Sunday, March 28, 2010

Joyful Liberty!

Dear friends,

I shared this testimony in the first part of my presentation "Amazing Grace for Home School Moms."  This is an excerpt of my speaking notes, but I added to it when I actually spoke.


About four years ago, through a series of circumstances, I really felt like God was clearly telling me it was time to turn around and face the past so that I could change my future. I could think of several areas of life where he might want to be working on me, but I was waiting to see what he was going to bring before me because I knew it wasn't my place to go digging around. There were several times over the course of the summer when he brought certain things to mind through providential conversations, books, and church meetings. Sometimes this was really uncomfortable for me.

Then early on a summer morning, I was lying in bed contemplating my spiritual life and the Lord graciously gave me a vision in the shape of a heart. In this heart there were layers and layers of debris that had been gathering there for  decades past, rising up to a crusted layer on top. I saw myself walking on the surface of this hard crust, just surviving daily life and not experiencing the fullness of what God had planned for me. Then I saw springs of living water flowing up powerfully from the very depths to wash away the debris, break through that crust, and bring me authentic joy and abundant life, the fullness of what he had for me!  I knew this vision came as a gracious gift from God. I worshiped him for his mercy in spite my failures which I knew were many.

Over the next few years, God used this experience and others like it to knock a lot of self-righteous chips off my shoulders, because I had a whole lot of them. He give me a new compassion for other hurting women, and give me a new depth to my spiritual life.  I got more serious about reading Scriptures, praying, and journaling. 

This is also when I started seeing a new appreciation for the beauty of God and his creation, and for other peoples' reflections of that in their art, music, nature, and literature.  That overflowed into my home schooling as well.  It was also a time for what I call a fresh poetic surge when poems started pouring out of me in celebration of God's grace and goodness!

I was so aware of being kept in God's unconditional mercy to take me as I was, but at the same time, I still wondered how I could change the habits and attitudes that had hindered me for years?  It's wonderful that God takes me as I am, but shouldn't I have changed in some of these areas by now after 30 years as a Christian?  God takes us where we are, but he doesn't want to leave us there.  He wants us to move on and grow up.  

It seemed like many people around me were focused on mortifying their own sins and becoming holy by their own efforts, as well as by constant confession and accountability. For a while, this seemed like a humble and pious approach and I embraced it. However, over the years, I realized that it was way too easy to forget God's grace in this approach. The more I tried, the more I felt neurotic, depressed, anxious, and frustrated. I knew this was not honoring to God.

Last year, in his mercy, God opened my eyes to assure me that instead of being a filthy and depraved little worm with a deceitfully wicked heart, that I was now a new creation in Christ, a precious saint in his sight, covered in the righteousness of Jesus by his sacrifice! I needed to rest and rejoice in this glorious truth, that God was going to change me, not by my own self effort, but through his grace!

I started seeing how much I had succumbed to legalism. I think there are actually two kinds of legalism. One is made up of picky outward man-made rules to prove that you are in the "in crowd" spiritually.  I almost think this is the more harmless kind. The other kind is an inward legalism. It says, "I am going to be good no matter what!  I am going to hack those sins right out of me no matter what it takes!" It is an attempt to make yourself holy and remove your sin by your own efforts. It leads to self-righteousness and wanting to give up.

Both types of legalism are unfortunately rampant in the home schooling movement, in my opinion. Many times we do what we do because we want to raise kids with perfect godly character. We rely on our methods, our rules, and our curriculum to do this, rather than on the Spirit of God working in their hearts.  Unfortunately, if and when they don't toe the line, there's a lot of stuff to deal with!

Galatians 3:2-3 speaks clearly to this kind of legalism when it says, "Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?"

In learning to overcome this inward kind of legalism, I had to study the gospels.  I've been studying all four gospels concurrently over the past several months, working through them to find out: "Who is Jesus and how can I be like him?"  I want to find my true identity in Christ as a SAINT SET FREE from the power of sin, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, willingly responding to what God was doing in my life rather than trying to hack out my failures by myself.

John 8:36 proclaims, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Why would we ever want to be in bondage again? Such joy and liberty comes from the amazing grace of God!  

There have been many areas of my life where I have struggled for years and felt like I couldn't change, but when I began to focus on my identity in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to change me, that is when I began to change the habits, the atttitudes, the patterns of thought.  The transformation came when I realized who I was in Christ rather than focusing on how much sin I had to get rid of it. 

Yes, there will be times when you stumble and fail. My encouragement to you is to get back up, ask God for help, and keep going. When I am discouraged or feeling blue or going through a monster case of PMS, I remind myself that the feelings will pass. It helps to get a nap or a good night's sleep, read an encouraging book, talk to my husband or a trusted friend.

Another benefit of being confident of God's love and acceptance, is that you become an authentic woman, not pretending or performing for others. As a home school mom, you don't need to impress others with your family's accomplishments and you don't need to criticize others to make yourself feel better.  I am delighted that my acceptance and approval are in God, not in other people. I don't need to crave approval from others, and I don't need to fear their disapproval.

Proverbs 29:25 says, "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe." I found this to be true again last year. I needed to write an e-mail to my friends about an issue I had prayed about and that I knew had to be addressed. However, right after I hit the send button, I suddenly had a panic attack.  I had never had one before.  It was so weird! My heart was pounding. I tried reading aloud to my kids, but I couldn't even breathe normally. This went on for a few hours. Why? I was subconsciously afraid of how people would react to what I had written. Then I thought, I don't need to do this!  I am a Christian, I wrote what I needed to write, I prayed about it, and in confidence I can do the things I need to do! Once I realized that, I determined never to let that happen again. I took courage in God's grace and trusted him to use that e-mail for his glory -- and he did!  People have told me how much it meant to them.

If you are doing what God has called you to do, you don't need to fear anyone!  This precious truth has given me the liberty and boldness to speak up and speak out on other issues since then. People have told me how much they have appreciated my voice and my perspective. I am so glad that I am no longer captive to fear of others!

We can also be captive to our own fear of failure. What if we mess up in home schooling? What if my children are ruined forever because I used the wrong curriculum? What will people think? If you get stuck in this mindset, you will be paralyzed! You will be too afraid to do anything!

This holds true for our kids, too. If we are constantly demanding perfection or ridiculing them for their mistakes, they will be reluctant to try anything difficult. They will stick with the safe and easy stuff, rather than challenging themselves to stretch their abilities. This totally quenches the love of learning.  You'll get a dumbed down kid.

Instead, you need a holy confidence from God! He is quite capable of working in and through you in spite of your weaknesses! Your weaknesses showcase his power even more splendidly! I want to encourage you to focus on the good things -- the great things God has created you to be and called you to do. If you do that, you'll be too busy to spend much time messing up!

So get your joy and enthusiasm back! Your purpose in life is not so much to avoid sin and mistakes but to reflect the glory of God by trusting in him, by going out and living the Grand Adventure.

Romans 15:13 is such an inspiration to me when it says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Likewise, our motivation in deciding to home school our kids should not be in what we are trying to avoid, but what we are trying to nurture in their lives: a love for God, a love for family, a love of learning. This completely changes the focus of how we do it as the years go along, too. Home schooling becomes joyful journey rather than a dreary duty.  There is a fullness in it.

Jesus said in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  The devil wants to steal your joy, your peace, your love.   Are you going to let him do that? How can we keep the devil from stealing our joy? How can we become full of abundant life?

In John 15:4-5 he continues, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."

If Jesus's life is flowing through you, that's going to bring you the joy, peace, and love.  So you don't need to be a "driven" home school mom.  I'm not talking about being "type A" personality, but about having the mindset of "Just got to DO it, no matter what we squash in the process, we've just got to get this done to prove it, no matter how well we get it done!"
You can't make your kids holy either. You must rely on God, and rest and work in his grace.

Matthew 11:28-30 invites us: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

If home schooling has become burdensome to you, you're probably taking on too much.  It's not that you need to do less, but that you need to transfer your burden to Jesus.

So we can pray with Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier from his hymn "Dear God and Father of Mankind":

Drop Thy still dews of quietness
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our lives the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Virginia Knowles

You can hear the full "Amazing Grace for Home School Moms" presentation here: and read part of my other speaking notes here:

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