faith

Is God Nice?

“Are you nice?” My four-year-old posed this question about 5 minutes after I had scolded her for jumping around on the couch.

“What?” I asked, confused by her question.

“Are you nice now? Or are you mad again?”

Ah. I see. She was testing the waters to see if it was safe to approach. She stood staring at me with wide, dark eyes, waiting timidly for my response. I wasn’t sure what to say. The closest thing to the truth would have been, “Yes, dear. Mommy’s eyes are no longer shooting angry laser beams, and the fire in her belly has been squelched for now.” After all, it wasn’t the first time I had told her not to jump on the couch. The volume of my tone had conveyed that the last straw had been dropped on the proverbial camel’s back and the end was near. My wrath resulted in an entire household cowering in their bedrooms to see if the runt of the family would survive the lightning that was sure to strike her where she stood.

Sigh. I knelt down and opened my arms. She immediately ran to me so I could wrap her up in a big hug.

“Yes, Baby Girl. Mommy is nice now. I’m sorry I yelled. You shouldn’t have been jumping on the couch, and I shouldn’t have yelled. We were both wrong. We both need Jesus to help us do right.”

As she snuggled in tighter, wrapping her little arms all the way around my neck, I thought about my early days as a Christian. There were years when I approached God just as my little one had approached me. I timidly tried to pray, knowing that I had messed up yet again, and wondering if God was nice, or still angry. There were times when I knew I needed to pray, but I waited, feeling like maybe God needed some more time to calm down before we talked. I knew God hated sin, and it stood to reason that my sin would be met with a frown and cold tone.

There were times in my faith when I thought that this was really too much. There was no way I could keep God happy all the time, and I decided I didn’t want to be a Christian anymore. After all, I had friends who lived how they wanted with no thought about whether they were making God angry, and they seemed peaceful and happy enough. Maybe I could just stop worrying about it. But I couldn’t. I kept finding myself longing to be right with God. There was no peace in my heart when I didn’t come to the Father and ask forgiveness. But, I really felt like God was angry with me all the time. Why wouldn’t he be? I kept making the same mistakes.

Sometimes, I would reach a point of determination where I’d decided that this time I would do better. This time, I wouldn’t make the same mistake. And for a few days or weeks, I felt pretty good about myself. It would seem like I was finally getting the hang of this Christian life. Then I’d find myself back at square one, where I knew I had messed up big time again. Surely, God would be completely peeved this time. Surely, this would be the last straw with him.

What I lacked during this season of my faith was an accurate understanding of the gospel. I knew Jesus’ death washed away my sin, but I didn’t understand that his sacrifice also appeased the wrath of God. I knew that Jesus’ death grieved God to the point that he turned away from his son, and Jesus cried out “Why have you forsaken me?” But I didn’t understand that Jesus bore, not just my sin, but also the wrath of God towards my sin. I never have to experience the full cup of God’s wrath, because Jesus drank all of it for me. Without a better understanding of the Gospel, we will continue to feel like we are on the outs with God. Sure, he said he’ll forgive us, but we feel like we still have to earn back our good standing. Believing this lie will keep us from repenting, because it just seems too hard. It will keep us working to earn our place in his family.

I figured God was mad at me, because I would be mad at me if I were him. Yet, God is not a human. His anger is always right. Mine is not. When I get angry with my kids, I have to ask myself if my anger is because they have done something that could bring destruction to them, or am I angry for selfish reasons. When my daughter’s do something like run into the street without stopping to check for cars, my anger is right. I am terrified for what could have happened. I scold them because I love them and don’t want any harm to come to them. But when I am angry with them for interrupting me while I am reading, I am angry because I don’t want to be bothered. My anger is wrong. It is self-serving.

As we begin the Holy Week leading up to the celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection, we are confronted with the atrocity of sin. We see the lengths that God has gone to on our behalf, and our temptation will be to tiptoe to him in fear of retribution. But we must understand that God’s anger is righteous. He hates our sin because sin brings death. He loves us and does not want to be separated from us. So he separated himself from his son, temporarily, so that we could be reconciled to him forever. We will never see God’s brow furrowed in anger. Instead, when we sin, we are met with the grief of a loving Father, who hates the way sin is destroying his beloved child. He is a good Father, and his anger towards sin is right. What's more, his love toward us is steadfast. And this is what compels us to respond with obedience.

Milton Vincent talks about the appropriate response to God's loving kindness in his Gospel Primer:

I also found the grace of the gospel producing in me a huge passion to love and obey God. In moments of temptation, I enjoyed saying to myself, "You know, I can commit this sin, and God's grace would abound to me all the more as He maintains my justified status...But it is precisely for this reason that I choose not to commit this sin!" In such moments I would walk away from sin with laughter in my heart!

My prayer for us today, is that God will give us the faith to believe the truth about the full gospel of Jesus’ work on the cross. I pray that when we timidly test the waters to see if God is angry with us, we will find ourselves met with open arms and a celebration. I pray that we will open our own arms to our children when they have sinned, so they won’t grow up thinking God is still angry with them. I pray that we would be so relieved at the grace of God, that we would respond with obedience out of joy, rather than fear.

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.            Luke 15:20-24

 

 

The Giver

I’m at the point in my life where I am more of the giver than the receiver-aka Motherhood. I have been shopping online and on foot for weeks now, picking out gifts, making sure I didn’t forget anyone, worrying whether everyone has an even number of gifts so no child feels I love one more than the other and then their whole life is ruined by lack of Shopkins. I’m done with my Christmas shopping…I think. Actually, I may need just one more…ugh.

This year I have encountered something I’ve never had to deal with before. My kids have been snooping. In my closet, under the bed, one even had the audacity to tear a bit of wrapping paper to get a better look at her gift. I was a little disappointed with her cunning. I mean, really, doesn’t she realize I’m going to notice the torn paper? You have to at least try to carefully lift the taped edge so that you can tape it back after you’ve taken a peek! Amateurs.

Full disclosure-there have been several times over the last few weeks when I joyfully bought and wrapped gifts for my children…and then there were moments that I wanted to take it all back to the store. Tantrums, bad attitudes, ungrateful spirits rubbed me raw and I thought, “They don’t deserve anything I’ve done for them! Maybe we are spoiling them too much.”

But, here is the truth. No child deserves any gift they get. And no parent gives them gifts because they deserve it. We give our children gifts because we love them and it delights our hearts to do so.

So it is with God. We have received many gifts from our Father, the greatest of which we have planned an entire celebratory season around-the gift of Jesus. I promise you with all my heart that we have not received any of these gifts because we deserved them. God gave us these good things in spite of the fact that we deserve to be forever separated from him. Our depravity is so wretched that we deserve an eternal time out, separated from the holy God who is without sin and always good.

Instead, we receive gifts we couldn’t earn and could never hope to deserve.

God gives his unfathomable peace, unexplainable joy, unquenchable hope, and immeasurable love. We receive it in the person of Jesus. God gives because he is all of these things, and enjoys all of these things, and because of his love for us, he generously shares them with us so that we can enjoy them too.

He doesn’t give us what we deserve, like Santa and his stocking full of coal. He gives us himself. He gave his Son to take our place while we were still wallowing in our sin. He’s done it all-for us. He is the ultimate giver.

I want to give like he does. With love, and joy and delight. Not with a grumbling heart, but rather with a cheerful heart. I want to give even when the receiver doesn’t appreciate the cost of the gift. I’m not at that point yet. My selfishness still tries to get the glory even through my acts of generosity. But as I consider the way God has given to me, I sense that my heart is changing and I’m less concerned with the worthiness of the receiver and more enamored by the graciousness of God to someone as unworthy as me.

Do you struggle with giving?

My prayer for us today is that we would be gracious receivers of the gifts we do not deserve and generous givers that reflect the heart of our generous God.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.            John 3:16

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.                         1 John 4:10

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.            Ephesians 2:4-7

For When You Can't See Past the Dirty Diapers

Hello Friends,

Here we are at the end of November with the holiday season in full swing. I have really enjoyed taking time this month to reflect on the things God has been teaching me since I started this blog last January. 

I am also looking forward to the beginning of Advent, the expectation of Christ, and sharing some new things with you. 

As I sat around the table with family at Thanksgiving dinner, I found myself talking about my great-grandmother, Sonia. I wrote a post about her back in August and as I recalled her story to my father-in-law this week, I knew that I needed to share her story with you again and remember the encouragement her story offers. 

I hope you enjoy reading about Sonia, and come away from this post encouraged. I am so thankful for you, sweet Mama, and the journey we have taken together this year encountering the Gospel in this beautiful calling of motherhood!

Hugs!

For When You Can't See Past the Dirty Diapers

When I look at my great grandmother’s photo, I get a little lost in her story. Sonia came to America from Siberia when she was around 15 years old after she married my great-grandfather who was an American soldier.

I absolutely love her story, though, truthfully, I don’t know the details as much as I would like, but my crazy imagination sure can fill in the gaps pretty quickly with dramatic ideas of my own.

One wonders what motivated her to leave her family and native country and move to a completely new country with her husband. When I look at her round face, framed by her trendy bob hairstyle, and those mischievous dark eyes, I wonder what her personality was like. I look at my own face in the mirror, contemplating my own dark eyes and wonder if she was introverted and shy at 15 years of age like I was. Or was she extroverted and bubbly like my free-spirited 6-year-old? The way she seems to be glancing away from the camera in the photo above makes me think she was more like my third daughter who can only pause for a moment before something glittery has her running breathlessly through life again, savoring every moment as only a wild child can. Did she get lost in the stories in her head, or was she a practical, no-nonsense kind of gal? She must have been up for adventure to come so far so young. I like to think that I get some of my wanderlust from her.

Sonia and her oldest daughter almost a century ago.

Sonia and her oldest daughter almost a century ago.

Though I don't know her whole story, I know one thing for sure-her life was filled with purpose and directed by the sovereign hand of God. No, she never did great things that made her well-known, but rather she did a lot of small things, like change diapers and soothe fussy babies. The greatest thing she is remembered for is walking faithfully with Jesus. Her children heard the gospel from her lips, mostly in Russian with a smattering of broken English here and there. When my own mother was a little girl, Sonia would read aloud to her from her Russian Bible. Sonia taught her children and grandchildren the truth about God. Sonia’s heart trusted the God she could not see. She trusted Him enough to give up all she knew to follow her husband back to his home and raise her children in a foreign country.

I am inspired when I think of Sonia. Her life reminds me that each of us lives in this time in history, in this place and with these people for a purpose that is greater than we realize. When I think of all the variables that may have kept Sonia from even meeting my great-grandfather, let alone marrying him and moving to America, I am amazed that I am even here. How difficult it must have been to move so far away. When I think about how many obstacles could have completely changed the course of an entire family. My grandmother, mother, sister, I and my four daughters may have never existed, and yet, because of the sovereign hand of God, we do. This is when it strikes me deep in my soul that every one of us is on this planet for a reason. It cannot be by accident.

 

Me with my oldest daughter a decade ago.

Me with my oldest daughter a decade ago.

This understanding changes the way I see my day to day. Too often, I am overcome by what seems like meaningless, mundane work of laundry and one more story before tucking in little ones at night. But this is why I am here. The path I am walking during my very short time here must be traveled by me. No one else can do what I have been put here to do. To live on this planet with a heart that worships the Father, points others to him, and loves my husband and children in a way that glorifies God-this is why I am here. It isn’t fancy. Like Sonia, I am living a very quiet, unnoticed life, but the way I choose to live it will affect the generations to follow.

When I see the way my children are growing and becoming who God has created them to be, I am humbled by the role I play in raising and discipling them. I see all the ways I am unqualified, but God has chosen me to mother them. I cannot take it lightly. This may be the greatest work of my life. What an honor motherhood is for those of us who are called to it! Too often, I complain. I grow weary in doing good. I forget the legacy of faith that has been built by my ancestral mothers before me, that I am called to pass on to my daughters, and that they will one day pass on to their children.

Isn’t motherhood beautiful? Yes, I know the stretch marks and baggy eyelids are not so lovely, but they give testimony to the hard work to which we have been called. The sacrificing of our bodies and much needed rest for the sake of others.

Sometimes, our purpose requires day in and day out mundane faithfulness that can cause us to feel restless, like we are missing out on something everyone else seems to be a part of. Sometimes, it requires gathering courage we don’t have to step out in faith and move away from all that is familiar, trusting what we cannot see for things that we will never grasp in our lifetime.

Whatever motherhood has been for you, hear me when I say it is not by accident that you are here loving these babies. It is the sovereignty of God that has placed you here, at this time, doing this beautiful work of loving the least of these. Clothing those little naked babes, feeding their hungry bellies, wiping away their sorrow with gentle kisses and reassuring words.

You are beautiful, Mama. 

I like to think of Sonia during my most difficult days. This has been a week of just that. The work is overwhelming, the obstacles have loomed large, my skill is lacking, and my heart is weary. But then I look at my great grandmother’s picture and I wonder…what impact will my faithfulness to this task of mothering have on my great granddaughter? Will she someday look at pictures of me holding my little ones and wonder about me? Will she be encouraged or ashamed by me? By God’s grace, I hope to live in such a way, that the legacy of my faith will inspire generations I will never meet to live wholeheartedly for Christ as God has created and called them to.

My prayer for you today is that you will have eyes to see beyond the dirty diapers and piles of laundry for a moment. May you catch a glimpse of the bigger picture that is being painted through your life by the Master Artist's all-knowing hand. I pray that realizing your steps on this earth are established by God would encourage your heart, regardless of the obstacles you are facing. May you live with unwavering hope, that even if no one else knows your name, your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would hear of your faithfulness to God and praise Him for His goodness that is everlasting!

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. 

 Psalms 37:23-26