Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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a 13-reasons-why response

I haven’t watched the Netflix series that’s generating conversation about teen suicide. But I’m deeply concerned that teens might be drawn into the raw program without processing these sensitive, graphic issues with a trusted adult.

This is another example of the way that books, television shows, and movies engage young people with shocking, grim, and reckless stories. I understand that teenagers are ready to delve into what fascinates and scares them about real life, without the phoniness of a handsome prince swooping in to guarantee the happy ending.  Yet, I’m convinced that a biblical perspective is essential for our children to learn to spiritually, cognitively, and emotionally process the realities of this fallen world. This is an opportunity for Christian parents to disciple our kids within a biblical framework in which Jesus reigns and hope lives.

Yesterday, I ventured into the conversation for the first time with my 15-year-old daughter. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I asked her if she’s heard of “13 Reasons Why.” She attends a Christian school, and to be honest, my perception is that she lives a fairly sheltered life. Our appetite for compelling television is fed by “The Amazing Race” and “The Spring Baking Championship.”

“Oh, yeah – everyone’s talking about it.”

I suppose that confirmed my reluctant suspicions that these kids aren’t so sheltered after all.

About 20 minutes into our conversation, we received an email from a teacher about the series, another confirmation that yes, parents need to be aware and engaged in this discussion. It doesn’t mean that we have to watch the program, but we need to be present and willing to have two-way conversations about hard issues like bullying, rejection, abuse, sexuality, self-harm, anxiety, and depression. While our teens are growing, they need roots to anchor them. All of us do, in times like these. We need to be rooted in Christ’s love in order to see ourselves through His acceptance, to perceive our circumstances through His sovereignty, and to establish our hope in His victory.

For my daughter and her peers, plus my small group of 10th grade girls – allow these 13-reasons-why-you-can-have-hope and these truths from Scripture to sink deep in your heart. You are fiercely and unconditionally loved. 

Please read 13 Reasons Why You Can Have Hope at my Shortest Season blog.


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About Halloween:: what’s a Christian family to do?

Our daughter was invited to her first Halloween party when she was 8 months old, where she was, no doubt, the cutest ladybug ever.

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Before we had a child, my husband and I were pretty unenthusiastic about Halloween. As Christians, we were leery of anything that celebrated or even resembled what we perceived as spiritual darkness. But another young mom from “Books and Babies” at our community library surprised us with an invitation to their Halloween party. It was a prime opportunity to get to know our new friends, and what harm could there be in a party for babies after all?

So we went, and the evening was filled with laughter, friendship, and over-the-top cuteness. For the first time, we experienced Halloween in a really positive and personal way.

Since our daughter’s Halloween debut, October 31 has become a “commercial juggernaut” – second only to Christmas in retail sales. “It’s a legitimate industry now,” says the president of the Haunted Attraction Association, “Now we’re a season.” As a Christian family, it’s difficult to be neutral about a “season” which can present itself in disturbing ways.

In these fourteen years of parenting, we’ve had increasing opportunities to participate in Halloween observances which are decreasingly innocent. The days of ladybug babies are over, and our daughter is invited to parties where the themes and activities are scary, gory, and everything that made us leery in the first place.

Several years ago, our daughter caught onto our conflicted feelings about Halloween. Local fall festivals and “trunk-or-treat” events were once popular options, but they seemingly vaporized like a ghost. Our church decided not to continue its October 31st event. This was during our daughter’s princess phase. All she knew of Halloween was the opportunity to receive free candy while becoming Belle or Cinderella (with plastic, sparkly heels!) for the night.

What’s a Christian parent to do?

I understand that most people take Halloween as silly fun. When summer is past, daylight is waning, and cold weather approaches, Halloween offers an opportunity for creativity (and candy). And community (and candy). But I digress…

More than creativity and chocolate, there are psychological and biological reasons why people are drawn to Halloween:

The haunted-attraction industry (haunted houses and theme parks) generate 300 – 500 million dollars in ticket sales.  And morbidly supernatural themes, once limited to movie screens, are spilling over into television series. This sort of entertainment is successful because audiences are looking for the adrenaline rush that comes through being “scared to death.” The human brain craves the hormonal energy that’s produced when danger is simulated in an intentional, contained, and safe setting.

Also, Halloween costumes offer the opportunity for an imaginary, uninhibited, and temporary experience. According to Tom Harris, author of The Love of Halloween, “People in costumes often say and do things they probably wouldn’t say or do in their everyday life. It’s very satisfying to step into another character for a while, even (or especially) for a grown-up.”

Perhaps most importantly, Halloween is an occasion for cultures to make light of death, bringing the unknown realm into the open to be parodied with other people. Movies editor Steven Casey Murray says, “Horror movies cause us to ask the eternal question ‘what if,’ and allow us to safely delve into our primal fears.”

As parents with a Christian worldview, my husband and I believe that there are spiritual reasons for the life and death tension in our culture. I don’t believe that a demon is hiding under every rock, but I believe that God’s Word is true when it says that the enemy of our souls is real and active (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). The ruler of the kingdom of darkness wants to keep people separated from God, in a grip of evil and fear.

Therefore, we want our daughter to learn how to think about the culture in which she lives in an examined way, with discernment. I set out to learn about the origins of Halloween, as a way to begin conversation. It seemed important to explore the question – is this a season, an observance, a celebration, something we ignore, or what?

Hundreds of years ago, a people group called the Celts lived on the British Isles. They believed that the souls of dead people visited earth on October 31. Fearful that evil spirits would destroy their crops, they built bonfires and wore scary costumes to frighten them away.

The Celts also carved frightful faces into turnips or gourds, put burning coal inside to turn them into lanterns, and set them outside their homes. And by leaving food (treats) on the outskirts of their towns, they hoped that evil spirits would not enter their villages (and perform tricks).

 In the 8th century, the Catholic Church declared November 1 as a day to remember honorable Catholics who had passed away. It was commonly called “All Hallows’ Day,” and the night before (October 31) became known as Allhallowe’en.

Somewhere along the way, as a mix of European settlers came to America, their customs blended into what we now know as Halloween.

For our family, it was important to understand that the traditions of Halloween are rooted in fear and superstition. But it was also essential to communicate to our daughter that the day itself, October 31, is NOT an evil day. Like every other day, it is a day that the Lord has made.

Followers of Christ are a part of the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1: 12 – 14). 1 John 4 says that GREATER is HE (Christ) who is in us than he (satan) who is in the world and that perfect love (the love of Christ) drives out fear (verses 4 & 18). Jesus is victorious every single day of the year!

So while our family gained some head knowledge – and spiritual reassurance – through our examination of Halloween, we still needed to figure out how to respond.

Around this season in our parenting, our pastor and church leaders started to challenge our church family to examine how we engage with our community. Our pastor encouraged us to investigate the question What are you for? It’s a relevant inquiry as Christians are increasingly known for what we’re against.

What are you for?” speaks of the redemptive power of relationships, of not simply turning our backs on this world but by finding intentional ways to shine light in the darkness.

We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” ~ Madeline L’Engle

Around the same time that we were thinking of all these things, and as leaves turned yellow and red, I picked up Paul David Tripp’s book, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. We were still far from the teen years, but we had (still have) so much to learn.

In his chapter, Life in the Real World, Tripp illustrates 2 common Christian responses to culture: rejection and assimilation. I think my husband and I, in our early parenting philosophy, would have chosen rejection of the culture, when it comes to all things Halloween: no parties, trick-or-treating only at fall festivals (churches), nothing spooky, lights off at our house, etc, etc … But we caught a glimpse, eight months into parenting, that Halloween can be one of the most neighborly days of the year.

Yet, we’re not comfortable with throwing ourselves head-long into Halloween either. The Bible also tells us to think on things that are pure and honorable to God, and it’s our personal conviction that the creepy side of Halloween puts our thoughts elsewhere.

While we believe that families are free to decide for themselves, neither rejection or assimilation is entirely appealing to us. The Bible tells us that although we are not of this world, we are still in it (see Jesus’ words in John 17: 14 – 15).

Paul David Tripp suggests that if isolation from the culture (rejection) is on one end of the spectrum, and immersion in the culture (assimilation) is on the other end, then Christians can find a biblically-appropriate place between the two. He calls this place, “redemption interaction.”

Regardless of Halloween’s origins, we believe that our family can give a redemptive meaning to October 31. Instead of isolating from or immersing into culture, we want to interact with it. Matthew 5:14 – 16 tells us how:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 14 – 16

Our family believes that God has purposefully placed us in this city, in this neighborhood, and on this street to care about our neighbors. How can we effectively do that if we don’t take opportunities to see them face to face? If we keep our lamp under a bowl? We began to understand the purpose behind our church’s decision to end the fall festival, thereby encouraging the congregation to return to our neighbors around our city instead.

In his book, Celebration of Discipline (1978), Richard Foster says, “Why allow Halloween to be a pagan holiday in commemoration of the powers of darkness? Fill the house or church with light; sing and celebrate the victory of Christ over darkness.”

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While we wavered about Halloween, our neighbors did something which helped us to participate in a meaningful way. As trick-or-treaters filled the street, our neighbors brought huge stockpots of jambalaya outside, and a tradition began. Each year, the crowd grows, and Halloween has become THE gathering event of the year.

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We’re grateful that someone took the initiative and we enjoy the benefits. And we’re inspired and challenged to forward the neighborly momentum down the street. I think this year, instead of waiting for little ones to come to our door, we’ll set up a table in the front yard with cider and cookies and greet the parents. On Halloween, acquaintances, even strangers, expectantly come to our house, and we can take advantage of the occasion to initiate and advance relationships. We’re excited about neighbors being part of one another’s lives beyond October 31.

As Tim Challies says, “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.”

So, we’ll treat Halloween not as a holiday, but as an event. We’ll see this event as an opportunity to be for community. We’ll concentrate less on being against the darkness and focus more on being for the light. The light always wins!

As our family scoops out our pumpkin, we’ll talk about how great it is that Jesus has cleaned us up on the inside and put His light there. And we’ll put that light on display.

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Join us, wherever God has placed you, and let it shine!

 


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Dear parents of boys

Dear parents of boys,

My husband and I are raising our only child, a teenage daughter. So I don’t know what it’s like to have a young man in my home, but I deeply appreciate the responsibility that you, parents of boys, have. 

Obviously parents of girls have significant responsibilities too, and at home, we’re trying to keep lines of communication open, even when – especially when – the conversations get a little uncomfortable. We know that it’s essential to give our daughter a safe place to talk about guys, sex, and purity.  At the same time, current events remind me of the mixed and confusing messages about masculinity, so we have to talk about that too. I don’t buy the cultural assumption that men are just this way. I don’t want my daughter to grow up believing that either. And so, parents of boys, I highly value your influence in your son’s life.

Like most girls her age, my daughter dreams of the future – of finding THE one who will love her for her soul and her mind and who will treat her with tenderness and honor. I’m grateful that she can still believe such a man might be in God’s plans for her. I credit her father for that, because he is the primary man who models what a gentleman looks like, who recognizes her inner beauty, and who encourages her to be the gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, honorable woman that God has created her to be.

Of course, my husband and I don’t know if God’s plans for our daughter’s life include marriage, but we naturally wish for her to step into her school, her church, her job, her everyday-coming-and-going and be valued for who she is on the inside.

My husband and I pray for men – classmates, mentors, co-workers, neighbors, friends, potential suitors – to enter our daughter’s life and model what gentlemen look like, who recognize her inner beauty, and who encourage her to be the gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, honorable woman that God has created her to be.

Your son could be one of those men.

So, despite all the societal, highly-sexualized mess that surrounds us and our children, I believe in the best for you as parents and for your son. I know that there are dads and moms who are raising boys to be difference-makers in their generation. We believe that the enemy distorts what the Father created for good, so we intentionally seek out His original design and give thanks for a community of parents who do the same.

To you, I express gratitude –

        For teaching your son that “boys will be boys” is a lie that undermines their ability to rise above the objectification and harassment of women.

        For intentionally connecting with him and knowing his influences, his friends, his concerns, and his dreams.

        For expecting him to treat his mother with the utmost respect.

        For teaching your son that he is not defined by his appearance, athletic prowess, grades, or ability to win the attention of girls.

        For teaching him that girls are not defined by externals either.

        For communicating that “locker room banter” isn’t a normal indicator of masculinity.

        For monitoring his screen time.

        For teaching your son that he is capable of respecting other people’s bodies and personal space and he is capable of controlling his emotions and passions.

        For communicating that sexting isn’t just harmless goofing around.

        For teaching him to avoid aggressive girls because he deserves better than their manipulative ways.

        For modeling the traits of God’s design for masculinity, including courage, humility, personal responsibility, servanthood, provision, and protection.

        For being a safe place when your son has questions about something he has heard about sex from peers or the media that runs contrary to God’s standards.

        For teaching him to be FOR the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical purity of every girl he encounters.

        For emulating a heart after God and for living out sermons at your kitchen tables, in your living rooms, and on the ballfields. For putting flesh and bone on the concepts of integrity, faithfulness, repentance, forgiveness, and submission to God.

        For affirming your son and imparting words of blessing to him, including appropriate physical affection, so that he doesn’t seek intimacy in false or harmful ways.

        For imparting vision for his future so that he can expect the best of himself in every situation.

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I know that your son, as a person designed after God’s image, is created to be gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, and honorable. With you, I grieve the fact that there are such tainted ideas about what it means to be a real man. But parents, we can still pursue God’s principles and pray His promises for the generations that follow us. God’s honor and His purposes far exceed any political platform or candidate or societal trend. We can stand against the objectification and harassment of women AND men. Together, we can strive FOR kindness, considerateness, graciousness, and charity toward our fellow image bearers. I want you to know that my husband and I are trying to teach these lessons to our daughter too, so that she and your son can treat one another, in whatever setting they find themselves, with dignity and respect.

We know that we can’t own our children’s successes or failings, and there will likely be mistakes along the way, but God’s grace is sufficient and His wisdom is promised when we ask. God’s Word assures us that the Holy Spirit equips those who follow Jesus with everything they need for life and purity.  Let’s reject the cultural cynicism and embrace this very high calling with confidence, not in our parenting skills or in our children, but in God who has created our sons and daughters with purpose and with joy. In them, He is able to do more than we could ask or imagine.

In an uncertain world, He is unchanging.

Gratefully,

Renee

More encouragement, such good, truth-filled words here:

Kristen Welch, Raising Sons in a World that Disrespects Women.

Russell Moore, Rescuing Men from Fake Love and Fake War

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Linking today with Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart where writers share words of encouragement.

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A prayer when we feel powerless

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The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post is a prayer in response to the tragedy in Orlando and to words I wrote last week:

Lord Jesus, You tell us to speak on behalf of the powerless: the orphan, the widow, the outcast. We look to You, our Advocate, for the courage and conviction to go to the margins and open our arms. Jesus, You are our example and our guide when we need to speak against injustice and speak for the Imago Dei, every person created in the image of God.

But it’s increasingly and frighteningly clear that even the places where those of us in the prime of life go to learn, to worship, to gather with friends are no longer secure from just one person filled with hatred and bigotry.  God, this leaves us feeling powerless too. We need You. When we feel scattered and confused, we run to Your safe arms. Remind us that nothing happens apart from your power to redeem and rescue.

When it seems that we cannot relate in lifestyle or choice with those who have been targeted, Lord may we draw together in humanity. Forgive us for making distinctions, and give us courage and conviction to go beyond the safe lines we draw around where we feel comfortable. For all of us can relate with the experience of being human, being afraid, being needful of comfort and grace and someone to stand with us.

And in this world, sometimes we also feel powerless to do anything against the encroaching darkness. May we remember that the dark only exists in the absence of light.

Give us courage to be Your light in any way and any place where You lead us. Today that can happen in our homes, our workplaces, our grocery stores. We can shine for You in simple, small ways that will never make the news but can give someone a glimmer of hope that kindness, honor, and respect still exist in our world. For You are still here, You are still in control, and Your love always overcomes.

In You, Jesus, Love is the most powerful force in our world, and we will choose and live it to the full this day.

May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. (2)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. attributed to Edmund Burke

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Take Your Journey: Words of Blessing for Graduates

Dear Graduate,

In Deuteronomy 1:7, the Lord said to Moses, “Turn and take your journey …” It was time for the children of Israel to possess the land that God had promised their forefathers. Like them, you stand at the brink of newness where your days are marked with change and potential.

As I think of you, I remember words of blessing and wisdom that friends, counselors, and mentors have shared with me. I haven’t always heeded them as I would like, but I remember that the origin of the word “graduate” is from the Latin gradus, meaning “a step.” Each day you and I have fresh opportunities to step forward, learn, and take our journey. May these words help us to remember why we walk in Christ:

May you live with eternity in your heart, knowing Jesus and following Him wholeheartedly. When you ask Jesus to enter your heart, you begin an everlasting relationship with Him, and I pray that you will take this lifetime to enjoy and love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Commit your ways to Him, and He will guide your steps. Every blessing in Christ is yours, and all your days on earth aren’t enough to fully grasp how rich you are. But take His Word, like a treasure map, and press on toward the prize of the upward call in Christ.

May you be a Grace-Receiver. You’ve spent most of your life as an achiever, and we celebrate your accomplishments. But when it comes to life in Christ, you cannot earn more of His love and grace. He has already lavished His affection upon you, giving His precious and holy Son so that you can draw near. No matter your status or title (or lack thereof), you are fully significant and treasured in God’s sight. There are no degrees of His love toward you. So when the world asks you to prove yourself, remember your place in God’s heart.

As a beloved child of God and a receiver, you are also a Releaser.  You have a sacred responsibility to help others realize their belovedness. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Live with awareness that the things you own can eventually own you, if you let them. In this fresh place in your life, determine now to devote your gifts, resources, and time to His Kingdom where your investments will never spoil, fade, or perish. I pray that you live with upturned palms, releasing your plans and your possessions and watching what God does with your loaves and fishes.

May you reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son as you discover the joy of giving bountifully. God created you with something to offer, and may you – with your encouraging word, smile, prayer, open door, or gesture of forgiveness – release His goodness into your world.

May you see yourself and others as Image-Bearers. In the wise words of Sally Clarkson, “Deciding to like yourself is a choice to validate God’s design.” Yours is a high calling to add beauty, in your unique way, to this world. Turn down the volume on your inner critic and move courageously into that which makes you experience God’s smile. And may your eyes see the people in your path as fellow souls and may your voice speak for the inherent value of every person at all stages in life’s spectrum.

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Embrace weakness as a teacher. Remember that God isn’t waiting on you to be perfect; He is waiting on you to say Yes. May you realize that your inadequacies are invitations for God to work as only He can, showing His great strength and revealing His glory.

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Live fully in the blessings and responsibilities of community. For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. May your relationships be at a soul-level where you are mutual speakers and receivers of truth, courage, and grace. This requires you to communicate beyond letters and images on a device.

Be attentive to the generations before and behind you; in them lie precious opportunities for learning and legacy.

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May you rejoice with those who rejoice; and in times of weeping, may yours be the comfort of “common fortitude.” Let your knees bend beside others before a grace-filled table. Oftentimes this requires humility and forgiveness on your part.

Your place in the Body of Christ is a gift, but it is not without challenges. After all, community is where you learn to love others as Christ loves. As you seek to live authentically in community – with fellow, messy people – God will do His deepest transformative work in you.

Understand the difference between image and identity. Our culture simultaneously encourages “image-is-everything” and “be-true-to-yourself.”  But these mindsets can’t co-exist harmoniously. As we increasingly invest our efforts in image management, we are displacing our true identities. According to the dictionary, something is authentic if its origin is supported by undisputed evidence. That’s you, child of God; Scripture declares that your origin – your living and moving and being – is found in Him. We live, however, in a society where values and standards are relative, undisputed evidence is disregarded, and anything is fair game for dispute, especially our Creator and the Truth that He embodies. And so, our culture has no choice but to proliferate a watered-down version of authenticity as “being true” not to one’s origin but to one’s self.

Graduate, may you grasp this distinction and choose to be true to your origin, your Creator. He will ask you to follow His revolutionary ways where the last is first and the least is the greatest. May your reputation be less about your image and more about your influence for Christ. You are not defined by your selfie.

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Don’t be afraid of stillness. Align your life with God’s pace rather than taking on the cultural badge of busy-ness. Solitude opens your ear to God’s voice, and it is a gentleness not to be feared. Setting margins is hard work – and counter-cultural – but you will be blessed beyond measure by the time you prioritize for prayer, listening, and paying attention to what God is doing in and around you. May your outward life grow from His peaceful presence within.

It may be tempting for you to spread yourself in service, but may you understand that “saying yes to everyone is not the same as saying yes to God” (Lysa TerKeurst). As a recovering people-pleaser, I often wondered how Jesus could walk away when crowds of needful people sought Him. But I’m learning that God was His pacesetter, and Jesus exemplified the significance of time alone with the Father, taking rest, and determining to do nothing except His Father’s will. God offers us more than full schedules; He offers us life to the full, and I pray you will discern the difference.

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Prixel Creative @ Lightstock

Doing less when we’re in God’s will is far more efficient than doing the most we can on our own (Holley Gerth).

Pay attention to your “shoulds” (as in “I should do this or I should do that”). Not all “shoulds” are bad; if you’re a college graduate, you obviously told yourself many times that you should get up and go to class and you should study for your exams. But some shoulds are legalistic and demanding and woven into our lives so subtly that we don’t notice that the threads are suffocating ourselves and our relationships (I should have it all together or You should make me happy).

As I make more of God’s acceptance, I am less inclined to boss myself and my people around. And I’m finding that this perspective doesn’t lead to passivity; in fact, it enlarges my freedom and capacity to act, love, and serve – out of grace, not guilt. And I learn that laughing at myself is not a bad thing; perhaps I should do it more often.

Don’t get too comfy. If you can accomplish your goals with your resources, your plans are too small. God can do anything big with anyone willing.

Take any opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of your neighborhood, zip code, state, and country. Ask Jesus to give you His eyes for the world. Pursue a life that is large in love and solidarity for your worldwide brothers and sisters. Each day, ask God to show you how He wants you to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. Oftentimes this request will lead you beyond your own capacity and comforts, but as God plots your course for His glory, get ready for more grace and fulfillment than you ever imagined.

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Live open-handed in the ordinary. May you understand the necessity and value of faithfulness in life’s mundane moments. Whether you are going to a job day in and day out, or meeting one more deadline, or maintaining the car, or working through piles of laundry, see these opportunities as your places to worship and serve God.

Don’t compartmentalize your life into secular and sacred. All Christ-followers are called to full-time service, wherever our mission fields lie. Remember that Jesus called ordinary men and women in the midst of their ordinary lives, and the Gospel spread throughout the world without televisions, telephones, or social media. You have this one life to tell God’s story, so be salt and light wherever you are.

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Choose gratitude. May the Holy Spirit open your hands and lift your arms in praise, even when – especially when – life is hard. “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it” (A. W. Tozer). Instead of complaining or fretting, settle yourself in the One who loves you to the extent of giving Himself in your stead; allow trust in His character and His goodness to permeate your soul.

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May you have days when the sunshine warms you and God delights you with love and laughter. Celebrate His gifts everyday. May our Lord open your soul-ears to hear the song He sings over you. May you always remember the wonder of being called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Gratefully breathe every breath for the glory of God.

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“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23 – 26).

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. 2 Thessalonians 2: 16 – 17

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Grace and Truth {and a prayer for our pastors}

CareerBuilder just released its latest study on the most outrageous excuses employees give when taking a sick day.  A few of my favorites:

Employee’s false teeth flew out the window while driving down the highway.

Employee claimed a swarm of bees surrounded his vehicle, and he couldn’t make it in.

Employee claimed she got stuck in the grocery store blood-pressure machine.

Wikimedia

Wikimedia

If you’re not as creative in coming up with excuses, there are webpages that have already done that for you:

“I always say food poisoning.”

“I have a bat in my kitchen cupboard.”

Oh, to tell the truth.  Research suggests that about 60 percent of us have a hard time getting through a ten-minute conversation without lying at least twice and that the average person lies about 11 times a day. (Research doesn’t lie, you know.)

Truth, any way you look at it, is held in decreasing esteem. I suppose one could nitpick about distinctions between honesty, dishonesty (as in the above examples), and Truth as a spiritual concept, but I think it all boils down to one’s worldview. Is self at the center, or Jesus?

In our relativistic culture, a claim to truth is equated with a judgment upon those who disagree. This perspective, however, separates truth from grace, and the two are more compatible than we may realize on the surface.

As a Christ-follower, I believe that He is the truth and His Word is truth that transforms. According to 1 Corinthians 2, this conviction is an outcome of grace and the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart, not my own wisdom. As Randy Alcorn says, “Truth is far more than facts. It’s not just something we act upon. It acts upon us.” And so, I don’t claim truth as if it is mine and guard it as if defending my own ego, my own infallibility.

Christ is the fulfillment of grace and truth in perfect harmony (John 1:14). I know myself and how tempting it is for me, as a fallible person, to be arrogant with the truth at the expense of grace or to be soft with grace at the expense of truth. And so, I claim Jesus and ask Him to set my mind & heart in the balance that He exemplifies.

We know by grace that grace may be known” (Douglas Groothuis).

The ability to discern truth is a work of the Spirit, and I am learning to see myself as not an owner of this gift but its servant. Jesus is inextricable from the Truth (“I am the way, the truth, and the life“), and as I am a servant of Jesus, I am a servant of the truth.

Because Jesus is the Life, I am also a servant of life. According to Proverbs 18:21, my words (and yours) have the power of life and death. Societal issues – the ones that get us into arguments about truth – are, at the core, sacred issues about life, its holy origin, and God-ordained designs.

And so, for me, resigning “pro-life” or “traditional marriage” to political platforms is a cop-out. It’s my everyday responsibility to choose words and actions that honor God in the most ordinary of ways in my home and communities.

I’m not waiting for a court ruling or an act of Congress to set society right; I’m asking Jesus for a right spirit within me. This doesn’t mean that I confuse grace with approval/tolerance of immorality. Love covers but doesn’t justify sin. I’m learning that a high view of truth and a high view of grace go hand in hand. I look at myself and I see how far & how often I’ve fallen short of God’s holy, absolute standards. And then I grasp the wonder of His grace that sent His Son to the cross.

The Scripture says –
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:14 – 16).

Christ died for my life. Your life. Your neighbor’s life. The sex slave’s life. The homosexual’s life. The refugee’s life. The unborn baby’s life.

As a Christian, that truth has to radically transform how I see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; weak or strong.

Truth lets people know where you stand, but grace lets people know you love them (Pastor Eric Mason).

And if Christ’s love is what truly compels me, my goal is not to win political or philosophical arguments. My goal is to be like Him and make disciples.

As Albert Outler prayed,  “Lord, protect us from the mindless love that deceives and the loveless truth that kills.”

This prayer expresses our holy dependence upon God, that we might live humbly and uphold truth as grateful recipients who engage culture without haughtiness or fear or condemnation but with love, fervent prayer, and confidence that God is in control and is still moving all things into His redemptive, eternal purposes.

And let’s take every opportunity to support and encourage our pastors and pray especially that they would speak with grace, that truth may be realized, and speak with truth, that grace may be received.

O my Lord,
Let not my ministry be approved only by men,
or merely win the esteem and affections
of people;
But do the work of grace in their hearts,
call in Thy elect,
seal and edify the regenerate ones,
and command eternal blessings on their souls.
Save me from self-opinion and self-seeking;
Water the hearts of those who hear Thy Word,
that seed sown in weakness may be raised in power …
Make my every sermon a means of grace to myself,
and help me to experience the power
of Thy dying love,
for Thy blood is balm,
Thy presence bliss,
Thy smile heaven,
Thy cross the place where truth and mercy meet.

A Minister’s Prayer, From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

It is false piety to preserve peace at the expense of truth. It is also false zeal to preserve truth at the expense of charity. –  Blaise Pascal

Truth-oriented Christians who address abortion and homosexuality without grace are dead wrong. Grace-oriented Christians who assume every attempt to speak out against these comes from people who know nothing of grace, are equally wrong. Since Christ is full of both, we dare not choose truth over grace, or grace over truth. – Randy Alcorn

If we speak of “our faith” we should emphasize that the truth is not our possession; rather the truth possesses us. No one put it better than G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy who confessed concerning Christianity: ‘I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.’ – Douglas Groothuis

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples” … not converts to your own opinions.  – Oswald Chambers

MadelineL'Engle

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31 Days of Speaking Life

31 Days of Speaking Life is a new site that I’ve created for the 31 Day Writing Challenge. I hope you’ll join me and many Christ-following bloggers as we offer inspiration every day in October. Each week I’ll post here @ Eternity in Our Hearts a weekly highlight-reel from 31 Days of Speaking Life  and other “31-Dayers.”

It’s been about a year, I think, since I sat with my church community and watched a series of videos about the greatest challenges facing our city. After that event, appropriately titled “Get Off Our Donkey” (think about the Good Samaritan), I came home and wrote what’s become my most personally meaningful & challenging post, What Does It Mean to Speak Life?

Ever since then, speaking life is the passion that gets me up in the morning; it’s become the reason I write; it’s changing every relationship and endeavor in my life.

Funny thing is that not many people would identify me, the classic introvert, as a “speaker.” And yet I do speak. Every day I communicate what I value the most through the choices I make with my money, time, and words. Once those things are spent, they can’t be reclaimed.

And so I want to speak well.

I think you do too.

“Speaking life” is a phrase that’s becoming cliché in Christian circles, and yet for me it sums up what it means to affirm the value of every person in every stage of life in every place on the planet.

As someone who loves words, I could take on The Nester’s 31 day challenge by composing a few anecdotes or comments about the power of spoken encouragement. And I will for I believe that verbalized words of affirmation are life giving. But I’ve learned that “speaking life” is not dependent on expressions from our lips.

“Speaking life” is intentionally honoring – through time, money, actions, or words – the image of God in another human life.

Speaking life looks like:

  • providing a respectable job for the former sex slave
  • advocating for clean water in a thirsty country
  • welcoming the orphan
  • preparing stacks of pb & j for the homeless
  • befriending the widow
  • comforting the grieving
  • teaching English to a refugee
  • taking a meal to a family in time of need
  • offering grace to the shamed
  • sitting on your neighbor’s front porch for a spell
  • showing patience to your child
  • washing, drying, sorting the laundry multiple times a week (yes, really. This especially.)

When it comes to 31 Days of Speaking Life, my goal is to DO it, not just blog about it. To inspire us, I’m linking with people, ministries, and organizations who are speaking life in various, sometimes unexpected, ways and places.

As you may know, October will be an extra-busy and emotional time while our family packs up my parents’ home of 38 years. I can’t promise to post for 31 consecutive days, and the posts will be short snippets of inspiration, challenge, or blessing. These are days when I must remind myself that the sacred is often revealed in small ways.

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Eventually there will be 31 posts, even if we journey into November, maybe December?? And after that, I pray that the speaking life continues, one grace-filled moment at a time.

What I’m thinking about speaking life is that it’s not necessarily something extra to do. Rather, it’s seeing our choices and endeavors with new eyes.

To my dear friends who are reading, I want to say that I see you speaking life as you care for little ones, teach your small group, come alongside the hurting, nurture students, and go to the other side of town or the world.

The purpose of speaking life is to be a voice for the value of lives from the womb to the tomb, as my pastor likes to say. As you do this I want to say “way to go” and keep it up for the sake of the Kingdom!

Here are some topics I’ll include in the 31 Day Challenge –

*Biblical truths and promises about identity in Christ

*The difference between encouragement and flattery

*The significance of the blessing

*Creative ways to give hand-written words of life

*Speaking life to the: lonely, grieving, preteen, doubter, young mother, spouse, orphan, child in the womb, caregiver, artist, elderly

*Local and international ministries such as Fashion & Compassion; clean water providers; a clothes closet; Joni and Friends; The Harvest Center; Lois’ Lodge; Compassion International; and Women of Vision

*What I read and listen to when my soul needs refreshing (how worship speaks life to the soul)

*What Christians can do about the human trafficking crisis

*How and why to advocate for the Every Girl Counts Act and the Water for the World Act

*Reaching, respecting, and responding to the LGBTQ community

*Speaking life by not speaking (the gift of listening)

*How to speak life in the Halloween season

*A few comforting recipes – feeding the body can nourish the spirit 🙂

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I’d love to see 31 Days of Speaking Life become a community where we share ways to make this happen in the daily rhythms of our lives. If you have other ideas, topics, and inspiration to share, I’d love to hear from you.

If you want to follow me at 31 Days of Speaking Life, there is a “follow” button on that site. But you can also find weekly (not daily) summaries of speaking life moments here @ Eternity in Our Hearts.

Please join me for the challenge and speak life!

Gratefully,

Renee

brennanmanning