Praying God's Word

Many years ago, when my girls were quite young and in the church nursery, I did Beth Moore’s Bible Study Living Free: Learning to Pray God’s Word. I would credit it as one of the most important extra-biblical books I have read in my journey as a Christian. It shaped my view of God, his Word and myself profoundly.  It made a lasting impact that has shaped how I pray and how I communicate with my daughters and the people around me.

Our oldest headed to Israel for a 6-week archaeological dig recently. Six cards went to Israel tucked in her suitcase. One for each week that she is gone. Each note contained encouragement, love and most importantly a scripture for that week that God had given me to pray for her. So strongly do I believe in the power of prayer and praying God’s word that I activated her personal prayer team and put it on the church prayer chain as well.

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in all self-righteousness. Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s Word is alive and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. There is power in praying God’s Word!

Praying God’s Word is modeled by the early church in Acts 4 where they pray back to God the very words that he had given them. If we are alert while we read our Bible we will how many actual prayers are included throughout the Old & New Testaments. Praying scripture will help us to make it more about God and his will, and less about us and our wants.

Personally, it has helped me to memorize his Word, see his will more clearly and rest easy knowing that my prayers line up more closer with what God wants because I am praying his Word. It has also given me a new understanding of the people of the Bible (King David & the Psalms) and brought me to a better understanding of God and his character.

Psalm 145:18 tells us the Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 1 John 5:14 says - This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. The Bible is truth and it shares God’s will with us. So, when we pray scripture it lines us up with God’s truth and his will.

For example, the verse we are praying this week for our oldest daughter is Proverbs 3:5-6. To translate this into a prayer for you or someone you love it may look something like this: Lord, please help ____ to trust in you with all their heart and lean not on their own understanding. In all their ways may they acknowledge you so that you will make their paths straight. Amen.

To Our Graduated Senior

You graduated on Saturday. And it still feels kind of surreal. I think was a bittersweet experience for all of us. It felt like it would never get here. During the tough times it was a moving target on the horizon that we thought we would never catch. Graduation was years in the future . . . then months . . . then weeks . . . then suddenly over.

You worked hard to the very end of your senior year. Never letting up, never giving it less than your absolute best. It was hard to watch you work so hard when we wanted more of your time and less stress and more fun for you. But you were right and we were wrong. (I know - a rare admission from your parents who may not say it again - so enjoy it now.)

When you did your final evals and received your final grades you were flying a mile off the ground. Your elation and the incredible smile on your face will linger with your parents for a very long time. We are so proud of you for knowing what you needed to do, doing it, and reaching your goal.

You were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who attended your grad party. Humbled by their kind words both verbal and written. You were poised and gracious as you greeted and spent time with each guest. Whether 2 or 82 years old you gave each of them a hug and your undivided attention. You have a rare gift for being fully present in the moment. For making everyone around you feel better just by being near you.

As you head in to the in between time over the next few months continue to strive to be present in the moment. This will be hard because you will find yourself looking back with yearning to the known and familiar. And you will look ahead with some fear and trepidation to an unfamiliar future.

Whatever the future holds never forget that your life is built on a rock-solid faith in God and a family who loves you, believes in you and will always be there for you. Remember that first and foremost you are a child of God. Strive to find your identity in Christ and not in friends, grades, or activities.

College will bring new people, ideas and beliefs into your path at a rapid pace. Always hold them up to the illuminating light of God and his Word. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5–6).

There is more to say but for now I will close with 2 Timothy 1:7. For God did not give you a spirit of timidity but of power, love and self-discipline. Go boldly forward my precious child. Knowing that God goes before you and that our love and prayers will follow you wherever you go.

 

 

 

When God Makes Mosaics

A mosaic, by definition, is a picture or pattern produced by arranging together small colored pieces of stone, tile or glass. My oldest daughter and I have spent many hours over the last several days creating a piece of artwork in our back yard using this technique.

We have no experience but figured it couldn’t be too hard. After watching several you-tube videos and with the help of some amazing people at an area mosaic store we are half-way done. As we work through the process I keep drawing analogies in my head between the mosaic process and how God works in our lives.

With a mosaic, you take tiles or plates, break them and then put them together again to create something new. Oftentimes, as humans, it is when we are broken that God is most able to transform us.  Ephesians 4:22-24 says, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self . . . to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

To create an outdoor mosaic in a four-season climate you need a really strong adhesive (the type that requires wearing gloves and having good ventilation) to secure it to a base. Consider God as the base and scripture as the adhesive for a life well lived.

To get everything to fit you use a tool called a tile cutter to shape the pieces in a way that will be most useful for the mosaic. John, chapter 15, talks of a similar process where God as the gardener cuts off every branch in us that bears no fruit and prunes every fruit-bearing branch to create even more fruit. This is an often painful but necessary part of putting on our new selves.

In creating the mosaic, we found that we would get too focused on the sharp edges and the pieces that did not fit. In our frustration, we would lose sight of the pieces that did fit and the pattern that was emerging. By stopping and stepping back we could more clearly see what we had done, where we were currently at, and where we were heading. Many times, it is in the stepping back that we begin to see the pattern as well as God’s hand at work.

A mosaic is made up of bits and pieces, of different sizes and shapes, of different colors and textures. All of which come together to make something new . . . and something beautiful. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God will make everything beautiful in its time. Not just some things - not just my things or your things or the neighbor’s things or the co-worker’s things but EVERYthing.

I want to leave you with a challenge. A challenge to let God take all your bits and pieces and create something new. A challenge to adhere yourself so strongly to God and his word that when the sharp edges come and bits get broken that you will allow God to take the pieces and make all things new and beautiful in his time.  

When You Know Change is Coming

Change is a tricky thing. Sometimes it is good – a new job or promotion, a new house, new marriage, a significant weight loss. And sometimes change is not so good – a death, a move, a broken relationship, a sudden health crisis. And yet, other times change can land somewhere in between good and bad. It depends on where you are standing.

For example - A child going to kindergarten for the first time is a good change for the student. But it can be hard for the stay-at-home mom or younger sibling left behind.  A job promotion is a good change for the employee but can be hard for his co-workers. A new house is an exciting change unless you are part of the extended family who now lives 2 states away and so on.

In the in between place (not wholly good and not completely bad) change comes . . .and you know it is coming . . . and you are sad . . .but there is not one single thing you can do to stop it . . .and you wouldn’t even if you could because for the person making the change it is a good thing.

Going to college is a good change for our youngest daughter whose last day of her senior year is Friday. She is scared but so ready for this next stage of her life. It is not as good a change for her mama who feels suddenly adrift and without direction.

Case in point: I have spent the last 17 years driving my girls to the private Christian schools where God called them. This phone-free zone is a place where we have talked all the way to school and all the way back – for 17 years. Driving my girls has framed my day and taken anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours of my day depending on traffic and weather. It has built relationship with my daughters and between them as sisters. All of this stops suddenly and abruptly on Friday. And I am not ready for this stage of our lives to be over.

Logically, I know all of the change that is coming is right and good and God’s plan for our lives. Children grow up, leave home, and find their way in the world. Emotionally I am sad and fighting the change. I find myself trying to slow down the clock and linger over every “last” – last choir concert, last art show, last theatrical production, the last drive to and from school.

I have to say that in the midst of so much change I am so thankful that our God is unchanging. Hebrews 3:18 tells us “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Malachi 3:6 quotes God as saying, “For I the Lord do not change. . .” And James 1:7 assures us that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Precious Father – Thank you that for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Please help us to see change as a way to draw closer to you. Lord, I am so thankful that you are the same yesterday, today and forever. Amen

A Steadfast Spirit

Lord, create in a me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Amen.  (Psalm 51:10). This is my heart’s cry right now. I long for a pure heart instead of the pride, anger and impatience I feel as I continue to wait on God’s direction and on God’s timing for my life. And the renewal of a steadfast spirit is going to be essential if I am to stay the course and wait on God’s timing instead of my own.

I have wasted a lot of the last 18 months kicking instead of resting, fearful instead of at peace, prideful instead of humble, stubborn instead of teachable, doubting instead of trusting. During this waiting period, I have not always done it well or gracefully. Honestly, it has not been pretty.

But through it all I have come to realize that when the hard stuff hits, we have a choice - Are we going to allow God to refine us through it – coming out stronger and humbler at the other end? Are we going to give God the glory and share the lessons we have learned? Are we going to seek him earnestly in our circumstances and draw nearer to him each day?

OR are we going to refuse to wait - rushing forward into poor decisions in our timing instead of God’s timing? Are we going to refuse to submit and refuse to let our trials burn away our pride and any other parts of our character that need refining? Are we going to harden our hearts and refuse to enter into a closer relationship with God?

Waiting, being patient and being steadfast are an important part of this process. I sometimes do one well but I rarely do all three well at the same time. Waiting is not something that comes naturally to us in the immediate gratification world in which we live. Patience has become an old-fashioned attribute that is rarely taught and often overlooked. And being steadfast in the hard stuff seems, also, to have gone by the wayside.

God’s word has a lot to say about all three. WAITING: Psalm 27:14 tells us to, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” Lamentations 3:25 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

PATIENCE: Romans 12 :12 tells us to, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him . . .”

BEING STEADFAST: 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” James 1:12 tells us, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

Precious Father – please help us to wait upon your timing and your plans for our lives. May we be patient when the waiting gets long and the path is unclear. May we be steadfast in our trust in you Lord. Amen.

When Anxiety Rears It's Ugly Head

There is a creeping sense of anxiety that is coloring my days – and nights - right now. It attacks most strongly when my guard is not up and I awake repeatedly throughout the night. Fighting it off and letting it go is exhausting.

During the day, I make a conscious effort to take deep breaths, pray and repeat scripture in my head. Logic is closer and fears farther away in the bright light of day.

The fraud thing is ongoing. It is like a spider building a web that gets bigger and bigger. Every day’s mail brings more bad news. I feel violated and defeated against an unknown assailant. It is taking time – lots of time – and energy away from other important things that need to be happening right now.

 When I feel the sharp pang of anxiety creeping in I feel myself pausing, trying to figure out which of several anxiety-inducing situations it is coming from. And then I force myself, once again, to push it back, take deep breaths, pray and focus on God’s words and promises.

1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Philippians 4:6 tell us to not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to present our requests to God. Verse 7 goes on to say that when we do that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I don’t know about you but I really need my heart AND mind to be guarded in Christ Jesus right now. I need the truth of God’s word and his love to wipe away every trace of anxiety coloring my world today and in the days to come.

If you are struggling right now and feel like you are getting hit from all directions, please join me in making a choice. A choice to put on the full armor of God described in Ephesians 6:13-17. A choice to be thankful for the things that are going well instead of dwelling on and listing all the things that are not.

A choice to live in victory instead of defeat. Knowing that although God has told us that in this world we will have trouble. He has also told us that he has overcome the world (John 16:33). And that is a promise that can ease our anxiety and give us rest.

Precious Father, thank you that in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Thank you for giving us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. And thank you that greater are you who are in us than he who is in the world. Amen

When the Climb is Steep

The best thing I can say about April is that it is over. It started with fraud on one account and ended with fraud on another account. In between were a wide variety of challenges – both expected and unexpected – and too numerous to outline here.

Nothing life threatening but just a whole lot of things that added up to a seriously discouraged and frustrated me for most of the month. Some of the challenges were mine personally and some were faced by people who are very near and dear to me.

On the other side of my difficult month I would like to share a couple of thoughts that may help you if you are feeling like you are on an uphill climb that just keeps getting steeper.

Do something for someone else when things get especially tough for you. Doing this takes your mind off your own troubles – send a card the old-fashioned way, offer to babysit, drive someone to an appointment, volunteer somewhere. A break from our own self-absorption is a wonderful thing.

Take care of yourself even when it is the last thing you feel like doing - especially when it is the last thing you feel like doing. Make a healthy meal since your body needs good fuel to function effectively. Exercise so your body can release endorphins which is God’s natural mood lifter. Make sleep a priority since everything looks better when you are not sleep deprived.

Fill your mind with good things – God’s word, great books, edifying music and inspirational movies (Miracle, Secretariat, Apollo 13 & Hidden Figures are some personal favorites.) Take a break from social media which has been proven to increase depression, as well as feelings of loneliness, isolation and discontentment.

Be transparent and let others know you are struggling. The reality is we are not going to receive the hugs or prayers or the listening ear we need if we do not make people aware of how steep our hill has gotten. God created us for relationship with Him and with each other. If you do not have the support system that you need ask God to reveal himself to you in a very real way and ask him to provide the friends and support you need.

Remember that God has overcome the World. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take courage! I have overcome the world” 1 John 4:4 tells us, “You, little children, are from God and have overcome them, because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.”

Understand God’s manna is new every morning. As with the Israelites in the desert He gives us just what we need for each day. Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail. They are new each morning; great is thy faithfulness.”

When your hill gets steep and the climb gets harder please know that you are not alone. God is with you every step of the way.

Faith, Facts & Then Feelings

“Cancel Conference” has been on my to-do list every day for 3 weeks. I just keep arrowing it forward. Because canceling means letting go of something I really, really want to do.

This is the conference I attended last summer that connected me with my tribe. Other women who are called by God to speak and to write. It was the conference where I met someone who gave my blog national exposure. And where a book publishing editor gave me a referral into an important year-long program that is building on those same skills.

Fact - Attending this conference is a huge commitment of time and financial resources that we just do not have right now.  Feeling – I will be missing a key step forward in my ministry if I do not go as well as a vacation, fun, excitement and motivation.

Our culture celebrates, applauds and encourages us to act and to make decisions based on what we feel. And although God certainly created us as emotional beings, too often decisions based on emotions are rarely our wisest choice.

I like the New Living Translation of Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Feelings change depending on the people and circumstances surrounding us. They can be affected by the weather, hormones, a driver who cuts us off, a difficult co-worker and so on. We need to strive to put faith and facts in front of our feelings. We need to live from a place of faith that is built solidly on the fact (truth) of God and his Word.

Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is unchanging. His Word endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). Matthew 24:35 says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

In my conference situation, I need to let go of the emotion surrounding the event/decision and be a wise steward of the resources God has given me instead. I need to trust that in God’s timing and God’s plan other doors for my ministry will be opened.

If you are facing decisions right now controlled by feelings instead of faith and facts I want to encourage you to fix your eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Let’s choose today to walk by faith and not by sight. Let’s look for answers to difficult decisions in the truth of God’s Word and not in our fluctuating feelings. Let’s choose to make decisions by faith first, fact second and our feelings third.

Precious Father, Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). Amen.

When Your Children Grow Up

Our daughters turned 18 and 20 this past week. The youngest technically becoming an adult (according to the state of Minnesota) and the oldest leaving the teen years behind. It is somewhat startling to look back and realize how quickly those years went by. And somewhat confusing as we move forward trying to “parent” our adult children and face an empty nest in the fall.

I have mentioned in a previous blog that I was never planning to get married and if I got married I was never planning to have children. Fortunately, God had different plans for my life that included a husband and children.

Over the years my husband and I received plenty of parenting advice from other parents, Bible studies, and books that helped us through various ages, stages and bumps in the road. But somehow, we missed how hard it was going to be to have the girls leave home. And they must have offered the “Parenting Your Adult Children 101” class when we were out of town.

When our first daughter moved way to college we decided we did not like the phrase “letting go.” But instead prefer the phrase “stretching the umbilical cord.” We wanted her to clearly understand that we would always be there for her when needed and that we would always be connected.

As I look ahead to the fall with both daughters in college I also think back to the verses we prayed over them as infants. Verses that ring especially true for our girls as they have moved and will move away from home.

When our oldest was dedicated as a baby we chose Proverbs 3:5-6 as her life verse. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

Two years later we choose 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 for our youngest daughter. Which says, “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

On the morning our oldest turned 20, I woke up missing her so much that I cleared my schedule, hopped in the car, and drove 7 hours to spend part of her birthday with her. As she ran out of the dorm - huge smile on her face - and flung herself into my arms for the longest, tightest hug imaginable I could barely squeeze the words “I love you” past my constricted throat.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for daughters who know and love you. May they keep you at the center of their lives. May they make the choices they face prayerfully. May they seek your guidance and your wisdom daily. Amen.

When You Don't Feel Ready for Easter

On the Tuesday of Holy Week I feel like I should be writing a blog about Easter. But, honestly, I am just not feeling it. Although Easter is one of the latest dates it can be on the calendar this year, I feel like it snuck up on me - pushed aside by the busy, the worry, the fear and a preoccupation with situations that feel out of my control right now.  

This used to happen for me at Christmas as well. Mostly because I was overscheduled and running as fast I could from event to event, and store to store, until I almost ran right past Christmas all together.

That is until I finally slowed down, learned to say no to so many activities, and added Ann Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas, in 2013. It is a devotional for Advent that keeps me engaged in Jesus birth and focused on the true meaning of the season during the 30 days leading up to Christmas.

Knowing where I am right now spiritually & emotionally, I looked for a Lenten devotional back in late February and could not find one that was appealing. I have since found Preparing for Easter: 50 Devotional Readings from C.S. Lewis that I will start doing next year - which is not very helpful for what I am feeling right now.

I want to live in the victory of the resurrected Christ – not just at Easter – but every day, all year round, day in and day out. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities: the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

It is not too late to reflect on the true meaning of Easter or to enter into Holy Week (the events leading up to Christ’s death and resurrection) with a feeling of reflection and a heart overflowing with gratitude. Take time to read a Biblical account of the events surrounding Easter. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell the story of Jesus triumphal entry, trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

As for me, I think I will post this blog and retire to my bubble bath with a copy of Liz Curtis Higgs new book, The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene. Because it is not too late to slow down, release the fear, release the worry, let go of the situations that feel beyond our control and give them over to Jesus so that we can more fully ponder the true meaning of Easter and what it means to us.

Precious Father - Thank you that through the sacrifice of your Son on the cross we have been resurrected into a new life that gives us the opportunity for freedom from sin. Please help us to slow down this week to anticipate with sadness Christ’s crucifixion and with eternal gladness his resurrection. Amen.

 

But Did You Pray for Them?

“Am I remembering correctly that you are a prayer?” A co-worker asked me this at a business meeting last night. When I responded with “absolutely” she then proceeded to share the part of her life that she felt needed prayer. I responded specifically by saying that I would be praying protection, direction and balance regarding her new endeavor.

Have you ever told someone you would pray but forgot to in the busyness of your day? I admit that I am sometimes guilty of this. Or time passed and the prayer request fell off your radar even though prayer was still very much needed in that situation? Or perhaps you were scrolling through social media and responded to a post with “praying” but just kept scrolling through your feed without taking the actual time to pray?

I heard recently of a pastor who instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you,” asks, “Can I pray for you right now?” instead.  An interesting concept and one that I was not ready to put into practice at the end of a business meeting last night. But one that I understand (immediate comfort to the person who needs prayer) and would like to have the courage to try.

Scripture encourages us repeatedly to pray and clearly paints a picture of a God who is listening and answers prayer. Jeremiah 29:12 says, “Then call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”  Psalm 17:6 “I call on you, my God, for you will answer me: turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 145:8 “The Lord is near to all who call on him . . .”

In our crazy, busy, hectic and mixed up lives how do we remember to pray for other people? One man I know keeps a handwritten list in his Bible that he looks at and prays through each day. He follows up with people to see if the prayer has been answered or if he needs to keep praying. Our Bible study group does prayer requests each week – some typing them into their phone or computer so they have them available to pray through during stray windows of time in their day. While other members write them in their study guides or a notebook.

Email, texting and social media can be a great way to bring a group of people together to pray for a specific need. Personally, I have been known to set reminders on my phone, put a post-it note on my computer or write it in my planner when I need to pray for someone at a specific time for a specific reason (test, surgery, job interview etc.).

Colossians 4:2 tells us to, “Devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” There are so many needs in the world around us. Prayer is our opportunity to connect those needs with a God who cares and is waiting with a listening ear. Join me this week in making sure that our words “I will be praying for you” match our actions.

Precious Father please help us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, please help us to be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18) Amen.

A Physical Reminder to Trust

I am wearing a new ring on the little finger of my left hand. Actually, the ring is 33 years old. Bought on lay-away over a 12-month period with my babysitting money in 1984. I walked into that jewelry store on the square in the small Iowa town that I grew up in and paid for it five and ten dollars at a time.

We have a tradition in our family that when a daughter turns 16 she is given a sweet sixteen ring. My parents let me pick out a dainty blue sapphire ring that our oldest daughter now wears. But I also fell in love with a black star sapphire ring that I determined to buy myself. This was a huge undertaking when you consider that I was paid $1 an hour for babysitting and that minimum wage for my after-school job was $3.35.

I had a year to pay it off before it would be put back in the case for some other lucky girl to buy. For that year, it meant setting a goal, staying focused and making some sacrifices (well, at least what felt like sacrifices to a 16-year-old girl). It meant giving my money to the jewelry store instead of going out with friends or buying some new clothes. It meant adding more hours to my retail job and adding more weekend babysitting jobs. It meant not giving up as I headed into fall with a huge chunk still to pay.

I am wearing it now and for the next two years as a physical reminder of setting a goal, sticking to it and persevering. We will have two daughters in college in the fall. The costs of college are astronomical and right now we do not have all of the funds that are needed. But we believe that they are attending the college God has called them to, that God will honor their choice, and that the finances will (eventually) fall into place.  

Which brings me back to trust - a common theme in my writing right now. I added this prayer request on the back of my church attendance card last Sunday – “Please pray that our family could trust in the Lord, lean not on our understanding, and in all our ways acknowledge Him.” This prayer comes from Proverbs 3:5-6 which goes on to say that in doing this He will make our paths straight.

“Trusting in the Lord” means that we believe God is who He says He is and that His promises are true. The God of the universe is the same yesterday, today and for every tomorrow. When we “lean not on our own understanding” it means grounding ourselves in the fact of God’s word and not in the fears of the world around us. “Acknowledging Him” means we need to be ever mindful of God day in and day out. It means choosing to serve him with a faithful and willing heart.

Precious Father – Thank you being worthy of all honor, glory and praise. Thank you that you have already walked the path before us and that you are in control. May we surrender the burdens that we choose to carry into your loving and capable hands Lord Jesus. - Amen

 

Where is Your Meeting Place with God?

Where is your meeting place with God? A sunny corner in a cozy chair with your Bible and a notebook? A Sunday morning church service filled with worship, teaching, and other believers? A camp or retreat center where you commune with God and nature? Or perhaps on your knees beside your bed in the early morning hours? I guess what I am asking is in what physical location do you feel God’s presence the most?

Jesus often went off by himself to pray and connect with his Father. The Mount of Olives seems to have been a physical location of particular importance to Jesus. Luke 21:37 tells us, “Everyday Jesus taught at the temple, but every evening he went to spend the night on the Mount of Olives.” Luke 22:39 says, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.” John 6:15 says, “Jesus once again withdrew to a mountain by himself.” Away from the crowds and out in the open I am guessing Jesus felt God’s presence more strongly. In essence, it became one of his physical meeting places with God.

This has been a process for me over time that has come to mean a great deal in my Christian walk. In Matthew 6:6 Jesus says, “But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

When I finally got into the habit of starting each day in prayer and in his Word is was partly because I had finally figured out a physical space in which to meet with Him each morning. I head there with anticipation when I wake up because I know that God is waiting for me to join Him there.

Jesus regularly gathered with other believers and scripture exhorts us to do the same. I believe regular church attendance needs to be an important part of every believer’s journey. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”  Matthew 18:20 reminds us, “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”

God created the church to function as one body with many parts. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 describes God’s plan for the church. Verse 12 says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” Verse 18, 19 & 20 go on to say, “But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

Verse 27 sums it up by saying, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Not attending church not only hurts us but hurts other believers. The church body cannot function as well as it could because part of the body is missing when we do not attend. I want to encourage you to find a physical place to worship with other believers where you feel the presence of God.

Precious Father – Thank you for the example that you gave us in the life of your Son as he dwelt among us in human form. Thank you for scripture that encourages, exhorts and convicts us. Please give us an unquenchable thirst for your Word. Thank you for the physical places where we feel your presence here on earth Lord. Amen.

Weary? He Will Give You Rest!

I look into the tired and stressed faces of the people around me - including my own staring back at me from the bathroom mirror - and I think to myself there has got to be a better way. God created us to be more than the stressed-out, over-worked, endlessly-exhausted individuals that many of us have become or are becoming.

I have written on this before (January 24, 2017 - You Were Created for More Than This) but I think it is worth visiting again. The only place that we can truly find soul-deep rest is in our relationship with God.

We will not find it in a glass or two of wine at the end of the day, in a false sense of security from our friends on social media, or in an over-scheduled life that tries to fill the empty places. At various points in my life, I have been guilty of doing all of these things. How about you? What do you do to try to find rest outside of God’s best for your life?

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This verse is pretty straight forward. But first we need to make the choice to slow down long enough to go to Jesus.

Matthew 11:29-30 goes one to say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Picture a yoke as two oxen connected together by a wooden bar hauling a heavy load. This life we are living right now is a heavy load for most of us. Are we going to choose to haul it all by ourselves? Or are going to choose to share it with the one person who can ease our burden and give us rest?  

If you feel like your head is going to explode, pop off and roll across the floor (my analogy for when I am stressed and overwhelmed) here are some practical suggestions that have worked for me in the past:

1)     Do a brain dump on paper before you got to bed. Write down everything that should be done, must be done and has already been done.

2)     Confess the sin of “I can do it all” and the indispensable person syndrome. Lay your burdens at the feet of Jesus. Be very specific and give them to him one by one.

3)     Practice self-care. Become convicted that time with God, a healthy diet, and regular exercise are non-negotiables and a top priority when you are stressed and overwhelmed.

4)     Be transparent with friends and family. Ask for extra hugs, an extra portion of grace and an outside perspective to help you separate the important “must-do” from the not so important “this can wait” (or be let go off all together).

Precious Father - May we submit to your yoke knowing that you are gentle and humble in heart. Help us to understand that apart from you we can do nothing. Thank you that in you we can find soul-deep rest. And Lord, may we find it in you today. Amen

When I am Afraid I Will Trust in You

I am afraid. Of my business failing. Of my ministry being put on hold. Of not getting healthy. Of the finances involved in putting 2 kids through college. Of so very many things both big and small. These fears are overwhelming me right now. And paralyzing me. And affecting my mood . . . and my sleep . . . and my appetite.

 

A children’s song that our daughters listened to over and over in their toddler years keeps going through my head today. It is not complicated. It just keeps repeating the same refrain over . . . and over . . . and over again:

When I am afraid I will trust in you,

I will trust in you,

I will trust in you.

 

This song is taken directly from Psalm 56:3 and it goes on to say in verse 4, “In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.” Logically we know that God and his Word are the best anecdote we have for our fears. Emotionally we allow ourselves to spin out of control overwhelmed with fear, anxiety and worry.

 

Repeatedly in scripture we see the connection between fear, trust and deliverance:

Psalm 34: 4 - I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 91:2 – I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Isaiah 12:2 - Surely God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.

 

Fear is not from God. It debilitates us, robs us of our effectiveness, and steals our joy. “Fear not” and “do not fear” are common messages scattered throughout the Bible:

Isaiah 41:10 – So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 43:1 – Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Joshua 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

 

When we are overcome by fear, worry and anxiety we have a choice. We need to:

Choose to believe that God’s word and his promises are true.

Choose to replace the negative thoughts with positive affirmations from God’s Word.

Choose to be transparent so we can get the support we need from the people around us.

 

Please join me in praying:

Precious Father –

When I am afraid I will trust in you,

I will trust in you,

I will trust in you.

Amen.

Pride or Humility - Which Will You Choose?

 “Pride goes before a fall” is an expression many of us have heard. I have personally experienced this in my workplace, in my ministry and in my relationships. Funny thing about pride – we can often spot it in others but fail to see it in ourselves – often before it is too late. 

Think of pride as an exalted sense of who you are in relation to other people and to God himself. Pride that points back to God is a good thing. Pride that points to us is not. When Paul takes pride in the growth of the early church or boasts of the many trials he has faced he is doing this to give God the glory. It is not about what Paul himself has accomplished but what God has done for and through Paul.

Have you ever taken the time to ask God to show you areas of pride in your own life? Or asked a family member or close friend where they see it playing out in your life in a negative way?

Here are some questions to consider as you look at how pride plays out for you:

Do you ever think of yourself as better than the people around you?

Do you feel that your way of doing things is often, if not always, the better way?

Does your sense of self-worth come from what you physically own or have personally accomplished?

Do you think your child, spouse, job or house are better than other people’s?

Do you dwell on past successes and not on present challenges?

Do you want people to notice when you do something good for someone else?

James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 tells us that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  Proverbs 16:5 says, “The Lord detests all the proud of heart, be sure of this: they will not go unpunished.” It seems to me that if I do not choose to humble myself – God will.

At various points in my Christian walk I have read books and heard speakers who have encouraged me to humble myself. I was always uncomfortable with this teaching. I was blind to my own pride - often calling it “a healthy self-image.” Humility did not seem to be an attribute I wanted to cultivate.

Think of humility as having a realistic sense of who you are in relation to God and to the people around you. It is being honest about who and what you are. Being humble includes finding your identity in Christ and not in anything that you have, do, or accomplish.

Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

When our focus moves from ourselves to others we go from being self-centered to outward focused. In an egocentric culture, completely focused on self, this outward focus on others becomes a powerful witness to the people around us. Which will you choose today – pride or humility?

Search me, O God, and know my heart. Forgive me for the sin of pride. May it be pulled out by the roots and replaced with a humility that puts you and others before myself. Amen.

Sharing God Through Word & Deed

I once told someone “I do not believe in luck. I believe in God.” This conversation occurred while I was living in Los Angeles as a newlywed. A co-worker, sitting on the sidelines observing my life, commented that I was one of the luckiest people he had ever met.

I got engaged and my fiancée received a promotion to move from Minneapolis to L.A. A couple at my church gave us reasonable rent to live in a gorgeous house in the hills. We got a great deal on the wedding ring and on a new car.

Where he saw luck; I saw God. I guess it is all in how we choose to look at things. My simple comment started an ongoing dialogue about God that continued off and on for years until time and distance finally ended the discussion.

How do you share how God is at work in your life with a neighbor, co-worker, family member or friend?  We need to testify to others about how God is at work in our life and what he personally means to us. Think of testifying as a two-headed coin. On one side “word” and on the other side “deed.”

Deeds are the actions we take and the service we give to the people around us. We need to ask ourselves - am I living a life that would point people to God or away from God? Would someone who does not have a personal relationship with God see something in my life that they would wish to have in their own life? Matthew 5:6 tells us to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Words are the verbal testimony we give to the people around us. In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” For many years, I played it safe, only verbalizing about and giving credit to God to other believers. I didn’t feel qualified to share my faith with others; feeling that I lacked the necessary knowledge. Because of my fears, I missed many opportunities to share my faith and testify to God’s work in my life with other people.

There are several examples in the New Testament of Jesus urging people to tell what God has done for them. In Luke Chapter 8 Jesus casts demons out of a man who then begs to go with Jesus. But in Verse 39 Jesus says, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went and proclaimed all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.

We need to look for opportunities to testify to God’s work in our life and tell others about our faith. Not out of judgment or a sense of superiority but out of love and humility. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Precious Father – Please open our eyes to the opportunities around us. Give us the courage to acknowledge you as Lord in every area of our lives. May we show by word and by deed a personal faith that is attractive to the people around us. Amen.

My Valentine - Revisited

During my teen years I worked part time in a flower shop. Various times of the year got a little crazy. Valentine’s Day got a lot crazy. This was during my feminist stage when I had decided I was never going to get married. And that if I got married I was never going to have kids. And if I had kids I was never going to stay home with them. When I was a teenager “never” entered my vocabulary a lot.

God, however, had a very different plan for my life. I write this today as a married woman of 23 years, mother to 2 beautiful daughters (17 & 19), and as an owner of a business that allowed me to work from home so I could be a stay-at-home mom.  Not what I had planned but so much better than I could have imagined.

My husband and I met during a summer job in college. Our relationship started slow and built steadily over a 5-year period. We dated 2½ years in college and 2½ years by airplane between Minneapolis (his first job) and Los Angeles (my first job.) We married in the small Midwest town where I grew up and set up house together in LA.

We have worked through little issues (toilet paper over or under) and big (different religious backgrounds) to get where we are today. Having a wife who is a recovering porn addict is one of the big ones. My addiction was not easy on our marriage or on my husband. Having a wife who is called into public ministry with her story makes it even harder. When I asked him for forgiveness he gave it. When I answered God’s call he supported it.

Is it no wonder, then, that after 23 years of marriage he is still the person with whom I most want to spend time? This Valentine’s Day I thank God for a husband who loves me for who I was, who I am, and who I am going to be.

Precious Father – May we take time today to thank all the sweethearts in our life - friends, family and neighbors. Thank you Lord for loving us no matter what and for creating us for relationship with you and with each other. Amen.

P.S. If you have been following this blog for a while you may have realized this is a recycled blog from last February. I tried to write a new one but this one pretty much said what I wanted to say about my valentine.

Flattened By Grace

Flattened by grace (in the best possible way) feels like an accurate description. Overwhelmed by His love and mercy works too. I struggled so mightily last week to get this blog written and posted. And when I hit submit it left me feeling vulnerable and exposed. I awoke the next morning to my story being shared on a national blog.  You can read it here -http://www.jillsavage.org/when-a-woman-is-addicted-to-pornography/.

I went from averaging 3 shares a week of Transparent Tuesday to 75 shares from Jill’s site with my photo and the headline “When a Woman is Addicted to Porn.” And I thought I felt vulnerable and exposed on Tuesday! But what I felt most on Wednesday was humbled . . . and thankful . . . and loved. By a God who forgave me and a God who redeemed me and a God who has asked me to testify to the work He has done in my life.

I do not know what difficult thing you are facing today or what difficult things lie buried in your past. Too many of us live under the burden of past sin that continues to cripple us. In many cases, something we asked forgiveness for, which God granted, but for which we cannot seem to let go.   

We still feel guilty, or dirty, or unworthy, or less than.  We feel like we don’t fit in, are out of step with the people around us, or they all seem cleaner, purer or better than we are. Guilt that is convicting is from the Holy Spirit. Guilt that is condemning is from Satan. If Satan can keep us bound up in secrets, shame and guilt he wins.

There seems to be a disconnect between what we know and what we feel. We need to remember that our feelings are not fact. Confessing means that we agree with God over our sins and ask for forgiveness. I John 1: 9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

God not only puts our sin out of sight (Isaiah 38:17); but he also puts them out of reach (Micah 7:19 & Psalm 103:2), out of mind (Jeremiah 31:34) and out of existence (Isaiah 43:25 & 44:22, Psalm 51:1, Act 3:19).

My prayer for you today is that you can let go of past hurts and poor choices to live victoriously in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells that we are a new creation in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come. Can I hear an Amen?

As if 50 Shades Were Not Dark Enough

As a woman recovering from a pornography addiction I am concerned about a movie like 50 Shades Darker.  It is being released just before Valentine’s Day – billed as a romance – and promoted as the perfect date night. In reality, it is far from a romance, but is instead a graphic, sexually explicit movie about a modern-day sadomasochistic relationship.

Sadomasochism is defined as sexual activity, in which one person enjoys inflicting physical or mental suffering on another person, who derives pleasure from experiencing pain. Where, exactly, is the romance in that?

In researching the movie, the first movie trailer clip that loaded had this headline: Don’t Watch This 50 Shades Darker Clip with Your Parents (Obviously). Like the first movie, 50 Shades of Grey, this one barely missed an NC-17 rating which would have kept children under 18 out of the theater.

The MPAA rated it “R” instead for “strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.”  This movie franchise has pushed the envelope in your neighborhood theater and expanded what is now considered acceptable under an “R” rating.

On the first page of a basic Google search I also came to: Speed Read: 12 Naughty Bits for 50 Shades Darker. The one-line description for that link said NSFW. Having not seen that acronym before I looked up the definition: NSFW is a warning for an email subject line. It means ‘not safe for work’ or ‘not safe to be viewed at work.’ It is used to warn the recipient to not open the message at the office or near young children, because the message contains sexual or repulsive content.

I could continue to give statistics and information on the movie that has already been released and the one that is soon to be released. I could back it up with more statistics on the staggering number of men, and now women, addicted to pornography. I could tell you that the 50 Shades franchise has normalized pornography use for women in the same way that the internet did for men.

Instead, I am going to tell you that my addiction to pornography damaged my self-worth, my self-image, my marriage, my relationships with the people around me, and my relationship with my God. It filled me with self-loathing and poisoned every area of my life.

I sanitized it for years with words like erotica and mommy porn. The reality is that pornography awakens our physical sexual desires but separates us from any kind of emotional or relational connection. Porn makes it about the sexual act and not about the other person who is involved.

OK, transparency time. (Like admitting to a porn addiction is not transparent enough!) It has taken most of my day to write this blog. I have sweated and researched and written and re-written and cried (tears and out loud to God).

I have worried that I have gone too far. Then worried that I have not gone far enough in the words I have shared today. I have worried about what other people would think. And yes, I have been tempted to watch the movie clips and read the 12 Naughty Bits excerpt.

My past feels like a thorn in my side today that I may have until the day I die. But I have prayed earnestly.  And claimed scripture wholeheartedly. And persevered in this task because God was faithful to me. And He will be faithful to you if this is an area in which you struggle or in which you are tempted. He delivered me and He can deliver you.

Precious Father – Today I choose to praise you for the hard stuff that draws me to you. I choose to praise you for a temptation that continues to haunt me and keep me humble. Thank you that your grace is sufficient for me. Lord, may your power be made perfect in my weakness. Amen.