By Grace Alone

The real life struggles of a Christian mom

Thorns in the Flesh July 1, 2010

This summer I’m studying “Loving God with All Your Mind” by Elizabeth George with some wonderful friends of mine.  There are many potential blog posts coming out of this book.  This week, our study provided a fresh look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The question asked, “What did Paul ask God to do about [the thorn in his flesh]?”  He pleaded three times for it to be removed.  (Really, just three times?)  The next question asked, “What was God’s response?”  Uh, the answer was a big fat NO.  But there’s more than that.  God’s “no” was that His grace and power were sufficient for Paul as he dealt with this struggle.

There are a few “thorns” in my life right now that I have been pleading with God to remove.  And to be honest, I’ve been a little frustrated that they are still around.  But after studying this passage, I don’t see God being silent about my trials, both self-inflicted and other-inflicted.  I know that if these trials and temptations persist, it is for my good and His glory as He is making me more like Christ.  If that were not the case, He would have removed them.  As I walk through the difficulties, He has promised that His grace is sufficient for each one.

We ask, “Lord, please heal my family member.”

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

We plead, “Lord, please fix my financial difficulties.”

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

We cry, “Lord, please save my unbelieving loved one.”

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I find Paul’s attitude toward God’s graceful “no” to be very convicting.  As I continue in my difficulties, my attitude should not just be tolerating them and getting through them as quickly as possible so I can move on to something happier.  Following Paul’s example, I am called to be content and even boast in my weaknesses and struggles, because they showcase God’s power and goodness.  What a lofty goal . . . one that I could definitely only attain by God’s power and not my own.

 

A Wake-up Call March 14, 2010

Last week, I had the privilege of hearing a very powerful testimony.  “J” and “E” were visiting my church from the mission field in Turkey.  E is a native of Turkey who is working with J, an American, to reach both Turks and Kurds living in Turkey.  Here’s what I’m sure will be an inadequate synopsis of E’s story:

E grew up in an influential family in Istanbul.  At the age of 12, he felt empty and started searching for truth in the holy books of major world religions.  He started with the Koran.  He then read the Old Testament and the New Testament separately, since he had been taught that Jews believed the Old Testament alone, and Christians believed only the New Testament.  He also explored Buddhism, but none if it seemed right.  Finally, he saw a book titled “The Holy Bible” at a bookstore.  The woman working at the bookstore explained to him that Christians believe the Old and New Testaments together.  So he read them again, this time taking note of all the connections between the two, the prophecies made in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New.  At the age of 14, E put his faith in the God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ.  At that point in his life, E had never met another Christian.

E was forced to make difficult choices and suffer for his faith.  He was kicked out of his parents’ house as a teenager because of his faith.  He has been imprisoned for telling others about Christ.  E and J are now ministering to the Kurds, a highly discriminated-against group in Turkey.  For awhile, it was illegal to write, speak or listen to anything in the Kurdish language, Kurmanji.  J and E are trying to provide a way for Kurdish Christians to worship in their own language.  They have held one worship service so far, in the storage room of a church whose pastor was willing to let them meet there.  There is no guarantee that they will continue to be able to meet in that storage room.  It is unusual and unexpected for them to receive any help from the Turks in this endeavor.

After E shared his testimony, he had some tough words for us as we sat comfortably in our pews.  He said the church in America is sleeping and needs to wake up.  He said he doesn’t want to have to send his grandchildren over here to evangelize our grandchildren someday.  And he is absolutely right.

In America, we have the awesome privilege of worshipping in our own language, at our choice of a church, and without fear.  We don’t have to watch the door anxiously, waiting for soldiers or the police to appear.  We have beautiful buildings that are kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  We have facilities for Sunday school classes, youth group meetings, basketball games and yoga classes.  We have extensive children’s ministries, music ministries, Vacation Bible Schools, youth programs, college ministries, and on and on.  And yet the church in America is shrinking every day.  Children who are raised in the church are leaving in droves.

Thinking about E’s words, I am more firmly convinced that the American church at large has put its faith in all the wrong things.  We are trusting in our buildings and our programs.  There is nothing wrong with these things.  They can be used for good.  But that is not where our faith should lie, because on their own, they are powerless to change lives.  The power lies in the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.  E did not grow up in Sunday school.  No one outlined spiritual laws for him or loved him to Jesus.  Again, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these things.  But E’s testimony shows where the true power lies:  in the Gospel of Christ, given to us in the Word of God and made clear to us by the Holy Spirit.

I spend a lot of time worrying about who my kids spend time with now and who they might choose to spend time with when I’m no longer in control of their every waking minute.  I want them at Sunday school, children’s church, Bible study, and Christian schools and preschools.  And E’s testimony didn’t change my mind about that.  But it did remind me that these things are simply tools.  Without God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, these things are powerless to change my children’s hearts.  My own Christian pursuits are also powerless unless I am digging into God’s Word and living by the Spirit.

What are you trusting in:  for yourself, your church, your kids?  Are you attending a church that preaches the Gospel of Christ?  Is His Word preached, or is it an accessory in the worship service?  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  Romans 1:16.

 

Wasted Suffering February 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 10:10 pm
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A few weeks ago in BSF, we studied the raising of Lazarus in John 11.  Although the miracle of raising a dead man is powerful, I found the words and actions of Christ prior to going to Bethany just as impactful.  When Jesus receives word that his beloved friend is gravely ill, He replies, “This illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (verse 4).  Then the Scripture says that Jesus loved Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus very much, so when He heard Lazarus was ill, He stayed where He was for two more days (verses 5-6).  From that tiny word “so,” we must infer that Jesus’ delay (and therefore Lazarus’ death) was somehow for the good of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

In the BSF study notes for this passage, the author writes that in this miracle, God’s glory was revealed in a way that blessed all those who witnessed it.  Of course, Mary, Martha and Lazarus were blessed in a special way, and in a way they would not have experienced if Jesus had come immediately and healed Lazarus before he died.  The same is true of the suffering in our lives.  In every trial, there is a unique blessing for the believer, an opportunty for God to be glorified, and an opportunity for other believers to be encouraged by our response of trusting God even in hardship.  I learned in the BSF notes that suffering can be wasted, or it can be used to glorify God and seek the blessing He will give in that trial.

Shortly after reading this lesson, our entire family was sick.  Nothing serious, but enough to put me out of commission for three days and send us to the pediatrician multiple times in a span of 12 days.  As I lay in bed with body aches and a pounding head, my BSF lesson on wasted suffering came to mind.  Although I knew my sinus infection was a very minor hardship, I realized that not even minor suffering should be wasted.  I started to look for ways that God was blessing our family during our illness.  And God showed me several ways.  I gave thanks to God for the snow and ice that kept my husband home from work, because I never would have made it without him.  I gained renewed compassion for people who are ill.  My appreciation and love for my husband grew as I watched him take care of the kids on his own and spend quality time with them while I was sick.

I can’t tell you I spent those three days smiling toward Heaven, singing praise songs and meditating on God’s goodness.  I did plenty of complaining and feeling sorry for myself and wishing things were different.  Looking back, I can see that the difference between the moments of wasting the suffering and not wasting the suffering was a matter of my focus.  When my eyes were on myself and my misery, I moaned and groaned and complained.  When my eyes were on God and His glory, I could see the ways He was blessing and providing for me and my family.

I don’t share this out of pride.  I don’t think that having a few moments of thankfulness in the midst of a sinus infection is anything to boast about.  But I’m thankful that God provided this small test, an opportunity to apply and reinforce what I’m learning in His Word.  I want God to be glorified by my life, no matter what the circumstances.  I don’t want to waste opportunities to learn more about God’s character and draw closer to my Savior.  Even if that means seeing the good in a really, really runny nose.

 

A New Life Verse July 30, 2009

I think I have found my “Life Verse.”  I’ve never had a life verse before, but I know people who do.  The verses are usually very inspirational, something along the lines of reaching the nations or future generations for God.  Good stuff, really.  My favorite verse thus far is Romans 8:1, but it didn’t seem to fall into the Life Verse category.

But a couple of weeks ago when I was doing my Bible study (an awesome study of God’s attributes which deserves many, many blog posts that I don’t currently have time to write), I came across a verse I’ve never noticed before:

2 Chronicles 20:12:  We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

Some context for those of you who don’t have 2 Chronicles memorized:  King Jehoshaphat and the Israelites are watching multiple nations of enemies coming against them in battle.  They know there is no way they can defeat this multitude.  Jehoshaphat calls the people together, and they cry out to the Lord, asking what they should do.  It specifically mentions that they are all standing before the Lord, along with their wives and children.   Can you imagine this picture?  Standing there, clutching your children to you, watching the enemy come, knowing you are powerless against them and crying out to the Lord for help.  (To see how it ends, see 2 Chronicles 20.)

This has definitely become my Summer Verse, if not my Life Verse.  For one thing, this verse is very easy to memorize.  It rhymes and has lots of 2’s in the reference.  And if there is one theme in my life right now, it is that I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how to encourage my 5-year-old to not become a prideful Pharisee who craves approval and does all the right things only when someone is watching.  (It takes one to know one, and that kid is just like me.)  I don’t know how to encourage my 3-year-old to put his poop in the potty rather than in his pants.  And I certainly don’t know how to encourage my sister-in-law as she battles the most formidable enemy we’ve faced in a long time:  breast cancer.

I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on the One who is my refuge and strength, an very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).  He promises His perfect wisdom is ours for the asking. (James 1:5).  He hems me in, behind and before, and lays His hand upon me (Psalm 139:5).  When my eyes are on Him, I can choose to be overwhelmed by His love and goodness toward me, rather than being overwhelmed by my circumstances.  (With thanks to my summer Bible study leader for this last thought.)

I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on You.

 

My Complaining Heart March 2, 2009

The Israelites are at it again.  Grumbling, that is.  A recurring theme in our BSF study of the Life of Moses this year is how the Israelites continue to grumble and complain in spite of all the wonderful things God has done for them.  Last week, we studied Numbers 11, in which the Israelites once again complain about the manna God is miraculously providing for food each day.  In our lecture, our teaching leader said that we often think we have the right to tell everyone how we are feeling at all times, especially if we are unhappy about something.

She might as well have been talking directly to me.  Even with the sinfulness of complaining being pointed out to me again and again in this study, I still struggle with a complaining heart.  I definitely think everyone around me needs the full story whenever something is bothering me, and there are plenty of things that bother me.  I have to admit, one of the things I look forward to when my husband gets home from work is being able to unload on him all the hardships of my day.  The complaining heart rears its head over and over again.  And Numbers 11 reminds me that each time I complain, I am sinning and even rejecting the Lord and His provision for me (verse 20).

And then there’s the fact that I’m 31 weeks pregnant with my third child.  Those of you who have walked in my shoes know exactly how this could lead to some complaining–complaining that even seems justified until you look at it through God’s holy eyes.  When I first heard the BSF lecture on complaining last week, I thought, “People ask me how I’m feeling all the time.  How am I supposed to answer honestly without complaining?”  Our teaching leader pointed out that God desires our gratitude, regardless of our circumstances.  I need to ask God to take away my complaining heart and replace it with a grateful one.

At first, I just aimed for outward change with regard to complaining.  My husband may not have noticed much change yet–sorry, honey, I’m working on it–but I have tried to answer the “how are you feeling?” questions with less complaining and more thankfulness.   Instead of cataloging every ache and pain for everyone who asks, I try to say I am mostly feeling good and thankful to be having a healthy pregnancy.

As I’ve made this outward change, I’ve noticed that there has been an inward change going on as well.  The aches and pains don’t bother me as much anymore.  They are simply reminders that God has given me the privilege of carrying this baby girl for 31 weeks, and that she is active and growing.

I still have work to do in this area . . . it is hardest to not complain to those I am closest to and other favorite topics of complaining that I need to deal with.  There is a fine line between being honest about my struggles and complaining.  While I want to be open and honest, I also want to glorify God with my speech and not grumble about any of the gifts He has given me–including my kids, my husband, his job, our home, and our finances.

The REAL test will come in 2 months when the baby comes and people ask, “How are you doing?  Are you getting any sleep yet?”  I better start asking God now to show me how to be thankful for sleep that comes in 2 hour increments!

 

Lessons from Leviticus February 12, 2009

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 6:30 pm
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Leviticus? Seriously?  I never thought I’d write a blog post about Leviticus.  I should have seen it coming when I started the BSF study of the life of Moses, Exodus through Deuteronomy.  (I suppose there is a post on Numbers coming soon.)  I don’t think I’ve ever studied Leviticus, other than a random reference here and there in other Bible studies.  But as always happens with God’s Word, there are great lessons there.  Here are a few that were especially meaningful to me:

In Leviticus 8, we were studying about the consecration of tabernacle and the priests.  Our lesson asked the question, “Is there some area of your life that has not been consecrated (set apart) to the Lord?”  This question was very convicting to me, and I wanted to write, “Is there an area of my life that HAS been consecrated to the Lord?”  But I tried to narrow down some key areas that have not been dedicated to God like they should and came up with my perceived control over my life and the way I spend my time and money.  I’ve been thinking lately about how I can truly consecrate these areas to the Lord.

In Leviticus 10, we read the troubling story of two of Aaron’s sons being burned up by God because they did not follow the commandments He had given them about sacrifices in the tabernacle.   Our lessons often ask us what we learned about God’s character or attributes from the passage.  This chapter showed me how serious disobedience (sin) is in God’s eyes.  We know from elsewhere in Scripture that our sin is deserving of death, and Aaron’s sons got what they deserved.  It showed me how great God’s mercy to me is–I have not gotten what I deserve.  I have done much worse things than what Aaron’s sons did.  And not only has God not burned me up on the spot, He sent His Son to take the punishment for all my sin that I might have eternal life.

In an overview of Leviticus, we read various passages where God gives the Israelites instructions about how to offer the various sacrifices He required.  The lesson talked about how each of the sacrifices cost the worshiper something.  It pointed to 2 Samuel 24:24, where David says he will not offer something to the Lord that cost him nothing.  This was another convicting point for me.  What have I sacrificed to God at a great cost?  I volunteer in the church nursery once every three months, and that costs me very little.  I am also leading the children’s choir, which carries a greater cost, and most of the time I don’t have a great attitude about that cost.  My financial giving should be more sacrificial–am I truly giving something up that I want in order to give sacrificially, or am I giving what is left over?  Contemplating the true meaning of sacrifice has changed my perspective about my service and giving to the Lord.

I also liked Leviticus 19:9-10 where God commands the Israelites not to harvest their fields all the way to the edges or strip their vineyards bare.  They are to leave some for the poor and for travellers.  This made me think about how I use my resources.  When I know we have some extra money coming, I know we will tithe on it, but I usually have the rest of it spent, at least mentally, before it hits the checking account.  And, apart from this commandment, it would be my right to use it as my husband and I decided.  But in this commandment, God is telling His people not to consume all that they have a right to consume.  I think this principle applies to me as well.  I want to be more intentional about leaving some crops  around the edges in a 21st-century sense . . . stashing some away for needs that arise so we are able to meet the needs of others.

 

The 10 Commandments and Christmas December 15, 2008

A few weeks ago, we studied the 10 Commandments in BSF.  Since I have been a Christian for a long time, I am pretty familiar with the 10 Commandments.  I have also studied Jesus’ explanation of some of the commandments in Matthew 5, which points out that these commandments are not just about our external behavior, but also about our heart attitudes.  But this time around, I was even more convicted about different ways in which I break the 10 Commandments, and how meditating on the 10 Commandments at this time of year emphasizes the importance of the work Christ came to do for me.

I would challenge anyone to convince me that they have kept the 10 Commandments.  I’ve certainly broken all of them:  I have put other people and things before God, I have failed to worship God rightly, I have misused His name, I have failed to keep the Sabbath day holy, I have definitely dishonored my father and mother (hello, adolescence!–and beyond), I have hated others, lusted, taken what does not belong to me, lied, and coveted.  Even if you set aside Jesus’ discussion of some of these commandments and take them all purely at face value (e.g., believing that if you have not murdered someone or bowed down to a golden idol, you have not broken those 2 commandments), you have admit–that 10th commandment about not coveting anything that belongs to your neighbor has got you, doesn’t it?

I have heard some Christians say that the 10 Commandments do not apply to us.  They are from the Old Testament, the old covenant–now we are under grace, not under the law.  I disagree.  Jesus said, ““Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).  And so if God requires us to keep the 10 Commandments, and if we all have to admit we haven’t done it, then we have a problem.

However, God, in His goodness and grace, not only gives us His law, but He is the one to remedy the situation when we fail to keep it.  God became man and dwelt among us, not only to teach us and heal us, but to live the perfect life that we could not live.  We cannot keep these commandments; Jesus Christ kept them perfectly, and He bore the punishment for our law-breaking on our behalf.  This truth gives us just one more reason to rejoice this Christmas!  Christ came to die for us, and He also came to live for us, to keep the law perfectly for us.

I think this is also an important point to teach our children.  When they sin, we can remind them of the One who was without sin.  Jesus obeyed His parents perfectly.  Jesus did not sin in His anger.  (I wish the Bible told us that Jesus ate his peas, it would really help me out!)  His perfection qualified Him to pay the penalty for our children’s disobedience, and it is important for them to understand that.  The baby Jesus was born to die for them, and also to live for them.  Their obedience should not be motivated by Santa’s list or by an elf on the shelf (no offense to those of you with elves on your shelves), but by gratitude to God for what He has done for us in Christ Jesus.  O come let us adore Him!