Rekindled Delight in HIS Forgiveness

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“Well this is it. She’s going to tell me off and be done with me.”

Those were, according to a dear sister in Christ, the words she spoke to her husband before leaving to meet me for a coffee date. Little did she know the Lord had broken my heart over sin in my life and was about to work His restoration and peace between us! Little did I know, I still had more sin to discover — the sin of unbelief.

I went that morning full of sorrow and wanting whatever it took to make us right again. My friend was so quick to forgive and I was glad to receive it. Or so I thought. But then repeatedly I found myself wanting to apologize again! My poor friend was glad to move on while I kept looking back and rehashing old debts. Without realizing it, I was rejecting the forgiveness freely given. (Not to mention taking the spotlight off Christ and putting it on myself!)

This experience with my sister helped me realize, I do the same thing with the Lord. Do you? Do you read or hear the Word of God, see sin in your life, confess it, and repent of it, only to confess and repent again and again in later days? Or try to find ways to make up for it?

Yesterday, my husband brought up the subject of forgiveness, specifically, the idea that we need to forgive ourselves. In the course of our conversation, he stated that the idea doesn’t actually make sense when you truly understand what forgiveness is. I countered that I think people just mean that we need to be willing to let go of our own sin instead of beating ourselves up over it. We expect ourselves to be perfect and are unhappy when we see our failures. At least this is true for anyone who is a perfectionist like me! His response was that he agreed that may be what people mean, but that is actually unbelief, not unforgiveness.  And he is right!

As I pondered our conversation, what I know from the Scripture, and my own experiences with both God and people, the parable of the unforgiving slave, came to mind. But I was not thinking about the slave’s unforgiveness at the end. I was thinking about the king’s mercy at the beginning of the story.

For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.

“At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.

Matthew 18:23-27

Did you notice the slave’s first response? He claimed that he would repay the debt. But 10,000 talents was a huge amount! There was no way possible the guy would ever be able to pay that amount back. Don’t I do the same? I ignore the true gravity of my sin and I seek to make restitution for something I can never make right! I try to make up for it by confessing enough times, being sad enough over it for a long enough period of time, giving enough of my time, service, money, etc. This response cheapens the forgiveness I’ve been given and shows that I really don’t grasp the reality of the heinous nature of my sin.

But God!!! In the parable, the master looked at this groveling, foolish slave, had compassion, and forgave him! The guy clearly had no regard for how dire his situation was. He begged to repay a debt that he knew he would never be able to repay. He was outright lying and just trying to save his skin, but he was offered forgiveness anyway. It makes me think of Romans 5:8 — “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” This master held out forgiveness just as the Lord looks on us in our sin, has compassion on us, and offers us His complete forgiveness. What a beautiful picture of mercy –incredible mercy so deep that I can never fully grasp it!

There’s more to the story and this isn’t Jesus’s point in telling the parable. He goes on to show how the slave proves he never truly received the king’s forgiveness by his own unwillingness to forgive.

But I’m diverting from the story from that point because this is about my response to God’s (and others’) forgiveness. When I put my efforts into making my sin right, am I not refusing the forgiveness of God to me? I’m actually saying that His forgiveness isn’t good enough to pay my debt. And that says that Christ’s brutal death on the cross wasn’t good enough, either. That thought brings me to my knees in sorrow.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Colossians 2:13-14

Forgiveness says that the debt is paid. I no longer owe it! If I continue confessing, apologizing, or making up for it, then, just as my husband declared, I’m walking in unbelief. I’m not believing that God is who He says He is (mercy, love, compassion) or that he’ll do what He says He’ll do (in this case, forgive — forgetting my sin, casting it to the bottom of the sea, and setting it as far as east is from west!). And that unbelief is sin because it declares God a liar. It really could be counted as a form of blasphemy or even idolatry as I make my image of God based on lies instead of His Word.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not good to make restitution when you have wronged someone. But am I making restitution to make myself right and pay for my sin or as an overflow of God’s love in me? Zacchaeus is a great example of god honoring restitution. When Jesus changed his life, he repaid everyone he wronged four times what he extorted from them! Christ’s words indicate that his intent was not as much to make up for what he had done, but was his natural response of love to Christ’s gift of salvation — His forgiveness!

Another sad result of living in this unbelief is slavery to the very sin that has been forgiven. Even though I may not be continuing in that particular sin, I’m living under condemnation from it that keeps me from Christ’s full joy! As I keep my thoughts on my failures, I miss opportunities to love and serve others. I miss seeing the blessings of His grace. My eyes should be fixed on things above (Colossians 3:1), but  I remain wrapped up in what is dead so the meditations of my heart can’t be pleasing in His sight (Psalm 19:14).

This is just the tip of all the thoughts and Scriptures I’ve looked at on the subject, but then entire books have been written on living in God’s forgiveness! Maybe one day, I’ll be able to sit undistracted (Go Heels!) and put pen to paper more fully on what I want to express. For now, I’m just really excited to head rapidly towards Resurrection Sunday and truly rejoice in what Christ did for His Church! Tomorrow morning in our gathered worship service, we will be participating in communion and I’m quite sure it will be the most wonderful cracker and grape juice I’ve tasted in some time because I am thrilled to be forgiven! For this moment, I truly am not looking back but pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

His offer of forgiveness is for you! Join me in walking in the freedom of His grace!

Living with Special Needs

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1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I don’t usually post this sort of thing publicly for various reasons but today I’m going to give you a glimpse into the world of one special needs family. It is lonely. Maybe more so when it’s an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Maybe not, but no ASD child is the same and from the families I know with an ASD child, our experiences vary quite widely so even “shared experiences” aren’t really shared. It’s very lonely when you’re the only parent pulled out of Sunday school almost every week for your son who is almost ten. It’s lonely when you see friends and their kids doing fun things together and you either weren’t invited because of the ASD child or you chose not to attend because it wouldn’t be a good environment for the ASD child. It’s lonely when you can only find a few babysitters that can and will work with your child. And it’s lonely when you see your ASD child getting looks of disgust from other kids and/or parents. Those looks might as well be aimed straight at me because I feel them more intensely than if the look actually had been directed at me.

There are a few very precious families in our life who have not only accepted our special needs son, but have enjoyed him and his eccentricities. For those I am incredibly thankful! Besides being Christ to us and filling the lonely places, at times I need help seeing beyond all the battles to the fun and joy found in my son and these families help immensely. I’m also thankful that our son has come so incredibly far with his anger, self-control, and compassion towards others. I’m thankful that The Lord uses my sons to push me into seeking Him through prayer and His Word and to make me more like Himself. Being obsessive about something is pretty typical for ASD kids and I’m thankful that my son’s primary obsessions are reading and Legos instead of some violent video game. I’m thankful that the Father has granted me incredible grace to school both boys at home and to learn some therapy techniques to work with him at home. I’m thankful that he is able to communicate well and is an amazing artist.

Though I try to give thanks in the storm, it’s very hard not to wish to be out of the storm every time the waves come crashing in, especially because I know this storm probably won’t end for many years, if at all this side of heaven. But there are many calm moments and victories and I’m thankful for those too. In fact, on days like today, in order to not drown in despair or loneliness, I remind myself of moments like these:
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IMG_1379.JPG And then it’s a little easier to smile instead of cry! 🙂

All that said, I sometimes wonder if my son feels the loneliness too. Hopefully we surround him with enough love and enough accepting friends that he does not. I pray that he doesn’t feel the loneliness but is completely secure in our love, yet I know that I fail him all the time.

All that and it’s really just a glimpse. If you know someone and you even think they might have a special needs child, please pray for them, surround them with great love, and look beyond the oddities to discover the diamond in the rough. And please, please teach your “normal” children to do the same.

River & Erosion Project

Our younger son is learning about rivers this week. Monday we talked about how a river often begins in a lake or some body of water on a mountain and how the water carves into the dirt to create the river. I wanted to show him this idea in a fun, memorable way. So I searched Pinterest and Google but only found an idea for making a river to play in in the back yard. It looks like a fun idea, but we don’t have a slope, so it wouldn’t work and it didn’t demonstrate the idea of the water eroding it’s place. So I decided to try out an idea I had and it actually worked!!! I was so excited that, I jumped up and down clapping my hands!

We put a disposable bowl (because I didn’t want to have to clean a regular bowl) upside down in a casserole dish. I used some leftover garden gravel to keep it in place.

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Then we put gardening soil over it. It’s hard to tell in this picture, but I made a small impression in the dirt to be our lake. It’s main purpose was to give him a place to aim the water on the next step. I used what I had on hand which was more like a mulch. This would work better, I think, with a finer soil or dirt. Or, if you begin it early enough, you could plant some seeds in the soil, wait for them to grow some roots for holding the dirt more in place, then continue the project.

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Then we used flour to put some “snow” on the area. I did this because I wanted him to be able to see the river. I figured it would be hard to see the small stream of water on the dark soil. He loved putting the snow on.

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I had prepared some water dyed blue ahead of time. I gave him a measuring cup with the water and told him to go super slowly. He accidentally dumped it and we had to rebuild the mountainside, so I dug out a water bottle with one of those tops that you pull up to get a drink out. He was able to gently squeeze it to make a lake at the top of the mountain.

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You can see the river flowing in that picture, but I got a close up, too.

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If I were to do it again (which he begged me to do, but we didn’t have time to recreate it), I would use thicker soil as I mentioned above. I think that it would hold water better so that the “river” wouldn’t disappear quite so quickly. I would also use more soil so a little erosion wouldn’t cause the entire “mountain” to crumble. I would also make a thicker layer of flour so the river would be more visible. All in all, it was a quick, simple, and inexpensive way to watch a river carve it’s path and I’m thrilled that we saw success!

Rejoicing in Disobedience

For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

Romans 11:32

I’ve been pondering this idea that God has “shut up all” to disobedience. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my children. I don’t know about other parents, but I often am frustrated with the boys disobedience. It’s not that I expect them to be perfect, but I tire of dealing with the disobedience.

Truly, who enjoys correcting behavior and punishing sin? I certainly don’t enjoy it! When I’m not just being too lazy to deal with the situation at hand, often, it is a very inconvenient time or place or both! But again, the Lord has reminded me that these times offer great opportunity!

Spending time with Romans 11 has reminded me that there is a joyous reason for disobedience — God’s mercy! I’ve been reminded that every occasion of disobedience is an opportunity for God to show His mercy to the hearts of the boys! Our pastor reminded us this morning that taking the Lord’s Supper isn’t just a somber occasion. Sure, we examine our hearts and there is sorrow for our sin, yet we greatly rejoice in His forgiveness! Similarly, as a parent, I can rejoice that God grants so many opportunities to our boys and to us for Him to show His mercy!

We have used disobedience as occasion to remind the boys of the Gospel. But now it is also an occasion to rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!

Philippians 4:4 (Emphasis added)

Book Review: The Choice by Robert Whitlow

The Choice is the unfolding tale of a fight for life. Sandy, a high school senior has a world of opportunity before her, but one poor choice has left her pregnant and now she must make another choice. Will she give the life inside her a chance at the opportunities she could lose? In the midst of the emotional turmoil a strange prophecy is given her by an old lady in a convenience store. Inherent in the prophecy is a warning and now doing what is right is even more confusing! Thirty-four years later as a high school teacher, Sandy is approached for help by an unwed, pregnant teenage girl. While seeking to use her own experience to help the girl, the prophetic warning comes back to mind and suddenly more lives are at stake and she again must choose between life and death.

I have enjoyed every book I’ve read by Robert Whitlow. I was very excited to see this one offered on Book Sneeze! Overall, this wasn’t quite the legal thriller that I’ve come to expect from Whitlow, but it was still an excellent read. Don’t misunderstand me, there is still some legal thriller to this book, but it takes a backseat to a higher purpose. Whitlow touches on issues of life — the lives of the yet to be born as well as those already living. In the end living comes down to true love — laying down your life for another. As always Whitlow does a fabulous job of creating characters that are believable — both Christian and not. As the main character struggles with her choices, every emotion leaps from the page to the reader’s heart. There were times that I found myself verbally (yes, I really said it out loud!) cheering Sandy on. And the heroine remains the heroine — not because she does something right. Although she does that. She is the heroine because she truly lives out faith.

I don’t care for “Christian” books that leave out the Bible. Robert Whitlow does a nice job of weaving Scripture and biblical principles throughout the text. This is a great book that I highly recommend to those who enjoy works of fiction.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Answered Prayer

Evening,

and morning,

and at noon,

will I pray,

and cry aloud:

and He shall hear

my voice.

Psalm 55:17

Recently, someone precious to me asked why I believe in God. One of my answers was that I have seen Him answer prayer. As I thought back over our conversation, I wished that I had recorded more of those moments when I prayed and immediately saw God move. I did write at length about the time God provided for us a vehicle. That post is here. I hope, over the next few days to post some of the prayers to which I can remember seeing specific answers. I don’t want to confuse — God hears all the prayers of His children and He always answers. We may not always see, understand, or like the answer, but He does work for His people. While we may not recall every prayer and answer, there is biblical precedent for remembering God’s great acts on behalf of His people.

This first one may seem a little silly and perhaps just coincidence (for those that don’t believe God is sovereign over all things at all time. I believe He is completely sovereign and that there is nothing out of His control.) As a teenager, I went on a mission trip with my youth group. I was the lead teacher for one of the younger groups of kids. One of those days while encouraging the kids to accept Christ as Savior, I realized that though I believed in the Gospel, I had never confessed to the church my belief. My understanding lacked much theologically, but I knew that I needed to confess with my mouth what I believed in my heart. Back home I talked to my mom about wanting to go forward during the altar call at church. At the time she was engaged to a man whom I really liked. She asked me to consider waiting until they were married and we could go forward as a family. I was torn. I wanted to honor her request, but I was strongly compelled not to wait. I talked to my pastor’s wife about it the next time I saw her. She shared with me a similar story that her husband had experienced as a young man with his father, but was quick to add that she couldn’t tell me what was right for me. During this summer I was working for my mom’s fiance who owned a landscaping business. While he and another guy ran the big mowers, I weeded flower beds, edged sidewalks, sprayed insecticide, and whatever other job arose. In the week following these conversations, we had a really hot, sunny day. I was thinking about this decision, completely unsure what to do. I really wanted to make my mom happy. But I really wanted to make known my faith. So standing there dripping sweat, I prayed very simply, “God, if You would have me go forward and not wait, could You just send someone to me with a drink?” I know it’s kind of lame, but I had worked several weeks and not once had any of the residents ever spoken to me. The guys I was working with were on the other side of the gated community that we were working in. So it seemed completely unlikely that any sort of drink would be coming my way. However, before the words finished leaving my mouth a sweet blond haired lady from behind me said, “Excuse me? You look awfully hot out here and I just thought you might like one of these popsicles.” I don’t know where she came from. To me she seemed to appear out of thin air, but she probably just came from one of the nearby houses. She didn’t have the drink I had prayed for. She had something better! A frozen popsicle that cooled me off while hydrating a little.

Just remembering that day, I can still feel the shock of the lady’s voice behind me. I can still feel the relief of something cold to cool me in a moment of need. And though many will count it coincidence, I know that my God was using that tiny seed of immature faith to show Himself as my Guide and my Provider.

The following Sunday, I went forward. My mom cried. I thought it was because I didn’t wait for the family, but found out that she was just happy I was claiming Christ. Her fiance broke off the engagement shortly afterwards. I felt badly because I thought it was my fault for not waiting to go forward together as a family. It was still summer and I was still working for him, so I asked him one day. He assured me that it was other things. I still think it was partially my fault — the prospect of jumping into being the father of a teenage girl as strong-willed as I was, probably was pretty daunting! But the guy Mom ended up marrying is amazing. And I don’t regret for even one moment walking in obedience!

Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What it Means for You

Wow! I haven’t written a blog since March! During the busy three months, I have had thoughts of things to write about, but time has been devoted to many other things. Though I have a topic I’d like to spend time pondering through writing, instead I’m going to publish a long overdue book review. Through Booksneeze I received a copy of Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What it Means for You for the purpose of giving a review, so here it is!

Heaven in Her Arms: Why God Chose Mary and What it Means for You

by Catherine Hickem

I decided to read this book because I agreed with one point the author had to make about the woman called to be the mother of Jesus. In the prologue Hickem notes how protestants have worked so hard to not worship the virgin woman chosen by God to bear His Son that we rarely reflect upon her as a biblical female role model. Often women look at Sarah’s faith, Rahab’s boldness, Esther’s bravery, and more. And I wouldn’t say that Mary gets ignored. I can think of many great sermons or lessons taught based on her response to the angel and the magnificat. Mary herself wouldn’t have wanted herself elevated next to God. She knew and honored the Lord and did not exalt herself, but certainly we can learn from her. So I read this book in hope that this would be a biblical look into her life that would encourage me as a mom.

Each chapter begins with a Scripture from the life of Mary then goes on to talk about an aspect of Mary’s life demonstrated by the Scripture. The chapters then conclude with earthly wisdom and experience related to the trait shown by Mary.

The book was rather disappointing to me. Overall, I appreciated the insight into Mary’s life, but occasionally I felt that the author attempted to stretch her big idea into the Scripture given. The ideas themselves weren’t antibiblical, they just took a lot of connections to make sense with the Scripture given. But what really disappointed me was that the earthly wisdom and experience seemed to override the biblical insight. I tired of reading the authors thoughts and beliefs based on her experience. There were good encouragements to walk by faith, humbly, boldly, truthfully, and more, but when I come to a book subtitled “Why God” did something, then I expect to read more about God and less about the author and life experience. I couldn’t in good conscience recommend this book. It is well written. It’s engaging, easy to read, and challenges how we walk by faith, but I expected more Bible and more God.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

My Favorite Children’s Easter Book

There seems to be an endless amount of great children’s books for the Christmas season, but great Easter books are harder to come by. There are a few out there and just today I discovered another that I want to check out, The Story of the Easter Robin. As I’ve searched for great books for this season, there is one that has been my favorite since I found it a couple of years ago.

Easter in the Garden is the story of Micah, a young Jewish boy living in the time of Christ. The author has captured the heart of a boy while giving a glimpse of some Jewish customs, and telling the highlights of the Resurrection story. As the story unfolds, the reader feels the boy’s anticipation, fear, confusion, sorrow, and eventual joy.

The illustrations are very pretty watercolors. David Wenzel captures Micah’s feelings in every expression. My knowledge is limited, but I believe that he’s depicted Jerusalem at the time fairly accurately.

This is one of the moments in the book that makes Micah seem a real boy.

Every year that we have read this book, I have ended up teary-eyed. The author and illustrator have done an incredible job of bringing the story to life from the viewpoint of a young boy. If you haven’t added this one to your collection, I highly recommend it!

Seeing God Through Creation

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

I love how God reveals Himself and His plan for us through His creation. Last week and continuing into this week, we are experiencing this in our home. Last week, Alex’s school centered on butterflies, so naturally we had to raise some butterflies! It’s an old illustration of our new life in Christ, but until I stopped to really learn more about the metamorphosis process, I didn’t realize just how much Truth God has shown by it! Below are some photos of our butterflies along the process, but here are the points that I didn’t previously consider that so neatly reflect the picture of what happens to people at salvation.

1. When the caterpillar pupates (sheds its skin and forms the chrysallis), it actually becomes goo inside the chrysallis. I was pretty ignorant on this point and thought that the caterpillar just kind of went to sleep while it grew some wings and changed in several other ways. I knew that the butterfly was far different from the caterpillar, but I never considered that the creature would completely start anew! The butterfly isn’t remade. It goes through a rebirth.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:3

2. This fact I knew, but never considered much. The caterpillar eats leaves. The butterfly eats nectar. The caterpillar lives solely to survive and is even considered a pest, sometimes decimating entire bushes. The butterfly is considered helpful as it pollinates and helps the growth of more plants. The creature’s diet and purpose completely change. When I was in my old nature, I hungered after the things of the world and I lived for my glory. Now that God has made me new, I hunger for His Word, fellowship with Him, and fellowship with His people and I live for His glory.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.

Colossians 3:9-10

(Emphasis mine)

3. According to my research, the caterpillars have genes that are inactive while they are caterpillars. Once they pupate, these genes turn on and form the wings, antennae and other new parts of the butterfly. Now I’m not saying that Christ followers have special genes written into their DNA, but the Bible does say that those chosen by God are predestined, so I thought this was a neat illustration of that!

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren

Romans 8:29

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:5-6

Early stage of the caterpillar

When the caterpillar comes out of its egg, it lives to eat. Most of its time is spent filling itself with leaves. It’s body grows rapidly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One caterpillar beginning the pupating process, the others grown to full size

 

 

We were surprised to see the caterpillars nearly double in size some days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three chrysalides up close

 

 

 

This is a little out of focus because my five year old took it. All five caterpillars successfully pupated into chrysalides. Two are just below the camera lens. Currently, we still have five chrysalides. We expect the butterflies to break through later this week. These are painted lady butterflies.