Heroes of the Faith

The first time I met Elizabeth Grant I was sitting in her living room chatting with her about blogging. I’d heard so much about her from my husband who, at the time, had her daughter in his fifth grade Bible class. I’m not sure what I expected when we went over to deliver a meal to her and her family. I know what I didn’t expect was her smiling from ear to ear, taking me on a tour of her house, listening to her plans for the kitchen and basement, showing me the creative way she had come up with to help her son in a subject he was struggling with in school. She was amazing.

I’ll never forget that day with her. As I followed her around her house she casually mentioned that the kids really wanted a cat to which she told them they could have one when she was dead. I was shocked.

“You really say stuff like that?” I asked incredulously.

“Of course,” she said. “This is reality.”

It wasn’t long after that I started my blog and asked her to guest post for me on a series I was working on called “Raising World-Changers.” She fascinated me for many reasons, but it was her parenting in light of her reality that struck me the most. I figured if anyone had a clue as to how to raise kids that would one day change the world, I couldn’t do any better than to ask Elizabeth. The following is an excerpt of what she wrote that day. You can read her whole piece here.

“There is truly no better parent than God the Father, my King, my Creator. My children are in good hands. They are safe. I trust, You Lord. You will watch over them and guide them and teach them. For however long they have me here on earth, please work through me. Use me. I don’t want to parent them…I want YOU to parent them. I can’t tell you the instant relief and peace that filled me from then on. Even now, I sort of find myself pushing my kids away from me and on to Christ. I remind them that I fail and I make mistakes and I may not always be there to listen to them. Even while I’m alive, I get too busy and too cranky sometimes. I want them to find all of their answers in the One who holds all the answers. I want them to know the certainty of Jesus Christ — beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

As moms we want many things for our kids. We want the best life that they can have; we want safety and success for them; we want friendships for them; we want them to be proud of us and we want to leave them a legacy. Most of these things are beyond our control, but the legacy we leave for them is completely in our hands.

Elizabeth would argue that she wasn’t anyone special. Maybe not, but neither were Abraham, Moses, Hannah, Ruth, Esther, Mary. My contention is had she lived as one of their contemporaries she would have either had a book written after her, or at the very least, been mentioned in Hebrews’ list of the faithful. Why? Because she didn’t fail? Because she was perfect? Because she never had a bad day? Because she never snapped at another human being? No. That was neither true of her nor of those in the pages of Scripture. What made her special is what makes anyone special worth mentioning, her faith. Elizabeth Grant had it figured out. She understood that life is a whisper, and you only get one shot at doing it to the glory of God. There are no do-overs. She gave more than lip service to her love for God, and in that way left a legacy for more than just her children. For those privileged to have met her or to have read her writings, she gave us a front row seat to her life and allowed God to use her as a teaching visual to encourage the rest of us in how to live our own lives.

Elizabeth Grant, you will be missed more than you know, but you’re right. Your kids are loved even more by their Creator than by you. You taught them that. You have set them up well for this life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your example on motherhood and faithfulness. To God be the glory!

“What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant; You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12-17, NKJV).

Get Your Facts Straight

One of my biggest hang-ups in the Christian life is the idea of legalism. I’ve mentioned before that the church I was born into and where I remained until my teenage years was a very strict, legalistic one. Women were encouraged to wear only dresses and no makeup, to be quiet in church and to submit to their husbands in such a way as to make them second-class citizens.

When we finally left that church and went to the one that saw me through my teenage years and the one in which I would eventually get married, there was true freedom and finally joy. Over the years, I’ve had mixed emotions on church finding it stifling on the one hand with its rules and regulations and “loosey-goosey” on the other with its “everything is permissible” mentality taken to unbiblical extremes.

The one thing I have tried to avoid more than anything else is appearing legalistic. Having grown up subjected to the pharisaic legalism of other Christians, I will do almost anything to not be one of those people. To that end, I’ve not always made the best choices. For instance, I don’t particularly believe that the occasional drink is wrong, but deep down I know it’s not for me. My reason for indulging is mainly for the purpose of not appearing legalistic and because “everything is permissible”.

I recently read a fabulous article on what legalism is and what it is not. The writer argues that legalism is not the deed itself but rather the attitude in which it is done. With an attitude of legalism we perform certain actions with the intent of adding to what Jesus has already done for us on the cross because His work wasn’t quite enough. In other words, insisting that women wear skirts was one way the Christians from my childhood church used to add to God’s work on the cross implying that we are not holy by the redemptive work of Christ alone.

What legalism is not, argues the author, is keeping God’s commands. How do we argue with John 15:14 “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments”? When I took a vow to remain true to my husband until death do us part, I vowed to behave a certain way based on that vow. How silly would it be of me to feel like I’m being legalistic by refusing to engage in certain behaviors that would go against that promise? Quite frankly, I don’t care if I look legalistic when it comes to my marriage. I made a promise, and my heart belongs to one man. In the same way, my full allegiance belongs to Christ and Christ only, and my life should be a testament to that not because I have anything more to prove or earn beyond what He has done for me, but because my desire is to live out my acceptance of His gift.

So what does this have to do with this week’s verse?

Psalm 112:1

“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, Who delights greatly in His commandments.”

When I read a verse like Psalm 112:1, I bristle a bit. The first sentence, “Praise the Lord” is fine. In fact, I spent all of last year praising God for something new every day and posting it on my blog’s Praise Project. I did this because I know that praising God is a vital part of keeping my attitude in check.

I can even fear the Lord, that is, live my life with a healthy respect for Him. I understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I’ve got that part down too. But then I read that we are blessed for delighting in God’s commandments, and the old fear of legalism rears its ugly head.

Part of the problem with the Church is that we don’t have our facts straight. We use words we don’t know the meanings to and attempt to live our lives by incorrect standards. We think of terms like commandments as stifling to our freedom and reject them in favor of what we envision to be a footloose and fancy free existence only to find ourselves strangled by chains of our own making.

If God’s commandments are so stifling then why is His Word filled with statements like these:

Psalm 19:8

“The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”

Psalm 119:93

“I will never forget Your precepts,
For by them You have given me life.”

John 15:4

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

Statutes, precepts, commandments, they are all boundaries set up for us to live the most joy-filled life possible on this earth. The Christian faith is a faith with borders. God’s commandments are the borders in which we live in safety and joy, not because our works determine our salvation, but because our salvation determines our works.

“If we love Him we keep His commands” (John 14:15, NKJV)

We keep His commandments, not because we need to add to what He has done for us. His work was complete and always will be. We keep His commandments out of a love for Him.

Psalm 112 is one of several Psalms known as a didactic Psalm which simply means it’s written to teach a lesson, in this case living a righteous life versus living an unrighteous life. In the NKJV the heading to this chapter is “The Blessed Estate of the Righteous”. We will either choose to live the life of a righteous person, or we will choose the unrighteous life. There’s really no in-between. Living a life that is pleasing to God is not legalistic, and Jesus wasn’t legalistic. In fact, in John 10:10 He said this, “ The thief does not come except to steal and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (NKJV).

An abundant life is a righteous life, and a righteous life involves praising God, fearing Him and keeping His commandments because we love Him and desire to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world (James 1:27). It is the lie of the enemy that causes us to believe that commandments are legalistic when, in fact, they are what bring us true freedom. If we want to live a life pleasing to God, we have to get our facts straight first.

 

 

Chasing Resolutions

I hate New Year’s resolutions for many reasons not the least of which is that I am terrible at them. You’d be hard-pressed to shuffle through the list of resolutions I’ve made over the years and find one I’ve stuck with for more than a month let alone a whole year. It just doesn’t happen, but it’s become culturally expected to have some grand plan to reinvent ourselves in the new year. I hate it.

There are a few other reasons I’m averse to the whole New Year’s resolution thing:

1). For some reason, most of us love the newness of a week, a month and especially a year. “I’ll start dieting tomorrow or after the weekend, or next month when things slow down. Starting January 1 I’m really going to buckle down and get my life organized, lose 50 pounds, get out of debt, etc.”

Steven Covey, author of the best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People made a most profound statement when he said this:

“The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of a proactive person.”

In other words, tomorrow is not more magical than right now. Big changes start with little everyday, moment-by-moment changes. Want to organize your life? Start by picking up the clutter in one room. Want to get out of debt? Cut up the credit card today. Want to lose weight? Walk away from the Oreos. Better yet, don’t give your food nemesis kitchen real estate in the first place. Want to develop a deeper relationship with God? Turn off the TV right now and start plowing through the pages of Scripture right here, right now. Choices.

2). I love social media as much as the next guy. It’s the perfect virtual rooftop on which to shout to the world my love of cats. However, for me personally, I don’t like it for the self-centered nature it takes on when we use it to help spur on our resolutions making big proclamations for worldwide accountability. In my own experience, I’ve found deep and lasting change comes in the quiet moments when the only other Person involved in my change is the Holy Spirit Himself. No one else is privy to the information we share in an effort to put me on the right track.

3). Mainly I hate resolutions because they are performance-driven. The success of them is based on our accomplishments, what we achieve, what we’ve conquered. Instead, I believe that real change starts inside with answering the most basic question: “where is your heart?” It is with this idea in mind that I want to spend the next few weeks dissecting Psalm 112.

“Praise the Lord!

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.

His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches will be in his house,
And his righteousness endures forever.
Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
A good man deals graciously and lends;
He will guide his affairs with discretion.
Surely he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.

He will not be afraid of evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is established;
He will not be afraid,
Until he sees his desire upon his enemies.

He has dispersed abroad,
He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever;
His horn will be exalted with honor.

The wicked will see it and be grieved;
He will gnash his teeth and melt away;
The desire of the wicked shall perish” (Psalm 112, NKJV).

In the exercise world, it is taught that the strength of our core, that is our abs, determines how well we perform in sports and daily activities such as gardening and housework. A strong core improves balance and posture, strengthens the lower back and of course, aids in weight loss. With a strong solid core, the rest of our muscles are able to do their jobs more effectively.

The same could be said of our hearts. With a solid foundation, that is, a heart grounded in Scripture, Godly character is formed from which flow Godly decisions in both simple and difficult experiences. This is a life-long pursuit, and I daresay the noblest of all. If you need a resolution, a goal, a new habit, chase this. For from it many of the other less meaningful pursuits will either lose their allure or find accomplishment beyond your wildest dreams because of the character from which they are built.

 

Praise Project, Week 52

If you’ve followed my blog for the last year, you know I’ve been working toward 52 weeks of praise-my Praise Project. In the beginning I wrote about how when my husband was a youth pastor he would challenge the kids on Sunday mornings to look for God-sightings that following week and be prepared to share them with the group; the idea being to concentrate on what God was doing in their lives rather than focusing on the negative things that were going on. I took that idea and decided to find one thing every day to praise God for and document those things a week at a time.

I admit over the last year, there have been days and weeks where it has been challenging to find anything to praise God for, wondering if He ‘d lost interest in me, if He was really working in my life. Always after setting myself and feelings aside, He would gently remind me of what He was doing, how He was working and encourage me to keep pressing on.

Because this is my last Praise Project I really wanted to do something different. It wasn’t until singing an old hymn in church this morning that I settled on the following Praise Project, words from the hymn “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” by Charles Gabriel (1856-1932). Singing these words this morning felt like the crescendo to the whole year of focusing on God’s presence in my life in the form of praise. I couldn’t have said it better myself, than this hymn so without further ado, I’ve numbered a week’s worth of praises within the verses of the song. Thank you for taking this journey with me this year.

I stand amazed in the presence

Of Jesus the Nazarene

1).  And I wonder how He could love me,

A sinner condemned, unclean.

2). For me it was in the garden He prayed,

“Not my will, but thine”

3). He had no tears for His own griefs,

But sweat drops of blood for mine

4). He took my sins and my sorrows,

He made them His very own

5). He bore the burden to Calv’ry,

And suffered and died alone

6). When with the ransomed in glory

His face I at last shall see,

7).’Twill be my joy thro’ the ages,

To sing of His love for me.

How marvelous! How wonderful!
and my song shall ever be;
How marvelous! How wonderful!
is my Savior’s love to me!”

Praise Project, Week 51

This week I’m praising God:

1). For safety on the road getting Abby back from visiting my mom.

2). For meeting people enduring seemingly insurmountable struggles with a smile on their face and thankfulness in their hearts.

3). For the new year ahead.

4). For the remarkable freedom to express the truth on social media.

5). For the life God has given me as wife, mother, house cleaner, blogger, writer, tutor.

6). For the unshakable love God has for us.

7). That the space between situation and response is completely my decision based on my God-given free will. I am not a robot or a victim, and neither are you.

Praise Project, Week 50

In light of the season, I’m praising God this week for all things Christmas-related:

1). For time to sleep in without guilt. I never do this, and this week I took the meaning of the word “vacation” to extremes.

2). Time with my husband and kids.

3). The Nielsons generally experience sickness at during Christmas break. This year, so far, we haven’t. Very thankful.

4). For the reminder going around the internet of what the first king-size bed looked like: the manger.

5). “And Mary said, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name'” (Luke 1:46-49, KJV bold print mine).

6). “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, ‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.’ And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (Luke 2:15-17, KJV bold print mine).

7). ‘Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him‘” (Matthew 2:1,2, KJV bold print mine).

I love these three passages, especially in the King James version; incredibly poetic. Mary magnified God and rejoiced in Him as her Savior. The shepherds, upon hearing of Christ’s birth, were in a big hurry to see if for themselves and spread the word. The wise men came for the specific purpose of worshipping Him. Stunning reactions on the parts of all of them, and yet all should be basic daily practices on the part of the Christ-follower. Praise God for His Word and the godly examples of those who lived throughout its pages.

Praise Project, Week 49

This week I’m praising God:

1). That I’m not the Christmas Grinch I was last year!

2). For more opportunities to share Christ with clients.

3). “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy” Psalm 33:18. What other belief system can say that their god has his eye on them?

4). “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” Psalm 34:7.

5). “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” Psalm 34:18.

6). “The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned” Psalm 34:22.

7). God’s faithfulness to me is not contingent on my faithfulness to Him.