitely pure God love those who are defiled with sin, who are proud, selfish, discontented, ungrateful, disobedient? This, indeed, is hard to believe."

A tender conscience that is alert to sin, especially those "refined" sins such as pride, criticality, resentment, discontent, irritableness, and the like, is a great advantage in the pursuit of holiness, as it enables us to become aware of sins that lie deep beneath the level of external actions. But this same tender conscience can load us down with guilt, and when we are under that burden and sense of condemnation, it is difficult to love God or believe that He loves us.

...we must continually take those sins that our consciences accuse us of to the Cross and plead the cleansing blood of Jesus. It is only the blood of Christ that cleanses our consciences so that we may no longer feel guilty (Hebrews 9:14, 10:2)..."there are two ways of having a good conscience. One is by not having transgressed; the other is by having the guilt taken away by the application of the blood of Jesus." (James Frasier)

When our sense of guilt is taken away because our consciences are cleansed by the blood of Christ, we are freed up to love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds. In fact, not only are we freed up, we are motivated in a positive sense to love Him in this wholehearted way. Our love will be spontaneous in an outpouring of gratitude to Him and fervent desire to obey Him.

Jesus said, "He who has been forgiven little loves little" (Luke 7:47). In the context of that statement He essentially said the converse is also true: Those who have been forgiven much love much. Therefore, we can say that the extent to which we realize and acknowledge our own sinfulness, and the extent to which we realize the total forgiveness and cleansing from those sins, will determine the measure of our love to God.

So if we want to grow in our love for God and in the acceptable obedience that flows out of that love, we must keep coming back to the Cross and the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. That is why it is so important that we keep the gospel before us every day. Because we sin every day, and our consciences condemn us every day, we need the gospel every day.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chapter 7: Observing the Great Commandment

I'm still reading Jerry Bridges' book, The Discipline of Grace. I haven't written on every chapter. But every once in a while he writes something that is so inspiring to me, I have to reach for my laptop. One of those moments just occurred.

I read yesterday afternoon until my eyes were so heavy I had to stop. Reading for a prolonged period of time always makes my eyes sleepy. And I am a pretty well-rested individual. It has nothing to do with being tired or bored because I love to read and was willing myself to stay awake and continue reading yesterday. It's hard for me to put a good book down. But I finally had to stop and get ready for church. This morning I picked up my book and began reading where I had left off. I began reading about the only acceptable motive for obedience: love.

I have learned this lesson well by listening to Tim Keller sermons. I have learned to recognize other motives for obedience; especially the motive of fear. And when our motive is fear, our motive is self-preservation and not love. This was a monumental spiritual discovery for me. This passage addresses our motives and illuminates further how our hearts can deceive us even when it comes to obedience. gives validity to my actions and makes them acceptable to God. I can seek the welfare of my enemies so they hopefully will be nice to me or not harm me again. That is not love; it is manipulation. It is looking out for my welfare under the guise of looking out for theirs.

Love for God, then, is the only acceptable motive for obedience to Him. This love may express itself in a reverence for Him and a desire to please Him, but those expressions must spring from love. Without the motive of love, my apparent obedience may be essentially self-serving. Negatively, I may fear God will punish me, or at least withhold His blessing from me, because of some disobedience. I may abstain from a particular sinful action out of fear I will be found out or because I don't want to feel guilty afterward.

Positively, I may be seeking to earn God's blessing through some pious actions. I may conform to a certain standard of conduct because I want to fit in with and be accepted by the Christian culture in which I live. I might even obey outwardly because I have a compliant temperament, and it is simply my "nature" to obey my parents, or my teacher, or civil authorities, or even God.

All of these motives--both negative and positive--may result in an outward form of obedience, but it is not obedience from the heart. Our behavior may appear outstanding to other people but not be acceptable to God because it does not spring from a motive of love to Him. Only conduct that arises from love is worthy of the name of obedience...

Our motive for obedience is just as important, probably more so, to God than the level of our performance. A person who struggles with some persistent sin but does so out of love for God is more pleasing to Him than the person who has no such struggle but is proud of his or her self-control. Of course, the person who obeys from a motive of love will be concerned about his or her performance. There will be a sincere desire and an earnest effort to please God in every area of life.

Other motives besides pride can taint our obedience. Probably next after pride is the motive of not wanting to feel guilty. This is especially true in areas of persistent sin. You have committed some particular sin many times before and you know well the guilt feelings that have followed the act. Your motive for struggling against that temptation is to avoid the guilt that follows, rather than to express love to God...

Still another frequent motive is the desire to get something from God. It could be as subtle and silly as thinking that if I kneel to pray about a message I am to give, God will grant greater blessing than if I sit in my chair to pray. In using that example, I am not disparaging the act of kneeling to pray. I'm simply trying to illustrate how our deceitful hearts can lead us to do something good from some motive other than to love God.

I once had a conversation with someone about doing the right thing and having the right motive. This person said, "Doing the right thing is more important than why you do it." And I said, "No, it's the opposite. It's better to have the right motive and make a mistake than to do the right thing with the wrong motive." She looked at me like I had spoken jibberish to her. At some point in my life, I probably would have had the same puzzled look on my face. But that was before I really understood the gospel and what it means to obey for no other reason than because I love God and want to show my gratitude for what He has already accomplished in my life -- not even for the hope of future blessings, although we all want God's blessing on our lives. And this is why I cringe whenever a book or a sermon encourages me to obey as a means to be blessed.

My focus has gone from trying to perfect my behavior to constantly examining my heart and all the many ways my heart has the ability to deceive me. I believe that one of the most significant ways God is transforming my actions and behavior is by revealing the hidden motives in my dark heart. Every time He shows me more, I have to run to Him, to the cross, and to repentance. I have to preach the gospel to myself. I have to trust in Christ's finished work on my behalf because the more I pursue godliness, the more I see how far short of that I constantly fall. I will never stop trying to please Him with my life, but I will always need the blood of Christ to cover my door post.

I love Him because He first loved me. There was no reason for Him to love me. He does not love me because He saw something good in me. He loved me because of Who He is and not because of who I am or even what I will become. My response to that kind of love needs to be the obedience that flows from a heart of gratitude and love.

*I wanted to add one thing as an after thought. The Old Testament is filled with examples of blessings following obedience. I'm not trying to contradict that. But when Messiah came, perfect obedience was fulfilled through Christ. Just as we were cursed through Adam's disobedience, we are now blessed through the obedience and sacrifice of Christ if we trust in Him. We are no longer trying to earn God's favor. We have it in Christ. But we cannot separate obedience from love; otherwise, our love is nothing more than a feeling. God put His love into action by the giving of His Son. How can we love Him and not try to obey?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My first skin check!

I'm sitting here with my laptop and a bag of Stacy's Pesto & Sundried Tomato Pita Chips. They are so addictive. I think I could eat the whole bag. I have a good start on that, actually. (I am obviously not paying one bit of attention to bad carbs today.)

A few months ago I decided to make an appt. with a dermatologist to have every inch of my skin checked for anything suspicious. I have never done this before, but have read how important it is to do once a year. As I was driving to the appt. this morning, I was really not looking forward to having every square inch of naked skin inspected -- even by a woman -- and I was wondering why I was doing this when I had absolutely nothing noticable to point out. Oh well, I thought, I'll be glad I did this when it's over. I'll confirm I have nothing to worry about.

Wrong. It turned out I had three tiny black dots that had to be removed! I'm not talking about moles. I'm talking about little dots that looked like I got bumped with a pen. I've never even noticed them. But the doctor said that when these little specks turn from brown to black, it means cells are multiplying rapidly -- which could be the beginning of Melanoma! If it is, you definitely want to catch it when it's in this very early stage.

She showed me two spots very near each other. One was brown and one was black. I never would have seen the difference without having it pointed out to me. It was so slight. But she explained that the color made it suspicious enough that she needed to remove it and send it off for biopsy. I had THREE of these. They are called Dysplastic Nevi.

So I left with a total of six stitches, two for each dot. There was less discomfort than giving blood. Just a little needle prick to numb the area before the cutting. She said I might be kind of sore later, after the numbing wore off, but I'm not. It was no big deal. It's so weird to think that something so tiny could be the start of a struggle for life. I'm really glad I did this!

I'll go back in two weeks to have the stitches removed and find out the results of the pathology report. They evaluate it for mild, moderate or severe risk. Anything other than mild means more cutting of the surrounding tissue. You better believe I will be adding this preventive measure to my annual check-ups.

During my procedures, one of the assistants asked if I had kids. I told her I had a 30-year-old son and two grandsons. She told me I did not look old enough and that she was expecting me to say I had a three or four year old. I said, "It is almost worth coming in and being cut on for that compliment. Can I come back and be cut on again tomorrow?" LOL. (Not really.)

If you haven't ever done this, go get your skin checked now! There are so many things we can prevent by just the slightest inconvenience and/or discomfort in our day. No matter how unpleasant you may think doing this will be, it is quite preferable to Melanoma.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chapter Four: We Died to Sin

In this chapter, Bridges explores what Paul means when he says in Romans that we have died to sin. He goes into a lot of detail and it's hard to pick and choose what passages to quote. He explains that we died to sin through our union with Christ.

The question arises, however, "If we died to sin's dominion, why do we still struggle with sin in our daily lives?" When Paul wrote, "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" he was referring not to the activity of committing sins, but to continuing to live under the dominion of sin. The word live means to continue in or abide in. It connotes a settled course of life. To use Paul's words from Romans 8:7, "The sinful mind [one under sin's dominion] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." But the believer who has died to sin's reign and dominion delights in God's law. The believer approves of it as holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12), even though he or she may struggle to obey it.

We must distinguish between the activity of sin, which is true in all believers, and the dominion of sin, which is true of all unbelievers. Sinclair Ferguson has written, "...while the presence of sin can never be abolished in this life, nor the influence of sin altered (its tendency is always the same), its dominion can, indeed, must be destroyed if a man is to be a Christian."

Therefore a believer cannot continue in sin. We no longer live in the realm of sin, under its reign and practical dominion. We have, to use Paul's words, died to sin. We indeed do sin and even our best deeds are stained with sin, but our attitude toward it is essentially different from that of an unbeliever. We succomb to temptations...but this is different from a settled disposition...our sin is a burden that afflicts us rather than a pleasure that delights us. is this decisive deliverance from the dominion of sin through union with Christ in His death that ensures that a true believer will not have the cavalier attitude, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" If a person does have such an attitude, it is a likely indication that the person is not a true believer, however much he or she professes to have trusted in Christ for salvation.

...We must by faith in God's Word lay hold on the fact that we have died to the reign of sin and are now alive to God, under His reign of grace. Unless we do this we will find ourselves seeking to pursue holiness by the strength of our own wills, not by the grace of God.

So the imperative to pursue holiness--to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies--is based on the fact of grace. That is, through our union with Christ in His death to sin and life to God, God has given us all the resources we need to pursue holiness.

Therefore, we can say the truth that "where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Romans 5:20), far from being an occasion to sin all the more, is actually the only provision from God whereby we can deal with sin and make any progress in the pursuit of holiness. That is why I said early in chapter 1 that the pursuit of holiness, while requiring all-out effort on our part, must be firmly anchored in the grace of God.

I really identified with this quote, "...our sin is a burden that afflicts us rather than a pleasure that delights us."

I know I have a sinful, selfish nature. I do indeed struggle to obey at times, but I have a deep longing to obey. I can honestly say that I do not delight in my sin or feel cavalier about my selfish motives. I am more acutely aware of the condition of my heart than ever before in my life. Being acutely aware of my own sinfulness helps me to feel more compassion for others -- even those I have been deeply hurt and disappointed by.

A friend of mine has told me on several occasions that she is not always able to relate to me when it comes to my ability to feel compassion in certain situations. But it isn't that I don't share a desire for justice and for God to right wrongs. I do. I don't think one can follow Christ and remain apathetic toward injustice by any means; I think the two are incompatible. I don't believe God is pleased with indifference. But at the same time, I am haunted by the words of a Tim Keller sermon I once listened to where he said, "If you pray for justice to come tomorrow, don't make any plans for 12:01."

Humility is so essential to our receiving and appropriating God's grace in our lives.

I know that if I were to get the justice I deserve, I would be dust. I cannot justify or feel good about myself by comparing myself to others who have committed more heinous offenses than I. My neighbor is not the standard. Absolute perfection is the standard. Jesus fulfilled that perfect standard for me and I stand before God in Christ, clothed in His righteousness and not my own. I must never lose sight of that for even a moment. I believe this is also a part of preaching the gospel to myself daily. My continual prayer is for God's will accompanied by His mercy for all of us who would sincerely seek Him and repent.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Day Three

We're having another fun day. We are kind of eating on demand today rather than sticking to a schedule. I hope I'm not over-feeding Andrew, but he is constantly asking to eat. He makes the sign language for eat or more (while pointing to or looking longingly at his highchair) almost all the time. But at least he is eating healthy things.

This morning, Joshua was up first and had his milk. Then I checked on Andrew and he was also awake. I brought him down and got his milk for him. Then Joshua asked for yogurt. Well, as soon as Andrew saw Joshua had yogurt, the milk wasn't enough. So Andrew had yogurt, too. He ate all of his and almost finished what Joshua didn't eat. They both also wanted Cheerios and Mighty Bites (dry). They are usually up for about an hour before they eat breakfast (having milk when they wake up). But not today. They both started eating at 7:00.

Andrew eats more than Joshua. Joshua gets bored with his food. Andrew never does. Joshua had some cheese and crackers for a mid-morning snack. Andrew let me know he wanted to eat again, too. (It's obvious.) Joshua tried to share some cheese with him, but he didn't like it. He was putting it on the floor. So I cut up some fruit for him. He just kept asking for more. He consumed almost a whole orange and banana. Grandma Shari had a few bites, so maybe he had 3/4's of each. And he still wanted more, but I made him get down (under protest). He was not happy that I was taking him out of the highchair.

For lunch I made them both French Toast. Joshua ate really well and said, "Grandma Shari, that is the best French Toast I ever had." He's been saying "...I ever had" all weekend. But it was like this, "Those fishies I ever had," and "Those cars I ever had." It wasn't quite making sense until the French Toast. We took them both outside and blew bubbles for a little while, checked out the fish. Andrew goes nuts over the fish. It's really cute when he gets so excited. They are both taking their naps right now, which gives me a few minutes to upload pictures...

As I mentioned, Andrew is really happy when he's eating.
Looks like I forgot this snack...Oatmeal Teddy Grahams. They are delicious, by the way.
"Poppy John! Poppy John! Let's play some hockey! Tay?"
Andrew's favorite sport is climbing under the table.
All dressed now and playing the "panio."

This was funny. Joshua shared completely on his own and Andrew threw it on the floor. I guess it's no fun when done willingly.

Rebecca will be proud of me. Joshua only had one jelly bean yesterday and a couple of them Friday. None today (yet). He hasn't been asking for them (I think he forgets they're there). I bought some Publix sugar cookies, but they have only had one each (while Rebecca was here on Friday). However, there are only four left. So guess who's eating them? Yep. John and me.

John is helping me keep dishes washed. It seems like I'm continually making food and making messes. It's so nice to have him always coming along behind me and cleaning up. I never ask. He just does it. While the kids are sleeping, I'm going to kick back. John went to the grocery store for me. I'm going to make meatloaf, mashed red potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms for dinner. I will probably also make some corn or peas for the kids. I'm trying to get fruits and vegetables into them every day. Andrew's pretty easy. But even Andrew wouldn't eat green beans last night. He did gobble down a whole sweet potato, though.

If you're thinking I sure am going into a lot of detail, I'm doing it for Rebecca. I told her just to check my blog while she's gone for updates and pictures. I like her to know the kids are doing just fine so she can relax and enjoy being away for a few days.

Just before nap time, the kids were crawling around and playing and I was sitting on the floor, with my head on my knees (pretty tired this morning, I admit). Andrew crawled up (more than once), pulled himself up against my legs and gave me several kisses one right after the other. It was so precious. He is such an affectionate kid. Joshua is not so much inclined to give lots of kisses without being asked (although he is pretty free with them when you ask), but he is continually telling me he loves me "so much." No matter how tired I am, I'm really thankful to have all this special time with them. They both seem to feel very much at home.

Joshua said one time this morning, "I need to go to my home for just a minute, Grandma Shari. Tay?" We talked about mommy and daddy coming home tomorrow night. And then it didn't come up again.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Feeding the fish and getting ready for bed!

Let's just say I have outdone myself with pictures today! Had to share a few more.
I think wrestling may be in the near future...
You can barely see it but there's a basketball hoop stuck to the side of the tub. They love it.
Having their milk before bed...
Oh wait, one more milk drinker gets in on the photo op!
We've had a great day and tomorrow will be even better because Poppy John will be home with us. I'm really tired tonight. I never ate an actual meal once today. I just snacked while I was making things for the kids. By the time they were in bed, I was more tired than hungry. So I had three Ritz crackers with peanut butter and a glass of milk. (John had the kids' leftovers -- chicken tenders, steak fries and green beans.) I guess I better get some rest while I can!

Day Two: Nap Time

We begin the morning with a recital...(the acoustics are great in the empty living room!)

Andrew is enjoying some cinnamon raisin toast and milk. Grandma Shari is feeding him
one bite at a time, that's why you don't see the toast.
At this point in the morning, we are getting along just beautifully!
And then Andrew dares to play with one of Joshua's trains...
So, Andrew just moves happily to a car...
Now we're having lunch. Joshua is telling me his hand is dirty. (He wants to wash his hands every time they touch food -- one would think he was genetically John's.)
Andrew doesn't have this issue. Just keep the food coming!
The family room is a total wreck and I see no reason to straighten up before Monday (though John will probably have everything in its place before bed tonight!).
I am showing Andrew his pictures on my blog.
Ah-oh, more trouble to come. Andrew is helping himself to Joshua's Mighty Bites cereal...
Grandma Shari had to put Joshua in time out for taking
the bowl away and refusing to bring it back.
I could not get an I'm Sorry out of this child after ten minutes in the chair. Although, while I tried to talk to him, he put his arms around me and laid his head on my shoulder. It was as though he was pleading with me not to make him actually say it. Kids are so funny. I think he is worn out from getting to stay up too late (Grandma's fault), so I decided to put him down a little early for his nap and he did not protest one ounce. I said, "Maybe you'll be in a little better mood after you rest for a while." He said, "Yeah." I laid him in the bed, he turned over on his side with Elmo, and said, "I love you, Grandma Shari." He didn't even ask for a story or a song. I thought I would post the pictures I have at this point in the day, since I won't have another chance until they are in bed for the night. Grandma Shari is going to use the next hour and a half wisely. I've already used the first half hour uploading pictures!

Friday, April 18, 2008

A great first day!

If every day goes as smoothly as today, it's going to be much easier than I thought! These boys were angels all day long. They didn't even fight. I put Joshua down for his nap about twenty minutes after Andrew. Thirty minutes after I left him (Joshua), I could still hear him singing on the monitor. And then silence. Andrew got up a little before Joshua. So we played in the kitchen for a while. Andrew liked his new monkey.
I made cheese tortellini for their dinner. Andrew can't go much past his dinner time without irritability. But I procrastinated a bit and when I realized it was 5:30, I thought I'd better put him in the highchair with something while I made the tortellini. So I gave him a bunch of peas as an appetizer. He enthusiastically devoured them and then ate two helpings of tortellini. Joshua, on the other hand, couldn't have cared less about eating dinner. I lucked out and got one of his few bites captured on camera, though.
This next shot was when I told him that if he would eat his dinner, I'd give him a jelly bean. (But he never earned one.)
"Give me some more peas and nobody will get hurt!!!"Andrew after his second plate of food...
Yes, Andrew loves to eat. And what a sweet kid. I put them both in my tub after dinner and they played "bathketball" -- splashed and giggled forever. I thought I would never get them out of that tub. Andrew tried to crawl away when I reached for him to take him out and just laughed. I put him to bed by 8:00. But I just couldn't make Joshua go to bed until 9:30 (way past his bed time). We were just having too much fun. We were sitting on the couch at one point and I said, "You are my special boy, Joshua." And he said, "You're special, too, Grandma Shari." A little later, he looked at me, reached his hand over, patted my arm, and said, "I love you."

He ate a little pizza and then some dry cereal (Mighty Bites, Rebecca). They both had their milk. He kept wanting to sleep on the couch next to Poppy John (who was watching the Predators). Finally, I convinced him it was time to go upstairs and sing Jingle Bells (that's what I sing to him when I tuck him in -- it's our little routine). He giggles when I sing "laughing all the way."Sometimes he sings it with me. Oh, Rebecca, tonight he kept singing his ABC's to me over and over. He was so pleased with himself. It sounds like this: a b c d e f g k a minno minno p, q r s, t u v, w x, y and c. Now I know my abc's. Next time won't you sing with me?

When I tucked him in, he asked me to sing Jingle Bells a second time. Then he waved bye-bye and blew me a kiss as I left the room. He was ready for bed at that point. I hope they don't wake up at 6:00 AM. But I already can't wait to see them in the morning.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Profile Pic and Rambling Thoughts

Janette said I needed to get rid of that kindergarten picture. It brought back bad memories (the hairdo). : )

My two little grandsons will be arriving before lunch tomorrow to spend the whole weekend with us. I will have them until Monday night. Danny told me this afternoon that he told Joshua he was going to go to Grandma Shari's tomorrow and Mommy and Daddy were going to Chicago. Then he added "But when you get bigger, I'll take you to Chicago with me." To which Joshua replied, "Don't want to go to Chicago. I wanna go to Grandma Shari's house." to a grandma's ears!

I told John this is what I have been waiting (all my life) for. I will never forget how much Danny LOVED to go to Grandma Jane's.

I went to Publix this afternoon with the list Rebecca gave me of food ideas. I think I got carried away. I spent $182. Not that everything was solely for the boys or will be consumed this weekend. But let's just say we will have lots of options.

I am only going to have a couple of hours (during afternoon naps) to myself for the next few days. But I'm quite sure I will be posting some pictures of my little munchkins. Joshua is such a homebody. When we're out running around, he often says, "I need to go home now." I fully expect to hear that at some point this weekend. Fortunately, I have a fish pond to distract him with.

Have I mentioned how much I love being a grandma?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A little more from Chapter Three: Preach the Gospel to Yourself

The standard of obedience required by the law is absolute perfection, for James 2:10 tells us, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." The apostle Paul said essentially the same thing when he wrote, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." (Galatians 3:10)

Only perfect obedience is acceptable to God...Only 100 percent is acceptable. Yet the average person walking around today, if he or she has thought about it at all, is confident God will accept him or her because he or she is generally a decent sort of person.

As Christians we know better. We readily acknowledge that we can never through our own obedience attain a righteousness that is sufficient for salvation. But then as believers we act as if we can live lives acceptable to God. Think of the good-day-bad-day scenarios I described in chapter 1. More than 80 percent of the people I've questioned in a group setting indicate they would be more confident of God's blessing when they've had a "good" day. None of them, however, would claim 100-percent obedience. Not one of them would want to stake his or her hope for eternal life on his or her performance on the very best day. Yet, in our everyday relationship with God, most of us are no different in our thinking than the unbelievers who think they will go to Heaven because they've been good enough. To live by grace, we must rid ourselves of such thinking.

Faith is self-emptying. "It involves our complete renunciation of any confidence in our own righteousness and a relying entirely on the perfect righteousness and death of Jesus Christ."

" order to trust in Christ for one's salvation, one must completely abandon any trust in one's own goodness or merit. Faith in Christ and a reliance on ourselves, even to the smallest degree, are mutually exclusive...This doctrine of trusting in Jesus Christ alone for one's salvation is a basic truth of the gospel. Without acceptance of it there is no salvation."

Turning to the Old Testament, to preach the gospel to yourself means that you appropriate by faith the words of Isaiah 53:6:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

It means that you dwell upon the promise that God has removed your transgressions from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), that He has blotted out your transgressions and remembers your sin no more (Isaiah 43:25)...It is the death of Christ through which He satisfied the justice of God and averted from us the wrath of God that is the basis of all God's promises of forgiveness. We must be careful that in preaching the gospel to ourselves, we do not preach a gospel without a cross. We must be careful that we do not rely on the so-called unconditional love of God without realizing that His love can only flow to us as a result of Christ's atoning death.

...this grace -- unmerited favor to those who deserve wrath -- comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last night in my small group, I told my friends how I constantly struggle with a feeling of being a disappointment to God. A continual disappointment. Those have always been the first words that would come to my mind if someone asked me to describe how I think God sees me. I have always believed He loved me. And I have experienced His love more than ever, in such tangible ways, over the last five years of my life. I never doubt His love for me. But I still see myself as the loved child who is a disappointment to her Father. I know there are a lot of contributing factors to the self-image I carry; the feeling of not being good enough. I know that some of you who are reading fully understand because you've carried that same weight. It's often a result of never being able to meet people's expectations of us. And we should not be rooted in the desire to please people. But neither is the answer for us to just feel good about ourselves. That's the world's answer. The only true answer for our condition is to begin to believe who we are in and through Christ. Because apart from Him, we are deserving of wrath.

My heart wants to not only be loved by God, but to please Him with my life and all my choices. And I know that I don't. For me, preaching the gospel to myself includes reminding myself that I am joined to Christ and I am clothed in HIS righteousness, not a righteousness of my own. So when God looks at me, He does not see a disappointment. Because of the blood of Jesus, I am declared righteous in His sight.

Therefore, I long for the day when all anyone sees in me is Jesus. I will never stop trying to grow more fully into the image of Christ. But not so that I can shine or so that I can have a legacy or an honor of my own (or feel good about me). I want only to be a reflection of His glory because He has shined His light on my life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Lord Will Provide

As usual, everything I happen to be reading seems to have a merging point. Tonight my small group comes over. We've been reading about flawed women of the Bible and how much God loved them. So far, we have read about Sarah and Rebekkah. Abraham and Isaac obviously have important roles in their stories, so we are reading about them too. I have to admit that in reading about Rebekkah, I have been even more captivated by Isaac.

Not Rebekkah's Isaac. My Isaac. My God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

When Abraham took Isaac to slay him, he told his son that God would provide the sacrifice. God did not require Abraham's son. But He gave His own.

I often read more than one book at the same time. So I am simultaneously reading "The Discipline of Grace" by Jerry Bridges. And the chapter I just finished is entitled: Preach the Gospel to Yourself.

Bridges writes that "The single passage in all of the Bible that most clearly and completely explains the gospel is Romans 3:19-26. A minister friend of mine calls this passage 'The Heart of the Gospel.' So if we are going to preach the gospel to ourselves every day and learn to live by it, we need to understand Romans 3:19-26."

Romans 3:19-26:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Bridges points out that "It is important to realize that our Lord Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the law of God, both in its requirements and its penalty...Therefore when God justifies us, or declares us righteous, He does not create some sort of legal fiction, calling something righteous that is not. He declares us righteous on the basis of the real, accomplished righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed or credited to us through faith."

Bridges covers (in detail) the entire passage of Romans under the following headings:

No One is Declared Righteous Before God by Observing the Law (Verses 19-21)

There is a Righteousness From God That Is Apart from Law (Verse 21)

This Righteousness from God is Received Through Faith in Jesus Christ (Verse 22)

This Righteousness is Available to Everyone on the Same Basis, Because All Have Sinned and Fall Short of the Glory of God (Verses 22-23)

All Who Put Their Faith in Jesus Christ are Justified Freely by God's Grace (Verse 24)

This Justification Is "Through the Redemption That Came by Christ Jesus (Verse 24)

"God Presented [Jesus] as a Sacrifice of Atonement, Through Faith in His Blood" (Verse 25)

He writes a page or more about each of these. There are so many good quotes that I would love to share. But I don't want to do such a thorough job of covering this book that everyone reading thinks they don't need to read it themselves. This is one of the best books I have ever read so far. And I think it is one that every believer should read. We need to make sure we know and understand the gospel.

Here are a few highlights:

God's plan of salvation treats all people equally, because all are sinners. This is not to say that God notices no distinction in the seriousness and aggravation of different sins. But as we saw in the previous chapter, any sin, however small and insignificant it may seem to us, is a violation of God's holy law and subjects us to the penalty of death.

One person may be a relatively decent sinner and another may be a flagrant sinner, but both are sinners, and God's law admits no degree of failure. If sixty is the passing grade on a college exam, it does not matter if you scored forty and I scored only twenty. We both failed to get a passing grade. There is no point in your boasting that your failing grade is superior to mine. The only thing that matters is that we both failed the exam.

The first purpose of God's method of salvation through Christ's death is to deliver us from guilt, and though all people are not equally guilty, all are guilty. So, as Paul said, "There is no difference." Or, as a more contemporary expression says it, "The ground is level at the foot of the cross."

Justification is a completed work as far as God is concerned. The penalty has been paid and His justice has been satisfied. But it must be received through faith and must be continually renewed in our souls and applied to our consciences every day through faith.

This justification is said to be given to us freely by His grace. The word freely signifies without payment of any kind. Justification cannot be purchased by the payment of good works. There is no exchange of value between the sinner and God. It is an absolutely gratuitous act on His part...

...But though it was totally free to us, it was in fact "purchased" by Christ with His blood. Christ paid the ransom that redeemed us from God's just and holy wrath.

Bridges urges the reader to become familiar with the gospel; because we need to preach it to ourselves every day. "To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life...[it] means that you take at face value the precious words of Romans 4:7-8 and Romans 8:1..." (He quotes many more from both the OT and NT, but I am running out of typing time!)

One of the closing paragraphs of this chapter was especially meaningful to me as I am living this realization now more than ever. He says this:

This is a book about God's grace and the pursuit of holiness. You can be sure of one thing, though: When you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are...(that was the part I was talking about)...And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness...

A number of factors go into the pursuit of holiness, but none is more important than learning to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. By the grace of God, I am learning how to preach the gospel to myself in those moments when I feel down on myself, when I have to look at my hypocrisy and my sinful heart, my self-serving motives. It would be so easy to give up on myself. But that would be the equivalent of turning up my nose at the blood of Christ that was shed for me because, like a two year old, I want to say "I do it" rather than accepting what Someone more capable has already done FOR ME.

I almost forgot something from the bad girl book I wanted to mention. Isn't it a beautiful picture for us how Isaac was the only monogamous patriarch? Remember that we cannot get from scripture that this was because Rebekkah was a perfect wife in every aspect of her behavior and therefore deserved this kind of love. We are told, she became his wife and he loved her. (Genesis 24:67).

Monday, April 14, 2008

Misleading Advertising

Advertising is an interesting thing. I did a lot of research and writing about advertising to kids while studying child development at Lipscomb. An advertiser's goal is usually to sell a feeling or impression. The message can be subtle or overt.

I mentioned a few days ago about the television ad that has been running constantly of late promoting the new Victory Nissan West and Victory Nissan South. Victory Nissan West was formerly Howerton Nissan in Dickson. And the ad mentions that. It yells it, actually.

This sale was transacted a year ago. The ad implies that Victory Nissan has just acquired Howerton Nissan and is having to liquidate Howerton Nissan's (and Harts Chapel Nissan's) inventory at "pennies on the dollar!" That is absolutely false.

The ad also leaves an impression that the former dealerships went out of business (possibly unsuccessful?) and were taken over, although it never directly states such. I realize how effectively that perception has been communicated only because we've gotten phone calls and emails asking, "What happened???"

What happened was my husband and his partner bought a little Nissan dealership in Dickson that wasn't doing a lot of business. My husband went there nearly every day and turned it into a very successful franchise in less than one year. He had a good name in the community and people there liked dealing with him. Victory Nissan was eager to buy this successful little store and pursued the sale. John and his partner weren't completely sure they even wanted to sell. But the potential buyer made such an attractive offer, they accepted.

I can only speculate as to why Victory Nissan is trying to sell the idea that they just acquired these two businesses and use the names of the former owners in their promotion. My opinion is that they are trying to capitalize somewhat on the good names and reputations of these previous owners. I don't think either "new" dealership is doing the same volume of business that it was prior to the change in ownership. However, that is at least partly due to the current economic situation, which affects everybody to some degree. Business will pick up eventually.

My point in writing this is just to show how misleading an ad can be. And the advertiser doesn't always care about integrity. When the ad says that "Howerton Nissan is sold and closed forever" they can't really make that claim honestly. Howerton is John's name and it belongs to him. He did not give permission to have his name used in their advertising. He called the agency and they will not return his call. This demonstrates how little they care about possibly tarnishing someone else's name and reputation in their attempt to sell cars.

There very well could be another Howerton Nissan at some point in the future. That's why an ad like this is potentially damaging. I'm sure this ad will be long forgotten by that hypothetical time, if it ever comes. So it's not a major concern. It doesn't seem to bother John that much, except for the fact that he pictures the ad company exec tossing his phone message in the trash and saying, "So he doesn't like it. What can he do about it?" --with not even the courtesy of a returned phone call.

Well, maybe somebody who Googles Victory Nissan will find my little blog and know the truth. Or maybe not. But I feel better for having gotten it off my chest anyway.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Healthy and Quick Eggplant Parmesan

In between more thoughtful posts, I wanted to interject this. I thought someone else might enjoy it. I just made the simplest and healthiest version of eggplant parmesan ever tonight. I didn't use a recipe. I just improvised. Here's how I made it:

Slice an eggplant to desired thickness. Dip both sides in beaten egg and then Italian bread crumbs. Place on a cookie sheet sprayed with olive oil. Salt and pepper it, if desired. Bake in the oven until brown and crispy, turning once or twice. I used my convection oven at 400. While the eggplant is baking, heat some marinara sauce. I used Prego and added some fresh mushrooms. I let it come to a boil so the mushrooms would be fully cooked. When the eggplant was done, we ladeled a little sauce on top and sprinkled an Italian cheese mixture (you could also use straight mozzarella) on top, plus some extra parmesan cheese. That's it. The sauce was hot, so the cheese melted. But you could also put it under the broiler for a minute if you want it brown and bubbly.

In the past, I have gone to a lot more trouble, layering the eggplant in a baking dish like lasagna with sauce and cheese, etc. But doing it this way kept the eggplant from becoming soggy. No baking dish to wash. And the whole process is quick and easy. The finished product was not only delicious, but very healthy. So I just thought I would share!

Chapter Two: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

This chapter is about how we view ourselves and with whom we identify. It's about humility, love, and examining our own hearts.

Humbling ourselves and esteeming others above ourselves is like an exercise. I believe it starts out painful and does not come natural to us. Using the analogy of physical exercise, it always hurts to use new muscles. But humility grows less painful through repetition. I want humility in my life, so I want to embrace the opportunities to practice it.

There is always the risk of pain and vulnerability when we love others. I have not found rejection to bring any less pain through practice or repetition--so far, at least. But I still want to love.

And if we sincerely desire to see ourselves as God sees us, this may be the most painful and humbling endeavor of all. Because we want to believe ourselves to be good people. I know I do. And I don't know about you, but I have always wanted others to think I'm a good person.

As I typed those last few sentences, my mind went back to a conversation I had with a Christian counselor a number of years ago. I've probably told this on my blog before, but he asked me to tell him the three most important things in my life. I said that pleasing God was most important, being a good person was second and, probably, being a good person in the eyes of others was third. I believed my list was good. Why wouldn't I want to be thought of as a good person by others? Don't we all?

I'll never forget Floyd's reaction. He didn't exactly frown, but he looked sad for me. He kind of nodded his head, scrunched his face, and told me that last one was a definite problem. I didn't understand. I asked "Is it wrong to want people to think you're a good person?" To which he replied, "Did everybody think Jesus was a good person?" And I said, "Well, no." And the next question, "Did that matter to Jesus?" "Um, well, no."

He went on to explain that if what others thought of me, good or bad, was that high on my list of priorities, I would be motivated, at some point, to do the wrong thing or to compromise what was right in order to look like a good person in someone else's eyes. It is also much easier to be manipulated when we are that concerned with how others feel toward us. And, ultimately, it makes everything about us. I begin to anticipate how someone will respond to me, whether they might reject me, not love me or approve of me and then weigh my selfish desires against what is right, when they should not even be a part of the equation. That is making it all about me and my comfort.

Another frequent question I was asked in counseling was, "And who is that about?" I would describe a certain conflict and the way I responded to it. And he would ask that question. Time and time again, I had to face the truth about myself. I protected myself. I was trying to avoid unpleasant consequences (to me). I was enabling ungodly behavior because I was constantly trying to prove myself a good person and avoid rejection. Those are not fruits of the Spirit.

It was difficult to face the reality that so many of the things I was doing, thinking they were noble and right, were really all about me and protecting myself from unwanted consequences. Once I saw my true motivation, I knew I had to change. It was unacceptable to me to stay that way knowingly. But God had to reveal my heart to me. And I had to be willing to look at what He showed me. I had not realized what my true motives were. I thought I was being a good person. It was very painful to look at myself differently. But it was the beginning of a true change in direction, both spiritually and naturally. I started a process toward spiritual and emotional health with those first few steps. And the process continues to this day.

My friend, Janette, and I have had many deep discussions about how we are to view ourselves. Because she is my loving and devoted friend, she would often tell me that I deserve the new life God has blessed me with and I would say, "No, I don't." I wasn't trying to be humble. I truly do not see myself as deserving or worthy of any of God's blessings or rewards. I especially do not view myself as worthy based on my performance or obedience. We would go back and forth on this and I knew she was misunderstanding me, thinking I was terribly down on myself and having a low self-image. But that is hardly my problem. Rather, I believe the bigger problem is that I think more highly of myself than I should. And I want to counter that with the constant reality check that what I am truly deserving of is the death Jesus died. But, through Him, I have instead been given the blessings only His life can truly merit.

Bridges describes the two opposing attitudes of most Christians. "The first is a relentless sense of guilt due to unmet expectations in living the Christian life. People characterized by this mode of thinking frequently dwell on their besetting sins or on their failures...The other attitude is one of varying degrees of self-satisfaction with one's Christian life. We can drift into this attitude because we are convinced we believe the right doctrines, we read the right Christian books, we practice the right disciplines of a committed Christian life, or we are actively involved in some aspect of Christian ministry and are not just 'pew sitters' in the church."

Bridges explains that we may become self-righteous because we are not guilty of gross forms of sin; therefore, "we can begin to feel rather good about our Christian lives. When we think in this manner we are in danger of becoming like the Pharisee in Jesus' well-known parable (Luke 18:9-14)."

The Pharisee was committed in his religious practices. He fasted. He was not a robber, evildoer, or adulterer, and he gave a tenth of all his income. "To use our good-day-bad-day terminology, he was living in a continuous good-day scenario, or so he thought. But he had one fatal flaw. He was self-righteous and, through Jesus' parable, has become the classic example of religious pride and self-satisfaction."

Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector was painfully aware of his sinfulness...Not only did he not compare himself favorably with others as the Pharisee did; he didn't compare himself at all. He was not concerned with how he measured up with respect to other people. He was concerned with how he measured up before a holy and righteous God. He knew he stood alone before God with his sin, so he pleaded for mercy.

Jesus said the tax collector went home justified, or declared righteous, before God. He freely and rather desperately acknowledged that he had no righteousness of his own, so he received his as a gift from God.

This parable speaks to all of us who are believers. Bridges confronted himself and his readers with some of the "refined sins," as he calls them, that we accept in ourselves as opposed to the "gross sins" we are not guilty of. He writes, "These are the sins of nice people, sins that we can regularly commit and still retain our position as elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and yes, even full-time Christian workers."

He looked at his own life and the first thing that came to his mind was his tendency to judge and criticize others, even though he does not think of himself as a critical or judgmental person. "Perhaps that is part of the problem. This seems to be such an acceptable vice among believers that we don't even recognize it unless it is flagrant--and always in someone else."

This paragraph hit me particularly between the eyes:

Even criticism addressed to someone should be given only with the goal of benefitting that person. It should never be given out of a spirit of impatience or irritability, or with a desire to belittle the individual. Only honest criticism given from a heart of love in a spirit of humility can qualify as that which builds up the other person.

I have been guilty very recently of criticizing someone for actions I believed were inappropriate. I still can't agree with the actions, but I do see my own arrogance in the way I criticized and responded to those actions. I was wounded. I got angry. I was impatient and irritable. And even though my intent was not to belittle, I think that if I had been on the receiving end of my own words, I would have received them as belittling. I have asked forgiveness personally from those whom I hurt and offended with my words. So talking about this on my blog isn't about making it right. But that situation came quickly to my mind as I read the above paragraph. And I don't want to hide my own faults when they can be used as the best illustration of this point. I don't want a spirit of pride or arrogance to take hold of my heart.

Which of us, then, does not offend frequently with our tongue? The real problem, however, is not our tongues but our hearts. Jesus said, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). So it would not be sufficient to win control over our tongues, even if we could. We must recognize the sin in our hearts.

Bridges gives many more examples of "refined" sins. I won't try to list all of them. The point is that all sin grieves God, even the sins we commit with hardly any sense of shame or guilt. He explains, "I am not suggesting that being irritable at one's spouse is as serious as something like adultery. I am saying that being irritable at one's spouse is sin, and that all sin grieves God and should grieve us."

And then there is our failure to exhibit the positive traits of Christian character; love, gentleness, kindness, patience, and humility.

Jesus not only gave us the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, but also the story of the prodigal son...He proceeded to tell us about the jealousy and resentment of the self-righteous older brother. Jesus' criticism of the older brother is implied rather than stated. But it is obvious that He puts the older brother in the same category as the self-righteous Pharisee. Yet the older brother would have qualified as an elder or deacon in any of our churches today and would have been highly regarded...

The problem with self-righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to any other sin, but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because, you see, grace is only for sinners.

Bridges writes that he is often asked if, as Christians, we should view ourselves as saints or sinners. He says both simultaneously.

If we refuse to identify ourselves as sinners as well as saints, we risk the danger of deceiving ourselves about our sin and becoming like the self-righteous Pharisee. Our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and we all have moral "blind spots."

The point of all this, writes Bridges, is to determine, with honest candor and introspection, with whom we identify. "Obviously no one wants to identify with the Pharisee or the older brother. But are we willing to identify with the tax collector and the prodigal son, as sinners deeply in need of the grace and mercy of God?...Are we willing to acknowledge that even our righteous acts are no more than filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6)?"

Bridges quotes John Owen, a Puritan theologian, to show the sinfulness (self-serving motives) even in our good works. "...Believers know all their duties are weak, imperfect and unable to abide in God's presence. Therefore they look to Christ as the one who bears the iniquity of their holy things, who adds incense to their prayers, gathers out all the weeds from their duties and makes them acceptable to God." In the closing paragraph of this chapter, Bridges writes:

As another Puritan preacher was reputed to have said, "Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Chapter One: How Good is Good Enough?

I started reading "The Discipline of Grace: God's role and our role in the pursuit of holiness" by Jerry Bridges this week. In the first chapter, Bridges explains how our effort and God's grace are each necessary components to holiness. I will use itallics whenever I am quoting entire passages from the book. This first chapter is 28 pages long and I will not be able to do it justice. But it's hard for me to leave out the parts that impacted me the most. So, if you have the time (and interest) to read, go get a cup of coffee and settle in for the long haul. Bridges begins with the tension between holiness and grace.

The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no laissez faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in the life of a Christian, because to be holy is to be like Christ--God's goal for every Christian...At the same time, however, the pursuit of holiness must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise, it is doomed to failure. That statement probably strikes many people as strange. A lot of Christians seem to think that the grace of God and the vigorous pursuit of holiness are antithetical--that is, in direct and unequivocal opposition to one another.

To some, the pursuit of holiness sounds like legalism and man-made rules. To others, an emphasis on grace seems to open the door to irresponsible, sinful behavior based on the notion that God's unconditional love means we are free to sin as we please.

Bridges goes on to explain that many believers don't understand the relationship of grace to personal discipline; they view grace and the pursuit of holiness as incompatible or even opposed to one another. An understanding of how God's grace and our effort work together--as well as how essential both are for a lifelong pursuit of holiness--is the theme of this chapter.

Bridges lays out the "good day/bad day" mindset that plagues most of us as Christians. We tend to view our relationship with God and His blessings in our lives in conjunction with our day to day performance. But God's blessing does not depend on our performance.

Why then do we think this way? It is because we do believe that God's blessing on our lives is somehow conditioned upon our spiritual performance. If we've performed well and had a "good" day, we assume we are in a position for God to bless us. Oh, we know God's blessings come to us through Christ, but we also have this vague but very real notion that they are also conditioned on our behavior. A friend of mine used to think, If I do certain things, then I can get God to come through for me.

Such thinking is even stronger when we've had a "bad" day. There is virtually no doubt in our minds that we have forfeited God's favor for some period of time...

But going back to the "good" day, ...the day when your spiritual disciplines are all in place and you are reasonably satisfied with your Christian performance. Have you thereby earned God's blessing that day? Will God be pleased to bless you because you've been good? You are probably thinking "Well, when you put it like that, the answer is no. But doesn't God only work through clean vessels?" To which I reply, "Let's assume that is true. How good then do you have to be to be a clean vessel? How good is good enough?"

Bridges reminds us that James tells us, in James 2:10, if we keep the whole law and yet stumble at just one point, we are guilty of breaking all of it.

Some days we may be more acutely conscious of our sinfulness and hence more aware of our need of His grace, but there is never a day when we can stand before Him on our own two feet of performance, when we are worthy enough to deserve His blessing.

At the same time, the good news of the gospel is that God's grace is available on our worst days. This is true because Christ Jesus fully satisfied the claims of God's justice and fully paid the penalty of a broken law when He died on the cross in our place...Does the fact that God has forgiven us all our sins mean that He no longer cares whether we obey or disobey? Not at all. The Scripture speaks of our grieving the Holy Spirit through our sins (Ephesians 4:30)...[however,]...

If God's blessings were dependent on our performance, they would be meager indeed. Even our best works are shot through with sin--with varying degrees of impure motives and lots of imperfect performance. We are always, to some degree, looking out for ourselves, guarding our flanks, protecting our egos. It is because we do not realize the utter depravity of the principle of sin that remains in us and stains everything we do, that we entertain any notion of earning God's blessings through our obedience. And it is because we do not fully grasp the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins that we despair of God's blessing when we have failed to live up to even our own desires to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Bridges then addresses the promises of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience that are a significant part of the Mosaic Law. This was very helpful to me. I read a book a couple of years ago about these blessings and curses. With my background of legalism, I am richly cultivated soil for any kind of performance-driven relationship with God. Bridges helped me to see this subject more clearly with just a few sentences. As I read these words, I remembered Danny trying to tell me this when I was reading the book. Regarding the principle of blessings and curses, Bridges says this:

Some Christians live as if that principle applies to them today. But Paul said that "the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). Christ has already borne the curses for our disobedience and earned for us the blessings of obedience. As a result we are now to look to Christ alone--not Christ plus our performance--for God's blessings in our lives. We are saved by grace and we are to live by grace alone.

When we pray to God for His blessing, He does not examine our performance to see if we are worthy. Rather, He looks to see if we are trusting in the merit of His Son as our only hope for securing His blessing.

Bridges examines why we are so prone to fall into this good day/bad day performance mode of thinking when we know from the Scriptures that our relationship with God is based on His grace instead of our performance. His answer is that "we have relegated the gospel to the unbeliever." We view the gospel as something that unbelievers need to hear. But once we become believers, we think that we move on to other things. But only continuing to hear the gospel of God's grace every day of our Christian lives--the gospel of God's grace through Christ--will keep us from falling into good day/bad day thinking, "wherein we think our daily relationship with God is based on how good we've been."

It is only the joy of hearing the gospel and being reminded that our sins are forgiven in Christ that will keep the demands of discipleship from becoming drudgery. It is only gratitude and love to God that comes from knowing that He no longer counts our sins against us (Romans 4:8) that provides the proper motive for responding to the claims of discipleship.

However, Bridges points out another critical element of receiving the gospel. "The gospel is meaningful for us only to the extent that we realize and acknowledge that we are still sinful." And without a continual reminder of the gospel's good news, "we can easily fall into one of two errors. The first is to focus on our external performance and become proud like the Pharisees...The second error is the exact opposite of the first. It is the feeling of guilt...We believe God is displeased with us, and we certainly wouldn't expect His blessing on our lives. After all, we don't deserve His favor."

Because we are focusing on our performance, we forget the meaning of grace: God's unmerited favor to those who deserve only His wrath. Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they have earned God's blessing through their behavior. Guilt-laden believers are quite sure they have forfeited God's blessing through their lack of discipline or their disobedience. Both have forgotten the meaning of grace because they have moved away from the gospel and have slipped into a performance relationship with God.

The gospel, applied to our hearts every day, frees us to be brutally honest with ourselves and with God...With the assurance of total forgiveness through Christ, we have no reason to hide from our sins anymore.

Rather than being driven by guilt and performance, we should be motivated by love and gratitude for what has already been done for us. Notice what compelled Paul in such a strong manner:

...It was not a continual challenge to be more disciplined, or more committed, or more holy. Rather it was his constant heartfelt awareness of Christ's love for him. It was not the thought that "I ought to do this or that" or a feeling of guilt for not doing something that motivated Paul. Rather it was his overwhelming sense of Christ's love for him that spurred him on.

We believers do need to be challenged to a life of committed discipleship, but that challenge needs to be based on the gospel, not on duty or guilt. Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ's love for us will motivate us for a lifetime.

If the love of Christ for us is to be the motivating force for a life of discipleship, how then can we come to the place where we are acutely conscious of His love? The answer is, through the gospel...The good news of the gospel is that Jesus paid for all our sins on the cross and that we are thereby forgiven. As we continually reflect upon that gospel, the Holy Spirit floods our hearts with a sense of God's love to us in Christ. And that sense of His love motivates us in a compelling way to live for Him.

Bridges explained the context of Paul's testimony by answering the question, "What is it that caused him to have such an intense yearning?"

The context is Paul's testimony of how he renounced his own self-righteousness in order to gain the righteousneess that comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:1-9). It is in the context of recounting the gospel as it applies to him personally that Paul feels this surge of desire to know Christ more intimately welling up within him.

A sense of obligation and duty never stimulates such a desire within us. Only love does that...

Preaching the gospel to ourselves every day addresses both the self-righteous Pharisee and the guilt-laden sinner that dwell in our hearts. Because the gospel is only for sinners, preaching it to ourselves every day reminds us that we are indeed sinners in need of God's grace. It causes us to say to God, in the words of an old hymn, "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." It helps us to consciously renounce any confidence in our own goodness as a means of meriting God's blessing on our lives.

Perhaps more important, though, preaching the gospel to ourselves every day gives us hope, joy, and courage. The good news that our sins are forgiven because of Christ's death fills our hearts with joy, gives us courage to face the day, and offers us hope that God's favor will rest upon us, not because we are good, but because we are in Christ.

I love this book. I've only read the first chapter and it has already helped me so much.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sweet Andrew!

I added this picture to the side of my blog. But it's small and you might not notice it unless you're scrolling down. So I thought I would post it. When I first arrived at the house, Andrew was so affectionate. He laid his head against me and just snuggled for the longest time. It was so sweet. He kept tucking his arms down inside mine. I couldn't have had a better welcome!

How could anyone not love being a grandparent???

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Discipline of Grace

I just started a new book this morning. "The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness."

I am pressed for time this morning, and still I could hardly put the book down. I can't wait to write about it; especially after attending Betty Jackson's Bible study yesterday on having peace of mind in a troubled world. She inspired me to crucify my flesh through the blood of Jesus. I had a wonderful lunch with friends after her class. And when I got home, I did not want to have the TV on in the background (as I am so prone to do). I finished "The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment" last night. It was a thought-provoking book, but I did not feel any inspiration to write. Probably because it was late.

This morning I woke up extremely tired, for some reason. I looked at my "to read next" stack of books, trying to decide which one to start. And I thought that "The Discipline of Grace" would be a good one to read while going through Miss Betty's (as we affectionately call her) class the next few weeks.

I am a little rushed because I'm going to spend today with Rebecca and the kids and need to get out of here by a certain time. But I will share one short quote from the first chapter of this book and I will definitely write more later. There are several other passages I'm eager to share, but they would require a lot of typing and I have to get going. I thought this was a great quote to always keep in mind while we are trying to break free from self and live a life that glorifies God in all our circumstances:

"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace."

This is from Miss Betty's study yesterday:

We are on a journey, none of us have arrived.
We are those who are coming closer to God,
getting further and further separated from sin and the world,
receiving more and more of God into our beings.
This is what the revelation of the Cross does for us!

Have a great day! (I know I will!)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Irrevocable Promises

I just finished reading the third chapter of a book entitled, Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible, by Liz Curtis Higgs. This chapter is called The Last Laugh. It is about the promised heir, Isaac, and how God kept His promise to Abraham and Sarah -- even when His promise seemed so ridiculously impossible that the recipients of the promise responded with dismissive laughter to God's words.

In this chapter, the author makes this statement:

God doesn't make "To-Do" lists; God makes "Done" lists.

I loved that. As I was reading, I thought about how God could have intervened before Sarah took matters into her own hands. But He first allowed her own efforts to fail. And the promise of life was granted to a womb that was dead.

Despite her ruthless banishment of Hagar and Ishmael, Sarai was still cherished by God. Because she improved her attitude or behavior? No, because God never changes. From the beginning, he chose her as the Main Mom.

Did Sarai do anything to deserve the title? Not that we've seen. Her actions so far point to an impatient woman who thought she had a better plan for bringing God's promise of offspring to fruition and a vindictive woman who got what she asked for, then didn't want it.

...God irrevocably included Sarah in his promises to Abraham.

Sarah's dead womb was no obstacle for God. He alone is the life-giver. Quoting from the book again:

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Genesis 18:14

A rhetorical question, much quoted. Indeed, is anything "too difficult" (NASB), "too wonderful for the Lord?" (NRSV). A rebuke from God, some say, though I read this as a gentle but firm reminder of his limitless power, not a biting chastisement for her lack of faith.

God fully intended to bless Sarah no matter how much she laughed.

Why then the delayed conception, long past her childbearing years? So the birth of Isaac might be seen for what it was: "a divine gift of grace."

...Though God exposed her sin, he did not punish Sarah, nor did he retract his promise. In fact, as far as the record shows, God never again brought up her disbelief or her denial...She acted rashly without seeking his will, she acted unkindly without seeking his forgiveness, and she acted foolishly without believing his promises -- yet God showered Sarah with mercy again and again. Will he do the same for you? Absolutely. "His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation."

God's compassion knows no bounds. He was gracious to Sarah and did for Sarah what He had promised.

In this story, it was Sarah's womb that was dead. But in our case, Ephesians tells us that WE were dead and, through this same miraculous grace of God, we have been made alive in Christ. Notice the sureness of God's promises -- and even the past tense of what has already been done for us -- in the following passage from Ephesians:

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Do not be discouraged by your own limitations and inadequacies. We don't come to God with a sense of competence or ability. We come broken and flawed, through the blood of Jesus. We are undeserving recipients of God's grace. We come to Him in poverty of spirit and through faith in His Son. We are heirs through adoption and the redemptive work of Christ.

We have a race to run. Our choices must reflect our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Obedience is the evidence of our faith. But, as my pastor pointed out recently, being triumphant doesn't mean that in every moment of our lives, everybody recognizes us as the victor. Learn to trust God and believe in His promises.

1 Corinthians 1:18

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My Hobby

As some of you know, I occasionally write for our local paper, The Murfreesboro Post. My most recent piece is in today's edition. I had Pollo Marsala at Milano's just last night for dinner. It is wonderful. We also had Tortellini as an appetizer with Alfredo Sauce. I'm sure my cholesterol is up today, but I will never order it with Pomodoro Sauce again. There is just no comparison. I love Marinara and Pomodoro Sauces, but Milano's red sauces are not in the same league (for my taste) as their cream sauces.

Anyway, I just thought I would share a link for anyone who is interested. I have been told all my life that I should be writing about food and I can't believe that I now actually get to!

Trying new things brings on culinary delights

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Funny Stuff

We just got home from church and dinner. Our usual Saturday night routine. My poor frustrated husband had a tough day at the dealership. He was venting a little bit of that frustration on the way to church. And he said something that really cracked me up.

This is what he said:
"Everybody's got a lawyer. They may not have teeth, but they have a lawyer." LOL.

Have any of you seen the Victory Nissan commercials that are playing all the time on TV lately? Victory Nissan bought Howerton Nissan in Dickson and also Harts Chapel Nissan in Shelbyville. Both sales were finalized last year. Well, they have just come out with a commercial for both stores and they say several times, "Howerton Nissan is gone forever!" or something to that effect. It cracks me up every time I hear it. They claim they are having to liquidate Howerton Nissan's inventory. It's so funny because John says they don't have any of his inventory.

Well, I have a banana cake on the kitchen counter, just waiting for the cream cheese icing...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Virtuous Jealousy

This is a link to another blog:

Understanding God's Jealousy

I don't think everyone who reads my blog necessarily reads Danny's blog. His post today spoke to my heart in a timely way. I love the way God provides understanding in the most creative ways. I prayed as I began reading last night that God would show me His truth. I try to always ask that when I read.

I was reading in Romans last night and I often feel confused by the perceived (on my part, because I know God does not contradict Himself) conflict between His demands and requirements as opposed to constant reminders that my salvation is by faith and not by works. In Romans, this tension is present. We are commanded to obey, but told pretty much that we can't. And that is why we need grace and faith in what Christ has done FOR us.

Janette and I talk about this frequently. We grew up believing God's ingredient was giving us the Holy Spirit and the rest was up to us. Perfection was the requirement. Mortifying the deeds of the body meant achieving complete sinless perfection in this life. I never believed in my ability to achieve that. So I lived my whole life with no hope. Nevertheless, I wanted to live my life as a Christian. I never wanted a life of worldly adventure and excitement. I loved God. I wanted God. But my defeated acceptance of my eventual outcome led me to minimize some sins (who was I hurting?) and pursue my own selfish desires, thinking this life was all I had and what difference would it really make in the end since I was not going to heaven anyway? After all, I was probably just a tare no matter how hard I tried. (Sins that hurt other people have always torn me up inside because I didn't want to do that whether I went to heaven or not.)

I have come a long way from those days. But the perfection indoctrination still haunts my thoughts at times when I read the Bible. If I was looking for cheap grace, if I didn't care how I lived or if I pleased Him, I don't think I would be constantly struggling with this.

Danny's post on the subject of God's jealousy and the analogy of coaches and their players spoke to my heart about this. I'm sharing a link to his blog because I don't want you to miss it if you ever find yourself in this same struggle.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I have to tell someone!

I thought that subject line would be funny and just couldn't resist. Actually, this post is about food.

Rebecca, the boys and I had lunch at Cozymel's in Cool Springs today. I love their tableside-fresh guacamole. I have always been curious about their fish tacos, but have never ordered them. So I asked the server how he would rate them and he said, a) he was from CA and b) they are the best you can get in TN. Today's fresh fish was mahi mahi. And our server recommended ordering them blackened. So I went with his suggestion. It was a good decision. And not much makes me happier than having ordered the right thing. (I'm miserable if somebody else makes a better selection from the menu.)

OH MY GOODNESS! They were SO, SO delicious! I told Rebecca that when I have a meal that fantastic, I just feel like I have to tell someone about it (hence, my subject line). She says I am so much fun to eat with. LOL.

When I have something that is beyond good, I'm known for describing it as the best _____ (fill in the blank) I've ever tasted. When it's even better than that, I can't remember anything I've ever had that I've enjoyed more. And that was how I felt about today's lunch.

If you like fish tacos and fresh guacamole, don't drive past Cozymel's when in Cool Springs. I doubt I will ever order anything else on their menu from now on. They were that yummy. I'll be skipping dinner tonight because I had two and a half tacos and plenty of chips and guacamole. But I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

I feel better now that I've shared.

John doesn't read my blog. He's too busy. But if he were to read this, he would say, "You're such a weirdo." I would laugh and say, "Yeah, but I'm so much fun to eat with!" He says he's never met anybody who loves food as much as I do. (He needs to watch Andrew eat lately.)

Call me if you want to go to Cozymel's. If I can fit it into my busy schedule (ha ha), I'll be happy to meet you there!