The things I used to judge moms for, and what I know now

Once a young woman with stars in my eyes, I kept mental lists of the things I wasn't going to do when I became a mom.  From the superficial and external to the deep and complex - I had it all mentally figured out.  Now with 3 kids going on 4, I'm slightly the wiser (and much more convinced that I know very little about being a mom).

Here are some of the things I used to judge moms for, and here's what I know now...

What I thought then:  My van will never have crushed snacks on the floor and toys everywhere.
What I know now:  Going places with lots of little kids requires bags, toys, snacks, cups, clothes, and more.  Somewhere during those travels (either around town or across state lines) these items drop, fall, or are thrown on the floor.  While moms would like for it to be a priority to remove each and every one of those items littering the van, it's hard enough to get each child out when you arrive back at your home.  You're potentially pulling out people with complicated coats who are hungry, crabby, tired, or haven't napped.  The main goal is getting everyone inside and having their needs met.  So sometimes, the crackers on the carpet just aren't a priority!  A clean van is nice, but some mess here and there is just part of having a family.

What I thought then:  I'm never going to "let myself go" and wear junky clothes / no makeup everyday.
What I know now:  When you've been up several times in the night with young kids, you might need to sleep until they wake up.  As soon as kids wake up, your best opportunity to shower has probably passed.  It's possible to squeeze it in later in the day, but it's going to require other hard sacrifices.  Immediate needs have to be met, like feeding kids breakfast, changing diapers, and getting everyone settled into the daily routine.  Getting ready is on your list, but it keeps getting pushed back and back and back because people keep needing you unexpectedly.  When you do finally shower, the precious 10-15 minutes it takes to dry and style your hair probably needs to be exchanged for dinner prep or switching out a load of laundry.  And once your nice sweaters are permanently stained or torn for the 4th or 5th time, you stop wearing nice clothes around your young children altogether.  There is still a place for personal grooming and looking attractive to your spouse (which is of high importance), but it's much more challenging than I ever expected!

What I thought then:  I'm not going to let my kids watch TV.
What I know now:  TV is not evil in and of itself.  It needs to be moderated and shouldn't ever take the place of intentional mothering.  There are shows that are not appropriate for a young child to watch, and as a parent, it's so important to protect what our children see until they are mature enough to evaluate content for themselves.  However, there are also a lot of shows and movies out there that have a decent message.  They aren't going to scar a child for life, and they might even bring some brightness to everyone's day.  TV shows can provide a good opportunity for mom to have some needed time with God, or catch up on a few chores to make the rest of the day run more smoothly.  TV shows can give a chance for mom to shower (see above) and can help everyone cope during times of morning sickness or other illness in the house.  I used to think the decision to let my kids watch shows was straightforward, but now I see that there are a lot of factors to weigh and it's not the difference between a good mom and bad mom.

What I thought then:  I'm not going to become a hermit who stays home with kids all day long.
What I know now:  Getting kids out of the house (especially multiple young children) is logistically challenging and physically exhausting.  There are numerous factors to consider such as; is everyone healthy?  Are we going to miss a nap?  Has everyone eaten?  How will we get around once we get to our location?  How much help am I going to need?  What is the likelihood that someone is going to run away or have a meltdown?  Sometimes the answers to these questions aren't deal breakers, but they need to be carefully understood and weighed, and sometimes, the benefits of getting out of the house don't outweigh the difficulties.  Not to mention, most kids thrive on routine.  Sometimes moms want to just be at home and have a smooth or normal day as a family.  The more children we have, the more I understand why many moms go through a bit of a hermit season until their kids get a little older.  It's important to get out and do things, but it's not the only important thing.

What I thought then:  I'm not going to have sick kids all the time.
What I know now:  I used to see moms of many children and wonder, "Why are they always missing things because of sickness?  Do they have a really germ-infested house?  What is the deal?  I don't like that moms are inconsistent and hard to count on."  *sigh*  Even the most clean-freak moms who wash hands and use sanitizer and stay out of public places get sick kids.  And guess what, if you have multiple children who are under the age of 5 in one house, it's almost inevitable that what one has, they will all get.  And it doesn't always happen at the same time!  Sometimes an illness will take weeks to hit each child, and each time that mom needs to wait it out until her child is better before she comes into the world with them.  Bystanders might think this is annoying, but I promise you that it bothers the mom even more.  She WANTS to be consistent.  She WANTS to uphold her playdates and adult commitments.  She doesn't intentionally avoid you because she would rather be taking care of a child who is throwing up or has a fever.  The doctor's office isn't her favorite place.  Any mom would tell you that if it was in their power, they wouldn't ever have a sick child!

What I thought then:  I'm not going to have a messy and cluttered house.
What I know now:  Mom's are trying to pick up after miniature mess factories.  Literally, for every item that is put away, a child takes a new thing out.  For every pair of pants that is washed, a new one is stained.  Each time a dish is rinsed, another one is eaten off of.  Even if you are 100% on top of your game, well-rested, and in good spirits - this is a tough job.  So add any other family or physical stress to that and a person can imagine how quickly a house can become messy and cluttered.  Not to excuse it, but it's much more challenging than I expected, and it's something that you can spend your whole day on without making much noticeable progress.

Honestly, this list could go on and on (sadly, this is just a small sampling of my judgements)...but it's really just a reflection of what some women say and think before they become a mom themselves.  These are the things that can make women dread and avoid motherhood.  Because from the outside, it looks like a bunch of women who are haggard, tired, and struggling to do their job well.  But it's much MUCH more complicated than that, and outsiders looking in on motherhood also don't get to see the deep joy and satisfaction that mothers experience as they put their hair in a ponytail again, nurse another toddler back to health, or give thanks that they are blessed enough to have a car full of cracker crumbs.
Outsiders can't always see the way moms do mundane things with eternal purpose, or work with excellence even when the pretty results are thwarted.  It's not a glamorous job by our culture's standards, but God calls it an important one.

And because of what I know now...I'm TRYING to be more reserved with my judgements about what type of mom I'll be to school-aged children, teenagers and adults.  Because it will probably look a lot different than I expect once I have a better perspective!  Also, I think some of these things have helped humble my too-high view of self, as I recognize my daily need for God's grace through the cross.  I can't do this thing alone, and I certainly can't do it WELL without ongoing growth and training.

Can you relate?

One Question for Frustrated Moms

One Question for Frustrated Moms - From the Jensens Blog

Recently, I had some of those low and frustrating days as a mom of young children.  Thankfully, I can say that most days I truly enjoy having three little voices calling out to me as mom, but like most women, I can experience exasperation in this wonderful gift.  I felt a little bit convinced that these sometimes sweet boys were seeking to drive me over the edge by disobeying the majority of my requests and making even the simplest activities difficult.

- Playdates felt like a daunting experience, where I was going to have to spend the whole time putting people in time-out for hitting or throwing, and continually chasing little boys headed off into off-limits areas.
- Read alouds ended in everyone shedding tears with book pages ripped all over the carpet, fighting over the most desirable titles.
- Bedtime meant struggles over brushing teeth, tugging stuffed animals out of greedy hands and going in to lay kids down again and again and again.
- Our household sounded like an a capella chorus of "Whining" with the lyrics "mommmmmyy!!!!  I neeeeeed you!" playing on repeat.

I was pretty much considering a few options at one point:
1)  Completely ignoring all of their behaviors and heart attitudes. "Maybe my kids can just parent themselves?"
2)  Turning into a yelling / scary mom that rules everyone with an iron fist.  "Maybe I can just show them who's boss, and then they will stop pressing all my buttons?"
3)  Taking an extended vacation to an all-inclusive resort.  "How long until everyone runs out of food and clean clothes?"

I think every mother of young children has felt this way at SOME point or another (or I sure hope I'm not the only one who hits these walls of frustration).  The issue isn't DO we have these moments, but what do we DO to get past them?

Where am I finding my joy?
As I folded laundry, only to have someone tear through a neatly stacked pile of t-shirts, I had to stop and check my heart that was bubbling with anger.

What was I telling myself?
What was I believing?
What was I allowing to control me?
Why wasn't I having joy?

These moments are red flags, not to show that we are abnormal women, but that we've taken our eyes off of Jesus and placed them onto something else.  I wasn't finding my joy and hope in God alone, but instead I was placing contingencies on my joy:
  • "I need our kids and family to be FUN in order for me to have joy."
  • "I need our household to sound and look PEACEFUL in order for me to have joy."
  • "I need our life to be EASY in order for me to have joy."
It's pretty simple to see the problem here, because anyone who's lived in an environment similar to a pre-school nursery for long can tell you it's not generally "fun, peaceful and easy".  So if I felt like I needed those things in order to be a joyful woman, I was going to be waiting a while.

How can I stop and pursue my joy in God?
  1. I had to acknowledge, "God, I'm hoping in a fun, easy and peaceful life.  I'm not finding my joy in you.  I'm not looking to you for fulfillment.  Instead I'm looking to my circumstances."  This in itself is a huge step!
  2. I had to repent, "God, forgive me for not enjoying and seeking you as the most wonderful and fulfilling thing in life.  Help me make changes that are consistent with the truth that I believe."
  3. I had to speak truth to myself.  "I know that you are the only thing that can bring me joy.  Help me pursue my joy in you."
This isn't a one-time, magic wand process.  It's something that has to be done daily, sometimes even every few minutes!  There are practical things we can do to orient our hearts and minds around joy in God:
  • Listen to or sing worship music to God
  • Make note of the undeserved gifts God has given 
  • Meditate on the gospel:  God's patience with you, his mercy towards you, his gift of salvation to you
  • Pray simple prayers of humble need, asking for God's help
  • Practice obedience by serving or moving forward in faith that you will have joy in God as you do His will
Done over and over again, these disciplines have the ability to help us reorient our hearts and minds towards truth.

So did this mean that I automatically stopped snapping at my kids and started leaping with jubilee each time they whined or needed something?  No.  But it did allow me to move forward in some productive ways.  With my heart oriented on God, I was able to seek His practical help with challenging situations.  Recognizing opportunities to walk in-step with God:  "How can I discipline more consistently?  Is there an area I need to ask my children for forgiveness where I haven't been faithful?  How can I structure our day or our life better to train our children well?"  This meant remembering that making disciples is not an easy or painless task.  

Lately I've been reading through "Desiring God" by John Piper at the same time we've completed a video series on the topic through Sunday School.  I'll be the first to admit, it's stretching my brain and my theology!  But I really do want to understand and seek my greatest joy in God - and stop separating "joy" from "obedience".  Because for followers of Christ, our greatest joys are not in competition with a life lived for Him. 

So next time you hit a mommy wall of frustration, it might be good to stop and ask, "What conditions am I placing on my joy?" and more importantly, "Where am I finding my joy?"

Colossians: Warning Signs for False Teachers

I once attended a church for a short season that appeared to fit perfectly into its community.  In a very affluent suburb, the gorgeous, newly architected, multi-million dollar building stood as a landmark.  The church had a solid reputation for excellent programs and hospitality, and had its roots deep in the surrounding neighborhoods.  The leader of that church was highly respected, not only in the city, but in his denomination.  I enjoyed attending their services.  People were always friendly, the bulletins were easy to read, the programs were listed clearly, the music was powerful and the preaching drew me in.  The lead pastor was almost like a celebrity; hip in a 'Rob Bell' sort of way without being quite as suspecting.  During my time there, I remember that his teaching seemed relevant and helpful.  He lived in a nice house, was probably paid a generous salary, and had an ideal 'suburban' life as a local thought leader.

While I had respect for this man and this church, something small didn't sit well with me.  I couldn't have communicated it at the time, especially since I was a fairly new believer, but everything was TOO perfect.  Maybe that's what bothered me.

Just a year or so ago, I was scanning The Gospel Coalition's website, and was startled to see this pastor's name pop up under the book review page.  As I read the book review in detail, at first I was a little surprised that he had openly affirmed a false teaching.  He was blatantly explaining away bible passages in his book as 'no longer relevant'.  But as I looked back on my time at that church, in hindsight, I can see why false teaching had taken root, as the church molded itself to the surrounding community and sought not to offend the world.  This man had traded in the gospel message and the bible for local popularity, cultural likeability and a nationally known mega-church.

Here's the thing about false teachers:  The never wear a name tag.
And this is EXACTLY why Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, explaining things as he did - warning them about plausible arguments and being duped.  It was likely that the false teaching happening in the area of Colossae was difficult to discern, and might have even seemed like a truer or more appealing version of Christianity than what they'd heard from Ephaphras.  We need this wisdom too, because varying degrees of false teachers still exist in churches today, and the counterfeits can look an awful lot like the real thing.

How do we safeguard our hearts against false teaching?
In the previous posts, we've already talked in detail about Paul's two major encouragements to the Colossians as he challenges them to remain firm and steadfast, holding the truth they had already heard and believed.

1)  Paul reminded them to fix their eyes on the person and work of Christ, and behold Him as their greatest authority and treasure.
2)  Paul reminded them to hold to the gospel message, basing their faith in its truth as they grow in maturity.

But there is another tactic he uses in this letter...
3)  Paul proclaims truth, warns the people of specific threats, and teaches wisdom so they will not be duped.

What are the signs of false teaching?

  1. False teachers can sound credible and reliable
    • The very reason that false teachers have a following is because they seem wise.  If they sounded like false teachers, no one would listen and Paul wouldn't have needed to write a letter of warning to the Colossians.  False teachers model after satan, the deceiver himself.  He is a master at speaking lies which sound dangerously like the truth!  
    • Application:  We can't just listen to someone because they are likable, popular, have a good reputation, or rouse our emotions.  We have to hold everyone's words up to the truth of scripture - which is why it's crucial for every believer to know what the bible says.
  2. False teachers overemphasize certain 'spiritual' things, steering away from the gospel.
    • Specifically, the false teacher in Colossae was focusing on philosophical arguments, human traditions, elemental spirits, angels and visions.  These were obviously relevant topics in their local culture, and were seen as exciting or interesting things to believe and discuss.  
    • Application:  We should be leery of people or ministries that place a large focus on something other than the gospel and Christ himself.  If a church is primarily all about something other than Jesus, that's a problem.  While it might seem interesting to be relevant or 'spiritual', you might be getting 'duped' into a false gospel (as Paul puts it).
  3. False teachers try to add something to your salvation.
    • In the region of Colossae, the false teaching sought to disqualify Christ followers from their rightful inheritance by suggesting they needed to adhere to additional rules and regulations.  While it's not clear what those were exactly, we get the sense that they had to do with extreme self-discipline, even when it came to things like food.  This teacher obviously thought that Christ wasn't enough, and preached that additional works were needed to obtain a right relationship with God.
    • Application:  Because we are free and fully blameless before God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we don't need to do any other work to be saved.  There are things we want to do because we have the holy spirit in us - and obeying God is going to help us see Him more fully (which will bring us more joy) - but technically, there is nothing else we NEED to do to be saved.  Works are a fruit of salvation, not a requirement for it.  Therefore, we should be suspicious of church leaders or cultures that tell us we can somehow earn more from God by living life a certain way.  This is a very subtle difference from being encouraged towards holiness out of a changed heart, so it can be hard to spot.
  4. False teachers are puffed up about special knowledge and insight.
    • The false teacher spoken of in this text seems to be puffed up about his particular visions, and likes to talk about special knowledge pertaining to his own revelation apart from Jesus.  Paul also talks about his 'sensuous mind', which means he was very gratifying to fleshly appetites.  This eludes to his pride and desire for physical and cultural comfort, something that every human is tempted toward.
    • Application:  If you hear a teacher going on and on about some 'special' insight only THEY have into scripture - that's a big red flag.  Even people who are gifted to prophesy need to be saying things that are in line with scripture - they don't get free reign to have extra-biblical words from God that are contrary to something we already know.  The bible says that God has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness, and that we hold the ability to understand what we need to about Jesus with the help of the holy spirit.  In addition, a teacher who seems to be very friendly with the culture or worldly comforts should be examined closely.  There is nothing inherently wrong with having some material wealth, but if he/she appears to love it and is totally at ease in the flesh, that's a problem.
  5. False teachers don't cling to Christ.
    • This is probably the most important warning sign, and puts the nail in the coffin of Paul's argument - the false teacher in Colossae didn't hold to Christ as head of him or the church.  Instead the teacher magnified himself as head, or elevated some other spiritual idea or practice above Jesus himself.  
    • Application:  Have you ever been in a church where you can go weeks - or even longer without ever hearing the preacher talk about Jesus?  This is a huge warning sign!!  If a church can do a bunch of teaching and work apart from Christ, rarely mentioning or pointing people to Him, then it's teaching something false.  The whole meta-narrative of scripture talks about Jesus and points us to our need for Him as Savior.  So how can a teacher talk about scripture without referring to the main character?  Moral lessons are not the same as biblical, gospel-preaching truth. 
(And on a final note; I think it's important to remember that there are degrees of false teaching.  Someone can hold to Christ and the gospel, but not correctly teach a secondary or tertiary doctrine.  I think Paul wants the Colossians to see the difference between a teacher who needs some minor course corrections and one who has given up the critical foundations of the faith.)

The reality is this:  we've probably all either heard a false teacher, been in the church of a false teacher, believed a false teacher or been a false teacher.  The scary thing is, many of us (like my example above) don't recognize them at first, but only in hindsight.  Or, we've failed to see the ways we've subtly shifted our focus away from the critical doctrines of Christianity.  While Paul's letter to the Colossians gives many helpful warnings about false teaching, there are many many other places in scripture that give additional insight into things we need to guard against.  In the last days, many believers will be confused, and might even be drawn away by deceptive teaching (Matt 24:24).

Have you evaluated the teachers and leaders you regularly listen to, holding them up to scripture and examining them for signs of false teaching?


Other posts in this series:
Colossians: The Supreme Treasure of Christ
Colossians:  Holding Tightly to the Gospel Message
Colossians:  Living Out Your True Identity

Colossians: Living Out Your True Identity

Steve Jobs, the co-founder and late CEO of Apple, was known for wearing the same outfit.  Do a quick google search, and you'll find him making appearance after appearance in a black turtleneck, jeans and comfortable shoes.  I don't know if he ever changed up his brands at all, but I'm almost positive you could go to his closet and find a collection of turtlenecks and jeans.  Now, imagine for a moment that Steve Jobs woke up one morning, got dressed and came out to make a presentation for Apple wearing something completely different, an orange polo and khakis perhaps?  People would have been shocked!  They would have said, "What is going on here?  This isn't the Steve Jobs that we know!"

In chapter 3 of Colossians, Paul begins to switch gears.  He's developed a wonderful theological understanding of Christ and the gospel, imploring the church in Colossae to rest their faith solidly on that truth, at which point he uses the transition, "If, then" to indicate that those beliefs should mean something for their actions.  Because of who they already are in Christ, their identity, they should be putting on behaviors and actions that reflect their new heart, putting sinful earthly practices to death.

What Paul is saying is much like Steve Jobs and his closet.  Steve Jobs had a wardrobe filled with black turtlenecks and jeans, and this is what he put on each day.  He dressed in a way that reflected what was already in his closet.  If he had changed and decided to buy something completely different, people would have noticed and shockingly accused him of not being true to his identity.

Pretend with me for a second that our closets are like our hearts (not a perfect metaphor, but hopefully helpful).  When Christ gave us a new heart, he filled those proverbial 'closets' with a new nature and new desires.  He gave us all new, pure white garments of righteousness.  They reflect things like love, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Each day, as a follower of Christ, we have access to those things, and we can chose to put them on, because they are already ours.  We live out our true identity as we dress in a way consistent with our closets.  But instead of clothing ourselves and putting on qualities that we already possess in Christ, most of us do one of two other things:

1.  We go dig clothes out of an old closet.  I don't know about you, but I have a second closet.  It's not in our bedroom, but in another room across the hall, hiding things that don't really fit my 'new' mom body anymore (but I just can't bear to give up).  These are clothes that I look at over and over, wondering if I should finally throw them out once and for all, never being able to let go completely.  And sometimes, I even put on those clothes and wear them out in public...knowing that I'm a bit uncomfortable and probably not wearing something that fits my new figure.  We can do the same thing in our hearts.  Instead of putting on our new qualities given to us in the person and work of Christ, we can run to our old ways and clothe ourselves in ill-fitting acts of unrighteousness like sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, idolatry, gossip and anger.

2.  We ignore the clothes we have and shop for new ones.  The other thing I often do is grow bored and discontent with the clothes I already have.  It seems too easy to just pull something out of my own closet, so I determine I can come up with something better at the store.  There, I try to purchase things that I want to reflect my identity and my style.  This is also like our hearts.  Instead of resting on the free grace and identity we have already been given, living that out, we want to add to our salvation through good works.  We think, "These garments Christ has given me are good, but I can do something better."  Thus in this scenario we are also failing to live according to our new heart, and instead we adopt a works-based mentality.

Again, this is not a perfect metaphor, but I hope it illustrates this truth that Paul was trying to communicate to the Colossians:
Live according to who you are in Christ.  Put on your new self, hidden in Christ with God and put to death your old self.

Why should we live according to our new identity?
Here is the foundation of Paul's argument.  It's not that we should live this way so we can obtain heaven, please a God who is angry with us or look like good people on the outside only.  We should live according to our true nature because of what Christ has ALREADY obtained on our behalf and it's who we ALREADY are.  Our closets are already full of these Christlike garments.

(Paraphrase from Colossians Chapter 3)
We have been raised with Christ in new life, who has been seated in a place of honor at the right hand of God.  Our old selves have died, and our new lives are hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ appears, we will also appear with Him in a glorified body.  This promise is already ours!  Our minds are being renewed after the image of our creator, and we are completely free in Christ who is our all in all.  We are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, and God has forgiven us in Christ.  Finally, we were called to the peace of Christ, and to do all things in His name.

If you are in Christ, if you have believed and trusted in Him for the forgiveness of your sins and the hope of new life, then you have already obtained a new heart.  As Paul says, "IF THEN, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."  (3:1)

And in Ephesians 4:1, "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called."

Clothe yourself from the right closet
Let's go back to the closet metaphor.  How often do you find yourself pulling garments out of an old closet or working your way to a different wardrobe?  Could this be playing itself out in your life?
Here is an example situation (one that I've experienced myself) using the metaphor, and one of the qualities Paul described in Colossians 3:

My new self or new identity has the desire and ability to be patient in Christ, and I desperately need patience with my children.  Each day, situations arise where I have the opportunity to display patience as my children argue over toys, ask the same question over and over again, tug at my pants, fail to nap like I planned, and disobey my authority.  In those moments I often do one of two things.  One, I go to my old closet and pull out a quality of my old, earthly nature (that no longer reflects my new heart) to put on display, namely anger.  Anger is a passionate outpouring of my wrath when my children fail to perform and meet my standards according to my kingdom purposes.  Anger takes the form of avoidance, laziness, raising my voice, rash discipline or harsh words.  Anger clouds my judgement and impedes my ability to display the qualities of Christ to my children and share the gospel.  Secondly, sometimes I attempt to gain a new garment of patience for myself, outside of what Christ has already done.  I wake up in the morning and decide I am going to will myself to be more patient.  When those moments of frustration arise, I try to master my self-control with all my might, and stand on my own strength to respond appropriately.  This works for a while, and it looks good on the outside, but ultimately it's exhausting and it sucks the joy out of life.  The only thing that helps me have TRUE patience is when I've been doing 3 things:

1 - fixing my eyes firmly on who Christ is and what he has done
2 - preaching the gospel to myself, praying it daily
3 - relying on God to give me strength and pour out His love through me in practical situations

There is no lasting hope to be patient with my children unless I'm humbled by the vast patience God has undeservedly shown me.  As I dwell on God's patience in my shortcomings, I can forgive the shortcomings of others and display patience.

Can you relate to this example?
Feel free to insert any one of the positive or negative qualities Paul described, and think about what causes you to live that way.
Do you struggle to live with a thankful or peaceful heart?
Do you often find yourself in contentious situations with your husband?
Do you have a bitter or hardened heart against family or friends?
Do you regularly experience bouts of anger or use your words for gossip and slander?
Do you find yourself passionately pursuing worldly things, while avoiding the 'things above' where Christ is seated?

The answer to these struggles isn't try harder to change, but run to Jesus, behold Him and live according to your true identity.  This type of outflow not only gives glory to God, but can give you real joy.


Other posts in this series:
Colossians: The Supreme Treasure of Christ
Colossians:  Holding Tightly to the Gospel Message

Colossians: Holding Tightly to the Gospel Message

Growing up in a church setting, I thought the gospel message was something people needed to hear just so they could believe in Jesus and be saved.  This was the depth of my understanding, "Jesus died so that sinners could live forever with God in heaven."  My assumption was, after you heard and mentally acknowledged that statement to be true (and even prayed a prayer) you were saved and could never 'fall away'.  I thought your job at that point was to be as good as possible, following all the rules and teachings laid out in scripture.  I judged someone's spiritual progress by how 'good' and put together their lives looked on the outside, and how little they appeared to sin.

Of course, this became a problem, because I also thought that I had acknowledged the truth of the gospel message, and was thus 'saved' (despite all of my heart attitudes and actions that showed otherwise).  I tried to act like a Christian, and found that I was utterly incapable of meeting God's standards.  In fact, not only did I miss the mark, but I noticed that my heart was filled with wickedness and sin that I wasn't sure how to handle.  I wondered, "Why do I still have so much sin in my heart if I am a Christian?"

Even in my early years as a true follower of Christ, I still thought the gospel message was one I only needed at conversion.  As if I only needed God's overwhelming grace that one time, and then I could get on the path to reforming my behavior.  With the holy spirit in me, I did see some progress in the battle against sin, but was continually shocked at the wickedness I still possessed.  I wondered, "Why is so hard to grow and put to my sin to death?"

Today, after nearly a decade of trusting in Christ, I'm finally understanding that the gospel is something I need to believe, trust in and embrace DAILY.  God's incredible mercy shown to me in Jesus isn't something I needed 'one time' because I used to be bad and now I'm good.  It's something I still rely on constantly.  Those deep-rooted idols that used to manifest themselves in more flamboyant behaviors, now exist, but come out more subtlety.  I am still a sinner, and the more I know who Jesus is and fall in love with Him, the greater my need for the gospel.  Today, I'm more aware of how badly I need the grace of God to be in His presence eternally than I was when I seemed like more of a 'sinner' on the outside.  

So why is it this is such a common misconception?  Why do so many Christians think that the gospel is only for conversion, and then can be left behind in the process of growth?  In the previous post, we explored Paul's major exhortation to the church of Colossae, who were facing the dangerous temptation to embrace false teaching and stray from their faith.  In summary, it was this: know and behold the person and work of Christ, understanding His supreme authority and worthiness.  But as Paul builds upon that argument, the 'work of Christ' quickly lends way to his second major point: the believers in Colossae must not stray from the gospel message they first received.

What is the Gospel Message?

Here is a summary of the way Paul presents it in his letter to the Colossians:

Jesus, who was fully God, circumcised our hearts; allowing us to die to our sin and be raised to eternal life with Him.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can be forgiven of our trespasses, having our debts cancelled, so we are reconciled to a holy God forever, sharing in the inheritance of Jesus.  Through the blood of Jesus, we are presented as holy and blameless before God, able to walk in accordance to our new heart and do good works by faith.

And if that was a little wordy, here is a simplified presentation of what Paul presents:
  • God came to earth as man (Jesus).
  • Jesus lived a perfect life without sin.
  • Jesus unjustly died on the cross, and took our punishment for sinning against God.
  • Jesus was raised from the dead, and lives forever.
  • When we put our faith in Jesus, we can be washed clean from our sin, have a new heart and live forever with God too.
It's helpful to summarize and rewrite the gospel message for full comprehension of its message, so I'm thankful that the bible has many different ways of presenting this truth to us.  

Why do we need to hold tightly to the gospel?
What's wrong with just hearing and accepting it one time at conversion, and then leaving it behind as 'old news' as we seek to be more life Christ?  Paul gives several reasons that the Colossians should continue believing and trusting in the gospel:
  • Because the gospel causes us bear fruit (1:6)
    • Paul says that ever since the Colossians heard and understood the gospel, they have been bearing fruit and increasing in their faith.  And this is why we have been raised from the dead through the body of Christ, so that we may bear fruit for God's glory (Romans 7:4).
  • Because the gospel keeps us stable and steadfast (1:23)
    • Someone who is stable and steadfast is unlikely to fail, and sticks to a predictable course, not being wavered by every external factor.  The gospel helps us walk in Christ, established firmly in our faith, abounding in thanksgiving (Col 2:6-7).
  • Because the gospel helps us mature (1:28)
    • Paul stresses that his goal as a steward of the gospel is to present all believers as mature in Christ.  He believes this can happen as he continually preaches the gospel, warning and giving wisdom in the strength of the spirit.
  • Because the gospel protects us from false teaching (2:2-8)
    • The gospel message contains the wisdom and knowledge a believer needs to resist the misleading words and seemingly credible arguments of false teachers.  It redirects the believer to right thinking, exposing lies and deception.
Without the anchor of the gospel message, we can start to stray from the truth, even unknowingly.

How can the gospel message help us in everyday life?
  • We want to be moms with patience, joy, love and compassion for our children.  Knowing and believing the gospel helps us view ourselves rightly, giving us the power to love our children with God's love.  It also helps us share truth, because we see our children as sinners in need of grace instead of just misbehaved kids in need of discipline or basically good kids who keep making minor mistakes.  The gospel helps us have joy when things don't go our way, and puts our hope in Christ, not in our ability to be perfect mothers.
  • We want to be effective women of God who evangelize, pray, grow and serve in our neighborhoods and churches.  The power and ability to do this with joy and transform lives for eternity, does not come from our own strength, but from the power of the gospel overflowing from us.  As we understand and love what Christ did for us, we will desire to lay down our lives for others around us, embracing service as a gift to give glory to God.
  • We want to have discernment to recognize false messages that continually pop up in social media and entertainment.  Without knowing and standing firm in gospel truth, we can become a reflection of our culture instead of Christ himself.  Continually reviewing the gospel in our hearts keeps our eyes fixated on who and what we want to become a reflection of.
  • We want to endure suffering well, without complaining and self-pity.  This is impossible to achieve without rooting our hearts in a hope greater than this life, given in the gospel.  The hurts and disappointments in this life can only be weathered as we abide in Christ and look forward to the joy set before us.
  • We want to be wives who support our husbands instead of nagging, pressing impossible expectations on them.  Only as we are fully satisfied and confident in what Jesus has done on our behalf, knowing how short we fall of God's standards,  can we love our husbands rightly.  Rooting our identity in the gospel actually frees us to encourage, serve and come alongside our imperfect spouse with patience.
  • We want to be workers who know our purpose, which is ultimately not in achieving great things for our glory, but to give glory to God alone.  Through the gospel, we can stop putting our hope in our ability to do good things for God, and let our good works be an overflow of our love for Jesus.
These are just a few applications!  Ultimately, the gospel message is what propels us to live the way God called us to live.  No other willpower or self-help will give us the strength to live according to our identity in Christ.

How can we hold tightly to the gospel message?
1.  Know the gospel message.  It has literally taken me years of hearing and reading the gospel message over and over again to get to a point where I'm starting to be able to regurgitate it without much babbling and confusion.  Don't underestimate the need to start with the basics, and rehearse it different contexts.
2.  Spend time filling your heart with the gospel.  This is going to include reading scripture and thinking deeply about what it says.  It might even mean better training and equipping yourself to recognize the gospel in parts of scripture that you previously found boring or irrelevant.  The Old Testament points forward to Christ, and the New Testament looks back to what He did, and then ahead to His second coming.  It takes an investment of time to read the bible in light of this meta-narrative, not just taking other people's word for it.
3.  Pray the gospel.  By far, one of the most helpful ways I've personally found to 'preach the gospel to myself daily' is to pray it.  Each morning as I write my prayers, I try to follow this pattern:
  • Acknowledge God as holy and perfect. (using whatever attributes I've read about that day in scripture that make Him God - wholly different than me!)
  • Acknowledge my sin.  (using confession and repentance of whatever might be on my heart - known and unknown)
  • Give thanks for Jesus.  (speaking praises, hymns and bible verses that magnify what He did on my behalf)
  • Ask God to help me walk in new life.  (lifting up specific areas of need and struggle for that day, where I want to live according to my new identity)
I don't pray this way all day - but it certainly helps me start my day with a mindset of who God is and who I am.

This is what Paul says he toils for - what he exhaustively labors for - what he works incessantly for - that through Christ's energy at work within him, that every believer would be presented mature in Christ as they grow in the gospel.

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