What Can I Do?

“Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” Psalm 41:1

As a mom, living in this over-abundant country, it can be difficult to teach my kids to be grateful. They have grandparents (on both sides) who are above and beyond generous…they love to spoil and treat the kids and the kids eat it up. As parents, Jon and I love to treat them as well…what parent doesn’t? Jon is particularly a gift-giver and especially loves to use the element of surprise. Now, we live on a budget, and we are careful how we use our finances, but in comparison to most of the people living in the world we are doing very well. We have two cars. We have a house with heat and beds for each of the people in our home. We have clothes that fit and a room full of toys. And even though there are months when we eat more spaghetti than I’d like, we have never gone hungry. We have a lot for which to be thankful. So how do we build a heart of generosity into our home? Continue reading

Second Chances

“Life Interrupted” Week Five — Bible Study Re-cap

We just finished week 5 in our study of the book of Jonah (“Life Interrupted” by Priscilla Shirer). Everyone I’ve talked to who is participating keeps saying over and over how much this study has really challenged their hearts but also encouraged them right when they needed it. All of us have had or are currently experiencing the upset of interruptions. The interruptions of life happen to be one of those unavoidable things. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, man or woman, new to a relationship with Jesus or have been loving God a long time…you will be interrupted. The main point we have examined in this study has been to ask ourselves what we will do when faced with interruptions that are actually God-breathed and designed specifically for our lives? Will we embrace what He has for us or dig our heels in, turn, and run in the opposite direction (like Jonah running from Ninevah)?

Last week, as we worked our way through the daily homework, there were two distinct points given. First, we were reminded that God is the God of second chances. Thank goodness, right? This is one of those truths I hope I never get used to or take for granted.

The second point we looked at jumped off the page of my workbook: “Our second chance brings us full circle to the place where we have to choose full obedience.”

This reminded me of a time in my life when I felt a bit lost. I found myself sitting across a desk from my pastor telling him my dilemma. “I’m doing everything I know to do. I’m serving God but something is still off. I’m wandering. I don’t know where to go or what I’m supposed to do next. I can’t hear Him.” His response to me was interesting. He said, “What’s the last thing He said to you? Figure that out and do it.”

What did he mean? Well, he was directing me to think through if there was anything in my life that was left undone. Was there something God had told me to do or asked me to act on that I had either disobeyed to just been careless not to complete? He was pointing out that perhaps my lack of direction for what to do next was because God had already given me my next step and I was the one holding things up because I hadn’t taken it yet.

Have you ever been on a well-worn, narrow dirt path surrounded by a very thick forest? I’m talking about the kind of forest that has so many trees and brush that it’s hard to even see through. Little light comes in, and if you find yourself veering off the designated path your feet are constantly being pulled at by twigs, you have to duck from the hanging branches that seek to scratch and pull at you, and you can very easily lose all sense of direction. Psalm 23 says “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” See, God has a clear path for us to follow. It’s not always easy. Sometimes we feel ourselves slipping down steep valleys. Sometimes the uphill climb leaves us tired and wondering what we’ll be facing as we make it over the crest. But what we can count on is that when we stay on the path He has laid out for us, even when there are surprises along the way, we will always have sure footing for our next step. Trying to find our own way, or choosing to walk away from His designated next step will put us in a place where we’re vulnerable to becoming disoriented, alone, and lost.

The great thing is, it’s never too late to send out an SOS! He really does give second chances (and third and fourth). So, the next time we try to make our own path (or like Jonah tried to sail to Tarshish) and our decisions swallow us up and we get spit back out in the realization that God has saved us and still loves us and still has plans for us –- STAND UP, WIPE THE FISH GOO OFF AND HEAD FOR NINEVAH!!!

Or in other words…what’s the last thing He said to you? Figure it out and do it.

Just the Girls

 

I first heard Joan Evrist and Janelle Kellums speak at a conference six years ago. I still remember the way God moved in my life and the impact their lives made on me. When they said they could come to speak to us here in WA I was ecstatic!

The “You Can Do It” Girls’ Getaway is all about realizing that with God anything is possible. This is going to be an amazing weekend. It’s coming up fast so don’t miss the opportunity to sign up with the early bird special.

http://www.livingwater.com/lwwomen

True Love

True love can seem elusive at times. I have had many conversations with people of all ages about the difficulty in finding “the right one”. How do you know? Where do you find them? What is the most important thing to look for? What if I thought I found them, but I just don’t feel the same anymore?

Here’s a quote I came across from a current young celebrity on finding love:

“…when I picture the person I want to end up with, I don’t think about what their career is, or what they look like. I picture the feeling I get when I’m with them.”

I suppose at first glance this is a very sweet thing to say. I agree…looks aren’t everything and how much money a person makes does not make the man (or woman). But I got stuck on the “I picture the feeling I get when I’m with them” part. Unfortunately, I think this is one of the gravest mistakes made in love. Focusing on the feeling you get from a person is the worst gauge for love you could ever choose! Feelings are just that…feelings! They are changeable. They are dependent on circumstances and fleeting whims. Feelings come and go. Sometimes I feel like going to the gym, and sometimes I don’t. When I choose based on my feelings, I pay for it later. Sometimes I don’t feel like getting up in the morning, but because I love my kids I choose to act on what I know is right rather than what I feel like doing at the moment. Could you imagine a world in which we all just acted on what we felt in the moment? Even in the best of relationships feelings can have ups and downs.

True love is unconditional love. Real love that will last through hard times and the ebb and flow of our “feelings” comes from daily choices to put the other person before yourself. This kind of love looks beyond what is and believes for what can be. That kind of love continues to love even in the moments when our feelings don’t want to agree.

The person who loves through feelings only is going to find themselves disappointed and lonely.

 

Just Choose

Life is not always easy. And let’s be honest, serving God and living a righteous life is not always easy either. Sometimes it can feel like the daily choice to serve Him is just too difficult for our flesh to push through. And sometimes when we’ve strayed from where we know we should be, or we’ve made some bad decisions, it can seem like a mountain too huge to climb to ever get back in a right place with God.

Today I was reading in Deuteronomy 30 where God is speaking to the Israelites through Moses. He is telling them that if they choose to turn to Him again, He will accept them and bless them and prosper them. Then He goes on to say…

“11 NOW WHAT I AM COMMANDING YOU TODAY IS NOT TOO DIFFICULT FOR YOU OR BEYOND YOUR REACH. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”14 NO, THE WORD IS VERY NEAR YOU; IT IS IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART SO YOU MAY OBEY IT.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. NOW CHOOSE LIFE, SO THAT YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN MAY LIVE AND THAT YOU MAY LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD, LISTEN TO HIS VOICE, AND HOLD FAST TO HIM. FOR THE LORD IS YOUR LIFE…”

What a revelation! So often we make serving God so difficult! We complain about how hard it is and what a chore it is and how many things we have to give up or change or do for Him! We beg and beg for Him to help us to serve Him…we pray and pray for Him to help us to obey Him. And yet, right here, He makes it very clear that if we have put His word in our hearts and our mouths then the ability to obey and love Him is already in us…we just have to choose!!!

Now, I know that choosing every day, on an on-going basis, as we face challenges and discouragement and attack from the enemy is not necessarily easy. I’m not saying that if we feel overwhelmed or weak in our attempt to live for Him that we are somehow just not good enough. Goodness knows I do not always feel strong. But I think what He is getting at is that when we look at the two options…life and prosperity in complete surrender to Him, or death and loss in doing it our own way…the choice is easy. It’s like if someone stole one of my babies and gave me the option of letting my child die or me taking their place…my love for my child would supersede any sadness or discomfort or pain I would feel at the loss of my own life. It would not be preferable to give up my life. It would not be enjoyable. It would be sad and difficult to face. But the choice…it would be easy because of my love.

It is the same with the Lord. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions. Often we have to die to ourselves and give up control and our own way…but when we look at the outcome, when we see what the prize is for doing so (His LOVE, His FAVOR, His LIFE) then the decision is not difficult at all.

Wandering Appetites

Today I was reading about the complaining of Israel in the desert…which is really nothing new. The murmuring of the Israelites is a common theme throughout their existence, but today I saw something interesting.

Numbers 11:4-6 (NIV)

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

First of all, the “rabble” it mentions are not actually Israelites. They are a mix of people who came with them from Egypt. Perhaps other slaves or poor people. Who knows? But they were from Egypt and started missing home and the food they had there. Here’s the first thing this shows us:

1. The Israelites followed the lead of the people around them! Even though God had brought them to freedom in a great show of His might and care for them, they listened to these other people! People who didn’t even understand the heart of God or His promises to them. They listened and they imitated them!!!

2. Then this next thing I noticed is that in verse 5 they say they remember the food they ate at no cost. What? Are they serious? Perhaps it was given to them. Perhaps they had free reign to fish as much as they wanted, but it was certainly not at no cost. They paid for everything they had with bondage, slavery, hardships, and death. They paid for it, all right, with their very lives. And yet here we see them longing for things that are directly associated with their bondage.

I started thinking…how often do we do that to God? We are safely in His care. We are experiencing freedom and the leading of God, yet we begin to long for “better times” when we weren’t constricted by what He says is best for us. We say things like, “But that is just part of who I am. I feel like I’m not being true to myself. What about all those things that used to make me happy? Would it hurt if I had just a little of my old life? Life in Christ is just so boring and the same all the time!”

Unfortunately, this kind of talking and thinking is not merely a dissatisfaction with our lives…it is a dissatisfaction with God Himself. And as we see later in the chapter, it doesn’t end well.

Numbers 11:34 (NIV)

34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.

A longing and a craving for things outside of God’s will for me will ultimately lead to death…not a physical death, but a death in my heart. A death to the life and vitality given to me as I find full satisfaction in Him, in His presence, and in His will for my life. My desire is that I would have a heart like this…

One thing have I asked of the Lord, 
that will I seek after: 
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
 all the days of my life, 
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
 and to inquire in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)

This is the heart I want! To desire nothing but to be in the house of the Lord!!! To desire nothing but to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord! To find satisfaction in Him and Him alone. There is no way I ever want to go back to the place I was before I was set free by Him. Never.

Letting Go of What I See

FAITH…sometimes it feels like it goes against our very nature. We naturally cling to things we can see, touch, hear. Our instinct tells us to hold on to the things we can literally “hold on” to. Is it because of our small capacity to embrace anything beyond our own meager understanding? Is it a sense of superiority that whispers to our hearts that there couldn’t possibly be anything in existence better than what we can create ourselves? Is it our carnal need for control? I’m not sure how I would answer that for myself, but I am right in the middle of a daily figuring out how to do this thing we call a “faith-walk”.

Faith plays out in so many small ways every day. Do I have faith that this chair will hold my weight? Do I have faith that the sun will rise in the morning? Do I have faith enough in other people to allow myself to be vulnerable and real? And then there are, of course, all the bigger questions in life about God and eternity and our purpose. I’m currently reading the book of Genesis and am moved by the many characters I see who “walked by faith”. I’m also comforted to know that many of these faith heroes were by no means perfect (Whew! The pressure is off!) But I’m asking myself how they managed to make such gigantic decisions and take so many scary steps, all the while trusting in an un-seen God? I’m probing my own heart, hoping that I can make those same kinds of choices every day.

I found an old German writer who compared many of the men we call “fathers of the faith” in the bible saying that they all had a “faith which lays hold on the word of promise, and on the strength of this word, gives up that which is seen and present for that which is unseen and future.” I just love that! It might seem crazy. It may seem foolish. But that kind of faith leads to peace in our hearts (who doesn’t need peace?) That kind of faith leads to living a life of daring, excitement, and facing our fears (I want that!) So the question to my own heart today is…am I willing to let go of the control I perceive I have, and embrace a faith that trusts in the only One who understands me fully?

Between a Rock and a Soft Place

I’m assuming I’m not the only one out there who has ever felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by fear…emotion…anxiety…troubles…stress…the decisions and actions of other people. For me, being overwhelmed comes when I feel a sense of facing something too big for me to handle on my own. Honestly, I have felt that way more often than I wish to admit. I can completely relate to the writer’s cry to God in Psalm 61…

“Oh God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering Rock of safety, for You are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in Your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of Your wings!”

You can almost hear the desperation jumping from the words he pens. “Listen to me! Hear me! I am completely in over my head!”

As a little girl, one of my favorite memories is surprisingly associated with some of my not-so-happy moments. When I would have a bad day, or would just be feeling down or sad about something, my Dad had a special way of comforting me. He would warm up a cup of milk and add a touch of honey. He would sit beside me while I drank my white cup of wonderfulness, often rubbing my back and voicing soothing words. When I was finished I would climb into his lap and let him rock me for a while. Sometimes he would sing. Sometimes he was quiet. But I remember feeling the tension and lethargy melt away as I basked in his loving touch. He was gentle and kind. His love melted away my sadness. At the same time I felt safe and protected from all the outside threats because…come on, this was my dad. He was bigger and stronger than anything that could be bothering me. And that’s exactly what I thought about when I read this Psalm today…“Lead me to the towering Rock of safety, for You are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in Your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of Your wings!”

This picture of God is so beautiful! When we are overwhelmed He is the perfect and complete answer to what we need! Not only is He the all-powerful, all-mighty God…a tower, a rock, never shaken, never crumbling…but He is also tender and gentle as He shelters us under His wings. In Him we have our Protector and our Comforter…our Defender and our Father…our Rock and our Shelter.

Beautiful Women

I don’t think it’s a secret that there is a lot of pressure on women to be “beautiful”. Our world places a very high expectation on women to reach and maintain a level of beauty that fits the current definition of the word. And the ages of young women…girls, really…who are struggling with how they view themselves, how much food they put in their mouths, and what reaction they get from people surrounding their projected beauty is getting younger and younger.

I’ll admit…I’ve had my own struggle over the years to reconcile what I see in the mirror and how that makes me feel about myself. I’ve had to fight my own inner dialogue as my body has changed and fluctuated between having and nursing four babies. I’ve compared myself to other women, and even to my own younger self. I’ve had days when I felt in control of my thoughts and could confidently believe in who I am as a woman, finding my beauty from within. And then there are those other days when…well, I’m sure you’ve had them, too.

But instead of just giving up on beauty, I think it’s time to redefine what beauty is. My desire really is to be a beautiful godly woman, but to be honest, that is kind of a tricky thing to figure out. I know that the Bible teaches me that my outward appearance should not be the focus when it comes to my beauty (1 Peter 3:3-4), and that true beauty comes from a “gentle and quiet spirit”…but what does that mean? Do I not wear makeup? Am I supposed to be silent? Should I not be out going? If I want to be what God would want me to be, do I have to forsake my creative, emotional side to fit some picture of a subdued woman who lacks personality? (I know, some extreme thinking on my part, but those are truly the questions I have asked).

What I have found has brought amazing freedom to my heart…so I started looking into that verse in 1Peter 3 and learned some very eye-opening things. First of all, it doesn’t say that we should ignore our outer appearance completely. It just says it shouldn’t be the only thing that defines our beauty. It’s just a small part of the puzzle. Whew! No throwing away the cute new shoes my mother-in-law bought me!

Then I found that the original Hebrew word used when it says that true beauty comes from a “gentle” heart can actually be translated into the word “meek”. Now, at first glance, that could be a bit off-putting because as Americans the word “meek” connotes weakness. But the original meaning of that word is actually so far away from “weakness”. It actually means “power under control”. It was a word used to describe a strong, wild horse which had been trained and could now be used to do something helpful for it’s master…when I think of a wild horse I think beauty, strength, passion. A broken horse is no less beautiful or strong, it has just learned to harness it’s power and listen to it’s master so it can do things that benefit others. That’s beauty?! I want to be that. I want to have that.

God has made us powerful women with ideas and gifts and passions. We don’t have to let the world tell us what beauty is, and we don’t have to hide who we truly are. We just need to allow God’s Spirit to break the self-centeredness that turns our thoughts to what we look like or what other people think about us so that we can be broken before Him. When we are broken in Him, the power He has put in us can be used to it’s fullest potential…and this is what makes us beautiful.

All you beautiful women out there…embrace the power of your God-given beauty.

The Desert Life…Unbearable or Unbelievable?

I have heard the term “desert” used to describe the seasons in our lives when we find ourselves faced with insurmountable obstacles…loneliness, fear, sickness, grief. When I imagine a desert, the images that come to mind are things like scorching heat, desperate thirst, and living things which are slowly dying. It’s a moment to moment existence. Sadly, those images don’t even begin to describe the way some people are feeling in the midst of the pain they are facing even now. A “desert” season is not something we would ever willingly step into if we could help it…but what do those times have to say about how God feels about us? About His love and care for us?

Deep in my heart I have come to truly believe that when we are in a desert of the soul, God still cares about what is going on with us. But even believing that, when we are in the middle of a desert, it is easy to feel far away from God. We believe He still cares as far as the big picture is concerned, but perhaps He’s just decided to be “hands-off” for a while. We have this idea that being near to God equals coming out of the desert.

Here’s what has caught my attention lately…I’m reading things like Hosea 2:14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her (God’s people), will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her…she shall sing there as in the days of her youth.”

The idea that sometimes God actually draws us, allures us, into the desert on purpose is an entirely different concept than thinking that when we get ourselves into a desert He will still care about us. I’m asking myself if maybe there are times when I am so distracted or so self-focused that the only way for Him to get close enough to my heart so that He can speak gentle words of comfort is to draw me into a desert…no distractions…no false sense of security to lean on…just me and Him. And the end result is our lives being revitalized and energized to the point of singing? Wow.

And Deut. 32:10-11 says, “He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.” This doesn’t paint a picture of a God who cares but is far off. On the contrary it shows His intentional effort of knowing exactly where we are, surrounding us with His presence, protecting us, and “instructing” or speaking to us about what to do in the midst of our dilemma. The concept of being the “apple” of someone’s eye is the idea that you are close enough to see your own reflection in the pupil of their eye…that’s close.

Are deserts fun? No. Are they desirable? No. Are they full of God’s love and His presence? Absolutely. If you are in the middle of your very own desert, don’t lose hope. God does not only care but is actively pursuing you, encircling you, and keeping you safe. If you need to know what to do next, just pause a moment in the busyness of life to look into the eyes of the One who loves you. His up-close love is pretty unbelievable.