chasing grace

I’m sure that you have heard of the Amish practice of shunning people.  The concept is that if an individual within their close knit community breaks one or more of their most tightly held beliefs, they are shunned.  Members in good standing “isolate, ignore, or otherwise punish someone for breaking community rules.”  When someone is shunned, the community does not eat with, do business with, accept gifts or rides from the shunned individual. It is an isolation meant to force the deviant person to see the error of their ways and re commit to the Amish ways, and beliefs.

This practice sounds like the exact opposite of grace.

Grace is defined as receiving something you do not deserve.  Like God’s unconditional love and salvation.

The grace of God is a concept that most modern religions do not recognize.  In religion, one must do good works, pay penance to God, or work to achieve a higher version of one’s self through reincarnation.  A person must try hard to become enlightened or ascend somehow in their spirituality to receive the favor of God.  These ideas are not biblical.  If you and I could do it ourselves, then tell me what the cross was for?  Galatians 2:21 tells us that we cannot attain righteousness in our flesh “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, (always doing only right things) Christ died for nothing!”  But Jesus did not die for nothing, He came that we may have life in Him!

So the grace of God is an unearned gift!   

The undeserved grace of God is a tremendous thing!  Ephesians 2:8-9 in the NLT says it like this “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  Do you see it?  None of us receive the love of God because of what we have done!  We receive it because of who HE is.

It seems a natural thing to try to win God’s love or approval.  But I want you to consider something that maybe you haven’t before.  If you have accepted the free gift of salvation that Jesus offered to us when He gave His life on the cross of Calvary, then sister, you already have God’s complete and unconditional love!  You can stop chasing grace…it is already yours!

The truth is, you and I could never be “good enough” to deserve God’s love.  We can never do “more good than bad”.  We can never ascend to a place of holiness on our own, that would cause God to say that we have earned our way in. Honestly, trying to earn it is what causes us to stray from His love in the first place.  “Earning grace” looks like rules.  It looks like legalism.  It surfaces as the false belief that if I just follow all the rules, never slip up, do all the right things, that God will see me as worthy.  But only if…

If we think that somehow, we need to earn His grace, then we don’t really understand the concept of grace.  Grace is love freely given, undeserved.

The moment we start trying to earn it, grace loses its power.  When we earn something like our paycheck or an award, it always comes as a result of our efforts.  A payment or reward for something worked for and earned.

However, when I understand that grace has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Him, I can rest in the peace and assurance that I don’t need to earn it, just let it flow over me like cool water on a hot day.  Soothing my soul and providing comfort and assurance, love and peace, hope and joy.

The result of receiving the love and grace of God, is what spurs us on to demonstrate our love back to Him, by following what He says in His word.  The kindness I receive from God through grace causes me to want to love and follow Him even more.  God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance, Romans 2:4 speaks to that.  Here’s what I am trying to say in a nutshell, we do not love and follow God so that He will love us, we love and follow God because He already does!

A favorite song of mine right now is Holy Water by We The Kingdom.  This song is one for the books!  I never get tired of hearing it.  There is a line in the song that goes like this;

“I don’t wanna abuse Your grace,

God, I need it every day,

It’s the only thing that ever really makes me wanna change”. 

It’s the kindness and grace of God that makes me want to change as a person.  It’s His grace that draws me into relationship with Him.  Grace leads me home.  The grace of God beckons me into His loving presence in a way that fear, and the Amish practice of shunning, never would.  Those things only serve to cause me to want to please people, to do the things needed for acceptance.  But they don’t really change the heart.  1 Samuel 16:7 tells us what God cares most about.  “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  He looks at our inner most desires (pleasing people or pleasing Him) and He sees our motives. 

I hope that you’ll let this sink in.  That you’ll stop chasing grace.  That, instead, you will turn and see that what you have been seeking, is already yours. 

Grace changes everything!

losing power

Walking and talking with friends.  I love it!  There’s no better way to spend a couple of hours with a friend than getting fresh air, sunshine, and a good old heart to heart!

~walking buddy~

As my walking buddy and I ventured on a 5 mile “excer-talk” (I’m trademarking this phrase BTW!) this week, the topic of our discussion made its way to sin.  Sin is an uncomfortable and not very Politically Correct 2021 word, but it’s not something we should ignore, or sugar coat. 

Sin is something that we don’t like to admit.  We tend to gather with friends and talk about life, and family, fun things, and even the good things that God is doing in our lives.  And there is NOTHING wrong with that.  It’s all part of building relationships and connecting with others.  Something I feel very strongly about and encourage.

But, if we’re honest, we don’t often talk about sin in our lives.  We shy away from the truth of it to protect what we think should be our image as a believer in Jesus.  But sister, we ALL have sin in our lives.  We are humans, living in a broken world, waiting for Jesus to take us home.  And until He does, sin will be part of our existence.

So, what is sin?

Sin, by definition, is anything we think, say, or do that displeases God.  Well, alrightythen!  When you put it that way, I guess it’s easy to admit that we’re all guilty of sin. I know I am.  Every day.

I wish it weren’t true, I wish I was able to please God all the time, every day, and never hurt the Lord again with my sin.  Romans 3:23 tells us “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  Did you catch it?  Everyone. 

I have the most beautiful places to walk

Scripture is FULL of verses that lead us as to what to do about our sin.  The theme is always the same, no matter the verse.  Confession.  Confession is the answer to breaking the power of sin over us.

Imagine this for a moment if you will.  Imagine you have gone to bed for the night, you are cozy and comfortable in bed, the lights are out, and you are ready to really relax.  And then you hear it.  In the dark you hear something scratching across the floor in your room (ok, you also have to imagine that you have a wood floor if you have carpet but stick with me here).  You don’t know what “it” is really, but you can hear something scratching and crawling its way toward you.  In the dark, you can’t deal with or understand what “it” is.  Is it a bug, a snake, or a dragon (*wink*) coming at you?  There, in the dark, alone with your thoughts, the fear and power in your head just grows stronger.

You have two choices here.  You can lay there in the dark, hoping that you are wrong about whatever it is, hoping that it will crawl OUT of your room, and not into your bed.  You can continue to lay there, paralyzed by the thing that is holding you prisoner to your own fears, and letting it rule over you there in the dark.

Or…

You can do the brave thing, pull back the covers, find the lamp by your bed, and switch on the light!  Only then will you be able to really deal with whatever “it” is. 

Shining light onto whatever is holding you hostage has a way of breaking the power of darkness.

I really took that!

Think of it this way. 

I have sin.  You have sin.  Sin is not something we are proud of, so we hide it.  We don’t talk about it with anyone. 

We keep telling ourselves that “today is the day that I will get a handle on my sin.  I can do it.  I need to do it.  I will beat it, so that I don’t have to admit it or tell anyone else about it. I need to continue to hide it so that I don’t disappoint people by letting them know the truth about me.  I will be a better witness of faith when I fix it, and THEN I can share my faith.  I am different than other Christians because of my sin.  I don’t see them struggling with this sin; therefore, I need to handle this myself.  Then I will fit in with them.  I am only good enough once I have this is under control.”

LIES.  LIES.  LIES.

Straight from the enemy.

Let’s not forget what 1 Peter 5:8 says.  “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  The best way for the enemy to keep power over us as believers is to keep us in the dark.  And there we are afraid to admit our sin, even to God and especially to each other.  The enemy wants to keep us believing the lie that we need to live this way and be ashamed. He wants us to think that we need to fix our sin before God or people will love us. In this way, he can continue to hold power over our lives.

The truth of sin and forgiveness is all over God’s word.  Scripture is loaded with the solution to our struggles if we will just read and follow what it says.  I submit to you that in order to win the battle going on inside our minds and hearts about sin, that we must bring it into the light!  If we will bravely admit our struggles to one another, (a trusted friend or a spouse or a pastor, whomever you feel is most deserving of your trust) sin immediately begins to lose its power over you.  Immediately.

James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…”

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

And this one.  Proverbs 28:13 “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Confession is like shining a light on that thing crawling in your bedroom at night in the dark.  The light causes it to lose the power and stronghold of fear that the darkness creates.  Are you with me yet?

this lake is a favorite place to walk

Sin loses its power over us when we confess and let it into the light.

What is your struggle?  What is your sin? 

Is it overspending?  Overindulging?  Lying?  A sexual sin?  An addiction? A critical spirit? A bad temper?  A foul mouth? Constant fear? Continual worry?

Sin is anything we think, say, or do that displeases God.

Keeping it exclusively to yourself is only furthering the power it holds on your life.  I encourage you to talk to someone about it.  Not everyone, but someone.

I hope that you have a trusted someone in your life, with whom you can be honest about your struggle.  You will want to pray about this for a while before you choose that someone.  Naturally, you will want to share only with someone whom you feel will love unconditionally and who will keep you accountable.  Someone who has your best interest in mind.  Someone who will pray for you. Someone spiritually mature. 

And it’s scary.  It’s scary to admit your sin and your struggle to another.  Keeping it secret feels safer, but it isn’t always.  Only when the secret is out, does it lose its power

I encourage you to confess it first to God, and then pray, pray, pray about who you will trust with your struggle. 

I hope that you will choose to be free of the power of sin in your life!  Listen, we will not be able to completely stop sinning this side of heaven, but we do not have to live under the power of darkness.  Romans 8:1 reminds us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Christ did not save us to leave us the way we were.  He came to give us salvation through Him and a full life!  John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full!”

One of the many steps to living a full life is confession. First to God and then in honesty to another Christ follower. Sin most often loses its power when we bring it into the light of the love of the Lord.  There, He can begin the healing and strengthening process.  There, He can work with us on the freedom we have in Christ.  We do not have to be trapped and powerless.  We can be FREE!

Heavenly Father, I am sick of my sin.  I am sick of hiding it and letting it rule over me.  I was foolish to think that, on my own, I can stop.  That alone I can somehow win this battle.  Father, I confess I need your help. I also know that being honest about it with another will help break the chain.  Lord, show me who I may be able to trust with my struggle.  I know that in You and through confession, sin will lose the power it holds on me in the darkness.  Thank you that because of Jesus in my life, I do not have to live this way any longer.   Amen.

clouds are a favorite of mine to photograph

Storytelling

I just love a good book,  don’t you?

It’s so exciting to get drawn into the story line,  the characters,  and the emotions of a well written book!

I have a few Christian authors that I really enjoy.   I’ve read many of their books.   Some authors write such compelling stories that you cry at the sad parts,  and even laugh out loud at the funny predicaments the characters find themselves in.

But you always know,  when the story gets tense or difficult,  that there is still time for things to get better,  because you can see how many pages are still in your book.   You know it isn’t over because you’re not done turning pages.

If only life were like that.

You’re probably familiar with the tale of the Prodigal Son in scripture.  

Luke 15:11-32 tells of one families heartbreak over their adult sons.  The father in this tale had two sons.   One was obedient and a hard working rule follower.   The other was selfish and rebellious, demanding his inheritance from his father in advance.  

This son took the money,  left home,  and proceeded to party.   He lived quite a wild life for some time.  

There would have been many sleepless nights of worry  and wondering for his parents.  “Where is he?  What is he doing?  Did I do the right thing?  Is he going to completely ruin his life?”  Those parents were no different than you or I would be.   We would be grief stricken over it,  and so were they.

Imagine if this families story ended there,   with the son leaving and their hearts broken.
They certainly couldn’t see that there were more pages in their story….

Then think for a moment about the Israelite people.

They were lost and wandering in the desert.   They had their children,  their elderly parents and their animals in tow.  

They didn’t have the benefit of knowing that there was more to their story. They may have wondered if “this was it” for them.  

Imagine if their story ended here.  Lost,  hot, hungry,  and feeling abandoned.

And then there’s Peter.

Peter knew Jesus personally.  He had a front row seat to the miracles and teachings of Christ himself.   And when Jesus was close to his darkest hour,  Peter turned his back on him.  He claimed that he didn’t know him at all. And when that rooster crowed,  Peter broke.  He was filled with shame and regret.  He had messed up on a colossal level,  and he knew it.

Imagine if his story ended there,  with Peter weeping bitterly over his mistake.

But none of those stories ended that way!

The Prodigal Son came home,  the Israelite’s entered the promise land, and Peter became an incredible Apostle.   The Rock that Jesus said that He would build His church on!

My point is this; The story of YOUR life is still being written.

Sometimes we think that when something bad happens to us, or to someone we love,  that we have turned the last page in the book.  We worry that “this is it”.   That there’s no more time for things to get better.

But in enters hope!

Hebrews 1:11 says this;
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hope and faith are so completely intertwined that it’s difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.   Faith is CONFIDENCE in what we hope for!

Sometimes we hope for many things don’t we?  We hope our lives will be comfortable.  We hope to have good relationships.   We hope our children will turn out well.   We hope to have a nice vacation this year.   We hope our boss will notice all our hard work. We may even hope our car keeps running.

But the kind of hope I’m talking about here is different.   It’s not the kind of hope that we sometimes call “wishful thinking”.  This kind of hope EXPECTS good things.  It is Expectant Hope.

And Expectant Hope believes fully that God is still working for our good.  That our story is still being written.   It is “assurance about what we do not see”. 

When life gets challenging,  remember that there are still many pages left in your “book”.  The Author is not finished with the last chapter!  As long as you’re still drawing breath,  there’s still hope.  

Expectant Hope.  

Everytime I’ve been in a situation where I felt hopeless,  like things were so bad that they could never be good again,  God has come through for me in beautiful and amazing ways.  His timing is always perfect, and never late.  So when it happens that way,  we know it’s Him and not us holding the pen.   He gets the glory,  not me. 

God worked in the heart of the Prodigal Son,  and turned him around.   God worked in the lives of the wandering Israelite people and set their feet on the right path toward the Promise Land.   And He never gave up on Peter,  and changed his life of regret to a life of purpose and value for His kingdom.  

He finished their story in the pages of scripture.   He didn’t leave them desolate,  lost or broken.  He won’t leave you either!

When it’s hardest to pray,  pray the hardest.

Remember that He is always working,  even when we can’t see it.  

Trust God for the rest of your story.

John 13:7  Jesus replied,  “You don’t understand what I’m doing now,  but someday you will. “

Don’t give up on God,  He hasn’t given up on you.   Philippians 1:6 speaks to this truth  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Until Jesus comes,  God holds the pen,  and is still writing your story.

Trust your shoes

Northern Arizona is a beautiful place to be.  There is so much to do outdoors, and I never tire of it!  (Well, not in the warmer months anyway!)

Bell Rock

This past weekend was another adventure to enjoy the great outdoors.  Sedona Arizona is only about an hour away from home, and it is a special place for my handsome hubby and I.  We have been there literally countless times! While we’re there, we love to hike and explore.

This past time we headed out to explore and a place called climb Bell Rock. 

Years ago, I had given in and finally decided to buy a pair of hiking shoes.  I had previously resisted because, personally, I think they are ugly.  They are bulky and they’re not cute or colorful.  They are just all around clunky, ugly shoes.  Vain?  Probably. I much prefer some cute tennis shoes (though I seldom wear those either except to exercise) But I did give in and purchase a pair, and what a game changer they have been!

This trip was one where I knew I would need them.  Bell Rock is absolutely beautiful, and it is exactly what it says it is, a gigantic bell shaped rock!  It’s not a dirt path, or a trail, it is a rock. 

So the hubs and I started out by making the short hike to the foot of the rock.  We extended our hiking poles, checked our water, and just before we started to make our way up the face of the rock, the hubs said to me “trust your shoes”.

Now, these shoes have grip.  They help me avoid slipping on the smooth surfaces of the rock or terrain as I have climbed.  These shoes have a firm sole, one that provides stability to me when things are a bit shaky and I might fall.  These shoes and I have a history.  I have climbed and hiked with them many times and have learned to trust them.  They have stopped me from slipping, falling, and hurting myself over and over.  They have been a worthwhile investment. 

As we were climbing up higher and higher, I didn’t dare let myself look back, or down.  I had to keep moving forward and upward to get to the height of Bell Rock, which was the goal.  There were times when I was practically crawling up the face of this great rock to make it to our destination.  The rock can be smooth and slick in places, challenging me to stay focused.  I was a tad bit afraid, (because no one wants to fall to their death) But being afraid doesn’t make me weak, it makes me aware. I kept pressing on toward the top, and I kept trusting my shoes. 

The Red Rocks of Sedona

2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Let’s face it, life itself can be slippery.  We can’t always see where we’re headed.  It can be shaky and full of change (and not the kind of change we like).  If you are in such a season, I hear you.  I have been there, done that.  And I know I’ll be doing it again at same point, that’s just how life is.  But we can decide to walk by faith when we can’t see the way.  Walking in faith that God knows best.  And having faith that His will is perfect. 

So how do we do that when things get rough, slippery and shaky?  How do we learn to “trust our shoes”?

We can start with the practice of recalling the times in your life where God has brought us through.  I mean, you’ve survived your worst day, and you’re still here aren’t you? Try to intentionally bring to mind instances where you imagined “the worst” (as we all do) and yet, things turned out okay.  Begin to search for the happenings in God’s word, where He brought about His best result in spite of difficult circumstances. 

  • Daniel was thrown into a den of lions
  • David was chased by King Saul who wanted to kill him
  • Paul was imprisoned, more than once
  • Rahab hid spies on her roof to spare her family’s life from an attacking army
  • Esther boldly asked the king (who could have had her killed) to spare her people from being massacred

In all of these situations, something very “shaky” was happening.  Each person had real fears.  Still, they chose to place their trust in God.  It was a purposeful choice.  One I’m sure that they made repeatedly.  And God allowed good to come from their circumstance.   Remember, the same God that made a way in the past, will make a way this time too.

The Hubs

Understand that you can be afraid yet trust Him at the same time.

Psalm 56:3 says “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  The psalmist was admittedly afraid, but he chose to put his trust in God.  Peace comes when we realize that we can’t always “fix” our own circumstance.  It’s only by turning things over to the one who holds the power of life in His hands, that we can be at rest. 

He is our firm foundation.  Psalm 18:2 “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge”  Read that again.

Friend, whatever has you in knots today, whatever you feel is too much to handle, He knows.  He sees you.  He loves you and He desires your best.

Will you trust Him?

Made it to the top!

The Common Thread

Guilt.

What an ugly word.  The term “guilt” brings to mind so many emotions and memories doesn’t it?  If I were to ask you what you felt guilt over in your life, instantly a situation comes to mind.  Something you said or did that you feel bad over and wish you could go back and change.

Sunrise at the lake

Many years ago, as a young woman, I felt guilty about so many things. 

  • My short comings as a woman
  • How I raised my children
  • The imperfect relationship between my husband and I
  • My imperfection as a Christ Follower
  • My messy house
  • My empty check book
  • Things that my children wanted to have and do, that I couldn’t make happen
  • Friendships that struggled
  • My lack of self-control
  • My weight
  • My “mouth”

You name it.  I felt guilty about it.  And somewhere back there, I realized that guilt is a tool that Satan uses against women, specifically. 

Hear me out.  If you talk to most men, you will find that out guilt is not a huge part of their daily life.  They may feel it, but it doesn’t seem to permeate and monopolize their thought life the same way that it does women.

At some point we have all felt guilt, and sometimes we needed to. 

Maybe we have wronged someone, said something out of line, or reacted in anger before we had all the facts.  Those can be times when God will use our feelings of remorse to gently lead us into repentance and move us forward to forgiveness. Because He loves us, He often lets us experience the consequences of sin to encourage us to change.

Often though, the enemy will use those same feelings of conviction from the Holy Spirit, against us. He will press them to the extreme, and use them to create unnecessary shame and guilt to attempt to hold us hostage.   In those times when your conscience is clear or when you have confessed your sin to the God, and the feelings of shame and condemnation persist, you can be sure that the enemy is at work.

Romans 8:1 says “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus”.  The Holy Spirit will use our raw emotions to guide us as we continue to grow and develop spiritually in life.  But He will NEVER condemn us.  If you belong to Christ, you cannot be condemned!  That is great news friend!

When we become aware of the things in our lives that God is lovingly encouraging us to change, that’s when we begin to grow.  None of us can be perfect in everything we do.  Try as we might, we cannot achieve it.  When we recognize that, and allow it to motivate spiritual growth in us, then the Holy Spirit can do His work.

However, when those feelings of guilt continue to grip us and tell us that we “never do anything right” or that we’ll “never be good enough”, that is when we have a problem.  We need to try and see those feelings for what they are, a lie.  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Be alert!  He is lurking around trying to destroy you and me.  And sometimes he uses guilt to accomplish this.  The enemy will use anything that we let him, to distract us from God’s love and purpose in our lives.  Christ came so that we can have a full and abundant life, here and eternally!  John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

Many times we need to get inside of our own heads, and recall truth from Scripture to dispel and filter through the lies that so easily drift into our hearts. 

For years, I have worked on recognizing those feelings of misplaced guilt for what they are.  Some are appropriate, but most simply are not.  Even though I have been aware of this and pushed against it for a long time, I need to stay alert and look for it.  Guilt never really goes away completely, but it does need to learn its proper place!

Knowing the truth, doesn’t mean that those thoughts won’t still plague us from time to time.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  This means that we can continually lay hold of our own thoughts and bring them into line with what we know is truth. It means that we don’t need to live with continual feelings of guilt.  It means that we can choose not to live under the power of our misguided emotions continually.  That we can take hold of the negative thoughts that try to keep us a prisoner, and make them “obedient to Christ.” 

Friend, we will continue to live depressed and guilty until we know exactly how God feels about us. 

Summer storm clouds near home

So how does He see you?

  • You are His child~~1 John 3:1
  • You are His workmanship~~Ephesians 2:10
  • You are deeply loved~~John 3:16
  • You are Holy~~Ephesians 1:4-5
  • You are His Friend~~John 15:15
  • You are not alone~~Joshua 1:9
  • You are a new creation~~2 Corinthians 5:17

If you still struggle to let go of those thoughts, I encourage you to search God’s word for even more answers to the question “Am I loved by God”? 

Please allow me to assure you that YOU ARE!

If that is true, then giving guilt a bigger place in our lives than it deserves, is an utter waste of the gift that Jesus gave when He paid the penalty for our sin on the cross. 

My hope is that, starting today, you will begin to let go of the feelings of shame over things that are outside of your control, or those things that are in the past.  That you will lay them at the foot of the cross and leave them there.  That you will begin to live in freedom and abundant life!

Continued guilt has no place in the life of a believer! 

You and I are FREE, sister!

Practice Makes Perfect

Learning to do anything well takes practice.  Riding a bicycle, baking bread, drawing, playing an instrument and so on.  Practicing something means we give it time and attention and focus on being better at it.   

The same is true when it comes to the practice of being thankful in all circumstances.

Most of the time, we think that our struggles are unique to just us.  But there are many stressors that we all have in common.

  • Stress at work
  • Not having work stress (jobless)
  • Family struggles
  • Financial woes
  • Vehicle issues
  • A To Do List that’s too long
  • Arguments with our children (adult ones or small ones)
  • Disagreements with our spouse
  • Spiritual battles
  • Emotional health
  • Not enough sleep/rest
  • Physical health concerns
  • Aging parents

And so on.  I think it is safe to say that each of us can relate with at least one of the above, or more.  The reality is that those are “normal life” issues.  We will all experience most of those things at one time or another in our life.  Probably more than once.

So, what can we do about it?  Well, each struggle requires a different set of “tools” to handle it well.  But there is one thing we can do, regardless of which of the above struggles we are facing.  Give thanks!

Last week we talked about being thankful and expressing gratitude. I want to circle back around to that and put some feet on it, if you will.

Lines from movies tend to stick with me.  I enjoy bringing them into conversation often!  But as I watched the following movie clip, and placed myself and God in the conversation, it was funny and sad at the same time!

I don’t want my prayer life to resemble this guy, from the movie “What About Bob”

We need to practice thankfulness in addition to petition. As we talked about last week, we are all guilty of asking God for “things” or for help more often than we remember to thank Him for all He has already done.  The habit of practicing thankfulness is an important element of our spiritual lives. 

My handsome hubs and I have known some tough times during our life together.  We have experienced the pain of miscarriage.  We have experienced job loss.  We have been through some tough ministry changes together.  We have parented four teenagers through their difficult years.  We have experienced the heartache involved in watching our grown children stray from the Lord.   And we have seen some of our precious grandchildren go through some difficult health issues.  

In those times, we have developed a practice that we fall back to when times are tough.  As we sit together, one of us will say to the other “Okay, what is something good right now?”  And we start listing all the things that we still can find thankfulness in, despite our current situation.  Generally, we start with the big things, our home, our jobs, our adorable grandchildren.  But as we keep going back and forth, and adding to the list, we find that there is even more to be thankful for.  The silver lining as it were. 

For instance, as our grandchildren dealt with health issues, we could be thankful that they had good parents who were loving and supportive.  That modern medicine exists, and can help to bring them through their health crisis.  We could be thankful for the people in their parent’s lives, who came alongside them to help where they could and gave of their time. 

With regard to ministry changes, we were thankful for God’s provision toward our finances, even though it wasn’t easy.  Thankful that friends were there to support us emotionally, and in other ways.  Thankful that God was working His plan for us through that loss.  And we were thankful for the contacts and friends we made during our time in that ministry, and how many of those are still friends today. 

The habit of practicing thankfulness is not some kind of superpower.  It doesn’t just belong to extra spiritual people.  And it isn’t a platitude to throw out flippantly.   It is something that each of us can and should be practicing. 

Embracing the practice of thankfulness changes our heart.  It can take us from despair and discouragement to a heart of hope and praise.

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The key phrases in this scripture are “in every situation” and “by prayer and petition, WITH thanksgiving”.  The fact that this scripture addresses every situation implies or recognizes that we will experience things that are difficult.  God knows that this will happen to us.  He is instructing us, through the Apostle Paul, to pray and to petition (or ask) And to be thankful.    

When we recognize and praise God for what He has already done in our lives, we worship through thanksgiving.  Giving thanks is a form of worship.  And if you and I choose to worship through a storm, we will win.  We win against depression and discouragement.  And we win against the enemy who tries to keep us focused on our struggles. 

Psalm 121:1 says “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  If we can lift up our eyes to focus them on Jesus, and remember to thank him for what He has done already, we will more readily see His hand of provision over us and His deep love for us in everything!  We won’t stop having struggles or needs.  He desires that we come to Him with those too, but with thanksgiving, we shift our focus onto Him.   We switch from worry to worship.

Let’s worship through thanksgiving!

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I got this

Recently, I spent some time away from home visiting with a good friend. These visits are always good for my heart (and hers too I think!) Friendship is such a gift from God.

One of the things we like to do while I visit in the summer is shop! We are both paper crafters, and we hit up ALL the crafting stores we can! We go from store to store to store! And we buy so much fun stuff! This time, we also bought some things to help organize her craft space in her home. I was so happy to share my ideas and be able to help her with her lovely space! As most of you know, when you really dig in and decide to organize something (like your junk drawer, your game closet, your pantry and so on…) that it WILL get worse before it gets better. The only way to really organize effectively is to also purge. The process of purging is tedious. You can’t purge with out looking at every single thing! It’s time consuming and messy!

After she and I had gone though a giant pile of pattern paper, (a must for any paper crafter) (you can never have to much pattern paper…until you do) I gathered up a humongous arm full, to carry to the trash bin outside. Being as I am a first born, and therefore stubborn and able to “handle things” on my own, I made my way, solo, to the front of the house. I did allow her hubby to open the front door for me, but when he offered to come open the lid of the trash can for me, I said “no thanks, I got this.” I am certain that you are already ahead of me in this story, and if you’re as smart as I think you are, you already know what happened! I made my way to the can just fine, I even got the lid to the can open on my own, but as I tried to lift those really heavy stacked papers into the can, disaster struck! There I am, alone in the driveway, hoping no neighbors can see me, as I scurry to pick them all up. My friend came out and, of course, laughed at me! “You got this huh?” she said as she laughed and helped me pick up the papers! We giggled about that and repeated the phrase “I got his!” many times as our visit continued!

At the end of that trip, I drove home to my empty house, as my hubby was at work. That meant that I would be unloading the car by myself. Now, being a mutli-tasker, I always do several things at once. Maybe you can relate? I seldom do one thing at a time, and this is not always a good thing. Maybe you can relate to me, if you are the type that also tries to carry all the grocery bags into the house in one trip, even if you lose circulation in your arm from the bags being heavy and digging into your skin. This was pretty much my philosophy while unpacking the car too. So I piled my arms high with my belongings, and headed toward the house, only to lose my shaky grip on a brand new box of white envelopes, and watch them scatter all over the driveway….sound familiar? “I got this!” I heard myself say out loud. Now I am laughing at myself as I pick them up! When will I learn?

Not soon enough.

The very next day I did my grocery shopping. Well, I picked up a grocery order that I placed online from the convenience of my phone/couch/jammies. When I got home from all my errands (including a run to the big box store) I had a sizable amount of items to bring in from the car. Alone. Again. But nothing stops me! (though it probably should). You guessed it. I dropped something! This time it was a new GLASS jar of salsa…..imagine my horror, as I watched the jar hit the tile in my kitchen, splatter salsa all over the walls, and spread glass shards far and wide! Why oh why am I so stubborn?! Why can’ I just slow down and be more thoughtful to my own circumstances? Why must I feel the need to do everything by myself all at once? “You got this huh?” I heard the Lord say in my head.

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Wowsers. I do that to God all the time, don’t I? I am so busy “knowing” how to do things on my own. To prideful or unaware, to know that I need help. To confident in my own abilities to consider the consequences. I just press forward , certain that I can do “this”, whatever “it” is, that I drop things. I break things. I make a mess of my own life sometimes.

James 1:5

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

Matthew 7:7

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Both of these verses work from the assumption that we are aware of two things:

  • We know we should ask for help, that we realize that we do not “got this” by ourselves. Matthew 7:7
  • We He is waiting to guide us through our earthly troubles. James 1:5.

Am I suggesting that you pray before you carry a load of groceries from the car? Not necessarily. What I am suggesting is that we all slow down, take a step back, and look at our life, the choices and decisions we make, through the lens of scripture. And that we do not simply forge on under our own power, but that we truly, wholeheartedly, and honestly seek Him. How much smoother would life be if we slowed things down a bit and REALLY asked for God’s wisdom rather than doing what we THINK just feels best.

Matthew 6:33 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” When you and I allow the heart of God to permeate our thoughts and decisions, He will ALWAYS give wisdom. He will gladly answer a righteous prayer from our heart to His, seeking His will.

God desires connection and a relationship with us above all else. That connection is why He sent Jesus, and why Jesus left the Holy Spirit with us, to guide us. We are not equipped to handle this life on our own. We are structured to operate best with a Guide. You and I will experience a much more joyful, peaceful, and purpose filled life when we first seek Him. Let’s not rush into decisions to hurry out of whatever struggle we face. Let’s be people who stop dropping our stacks of papers (issues) and our jars of salsa (trials), because we stubbornly (and sometimes unconsciously) tell God that we have “got this”.

Let’s realize that we can only truly declare “I got this” after we have handed the issues, and trials, and decision making over to God first. When we have looked to His word for wisdom, and through prayer, have sought His leading and direction.

He is willing, are you?

Just run with it

I’m not a runner.   The idea of running seems a bit overboard to me.  It’s the kind of thing that just seems unnecessary. There are easier ways to get someplace without exerting that kind of energy! 

It’s a form of self torture, really.   

But recently, I’ve felt the desire to try.  And when I did I discovered a few things. 

 My lungs burn, my heart pounds in my chest, and all I can think about is stopping.   It is, in fact, self torture. 

But…I kinda liked it!  As I jogged down the road in my neighborhood, I felt proud of myself.  I felt strong!   I’m no spring chicken.  I mean, who decides to just start something like that at my age?  But as I pushed myself, I realized that, day by day, I could go a little farther, a do a little more.   It felt good, and it hurt less each time.

And that’s when it hit me.   It’s the same with my faith. Sometimes I just need to push myself a little farther, do a little more, and make my heart pound in my chest.

Testing my faith, like testing my physical abilities,  causes growth.   Over time, I find myself doing things I never really felt were possible for me.  Ephesians 3:20-21 reminds me that God is able to do more (in my life) than I could ever think or imagine. Those are powerful words! Because I can think and imagine a lot. But His plans are always better for me than mine are I am challenged to;

  • Dream bigger
  • Live more purposefully
  • Do “big things”

All of that starts with the first step

No one is immediately a gifted runner.   Running takes effort, focus, determination, and practice.   But the results are worth it.   The joy of accomplishing new things is powerful!  But I will never get stronger (in my faith or physically)  if I don’t first start.    Every journey begins with a single step.    That first step often requires great faith.

But I desire to be brave and take that first step, to push myself a little bit, to invite God to show me the path He has for me, and to “run with it “!  

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To Un-know~

I don’t know about you, but in my life I’ve surely been “crushed in spirit”.  Do you know what I’m talking about? 

That time you got news that was like a sucker punch in the gut.   I think it’s fair to say we’ve all experienced that at one time or another. 

 

When it’s happened for me, I’ve wanted to go back in time.   Backwards, just a bit, to when I didn’t know whatever it is that I know now that is difficult to know.   You know?

But going backwards doesn’t change what I know.  I’m just ignorant to it, whatever “it” is.  Bad news will have that effect. That’s why it hurts like it does. Bad news has a way of entering into your “now life” and disrupting the peace you had before the bad news came. It is difficult to handle. Psalm 18:14 shows us that the Lord knows exactly how we feel. 

God’s word also tells me in Psalm 34, that the Lord hears me.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
    He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
    no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
    he saved me from all my troubles.
For the angel of the Lord is a guard;
    he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
  • He delivers me
  • He’s close to me
  • He protects me
  • He rescues me. 

 I encourage you to read and highlight Psalm 34 today.   Highlight the promises.  

He is close to me when I’m brokenhearted.  I do not need to bear the burden alone. In fact, He is anxiously waiting to hold my hand, to carry me, and to guide me through my circumstances.

 When I cry out to Him, He hears me.  

 And He comes closer.  That is exactly what I need when I’m hurting, sad, and a little bit broken.

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Expectant Hope

It’s the possibility of: 

Something new.   Something better.   

I find the term “Expectant Hope” so exciting

I’m sure that, like me, at sometime, you’ve been in a season of waiting

  • Waiting for direction from the Lord. 
  • Waiting for something to change. 
  • Waiting for rescue.   
  • Just waiting.   

It’s never easy.   I don’t enjoy waiting.   Waiting in line, waiting at a stop light, waiting for Amazon

But in the waiting God is doing something!  He’s changing our heart’s.

He gives us an opportunity to trust Him when all we can do is wait!  In this section of Isaiah, God reminds the Israelite people that He was faithful in the past to destroy Pharaohs armies in the Red Sea. 

He tells them that He’s got even more in store for them.   They need to remember what He has done in the past , to build their faith and prepare them for what He’s about to do in their future! (Isaiah 43:19)

“For I am about to do something new.

    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?”

Isaiah 43:19

Expectant Hope.     

Don’t forget that there is a gap in time.   That’s where the waiting takes place

The Israelite’s had to

  • wait 
  • trust
  • pray
  • be faithful
  • and live their daily lives

but they had to do it with Expectant Hope That’s where we put feet on our faith, it’s in the waiting.

God not only sees the “now” of our lives, but He sees the future too.  He will clear a path for us!  He will make a way through the wilderness. 

He gives purpose to the waiting.  

When we see only one way through our difficulty, God is there, doing a New Thing in the land!  When we least expect it, we’ll see Him move! 

Pray.   Trust.   Wait.

Hope!

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