loving life.

Category: faith (Page 1 of 9)

Comfy Cozy

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a friend about some discouraging trends we notice in parenting and the potential long-term implications of those trends on the child, the family and the Church.

Those trends included things like:

  • Avoiding telling a child no
  • Not expecting obedience or demanding respect
  • Excusing rebellion
  • Avoiding the inconvenience of discipline
  • Protecting a child from all pain or frustration

He said, “Parents need to raise their kids–-not for comfort, but for war!”

Comfort vs. War. The contrast stuck with me.

Now I’m sure the above list made some of you uncomfortable. That’s okay. That’s the theme of the day. It is a calculated risk for me to make you feel uncomfortable for a bit.  

We all crave comfort. I assert it’s the primary idol in our lives. More than money or sex or power or prestige or health or beauty or food or drink or relationships.  I believe it is from the worship of comfort that other idolatry grows.

And this desire to keep ourselves and our kids comfortable also leads to a hundred poor parenting strategies.

It’s way easier to tie your child’s shoes than to teach them how. It’s much easier to roll your eyes and chuckle when you call for your child to stop yet they keep running on ahead. It’s easier to lie to your child and say they can have ice cream later (hoping they’ll forget) than to simply say, “No.”  It’s much easier to pretend you didn’t see your child get down from the table without asking permission than it is to make them obey the rule.  

Easy is comfortable. We say things like, “I’m picking my battles” but if we’re brutally honest, maybe we’re waving a white flag of surrender.

I don’t know your story, your struggles, or your reasons. Nor do I have a customized parenting plan for you. Your approach and your family are unique. But I do have a warning. If you are preferring constant comfort for yourself or your child, neither of you will be equipped for real life. You won’t be ready for war.

There’s a war between the world and the things of God. Entertainment, news, politics, education or business–-wherever you look you will find an attack on the values and the Word and the people of God. We are, as C.S. Lewis said, “in Enemy-occupied territory.” Open war is upon us, whether we like it or not.

It’s an all-out battle to courageously stand up for Christ. Not to mention the never-ending internal war we all fight against sin. And I haven’t even mentioned the devil yet!  

So, if you’re chasing comfort, perhaps you’re running the wrong way. And if you are always basically comfortable, I’m afraid you’re not at war.  

If however you feel like you’re in a firefight every day, that’s a good sign.  It means you are intentionally training, “not for comfort, but for war.”   

It takes intention to fight the lure of comfort in your life and parenting. To avoid the trap of easy trends. To do what is important, difficult, and time-consuming. To do what is helpful, necessary, and challenging. To raise your kids, not for comfort, but for war.

“Blessed be the Lord, my rock, 
who trains my hands for war, 
and my fingers for battle;” 

Psalm 144:1

Keep fighting the good fight,

P.S. I read an excellent book this week. It’s called Rest and War by Ben Stuart.  It’s so good I’m re-reading it already. It’s like a field guide for the battle– super practical and helpful. I highly recommend it.

Once and For All

A sink full of dirty dishes

You know that satisfying feeling you get when you do the dishes? I don’t just mean loading the dishwasher and pressing start. I mean the kind of cleaning that involves scrubbing the pans, wiping off the counters and drying the wine glasses by hand. It’s a very personally rewarding feeling. 

And then someone in your household walks over with yesterday’s coffee cup, or tonight’s ice cream bowl, and thoughtlessly drops it in the once-sparkling sink. And just like that, the spotless feeling is gone.

That’s the thing about cleaning: You have to do it over and over and over again.

This week at Day Camp, kids as young as four years old are learning that very lesson. They are learning how it relates to sin and forgiveness. They are learning all about the tabernacle, the high priest, the curtain, and Jesus.

Imagine walking to Jerusalem each year with your own pet lamb. Imagine confessing a year’s worth of your sins and the sins of your family to the priest at the tabernacle. You give your lamb to be sacrificed. Its blood is sprinkled on the altar for your forgiveness. 

As you turn toward home, you see your neighbor driving up in a tricked-out chariot, and you think, “What I wouldn’t give for a ride like that.”  And just like that, you are guilty of the sin of coveting. And just like that, the spotless feeling is gone. That’s the thing with sacrifices: You have to do it over and over again.

Thanks be to God, In Christ we no longer have to live that way. We don’t have to sacrifice a perfect lamb over and over again! Let’s join with our little children and learn to never take for granted the beautiful truth that the blood of Jesus, our high priest and perfect Lamb of God, has cleansed us once and for all. 

“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” Hebrews 7:26-27.

You’re important.

planting seeds is important

Do you know how important you are?

Okay, I know we need to be careful to not stroke our already-inflated egos. This is not that.

But you are important. Significant. Powerful, even.

Let me tell you two stories from this week to illustrate what I mean.

Firstly, my husband and I had a stay-at-home date night this week. And if you know my husband, you know he is the king of starting big conversations with a big question. This one was, “Who has God put in our path and how can we intentionally invest in those relationships?”

In the process of answering that question we began listing out the people we feel God calling us to pursue for His sake. We thought of a dear couple who I knew would be driving through Iowa this week. I obeyed the Holy Spirit, texted them, and we were able to meet them for dinner. I thought they were maybe just beginning to pursue God. But actually they have developed a serious faith in Christ with a passion to see the gospel spread through their lives. 

Guys, this is literally an answer to decades of prayer. Prayers I honestly thought were hopeless because I’ve been praying them for so long and seeing no effect. Turns out God has been working for years and I just hadn’t been aware.

Prayer is important. Significant. Powerful, even.

Secondly, I received a text this week from a young mom. Her 7-year-old son saw a homeless man and in his compassion he declared, “I want to give him my Bible so that he knows that Jesus loves him. I can buy myself another Bible with my own money. I want him to have my Bible.” So their family prayed over the Bible and gave it to the man, letting him know that Jesus loves him.

There is literally nothing better on the planet than seeing your children loving and looking like Jesus. 

In one brief encounter, we see so much of Christ’s beauty on display: compassion, generosity, courage, faith, trust, love.

That small child has come to know Jesus through the discipleship and example of his parents. It can sometimes seem like years of following Christ or teaching your kids has little effect. Turns out they’ve been watching you all along, even if you weren’t aware.

Example is important. Significant. Powerful, even.

So wherever you are today, be encouraged, even excited. God is alive and well and actively accomplishing His work through you! Prayer and a faithful example are simple seeds that, when faithfully sown, do eventually bear fruit! Don’t lose heart and definitely don’t give up. You’re so important!

“…let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Ephesians 6:9.

Happy Summertime,

You’re Invited!

My son Jake’s 2015 graduation party

Well, it’s graduation season, and in Iowa, that means Grad Parties.

There’s something very poignant about walking past photo display boards where parents try to sum up an entire childhood. There’s no snapshot or slideshow that can adequately convey a person’s story. But if you were lucky enough to walk through life with this young adult for the past 18 years, the experience is different. You remember that Christmas they had the chicken pox. You heard them at their third grade piano recital. You signed their cast after that fateful soccer game.

You don’t need a picture book. You shared life with them. You really know them. That is a relationship that is real and rich and rare.

I want to invite you to try something this summer. And although I can already hear you thinking, “I’m too busy” or, “I don’t wanna” before I’ve even asked you…I’m gonna ask you anyway:

This summer, I’d like to invite you and your kids to invest in real and rich and rare relationships. And I don’t mean with Jesus, because that should be a given. I mean with other people who need Jesus. And I don’t mean someone you could merely invite to camp or to church (although, yes, please do!).  

I have prayed that the Holy Spirit has already given you a name or a face.  

Have them over. To your house. Get to really know them. Don’t just take your kids to the pool to meet friends. Have those kids over to your house afterward for popsicles. Don’t just let your kids go to the neighbors to play, ask the neighbor family to come over to your house for s’mores. Don’t just go out to the movies with friends. Have friends come to your house for dinner and a movie. Instead of constantly sliding into the privacy and comfort zone of your own home and your own family, be courageous and intentional and a little bit self-less and invest in people by inviting them over.

What if every one of God’s people made new friends with one non-believer this summer? Actual, “come on over to our house” friends. Real life, “can I borrow your extension ladder” friends. Or maybe even, “my daughter is defiant and I don’t know what to do” friends. How might the Holy Spirit work through that? A movement like that would definitely be real and rich and rare.

Consider yourselves invited. And challenged.

I hope you have a great holiday weekend. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for the courageous blood that was shed for your freedom. And if you go to any grad parties, I pray it will remind you to use this summer to invest in others by simply inviting them over.

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 1 Thessalonians 2:8.

Love,

Countercultural

Years ago, at age 14, my daughter Emily designed, printed and paid for her own business cards. Some of you may still have one on your refrigerator. It says, “Emily Bushlack, Babysitter.”  She built a pretty good book of business by handing those out to parents as they picked their kids up from Sunday school. She has learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed caring for lots and lots of your kids.

But I’ll never forget the time she came home from one job. It was her first time babysitting for this family. And she said, “Mom, you won’t believe it. The parents told the boys that they had to listen and obey…They actually used the word OBEY!”

What a concept. It stood out to her because it was rare and exceptional and helpful.

Obey.

That’s not a very popular word today. No one likes to be told what to do. And that is a very, very dangerous way to live–for our kids and also for us.

Certainly there have been abuses of authority all throughout the pages of human history and maybe even in some of our own stories. But we should be careful not to use that as an excuse for our own disobedience. There is such a thing as God-ordained authority. Parents have authority. Pastors have authority. And God has absolute authority.

As followers of Christ, I hope we all understand and accept that. And it would be excellent if we were training our children to understand it as well.

There’s an account in the Bible that illustrates God’s righteous response to rebellion. It’s from the book of 1 Samuel and it’s about the two sons of a priest named Eli. Here’s how they are introduced: 

Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord” (1 Sam 2:12)

Scoundrels! Seriously, if you read more you will agree they were really bad dudes. And because God has absolute authority, He has the right to inflict absolute consequences. They disobeyed and died. Their consequences weren’t like our kids’ consequences. They didn’t disobey and get a count to three. They didn’t disobey and get a time out. They didn’t disobey and get sent to their rooms. They had no regard for the Lord. As a result, when they disobeyed Him, they died.

Turns out there is a Holy God in Heaven who gets to be serious about being obeyed. 

Somewhere I fear we’ve forgotten that. I know I have. I often think of God as a good-natured grandfatherly god who has mellowed over the centuries. I can sometimes imagine he excuses, understands or ignores my bad behavior and the bad behavior of those I love. In fact, I also expect Him to bail us all out and remove hard consequences when we mess up. But a good Father doesn’t do that. 

A good Father knows what is best for his children. He has boundaries around their behaviors to keep them safe and healthy. He has rules to teach them to become responsible and kind. He has standards for their character and integrity. Because all these things strengthen the loving bond between them, he is serious about being obeyed.

Just to be clear: I’m not a fan of authoritarian parenting. In terms of Diana Baumrind’s four parenting styles, I’m squarely in the authoritative camp. I’m also not a legalist. I don’t believe obedience earns you salvation. I don’t believe obedience makes you a child of God. That gets the cart in front of the horse. 

Rather, when we are a child of God, the Holy Spirit gives us a heart that wants to obey. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16) and “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT). 

We no longer want to be scoundrels. We want to be like our good Father. Enjoying a loving relationship and avoiding the consequence of rebellion.

So even though it’s totally countercultural, let’s get serious about obedience. 

“”Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).

Thankful for your sacred work as parents,

Don’t Miss His Best

Your faith community is one place where you are meant to experience God's best.

I will never forget last Sunday. It was one of the most powerful times of worship I can remember. We were led in praise by some amazing and strong moms. And we got to join with parents in commitment to a lifetime of pointing their kids to Jesus. And we got to hear a powerful, personal, and painful testimony of conviction from my courageous and dear friend Laurie. And we got to behold and bow before a Holy God, stare our own sin in the face, and respond to the conviction of the Spirit by confessing our sins openly and honestly. Many of you came forward for prayer and confession. Such an incredible morning.

But many of you did not come forward for prayer and confession.

So I wonder why. And I want to encourage you to wonder why as well. Hopefully, it’s because you responded at lunch with a dear friend or that night with your spouse, or already this morning during your quiet time. If so, thank you for doing the hard work of confession.

But if not, please, please, do not let the word of the Lord and the voice of the Spirit go unheeded. I pray that whatever may have hindered you on Sunday or in the days since will not keep you from action today.

I’m outside of my comfort zone even typing this. I don’t want to be the bad guy bringing the hammer down. But I believe God is right now calling all of us at New Covenant to a higher level of holiness and I need to obey Him by continuing to exhort His people to obedience.

So, if you haven’t taken the time to respond to conviction yet, I want to encourage you to not wait another moment. Sit in silence and ask the Spirit to reveal to you an oblivious sin or give you the courage to confess to a trusted friend the blatant sin you know you carry. Right where you are as you read this you can confess, be washed clean, and have a burden of sin lifted from you.

He may be convicting you of:

  • Enslaving sins: Addictions, lusts, gluttony
  • Prideful sins: Vanity, gossip, arrogance, unforgiveness
  • Selfish sins: Greed, hypocrisy, not serving, not giving
  • Unbelieving sins: Fear, faithlessness, worry, despair

Whatever it is, I urge you to remember: conviction is not condemnation. Conviction is a gift. It shows God’s favor. It shows He is actively leading your spirit. He is caring for you as a loving Father who wants the best for His child. And His best is confession, healing, obedience, and power.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  James 5:16

I’m praying to see personal repentance become true revival.

Good Questions!

We recently took a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation to Hawaii. Sadly the adopted boys had to work, but the original six Bushlacks enjoyed over a week together on The Garden Isle of Kauai. I’m not gonna lie, it was paradise.

Our time included plenty of adventures. Snorkeling, rainforest hikes to see waterfalls, cliff jumping, boogie boarding, and even a helicopter tour of the island. But the very best time of all was spent at our VRBO, sitting in a hot tub under the palm trees and the stars.

One night after dinner, Jeremy began a game of “Good Questions.” (I literally just named it that this second). When I say we played a game, I mean Jeremy did what he does: He set some rules and the entire family agreed to play along. Here’s how you play: One person starts by asking a question to any other person in the circle. That person answers and then in turn can ask a question of anyone else in the circle. When I describe it like that, it basically sounds like a grown-up version of Truth or Dare, except without the dare.

Anyway, it was during this conversation that I heard some of the most astonishingly thoughtful questions ever:

  • To Marissa (a high school charter school teacher in Brooklyn, NY): Who is your favorite student and why?
  • To Noah (Emily’s boyfriend): How do people misunderstand you?
    • (At this point Jake announced, “This one needs to be an all-play.” We learned so much about each other!
  • To me and Jeremy: What is it like to go from empty nest to a reunion like this?
  • To Emily: Go around the circle and answer: What’s your favorite thing about each person?
    • This question became another “all-play” with everyone having the opportunity to “pile on” more good things about each person in turn.

Y’all, we talked for over 4 hours that night. I will never, ever forget the joy of hearing my grown children sharing joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, doubts and victories with each other. And hearing each person thoughtfully build one another up with sincere words of affirmation.

I guess the point of the game is this: there’s always more we can learn and appreciate about one another. And a great way to accomplish that is simply by asking a thoughtful question.

This Sunday, at New Covenant Bible Church, we begin a series that may likely stir up some questions of your own. The series is on the Holy Spirit. I don’t care how long you’ve been walking with God, I bet you have some good questions about His Spirit. Me too.

I hope you will take time these next few weeks to ponder those questions and ask those questions. Ask your small group. Ask a pastor. And of course, ask the Spirit Himself to help you understand. He wants to reveal Himself to you. Do you believe that?

There’s always more we can learn and appreciate about our awesome God. And a great way to accomplish that is simply by asking a thoughtful question.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).

Radical Power

Power.

What comes to mind when you hear the word power?  Danger? Suspicion? Potential? Influence? 

Controlled power gives light to our homes and movement to our vehicles. It builds bridges and schools. It brings unity to governments and basketball teams. And it overcomes evil in our world.

Out of control power, on the other hand, is dangerous and suspicious. We see the corruption of this all around us–nowhere so clearly at the moment as the absolutely senseless destruction of a peaceful country by a man full of uncontrolled power.

We adopted two boys from Ukraine 6 years ago. In the process we made many friends, all of whom have fled for their lives. Some to basements with bombs dropping overhead, some to villages farther to the west, and some as far as America. 

These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, praying that God will use the war to advance the gospel among their people.

Power out of control is killing their country, but not their hope.

That’s why, from now until Easter, NCBC Kids is using our offering money to support help for Ukraine.  There are many good ways to do this, but we have chosen to help Samaritan’s Purse who is actively on the ground building mobile hospital units to treat the wounded and ill.  

I have been absolutely amazed at the generosity which your children show week after week as they bring their gifts to God. They are not just doing small things in Jesus’ name. They are sacrificing, prioritizing and combining their efforts to do great things. 

What makes a person give to help a stranger? What makes a person volunteer in their free time, use their skills or influence to mentor others, or give their hard-earned money to a cause in which they believe?

Goodness. Human kindness, yes.

But what makes a man who once spent every minute and every dollar only on himself turn and become generous? What makes a woman who used to be condescending and conceited turn and serve the displaced and disenfranchised in the community? What makes  teenagers who used to only fear what others thought of them become brave and stand up for their faith or their fellow student at the risk of their own social standing?

That kind of radical change of heart would take radical power.

Ephesians 4 gives us a before and after look at the radical change in a believer’s life caused by the radical power of the Spirit:  If you used to be sensual, impure and greedy, now you ought to be new, righteous, and holy.  If you used to be a liar, now you must speak truthfully. If you used to be an angry person, now you are characterized by quick reconciliation. If you used to steal, now you are a hard worker. If you used to run your mouth with gossip and foul language, now you carefully choose words that build up and benefit others.

Surely something in that list rings true?  Hits home? Stings a bit?

Radical life change is possible for all who are in Christ. It is brought through the radical power of the Spirit, at work in our spirits, making us completely new.  Are we experiencing that kind of transformation?  If not, the scripture says we are grieving the Holy Spirit of God.  

There are many sources of uncontrolled power at work in our world which are destructive and frightening.  But the unmatched power of the work of the Spirit is something we ought to crave, pray for and surrender to. He wants to make us better, one day at a time. Will we let Him?

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20).

Grateful for you all,

Who do you love?

Can I risk the embarrassment of confessing some childhood TV crushes?

The first crush I can remember was on Albert, the adopted son on Little House on the Prairie. Why did I like him? Easy. He was cuter than Willy and not as rotten.

From there I moved on pretty quickly to characters on Happy Days, Growing Pains, Magnum P.I., Wiseguy, Moonlighting, Cheers, and Wings. My reasons for crushing on these guys matured. They were cute, yes. But also smart, brave, funny, and had darling dimples. Yes it’s true. As I’ve looked back over the heartthrobs of my youth, they all seem to share that trait. 

And of course when I eventually met the love of my life he had all that and more: Godly character, patience, thoughtfulness, loyalty, and yes, great dimples.

When I was growing up, I had been learning to love the admirable traits of a bunch of different fictional characters, waiting and hoping to meet someone who embodied them in real life.

Who do you love? Or, actually, what traits do you love in a person?  

Seriously, think about it, maybe make a list.  

You have all these imperfect people in your life who still exemplify beautiful virtues galore. And they don’t all share the same ones. 

  • My dad was a hard worker, a great storyteller and he loved to laugh.
  • My mom is generous. She is delighted by her children. She cares for those who are suffering.
  • I have a child who is fiercely loyal and remarkably thoughtful. I have another whose heart breaks for the lost and broken. And another who is resilient and contented.

If we were to list all of the best traits in the best of people it would be a long list indeed.

And if we were to finally find one friend who embodied every single awe-inspiring, respectable, admirable, enjoyable, attractive quality on that list, we’d have

Jesus.

When the Bible says he lived a perfect life, it doesn’t just mean that he never fibbed or sassed his parents or lifted a fig from the market without paying. He obviously didn’t sin. But he is so much more than that. He is the perfect person. Everything you love about everyone you love–embodied in this one dear friend, Lord, and King, without failure, weakness or exception.

Here’s an excerpt from my Wednesday morning’s devotion:

“In all other beings we see some lack, in him there is all perfection. The best even of his favoured saints have had blots upon their garments and wrinkles upon their brows; he is nothing but loveliness. All earthly suns have their spots: the fair world itself hath its wilderness; we cannot love the whole of the most lovely thing; but Christ Jesus is gold without alloy–light without darkness–glory without cloud–“Yea, he is altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16). –Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, March 9th.

My friend Andrew, who also happens to be the Family Life Director here at New Covenant Bible Church has a saying that I love:

“Follow the sunbeam up to the sun.”

It means, when you enjoy something, trace it to its source and give thanks there. When you love someone, and all the lovely somethings about that someone, follow those virtues up to the Son, the embodiment of everything lovely. And give Him the thanks and love and worship He deserves.

In everything He has supremacy…”For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him” (Colossians 1:19).

With love,

In like a lion….

I’ve heard it said, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” I’m not so sure… 51 degrees and sunny is pretty mild for March 1. Hopefully it doesn’t work in the reverse this year and come in like a lamb and go out like a lion!

Lions and Lambs. Gotta love weather forecasts that still make you think of Jesus.

We sing the song:

“Our God is a lion, the lion of Judah…
Our God is a lamb, the lamb that was slain…” 

The Lion and the Lamb. Mooring, Brown and Johnson. 2018.

So great yet so gentle. So powerful yet so peaceful. So mighty yet so mild.

It’s so beautiful to know that God is a both/and God. You don’t have to pick one or the other. 

You need a mighty warrior, who defeats your greatest enemies: sin, death, and the devil? You got it. You need a patient, welcoming, forgiving friend who comes toward you in your deepest pain and brokenness and brings gentle healing? You got it.

And as followers of Jesus, we are supposed to become like Him.

Gentle Giants. Filled with Patience and Power. Strength and Softness. 

Not either/or. Both/and.

As I’ve seen the headlines out of Ukraine, the beloved motherland of our two adopted sons, my heart is breaking. But my heart is also inspired by stories of our friends and fellow believers. Exhibiting incredible toughness and tenderness. Brave and benevolent. Looking and acting like Jesus. Lion and Lamb.

Let’s be this way in our homes. There’s times we have to be tough as parents and partners. When it will take incredible courage, endurance and strength to pursue the hearts of our kids. To forgive and reconcile in our marriages. Times we need backbone and possibly a little bite to our discipline or boundaries or expectations or communication.  

But even even if sometimes you need to come in like a lion, remember to go out like a lamb. Humble. Gentle. Keeping in mind that a soft answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Remembering that even in his justice, God prefers mercy. Remembering that self-sacrificing LOVE is the greatest commandment of all.

Let the warm sunshine on your face this month remind you to be like Jesus. Lion and Lamb.

“Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5).
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Warmly,

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