Grace in the Grocery Aisle

Woman in Grocery StoreI hate grocery shopping.  Hate is a strong word.  Do I really hate grocery shopping?  Let me think about it . . . YES.

I don’t know what it is about grocery shopping that I deplore.  Maybe it’s figuring out menus, lists, etc.  Maybe it’s the wearisome monotony of walking the same aisles week after week.   Maybe it’s how it invades my valuable Saturday afternoons. Whatever it is . . . I disdain it.

One afternoon I headed off to the grocery store with a list in my hand and an over-sized, pity-party, life-is-miserable attitude in my heart.  I was exhausted, ticked off, and ready to quit.  I was sick and tired of taking care of everyone else, but never having time for me.  Me.  Me.  Me.

My frustration did not abate as I shopped.  It grew.  That grocery shopping trip was the last straw.  As I angrily stomped down the aisles and threw food into my overflowing shopping cart, defiant complaints overflowed my heart.  I’m so exhausted.  I never get a break.  There’s no end in sight.  There’s no way I can do all that my family needs me to do.  I have nothing left to give.  I can’t wait for the day when all this is over.

Then it happened.  Grace struck.

My kind and ever-patient Savior took me by the scruff of my stiff neck and directed my attention toward someone other than myself.  As I approached the check-out stand, I saw an elderly woman in her eighties.  She inched along slowly as if each step was painful.  Her cardigan sweater and elastic-waist pants hung loosely on her bent frame.  Her shopping cart served as her support, and wrinkles and age spots were visible from a distance.  But, what really caught my attention was the contents of her cart.

There wasn’t much.  Some lunch meat and a cheap loaf of bread.  A couple apples in a plastic bag.  A single quart of milk.  A small box of cookies.  That was it.

I stared at her cart and then looked at mine.  It takes a lot to feed a family of five, and the contrast couldn’t have been greater.  My shopping cart screamed to others that my house was full.  Her cart whispered to me that it would not always be this way.  Before me stood a woman who I imagined once pushed a cart like mine, and in an instant I realized that someday I would push a cart like hers.

My anger and discontent immediately dissipated and were replaced with tears of conviction.  This never-ending work and toil is not because of a curse, but because of a blessing!  I have children in my home, but one day they will be gone.  They will have moved on, and oh, how I will long for the days of a full shopping cart.

Proverbs 14:4 reads, “Where there are no oxen the stable is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”  If a farmer does not have oxen, he will have a sweet-smelling and orderly stable, but he will not have the benefits the oxen bring.  If I didn’t have children, my life would also be sweet-smelling and orderly, but I would not have the blessed, full life they bring.

Weary mother, it was God’s grace in the grocery aisle that arrested my attention and reminded me that my sacrificial life as a mother is a gift—not just to my children, but to me.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

Psalm 127:3-5

 

He Is Building a Palace

palace“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”  (Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis)

Have you ever been on a construction site for a new home?  It can be pretty ugly.  While walking through an unfinished building, it’s hard for homeowners to imagine exactly how their home will look when they finally are handed the keys. But when that day arrives, they breathe a sigh of relief.  Their new home is absolutely beautiful.

You and I are under construction, and it can be ugly, too. Changes need to be made. Habitual sins need to be hammered. A self-righteous heart needs to be drilled. A view of God needs to be expanded. It hurts. These changes aren’t simply made by adding a fresh coat of paint. These changes often come through pain. Ripping. Pushing. Pulling. Dragging. Nailing.

Oh, but there is hope.  Not a wishing hope.  Rather, a true, rock-solid hope.  It is a sure hope that stands on the promise of God spoken by Paul, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)  God is changing us.  Building us.  Sanctifying us.  He won’t stop until the job is done.  By His free grace, He has made us new creations and has set us apart to be holy, and now He is working in our sinful hearts to change us so that we will love righteousness and hate our sin.  Throughout this life we will grow less sinful and more obedient to Him, and in heaven God’s sanctifying work in our lives will be complete.  But, like walking through a home under construction, it’s difficult to imagine the finished product.

Take heart for you are in the hands of the Master Builder.  His skill is flawless, and His plans are perfect.  You will be made complete.  When that day arrives, you will breathe a sigh of relief.  You will be absolutely beautiful.

The Gift of Peace

Got peace? This December, you won’t find peace stacked on store shelves waiting to be purchased. You will not find peace tucked away among your home’s decorations nor sitting around your family’s holiday table. But, peace is available to you. True, lasting peace. This post seemed to resonate with readers last year, so I am re-posting it for those who may have not read it. I wish you a Merry Christmas . . . with Peace.

Women Walking Wisely

christmas-presents1_thumbFifteen years ago this week we lost our first child.  Twelve weeks of morning sickness and multiple tests and ultrasounds told us that someone was there.  Struggling, but there.  Finally, in the doctor’s office on Christmas Eve,  there was a steady heartbeat.  In the same office the morning after New Year’s Day, there was none.

I haven’t thought of our unborn child for some time, but I was reminded today—twice.

This morning in church, along with Christmas carols, we sang a song about restoration—how God turns our mourning into dancing.  As I sang, I thought of how God made those lyrics a reality in my own life this very week a decade and a half ago.  In January 1997 I was struck with unexpected sadness, but I was also strengthened with unexpected grace.  In the midst of our loss, God gave a gift of indescribable peace—a sober joy—to walk…

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Love Divine

Timeline-Of-Napoleon-BonaparteI experienced a rather strange convergence this week:  Napoleon, Ravi Zacharias, and I John.  Huh?  I’ll explain.

First, yesterday my twins were having a discussion in the back seat of our van about . . . Napoleon.  Really?  Yes.  It started with, “Mommy, is Napoleon in heaven?”  The other jumped in, “Of course not!!  He was a horrible man and left his army in Egypt!”  Really?  Yes, he did.

Second, last night I told my husband about the kids’ conversation and he directed me to the following quote about Christ by Napoleon found in Ravi Zacharias’ book Jesus Among Other Gods (p. 149).  I’ll include it in a moment, but for now, on to I John.

Third, this morning during our family devotions we were in I John and discussing love–the love of God for us which leads to our love for others.  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiaion for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (I John 4:7-11).  It is the love of God that saves us from the penalty and rule of sin.  In Christ, we are now free to sacrificially love as He has loved us.

So, back to Napoleon . . .

After a lifetime of seeking to conquer the world with an iron fist, Napoleon realized that his conquests–and the means of his conquests–were infinitely inferior to Christ’s conquest of humanity through Divine Love.  Napoleon was right, Jesus rules like no other Man for Jesus loves like no other Man.

When exiled on the rock of St. Helena, Napoleon called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, “Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?” The count declined to answer, and Napoleon responded,

Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than a man. I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Reread.  Think.  And ponder the love of our Great God.

A Widow, Osteen, and Piper: The Gospel in Focus

telescope-sam-1This morning I shared a cup of tea with an elderly widow from my church.  Later, I caught a few minutes of a Victoria Osteen sermon.  This evening I happened upon a two-minute John Piper video.

The widow told me how she found comfort and purpose in knowing Jesus when her husband suddenly passed away ten years ago.

Victoria Osteen told me that I will find comfort and purpose when I think positive thoughts, say good things, replace what doesn’t work in life with what does work (huh?), be determined in all I do, believe that my miracle is right around the corner, and focus on realizing my hopes and dreams—getting the best in life for me. . . me . . . me.

John Piper told me that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him—in the midst of loss, not prosperity.”

The widow and John Piper pointed me to Christ and his glorious Gospel.  Victoria Osteen didn’t.

The widow’s singular, trusting love for her Savior and Piper’s articulate, passionate cry against the false prosperity “gospel” of our day could not have more dramatically highlighted how irrelevant, corrupt, and dangerous Osteen’s message is.  It is irrelevant in that her message has nothing to do with biblical spirituality, corrupt in that it is a complete distortion of the Gospel, and dangerous in that it propogates a self-absorbtion that leads many down the broad road to destruction.

I began my day gleaning from the beautiful and simple life-long faith of a woman who has known the Lord for over seventy years.  Her life has been marked by both suffering and blessing.  She has learned the secret of being content in plenty or in want: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  She told me that Jesus is her everything.  She has walked the road of loss and found Him to be her All.

On the other hand, after listening to Osteen, apparently getting the good life is everything.  The focus of her gospel is not Jesus, but rather on self and what one hopes to attain by mixing a bit of “faith” with good ol’ gumption—favorable feelings, possessions, and circumstances.  Where is the Christ to be adored?  Where is the Christ to be served?  Where is the Christ to be worshiped?

Here is the short Piper video I came across this evening.  I won’t try to restate what he communicates so well, but what I will say is this:  Tonight I give thanks for the faithful example of a widow and the poignant words of a preacher that have put the Gospel in proper focus—on Christ—and have spurred me on to love and adore Him all the more.   And tonight, as I lay my head down, I will be asking these questions:  Whom do I love above all else?  Who is the center of my world?  Who is the focus of my faith?  Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

When Sparrows Fall

sparrow back in handThis past week one of my closest friends sent me a link to a sermon from Matthew 10:28-31, “When Sparrows Fall,” given several months ago by her pastor, Britt Merrick, at Reality Church in Carpenteria, California.  I listened to it alone one night, and then I shared it with my husband a couple days later.  It was such a needed and powerful encouragement to both of us that I want to share it with you, too.

After a leave of absence from the pulpit for ten months, Pastor Merrick shares with his congregation the lessons he learned as his eight-year-old daughter, Daisy, continued to battle cancer.  During his sabbatical from the ministry, Merrick learned that in his darkest hours, the question to ask was not “Why?”, but rather “Who?”  Speaking from experience, but even more importantly speaking from the Word of God, he genuinely and passionately offers the hope and encouragement that is only found in the presence of our heavenly Father. 

Are you in a dark hour?  Are your trials (in the family, work, ministry, or your own heart) so heavy and heartbreaking that you cannot seem to find your way? Remember what Jesus said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Please listen . . . and find Rest for your weary soul.

Discerning Truth from Error

erase_errorsHave you ever read a Christian book, and something about it made you feel uneasy, but you couldn’t tell exactly what the problem was?

Have you ever heard a Christian speaker, and something about her message seemed “off,” but you weren’t sure what was wrong with what she said?

Has a friend or spiritual leader recommended a Christian book, devotional, or bible study, and you want to “check it out” to know if it is truly biblical and spiritually profitable?

How is one to know?  How is one to discern between truth and error among the myriad of Christian resources and media that bombard women in the Church today?

There is no short-cut answer.  We must be women of the Word.  We must not only read, meditate upon, and memorize the Bible.  We must study it.  We must be like the Bereans of old who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  We must heed Paul’s plea with Timothy to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).  Like a jeweler who is so very familiar with the “real thing” that “fakes” are easily identified, we also must become thoroughly acquainted with Scripture so that error is quickly detected—and denied.

I have found these two items helpful for learning to discern truth from error:

1.  Questions to Help You Discern Truth from Error.  This list of twelve questions written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss draws attention to the most important issues to consider when discerning Christian books and other resources.  It’s a very helpful list to print and keep near your own stack of books or to share with a friend.

2.  The New How to Study Your Bible or Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days.  If you want to learn how to study the Bible for yourself without taking a seminary course, I highly recommend these two books by Kay Arthur.  Her faithful and accessible Bible study methods will help you gain a thorough understanding of Scripture.  As you prayerfully study Scripture, you will grow in your ability to personally discern truth from error.

If we are His children and are abiding in His Word, we can be confident that God is teaching and sanctifying us.  Jesus prayed for us, “Sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).  With His Word and by His Spirit, He is transforming our hearts and minds to reflect His own.

Have you ever experienced a major change of understanding about God or His Word?  What passage(s) of Scripture did He use to teach or transform you?  What was the error you left behind, and what was the truth you found?