Like a Child

Q: Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?
A: “And calling to Him a child, [Jesus] put him in the midst of them and said: Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt.18:2,3

In my new role as Grandmom I had a chance this week to meditate on these verses with the help of a real live object lesson…

Why must I become like a child?

–Because a child is full of wonder.  All is new, fascinating, delightful– be it snow falling or water splashing,  a button to push, a switch to flip, words, peculiar noises, music…everything is wonder-full.
Jesus came to make all things new.  Do I wonder at His mercies all the day through?

–Because a child is wired to receive.  He’s not embarrassed to be held, not ashamed to say, ‘I’m hungry.’  These are the cries of his needy little soul.   He is utterly dependent on his mommy’s tender care and lost without her love.  He expresses it with every cry of  “Up, Mommy.”  We grown-ups may discount the needy and aspire to independence and self-sufficiency.  But God says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.5:3) Up, Daddy” may be just what God waits to hear from us.
“But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God…”(Jn.1:12)

–Because a child is ready to believe—anything.  He trusts his parents. Believes what they say.  And lives with exuberant expectancy of good things from their hands
We adults might call such people ‘gullible’. We fear being taken advantage of, deceived, hurt.  Jesus says,whoever believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25) Without faith it is impossible to please God for who’s going to come close to God without first believing He’s there, and that He rewards the one who pursues Him? (Hebrews 11:6)

–Because a child is eager to imitate, to be taught, to learn.  Make a face, he will copy it.  Applaud and he will too. Laugh a lot and expect him to join you, even if he doesn’t know what’s so funny. 
Daddy is his hero, the man he lives to copy, just like Jesus who said of Himself, “Whatever the Father does, the Son does too.” Jn. 5:19  This is built-in humility.  No smug knowing it all, no demand to ‘do it my way’.  We might call such a one unoriginal– a copy cat.  But Jesus invites us to take His yoke and copy Him because He Himself is gentle and humble in heart. (Matt.11:28) David had such a heart:Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Ps.25:4,5  Am I so willing to be shown how to live?

And so a child demonstrates to his love-struck Grandmom the way to greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven… “for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt.19:14)
“…and a little child shall lead them”

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.” (I Jn.3:1)


In Review

I’ve had an interesting challenge this week.  I’ve been helping Rachel learn to write Book Reviews, only to discover for myself how difficult this can be!  The best way to teach a thing is to first do it yourself.  So I set out to review Gary Thomas’ book, Authentic Faith.  The catch for me was that though I loved the first three chapters and they were absolutely a God-send for me because they addressed a stage I found myself in,  this enthusiasm waned significantly as I read further.  Then it turned to apathy and finally to actual resistance and resentment toward the author. Yikes!  So I was bracing for a harsh review in response to what I felt was a harsh message. Hmm…. As I prayed about these reactions God led me through a little review of things to consider such as…

“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” Rom. 4:14

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. ” James 5:9

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Rom. 15:7

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” I Pet.4:8

So this process of doing a simple book review got a little more complicated as I submitted my reactions to the Law of Love, at least so far as I can see at present, considering the  debris in my own eyes!…. God is gracious.  I submit to you my review for your consideration…And if you get the chance, do read the book and let me know how it blesses you!



Authentic Faith by Gary Thomas
A book review by Linda Skelton

Gary Thomas has done the modern-day church a huge service in bringing to us voices from the past.  I have long believed that reading history gives a perspective on our own times that is indispensable to living a balanced life.  The trends and fads of one’s time can seem all-important and we can easily stray into unrecognized pitfalls if we don’t step back and consider the wisdom of the past. 

In Authentic Faith Gary Thomas takes on the question: “Are we in the Christian faith for what it gives us, or is our chief purpose to glorify God? “  He organizes his response around ten ‘disciplines’ that he proposes are signposts to authentic faith.  They are refreshingly different than much popular teaching, but uncomfortably pointed if you’re looking for a faith designed to make you feel good, live longer and be happy in the process!

The disciplines Thomas emphasizes are: selflessness, waiting, suffering, persecution, social mercy, forgiveness, mourning, contentment, sacrifice, and hope/fear regarding coming judgment.  He says these are the disciplines that will mark a maturing friendship with God and give us what he terms ‘defiant beauty’.  They differ from the traditional disciplines of fasting, meditation, prayer and the like in that they are not primarily actions we initiate.  They ‘turn us away from human effort—from men and women seeking the face of God—and…toward God seeking the face of men and women.’(p.14)  Thomas says these are God-ordained and God directed disciplines that will produce a spirituality dependent on God.  It will be good to keep this opening thesis in mind as the book progresses.  For disciplines like these become a heavy lot to manage the instant we take on responsibility for making them ‘happen’.  As long as this perspective is kept in view this book will be a valuable guide in helping believers appreciate and respond to these disciplines as we face them in our lives. 

Each chapter focuses on one of these ten ‘authentic disciplines’– defining, describing, and illustrating with examples from the author’s own life or the life of saints in the past and always including quotations and explanations from the ancient church classics, such as Augustine, Ambrose, De Sales and St. John of the Cross.  In my opinion, these references to wise Christians of the past are the most valuable contribution of this book.  These are the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that surround us (Heb.12:1). From them we can gain wisdom and encouragement for the running of our own race.  In their witness we can more readily see the errors of our times and not be caught in foolish trends. 

While this book offers valuable aid in embracing different seasons of growth, it can also become a source of condemnation.  The wise reader will focus on the areas where God is already leading him to make changes, and will beware of taking on more than he is ready to ‘chew’.  This is a book that does not need to be read in its entirety all in one season!  Consider it like the various medicines in your cabinet.  Beneficial, but only as symptoms dictate.  The first three chapters are excellent and foundational to healthy growth. Chapter One introduces the concept of seasons in our growth, while Two and Three consider selflessness and waiting which are inherent to any process of Christlikeness.  After that the chapters do not have to be read consecutively. 

Any application of ‘disciplines’ will readily become negative and burdensome when attempted by sheer ‘will power’.  Our growth has seasons that are directed by God.  Regrettably, though the author makes this observation in his introductory chapter, he seems to lose sight of it when it comes to areas of weakness and immaturity in the church that particularly peeve him.  Though love for the Body may be his reason for writing, a tone of condemnation slips in.  This want of grace seriously detracts from the book’s effectiveness.  Sharp criticism must be tempered by love and grace if it is to bring about heart change. Otherwise there is a risk of only hardening the heart of the reader.  Reader beware. But don’t miss the  wealth of practical time-tested wisdom here, thanks to Gary’s impassioned research.  Take it and let God apply it in season as you walk out an authentic faith with the God who seeks our friendship.


Fresh Joy!

“The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord.” Is.29:19

Fresh Joy– I love those words.  Fresh–like doughnuts fresh-baked first thing in the morning, after working an all-night shift… [thanks to my son for that word picture].  Or if you prefer, fresh home-baked bread hot from the oven…Fresh!  I have found fresh joy repeatedly this week and each time it has come upon me rather unexpectedly.  Joy is like that I think–like a butterfly that eludes capture but then when you least expect it may come to light on your shoulder.  A curious sparrow came flitting up to me just that way as I was having a quiet sit in the sunshine one day this week.  Unexpected. And just as quickly it flitted away when I  reacted to it startling me!  Joy is not so flighty thankfully but it does take me by surprise sometimes.

OK, so having recognized that the best growth happens in a context of restful faith, (see “Calmed and Quieted”), I set out to rest this week–not to stress about my state (or that of those I feel responsible for)…but to trust that God has it all under control.  Nearly fell on my face Day 1…overwhelmed, discouraged by a tutorial on a skill I’m trying to learn.  I read too far, too fast and my new-found hope and confidence that ‘I can’ was quickly eroded.  A little pilot project became a daunting thing.  I was paralyzed into spending an evening opening and closing instruction books, getting out papers, prototype pictures, paints, putting them away and finally making some messy doodles that confirmed my worst fears: “I can’t”… Bedtime found me journaling to myself (This is a writer’s form of talking to oneself, only it doesn’t make you look as crazy, if ‘looks’ count!).  And the Spirit seemed to blow in gently, thoughts that balanced and stabilized my own.  Practical, hopeful ideas.  And I fell asleep at peace…

Next morning I was mulling over this process of growth that seems to be a coupling of intentional practices with the provision of Divine interventions.  I am, in fact, working my way through two books right now that complement each other on this very topic.  Authentic Faith  majors on what Thomas terms the ‘authentic disciplines’–things God brings into our lives to grow us.  And Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice (Willard) puts its focus on the means we can use to make growth intentional.  (One day when I have digested both, maybe I’ll have more to say on the mysterious ‘mechanics’ of growth.) But one thing stood out as I considered this– the necessity of faith as a starting point.  When I view myself (or my ‘charges’) as my responsibility to ‘fix’ through some application of  ‘discipline’ it takes me right out of that ‘calmed and quieted’ state. I must do ‘something’, anything, at least keep anxious watch, sit on the alert growling…And suddenly the focus is all wrong.  Who am I watching? Who am I trusting?

One day I sat reading the incident of Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14).  He was fine until his focus turned to himself and the impossibility of this thing he was called to do: “Come.”  Initially He believed and walked on water.  Then he looked around in disbelief and started sinking.  Jesus’ words cut right to my heart:  “Why did you doubt?”, as though he was waiting for my answer.   And I knew.  It was, “because I looked at me out here and thought, ‘Who am I to be doing this?!  What am I doing out here in this?!'”

Who am I?  Wrong question. Dangerous focus.   Meanwhile, the disciples back in the boat were fixated on Jesus and had quite another reaction.  “They worshiped Him”, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  As long as I am self-conscious and feel responsible, there will be no rest, no joy, no faith. (I think  one of the greatest joys of heaven will be self-forgetfulness!)  But when I look at who He is and trust In Him it’s a whole ‘nother story: “For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name.” (Ps.33) Quiet joy entered in the knowing.

“Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!” (I Chronicles 16:10) 

I was re-reading Abraham’s story in Romans 4 and noticed another possible reaction to this looking-at-myself business.  It was said of Abraham that  “he did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead… “  Now remember, he’s been waiting for literally YEARS for God to make His promise good and give him a son.  But he looks at himself and actually grows stronger in faith. How’s that?! It says, “no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as He gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.” –Rom.4:19,20  Abraham’s faith wasn’t hindered in considering his own weakness because it only served to highlight the incredibleness of God’s promise!  Can my weakness do that?  Can I consider who I am in all my limitations and let it fuel praise to my amazing God?  Yes, I fall short of His glory and yet  “I am justified by His grace as a gift…to be received through faith.” (Rom.3:23-24) And I am now clothed in His righteousness. “He made Him who knew no sin to be made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (IICor.5:21) I came away from meditating on these things with an old song dancing through my heart, fresh joy springing up. I haven’t heard it in YEARS. If you know it sing along:

A Friend I have, called Jesus, Whose love is strong and true,
And never fails howe’er tis tried, No matter what I do;
I’ve sinned against this love of His, But when I knelt to pray,
Confessing all my guilt to Him, The sin-clouds rolled away.

[Now the wind-up for the lilting, joyful chorus…wish you could hear it sung this way…I only managed to find a you-tube piano accompaniment that is rather staid and a little slow.  It lacks the lilt of  a robust hymn sing,  but the words and tune are here.  You can sing along and add the ‘spark’  yourself!

It’s just like Jesus to roll the clouds away,
It’s just like Jesus to keep me day by day,
It’s just like Jesus all along the way,
It’s just like His great love.

Let me give you one more verse:

Sometimes the clouds of trouble Bedim the sky above,
I cannot see my Saviour’s face, I doubt His wondrous love;
But He, from Heaven’s mercy seat, Beholding my despair,
In pity bursts the clouds between, And shows me He is there.*

I love that!  Fresh joy!

Hurrying through my Bible study lesson on contentment another afternoon this week, I turned to Isaiah 29 and found this gem: The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord.” The meek.  This is the one that gets in His yoke (as per Matt.11:28-30), watches Jesus demonstrate what Kingdom living is like,  and walks confidently with Him while He takes me there .  There’s joy here as well as rest.  

As I  sit leafing through the pages of my week I am so impressed at God’s quiet interventions–through His Word mostly, bringing to life the thoughts I need to hear, injecting faith and inspiring fresh joy. It’s really quite amazing how He walks with us so gently and yet so strongly.  It’s not the Garden,  but it’s a foretaste.  We live in the presence of a Living God who really and truly wants to live with us, to dwell with us, to be our God and have us as His own precious possessions… I saw this again in His words in Exodus: “I brought them out of Egypt that I might dwell among them.” (Ex.29:46) He actually wants to live with us, to walk with us, to talk with us…  “In His presence is fullness of joy.”  I’ve mostly thought of this as a future reality but really,  He is with us now, and as we learn to believe it and walk accordingly there will be fresh joy for the taking!


Care for a slice of bread hot from the oven?  Call ahead and we’ll share some fresh.


 *”It’s Just Like His Great Love” –Words by: Edna Worrell,  Music by: Clarence Strouse, 19th century.

Calmed and Quieted

Chewing this week on contentment…inner contentment.  So much of my life has been energized by its opposite.  I find fault with you. I find fault with me.  I’m poised like a watchdog to sniff out error, to bark an alert (or at least to growl) when I find it.  I feel compelled to be different, to be better, to be something I am not… I struggle in the Potter’s hand with ‘why did you make me like this?’ I’ve too often confused this with being ‘spiritual’.   You know, aren’t we to be restless pilgrims always seeking ‘Higher Ground’, gaining new heights every day? 

Growing up in a spiritual climate where a second distinct work of grace was pre-requisite to being really spiritual no doubt contributed to my propensity toward discontent.  It did seem there was more striving than rest, more working to look holy than to exude it from within.  We were a bunch of tee-totallers seeking the land of ‘corn and wine’* earnestly.  But in that searching I learned to foster discontent as a valid motivation for growth.  Is it?
I’ve been challenged to re-think this (again) lately.  I came upon a sage perspective in Authentic Faith**:

“The Christian classics talk about a ‘soul sadness’ or ‘inquietude’ that comes about when we proudly demand a state of character development that we do not yet possess.  Though pursuing holiness seems to be—and, in fact, is—a noble aim, and wanting to experience greater depth in holiness appears to be—and, in fact, is—a godly pursuit, it’s possible that our desire for increased growth may be fueled by pride, ambition, and self-interest—and our attitude as we wait is often the best indicator of what our true motivation is.

Hmm… He continues:

“True holiness is pursued with ‘patience, meekness, humility, and tranquility”. [ I am reminded of Jesus’ own words in inviting me to come to Him in Matthew 11:28, ‘for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’]  Without these qualities in our quest we risk ‘fatiguing’ our souls, “landing us in a season of great distress and spiritual anguish.” (DeSales)

 Yes, I’m all ears at this point…

An overzealous pursuit of character transformation can actually work against us rather than for us.” Our uneasiness and agitation “proceeds from an inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil which we feel, or of  acquiring the good which we desire: and yet there is nothing which tends more to increase evil, and to prevent the enjoyment of good, than an unquiet mind.”(Thomas,44 quoting Francis DeSales’ Introduction to the Devout Life,307)

Thomas concludes by saying:

“In general, our pursuit of holiness should be a patient pursuit.  We grow best living in a pool of spiritual serenity.  Instead of a frantic and desperate clutching, we should adopt a patient waiting and a hopeful expectation: ‘Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’ (Jude 21)”(Thomas,45)

We’re given the example of the farmer who “waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.” (James 5:7)  There’s no rushing this process. I think too of St Francis’ prayer:
“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Serenity will remain illusive if my focus is on things I cannot change.  Changing the things I can will require faith and wisdom to tell the two apart.

But best of all, I’m meditating on these enticing words of David: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Ps.131:2) And I am drawn again to this elusive rest that is my birthright. (Heb.4:9) It starts with trust (Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!), trusting God at His Word– that He is indeed at work in me to make me both willing and able to do his pleasure.  “For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases Him.” (Phil.2:13 NLT)

Will I put aside my introspective ‘temperature-taking’ and rest in His care, His timing, and His methods to bring me to Christlikeness?  Today he beckons: “If you hear His voice do not harden your hearts.” (Heb.4:7) ‘Strive to enter that rest’…’with confidence draw near to the throne of grace for mercy and grace to help in time of need’…(Heb.4:7,11,16) “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil.1:6)

And my soul answers YES! By faith I will trust my Shepherd to lead me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps.23).

And in response He whispers, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex.33:14)
I just love that about God’s Word.  Not only do we serve a living God but His Word is living and active. He speaks still.  And I am encouraged again to trust, calmed and quiet beside Him.

Blessings to you as you make your own pilgrimage. Thanks for walking along with me.  May God grant you grace and glory along the way… “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,…equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen! (Heb.13:20,21)


*See the hymn: “Beulah Land” by Edgar Stites
**Authentic Faith is by Gary Thomas, 2002

In it FOR HIM…

Thanks to a perceptive friend I have a note to add to last week’s words, a softer note.  She encouraged me to look at the stages of development in a child and compare them to our maturing process as children of God. Each stage is normal and necessary…
***A child is helpless and hungry and desperately in need of loving nurture.
–So we come to God and He pours His love on us and His lavish blessings.  We begin to know we are loved. This knowledge is foundational to healthy growth—absolutely essential.

***Then we are toddlers, curious and playful but also needing instruction, guidance and correction.  
–We begin to know love as more than a good feeling, or a lot of good things.  Love disciplines us for our future wellbeing.  Our behavior has consequences.  We are beginning to grow up.

***As we near adulthood we begin to look for our life purpose and take responsibility for others.  We begin to sacrifice our own desires for the next generation.  And we find that we can know our parents as real people, not just authority figures.  (This comes as a sweet surprise for the parent too!)
–-How much more must God delight to see us growing to maturity and beginning to share His passions. This is what we are made for—to really know Him, even as we are known and from this to derive a life purpose that mirrors His own.

What is that purpose?
Where do we go next in figuring out what it means that we exist FOR GOD?
I bumped into Authentic Faith* this week and I quote:

“The new groundwork that needs to be laid is an authentic faith that is based on a God-centered life.  Rather than the believer being the sun around whom God, the church, and the world revolve in order to create a happy, easy, and prosperous life, God becomes the sun around which the believer revolves, a believer who is willing to suffer—even to be persecuted—and lay down his or her life to build God’s kingdom and to serve God’s church.  This is a radical shift—indeed, the most radical (and freeing) shift known in human experience—and it leads to a deep friendship with God.”(Gary Thomas,11)

There is an implication here that runs counter to our independence-loving culture.  Pursuing God’s Kingdom is all about living for His Church, His bride, of which we are a part, not the whole.  Ouch.  Does this make you as uncomfortable as it does me?  You mean, we can’t fulfill God’s purposes in isolation?!  Some solitary prayer, some Bible reading, some reflecting—maybe some ‘blogging’?

Peter says we’re  
‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession’, all corporate words, Body words.  Chosen for what?  –to corporately ‘declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.’ (IPet.2:9) Clearly, we’re in this thing of being ‘for Him’ together.

Paul alludes to an eternal purpose here far beyond us: “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places!” And he clearly believed it!  If we follow his lead look at the ‘ride’ we’re in for–definitely not about personal comfort or advantage:
         “We… are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake”(IICor.4:11)

“it is all for your sake…”(IICor.4:15) 

“For the love of Christ controls us…We have concluded this: that one has died for all…that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”(IICor.5:15) 

And if that doesn’t convince me, Paul provides credentials that he is truly God’s servant, which include every sort of endurance from sleepless nights to calamities, poverty, slander, hunger  and ‘having nothing!’ (IICor.6:4ff).  He talks about wanting to share Christ’s sufferings and become like Him in his death (Phil 3:10).  What is that about?!  I have to admit, I have always shied away from that concept.  I don’t like pain. It scares me.  So what is this journey to KNOW God about?

You’ll have to excuse me if this starts to read more like a travel brochure than a journal.  This is mostly uncharted territory for me.  But I feel the draw, the invitation “to join our Lord in living for the glory of the Father instead of for our own reputation, and …to give ourselves over to the salvation and sanctification of Christ’s bride, the church, rather than to be consumed by our own welfare (gulp).  This holy self-forgetfulness is the most genuine mark of true faith, the evidence of God’s merciful grace in our lives.”(Thomas,23)

And for sure it will have to be by His grace.  Self-forgetful?  Definitely not there yet.  Sounds a little like Matthew 16:25: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  I’m constantly intrigued and challenged by this principle.  Being introspective by nature I’m always rummaging around to figure out what makes me tick… looking to ‘find myself’.  Hmmm…  “Death to self” is a related theme I’m confronted with.  Living FOR GOD means dying to ME.  Is that it?

I find here an illuminating quote from C.S. Lewis (Beyond Personality):

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom.  Give up yourself, and you’ll find your real self.  Lose your life and you’ll save it.  Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life.  Keep NOTHING back.  Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.  Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.  But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

Wow.  So this is what living for Him is about?!
How do we do this?  This transition from self-centered babes to selfless adults who exist for God’s glory?  Or maybe it’s not about what we do…(?)

I’d love to do some thinking about this with you (since we’re on this journey together!) What does living for Him mean to you? What do you see as means to growth and how does the Body around you fit into that?
Drop a comment in the box or send off a snippet of e-mail, whichever you prefer, and thanks for your time–I know this was long.

*I ran across Authentic Faith this week while reviewing church library donations.  I love the way God drops truth into my life via books–His Word, first and foremost, but so often also the voices of assorted teachers in the Body via the books they have written.  It broadens my view of the Church to include all believers worldwide exercising their gifts for the common good.  Don’t miss this aspect of the Body.  Open a worthy book today!  (and expect to hear more from Gary Thomas’ book!)