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When Rest is Hard

by Eric M. Pazdziora
L
ast week, my wife Carrie got a cold. It was the kind of cold where medicine doesn’t really do much; until it gets better, you just have to wait, take some time off, and rest. The problem is that Carrie prefers to be active, so she’s not used to having nothing to do but lie back and take it easy. “You know,” she complained to me, “it’s hard to rest!” 

True. Sometimes it is. We like to keep ourselves busy. When we’re faced with the prospect of having nothing to do—or worse, having to do nothing—we tend to say, “But who’s going to take care of this and that and the other? Shouldn’t I be doing something? I don’t want to feel useless!” 

Rest is hard when we want to work.  

Maybe that’s why some people have a hard time with the idea of grace. Someone once asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). The thinking is astounding. You don’t get an inheritance because you do anything; you have an inheritance because you were born, or maybe adopted, into a family. It would be nonsensical for you to try to work for something you can’t get by working, or for something you already have.  


Hello, Friends

by Hillary McFarland

My friends, the Jealous One calls me to real-life-living.

      Writing about these serious topics on Quivering Daughters is a bittersweet offering to my Lord Jesus Christ. I started this blog and wrote my book in response to a calling God laid on my heart in November 2008: to share His healing message of grace to women wounded emotionally and spiritually from an authoritarian, conservative upbringing, particularly from within the Christian homeschooling movement.

     While penning these pages, both online and off, the prayer of my heart has always been to present truth with love and grace. Although these subjects are sensitive and controversial, I hope that I have done so in a manner that pleases my Heavenly Father and helps encourage, comfort, and inform both quivering daughters, and those who love them.
light in darkness | copyright 2010 Hillary McFarland

     Two years have passed. It is nearly November 2010, and I need to step back from the momentum that this website has maintained. I still plan to write as the Lord leads and will continue to share space with contributing authors, but right now He is leading me to other places and personal responsibilities. This includes projects that bring me closer to my readers, both online and in-real-life.

     It may be a simple semantic, but instead of writing about grace, I need to be grace-with-skin. Instead of writing about spiritual or emotional abuse, right now I need to be more involved with those the Lord brings into my life seeking comfort, recovery and help from a lifetime of it…as well as other things that God  places in my path.
     But this also means that I still want to hear from you! Always feel free to email me at hillary(at)quiveringdaughters(dot)com. (Address adjusted for human eyes.) I can also be found here on occasion, as well as other spaces from time to time. I hope that you will use this website as a resource site and will visit as often as you need, for although I am slowing the pace, I am not walking away. As they say in the blogosphere, I will be blogging without obligation. 
     Thank you for your grace as I seek to live in red.
     May Emmanuel heal the broken, give sight to the sightless, bring life to dead, and set captives free.


Without Me You Can Do Nothing (A letter from John Newton)

I
t would be hard to imagine a more remarkable journey to grace than the one John Newton took. A hard-living, reckless, profligate young sailor in the 18th-century British slave trade, Newton openly blasphemed God and actively influenced others to abandon their faith. His life led steadily downward until he wound up enslaved and abused by the slaves themselves in Africa. Certainly, he would never have made anyone’s list of “Most likely to become a minister and a hymn writer.” Maybe that’s one reason he began his best-known hymn with the words, “Amazing Grace!”
Newton’s autobiography is a treasure well worth reading in full; no summary (especially the kind you get in books like 534 Stories of Great Hymns) can really do justice to all its subtle and amazing twists and turns. Today, though, instead of recapping his life story or studying his hymns, I want to bask in a lesser-known selection from his writing.
As a writer, Newton was full of humility, home-spun insight, the vigor of old-fashioned English prose, and a sublime consciousness of his dependence on God's grace. I can't read him without coming away more inspired. To Newton, the idea that his redemption was none of his own doing was not a mere theological dogma but a matter of practical experience. God's amazing grace, as Newton recognized, is not just for saving us–"'Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."
So here's a letter John Newton wrote to Lord Dartmouth about living by grace.
–Eric Pazdziora
February 23, 1775
My Lord,
I assent to our Lord's declaration, "Without me you can do nothing," not only upon the authority of the speaker, but from the same irresistible and experimental evidence, as if he had told me that I cannot make the sun to shine, or change the course of the seasons. Though my pen and my tongue sometimes move freely, yet the total incapacity and stagnation of thought I labor under at other times convinces me that, in myself, I have not sufficiency to think a good thought; and I believe the case would be the same, if that little measure of knowledge and abilities, which I am too prone to look upon as my own, were a thousand times greater than it is.
For every new service, I stand in need of a new supply, and can bring forth nothing of my supposed store into actual exercise, but by his immediate assistance. His gracious influence is that to those who are best furnished with gifts, which the water is to the mill, or the wind to the ship, without which the whole apparatus is motionless and useless.
I apprehend that we lose much of the comfort which might arise from a sense of our continual dependence upon him, and, of course, fall short of acknowledging as we ought what we receive from him, by mistaking the manner of his operation. Perhaps we take it too much for granted, that communications from himself must bear some kind of sensible impression that they are his, and therefore are ready to give our own industry or ingenuity credit for those performances in which we can perceive no such impression. Yet it is very possible that we may be under his influence when we are least aware of it; and though what we say, or write, or do, may seem no way extraordinary, yet that we should be led to such a particular turn of thought at one time rather than at another, has, in my own concerns, often appeared to me remarkable, from the circumstances which have attended, or the consequences which have followed.
How often, in the choice of a text, or in the course of a sermon, or in a letter to a friend, have I been led to speak a word in season! and what I have expressed at large, and in general, has been so exactly suited to some case which I was utterly unacquainted with, that I could hardly have hit it so well, had I been previously informed of it. Some instances of this kind have been so striking as hardly to admit a doubt of divine agency. And indeed, if believers in Jesus, however unworthy in themselves, are the temples of the Holy Ghost; if the Lord lives, dwells, and walks in them; if he is their life and their light; if he has promised to guide them with his eye, and to work in them to will and to do of his own good pleasure, –methinks what I have mentioned, and more, may be reasonably expected.


When the Formula Fails, Part Two | Guest Post

 by David Orrison
In spite of all of these possibilities of coincidental or limited success, and in spite of the effective marketing techniques, spiritual formulas simply don’t work. They don’t work because the Lord resists them. The Scripture is quite clear that the Lord wants His people to draw their hope from their relationship with Him, rather than from their formulas.
     When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden, their intent was simply to become wise like God. They were not rebelling and they were not setting themselves against God. Instead, they were seeking a way to better themselves apart from God. They would eat of the fruit and become wise. It was the first formula, if you will.
     “Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7:29 (NKJV)
     The schemes which God resists are usually set in the context of the wicked, but it is also clear that God resists the attempts of His own people to manipulate or control Him and, as in the case of Adam and Eve, considers those attempts sinful.
     “Woe to the rebellious children,” says the LORD, “Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin” Isaiah 30:1 (NKJV)

Why Formulas Don’t Work
 

     God considers it sin when we “devise plans” to manipulate Him. It is not sin for us to seek good things or to do those things which He counsels, of course, but it is sin when we think that a formula will guarantee certain spiritual results. It is an affront to the Person of God. He is not a machine that can be programmed, nor a slave that can be ordered. He is a Person wise and wonderful beyond our comprehension.
     “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8 – 9 (NKJV)
     In order to stop Adam and Eve from reaching out to the Tree of Life and, presumably, attributing that life to their newfound wisdom, God cast them out of the Garden. They would have to learn, through struggle and pain, that their ways were insufficient even to provide for their needs.
     “He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot carry out their plans. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the cunning comes quickly upon them.” Job 5:12 – 13 (NKJV)
     It is the plan of God that we live dependent on Him. Our spirituality is a gift from His hand, the result of His love for those who live in relationship with Him. The “good and faithful servant” will not be the one who has applied the most successful formulas for his life. He will be the one who has walked with the Lord in love. We were not designed to live by formulas, but by relationship with Him. So He sets Himself against our formulas. We learn that there must be something more.
     I returned and saw under the sun that — the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NKJV)
     The unpredictability of the mind of God may appear as “time and chance” to those who desire formulas, but love is His motivation and wisdom is His tool. If we limit the progress of our lives to that which we can understand and further limit it to that which we can manage by our formulas, our lives will be far less than what God has in mind for us. His ways and His love may be unpredictable, but they will always provide greater results than our own.
     It is commonly taught, among those who desire formulas, that we must become righteous or blameless in order to please Him. The Law of the Old Testament appears to motivate us toward righteousness so that we can avoid the wrath of God. But it is obviously not our righteousness that pleases Him.
     “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV)
     All our formulas can do is make us look better than we were, or perhaps better than others. It does not please the Lord for us to seek to manipulate Him. Nor does it please Him for us to try to make ourselves righteous.
     “Can a man be profitable to God, though he who is wise may be profitable to himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that you are righteous? Or is it gain to Him that you make your ways blameless?” Job 22:2 – 3 (NKJV)
     The only righteousness we have comes to us through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is His and He freely gives it to us. This is what it means to be a Christian. All that we are derives from Who He is. He is good and, in Him, we are good. He is holy and, in Him, we are holy. The progress of our lives, our spiritual growth, comes to us as we walk with Him.
So What Do We Do?
     So what do we do when we realize that the formulas don’t work? What is left when we understand that we can’t manipulate our future or the future of our children? What do we have when everything we have tried fails? We have a real and active Person who loves us!
     It is the plan of God that His people would live in active relationship with Him. He wants us to know Him and trust Him and love Him. He will take care of the rest. He knows that we love our children and we want the best for them. He knows the fear we face in our lives. He knows, He understands, and He loves us.
     Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)
     Our purpose is to know Him and enjoy Him, to delight in Him. From that will come all the good things of life. He will still be unpredictable, but we will be in wonder of His workings and His love.
     Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4 (NKJV)
     It is possible, of course, to take even these relationship concepts and make them into formulas. If I just trust Him enough or delight in Him enough, then God will bless me, someone may reason. But the point of these passages is not to focus on the action but on the Object. It is the Lord in Whom we should trust and delight. Our focus must be on Him and not on our performance.
     The formulas cannot save, nor can they create spiritual progress. Spiritual formulas will never make anyone more righteous or more acceptable to God. So set them aside and turn to Jesus. Turn to the One who loves you and has promised to care for you. Learn to walk with Him who has given us all good things.
     Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me.” Jeremiah 9:23 – 24 (NKJV)
___________________________
     You have come to the end of yourself. You sit by the wall with no more hope. You have tried it all; the formulas, the seminars, the books, the prescribed solutions. Nothing has worked. There is nothing more to do.
     Suddenly a bright light is there in the tunnel. Jesus has come to you in your need. He reaches out His hand and you take it. He says simply, “Walk with Me.”
     In His presence you are overwhelmed by His love and kindness. You feel no fear, no shame, and no frustration. All that you ever wanted in life is right there in Him. As you walk you begin to see a light ahead of you. Puzzled, you turn and see the wall behind you. All the evidence of your effort is gone and you realize that you are on the other side of the wall. The goal of your life has been accomplished.
     When you turn to Him and ask Him how this is possible, He says, “Don’t you know that I can walk through walls?”

___________

David Orrison has been a pastor for over 30 years with a sincere desire to help people know the love and grace of the Lord Jesus.  He holds a PhD in Theology from Trinity Seminary.  He has worked with pastors and other church leaders who have been discouraged by the expectations and failures of ministry.  He has also helped parents, spouses, and young people who have been hurt by the legalistic teaching of what he calls, “performance spirituality.”  His website, www.gracefortheheart.org, and blog, http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com, have been sources of encouragement and teaching for many.  He is available for speaking engagements as well.  He and his wife, Alice, have eight sons and live in Colorado. 


What is Authoritarian Parenting?

by Hillary McFarland

Sometimes when trying to understand a difficult or complex idea, it helps to see a contrast.  I’ve stated before that I believe authoritarianism is evil and completely contradicts Jesus’ ministry, His teachings, and His life. For a woman raised within an authoritarian environment, especially one of a religious nature, it’s natural that she will have many issues to overcome before she walks in spiritual freedom and emotional wellness. This is where my heart is and what God has given me to do: to address the fruits of an authoritarian upbringing within the conservative Christian family and help women understand God’s love and grace. This is important to Him because He became flesh to bring healing to the broken, liberty to the captive, sight to the blind. He came to bring the dead to life!

     However, I certainly don’t suggest that authority within its proper context is bad. A friend of mine puts it simply: You have authority over what you are responsible for. Parents are responsible for their children’s health, well-being, education, spiritual growth, and other needs. Christian parents know they are to love, nurture, and train their children in the Lord. There are many Scriptures that admonish believers to esteem all others better than themselves, to submit to one another, to do everything as unto the Lord Himself ~ and wise parents will seek to follow these exhortations even within parenting.

     But somehow authority often becomes “You must obey me!” rather than “How can I care for you? How can I serve you as unto the Lord?” While Paul preaches, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” he doesn’t tell parents to make them obey. I find this very interesting. Additionally, many conservative parents treat their adult offspring as perpetual children by not appropriately relinquishing responsibility. This impedes maturity and growth; as authoritarianism slips its shackles into a family, a whole host of problems arise.
     In my book I place authoritarian parenting right alongside authoritative parenting in the following chart because it helps us to understand the differences, as subtle as they sometimes are. Let me repeat that while I am not a parent nor do I presume to be a parenting expert, it’s important for all of us to understand familial authoritarianism because not only is it ungodly, it creates an environment that grows all kinds of rotten fruit. By knowing how to look for bad roots, we can begin to dig them out and pray for our heavenly Father to plant us, heal us, and grow in us His fruit.
Authoritative Parents / Parenting
Authoritarian Parents / Parenting
Responds to the child; sensitive to her needs; through example shows her the heart of God; “person over doctrine”
Reacts to the child; emphasis on requirements of the parent, lifestyle or conviction; “doctrine over person”
Communicates reasonable expectations, is humble and helps the child obey; more concerned with truth than “being right”; respects the child’s thoughts and her feelings; demonstrates unconditional love; quick to forgive
Is highly demanding and proud; more concerned with being “right” than truth; invalidates and disrespects the child’s thoughts and feelings; withholds love, approval,  and acceptance; quick to condemn and shame
Encourages responsible decision-making while still at home; appropriately loosens the reins throughout maturity; views mistakes as necessary for learning and opportunities to teach grace
Exerts extreme levels of control—physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional—over all aspects of life into adulthood; emotionally abandons or wounds the child; treats mistakes as proof of innate badness
Discipline is nurturing, with an ultimate goal of directing the child to the Lord and the influence of the Holy Spirit
Discipline is intimidating and power-motivated, reminding the child that the parent is “the boss”
Points to Christ; steps out of the way of the Holy Spirit; shows that faith trusts in God
Points to the father; stands in the way of the Holy Spirit; shows that faith trusts in “methods” (works)
Teaches healthy, age-appropriate physical and emotional boundaries; is “safe”
Highly enmeshed; physically, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically destructive; is “not safe”
Values the relationship with the child; encourages personhood, mercy and grace; communicates love
Emphasizes first-time obedience, performance, law; utilizes fear and shame
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days…(Deut. 30:19-20)


Grace Before our Eyes

Grace is catching. *Smiles with joy.* Those of you following this Journey to Grace might be interested in the “31 Days of Grace” happening now at Chatting in the Sky. Emily posted this clip recently which still brings me to tears. Here is a touching visual example of grace from the movie Les Miserables . . .

At Quivering Daughters, we share our journeys to grace on Fridays. Do you have grace-clips from your own life? Please insert direct links to your post using the link below and leave a comment so that others may follow along and share with you . . .


Turn Your Eyes Upon…

By Eric M. Pazdziora

A

funny thing happens when you spend time with someone. When I was in college, I studied music with a composer named Edwin Childs. I had several classes and weekly lessons with him, absorbing as much knowledge as I possibly could. Music theory, harmony, counterpoint, hymnology, you name it.

One day when I was home for summer break, my dad looked at me quizzically and asked why I wasn’t unbending two fingers on my left hand. I didn’t realize I’d been doing anything of the sort. Then it hit me. A few years before I met him, Dr. Childs had had a severe injury that left him partly paralyzed on the left side. I thought I was only learning music, but without any effort or even realization, I’d unconsciously picked up my teacher’s physical mannerism.

When you spend time with someone, you tend to become like them.

A lot of people miss this truth when it comes to the Christian life. They see in the Scriptures that living for Jesus entails that we avoid things like sin and worldliness—which it does—so they fixate on avoiding things like sin and worldliness.

That’s a problem.

Don’t get me wrong; I certainly don’t like worldliness or sin. I just wonder if they’re worth so much attention. Consider this often-quoted verse:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8, NASB).

When you look at this for what it says, you see that it’s stated in purely positive terms—“Think about good things,” full stop. Yet so often, people preach, “Don’t look at W and X and Y and Z because they’re worldly and sinful, and Philippians 4:8 says not to—” It doesn’t say not to do anything. Rather, it encourages us to think about things that are like Jesus. That’s all.

It’s not that we should go out and fill our minds with sin or lies or obscenity or whatever. But we have a choice what to dwell on—Jesus, or something else. Avoiding sin and worldliness counts as something else. If you focus on Jesus, you’ll become like Jesus; if you focus on worldliness—even in order to avoid it—you’ll become worldly.

Take the doctrine of separatism, for example. Some people teach that, if worldliness is so bad, we should divide ourselves completely from it and take ourselves out of the world altogether! No more ungodly influences, no corrupt entertainment, no secular music, no sinful friends… what could possibly go wrong?

Well, for one thing, you could find out that the Bible calls you worldly:

[The apostles] said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 18-19, ESV)

He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom. (Proverbs 18:1)

The King James translation of Jude is even more pointed: “These be they who separate themselves” (v. 19). According to the Scripture, separating yourself from worldly people is a worldly thing to do.

The problem is that separatists may have filtered themselves from a few nagging gnat-like sins, but not from camels like elitism, selfishness, and pride. Are you really so much better than all those sinful people, or are you a sinner yourself? Is your own spiritual state more important than other people’s, or do they need to be shown God’s grace and love just as much as you do?

But doesn’t Paul write in the New Testament to “come out from among them and be separate” and “be not unequally yoked” and “touch not the unclean thing”? Indeed he does. But that has to be considered with the rest of what he has to say:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10, NASB)

To Paul, it’s self-evident that believers should associate with people in “the world,” even immoral ones, greedy ones, crooks, and idolaters. Otherwise, he concludes in what’s evidently meant as a punch line, the result would be absurd—you’d have to go out of the world! Clearly, you can separate yourself from sin without having to separate yourself from sinners.

When we look to Jesus, all this suddenly becomes clearer and simpler. Jesus, who Himself was known derisively as “a friend of sinners,” prayed this for His followers:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15)

Lord, deliver us from sin, not from sinners. Deliver us from evil, not from evildoers.

Other attempts to avoid sin and worldliness fall just as flat. Some people make rules and laws and guidelines about sin to get as far from it as possible and to appear as godly as possible. Some people in the New Testament tried that, too. They called themselves the P’rushim, the Separated Ones—Pharisees, in English. Jesus wasn’t impressed. He called them hypocrites.

What did Jesus have against rules-based religion? He recognized that paying attention to rules about what we should do or shouldn’t do in this world takes our attention away from things we might do spiritually—loving God, loving our neighbors, stuff like that.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)

The Pharisees’ rules were fastidious about small things—even tithing mint and spices—but they missed what God was all about. Their preoccupation with avoiding little sins turned them into bigger sinners.

The sad irony is that all this fixation on avoiding worldly things, for all its appearances of piety, is not a good way to keep from being fixated on worldly things. A legalist can be just as obsessed with worldly pursuits (by trying to avoid them) as a libertine is. Not only does legalism not make you godly, it doesn’t even keep you from being worldly.

Paul writes to the Colossians in prose that crackles like fire:

So if, through your faith in Christ, you are dead to the principles of this world’s life, why, as if you were still part and parcel of this world-wide system, do you take the slightest notice of these purely human prohibitions­—“Don’t touch this,” “Don’t taste that,” and “Don’t handle the other”? “This”, “that” and “the other” will all pass away after use! I know that these regulations look wise with their self-inspired efforts at piety, their policy of self-humbling, and their studied neglect of the body. But in actual practice they are of no moral value, but simply pamper the flesh.

If then you are raised up with Christ, reach out for the highest gifts of Heaven, where Christ reigns in power. Be concerned with the heavenly things, not with the passing things of earth. For, as far as this world is concerned, you are already dead, and your true life is a hidden one in God, through Christ. One day, Christ, who is your life, will show himself openly, and you will all share in that magnificent revelation.

(Colossians 2:20-3:4, Phillips)

The message of Christianity is not “Worldliness is bad.” It’s “Jesus is Lord.”

It’s not “Try not to sin.” It’s “Think about Jesus.”

When you look to Jesus, you see that your urges to sin are suppressed on their own. When you look to Jesus, you see peace, love, joy, freedom, better than anything in the world. When you look to Jesus, you see you don’t need any worldly pseudo-religious substitutes for closeness to Him. When you look to Jesus, you see that in Him you are already dead to the world. When you look to Jesus, you see that in Him you are already alive.

When you spend time with someone, you tend to become like them.

Spend time fretting about all the problems of sin and worldliness, and you may become just as sinful and worldly as those things. Spend time focusing on Jesus and all His goodness, grace, and love, and you’ll start to become like Him. Maybe without even knowing it.

Eric M. Pazdziora is a composer, editor, writer, and songwriter. He lives in Chicago with his wife Carrie. Information about his new CD of original hymns about grace, “New Creation,” is available from his website at ericpazdziora.com.


When the Formula Fails, Part One | Guest Post

by David Orrison
Imagine yourself in a tunnel facing a wall that appears to seal off the tunnel. Your goal is to get through the tunnel to the other side but the wall is in your way. Fortunately, you have learned that the wall moves as you push it. You begin to push the wall down the tunnel, making progress that provides hope for your goal. However, as you progress, the wall gathers dirt behind it and becomes more and more difficult to push.
     Soon you reach the place where the wall no longer moves. What do you do? You try pushing harder and the wall moves a little. In frustration, you look around and see a little room off the side of the tunnel. The room is a classroom and there are people in the classroom learning techniques for moving the wall. You sit in for a while and then try some of the techniques. Amazingly, they work… for a while. Then the wall stops again.
     About this time you see a television screen on the side of the tunnel. It shows people who are successfully moving their walls. They are making progress; why aren’t you? You watch carefully to learn their techniques and then you go back and try again. Again, the wall moves a little, but stops.
     Finally, there seems to be nothing more you can do. You have tried all the techniques, more than once, and you have certainly tried harder. You’ve run at the wall to hit it, but you just got hurt. You’ve attended classes and seminars, large and small. You’ve read books, watched videos, and heard testimonies of how others have been successful. You’ve done everything you were supposed to do and more but the wall no longer moves. Now what?
Formula Spirituality
     This seems to describe the Christian life for many people. They want to see progress. They believe that progress is possible. They want a happy life, good kids, little conflict; all the reasonable desires of life. They also want to know that God is pleased with them and will not be angry. They have been taught that there are ways to accomplish these things if they just work hard. The Christian life for them is work and progress is made through techniques and superior effort.
     I have come to call this “formula spirituality”. The right formula promises spiritual progress. A formula is simply a technique or method that offers certain results. Like taking copper and tin in the right combination and process to make the much stronger and more durable bronze. If you want bronze, you have to use this formula. You might mix flour, sugar, and other ingredients in specified proportions to get Grandma’s Sugar Cookies. You could use another recipe/formula, but you wouldn’t get Grandma’s Sugar Cookies. Certain results require certain formulas.
     A “spiritual formula” is much the same. There are those who teach that spiritual objectives are reached by certain formulas. If a wife wants a happy relationship with her husband, she must be submissive to him according to a certain formula. If you want good children, there are certain things you must do. If you want God to love you, all you have to do is these five basic steps. The Christian life, with all of its parts, is reduced to formulas.
     But why use a formula? Why not just live your life trusting God for the results? The advantage of a formula is that the results are supposed to be guaranteed. If the formula has been used successfully, the reasoning goes, the results can be reproduced successfully. Stick to the formula, do it right, and the desired results will – must – follow.
     Using a formula in our spiritual life is desirable to many people because of the “cause and effect” rule. Certain causes bring certain effects. Why leave anything to chance? Instead, work the formula and guarantee the results. The formula is certainly the dream of a parent, a person looking for a job, or a concerned marriage partner. If I just do these certain things (work the formula) then the results I hope for must come about.
     In a sense, the formula is designed to control even God. God is locked into the cause and effect process by the formula. Rather than risk His unwillingness to answer our prayers our way, we use the formulas to assure His compliance. A certain number of prayers, a certain posture in prayer, and certain words in prayers have all been part of formulas that Christians have used to try to manipulate God. Perhaps a certain amount or kind of service, certain activities or avoidance of certain activities, or even paying tithes or offerings could be part of formulas used in this way. The formula can be the way around the unpredictable will of God.
Do Spiritual Formulas Work?
All of this begs the question: Do the spiritual formulas work? The answer is yes… and no. Formulas work in the same way that the lottery works. Sometimes the person using the formula gets the results he or she wants. Not always, of course, but enough to keep the concept of using formulas alive. If no one ever won the lottery, if gambling never paid off, people wouldn’t play. If the formulas could never be connected with success, no one would be tempted to use them. But there are just enough “success stories” to keep people working at the formulas.


I Love Homeschooling, Quiverfull Families!

by Hillary McFarland

Happy Monday! I’d like to take a few moments to address a few issues that continue to appear despite my ever-growing list of FAQs and disclaimers (::understanding smile::).
This post today is simply for the record . . .
I love big families!
(And small ones, too!)
     I have never suggested that “being quiverfull” is wrong, even when I might personally disagree with some of the positions promoted by quiverfull advocates. I have spoken quite frankly about the serious struggles that many quiverfull daughters face. I believe that healthy parents will consider the emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be loaned to them, by God, in the form of sons and daughters. Acknowledging, addressing, and freely discussing the reality of many quiverfull daughters is not mutually exclusive with this, nor should it be perceived as a judgment upon those with a full-quiver conviction. (Quiverfull daughters are people, too!)
     I am a HUGE fan of homeschooling and support 100% a parent’s option to school their children at home…or elsewhere, as the Lord leads. I do not believe that home education is the only option for a godly parent, but that individual families are free to seek the Lord for what is appropriate for their children.
     In addition, nowhere do I condemn godly authority. I wholly, passionately, and profusely condemn the evil that is authoritarianism: the abuse or misuse of authority, or “authority gone bad” as succinctly stated by guest poster Jim Karpowitz. I believe that authoritarianism is completely contrary to the life, teachings, and ministry of Jesus Christ, therefore unbiblical and sinful. However, addressing the fruits of abuse does not mean there is no love, grace, forgiveness or restoration for those who have (nearly always with good intentions) cultivated them. God so loved the world, and the world includes Pharisees and sinners and parents and daughters. It is to the daughters of patriarchy that the Lord has called me.   
An Abusive System
     Those who think I am “attacking” homeschoolers, Quiverfull families, or even “patriarchy”, have completely missed the point of everything I write. It’s true that women from lifestyles which promote these conservative principles belong in the niche where God has called me, but my goal is not to get people to stop “being conservative”  (i.e., to wear pants, stop homeschooling, use family planning, go to college,  move away from home, etc.) even if my convictions differ. I’m not trying to foist my own ideas of living onto others, but to address a system of belief that places stumbling blocks before children. To look at fruits produced in the lives of aching women. To question the practice of a paradigm that hurts people…and minister to those wounded because of it. Pretending or wishing that women (and men) struggling with the fruits of “godly” lifestyles don’t exist, are rare (or worse, merely dismissing them as rebellious) dismisses and denies Jesus! Although quivering daughters are hardly the least among us, ‘…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40) 

Peace
     The Book of Jude reveals an intriguing verse: Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” While I certainly do not equate myself with the archangel, nor those who perpetuate destructive practices as the devil, I believe this principle applies to me and my work. Who am I to revile or accuse, even within dispute? While this website, my book, the articles I post, and my calling deal with sensitive and controversial topics, it is not of my heart to create more division. I care about truth, not sensationalism. I cannot shy away from these serious issues, but pray always that I address them with grace. Although I cry out against abuse, it isn’t my desire to attack or condemn persons with whom I might disagree.
     In the Bible, Jesus was not afraid to identify Pharisees, rulers, and authoritarian leaders using strong language. In fact, He even addressed Peter, His disciple, as “Satan”. I believe that all people are created in God’s image and are loved by Him, including those who abuse the truth. He offers grace, forgiveness, and mercy to all. Sometimes it is necessary to identify or discuss public figures, teachers, and ministries to illustrate specific lifestyles or beliefs, but I believe this can be done in love. Speaking against sin glorifies God and proclaims Him to those wounded in His name.
     This chapter in Romans conveys my thoughts better than I. Please understand the reasons I’ve paraphrased the end:
…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. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks… But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother daughter is grieved because of your food, dismissal of her feelings you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food convictions the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;  for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, homeschooling, quiverfull, courtship, dating, or public-schooling, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. wearing dresses only or condemning those who wear head-coverings. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats places his lifestyle over the future of his children, or their physical, emotional, and spiritual life, with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine lecture for hours, reject, abuse authority, excommunicate, humiliate, shame, nor do anything by which your brother daughter stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

Do you have faith? Have it to yourself (not necessarily to your adult children or other Christians) before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (from Romans 14, NKJV)

I Mean This Gently…
To be honest, I don’t care if someone chooses to “be patriarchal”. I do care when someone’s practice of patriarchy misrepresents the heart of God to a desperate young woman. 
I’m thrilled when families seek to follow God and live a biblical life; I grieve when women slice their arms with razors because they never measure up to the “godly” ideal required of them. 
I rejoice when parents seek to discern God’s will for their families. I grow angry when a woman is told that God only speaks to her through her father or husband.
I love that earnest families teach Scripture to their children. My soul aches when a woman suffers through depression and shame because verses were twisted and used against her.
I don’t care whether a family has two children or if there are nearly twenty, like Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar. But I do care, very much, when daughters yearn to be noticed and loved for who they are, not for what they do.
I don’t take issue with a full-quiver lifestyle, but I do believe it is a serious mistake to view one’s family, for all practical purposes, as collection of children, rather than investing time into understanding intimate needs, differences, and personhood of each special person within it. This includes all the different personalities, dietary needs, weaknesses and strengths, interests, fears, desires, even methods of discipline for each child. This doesn’t mean that all quiverfull families do this, but it is common among many of them.

I don’t discourage living out convictions but I weep when women dream about killing themselves because God and their parents never seem pleased with them. 

The Bottom Line
     Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. I talk about this often. Yet Scripture admonishes us to not use liberty as a cloak for vice, but through love to serve one another. It’s easy to think of vice in terms of worldliness, of rebellion, of irreverence and dishonor. What if, sometimes, vice looks holy?
     The Bible encourages us to use our liberty for good, to love and serve others with it. “Love your neighbor,” says Jesus. Who is your neighbor? Perhaps your closest neighbors are those within your own household. Perhaps it is your oldest child who is exhausted due to all the responsibilities and expectations placed on her because she must be the example of perfect, godly daughterhood to all her younger sisters. Perhaps it is your middle daughter who feels as though she has no place and cannot measure up to standard. Or maybe the youngest, who has plenty of examples held up to her, and yet seems to fail at each one.  
     Use your liberty in Christ to make wise choices regarding each individual precious child, seeking their well-being, not as a cloak to dismiss their thoughts and feelings or to control their every move; not as a blanket to home-school them or public-school them when other options would be better. Not as a cloak to conceal bad fruit from destructive doctrine or heartache. Not as a covering to misuse your authority. Use the freedom Christ gives you to serve your neighbors! To encourage them, to give them life and to be at peace!
     You see, making these issues “either / or”, “us versus them” and “black and white” continues to widen the gaps and create division within the body of Christ. Let’s not make it a choice of “us” or “them”…choose to follow Jesus! Let’s not force ourselves into “either / or”…choose love! Let’s not live in black and white. Liberty isn’t in black and white. Nor even is it in gray…I believe that freedom in Christ is found in red, in the blood He shed for us.
     Can we walk in red? For our families? Our husbands and children? For our neighbors?
     Can we live in red?


The Alluring God

by Hillary McFarland

Sometimes when we’re young we are really shy, and our baby hands clutch mama’s skirts and we try to hide in them when other people look at us. But then when we’re a little older, we run around like wildthings and worry not what others think, and climb trees and our hair frizzes a golden halo, our cheeks blush like apples and our toes peek through sneakers, but we don’t mind because we are six or nine and we sing at the top of our lungs that the hills are alive with the sound of music, and they are…
     Inevitably the years collect, and we grow fifteen and shy while the hills grow quiet. Hearts blush like maples in fall, but every hair is in place and hands smooth our own skirts and we hide behind trees instead of perching in them. And then we grow old in soul; melody is memory as feet shuffle dust and we strain to hear and see the One who breathed into lungs the song of life. We are tired and hungry; we ache and our face is etched with the fine tip of years, and our heart is carved up and arms are weary, and why do we even try? 

Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.
I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;
She shall sing there,
As in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up
From the land of Egypt.
Hosea 2:14-15

     Do not be afraid of the barren place, of the wilderness, for God spills holy into ground and brings His light to dark, His life to dead, and living water to the waterless. He breaks Egypt’s arms and yokes us with His grace; He builds His temple from abandoned ruins and dwells there, with the lowly of us and the weak, the foolish, the base, and the despised. The forsaken He gathers close and He makes dry bones dance and turns desert to wine and collects tears in crystal and He loves you!

You see the back of her
Because she faces Jesus.

You see her while she walks away
Because she follows Jesus.

You see her on a lonely road
Because few find
The narrow way that leads to life.

You see her, perhaps, half-dead

Because she is in the business
Of dying everyday.

You see her forsaken

Because she has left all 
to follow Him.

You see her struggle along the way
Because she takes up her cross.
You see her lost
Because she loses her life
To be found by Life.
 
You see her in a wilderness
Because that’s where God 
Plants vineyards. 
(hosea 2)

     And this is the place where trees clap hands like joyful little children and the hills are alive with the sound of music and He makes our feet like the feet of a deer and sets us on high places because we love Him because He loves us and behold, old things have passed away and all things have become newly birthed from the womb of mercy.

Are you a Gracewriter? Are you a Graceseeker? Share your journey by inserting an article or post of your own into the link list below. 

Also shared with Holy Experience:

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Sheep Story

By Eric M. Pazdziora

The best thing ever written on spiritual abuse is a poem about sheep. I haven’t got many sheep in my neighborhood—the picture here is one we took in Ireland—but every word in this poem is so true it aches.

Someone once asked me, when you hear stories of spiritual abuse—horrible cruel things done by well-intentioned religious people—where do you think the Lord’s heart is in all of it? My answer, of course, was “Don’t ask me; ask the Lord.” Fortunately, the Lord already told us: He wrote a poem about sheep.

It starts with a bit about shepherds who mistreat sheep. Bear in mind that this was written a few thousand years before anybody ever heard the term “spiritual abuse.” Some shepherds take a while to learn, even though the Lord keeps on saying “This is what the LORD says!” Then it goes to a bit about sheep who mistreat other sheep. That happens too; you don’t need authority to be an abuser.

In between and after and throughout and all around, it tells us exactly where the Lord’s heart is. Toward the end it even becomes outright Messianic. And it speaks for itself so clearly that it doesn’t need me to speak for it anymore. Here’s what the Lord says about spiritual abuse, and about sheep.

The word of the LORD came to me:

“Son of man,

prophesy against the shepherds of Israel;

prophesy and say to them:

‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who only take care of themselves!

Should not shepherds take care of the flock?

You eat the curds,

clothe yourselves with the wool

and slaughter the choice animals,

but you do not take care of the flock.

You have not strengthened the weak

or healed the sick

or bound up the injured.

You have not brought back the strays

or searched for the lost.

You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

So they were scattered

because there was no shepherd,

and when they were scattered

they became food for all the wild animals.

My sheep wandered

over all the mountains

and on every high hill.

They were scattered over the whole earth,

and no one searched or looked for them.

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD,

because my flock lacks a shepherd

and so has been plundered

and has become food for all the wild animals,

and because my shepherds did not search for my flock

but cared for themselves rather than for my flock,

therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

I am against the shepherds

and will hold them accountable for my flock.

I will remove them from tending the flock

so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves.

I will rescue my flock from their mouths,

and it will no longer be food for them.

“‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.

As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock

when he is with them,

so will I look after my sheep.

I will rescue them
from all the places where they were scattered

on a day of clouds and darkness.

I will bring them out from the nations

and gather them from the countries,

and I will bring them into their own land.

I will pasture them

on the mountains of Israel,

in the ravines

and in all the settlements in the land.

I will tend them in a good pasture,

and the mountain heights of Israel
will be their grazing land.

There they will lie down in good grazing land,

and there they will feed in a rich pasture

on the mountains of Israel.

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,

declares the Sovereign LORD.

I will search for the lost

and bring back the strays.

I will bind up the injured

and strengthen the weak,

but the sleek and the strong

I will destroy.

I will shepherd the flock with justice.

“‘As for you, my flock,

this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

I will judge between one sheep and another,

and between rams and goats.

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture?

Must you also trample

the rest of your pasture with your feet?

Is it not enough for you to drink clear water?

Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?

Must my flock feed on what you have trampled

and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them:

See, I myself will judge

between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

Because you shove with flank and shoulder,

butting all the weak sheep with your horns

until you have driven them away,

I will save my flock,

and they will no longer be plundered.

I will judge between one sheep and another.

I will place over them one shepherd,
my servant David,

and he will tend them;

he will tend them
and be their shepherd.

I the LORD will be their God,

and my servant David will be prince among them.

I the LORD have spoken.

“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them

and rid the land of wild beasts

so that they may live in the desert

and sleep in the forests in safety.

I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill.

will send down showers in season;

there will be showers of blessing.

The trees of the field will yield their fruit

and the ground will yield its crops;

the people will be secure in their land.

They will know that I am the LORD,

when I break the bars of their yoke

and rescue them

from the hands of those who enslaved them.

They will no longer be plundered by the nations,

nor will wild animals devour them.

They will live in safety,

and no one will make them afraid.

I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops,

and they will no longer be victims
of famine in the land

or bear the scorn of the nations.

Then they will know that I,

the LORD their God,

am with them

and that they, the house of Israel, are my people,

declares the Sovereign LORD.

You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people,

and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’”

—Ezekiel 34


Eric M. Pazdziora lives in Chicago, which is sorely lacking in sheep. He works as a freelance composer, editor, writer, and husband (the latter to Carrie). Information about his new CD of hymns about grace, “New Creation,” is available from his website at ericpazdziora.com.