Trading Guilt for Grace

What if you really believed what the Bible says about God — that He loves you like a perfect Father, like a perfect Husband, like the perfect Friend, like the perfect Leader?  What if you let the truth sink into your soul that God’s perfect love is not tied to your performance or to your success or to the way you look in your yoga pants?  In You’re Loved No Matter What, Holly Gerth invites you to consider how embracing this truth might change the way you relate to your children, clean your house, approach your job, conduct your ministry, and even how you look back at yourself from the mirror.

Having battled the pitfalls of perfection, Holly challenges women to a right understanding of God and His Word with the goal of correcting faulty responses to verses such as Matthew 5:48:  “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The Greek word for perfect [teleios] is more about maturing growth or completion than it is about being perfect right now; and, furthermore, God makes it clear in his Word that the perfection our hearts long for will only be fulfilled completely in Him — and in the future.  Holley’s chapter on heaven (delightful!) explains that our bent and broken striving for perfection in our present life is evidence that God made us for something far better than what we experience on this planet.  The fact that we are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14) is only a foreshadowing of the perfect place, perfect relationships and perfect people found only in Heaven.

In the meantime, God has called his women to a grace-oriented freedom from perfectionism.  Holley shares transparently about her own lifelong and on-going battle to take the grace offered in Christ.  Reading descriptions of her lunch meetings with friends and heart-to-heart conversations, I felt as if I had been invited to pour a cup and pull up a chair.  In a sisterhood that, together, receives what is already ours in Christ, there will be blessed freedom to say no, to be unique, to carry less, to ignore the Pharisees, and to take risks.

Warm and relational, yet solid and Truth-based, You’re Loved No Matter What is an excellent resource for a group study with a Seven-Step Action Plan and a Go-Deeper Guide, but would be equally effective for individual use by women of any age.  The fears that we battle, the guilt that gnaws at our bones, the endless race to do enough and be enough can end today with the heart-healing truth that being a Christian is not about “leading a good life.”  It is not about perfection on this planet.  What Christ offers is a new identity:  perfection in Him; the freedom to be who you were created to be; and a healing relationship with a God who truly is perfect in every way and loves you perfectly — no matter what.

This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my unbiased review.


Just One Thing: Powerless

Muttering under my breath, I cleaned up the mess that is called party food.  Where to put it all?

Refrigerator?  Full!
Cupboards?  Full!

My grouching escalated into a claustrophobic “ti-rage” about my cramped life until, in the quietness of loading the dishwasher, I realized that I had been complaining about one thing:  abundance.

Turn it around, soul!

Instead of cursing the full fridge and the pans falling out of the cupboard, try this:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” (Psalm 103:1).

Comfortable, secure, my sheltered heart has no idea what it is to live the live of the powerless.  As Nehemiah chapter five begins, three groups of people appeal to Nehemiah with their sad situation:

Group One:  Families with no land who need grain to survive.  Perhaps their work on the wall had interfered with their livelihood.

Group Two:  Land owners who have had to mortgage their fields to provide for their families but cannot repay their debt because of famine conditions in the land.

Group Three:  Those who had borrowed heavily to pay Persian taxes (leaden tax tables demanding as much as 40-50%!) and have had to sell their children into slavery because of this indebtedness.  To make matters worse, the oppressors/lenders/mortgage holders/slave owners are their own countrymen, fellow Israelites.

All three groups are coming from a position of powerlessness.  There is a unique fear that only the powerless experience.  Most of us have no knowledge of it, but, like Nehemiah, we must find the courage to look at it squarely, for it is all around us.

I’ve been praying from the Southwell Litany these days.  You can Google it and see that it’s a helpful prayer for a mum’s heart (although I’m pretty sure that George Ridding had bigger things in mind when he wrote it back in the 19th century).  It asks:

” . . . from the weakness of moral cowardice, save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee,  O Lord.”

If we slip the bands of “moral cowardice” for a moment and look too intensely and for too long at the plight of the powerless, we might find that we need to make some uncomfortable adjustments.  A series by R.C. Sproul has been one of my resources in studying Nehemiah.  He cites the startling statistic that only 4% of evangelicals actually tithe.  I know that I was startled when I heard it because, in my notes, just to make sure that  I got it, I wrote the converse:  96% do not tithe.  The most prevalent reason stated for not tithing was this:  “I can’t live at my current lifestyle and tithe.”

Like the people of God in Nehemiah’s day, we find the glory of God to be too costly.  With extravagant and prophetic gestures (5:12, 13), Nehemiah calls the remnant  back to the Law of God, or as Derek Kidner says in his commentary,  to “making gifts, not loans.”  Nehemiah, by his own example, calls Jerusalem to move beyond generosity and into radical sacrifice.   Verses 17 and 18 give us a peek into Nehemiah’s private journal where he records that 150 people sat at his table on a regular basis and were fed at his expense.  As governor of Jerusalem, he was entitled to a salary and an expense account, but he took neither.  Seeing that it would have been a burden for the people to care for him, he cared for them instead.

This is integrity.  Nehemiah looked at his own possessions and at the powerless and desperate situation of his brothers and sisters and concluded, “I have enough.  I don’t need more possessions.  I don’t need to be more comfortable than I already am.”  Surrounded by people who love me, by warmth and comfort and convenience and plenty, Lord, banish me from the center of my universe.  Open my eyes and my heart to the needs of the powerless.  “From the weakness of moral cowardice, save us and help us, O Lord.”

This post is the fifteenth in a series in which I ponder “just one thing”  each week from my study of the book of Nehemiah, as I travel slowly and thoughtfully through the chapters with my Sunday School class.  If you’d like to make a comment or leave a link to your own blog post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link:


A Saint to Celebrate

Soon the Leprechaun traps will appear in our home, constructed from oatmeal containers, Legos, Lincoln logs, and an old cracker box painted green.  They get a bit more sophisticated every year, but the bait is always the same:  the golden Legos and anything else the boys can find that resembles gold.  In the many years that we have been “trapping” Leprechauns, we have yet to capture anyone, and, to be honest, the only real proof that we have of the Leprechauns’ existence is the havoc they wreak upon our house every St. Patrick’s Day Eve (a little-known observance, to be sure).  They’ve been known to turn the milk green, to kidnap stuffed animals and dress them in green clothing, and even to write “Leprechauns Rule – Boys Drool” on our windows in green finger paint.  Our sons are highly motivated in this business of building Leprechaun traps, because the sneaky little guys in green always spring the traps and leave behind some of their treasure:  golden wrapped candy.

Obviously, there is no spiritual significance to this crazy holiday tradition — unless one values the teaching that God invented fun and delights in creativity — but, it certainly heightens my boys’ interest in reading stories about St. Patrick, both historical and fanciful.  Flame Over Tara has been read aloud several times in our home, coming to us as part of our history curriculum, but finding a home on our bookcase and in our year.  Author Madeleine Polland has masterfully woven two young fictional protagonists and their families into the context of the Roman Empire’s expansion across the Channel and Patrick’s arrival in Ireland in 432 A.D.  Macha, a young teen, but of marriageable age in that culture, and her eleven-year-old foster brother Benet meet Patrick on the day of his arrival and are drawn by his mystique, his talk of a foreign God, and their father’s revelation that Patrick’s arrival fulfills an ancient prophecy.

With all of Ireland’s spiritual life in the grip of the Druid priesthood, superstition and magic are all the Irish knew of spirituality.  Patrick’s arrival is met with distrust and outright hostility, especially among the Druidic advisors to King Leary.  Young Benet is swiftly chosen to apprentice under Patrick; therefore,  Macha is seized with restlessness and a desire to learn more about Patrick’s God.  An impetuous decision imperils her family, endangers Patrick,  and spreads political intrigue all the way to the royal palace.

Wise as a serpent, Patrick challenges the rituals of darkness during the Druid’s high holy day, trusting his God, his knowledge of nature, and the brain that God gave him.  Drawn into the crisis, Benet demonstrates faith in God and loyalty to his mentor under incredible pressure, and Macha matures into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow the true and living God.  Polland’s rich narrative provides the back story to many of the blarney tales behind the legend of St. Patrick, resulting in an account that is both historically enlightening and God-exalting.  Flame Over Tara is a great addition to a homeschool curriculum and a great family read-aloud for the month of March!

Names Matter

When we named our four boys, we were careful to discover and to ponder the meaning of the names we were considering before making a final choice.  Then, we looked at each newborn and asked ourselves if the name fit and if its meaning would be a blessing to him throughout his life.  Names matter.

In The Wonder of His Name, Nancy Leigh DeMoss has chosen thirty-two names from the list of over 350 names and titles that Scripture has related to Jesus Christ.  She has carefully explored their meaning, their scriptural and historical background, and, most importantly, their significance in revealing Jesus’ identity, his relationship to humanity, and his role in God’s redemptive plan.  Each devotional is accompanied by excerpts from hymns and inspirational quotations from a host of authors ranging from the church fathers through contemporary pastors and theologians.  Nancy Leigh completes each lesson with application questions to cement the biblical teaching.  For those interested in more in-depth study, each devotional has a corresponding message available online at

Content alone would place this thoroughly researched and skillfully written resource on my shelf as a helpful reference.  However, the calligraphy and sensitive water-color illustrations of Timothy Botts have elevated these thirty-two meditations to a place in the backpack with my Bible and study notes for times of thoughtful reflection.  The Wonder of His Name is a call to worship and a reminder that the only right response to the person and work of Jesus Christ is wonder.

This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review.


Saturday’s Gift

In time to taste the last slice
Of apricot haze before morning sunshine —

I thought —

To be the giver.

Peanut butter syrup simmering on the stove and
An industrious waffle iron manufacturing perfect chocolate grids:
The gift of a warm breakfast before a cold day of snowy mountain fun.

Lanky Redwood forest of boys
Towers over me in the kitchen

(in the way)

And finds a noisy path to the table.
One refill of every plate and then
A wave to the over-packed compact car.

“Thanks, mum, for the breakfast!”

The true gift of Saturday,
Is carried on February air to my full heart.

Sit. Stay. Abide.

I did not intend to have a dog in my home who is so tall that he can rest his chinRSCN0246 on the dining room table.  It was never my intention to take walks with one hundred and fifty pounds of dog on the other end of a leash, and I certainly did not plan to love that long-haired slobber factory named Tucker.  My heart has been hi-jacked by a dog.

Dave Burchett, author of Stay:  Lessons My Dogs Taught Me About Life, Loss, and Grace, is the victim of a similar hi-jacking, and he did not intend to write a book about the dogs in his life until his four-year-old yellow Lab, Hannah, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.  With a survival prediction of three months or less, Hannah’s time with the Burchett family was suddenly at a premium, and Dave began to realize that Hannah’s tail-wagging, ball-chasing enthusiasm for life was a source of daily inspiration.  So, with Hannah as mentor, Dave opens his journal and his photo album and shares his heart-warming memoir of Hannah’s last days.  With humor, candor, and a conversational style, each chapter unpacks an “ah-ha” moment that Dave experienced with Hannah and the other furry teachers who have blessed his life.

The lesson which most impressed me was this:  dogs live in the moment.  They don’t waste their energy worrying about the future or regretting the past.  They are relational experts, dispensing unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, and trust (whether their owners deserve it or not).  Hannah’s big brown eyes were a constant source of comfort to Dave during his wife’s battle with breast cancer — not because she was a fountain of wisdom or theological insight, but because she continually offered the gift of presence.

A memoir of living through loss and reaching toward joy, Stay could just as well have been titled All I Need to Know about Relationships, I Learned from Watching My Dog. 

This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. in exchange for my unbiased review.

Just One Thing: Peace

According to commentators, the final syllable of the name Jerusalem suggests the words “peace” [shalom] and “prosperity” [shalvah].  We don’t hear it in our English rendering, but try this instead:  think “yer-u-sha-lay-im.”  (Hear it now?)

At any rate, both peace and prosperity were in short supply during Nehemiah’s tenure in Jerusalem, but he was a man of vision.  Even as an Israelite born in exile, Nehemiah would have known the Hebrew scriptures, and I am reading Psalm 122 this week with Nehemiah looking over my shoulder because this psalm of ascent affirms and corroborates the value that Nehemiah placed on the city of Jerusalem (yer-u-sha-lay-im).

Here is his blueprint in Psalm 122:3:

“Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together . . .”

Coverdale translates the description as “a city that is a unity in itself,” and Eugene Peterson adds, “the city itself was a kind of architectural metaphor for what worship is:  all the pieces of masonry fit compactly, all the building stones fit harmoniously.”

Here is Nehemiah’s purpose in verse 4:

The city to which the tribes ascend, all GOD’s tribes go up to worship, to give thanks to the name of GOD  — this is what it means to be Israel,”  (The Message).

“Whatever the limitations of its citizens,” says Derek Kidner, “Jerusalem was where God saw fit to build His House.”  This was Nehemiah’s vision, and the peace of Jerusalem that the Psalmist (David) pleads for in Psalm 122 was a means to an end, this end being worship.  God is the one sufficient reason that justifies the rebuilding of the city. God is the one sufficient reason that his people join to worship.  As people of God, even today, we find our framework in worship.  Hear words from the pen of David (Psalm 122:9), but let your mind envisage Nehemiah’s heart:

“For the sake of the house of our God,
GOD, I’ll do my very best for you.”

For Nehemiah, doing his very best for God involved career displacement, physical danger, and continual risk.

Charles Spurgeon told a story about a reaper, laboring in a field on a summer’s day.  He paused in his work, looked for his whet stone and began sharpening his blade.  Was he wasting precious time?  Of course not, for each sweep of the tool will be more effective for its having been sharpened.  And this is the role that worship plays in the life of the believer.  It is the pause that brings all our work for God and all our words about God into focus.  It is the stone that whets our appetite for God, Whom we desire all the more for having experienced some of his loveliness.  In our longing for peace of heart, peace in our home, and peace in our world, it may be time to stop, to reach for the stone and to sharpen our blades.

This post is the fourteenth in a series in which I ponder “just one thing”  each week from my study of the book of Nehemiah as I travel slowly and thoughtfully (on snowshoes!) through the chapters with my Sunday School class.  If you’d like to make a comment or leave a link to your own post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link: