Parenting a Full Quiver with a Barren Heart

[Originally published HERE at www.DesiringGod.com]

After years of running from God and doing the opposite of everything I should have been doing, I fell in love with a guy and we decided we were going to be Christians — really good ones. So we married young, celebrated our first pregnancy test about 180 days later, and I exchanged a career for  my new role as a Christian housewife and stay-at-home Mom.

I’d always assumed I’d be a great mom. I liked kids, came from a large family, was in high demand during my babysitting heyday, and thought of myself as a decently patient individual.

Then I had children.

Desperately turning to the books and the blogs, I put together my game plan for how I was supposed to be navigating these hard and holy trenches of Christian mothering: delighting in my children, sacrificing for my family, “choosing joy,” being appropriately content with dishes and diapers, and reminding everyone how much “children are a blessing” — because my heart was supposed to be full.

In reality though, my hands were full and my heart was weary.

Parenting was really hard for me in ways I just hadn’t expected. I had faced hard things my whole life as obstacles to conquer and overcome, but parenting was different. No powering through by sheer will, no knocking it out and moving on to the next thing, no easy means of measuring my successes. Was I joyful enough? Was I sacrificial enough? Was I content enough? Was I delighting in everyone enough?

Idol Swap

God was using parenting to sanctify my stubbornly independent, self-sufficient soul. But quietly, unexpectedly, I simply exchanged one idol for another. I had traded in the American Dream of pursuing a successful career for a more religious version of pursuing perfect parenting. While this idol seemed far more holy and sacrificial, in reality it pointed to myself just as much, and was equally as heavy to carry.

I don’t remember exactly when it hit me. Somewhere around the time we started struggling with secondary infertility, and miscarriage, and parenting really difficult and high-energy toddlers, I realized that while I seemed to be checking all the right boxes, my soul felt as parched and lifeless as it had all those years prior when I’d been running from God.

We can hear so much about how worthwhile and valuable being a mom is in an attempt to fight against a world that might be suggesting otherwise, that it becomes dangerously easy to feel as if motherhood is where we attain our worth and value. But what about when you can’t have kids? Or enough of them? What about when you feel like you’re failing at parenting, while desperately trying to do everything right? What about when depression surpasses delight?  That’s the danger of making good things, ultimate things. Satan is just as interested in convincing us that motherhood or parenting is our highest calling as he is in convincing us that a successful career or self-fulfillment is.

How Beautiful Becomes Barren

When these become our focus rather than the fruit of a soul that seeks Christ above all else, we are exchanging truth for lies and carrying burdens we were not designed to carry. As if being a parent wasn’t already hard enough. Idol-carrying always makes barren that which was meant to be beautiful. And as I walk this path of parenting God has placed before me, I’ve noticed some of the idolatrous lies I’m particularly prone to clinging to.

  1. Family First

We often hear far more about delighting in our children than delighting in the Lord, easily directing our focus away from what should be our source of delight (Psalm 37:4). Our lives must revolve around Christ, not our family, for we cannot nourish their souls if we neglect our own. Be filled first with the joyful, sacrificial, delightful love of Christ and let it overflow into the lives of those around us. We will be significantly better parents and spouses when we do this. Relying on anything else to fill our family is putting our faith and hope for transformation in something other than him.

Whether it’s trying to be a great parent or spouse, being hospitable, making healthy meals, being content in our domestic duties, desiring good behavior from our kids, providing them with a good education — or thousands of other great and godly things — let us count them all as loss compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).

  1. Self-centered Sacrifice.

You don’t have to be a Christian to give up your wants for those you love. However, as children of God, our serving should draw attention from ourselves to our Father. Not shouting from the rooftops that parenting is the world’s most important job, attacking anyone who suggests a stay-at-home mom isn’t the hardest job on the planet, or always reminding our children and spouse how much we do for them.

It’s something we should do quietly, humbly, and willingly in an effort not to make the job of parenting seem great, but to make God look great. Sacrifice can be just as intoxicating as pleasure and both are wasted when they’re self-centered rather than God-exalting. Let’s not create Pharisees, who sacrificed to garner attention and respect, touting their way as the *most* holy way as they focused on the sacrifice itself rather than the altar it was placed on. Jesus called them fools for thinking their sacrifice itself was somehow intrinsically holy without the desperate act of placing it upon the altar of a holy God who gives it its worth and value (Matthew 23:1–28).

Only when we humbly devote our sacrifice of parenthood to sacred use, willingly bringing it before the Lord and laying it upon his altar for God’s glory does it become holy.  Not because of us or our gift but because of the hands we give it to. Hands that will never let our sacrifice be wasted.

  1. Perfection rather than purpose.

We naturally want to exhibit good things. The problem with trying to look like we have it all together lays not necessarily in perfection itself, but in trying to attain it in our own strength, for our own praise. On the flip side, we often sacrifice excellence in the name of “authenticity,” as we proudly continue in our self-centered mediocrity, just as ignorant of the strength of the Lord who longs to use and transform our broken and exhausted selves for his glory.

It’s neither highlighting our successes, nor hiding our failures, but being be like fruitful, bountiful vines wherever we’ve been planted — watered by the Spirit, made strong by that which we cling to, and producing fruit that blesses and refreshes many (Psalms 128:3).

  1. Self instead of the Spirit.

One of the heaviest idols we often carry as parents is the burden of self — the idea that it’s all up to us. That our choices dictate who our children become or what kind of parents we will be. Those choices do matter, but ultimately our trust and reliance on God and the work of his Spirit will shape our children more than anything else we could ever say or do. Commit your parenting to the Lord, trust in him, and watch him act (Psalm 37:5).

Drink from the fountain of God’s free, refreshing peace. And do it in the eyes of your children, praying that the Spirit would lead them to do the same (Isaiah 58:11).

Full Quiver, Barren Heart

Parenthood is not some intrinsic means to becoming more holy (in my case, I’m not sure anything has exposed my deeply-rooted sins so quickly and repeatedly), but it is merely one means God chooses to slowly, often painfully, chip away parts of us that aren’t him. We must not focus so much on the chisel that we forget about the Sculptor. Parenting changes us all, but the true and eternal beauty of it comes from the One whose loving hands are using it to patiently shape us into his image.

We can have a quiver-full of children (Psalm 127:4–5) and yet a heart that is barren and sterile, if we are more consumed by God’s gifts than by him. Our children can (and should) be life-changing blessings, but they will never save our soul. Only in a fertile soul, nourished by the Spirit, can the life-giving seeds of truth bud and flourish allowing us to bless and feed our children and those around us in the ways they really need. Our transformation is not dependent on any particular season or circumstance, but by tasting and seeing that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), and knowing his words and truth will not return void.

Isaiah 55:10-11: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,  so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

It may be a driving rain when we were expecting spring showers, a blizzard when we planned for a flurry, or a drought when we anticipated a drenching, but we should work far more at preparing the soil of our souls for whatever may come — allowing it to soak in deep and transform us when it does — than we do at trying to predict, change, or dictate the weather.

My highest calling is not marriage or motherhood, but to glorify God and enjoy him forever. My value and my worth come from him; whether I’m single or married, young or old, have no kids or a dozen.

After many years of parenting, I still find it incredibly hard, and exhausting, and totally worth it — not because it’s some rite of passage, or children are blessings to be dispensed to me, or because of what I’m accomplishing or sacrificing as a parent, but because it’s what God has happened to put before me, right here right now, and he’s using it to change me in deep and good ways.

It doesn’t make all of the weariness of parenting magically disappear, but it should remind us that the source of our strength and worth is not something we could ever fail or lose. It reminds us not to waste the blessings or to despise the weariness, but to give it all back to Christ so he can break it, multiply it, and hand back to us something far greater.

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The Art of Womanliness

[Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.org]

What does it mean to be a woman?

Few things evoke such emotion as someone questioning, or attempting to define, what it means to be a woman — especially, in my case, a Christian woman. The overarching concept of womanhood trickles down into so many of our roles and relationships that it can easily become the currency by which we measure our worth. We vehemently resist anything that might threaten the foundation of womanliness we’ve defined for ourselves.

What Matters Today?

Lately, I’ve devoted a lot of bandwidth to thinking about and studying the complexities of biblical womanhood, submission, and other gender controversies. One evening, I sat down and began furiously organizing my thoughts and observations into meaningful, impactful words and sentences meant to analyze and “solve” the issues. . . .

And then I stopped. I looked at my passionately penned words and hesitated. Not so much over the words themselves, but the why behind them.

How will grasping these profound theological ideas before I climb into bed impact who I am when I climb back out in the morning? Will my day look different? Will I be a different wife, or mother, or friend? My current struggles and sins would still be there to greet me with the sunrise. I’ve never wanted to be another vague and distant voice adding to the noise.

So I put away my notes and went to bed wrestling with God. What do I need to know about womanhood right now? The next morning, as I woke up to the sun and its colors and God’s beautiful new mercies, I stepped out of bed with the question pressing on my soul, “How will I be an excellent woman and reflect God’s beauty today?”

The Always-Pressing Question

How do I reflect God’s beauty today? This is the question that should be at the forefront of our mind, longing for an answer every hour. It’s what lies beneath all our labels and arguments and definitions — whether you’re a young wife or a grandmother, single or married, eight-years-old or eighty.

It’s the question that mattered when I waved goodbye to the bus carrying my children off to public school, and it mattered when I sat for hours schooling them at home. It mattered when I was waitressing twelve-hour shifts, when I was in D.C. editing military plans to combat weapons of mass destruction, and when I was changing diapers and mediating temper tantrums as a stay-at-home mom.

Like a carefully chosen tattoo on the forearm, we imagine the perfectly defined self-identification will mark us so powerfully as to change how we are perceived in the world. We believe our ideologies or labels will magically make us more obedient and holy or a crusader who cares more about social justice or oppression — without the cost of actually living it out. 

Too often, the vortex of discourse surrounding biblical womanhood blinds us to what it means to live excellently and reflect the beautiful image of God in this very moment, in the next thing we do, or type, or say.

Tell the Story of the Beautiful God

As women, our strengths, our beauty, our value, and the essence of who we are, come from our Creator — the one whose image we bear —long before the gender debates of the twentieth century. My Maker defined me when he selectively impressed his fingerprints upon me as I was formed. He defines all women when he intentionally creates us to reflect unique facets of his beauty.

What does it mean to be an excellent woman, today? It is to tell that story with strength and passion, to magnify the beauty of Christ and delight ourselves in the joy of God as we reflect him in our own unique ways.

Satan hates beauty because he hates the one it reflects. He does his best to destroy it and abuse it and oppress it and contort it into reflecting the broken world rather than God. If he can’t destroy it, he is content to see us spend our days fighting and writing about it. Satan is happy to see us discuss the beauty of womanhood all we want — so long as it distracts us from living it. There is a way to be so paralyzed by every new “how-to,” and so divided by debate that we will never get around to actually submitting our lives to God with a willingness to be led by him wherever it may take us.

A Partial Picture of an Infinite Artwork

We often work backward, focusing so much on presenting ourselves to the world as image-bearers of our chosen ideologies, forgetting whose image we were made to bear. God’s glory needs to overflow into every single aspect of what we do as women — this is what it means to be conformed to the image of Christ.

But what does this look like?

Since the infinite God is the source of our beauty, we could never paint a complete picture of what an excellent and biblical woman looks like. Knowing the source of our beauty and excellence should give us purpose in the small things and humility in the big things. True beauty is not subjective — there are things which are not beautiful — but it is infinite, in that there are endless ways to truly reflect our Artist.

It’s letting go of what my fists are so tightly clenched onto when I’m fighting with my husband. It’s identifying the places my mind wanders when I’m angry or anxious. It’s seeking God’s kingdom at the expense of my own. It’s treating my body as a temple, but not an idol (1 Corinthians 6:19). It’s being greatly saddened by my sin, but joyful in God’s forgiveness of it. It’s putting aside the lesser things that hold me occupied to hold or read to my child, and it’s allowing someone else to hold or read to that same child when God puts other duties before me.

It might be letting others lead when I feel the most equipped, or leading when I feel most unable, because God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It might be keeping quiet when I feel like shouting, or loudly proclaiming when I feel too timid to even whisper. It might be serving others when I most want to be served; it might be resting when serving draws people to me rather than Christ.

It’s doing my work with excellence. It’s allowing my womanhood and its beauty and its answers to be the fruit of God’s spirit within me, rather than my focus.

The Art of Womanliness

That’s biblical womanhood — the art of womanliness, if you will. It is actually living so beautifully and excellently that the symphony of our lives draws others to the infinite beauty of our designer, drowning out the provocative siren song of the world, whose fleeting and shallow beauty lures only to ugly brokenness.

Art can reflect but never surpass its artist, and when we climb out of bed with the goal of being a masterpiece whose beauty reflects our creator for his glory in the very next thing we do — only then will the ripples of our faithfulness carry on for eternity.

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Detox Your Soul

[Originally published HERE at www.DesiringGod.com]

When times become turbulent, it’s easy to lose focus. We may feel like the disciples in Matthew 14 on a ship in the middle of the sea, tossed by angry waves and battered by contrary winds. We fear disaster, we question the trajectory of the ship, we forget to row, we overlook how our own sin or faith impacts the storm, we cry out in fear instead of truth, or maybe we fail to look to the one who can calm the sea.

Storms can be consuming and so easily distract us from the state of our hearts, the gaze of our eyes, the words of our mouths, and the actions we should be taking. Before we know it, we are likely in serious need of a spiritual detox — a cleansing, purging, recalibrating, invigorating soul treatment.

While there are many places in scripture we could go, my favorite tends to be Psalms. Something about the way it covers so many ranges of seasons and emotions compels me turn to its pages when I’m not exactly sure where to go. It is raw, relatable, deep, convicting, beautiful, thought-provoking and heart-provoking. There are so many truths to meditate on, prayers to borrow, promises to declare, words to memorize — it can be just the place to begin a detox on four key areas of my spiritual life:

  1. My Heart:

This is where I begin, as my heart is always the first thing in desperate need of a detox. We can’t effectively fight the Lord’s battles if we neglect the war in our own hearts. Countless times I have tried, advancing in haste or self-righteousness before realizing it’s my own battle I’m fighting, and I must go to my knees to stop, repent, and reset. When times are tumultuous and emotions are high we must be particularly vigilant about sin creeping in. The enemy knows when there is much at stake.

The way the psalmist pours out his soul, encourages me to do the same, as I search my heart before the Lord.

“Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind” (Psalm 26:2). Ask the Lord to examine, prove, and try our hearts and our minds, as if testing a metal to determine value and genuineness. We are prone to be partial to ourselves and make allowances where we should not. Lord, determine the deep motives of my heart and actions, for only you can correct them.

“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me” (Psalm 19:12-13). Our greatest temptations come not from about, but from within — from the secret sins that begin in our hearts and give birth to almost every evil deed. They are so easily disguised from ourselves and from others — pride as conviction, self-sufficiency as diligence, fear as attentiveness, skepticism as discernment, timidity as humility, gossiping as caring, lukewarm-ness as temperance, vengeance as justice, selfishness as self-care, laziness as patience, self-righteousness as righteousness. Lord, forgive my secret sins and help me be diligent in identifying  and cleansing them before they enslave my heart, because they will apart from you.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  The state of our heart is not something that can merely be mended — it is corrupted and we need a new one, a clean and pure one. We are justified once, but sanctified continually. We should desire that purification with persistence. Every day. Every hour. It frees us to experience his joy. Lord, give me a spirit that is constant, steady and determined, no longer bound and disgraced by my sinfulness. I need your word to speak into it, your Spirit to move upon it, and your Son’s blood to wash over it.

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). Ask that the Lord instruct our steps, for without his teaching we will go astray. Ask that we will live and act in accordance to God’s truth and pursue his will, not our own truth or our own will. Ask that God would join all the purposes, resolutions, and affections of our hearts into a singular purpose to worship, obey, and honor him, because that is our end-game. This is a prayer that should be on the tongue of every Christian. Lord, direct my steps and give me an undivided heart, for if that is wanting, all will be wrong.

2. My Eyes:

There are a million things we can look to, but the psalmist reminds us where to set our gaze. Like a compass in need of recalibration, we will be prone to wander if our eyes are set on the wrong things.

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37). There are so many things likely to lead us astray from what is real and true, and our incessant prayer should be that God would make our eyes pass quickly over them. In the words of Albert Barnes, a nineteenth century theologian, “Make my eyes to pass rapidly from such objects, that I may not look at them, may not contemplate them, may not dwell upon them. There is danger in looking on sin steadily; in surveying its features; in returning to contemplate it.” Lord, every day and every minute, graciously turn my eyes from anything that could block my view of you, for you alone lead to life.

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). What is continually before our eyes is of the utmost importance because it shapes us. If we lock our gaze upon our Lord amidst the struggle, the pain, and the change — we will be anchored and not disturbed by fear. Lord, help me act and regard myself whether night or day, in private or in public, as always in your presence. You are my anchor, may my eyes never wander from you.

“You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). In the words of Augustine, “Lord, show me the road I must travel that I may see you.” God’s hand will provide us with not simply pleasure but *eternal* pleasure, and not merely joy but *full* joy. Lord, may I look to you to continually reveal the path that leads to life, for you are the author of joy and pleasure and you alone can provide them fully and eternally.

3. My Words:

The psalmist knew the power of words. He used them to create beautiful poems of praise, to poignantly pierce the soul, to paint glorious pictures of God’s character. Words have the power to build or break, to decimate or make — choose them with wisdom. They flow out of our heart, so if they are a continual struggle go back to number one.

“May these words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord my Rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). May our lips speak nothing that is not true, kind, and profitable. Meditate on what is pleasing to the Lord, because he is the fountain and origin of them, and that’s what should overflow. These sorts of words carry power when offered in the strength of our redeemer, as opposed to our own efforts. Lord, help every word that comes out of my mouth be pleasing to you, and draw others to your strength and your loving salvation.

 “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalms 78:4). Let us be a generation that is faithful in speaking the truths we have been entrusted with, handing them off to the future generations. Not corrupting the truths or using them to fulfill our own agendas, but speaking them in order to draw attention to and advance the works of the Lord so that he might be praised. Not for our own glory, but for his. Lord, may the great things you have done, ever be on my lips!

“I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.'” (Psalms 16:2). God is our good, all of it. Apart from him we have none and we can’t add to his goodness in any way. The entirety of our sin and death can be exchanged for the entirety of his goodness and life, and though our flesh will fight against this daily while we’re here, our redeemed soul can rest in his complete goodness from here until eternity. God, you are the Lord of my life, and every good thing I have is because of you. Help me rest in you as my portion, my hope, and my stay.

4. My Actions

When the world is weighing heavily on my soul, my first instinct is often to retreat. To pull away from the heaviness and stop rowing — forgetting that God’s way is not necessarily ending the storm but giving me the strength to row in my weariness. *He* is our rock and our strength, we needn’t be paralyzed.

Let his love and truth lead to action. Not that we must never rest, but while the world tells us to spend our days caring for ourselves so we’ll have the strength to fight our own battles, God flips that on its head. He tells us to give up our own battles, rest in Christ, and use his strength to fight for and serve others so they can enjoy the rest and peace that we’ve been given. So many are in need of healing and help at this moment and when we purge our pride and our sin, our actions that follow have the potential to bring great glory to God.

 “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:4). Act intentionally in ways that decline and shun the evil that is near in this fallen world, and at the same time, search out good to be done as directed or suggested by God’s word,  in faith and love for the glory of God, and in the strength and grace of Christ. Lord, help me do good for others in ways that will have eternal impact, and seek ways to live peaceably with all — as something worthy to be pursued, not just when it’s offered but when it’s difficult. 

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3). Over and over throughout the psalms, we are reminded that we are the natural protectors under God of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed because they often have no one to defend them. Lord, may I always see that right is done to those who need an advocate. At all times and for all peoples.

“Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me” (Psalm 119:133). As we act, my not just our life but our *daily* life, not just our paths but our *steps* be habitually obedient to God’s will. It’s in these small, seemingly mundane spaces that we can often reflect God’s glory the brightest as we walk with him step-by-step through this life into the next. We have no hope of properly arranging them for his utmost glory, apart from him. Lord, order my steps and kill my sin. May you alone be my ruler.

Spiritual Detox Leads to Life

In the words of Charles Spurgeon:

“Come divine Spirit, and exercise Your cleansing power upon us according to Your promise. … Oh, that everything might help us toward purity, for we crave it. We attend the things of the Spirit, and there is groaning within us to be utterly delivered from the things of the flesh, so that we may be a cleansed temple in spirit, soul, and body, fit for the indwelling of the Holy One of Israel. Lord, help us, we pray, in our daily lives, to be as Christ was. … In all ways, may we seek the good of our fellowmen and the glory of our God.”

While our flesh will never fully stop battling against our redeemed souls in this broken world, the more we live as ones aware of this contention — diligently ready to identify and confess our vices — the more God can use us for his purposes in his glorious battles that always lead to life. A spiritual detox, though potentially difficult at the time, enables us to more clearly hear the Spirit’s voice and see our Savior’s face. Whether in the loud storms, the drenching rains, or those contrary winds, we are able to press on for the prize with Christ in view and excitement in our hearts — pursuing things unseen as we walk in the way of life and our Lord.

 

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The Post-Election Calling of the Church

post-election church

I’m just going to say it, this election has been horrible. And the anger and division and conflict did not magically disappear on Wednesday morning—in a lot of ways it got worse. It has stretched the church in ways I have not seen before. We had the chance to show the world a people with a single alliance and a single purpose to demonstrate our utter need for that alliance, and if we couldn’t figure out how to do that leading up to Tuesday we must figure out how to do that now. In fact, we have one of the biggest opportunities the church has ever had to be the healer and the helper it was designed to be. So many are in need of healing and help at this moment. There haven’t been a whole lot of winners here.

For once we actually have common ground with much of the world on something. They’ve seen in leaders the blatant sin and character flaws that are utterly opposed to the character of God. Don’t waste that. Don’t try to minimize it and shove it under the rug merely because it might weaken some political agenda or give more validity to political alliances we may hold. How many opportunities have we had to rally alongside the world and tell them, “You are right, this is disheartening! This is not the way this world should be and we are sorrowful with you.”

Let’s not throw phrases at them like “God is on his throne!” and “Let’s all pray for our new president!” as a way to illegitimize their fears and shut down conversation. Yes, those things are completely true and bring comfort to God’s children as they rightly should, but not the world—especially when our words are saying that God is all-powerful while our actions are saying that political positions are. Storms are scary and dangerous when you have no anchor of hope; let’s not ignore their cries for help.

Who we’ve been

I fear the church is forsaking their ability to be an influential voice of truth to our culture. There is a great opportunity before us that is lost when our political allegiances are stronger than our heavenly one. We say they’re not but actions and internet comment sections speak louder than words. After shouting at them (and each other) about politics what makes us think they’ll want to stick around to hear our far quieter message of salvation? The church was designed to be the representation of Christ when he left, and our purpose is to carry on his work not to get more votes for our personal political party regardless of what truths they do or do not stand for. While not mutually exclusive, we cannot forget our highest calling or in any way impede the former with the latter.

The danger of the church being entangled in politics is we become complacent and distant which does not lend itself to being a voice of truth. Relying on politics and ballots to fight our battles just makes our functional deism more palatable, as our opinions and Facebook posts far outnumber our prayers. It makes us feel as if we have more control than we do while fooling us into thinking that change requires little cost or effort.

Who God is

As Christians our battle cry should never be to “Make America Great,” as if we’ve learned nothing from Babel: “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name” (Genesis 11:4). We all remember how that ended.

It is God who raises up kings and nations and people like Daniel and Esther and Moses, but never us. It is God who tells his people: “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). As participants in this world who are blessed enough to be able to be involved in our country’s political process, God can use us for his purposes and impact politics, but let’s not pretend like he cannot do it without us. Let’s not pretend we know who will be a Nebuchadnezzar or a Daniel. Let’s not assume America is Israel when we could be Babylon.

Who we could be

As the hands and feet of Christ in this hurting, messed up, politically-charged world we have an enormous opportunity right now to be the salt and the light. We must be both. We can’t be the salt that preserves a decaying world without being the light that leads them to it—anymore than we can be their warmth and comfort while choosing not to provide them with the true solution to their dying. We can be really good at throwing salt because that’s the easiest thing to do from a distance and it costs us little, but the last thing the church should be doing right now is rubbing salt on the open wounds of the world. It is beyond me why we would rather be part of some moral majority that shouts our righteousness and others’ sins from the rooftops, than a loving minority that understands our own depravity apart from Christ and seeks healing for us both. Jesus offended the “established church” far more than he offended sinners.

There is a trend within the church of sacrificing truth for love and this travesty cannot be ignored, but church listen—the worst possible response we could have to this is to forfeit compassion and love. We need to seek the Spirit in this and pray for a real and effective outpouring of love that’s built on a foundation of truth, but we can’t remain at a distance and expect to impact others for eternity. It is not easy or without cost or comfort, but our light could shine so brightly right about now.

Thanks to this tumultuous election season we literally have a list of issues and areas where the world is hurting and in need of help:

  • There are people feeling cheated and lied to—we must display truth and transparency because Jesus is truth (John 8:32; John14:6).
  • There are youth feeling disenfranchised and hopeless—we must find ways to encourage and give them a reason to hope because Jesus is hope (I Peter 1:3; I Thes. 2:19).
  • There are women feeling devalued and victimized—we must figure out how to protect and value them because Jesus valued women in a culture that didn’t (Luke 7:36-50; Luke 13:16; Mark 8:48).
  • There are minorities carrying the weight of prejudice and discrimination who feel that their lives aren’t valued as much as another’s—we must understand how and what we can do to stop this because Jesus sought out the discriminated and fought for their equal worth (Gal. 3:28; James 2:8-9).
  • The LGBT community is feeling ostracized and hurt—we must figure out how to love them so much better in order for there to be healing because Jesus was a friend to the marginalized. Jesus was a healer (Mark 12:31; John 8:7; Rev. 21:4).
  • There are immigrants and refugees feeling oppressed and invisible—we must figure out how to protect them, and help them, and clothe them, and feed them because Jesus was a protector. He cared for the aliens and fed the poor  (James 1:27; Gal. 2:10; Matt. 25:40).
  • There are mothers facing abortion and women fearful of a reality without that option—we must figure out what is creating an environment so broken that a choice like that would be made and how we can improve it as well as care for these mothers because Jesus cares for the weakest—whether an unborn baby or a hurting mama. He is the reason we have nothing to fear (Matt. 18:10; John 14:27; Matt. 11:28).

This is not the first time the church has had to navigate being a light to a dark culture in need. The Christians in fourth century Rome set out to so love and care for those around them—the poor, the refugee, the sexually deviant, the murderers of babies and the disabled, the victimized women—that the pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, had to brainstorm ways to create government programs—not out of need, but out of embarrassment that his people relied on the Christians rather than their government. He complained that their benevolence to strangers, their compassion, and their holiness were causing his people to turn from their pagan Roman gods. He goes on saying:

“These impious Galileans not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. …Then let us not, by allowing others to outdo us in good works…Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity… See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”

Salt and light. Their light of true love and compassion for all drew the world in like hot cakes, while their salt of truth and personal holiness eventually led to the salvation of many.

It wasn’t a voted in leader, or a ballot, or a governmental program, or a new or repealed law that led to change (while all potentially very good things)—they didn’t wait for the government to do what the church was made for. We were made for so much more and our impact should be far greater. Let this nasty, loud, depressing election of 2016 be a turning point for the church. In our love, may we point ourselves and our hurting world to the only source of truth and hope and change.

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Let’s Teach Our Kids ‘Beautiful’

Originally published HERE on www.desiringgod.com

On a recent vacation, I sat on the beach enjoying a sliver of one of those exquisitely designed days: clear sunny sky, warm breeze, the Atlantic Ocean that stunning mix of clear and steel blue.

My four kids were content and un-requiring (for once), so I sunk into my chair to take it all in. Almost immediately, a child walked into the expanse of sand between me and the sea. I watched as he aimlessly wandered up and down the beach, cell phone in hand, eyes squinting at his little screen, completely oblivious to everything around him.

It made me think about parenting — not this particular kid or his particular parents — but my own parenting.

Oblivious to Beauty

Vacations tend to provoke all kinds of ideas about life, work, balance, and everything you want to do differently when you get back. The quietness and loveliness contrasts real life so much it begs for some recalibration. You realize, at some point along the way, you may have started heading the wrong direction.

It hit me as I watched this wandering, distracted kid, mesmerized by a tiny handheld device, oblivious to the glorious beauty stretching in every direction. Are the things I am consistently putting in front of my children helping them see and enjoy God, or are they blocking the view of him? It’s easy to simply focus on what not to put before them, but forget to show them beauty, or forget to teach them about beauty when they’re exposed to it.

Children Learn to See

My one-year-old was new to the beach this year. It wasn’t enough for me to plop her down in the hot sand, and tell her to have fun. I had to teach her how to experience and enjoy the beach — carry her to the water and help her begin to dip her toes in the waves. I had to point out the shells, and show her how to rinse the scratchy sand off her hands.

My five-year-old is a bit further along. She knows how to dig for sand crabs, and points out how the ocean changes shades of blue from day to day. My older boys can now swim out to the sand bar and catch waves. The oldest notices cloud formations, warning me there will likely be an evening storm. They’re each learning to see and savor the beach. Just like I am.

Five Ways to Teach Them Beauty

As I watched this all unfold, I realized how badly I want them to be able to experience and enjoy God. I want them to see him in ways I was oblivious to for such a huge portion of my life. My eyes were glued to lesser things that seemed so big and wonderful at the time, until I finally exchanged the poor shadows and reflections for the true and full source of all beauty.

And yet so easily with my parenting, I slip into rules and lecturing that (in the words of my 10-year-old) “make God sound like a grumpy old man.” I hide the beauty and the wonder.

How do I avoid this? Here are some resolutions I’m working through as a mother.

1. Put before my children what is true and lovely and excellent.

Saturate their lives with God’s word and God’s creation. What I put before them is often more important than what I am not. It’s so easy to surround them with what’s mediocre, flashy, and dumbed-down, and then wonder why they don’t respond to excellence when finally confronted with it.

2. Parent them like God parents me.

Am I parenting from God’s strength and grace, or from my emotions? My ultimate goal should be that my children desire to do what is good and right and excellent because that’s who God is, not just because I say so. Yes, children need to learn obedience and boundaries before they can enjoy freedom, but they are never too young to learn beauty.

3. Teach them and show them how everything points to God.

Teach them about beauty that makes our soul soar, and about ugliness that makes our soul ache. It could be the sunset, or an artistic masterpiece, or Greek mythology with its capricious and temperamental gods, or a musician singing about sorrow or longing, or a movie that make us laugh, or well-written literature about the triumph of good over evil. It all points to God.

And don’t waste the ugliness that ends up before them, because it can make the beauty that much clearer. Point it out if needed, and talk about it with them. The goal isn’t developing cynicism, but identifying truth and valuing beauty. If we’re regularly showing them beauty and excellence, it quickly becomes easier to identify a counterfeit.

We might talk about why an overheard word is wrong, or why acts of violence in our world are so contrary to God’s character, or what that TV commercial is trying to sell us and how. The light shines through far brighter in the darkness. Use discretion, but make sure they understand that it’s the gates of hell that shall not prevail against Christ and his church — not the other way around.

4. Stop relying on someone else to do the majority of this for me.

God has not given this particular job first to teachers, or Christian radio, or even our church. God entrusted these sons and daughters to my husband and me. Teaching them should be a constant, intentional, organic process in our home and outside of it — at times, requiring surprisingly few words.

Point out God’s handiwork in how plants grow and in the beauty of nature. Pray together and often, and about lots of things. Read God’s word, and memorize it together. Lead them to the source. Resist the urge to lecture or package it up into entertaining little child-friendly snippets, while underestimating the power that simply God’s word and his creation can have on a child over time. Let the Holy Spirit work. Allow them to experience the wonder and joy of God as he wants them to see it, not the weariness that can so easily come when I hit them over the head with God’s truth as I want them to see it.

5. Enjoy God in my own life and allow them to witness it.

Don’t focus so much on my children’s souls that I neglect my own. How can I point out beauty to them if I can’t see it myself? Why would they yearn for the joy of knowing God if that joy is not evident in me? My life needs to revolve around Christ, not my children. I can parent far better when my heart is set on him first.

I’m slowly learning this in my own life. I’m learning how to see and savor God in the peaceful moments, as well as in the chaos. But knowing God isn’t a journey we begin once we’ve hit adulthood; it’s one we embark on the second we can see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and touch.

My children belong to God, not to me, and they were created to know and enjoy their Maker in the same way I do. We are on that journey together. My job as their parent is to point them to their Father, teach them to truly see him, and help them grasp their need for a Savior. That is why we teach them “beautiful” — because there is nothing more beautiful than the cross and the One it purchased for us — the One whom every other beautiful thing reflects.

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