Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I'm a Joy Chaser

"A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." - Proverbs 17:22ESV

Confession time. I'm a joy chaser. What's a joy chaser? A joy chaser is someone who chases after THINGS in hopes of catching a little bit of joy. The trouble is, a joy chaser either catches just the tail end of the joy and then loses their grasp or they miss it entirely. It's like a unicorn running swiftly through the forest. A joy chaser can see the unicorn of joy, but they can't quite get it in their grip.

And that's me. I'm a joy chaser. I chased joy in the guise of homeschooling and then around the corner and down the street into this house. I chased joy in the nursery at church and with the "big kids" there too. Lately, I have been chasing joy down the road while I run and in my kitchen while I cook. I chase joy in books and in movies and in brand new red pants that I just love. And maybe that isn't all bad, to be chasing joy, but the Bible says this about joy:

"Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." - John 16:24ESV

And also this:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." -Romans 15:13ESV

I realized just today that I am a joy chaser (or maybe I've known a long time) and I am chasing it in all the wrong places. Sure, being healthy is a good thing. My kids going to public school this year has been amazing for them. Red pants are a happy thing as is the Dairy Free ice cream that I simply can't say no to. We love this house and our chickens. But my joy isn't here in any of these THINGS.

The Bible makes it clear that if I want joy, I have to go straight to the source. I have to go to God to get my fill of joy. Paul talks about that in Philippians when he tells his readers that he has learned the secret to being content. He knows that he can "do all things through Christ" who strengthens him. He knows that whether he has a little or a lot here on earth, he still has all he needs. He still has Jesus.

So what are the steps to getting joy? I'm still figuring it all out but I know that these are the first ones:

1. Let go of all the things- We don't have to do it all or have it all. Joy isn't in our stuff. It's not something we can buy at a store or order online. Trust me, I've checked. If Amazon doesn't have it, no one does. Let's just be real.

2. Give away some of your time- Believe it or not, joy hides in the weirdest of places. It hides inside a crying baby that just needs held or fed. It's on the top shelf in the dustiest corner at the food bank where you're asked to stack cans. It's in the bottom, over-stuffed drawer of your son's dresser just waiting to be donated to Goodwill or the family around the corner. It's even in the car as you drive others around because they need a ride.

3. Talk to Jesus- He loves to hear from you. God says that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. He longs to have a relationship with you. And nothing gives HIM more joy than to hear from you about your life. Give him all your worries, all your concerns, all your dreams and hopes and wishes, and all your happy thanks. He'll take it all in heaps and still have space to hold more. Don't forget to ask him for JOY because he will give it in abundance.

4. Read your Bible- We talk to God through prayer and God talks BACK through scripture. Those ancient words written so many thousands of years ago still speak to us today. I can't tell you the number of times that I have whispered a plea to hear from God as I read only to read something that made total sense in that moment as I searched the Bible's pages. Don't know where to start? Check out John. You will meet Jesus as the God who LOVES you.

Which step are you going to take today?

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Does the Bible Really Say We Have to Submit in Marriage? Ephesians 5:18-33

"And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:21NLT)

There it is in black and white. The words that many women have come to detest and so many people think of in the most negative of ways. But the Bible says it. And the Bible is God's word. God is light. There is NO DARKNESS in Him. 1 John 1:5-7 outline God's light and how we can live in his light. So if submission is from God and God is good all the time and God is only light- no darkness- why does submission seem like such a bad thing?

That is a simple and complicated answer all at the same time. The simple answer? We have peopled it up. We swooped in and did what we always do as humans. We made it too peopley and now nobody likes it.

The more complicated answer? Submission is a tough thing to do. Notice that verse doesn't call women to submit to their husbands alone? That's because we are to submit to each other. Both parties. Equal submission. And why? Because we are doing it out of respect and honor for Jesus. It reminds me of that old adage, "anything worth doing..."

Let's dig deeper into the separate parts of this whole submission idea together this morning. We'll look at the wife's verses first since they come first and all that "ladies first" jazz:

"Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands." (5:22-24MSG)

Please note that the wife verses are only three verses. We get three verses to explain to us what is expected of us in our marriage regarding submission. Just as Jesus is the head of the church, so our husbands are the head of our houses. Remember how Jesus lead on earth though. He didn't walk around all high and mighty acting like he owned the place- even though he did. He came and served. He shared God's love wherever he went with whoever he encountered regardless of social expectations. And whether or not we have husbands that model Jesus well, we are called to honor them the same way that we would honor Jesus.

That means supporting him when he needs it, which is always. It means listening when he wants to talk about a bad day or a tricky encounter. It means respecting his wishes when he asks you not to spend money this week or wants to go on a hike with the kids or he says we can't go out to dinner this time or any number of other things that may come up that aren't particularly exciting to you. It means being ON HIS TEAM when you're disciplining a kid and NOT jumping to your child's side immediately (I am not referring to any sort of child abuse here, only a normal and healthy relationship). We allow "divide and conquer" to take over our households much too often. We jump on the "my kids are my world" and "I'll do anything for my kids!!" bandwagon too easily. I hate to say this, moms, but your kids should not be number one. They are not here to be your new bff. God has given them to you and your husband to raise into Godly world changers. You can't be best friends with your child while you are raising them. Be best friends with your husband, with the man God gave you to do this life with. Put him in the number one spot behind God. Not your kids. The best thing you can do for your kids is to take care of your marriage. Honor the husband you have. Be best friends with him. Be a united team that cannot be divided.

Before we get all up in arms- or maybe you're already mad at me for telling you that little Suzie isn't supposed to be your bff right now. It's okay, I get it. I look forward to the day that Lily can be my best friend. But she is in elementary school. That day has not come yet. In fact, I suspect we must go through the "I hate you" phase of life before she comes back around and wants to be near me again. But I digress.

These are the husband's verses:

"Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband." (5:25-33)

NINE VERSES, people! The husbands get nine verses telling them how to be good husbands? Is that because they need more words to understand? No! They get the triple the verses because they have far more responsibility as the head of the house. When my husband stands before God on his day of judment, he will be asked about the things he allowed to happen in his household. He was placed as the leader here. It is ultimately his responsibility to make sure that we are going in the right direction. That's a lot of pressure!

But notice how his verses start? He isn't given any sort of "honey do" list. He is first and foremost called to love his wife well. Just as Paul called us to imitate God in verse 5:1 by exercising extravagant love, he is calling husbands to extravagant love here in verse 25. But how?

Go back to verses 5:18-20:

"Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ."

In order to explain how to love well, Paul paints us a word picture. Most of us have at least seen a drunk person in our lifetime. They are always on TV at least. What do you imagine when you think of someone who is drunk? A drunk person is overcome by alcohol. They alcohol coursing through their veins has total control over what they do. They stagger about the room. Sometimes they throw up. They are almost always loud and overly honest. And while Paul isn't calling us to act drunk with wine, he IS calling us to act drunk with GOD. If we are filled with God, then we are allowing HIM to control us and our actions just as wine overtakes us when we drink too much of it. Stay close to God. Pray constantly, sing to him, worship him, thank him for everything in your life. Putting God first each and every day makes teamwork in marriage that much more manageable. If you are making decisions based on God's plans for your life rather than your own selfish desires, marriage is honestly easier.

Let's look back at those husband verses again knowing that we must all be filled with God's spirit going into marriage and that we are to put God first:

"Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband." (5:25-33)

Husbands, you want the best sort of marriage? You want more from your wife? Start by pouring love into her. Give all of yourself to her. Help out around the house because you know it needs done and you're a team. Get the kids ready for bed without being asked. Do some of the event drop-offs. Load and unload the dishwasher. Do laundry. Sweep the floors. Serve her. Do it without expectation. Do it because God wants you to love your wife well, not because maybe you'll get a little something tonight. I promise you that when you do that, when you serve her because it's what Jesus asked, she will notice. She will appreciate you all the more. You are filling her up by doing that. You are taking away some of the burden that she carries because you are helping and she can lean on you and know that you won't crumble beneath her.

I know that you are tired when you get home from work. I know that you've had a long day and too many social interactions and there were too many people pulling you in too many directions. You aren't alone. She did too. All the same things happened in her day with different people. Rather than making it a competition about who deserves more down time, work as a team and get everything done together. Relax together. Listen to each other come down from the day. Encourage each other to do the right things and to spend time with Jesus.

Marriage is hard work. I wonder if I've even done these verses justice with this post. But these are things on my heart today as I read these verses. Choose to love your spouse. Love is an action. Actively love one another. Choose to do it every single day, even when it's tough or one of you really sucks. It's worth it. I promise.

*If you are in an abusive relationship or your spouse struggles with substance abuse of any sort, please seek help. You are worth it. Jesus loves you and wants you to be safe.*

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Love Others Extravagantly- Ephesians 5:1-10

Growing up, I wanted nothing more than to be like my mom and dad. I wanted to get married and have kids just like they did. I wanted to know Jesus just like they did. I even wanted to be a teacher just like my dad. When you love someone and look up to them, you often wind up wanting to be just like them. And that's what Paul says in the following:

"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that." (Ephesians 5:1-2)

As I read through those verses again, I can feel my heart nodding along. Yes. Let's do this. Let's be this as a community. Let's love others the way God intended. That word "extravagant" stands out to me in these verses. Because I am not extravagant. I am cautious. Almost always. When I drive, my family says I am like an old lady leaning forward and driving slowly with both hands on the wheel. I am always watching for others to do something they shouldn't do. I'm waiting for cars to fly through stop signs and red lights. I even have the glasses to go with that image.

Just like I approach my driving with great caution each and every time, I approach my relationships that way too. And I have great excuses. I have been hurt by men and women alike- the women were actually worse if you ask me- but God is still asking me to throw caution to the wind and show extravagant love to everyone in my life and that's tough for me. Is it hard for anyone else? When you think on the relationships you have with people, do you feel like you are cautious in how you act and what you say or are you extravagant? Is it different depending on who you think about? I know I am more extravagant with my husband, my kids, my mom, and my best friend. I am far more cautious with those friends that I don't know well yet.

And what I absolutely love and appreciate about this chapter in Ephesians is that Paul doesn't just say these things and then finish with "good luck!" No, he goes ahead and describes some of the main pieces of this puzzle. Let's look:

"Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect." (Ephesians 5:3-4)

When I read these verses, I can't help but think of the toddler advice we are always spewing when our kids are young. "Keep all your body parts to yourself. No hitting or pinching or biting." And not just that one but also the one about our words. "Use your words kindly. Your words matter and can hurt people." Paul made it more adult, but that's essentially what he is saying here, right? Make sure you are using the right kind of love to love others well. Don't be talking badly about people or being inappropriate. If you want to talk, be thankful. Use positive words.

And then there's this addition:

"You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God." (Ephesians 5:5)

It's interesting to me that we still struggle with this one today nearly 2,000 years later. So many relationships center around "what can I get out of this?" rather than "how can I love you well and show you that you matter to Jesus?" Can you imagine how wonderful our relationships would be with others if this was how we approached them every time? Jesus came to the earth, not to be crowned king and worshiped or served, but to serve others. God sent his son, a piece of himself, to earth for US. Paul called us to imitate God in the first two verses. Doesn't it stand to reason that one of the best ways we can begin to do that for others in our lives is by practicing serving them? I know I struggle with this one still. Anyone else?

"Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that." (Ephesians 5:6-7)

Sometimes we just say the "right things" without really meaning them. At least, I hope we all do that and I'm not the only one guilty of it. But Paul is telling us here in black and white that God doesn't like it. Don't just say the "right things." Say the things you mean. Sometimes the things that you mean aren't pretty and that's okay. That's called being real in a relationship and it creates better community together when we are honest with each other not just "giving the answer everyone wants to hear."

"How are you?" *insert obligatory smile here and possibly a slight nod as you continue walking*

"I'm fine, you?" *Even though she is actually dying inside.*

What would happen if you actually MEANT that question? What would happen if you stopped in your tracks and truly looked that person in the eye and wanted to know how they were really doing? And what's more, what would happen if the other person trusted you enough to know that you really did want to know and that you'd help carry their burden?

Community. That's what would happen. Extravagant love like God's calling us to. That's what would happen. When we share our burdens with one another, we are real. We are people just like anyone else with troubles, problems, sins, and flaws.

"You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it." (Ephesians 5:8-10)

Paul goes on to tell us that when we bring everything out into the light, all that darkness loses some of its power. Darkness cannot exist in the light. Step into the light and let God guide your steps. Get together with other believers and do community well with them. Share your burdens and serve one another. God created us to be in loving community together.

I'm going to end this post with these two verses one last time. This is how we are called to live. Let's live it out:

"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that." (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Do You Have a Life Verse Yet? Ephesians 5:1-2MSG

"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that." (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Growing up, everyone around me spent time choosing the "perfect life verse." I struggled with the concept. How does one choose just one verse that speaks for their life? There are so many amazing verses, how could I possibly choose only one? And so I didn't. Not for a long time.

But a few years ago, I came across these verses. Now it wasn't the first time I'd read them. I had read them many times before as I've read my way through the Bible a few times in my life. It was this particular translation- The Message translation- that spoke so loudly to me.

In these verses, Paul is calling us to live as much like Jesus as we possibly can. He is urging us to witness God's amazing love for his people and do our best to love people that way too. Think about it. The same God who saved his people time and time again throughout the old testament, the one who rescued them from slavery in Egypt, who moved the Red Sea so his people could cross, who gave them the Promised Land despite the giants, who knocked down the walls of Jericho, who rescued his people from complete annihilation in the book of Esther, and who sent his only SON to die on the cross for us- for an imperfect, often unappreciative, sin-filled people.

We were out on a hike yesterday walking and talking as a family when the subject of organ donation came up. I honestly admitted that there is no way I could donate an organ to anyone unless they were a family member- and a close one at that. Organ donation is tough. Recovery time is a LONG process. Sometimes it takes as much as six months to return to full function with just one or just part of any particular organ. As I walked through the woods yesterday with my family, I couldn't picture making a sacrifice like that for anyone unless they were someone I couldn't imagine living my life without. Was I wrong to feel that way? Probably.

God is calling me to love others better than that. And that is precisely WHY I've chosen this as my life verse. I know loving others extravagantly and without caution is something that I need to work on in my life. Claiming this as my life verse is my way of reminding myself of what God is calling me to do with my life- love others with abandon and without thought of how I will benefit from doing so. He wants me to love people without expectation. He wants me to demonstrate that love with some actual action, not just words.

But how do I figure out how to do this? Obviously I've lived the last 35 years and have yet to learn it in my own opinion. What can I do to change that? These verse give us the KEY to the answer:

"Keep company with him and learn a life of love."

Those words are tucked right in there in the very center, at the very heart. They are the key to making this happen in our lives. If we want to learn how to live a life of love, then we have to spend as much time with the teacher of this love as possible. We can't learn it on our own- believe me, I've tried. And I've failed.

But how do we spend time with him? There are lots of ways and it isn't all centered around church. If you ask me, church is the place we go to fellowship with others and to practice the love that God is trying to teach us through service to others.

Spending time with God happens wherever you happen to be. Pray often. You may not hear his answer, but he is listening. And he answers in so many ways. Sometimes he speaks to you through others. Other times he will put an actual sign in front of you or direct you to a verse or a passage in a book. He'll work something out in your life that only he could do (like a friend bringing you that coffee you desperately needed or a card coming in the mail encouraging you just when you needed it most).

But the best way to hear from God is right in his word. If you are not reading your Bible every day, you are missing out on hearing from God in one of the most amazing ways. Don't know where to start? Turn to John and start reading. Ask God to guide your time together. Ask him to reveal what he wants you to learn and to see. Don't read it with the thought of "how does this apply to me?" Rather, read it with the prayer of "What do you want me to know God?" They are similar thoughts with very different directions. The first question makes Bible Study all about you. The second makes it about knowing God better.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Imagine a conversation with your best friend. She calls you crying, telling you about her awful day. You'd never follow up her story with the question, "And how does this apply to me?" You'd have a fight on your hands and a broken-hearted friend. Instead, you'd follow it up with words of encouragement. You'd know that this story of her life is revealing something deeper about HER and her heart and her life that you wouldn't know if you hadn't taken the time to listen. It's one of those things that you can't learn on Facebook or a passing conversation in the hallway at church. You can only know the deepest things about your best friend through a constant, effort-filled relationship with her.

That's what God wants with us too. The Bible is FULL, stuffed to the brim, with stories that will show us who he is, what he wants for us, what he longs to teach us, and evidence of just how much he loves us. We can get to know the character of God through the characters in HIS STORY.

My challenge to you today is this: Spend some time with God today and read his words. What is he longing to tell you? If you haven't yet, start looking for a life verse. Choose one that challenges you to be the person that God is calling you to be. Ask God to guide you to those verses, and he will. It might not be today, but he will do it.

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Your Attitude as You Pursue Your Goals- Ephesians 4:2-8

Yesterday we talked about pursuing goals and some great first steps to make those happen. We talked about how God has given everyone a path to walk and it's our job to walk it. Right? Well today, I want to talk about HOW we should walk that path. What does the Bible say about our attitudes? Can we just Negative Nelly our way through life? Will things just happen to us?

Here's what Paul writes:

"Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all." (4:2-6)

Read that again and we'll make a list of the things that Paul says we need to do in our relationships as we pursue our goals.

1. Be humble- Don't go bragging about all that YOU managed to do through your own power. It wasn't you. God did it THROUGH you. Recognize that regularly and thank Him for it. Don't be overly proud of yourself.

2. Be gentle- There are people in the world who become so focused on the goal that they plow over anyone and everyone that gets in their way. That's not gentle. Work alongside people. Stop and lend a helping hand when others need you. Don't be so focused on your goal that you forget to be gentle and helpful to the people in your life on the path toward the goal. Most of the satisfaction you'll get from achieving your goal will be found on the path leading TO it. Don't miss out on those blessings because you forgot to look at others in your life.

3. Be patient with each other- Haha, I struggle with this one, but my oldest son has the most amazing patience you've ever seen. He can wait forever for something. He doesn't freak out at anyone for whining or yelling at him or using him until he's taken A LOT from them. Jesus blessed that boy with some serious patience and I can only hope to have half that much in my day to day life. Patience is vital. We rush, rush, rush everywhere forgetting everyone around us. Those aren't people driving cars on the road. They are just cars in our way. We could all benefit from exercising a bit more patience in our lives. Isn't exercise how you build up endurance for something? Isn't that how we will ultimately grow the patience we so desperately need?

4. Make allowance for each other's faults because of your LOVE- This isn't just tolerating one another. It isn't simply putting up with other people because "Jesus says I have to." This is one of those things that Jesus calls us to do almost as an after effect to loving others. If we love others, we will be more tolerant of them. Think about your child for a moment and another child that you don't know. Whose whining will you tolerate longer? The one you love or the one you don't even know? And we're not talking "not yelling" here. We're talking "truly not bothered and wanting to help the child feel their actual feelings." Odds are, you tolerate the person you love much longer than the one you don't know. Loving others helps us do that. If we practice choosing to love others, we can get better and better at truly doing it and loving them through their faults.

5. Keep yourselves united in the Spirit- Togetherness. Get together with other believers. Pray together. Get to know Jesus together. Be united as one body TOGETHER. There are other verses in the Bible that talk about this very idea of being cut off from the body. If you are a big toe in your body of Christ and you cut yourself off from the rest of your body, you are still a big toe. You're just a big toe alone and bloody on the floor. You need the rest of your body to grow and change. That's why God gives us a community of believers of which to be a part. We need one another!

Today, as you continue to pursue the dreams that God has laid out before you, consider the community of believers with whom you are doing life. How are they a part of your dream? How are you a part of theirs? Can you pray for one another? Do you have any skills that you can offer someone else to help them along? Maybe the dream of one of your community members is that new house they just bought and you're an excellent painter. Can't you take time to paint with them? Or maybe you clean toilets like a rock star. Could you help them with that? Maybe someone in your community just had a baby or is going through cancer treatments and you're an amazing cook. Could you take them a meal? Or maybe your gift is encouraging words. Send them a card! Hey, maybe you grow beautiful flowers and you want to cut a few free to send to someone who could use a little brightness in their day!

The possibilities are endless. Remember that Paul says this for each one of us:

"However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ." (4:8)

What is that thing (or maybe several things) that you do that is easy for you? What is the thing that you do in your life that just makes you happy when you do it? Odds are, that's your gift. How can you move forward and not only use it in your pursuit of your own dreams, but also use it to help others within your community to achieve theirs?

As I continue along the path toward my own dream, I can't help but see that God didn't just give me my gifts for myself. He gave them to me to share. And not only that, but he gave them to me to share on this path toward my goal of my dream achieved so that I could find even more JOY right here where I am today. What are you doing to find your JOY today?

I pray that we all find that Jesus Joy in our lives today and I pray that we find ways to use our gifts to uplift and encourage one another today. Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Life Worthy of Your Calling; Setting Goals- Ephesians 4:1

"Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God." (4:1)

Shaun and I had a conversation like this with our oldest son just yesterday. We explained to him that he couldn't just sit and wait for life to happen to him. If he wants something, if he has a goal in mind and it's worth achieving, then there is a lot of work that goes along with it. He will have to push his way through the hard stuff to get to that goal.

Then I leaned down and looked him in the eye (because he was sitting, people, otherwise I would have had to get on a CHAIR to look him in the eye) and told him, from one semi-lazy person to another, from one "I'd rather eat cake and watch movies all day" person to another- you have to do the hard work if you want to see success in your life.

And then I realized that I was no longer speaking to him. I was talking to myself. I have a lot of dreams for my life and haven't done all of the hard work to make them happen. Yes, God is primarily behind all the dreams and will make them happen in his time, but I need to do some of the work too. I can't, for example, wish to become a famous author but never write a book. There is work involved in reaching your goals.

I did a Google search and came upon an article from Forbes that outlines the six steps you need to take to reach your goal. I think they're good ones and so I'd like to briefly mention them here. Here's a link to that article if you'd like to read more details from the author:

1. Put your goal on a vision board- The idea of this is that you can SEE a representation of your goal right there in front of you. You don't have to have an actual board. You can hang up a pair of jeans you hope to get back into or a picture of a beach that you hope to visit. Anything that will remind you of your goal for you.

*I'm actually editing this post to add this for you. One of the best ways to make your goal visible is to find verses in the Bible that will encourage you and copy them down. Memorize them. Put them up on the bathroom mirror to remind you. 

2. Tell people- This one is so huge. If you tell other people that you are writing a book or trying to lose weight or learning to jog or any number of other things, you are more likely to do it. There are people who are holding you accountable to your goal, even if they don't really know it. ;) It's also a great idea to assemble a support team of people to ask you about your goal. That's what we do with my son as his parents- we support him and remind him of his goals, we help him get back on track. It's also what I did with my middle kid by agreeing to do a 5K with him in the future.

3. Make it into smaller pieces- Sometimes our goals are just too big. You can't actually achieve it because it just looks too huge for you to handle and so you give up. But if that goal is broken into pieces, it's more achievable.

For example, say you want to start eating better. If you go with that goal out of the gates, you're going to fail almost gauranteed. But if you break it up into smaller pieces, you can totally do it. You can start by cutting out soda and juice, replacing them with water. You can take out sugar or processed food or both. You can increase the number of fruits or vegetables you eat each day. You can replace your breakfast cereal with overnight oats. You get the idea. Before you know it, you really ARE eating better but you did it one step at a time.

4. Come up with a date that you can aim for- One of my goals is to run a 5K with my middle son. Now, I've broken that goal up into smaller goals for myself- running a mile without stopping, running 2 miles without stopping, running on hilly terrain with few breaks, etc. But we have a date in mind. Next summer, we plan to run a 5K together. In the meantime, I'll keep achieving the smaller, more attainable goals so that by the time that we get to next summer, I'm ready for the big goal. Ultimately, my son wants to run a Marathon together. That's 23 miles, people. That looks impossible to me right now. But I know that eventually, we'll get there!

5. Be realistic- If you make a goal that is literally impossible, you will fail. If my goal as a writer is to have my first book be a New York Times Bestseller, I am likely going to be sadly disappointed. That takes many authors years to achieve. Some never do. But if my goal is to write my best in every book and to put out there what God wants me to say, I'll win every time. Make your goals something that could actually happen for you.

6. Commit to your goals for YOU with God by your side- Now this one isn't necessarily a Forbes authorized step. I'm adding God because without Him, there is no way your hitting those goals. What does he have in mind for you? Focus on Him and take each step to reach your goal even when it feels too hard. Commit to doing it. Make a plan and stick to that plan for yourself. But remember, your focus can't only be on your goal. Your focus has to be on Jesus WITH that goal. Tough? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Thankful in Good Times and Not So Good Times- Ephesians 3:14-21

"When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth." (3:14-15)

A couple of months ago I read a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts. And while there were definitely some odd things about it, I actually got a great message from that book. You see, I have been on the hunt for the ever elusive Joy-despite-your-circumstances and I found it hiding in those pages. At least, I found the idea that led me to it. Joy begins with thankfulness. If we want our joy from Jesus, we need to start by appreciating, fully and completely appreciating, every single thing we are given in our lives.

Last night, for example, my husband had a pretty serious allergic reaction to something and ended up being rushed (by me) to the ER where he was treated and is fine today. We sat in the room with too much noise outside, not enough cell signal or battery life in our phones, and no TV to watch. Normally, I would complain about all of that. We were in the room as he was under observation for over 4 hours. We didn't get discharged until after 1am. I wasn't in bed until 2am. I was up again by 6am. Looking at all of that, I know there is a lot there to grumble about but I don't feel any of those bad feelings about it. All that I feel right now is gratitude.

Jesus gave me a parking spot when we got to the ER so that I could get inside quickly to be with my very red husband- yep, I'm one of those. I believe Jesus gave me that spot and no one can make me think otherwise. ;) Shaun and I got four mostly uninterrupted hours alone together. We got to talk a lot once he was feeling better. More importantly, he felt better so quickly after they started treatment. We got a room pretty fast. The staff was nothing but kind and supportive. There were amusing patients for us to listen to in the hallway (is it wrong that I just wrote that there?). I had several friends and family members willing to come help us out with the kids since it was going to be a late night. My awesome brother willingly stepped in, took care of my kids, and didn't complain or pressure me once.

Despite all of it, I know that we are blessed and so, I am thankful to Jesus for all of last night- the good and the bad.

"I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit." (3:16)

And he did that last night. It's funny how relevant the Bible still is when I read it. I have been reading my Bible for as long as I can remember starting with the Precious Moments Bible (pink of course) that I won for saying enough memory verses at church. And each time I find something that totally applies to my life, I am weirdly surprised by it. How can it be so very timeless? And yet, it is. Last night, I prayed for protection for Shaun and strength, wisdom, and help for us both. God delivered all of that through every little thing that happened. And I am grateful.

"Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God." (3:17-19)

It's a funny thing, trust. It goes hand in hand with love. The more I trust God, the more I experience his love. And the more I experience his love, the more I want to trust him. It's like this amazing cycle. I know I haven't come anywhere close to experiencing -or understanding maybe- the complete depth of his love in my life. I probably never will this side of heaven. But the thing that I appreciate the most about God's love? It's without conditions. He offers it to me freely and undeservedly. He gives me heaping piles of grace when I shouldn't get anymore. He just loves me. Period. And that's a wonderfully reassuring thought.

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think." (3:20)

Here's the thing about this verse. It points right back to yesterday for me. It's this great reminder that not only does God adore me and give me heaping amounts of grace just for being me, but he also wants to accomplish big things through me. He has a purpose and a plan for my life! And he has one for you too. Whether we see ourselves as qualified or not, deserving or not, amazing or not, God has a great plan for each of our lives.

Someone at church once said to me that we are God's plan A. There is no plan B. We are never God's second choice. We are always picked first, always loved with all he has in him, and always desired for who we are. If that doesn't give you feelings of Jesus Joy, I don't know what will. ;)

Let's end today with Paul's closing statement in chapter 3:

"Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen." (3:21)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Unqualified? Ephesians 3:1-13

Here's the facts. I often go through my life feeling completely unqualified to do the things that I am doing. Writing a blog? Unqualified. Writing a book? Definitely unqualified. Teaching my children? Totally and completely unqualified failure. Being a mom or a good wife or a friend? Nope. Keeping chickens alive? Probably not. Making a yummy dinner for my family? Huh-uh.

And if I'm being honest, I find that those words are being whispered in my brain over and over again. "You aren't a jogger. You'll never be able to do this. You'll never keep up with your son. I can't believe he puts up with this slowness."

And that is not healthy. I'm determined to change the internal dialogue. But every now and then, I can hear the whispers starting back up. And then I read this:

"This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities." (3:7-8)

Here's this guy that we all look up to now. It's Paul. I mean, come on. He wrote over half of the New Testament of the BIBLE people. The Bible! He was imprisoned for Jesus more times than I think we even know. He traveled from church to church teaching the good news, encouraging new Christians, and helping believers understand God's message. And yet, when it came down to it, he felt unqualified.

Guess what? He was. Totally. He was a Christian KILLER until Jesus found him. He was a Pharisee! He followed the laws to the T and forget a personal relationship! Who needed Jesus?

But then it all changed and he knew who needed Jesus. Not just him, but everyone. And so he did a total 180 and started preaching about the very Jesus that he'd persecuted others for. And there is only one thing that qualified him. Jesus.

You see, without Jesus, I AM unqualified to do my entire life. I can only do it because of the strength, the wisdom, the patience, the grace, the love, and the hope that I have in my life through HIM. And Paul said that too. Read the last sentence in verse 8 one more time with me so it really sinks in:

"God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities."

There's a meme that says the exact same thing floating around on Social Media right now and I love it. It says that God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

And isn't that so true? I'm a mess honestly. I am dramatic and sensitive and sometimes too into my own self to notice the needs of those around me. And yet, God has given me the amazing, sometimes unbelievable privilege of writing this blog. You've seen me say it before and I'll say it again now. I often don't have any clue what to write here. I feel completely unqualified and like I should stop being a poser and just quit. (That is too many "and"s in one post, seriously, sorry. It's my word today I guess like this is Sesame Street)

But then Jesus swoops in and saves me again. He gives me the message he wants shared and the words to say. It's like a reminder every day of what he did for me on the cross. I love it. I love that Jesus loves me so much that gives me a little love note every morning. He does it by coming alongside me as I type and whispering, "Don't worry. We've got this. I know what you should write." Then I do. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But then, neither am I, right? And that's okay? I'm prayerful that Jesus will use it anyway somehow even if it only reaches one lonely soul.

Let's see what Paul has to say next:

"And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!" (3:8-10)

Paul says here that his job while he is on earth, his God given mission, is to teach others about Jesus and to reach as many people as he possibly can. He is called to show the world what God has planned for them now that Jesus has come and gone on Earth. Isn't that an amazing calling?

But it's not only Paul's calling. He calls all of us to do the same thing, to share the amazing news that we all have hope and free grace available to us if only we believe in Him. The difference is in how we are called. Paul was called to speak, to travel, and to write these amazing letters that have been saved within the pages of the Bible.

I believe mine is to write. How that will play out is yet to be determined. But it's also to be a mom to my kids and a wife to my husband. Demonstrating Christ to them, urging us all along in learning about Him is an awe-inspiring calling on my life. I am so privileged to get to live the life I live. Sometimes I can't even believe that with all I have in my past- and you can read about a bunch of it in some of my very transparent posts from several weeks ago- God still chooses me. He chooses me.

And he chooses you too. What is he calling you to do? When you close your eyes and it's just you with God, what do you hear your heart whispering to you? Where are the places you feel the most at home? What are your gifts and how can you use them to further God's Kingdom?

I encourage you to pray about those questions today. Find some time alone and in a quiet space and just listen to God. Read his word. Let him guide you to His true purpose for your life. I'm praying for you now as I type these words out.

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing to others too! Amen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

You Are a Part of God's Holy Temple No Matter What Your Past Holds! Ephesians 2:19-22

As I read today's verses, I felt this overwhelming pressure to come up with something brilliant. Something worth clicking for. Something worth reading. And I wonder if that stifles my writing, if it takes away from what God wants to do, if it makes it less than it could be if only I would just write exactly what I'm thinking, exactly what God's put on my heart. And so that's what I'm going to do this morning.

Read these verses with me from The Message translation of Ephesians 2:19-22-

"That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home."

I am honestly overwhelmed by these verses. I was reading a new devotional this morning on my Bible Youversion app (if you don't have it on your phone yet, get it. Seriously. Best Bible app ever) called Relatable. It's from Louie Giglio. And in the first day of devotions, he said this morning that God has amazing things for us all to do. He wants to do great things in us and through us but we often won't accept what he wants to do. We think- falsely- that what we already have is somehow better. And sometimes, we think that what he is has for us is something we are not worthy to accept. Why do we think that?

I was thinking about that question this morning after I read it, turning the idea over and over in my mind and praying about it. I think we lie to ourselves far too often. I think we accept the enemy's whispered lies in our heads as truth and never question. And it isn't like we become unbelievers. Satan doesn't need us to do that to be successful. He doesn't need to lead us off the path very far to succeed in his plan. All he needs is a step or two off the path. If we take a step or two off the path, we'll still got off track but we can see Jesus there. We think we know what we are doing when, in reality, we have stopped following God's plan for us either because we think we know better or we don't think we are worth it.

I grew up in the reality that sex is for marriage. Within marriage, sex is this amazing uniting experience for husbands and wives to enjoy together. Outside of marriage it leads to brokenness. That's the way God designed it and we aren't to take part in that before we are married. It's not God's best for us. I still believe that to this day. I know that sex is better within the walls of marriage. And yet, I stepped outside of that when I was a teenager. I was angry about life and looking for a way to feel better about what was going on and who I was. I doubted my worth.

I still went to church though. I prayed. I participated in communion and sang all the songs each week. But I was living in active sin too. I walked right onto the path with the enemy, the one running alongside God's path for me. The one that would veer off toward death eventually. And I didn't recognize it. Because nothing bad would ever happen to me, right?

Only it did. I made poor choice after poor choice- some of which God honestly must have been protecting me through- and ended up with an STD that very nearly turned into cancer. I had to have surgery to remove the cells that had formed incorrectly all because I made the choice to sin over and over again. Do you know when that surgery happened? It wasn't until years AFTER I had found my way back onto God's path for my life again. I learned again that the choices we make have consequences. Some of those consequences come right away. Others come much later when you thought your lesson was already learned. They whisper to you in the shadows and remind you of who you'd become.

But that is the enemy and I know it. He is the one whispering that I could never change. He is wrong. I have come so far in the last seventeen years. And it is only by the grace and forgiveness and LOVE of God that I am here.

These verses remind me of all of that. They tell me that God is using my story to build his kingdom. They say that he can use it ALL. He can use my sins and my mistakes from my past to mold into something beautiful. He is using ME to build his temple. He is using you too. And the cornerstone? The one stone upon which the entire building rests? That's Jesus.

I am so relieved that none of us are required to be that cornerstone. Jesus came to earth as a baby and lived a perfect, sinless life. He died for us on the cross. He gave us hope of a future by rising again and ascending to heaven to join God the father. He is the only one among us who could handle such a heavy burden. And there is nothing that I can do or must do to earn that amazing gift. How humbling it is to know that he gives it to each one of us freely. What a relief it is to know that Jesus is taking the weight of the world on his shoulders. I don't have to hold it up by myself. I can hand my burden to him and he will gladly take it.

I don't have to listen to those whispers anymore because that part of me is dead and gone. I reside in this Kingdom of Faith with Jesus himself and that is an amazing place to be. Won't you live here with me?

I pray that you are blessed today and that you are a blessing to others too. Amen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Can You Believe All He's Done For Us? Ephesians 2:11-18

"Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope." (Ephesians 2:11-12)

Can you imagine a life without God? Because I most certainly cannot. I think back on all of the things that I have been through in my life- and believe me, I have a fair few interesting moments in my past that I never could have gotten through without Jesus by my side. When I imagine God, I also imagine hope unending. Without him, just as the verse above says, I would be hopeless. And so would the rest of the world.

But there's good news:

"But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ." (2:13)

We are not, thankfully, separate from God. We don't have to do this life without him. If you have accepted the gift that Jesus has given you by dying on the cross for ALL of our sins, then you are already filled with his love and hope.

If you have not accepted that gift, now is a great time to do it. You don't have to do anything super special or go through any kind of ritual to have God by your side. Just talk to him right here and right now. Tell him that you want him in your life. Tell him that you've tried it your way and you know it isn't working. Tell him that you need his unending gift of grace and love in your life. Ask him to join you in your life. Tell him you want him to do life with you and that you freely accept the gift of his son dying on the cross for your sins.

There is nothing that you have in your past that would keep you from him. It doesn't matter what you've done or are currently doing in your life. He wants to be a part of it! He wants you to join his family and be his son or daughter. So what are you waiting for? Look at all he has done for us:

"For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us." (2:14-18)

Jesus brought us peace. And not just any peace. Not the temporary silence of a crying baby falling asleep. Not the quiet of a loud and demanding boss on vacation. Not the silence of the house as you take in your new life as a divorced spouse.

Jesus brought perfect peace to us. It's a peace that transcends all understanding. It's the calm you feel despite the crazy all around you. It's the knowledge of knowing that you don't have to do life alone anymore. It's the hope that someone bigger and stronger than you is taking on the tough stuff in your life. It's that light at the end of the tunnel.

In these verses, Paul talks about Jesus bringing together Jews and Gentiles. We can apply that to the here and now too. Jesus is fully able and willing to bring together fighting spouses, lost children running from parents, friends who can't seem to agree on anything, enemies who hate each other. Everyone. We are all joined together as one body in Christ. Isn't that an amazing thought?

Look at verse 18 again with me:

"Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us."

I love this. We don't have to wait in line. We don't have to compete for the affection of our heavenly Father. We can all come at the same time. We can lay our junk at his feet and rest in his arms knowing that he is taking care of us. We are safe and secure in his arms no matter what happens here on Earth. I find this verse incredibly reassuring.

When I read it, I can't help but imagine my children coming around their dad on the weekends. There are times that the younger two fight for his affection. They both want to sit beside him. They both have ideas of things that they want to do with him and they compete for his attention. Shaun does his best but he is only human. He can't possibly be two places at the same time. But God can. God can do what our earthly fathers never could. And I am so thankful for that.

I pray today that if anyone reading this doesn't yet know Jesus, that they choose today to take that step! I promise that if you really get to know him, you will love him!

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing.  

Monday, September 5, 2016

Pumpkin Pancakes and a Bible Verse- 1 Corinthians 10:31

"So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Happy Labor Day! Today is a day to celebrate, and how do we usually do that? With food, of course! In America, we like to celebrate all big occasions with food. It's our thing. And believe me, I enjoy it too. But I've been learning something over the last five or six years. I have, in the past, had an unhealthy attachment to food at times.

If you asked me six years ago what my favorite foods were, I would have told you pizza and m&m's. Today, I can eat neither. Over the years, I have discovered that I have a food dye allergy that causes severe migraines so I've cut that out. Then our family went low sodium because my husband needed to adjust his blood pressure through his diet. After that, I had to eliminate dairy from my diet because I am lactose intolerant.

It was the latest cut that was the real struggle though. Sure I have missed certain foods along the way but I have also developed a healthier view of food too. Jesus is working on that one with me. ;)

Anyway, recently, I made the decision to cut out refined sugar. That means that when I consume sweetened foods, they have to be sweetened with either honey or maple syrup. That has made coffee creamer interesting for sure. Once I perfect a recipe, I'll share for anyone curious about that.

Eliminating most sugar has also made many other things interesting as well- bread, spaghetti sauce, and chocolate among the top ones on my mind right now. But also pancakes. Pancakes are probably my favorite food right now. They are delicious and beautiful. I love them. Seriously.

And that's why I had to come up with a recipe for them that I could eat. God calls me to take care of this body as though it is a temple for him and that is what I am fully intent on doing right now. I am eating better than I ever have in the past and I have been learning to enjoy jogging by doing so with my middle son. It's been a great month so far! I know, I'm not very far along with this journey. That's okay.

Anyway, I want to add a picture of our lovely pumpkin pancakes here:

Don't they look yummy?! They are paleo friendly, dairy free, gluten free, low sodium, and refined sugar free. And seriously, they are still good. Trust me, I loved sugar and junky food in my day. I know good pancakes when I taste them. Haha.

Here's the recipe:


- 1C oats (you need to spin these up in either a food processor or a magic bullet to make a flour), gluten free if you need that option.
- 1tsp baking powder
- 1/2tsp salt
- 1tsp pumpkin spice
- 1/2tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 15oz can of pumpkin

- 1 egg
- 4tsp honey
- 1/2C unsweetened almond milk
- 1tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Break the egg into a bowl. Add all other wet ingredients followed by each of the dry ingredients. Stir just until fully combined. At this point, you can refrigerate your batter if you'd like to prep it ahead and use it later. Otherwise, keep going.

2. Pour about a quarter of a cup of batter onto a hot, greased griddle or skillet to create silver dollar sized pancakes.

3. Cook until you can see the edges firming up and bubbles forming in the batter. Flip and cook until browned on the other side.

- This recipe makes approximately 18 silver dollar sized pancakes. They are also kid approved by my picky kids!

I'd love to know if you end up making these! Leave me a comment below and let me know how they turn out!

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing!

Friday, September 2, 2016

We are God's Masterpiece! Ephesians 2:10

"For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." (2:10)

These words seriously breathe new life into me each and every time that I read them. As someone who honestly struggles with self-worth and feeling "good enough" on a near daily basis, those words are like a balm to my soul. They are a reminder that no matter what anyone in this world says or does (or maybe even doesn't say), I am God's masterpiece. He made me exactly the way I am because it brought him joy to do so. He gave me this faithful, hope-filled heart. He was amused by my dry and sarcastic sense of humor. My love of chickens, unicorns, fantasy stories, coffee, books, crazy socks, and the color purple? Beautiful in his sight.

And not only that, but he created me anew in Christ Jesus! He wants to use me- the person who feels unimportant and insignificant much too often, the person who feels unqualified and like there are way more better people to carry out his plans (that phrase sounds so terrible, sorry). He has good things planned for me. He has things that he wants to accomplish through me. The reality of that is humbling and makes my heart feel happy, useful, and wanted.

The fact is that God gave each of us special gifts that are perfect for the jobs he has for us to do while we are here on this earth. In my reading this summer, I went through Holley Gerth's study You're Already Amazing and found that she describes our gifts as those things that just come naturally to us. They're the things that are easy for you. Are you good at decorating your home? What about finding grammatical errors in written work? Or maybe encouraging someone else when they are in need? Whatever your gifts, those are from God. He wants you to use them for his kingdom.

Take a moment now and think about the following questions:

1. What are some things that just come naturally to you?

2. Can you think of any gifts that you feel you possess from God?

3. What are some things that others have told you that you are good at?

4. What are some of your favorite things to do? Maybe your gifts are hiding in there. ;)

My prayer today is that we all take a moment to figure out where God is leading us. Are we doing what God has made us to do? Or have we settled because we felt like we had to or because we just stumbled there? Is there a dream that you've been hanging onto but are afraid to pursue? Pray about it. Maybe it's time.

I just finished reading Shauna Niequist's book Present Over Perfect. She talked a lot about where her life was heading just a few years ago. She is a writer, a mom, and a wife (though not in that order of course). Those are the things she loves, according to the pages of her book. But at one point, she started traveling to speak because she felt like she owed it to someone or like she was able so why wouldn't she? She drifted into doing something that wasn't truly her calling on her life and she was unhappy with it because it was taking away from the places in her life that she was truly called to be- a wife, a mom, and a writer.

And upon reading that, I realized that I was doing that too. There were places in my life that I was serving and things that I was doing because I was people pleasing (something that I'm prone to apparently). I thought they were the right things to do because I could so why not? But that's not a good enough reason to do something. It leads to being stretched too thin.

Can we really serve God well if we are stretching ourselves so thin that we aren't giving our best anymore? That was the question that kept circling through my head as I prayed and prayed about what to keep doing in my life and what to release. Was it better to do a lot of things but not give my best to each one or was it better to embrace the things I truly felt utilized my gifts from God well? After a lot of prayer and talking to other believers that I trust, I made the decision to stop some of the things that I was doing last year. And they weren't bad things, honestly. There's nothing wrong with homeschooling, but I am confident that God was calling my kids to public school this year. I released that one.

Are there things that you are doing that you need to release to God?

Are there places you are serving or participating that aren't your gift and that God isn't calling you to be right now?

I am not advocating for solely following your feelings. I firmly believe that Satan uses our feelings to lie to us often. Don't make decisions based on how you feel. Make them based on facts and an honest assessment with God. Read your Bible. What does it say about what you're considering? God will never call you to do something against his word. Please don't use this post as an excuse for a bad choice. That isn't my intention here.

I'll end this post with a prayer to Jesus that we can figure out what he is calling us to do and find the places that he is calling us away- even if just for a time. Be blessed today and remember to be a blessing to others too. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Don't Forget Those Jesus Glasses! Ephesians 1:15-23

Let's continue on in our reading of Ephesians this morning. I can't wait to see the promises that await us in these coming verses. I don't know about anyone else, but I find it so freeing and so rewarding to read this book of the Bible. It's one of my favorites, I think.

Here are the first few verses:

"That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!" (1:15-19)

Let's look at these verses again. When we show solid trust in Jesus, we have an outpouring of love to other followers. When we are thanking God for all he has done for us, we can't help but to feel His joy in our lives.

And look at Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, for all of us! He is thanking God for us and he asking, on our behalf that God make us intelligent and discerning in our ability to know him personally. He asks God himself to give us eyes that are focused and clear. He asks for us to see clearly what God is doing in and through our lives. He is asking that we are able to see just how amazing and glorious this life truly is. He is praying for our endless energy and boundless strength!

I don't know about you, but I fail in this department often! I don't pray like this enough. I don't thank God for each and every opportunity that comes my way and I certainly don't pray it for my friends and fellow followers of Jesus. I am so grateful that Paul has demonstrated this for me here so that I can learn it and embrace it in my own life. Will you join me in thanking God for one another? In taking off the Negative Nelly glasses and replacing them with the Jesus glasses?

I'm sure you know that we all filter our lives through very different sieves. Some of us are positive, others negative. Some have trauma and abuse in our pasts, others have the stereotypical "perfect childhood." We all struggle in different areas and wear glasses that go with those- self pity, insecurity, fear, worry, pride, people pleasing, etc. There are glasses for those things too. In this case, the Negative Nelly glasses are all of those negative emotions that you pile onto every experience. It's all that negative self talk that goes through your head as you walk through life. You see the glass half empty. You wait for the other shoe to drop.

But the Jesus glasses look past all of that. They see the beauty in the sunrise, not the long drive to work. They see the blessing that is your baby, not the crying that had you up all night. They see the privilege of staying home while your family is working or at school, not the loneliness that might consume you. Those Jesus glasses make you thankful for everything that happens all around you because you know that God's greater purpose is at work. I don't wear them enough, but I'm trying to get better. Will you?

Let's keep reading:

"All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence." (1:20-23)

I can't tell you what a relief it is to read those verses. I have never really enjoyed being the one in charge. I much prefer to let others lead and then lend support where they need me to give it. And according to this, I don't have to be in charge. Jesus is already doing it!

But this serves as a great reminder too. It makes me question, when I decide to do something, am I asking God if it's the right move each time or just going ahead and doing my own thing? Am I praying about everything and waiting for him to guide me or charging ahead and asking God to bless the plans I've already made? I think it's important to get things done in the right order here.

Today my prayer is that I can get better at donning my Jesus glasses and checking in with him throughout my day. It's my prayer for anyone reading this as well. I pray that we all get better at this. I pray we all stop finding everything wrong and start seeing the things that are right. I pray that we can develop thankful hearts and that we can be constantly talking to Jesus throughout the day.

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing!