Let There Be Light!

Two months after my son was born, we moved to Chicago so that my husband could attend graduate school. Bruce was working full-time on campus and going to grad school part-time. I was home full-time with a two-month old and a two-year old. Despite the fact that we knew this was what God had for us, it was still hard. We left the familiarity of Peoria and all of our friends for the big city which looked a whole lot different to us with two little kids than it did when we were just dating. I spent that first summer crying and being impatient with my two-year old. At one point, I remember Nick screaming as he often did for some unknown reason while at the same time my daughter needing me for something and not letting up until she got a response. The one she got was not the one she wanted judging from the look of hurt in her eyes. That was a wake-up call for me; a lesson in operating out of the darkness in my dealings with other people rather than out of the light that God shines into us if we will let Him.

“Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; He is gracious and full of compassion, and righteousness.” Psalm 112:4

When I first read Psalm 112, this is not the verse that stuck out to me. In fact, upon closer inspection, it appeared to contain two completely unrelated thoughts. What does light and darkness have to do with grace and compassion? And who is this verse talking about?

As is usually the case, God did not leave me flailing around for too long before enlightening me, calling to mind examples from His Word and my life that explain what He’s trying to get across to me. In this case, I was immediately reminded of the story of Joseph. This verse could very easily be used to sum up the theme of his life. From the moment of his enslavement due to his brothers’ heinous actions against him, Joseph’s life became a living example of finding light in our darkness and allowing it to light the way in our relationships with other people.

At the end of Joseph’s life, after his father Jacob had died, his brothers were concerned that Joseph would finally take his revenge on them for their sin against him. I’d like to take four verses at the end of Genesis 50 to make a case for Psalm 112:4.

“Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’” (Genesis 50:18-21, NKJV).

Here’s what the life of Joseph has taught me about Psalm 112:4.

1). “Am I in place of God?” By begging for Joseph’s forgiveness, his brothers had placed him on somewhat of a pedestal where he knew he didn’t belong. At some point in his life Joseph had to come to the realization that he wasn’t calling the shots, and the sooner the better. We can’t know when and how his conversations with God turned his heart to submission. Was it in the initial betrayal when he was cast into the pit? Or was it on the road as he was being hauled away into slavery? Maybe as he sat on the dirty prison floor among criminals when he wasn’t one, that he surrendered to the idea that he wasn’t charge. Whenever it was, he learned the lesson we all need to come to grips with-placement is everything and we are not at the of the table.

2). “God meant it for good.” Darkness doesn’t exist simply for the sake of darkness. Paul understood this when he said, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” in Romans 8:28.

I can’t imagine being Joseph at the end of his life and reflecting on all he’d been through and having the rare opportunity of seeing the bigger picture. How different would his life have been and the life of his brothers had he chosen to wallow in his darkness, refuse to let the light in and seek revenge on those who’d wronged him? How would history have changed? Perspective is everything.

3). “I will provide for you.” There is a vast difference between the righteous and the unrighteous in how they behave toward other people, especially those who’ve wronged them. What separates the righteous from the unrighteous is from where they are living-out of a position of light or from a position of darkness. It is from a position of light that the upright mirror the life of Christ through their grace, compassion and righteousness. It’s amazing what a little light will do.

Unless we’ve chosen to live off the grid, out in the middle of nowhere completely devoid of human interaction, we will deal with people every day. That’s what this life is about. How we do it depends on what we do with our darkness. Darkness comes in many different forms. Everything from the death of a loved one to difficult relationships, fear, depression, worry, illness, all of it and so much more casts shadows of darkness over our lives often to the point of rendering us paralyzed, unable to function at the level of life we’ve been called to. At the point of our deepest darkness, we have a choice to either sink further into it or to surrender ourselves completely to God and let Him shine His light in the dark corners.

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not My will but Yours, be done.’” Luke 22:41, 42.

“Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, in to your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-46, NKJV).

Talk about darkness! The whole earth was shrouded in it. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, surrendered His will to the Father, gave up His Spirit and finished the work they had set out to do from the moment of the Fall. To the human eye, the crucifixion was a dark day, but the bigger picture would argue otherwise. To those of us who know Him personally, the light seeped in the moment He died and the veil was torn giving us unlimited access to Him culminating at His resurrection. Because of His willingness to die in the murky darkness of sin, He made a way for us to experience His light in our lives. His surrender granted us grace and compassion. This is what the righteous man is to mirror. The darkness often has a higher purpose, but not for the purpose of wallowing in it. We would do well to remember our place, surrender to it, and allow the light of God in so that our dealings with others will be marked by grace, compassion and righteousness.

Let There Be Light!

Two months after my son was born, we moved to Chicago so that my husband could attend graduate school. Bruce was working full-time on campus and going to grad school part-time. I was home full-time with a two-month old and a two-year old. Despite the fact that we knew this was what God had for us, it was still hard. We left the familiarity of Peoria and all of our friends for the big city which looked a whole lot different to us with two little kids than it did when we were just dating. I spent that first summer crying and being impatient with my two-year old. At one point, I remember Nick screaming as he often did for some unknown reason while at the same time my daughter needing me for something and not letting up until she got a response. The one she got was not the one she wanted judging from the look of hurt in her eyes. That was a wake-up call for me; a lesson in operating out of the darkness in my dealings with other people rather than out of the light that God shines into us if we will let Him.

“Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; He is gracious and full of compassion, and righteousness.” Psalm 112:4

When I first read Psalm 112, this is not the verse that stuck out to me. In fact, upon closer inspection, it appeared to contain two completely unrelated thoughts. What does light and darkness have to do with grace and compassion? And who is this verse talking about?

As is usually the case, God did not leave me flailing around for too long before enlightening me, calling to mind examples from His Word and my life that explain what He’s trying to get across to me. In this case, I was immediately reminded of the story of Joseph. This verse could very easily be used to sum up the theme of his life. From the moment of his enslavement due to his brothers’ heinous actions against him, Joseph’s life became a living example of finding light in our darkness and allowing it to light the way in our relationships with other people.

At the end of Joseph’s life, after his father Jacob had died, his brothers were concerned that Joseph would finally take his revenge on them for their sin against him. I’d like to take four verses at the end of Genesis 50 to make a case for Psalm 112:4.

“Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’” (Genesis 50:18-21, NKJV).

Here’s what the life of Joseph has taught me about Psalm 112:4.

1). “Am I in place of God?” By begging for Joseph’s forgiveness, his brothers had placed him on somewhat of a pedestal where he knew he didn’t belong. At some point in his life Joseph had to come to the realization that he wasn’t calling the shots, and the sooner the better. We can’t know when and how his conversations with God turned his heart to submission. Was it in the initial betrayal when he was cast into the pit? Or was it on the road as he was being hauled away into slavery? Maybe as he sat on the dirty prison floor among criminals when he wasn’t one, that he surrendered to the idea that he wasn’t charge. Whenever it was, he learned the lesson we all need to come to grips with-placement is everything and we are not at the of the table.

2). “God meant it for good.” Darkness doesn’t exist simply for the sake of darkness. Paul understood this when he said, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” in Romans 8:28.

I can’t imagine being Joseph at the end of his life and reflecting on all he’d been through and having the rare opportunity of seeing the bigger picture. How different would his life have been and the life of his brothers had he chosen to wallow in his darkness, refuse to let the light in and seek revenge on those who’d wronged him? How would history have changed? Perspective is everything.

3). “I will provide for you.” There is a vast difference between the righteous and the unrighteous in how they behave toward other people, especially those who’ve wronged them. What separates the righteous from the unrighteous is from where they are living-out of a position of light or from a position of darkness. It is from a position of light that the upright mirror the life of Christ through their grace, compassion and righteousness. It’s amazing what a little light will do.

Unless we’ve chosen to live off the grid, out in the middle of nowhere completely devoid of human interaction, we will deal with people every day. That’s what this life is about. How we do it depends on what we do with our darkness. Darkness comes in many different forms. Everything from the death of a loved one to difficult relationships, fear, depression, worry, illness, all of it and so much more casts shadows of darkness over our lives often to the point of rendering us paralyzed, unable to function at the level of life we’ve been called to. At the point of our deepest darkness, we have a choice to either sink further into it or to surrender ourselves completely to God and let Him shine His light in the dark corners.

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not My will but Yours, be done.’” Luke 22:41, 42.

“Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, in to your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-46, NKJV).

Talk about darkness! The whole earth was shrouded in it. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, surrendered His will to the Father, gave up His Spirit and finished the work they had set out to do from the moment of the Fall. To the human eye, the crucifixion was a dark day, but the bigger picture would argue otherwise. To those of us who know Him personally, the light seeped in the moment He died and the veil was torn giving us unlimited access to Him culminating at His resurrection. Because of His willingness to die in the murky darkness of sin, He made a way for us to experience His light in our lives. His surrender granted us grace and compassion. This is what the righteous man is to mirror. The darkness often has a higher purpose, but not for the purpose of wallowing in it. We would do well to remember our place, surrender to it, and allow the light of God in so that our dealings with others will be marked by grace, compassion and righteousness.

 

 

 

What Are You Leaving Behind?

On a hot day in August 1950 in Arnolds Park, Iowa Billy Graham was scheduled to speak at a series of campground meetings. Due to sickness, he was unable to preach that day so an evangelist by the name of Leighton Ford stepped in and took his place. In typical Billy Graham fashion, the preaching was followed by an altar call for anyone who wanted to come forward to receive Christ as Savior. I don’t know how many people responded that day, but among those who did were two very special people, Fred and Marj Hintz, my grandparents. They were a young married couple with two little kids, both of whom they dragged to the front of the meeting with them while they prayed to receive Christ. One of those children was my mom.

It was a costly choice as many of their friends and some family walked away from them, but legacy always outweighs cost. Fast forward to 2015 and their descendants include 5 children, 11 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great grandchild (I think). Incidentally, of the 16 great-grandchildren, two of them have been adopted from Africa extending the reach of Grandma and Grandpa’s obedience to an entirely different continent!

Psalm 112:2, 3 (NKJV)

“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.”

My story is a good one, and I’m one fortunate person to have been born into a family whose grandparents and parents were obedient to Christ and answered his call on their lives. But this is not everyone’s story. How do we interpret these verses in light of our reality? How do we reconcile these verses with the reality of wayward kids, financial distress, or having no children at all despite the fact that we really do try to live a righteous life? Have we missed out on God’s blessings? Are we just simply not righteous enough?

It’s important to remember that the study of God’s Word is to be done in context. This Psalm, obviously, is part of the Old Testament where spiritual blessing was often, though not always, demonstrated through financial blessing, long life, many children. In addition, as part of the Old Testament, it was written in the context of the Law. To apply this Psalm to our lives today we need to apply it in the context of the New Covenant and all that that entails. It is from this vantage point that we will find our answers.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NKJV)

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-‘not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,’ says the Lord ‘but this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord,’ for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

Everything changed when Jesus hit planet earth to bring a new covenant, the covenant of grace which replaced the Law that those of the Old Testament lived by. No longer were generations taught the Law and commanded to live by it. Instead, His kingdom was eternal, open to everyone, not just the Jew, and easily known by anyone who would desire it. To that end, He taught unceasingly what the life of a believer would look like. I mentioned earlier that Psalm 112 is one of 13 Psalms in this series of didactic Psalms that demonstrate two ways of life, that of the righteous and that of the unrighteous. Ironically the characteristics of the godly mirror the character traits of those in the Beatitudes, that is, meek, poor, needy, brokenhearted and the like.

If His kingdom was spiritual in nature, then the blessings we can expect are often spiritual in nature. Maybe you’re the first person in your family to have a relationship with God. What an opportunity to set the foundation for those who come after you. Maybe you don’t have children, or have only one, or those you have are not following Christ. Does that mean you’re unrighteous, that God will withhold blessing from you? Hardly. What about those around you who have been encouraged, or who have made a different decision about something because you took the time to listen and point them to Christ? Or maybe just by watching your life someone else mustered the courage to take a different path, the right path.

I sat at a funeral over the weekend of a woman whose life was an example of this. She had terminal cancer and lived with it for years in front of everyone. As a result of her relationship with Christ and the way she handled her disease people from all over the country who had never met her were touched by her life. Her identity was in Christ, not her cancer. She lived and parented strategically, always with her identity in Christ at the forefront of her mind dictating how she behaved.

What are we talking about here? The Christian life is not about us. It’s about leaving a legacy in whatever way God has mapped out for you whether that’s through your children or friends, strangers we meet, whomever. The life of a Christian should mirror the stone that’s thrown into the water causing ripples to go beyond what the eye can see. That’s the wealth and riches we can count on, that we can store up for ourselves. Those who’ve come to Christ because of our testimony will spend eternity with us fulfilling the promise that our righteousness endures forever.

I Timothy 6:17-19 (NKJV)

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

 

 

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.