Because His Love is Better

“He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?” —Psalm 147:16-17

dsc_0831x

Some days the complaints about winter weather pile up faster than snowflakes around here. Grumbling comes easy when the outside air hurts my face and my hands are dry, cracked and bleeding. Weariness and discontentment can deepen as I clear the driveway and sidewalk.

dsc_0800x

But someone has kindly pointed me to Psalm 63. And the words in verse 3? They melt me.

“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

Can my dry, chapped lips glorify God while they grumble and complain about the cold and snow He sends?

Can my heart truly believe that His steadfast love is better than life? Why does my heart doubt His goodness in sending the weather?

dsc_0816x

“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.”

I put on these words and wear them close, like a layer of Under Armor insulating my prone-to-wander heart.

Then I take a walk in the fresh snow.

dsc_0813x

I stop now and then to take a picture. Fresh air and photography help me re-focus my heart and be more watchful of His goodness, His grace, His love. Each beautiful flake of snow is worthy of pondering closely.

dsc_0803x

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

cropped-dsc_0811x.jpg

God is always good and His steadfast love endures, even the thermometer reads -31 degrees F like that Sunday morning back in December.  And even when it’s -31 degrees, I can still be thankful and trust the One who sends that cold. Because the One who sends the cold, He is the One who provides what I need to keep warm. Warm socks, hot tea, fire in the fireplace. He provides. And His love never fails.

dsc_0799x

“For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, His mighty downpour.” Job 37:6

cropped-dsc_0828e.jpg

dsc_0807x

“By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.” Job 37:10

dsc_0782x

Another day I walk across the lake. And walking on water, albeit frozen, tests my faith. I’m inclined to question every step, but God reminds me to trust Him.

“Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love, for in You I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8

Trust builds with each thank-You prayer. So I thank Him for the sunshine and fresh air. I thank Him for a quiet morning. I thank Him for guiding me step by step.

dsc_0781

In the marsh, the cattails capture a soft, shiny glow in their fluff.

dsc_0787x

dsc_0795x

And there on the frozen lake the light catches on the flakes, and the snow sparkles — as if someone has scattered little diamonds across it, shiny little treasures waiting to be found.

dsc_0783x

“Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.” Psalm 63:3

psalm63graphic

Alive in the Spirit

tozerbookdsc_0769x

“I cannot start a Reformation like Martin Luther did. However, I can have within me the same Spirit that drove him in that direction. It is the Holy Spirit that we need in our midst today.” -A.W. Tozer, Alive in the Spirit

In his never-before-published book titled Alive in the Spirit, A.W. Tozer encourages Christians to study church history and learn about the women and men on whose shoulders our faith stands.

“…it is imperative that we read and understand our past,” Tozer argues. “If we do not understand our past, we will never fully comprehend our future. What God has done in the past is what He will do for us today…If I do not know what He has done, how can I have faith for what He will do for me today?”

One of the most-honored figures in church history is Martin Luther. And this year, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by Luther, who protested the teachings of the Catholic Church by nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

These ninety-five theses, and nearly all of Luther’s other works, proclaim Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and point to God’s gift of salvation by grace through faith, not through works or indulgences as the church leaders of his day were teaching.

At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther said before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils…My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything.”

A few weeks ago at our local art museum, I saw the touring exhibit “Martin Luther: Art and Reformation,” which features many historical objects, artwork and artifacts from the 1500s. Along with my daughters and three of our dear friends, I beheld dozens of remarkable items: an early copy of the ninety-five theses that was widely distributed during Luther’s day, woodcuts by German painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer, and a cooking pot used in Luther’s boyhood home until it was buried in a heap of plague-infected household items. Most remarkable to me were the stunning gotha altar, a wooden window seat from Luther’s home, and the habit of an Augustinian monk.

Because the exhibit hall was overly crowded and uncomfortably warm, it was difficult to maneuver through the museum and fully ponder the historical significance of each artifact on display. And since my cell phone battery had died, I didn’t capture a single image of this memorable experience. But what I took away was meaningful nonetheless and quite beyond what my camera could have captured anyway.

Focusing on all of Luther’s notable accomplishments as a writer, translator, hymn composer, professor, theologian and pivotal figure in the Protestant Reformation, Luther seems larger than life. But after studying some of his personal belongings and even some letters he wrote by hand, I began to see a much more humble and human side of him. He was, after all, a man of flesh and blood. He sat at a table to eat and write, he sat at a window seat to pray and meditate, and he sat before people who misunderstood him, misunderstood Scripture and misunderstood Jesus’ finished work on the cross.

lutherbooksdsc_0760x

So where did this simple man get such a mighty vision of the righteousness of God and the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus? What provoked him to protest and boldly debate the church leadership, refusing to accept its authority? What fueled his work of translating the Scriptures into German and writing powerful hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God?”

In his biography Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland H. Bainton says, “Luther did the work of more than five men.”

How is that even possible?

Having just read Tozer’s book about experiencing the presence and power of God through the Holy Spirit, I am convinced that Luther was alive in the Spirit. Surely he was prompted, encouraged and empowered by the Holy Spirit as he acted in response to the living and active Word of God, particularly the Psalms and the book of Romans.

“Whenever God gets ahold of someone who is totally surrendered and one He can trust, God begins His work,” Tozer writes. “The quality of the work is not so much in the individual as it is in the individual possessed by God.”

Certainly Luther acted in obedience to God, but perhaps we give Luther too much credit as an individual and the Holy Spirit too little credit for Luther’s work.

Tozer explains that “…it is the Holy Ghost’s business to witness to the person and works and words of Jesus and confirm that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.” And likewise, Luther’s work confirmed Jesus as Christ and reinforced His works and words.

Tozer says that God has chosen to work within “the confines of His redeemed people” but is not restricted by the limits of human ability.

“God does not work within the confines of our strength; God works according to His character and nature and power,” he says.

Near the end of his life, Luther was not thrilled when his friends began gathering up his works for publication. He was willing to let much of it go because, “what mattered most was nothing that he had done but what God had done for him,” says Mark A. Noll in Invitation to the Classics.

Boldly proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to the world around us, just as Luther did, is what the Holy Spirit empowers Christians to do, Tozer says. And so it is imperative that those who follow Christ are aligned with God and His will as revealed in His Word by the Holy Spirit.

“The Bible gives us the power to do and to witness. We are to tell what we have seen, heard, felt and experienced. It all centers on the person of Christ,” he says.

“Our faith,” he concludes, “does not rest upon nor depend upon historical evidence, but upon the invisible presence witnessing to the inner life and our response to that voice.”

NOTE: Often quoted and frequently referred to as a “modern-day prophet,” A.W. Tozer, like Luther, was a theologian, pastor and author. He lived from 1897 to 1963. As an authority on Tozer’s ministry, Rev. James L. Snyder compiled and edited a series of Tozer’s sermons to create this book about the Holy Spirit. Although the content comes from sermons given many decades ago, the book is quite relevant for followers of Jesus today. To equip me for this review, Bethany House Publishers provided a free copy of the book.

 

 

 

 

 

The Trees Sing for Joy

000dsc_0671x

Whether we’re driving to town or just peering out the front door, the phrase I say and hear over and over lately is “Oh, wow! Look at THAT tree!”

000dsc_0658x

The sun splashes its light, and the leaves glow warm shades of golden yellow, fiery red and blazing orange. Take a short walk on a fall day and you can’t help but stumble into the endless gallery of God’s gorgeous handiwork.

All this color in the trees brings me joy because it is the work of His fingers. He is an amazing Artist. And so as I say my joyful “Oh, wow!” the vibrantly colored trees seem to sing out in response, “Yes, God is amazing!”

000dsc_0664x

Joy is the art of God, says author Ann Voskamp. Let us praise the Artist for His joy-giving work. Let us receive the gift with thanks and acknowledge the Giver. To Him be the glory forever.

000dsc_0667x

“All beauty is only a reflection. And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see that it’s Him and not the thing?” -Ann Voskamp

 

 

Watchful and Thankful

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” 

-Colossians 4:2

000dsc_0075

On this beautiful October day, I am thanking God for all the evidence of His glory that surrounds us in nature and for the many gifts He’s given this past week.

I am thankful for a quiet hike through the woods.

000dsc_0013

I am thankful for the leaves above glowing all golden in the warm sunshine.

000dsc_0071

I am thankful for the leaves below that softly crunch as our boots shuffle through them.

000dsc_0084

I am thankful for the cute pair of just-the-right-size rain boots a dear friend gave to my youngest.

000dsc_0082

I am thankful for the cheerful Black-Eyed Susans still in bloom.

000dsc_0089

I am thankful for the fallen tree that makes a good resting spot.

000dsc_0078

I am thankful for the little collection of leaves my oldest carefully gathers up to treasure.

000dsc_0083

I am thankful for the lemon-verbena that smells oh-so delightful.

000dsc_0038

I am thankful for the dazzling dahlias in bloom.

000dsc_0112

000dsc_0101

000dsc_0093

000dsc_0097

Oh, the dahlias make me smile big!

000dsc_0106

I am thankful for bright orange pumpkins and bright-eyed girls with big smiles, too.

000dsc_0026

I am thankful for our annual family outing to the apple orchard.

000dsc_0941

000dsc_0978

I am thankful for the girls’ favorite wagon, Lacie, and all the memories it holds.

000dsc_0954

I am thankful for the delicious harvest of apples to fill our pies and dumplings.

000dsc_0955

I am thankful for the pumpkin patch nearby and determined pursuers of perfect pumpkins.

000dsc_1007

000dsc_1004

I am thankful for God’s amazing creation and how it points to His goodness and glory.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17

 

Finding God in the Hard Times

DSC_0403x

One Sunday morning 11 summers ago, I stood in the auditorium with our church family singing together the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt and Beth Redman. I shuddered with fear when we sang the boldest line, “You give and take away, My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name.”

Did I really believe this? Would my heart trust God with this tiny person growing inside me? I knew that God had given her to me, but what if He chose to do the unthinkable? What if He chose to take her away before she was even born? Would I still be able to bless His name? And would I continue to trust Him with the sweet but fidgety little two-year-old blonde that my husband held beside me as we sang? What did it really mean to bless God’s name anyway?

DSC_0928x

Looking back over the last decade, I see God’s faithfulness as our family has walked down various roads marked with suffering, trouble and loss. In His great grace and faithfulness, God has blessed me with the gift and responsibility of being a helpmate for my husband and mothering these two precious girls, now ages 10 and 13.

DSC_0368x

Through every phase of family life, God continues to teach me what it means to trust Him with all my heart in the hard times. He continues to show me how to be watchful and thankful and how to praise Him for every blessing He pours out. And God continues to minister to me through the words of Matt Redman’s music and writing.

Earlier this spring I was delighted to hear that Matt and Beth Redman have just published a second edition book called Finding God in the Hard Times: Choosing to Trust and Hope When You Can’t See the Way. It’s a concise book, only 123 pages, but it’s powerfully written.

Each of the five chapters is titled with a phrase directly from the lyrics of the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name,” and each chapter is reinforced with many quotes from Scripture as well as three brief but meaningful questions for reflection. The book is an excellent resource for individual study or for a five-session group study because the appendix features a discussion guide for small groups and a complete listing of Bible references for further meditation.

DSC_0404x

One of the things I like best about this book is how it is both inspiring and practical. For example, in the first chapter the Redmans write about what they call “spiritual motion sickness,” which they describe as “living in the tension of what we think we know to be true, and the deep pain that seems to contradict it.” Pointing to truths in Lamentations 3 and Psalm 13, they offer these wise and practical remedies for building your faith and fanning the flames of worship when you’re in such an unpleasant condition:

“The key is to reinforce what deep down you know to be true, by adding extra revelation. Spiritually speaking, roll down the window and stick your hand out. Open the Bible and feed upon the truths of God and His faithfulness. Strengthen your understanding of His ways as you read. Find encouragement in the lives of those who chose to trust His power, grace, and purpose amidst their darkest hours. Look over His track record in your own life and in the lives of those you know to love Him. See how often He has poured out the oil of kindness in times of trouble. How on many occasions He has rescued seemingly at the last possible moment — or turned around something that at the time seemed like it could never lead to fruitfulness… The discipline of remembering helps us keep a grip on hope and find our way on the paths of praise… Remembering releases rejoicing.”

This is a book I will likely re-read, and I anticipate reading other books by the Redmans, including The Heart of Worship Files.

Please note: In exchange for this honest review, I received a free copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers.

 

 

Let This Be Written

A few years ago our family had the privilege of seeing an amazing exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at our local science museum. How incredible to see those ancient words of God – words that He miraculously preserved in jars inside of caves for two thousand years! What a mighty act of God! Preserving words on paper for two thousand years would be impossible for man, but it was possible with God.

Seeing those scrolls reminded me of Psalm 102:18, which says, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.” I am indeed thankful for those men of long ago who obediently and diligently wrote those precious words down on scrolls so that my generation and my children could see them and praise God.

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit also reminded me of Psalm 145:4. “One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” What a great verse this is for homeschool moms – and all parents and grandparents for that matter. If we could only teach one subject as homeschoolers this year, I think this should be it.

In her story book Bible The Mighty Acts of God, author Starr Meade explains that the purpose of telling stories of God’s mighty acts isn’t for entertainment value or good moral examples. The purpose is to make known the wonder of God’s great character.

Likewise, John Piper of Desiring God says we want the next generation to have not just heads full of right facts about the works of God, but also “hearts that burn with the fire of love for the God of those facts – hearts that will sell everything to follow Jesus into the hardest places of the world.”

That’s quite a vision for our students! And as this new school year begins, Psalm 102:18 and Psalm 145 are great encouragements to pass on to my children not just what I know about the one true God from reading the Bible, but also to pass on – heart to heart – what I personally love about God and how I have witnessed Him at work in my life. He has revealed specific attributes of His character – like His faithfulness, compassion, and unfailing love – in specific moments and seasons throughout my life. Knowing by heart those personal faith stories and marveling at God’s great character will fuel my children’s love for Him and better equip them to pass the faith on to their own children someday.

When I take time to recall how God has acted mightily in my own personal history, God is magnified and I am encouraged and comforted. But in order to recall these little faith stories and declare them to my children, I must first record them somehow. That involves watching for God’s grace in daily life, taking lots of pictures, making lists of specific things I am thankful for, writing down prayer requests, keeping a blog, and scrapbooking when I can. These practices take time and no, I don’t keep up with all of them regularly. But these practices are quite meaningful to me because together they build the history book of our lives.

Puritan Pastor John Flavel says, “There is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what evidences and outbreakings of his mercy, faithfulness, and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through.”

So what does praising God and declaring His greatness in the bits and pieces of my personal history look like? Some days it’s telling a story about my childhood as we eat lunch or reading aloud a passage from an old blog post or an old baby journal. Other days it’s looking at photos in a family scrapbook, reading an old letter from a grandparent, or clicking through a digital photo album of last week’s field trip.

In looking back at these records through the lens of God’s goodness, I see things I did not see before. I see ways He has cared for us, provided for us, comforted us, strengthened us, encouraged us, healed us and equipped us. I see how He has brought us through trials and sorrows. I remember joyous moments I would forget otherwise. And as I share all those insights with my children, I praise God.

Jonathan Parnell at Desiring God says the most essential detail to look for in our personal history is God’s mercy to us through Jesus.

“Every detail of God’s goodness to you has come through the blood of Jesus,” he says. “Look back on these providences and remember that you’ve earned none of them. They come by Jesus, or they don’t come at all. His cross is the most vivid demonstration of God’s love for us, and every little good we’ve seen has flowed from that glorious fountain. It did yesterday, and it will tomorrow.”

Parnell also suggests several other details to look for, such as God’s care for you, wisdom for you, grace for you and humility for you, as well as His goal in all your provisions and His goodness in comfortable stuff like socks. He explains each of these ideas thoroughly in an article online entitled “Seven Details to See in Your Past.”

This school year, I pray that teaching the next generation about God’s mighty acts and sharing stories of His goodness and mercy will be a higher priority each day. I pray that we keep pre-algebra and science lessons in the right perspective. I thank God for the fresh encouragement given by Asaph in Psalm 78, a passage which the ESV Bible titles “Tell the Coming Generation.” And I pray that we may arise and tell our children truths about God so that they set their hope in God, keep His commandments, and never ever forget the works of God.

 

One Plus One Equals Three

oneplusone

“There are three kinds of people in this world. Those who are good at math and those who aren’t.”

My friend once posted that quote on Facebook, and it made me laugh because I’m a journalist married to a mechanical engineer. Math certainly isn’t my favorite subject – but it sure gets discussed plenty in this homeschool family.

And while I chuckle because that quote just doesn’t add up, it reminds me of another quote that doesn’t seem to add up either.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 – “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

This story continues over at The End in Mind.