Thy Righteousness Alone

The Book of Psalms continues to encourage my walk and enthrall my mind as I journey through this relapse. I pray these simple thoughts bless your heart as He so distinctly blessed mine.

“I will make mention of Thy righteousness, Thine alone.” Psalm 71:16b

I have been in that place. That ugly, ugly place where I was deceptively convinced that I actually had some pretty awesome attributes to bring to the table in my ministry relationship with God. Not only did I feel that way, but I had friends who verbally confirmed my awesomeness.

Short story. I eventually came to believe my own press and became wickedly proud in the confines of my own heart and mind. (Naughty, naughty!)

This pride then led me on to become willful, disregarding the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit when He prompted me about certain decisions I made. I also became unteachable, reading God’s Holy Word from my point of view as though He wrote it merely to confirm my grandiose thoughts. I had forgotten something intrinsic to the Christian walk: my “righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). My righteousness. Me in all my own radiant glory. Me when the world acclaims my accomplishments. Filthy rags.

I abhor thinking about myself then. The pride which underpinned my visible Christian walk was out-and-out root rot. Plain and simple. It needed my Creator to deal it a loving blow to enable me to truly reflect His glory in even the smallest of ways. And with a grateful sigh of relief, I can assure you that He has wonderfully taken me in hand. His hand.

I find now that when offered a compliment of any kind, the words “Praise God” quickly tumble from my lips. Not gratuitously, just simply felt and meant. For I now know, deep within my being, that if I have anything praiseworthy to offer, it originated in His design and it transpired through His craftsmanship.

Not that I’m perfect! Ha! Not by a long shot! That little snippet of pride loves to rear up her ugly head and holler out, “Hey! Look at me!” I must then deal another death blow, because if I’m about the business of extolling myself (even in my own mind) then I can’t be about the business of extolling Him…the only One worthy.

Take a moment. Listen in on your own thoughts. Ask yourself, “Whose righteousness gets mentioned here?” If the righteousness receiving glory is not Christ’s alone, cast it out.

“For Thy righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, Thou who hast done great things; O God, who is like Thee?” Psalm 71:19

A Blessed Thanksgiving to You

With Thanksgiving Day ever so quickly approaching, I wanted to pause and wish you all the very blessed of Thanksgivings.

Aromas of baked pies fill every crevice our home affords, while laughter fills hearts, and gratitude our souls.

Our darling daughter has returned to the fold for a few quick days, so our home-heart brims to overflowing with the sweetness her presence brings. My husband returns from the church early and pitches in on all the cooking prep work, laughingly exchanging discourse with his beloveds, yet frowning disconcertingly when his lemon curd filling flops. Even my son considers his opportunities to serve or to simply share in the free-flowing interchanges. My heart joyfully enlarges to encompass the completeness of our little family circle.

Even I pitch in. Toasting gluten-free bread slices for our stuffing. Simmering cranberries. Assisting Josh with pre-baking the sweet potatoes and Amanda with the pies. Then I rest. Every action still costs me something, and I measure them cautiously.

Tomorrow will bring about the bustle of preparing a full turkey meal and our tiny clan will expand to include friends, who will become our honorary family members. For the truth remains that a family is simply what you make it to be.

You may be wondering how we will manage to host a Thanksgiving dinner with my health as such. It’s simple really. Anyone in my home for a holiday becomes family, and if you get tired when your family comes around, you just go lay down. Family works like that.

My wish for you, my friend, is that as you busily prepare for your holiday, you will find time to pause and consider all the Lord has given unto you. Enjoy life’s biggest blessings, treasure its smallest, and consider God’s lovingkindness in your heart.

Have a truly Blessed Thanksgiving. -brenda-

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindess is everlasting.” Psalm 136:1

What He Has Done for My Soul

Josh came bounding into the room. “What are you reading, Mom?

“I’m intrigued by Psalm 66.”

“Why?

Why, indeed.

First of all, you should probably understand that I don’t have a Read-Thru-The-Bible plan. I simply read until I feel God’s Spirit has supplied my daily bread. I find this approach richly satisfying as His Word nestles in and makes itself at home in my heart and mind, stirring me to meditate and absorb until my spirit is assuaged.

Two days ago Psalm 66 penetrated my rather foggy mind and set my brain awhirl.

In my Bible, each psalm has a brief descriptive phrase serving as an introduction. Under the words Psalm 66, it states Remember What God Has Done. Expecting a psalm of praise, therefore, I am not disappointed. For the first nine verses, words of adulation and tribute positively dance across the page, concurrently lifting both my mind and morale. My heart soars.

But then verse 10 strikes. What is this?

“For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou has refined us as silver is refined.”

Verses 11-12 continue to fine-tune the process by which the Lord allows and ordains His servant to be refined. And it’s not a pretty sight. “Brought into the net…an oppressive burden upon our loins…men ride over our heads…through fire and through water.” Yikes. None of this sounds at all pleasant.

And verse 12 concludes:

“Yet Thou didst bring us out into a place of abundance.”

Isn’t that neat? God tries the hearts of His children, but after He has accomplished His refining process, He brings each of His beloveds into a place of abundance. Essentially, after miles across the desert, He shepherds His children to an oasis, where the water runs flowingly and the spirit draws refreshment. Abundance.

The psalmist then expounds for three verses in his song of praise of how he longs to sacrifice to God. Burnt offerings of fat beasts. The finest of his flock, reserved and set apart for God.

But all of this simply leads us to the verse that intrigued me so deeply that day.

“Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell you of what He has done for my soul.” Psalm 66:16

Sweetness! My God, who possesses unbounded love for each one of His creation, does what He does–allows what He allows–for the welfare of my soul. My soul matters infinitely more to Him than does my temporal well-being. My soul compels His inclination, His conviction and His action. My soul. His lovingkindess.

I am humbled.

“Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His lovingkindess from me.” Psalm 66:20

A Sacrificial Thanksgiving

Pre-Thanksgiving activity fills our homestead with all sorts of hustle and bustle. Last evening, my beloved went grocery shopping, and today he  busily cleans every nook and cranny as though preparing for inspection. He blesses me, you know, by his willingness to tend to the needs of our home. Ignoring what’s relegated as gender-based chores, he simply plunges in and tackles whatever needs to be done to make our home as stress-free for me as possible, while striving to make it a welcome haven for our guests on Thanksgiving.

Although the lion’s share distinctly falls on his broad shoulders, I offer my “widow’s mite” of assistance whenever possible, and we co-labor, with the willing help of our son, to prepare our home.

But preparation for Thanksgiving shouldn’t just take place in the home, it should also take place in the heart–which, as many of you know, is much easier some years than others.

While many years contain the delightfulness of living–new love, new life, new opportunities–others seem to encompass the hardships. Like several of you, our lives this past year appear to have been composed of the latter.

With the linchpin of any home–the mom–sidelined for the past ten months, our little clan of four has had to embrace supporting one another or slowly wither away in the process. While I have watched every member of our family struggle to bear unexpected burdens, I, too, have struggled with the guilt of my health being the originator of these trials. On the other hand, however, God has allowed me to witness the highest of His character arise in each of my beloveds.

Today my husband delightfully smiles at me over his sink of hot soapy water–each smile a soft token of generosity. My energetic son bounces around the house, willingly asking, “What do you want me to do next, Dad?” My sweet daughter, over 400 miles away, embellishes my day with her joyful text expressing her anticipation of coming home–she’s oh-so ready to bake and cook! And my heart swells.

No, the gratitude that’s supposed to herald Thanksgiving Day doesn’t always come easy. I have found this year, though, that its beauty blooms fully fragrant deep in the heart of any who truly seeks its splendor. It radiates winsomely on the countenances of those who live to glimpse God’s glory. It thrives hardily within those who choose to sacrifice their rights to enable God’s righteousness to prevail. This humbling gratitude embodies God’s truest ideal of sacrificial thanksgiving.

And God relishes each offering as wholly and completely acceptable.

“He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright, I shall show the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23

Decision Hangovers

As many of you know, my husband and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary the other day! Marriage to the man I love is priceless, which is but merely crowned by a dinner in a fine restaurant. Yet to a fine restaurant we did go–and enjoyed every moment of the evening. From a choice table to excellent service to an unexpected dessert, we considered ourselves truly blessed.

The marvelous chef, having been informed in advance to expect a gluten-free patron, took extra pains to prepare a dish which could meet my dietary restriction. However, I had pre-determined to partake of dairy–a decision I later rued–but a choice I made nonetheless. I, thusly, kept my casein-free restriction mum.

Perhaps not a good idea. For although my evening was exceptional, the next morning I awakened with a post-dairy “hangover.” Even though I had taken a digestive enzyme, fuzzy, muddled thinking pervaded every part of my poor cranium.

My defective dietary selection has led me to ponder how other poor choices have affected my life. The movie or TV show, which God’s Spirit urged me not to watch, later filled my head with images and words I had no license to own. Likewise, sharing my heart unwisely with those I already knew would decimate it without qualms, have left me picking up pieces–which sadly may have included the wounded hearts of others.

God’s Word gives its readers a solid rock on which to stand. From its vantage point, a child of God has the wisdom of the ages to make choices which benefit not destroy. In addition, God’s Spirit–freely given to each one called by His name–grants an inner insight into honorable and dishonorable actions and attitudes.

I suppose that, in the end, I want to encourage you to choose wisely. As an appointed son or daughter of the King of kings, you need not live with the repercussions of poor decisions. For, much like my dairy “hangover” affected my family the next day, faulty choices affect those who surround each of you. However, if you affix your decisions on the solid teaching of God’s Word, while practicing dependence on the guidance of His Holy Spirit, you will find yourself walking in the full blessing of obedience.

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience, resulting in righteousness?” Romans 6:16

November 14, 1986

Twenty-six years ago I was honored to wed my beloved.

November 14, 1986

With both of our families rather money-strapped, we were a couple of poor young kids trying to pull off a wedding. Unable to afford the rental on our church’s sanctuary, we exchanged our vows in a lovely side-room at our church before a relatively small group of witnesses. Because each penny had to count, we did our best to replace largesse with significance. Instead of a large bouquet, for example, I carried three red roses symbolic of faith, hope and love.

Having grown so much in faith, however, I often wish I could go back and do certain things differently from that fretful hearted young girl: so young in the ways of the Lord, but thinking she was so mature. *sigh*

Regardless, though, I still love the simple vows I pledged to my beloved that evening:

Bradley, six months ago when you asked me to marry you, I said “yes” because I loved you. Today I love you even more, and as I stand here before you and God and these witnesses, I vow to you to be your wife. And as your wife, I pledge to walk hand in hand with you through the bad times and share with you the laughter of the good times. I will submit to you, respect you, believe in you, hope for you, and endure with you. I will always pray for you and trust in you because I will always treasure you and love you.

And just like our wedding held the flaws of naive mistakes, so has our marriage. And, unfortunately, it has also borne the scars of willfulness. In spite of all that, God has remained faithful to his children. Indeed, He has answered the heart of our prayers from the very inception of our union, “make us one that our marriage may be a witness of You.”

“…that they may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me.” John 17:21-23

And they lived happily ever after…for His glory.

How to Make God Chuckle

A little boy walks up to his mom and disgustedly announces, “I will never marry any stupid ole’ girl!” Suppressing her smile, the mom inquires, “Well, who are you going to marry?” “Awww. Doncha know, Mom? I’m going to marry you!”

You know why we find this amusing, don’t you? Because we sense that this son feels safe in his mom’s love, we also sense that he will indubitably grow up and marry a lovely young lady of his own. While his mom, with all her good-humor, realizes that, in spite of his determination to the contrary, her son would, in all likelihood, marry one of those abhorrent creatures called a girl.

But I think we also find this amusing because we see a touch of ourselves in the scenario. We petulantly cross our arms over our chest and tell our Father-God what we will not–never-ever, under any circumstances–do. I know. I have a list.

I will never live in a city. I made this at some indiscriminate time in my youth. Perhaps, as a rural girl, the thoughts of city life was intimidating. Not only did I go live with an aunt in a suburb of Chicago shortly after high school, but I have made my home in one of our nation’s largest cities since 1986. “Now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired,” (1 Corinthians 12:18).

I will never go to India. In my early career years, I worked under the supervision of a derisive Indian man. Unimpressed with how this man treated the women who surrounded him, I made my vow. Although I have yet to make my trip, God has graciously given me precious Indian friends, and I would welcome any opportunity to visit their homeland. “I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to Thee among the nations,” (Psalm 57:9).

I will never get married. Having never had the example of a godly marriage set before my eyes, I determined that it would be better to just stay single rather than face the hardship of a horrendous marriage. Not fully comprehending the joy that I was missing, I decided that being a single missionary was more my cup of tea However, after almost twenty-six years of a near-blissful union, I would venture to say the nail’s been hammered in the coffin of that attestation. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” (Ephesians 5:31).

I will never have children. You would think that after marrying the man of my dreams, I would wholeheartedly welcome the idea of having babies with him. Nope. I was frightened. Knowing that abuse tends to beget abuse, I was afraid that I would perpetuate the chain with my own children, and I would rather go without than bear that horrific burden. Thankfully, God understood my fear and tended my heart, so that by the time I read the results from that little at-home test I was truly thrilled to await God’s tiny gift of wonder. “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward,” (Psalm 127:3).

I will never homeschool. I’m pretty sure I thought homeschooling was a little too “fringe” for me. I preferred to become obscured by normalcy rather than be one of those “weirdos.” When it became apparent, however, that our daughter needed assistance that could only come from someone lovingly committed to her, God brought my heart to be “all in.” I soon discovered an unexpected blessing, which I would not change for the whole world. I also found another way to honor God. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” (Proverbs 22:6).

I will never have a cat. I simply have no explanation for this. I didn’t want one. Our neighbor offered our kids a free one. I acquiesced. Story over. “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good, (Genesis 1:31a).

What may seem like a list of “nevers” is more accurately a record of my fears, willfulness and immaturity. Meanwhile, I thought I was being confident, mature and self-assured! Over the years, God has honed me, and I am very loathe to make a “never” statement. (I hate to eat my words!) It’s also an account of God’s graciousness toward me. Like a loving Father, He, no doubt, had to stifle His own little chuckle over my vehement assertions. But also, like a loving Father, He reached past my willfulness, taught me His truths, and helped me grow past my need to predetermine my own parameters. And I’m one thankful cookie.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11