Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Praying for Discernment

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ," Philippians 1:9-10

This was a fantastic verse to open up to this morning. There are a few things that sing out to me from this verse in Philippians, and the first one is the love. As I've been saying a lot lately, love seems to be the key to pretty much everything. When we can truly learn to love, then we will become more like Jesus. The bonus is that according to this verse, there are more perks to learning to really and truly love with the love of Jesus. As we use that love, and as we grow more in God's love, that love will help us in the art of discernment.

How many times do we stand at a crossroads and wonder which is the right decision to make? And I'm not just talking about the big decisions- even the small ones. Should we go to that meeting? Should we sign Junior up for Boy Scouts? Should we take down that tree that's hanging on the neighbors house? And the big decisions of course- which church should we belong to? Should we go into the missionfield? Is God really calling is to move to that part of the country? In all those things, we often seek God's direction. Which choice would he have us make? Discernment is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it helps guide us to making the right decision. It helps us to see the evil intentions of the devil and to stay away from poor choices.

Still, there are times where maybe we don't make the best choice. Where we really felt that one choice was better than the other, so we made that choice, only to discover that it wasn't the best one to make. What happens then? We can take heart in knowing this:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

Even if we don't make the best choice for us at the time, God will use whatever choice we make for good things. God works in all things- not just the good things. He may use our poor choices to help teach us a lesson, or to help us desire the gift of discernment, so we don't make those choices again. Discernment isn't some life changing, light bulb moment. It's something that we grow into, and as we recognize the Spirit's nudging, that prodding towards one decision over another, we will learn from it.

I think it's pretty cool to know that as we grow in love and in God's Word, that gifts like discernment just naturally follow. It's even cooler to see another verse basically say that with love, things are possible. After all, love is what gives us heaven and the opportunity to live there in the first place. If I can spend my lifetime making choices that only help me to love more and learn to love more like Jesus, I think that's a lifetime well spent.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Cautionary Tale

I'm reading further into 1 Kings this morning. And as I'm reading, I'm reading about King Solomon and how much the Lord blessed him. The verses about his legacy are just dripping with wealth and wisdom. Here's an example of the wealth:

"The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land. " 1 Kings 10:14,15

This amount, according to my footnote says that 666 talents is about 25 tons of gold. And here is more from a little later on in chapter 10.

"King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules." 1 Kings 10:23-25

God blessed Solomon richly and abundantly- so much so that silver was deemed worthless, because it was so plentiful. God followed through on the promises that he had made to David to prosper his family and bless them. But God has also issued a warning to Solomon.

"As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, 'You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.' "But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples." 1 Kings 9:4-7

And wouldn't you know, what did Solomon do? He didn't heed the warning. In his lifetime, Solomon married 700 wives and many of them had come from foreign lands where they worshipped other gods. One of God's warnings to the people had been to avoid marrying with these people because they would turn away from Him and be swayed to follow these other gods. And Solomon did just that. Because he loved his wives, he allowed them to worship their gods, and he built altars and places of worship for them. And he turned his eyes away from his own God.

"So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen." 1 Kings 11:11-13

What boggles my mind and really makes me think this morning is that Solomon was dripping in blessings. People came from the ends of the earth to meet this man who God blessed so richly. His people and his land prospered because of God's blessings upon his life, and Solomon simply turned away from that. I just cannot fathom why he would choose to turn his back on the God who gave him everything he had- including the wisdom for which he was famous. Yet, here in the verses, we see that he simply shifted his focus, and that, ultimately, was what did him in. Solomon shifted his focus away from solely on God, and shifted it to the 1000 women he had in his possession. And those women, in turn led him to the other gods that he began giving some devotion and worship to. We can learn from this.

We can do our best to remember Solomon. When good times are upon us and God is blessing us abundantly, we can remember what Solomon did, and keep our focus and our praise on God. We can continue to thank him and worship him for the blessings he has provided. I could see how it would be easy to let things and stuff get in the way of praising God. I could easily see how wealth could provide more and more opportunities to be away from the presence of God and away from that precious day of rest. You buy yourself a boat, and before you know it you justify taking a lazy Sunday to sail across the water. And you've enjoyed it so much that you do it again, and again, and again, and before you know it, it's been a month since you've been to church, and hey, there's that trip you've been meaning to take, what's a few more weeks away from church, and then poof. Just like that, God has taken a backseat. By remembering Solomon and his example, we can strive to do the opposite. We can strive to keep our focus on God.

What comes from Him can bless us abundantly, we just need to be prepared for those blessings. That is one of the reasons we go through times of change and growing, it's to prepare us for the abundance that God wants to bless us with. How we handle the abundance the first time around may set the stage for future blessings as well. When we're in dire straights, and we are blessed with a sum of money- what's the first thing we do with it? It used to be that we would take the opportunity to have the extra cash and go do something special. We'd go out to dinner or go buy something frivolous. We had our focus on ourselves, and what we could do with that money to make our lives better. But when we shifted that focus, when we had that sum of money and rejoiced first in the fact that we were able to put something in the offering plate, that's when we began to see that shift. We focused on God. We thanked him for providing that paycheck or that bonus or that surprise gift of cash, and then we gave a portion of it back to him. We also asked for an opportunity to pay it forward and that He bless the giver of that gift hundred-fold.

When you keep the focus on God, the money doesn't matter so much. (And this really wasn't where I intended to go today with the devotional, yet here it is.) This past winter as we watched the bills pile up and get bigger and bigger I just had to thank God. I had to thank Him for the lesson we were learning about debt, and I also thanked Him because I knew the means were coming to take care of them. Sure, a large part of me prayed for a miraculous answer, for the bills to simply go away. But no matter the means, isn't any of it miraculous? The fact that Andy's been prosperous at work has meant that those back bills have been disappearing one at a time. Not because of his hard work or my diligence at paying the bills, but because God provided for us. But first and foremost-the number one lesson that we have learned is that we have to keep God our focus, and keep God number one.

From every dollar that comes into the bank account, a portion goes back to God. God wanted to deal with us on that first, he wanted us to get into the routine of tithing. And this year, not only have we been tithing on the income, but also on the extras. Our regular tithe goes to church, our tithe from the extra income goes to other ministries that God places on our heart to support. When we tithe, we never, ever miss the money. But Erika, you're saying, it's easy to not miss the money when your paychecks are so nice. And that is so true, but. (Yes, there is a but.) Before we could get to where we are now, we had to start at the bottom. We started by tithing off those teeny tiny unemployment checks. We did not have enough coming in to make ends meet, yet we began tithing off that tiny bit. And as God saw that we were being responsible with what was coming in, he began increasing. We delighted completely the day Andy's first paycheck came in and I was able to call Andy and tell him how much our tithe check was going to be. We praised God with all our hearts that we were able to give back to him a portion of what he blessed us with.

And along the way, we've also learned about extra giving. And this, perhaps, is where we've seen the most growth. I know you know what I'm talking about today. You're sitting in church, and a missionary is visiting, and the church goes to take an extra offering, and there's one part of you that so wants to put that $20 in the plate, but you also know that's your last bit of money until Wednesday, and you'll need it for gas. What do you do?

Do you know that when you follow through on an act of blessing of this nature, it comes back to you? There was one week, not that long ago, where I felt that God wanted me to give to GodTV. We've been watching GodTV quite a bit, and the channel itself has been such a blessing. When we feel down and out, we just pop on GodTv and let whatever is on flow into our hearts and soul and it's almost like an infusion straight from God. But there was one day, I really felt strongly that I should give to GodTV. It was strange to me, because I was used to tithing, I wasn't used to spontaneous giving. Yet I did. I went online, and a few clicks later I'd made my donation, and I prayed that we wouldn't need that money ourselves in the days to come, and also prayed that God would take that donation and multiply it where it was needed for GodTv. Now, I am totally telling the truth here that two days later, Andy comes home from work with a lump sum of extra cash in his hands. Some co-workers had taken in scrap for recycling and shared the money with him from taking it in. Andy came home with double what our donation had been.

God will bless a cheerful giver every single time. When you are focused on God, that giving is done cheerfully, because you know God is behind your motivation for doing so. If you're putting that twenty bucks in the offering plate, but seething on the inside because you really don't want to do it, you're in the wrong frame of mind, and you're not focused on God. We need to not be like Solomon and allow the ways and things of this world to distract us. We really don't need that fancy new car, that state-of-the art computer, the latest video game system or that really cool new camper. We need God, and he will provide the rest. Cross my heart. Focus on God, and all the rest will fall into place. Show him that you can be trusted with a little, and he will increase that little to a whole lot- because that's what he wants for you. He wants to bless you and provide for you, but he also wants to know that you're going to be responsible with what he does give you.

"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

19"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'

21"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

22"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'

23"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

24"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'

26"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28" 'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 25:14-30

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Giving The Glory To God

"While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them. Then he said:
"Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised with his own mouth to my father David." 1 Kings 8:14-15

This morning's Bible reading took me to the book of 1 Kings. I'm not sure what led me there in the first place, but I picked up chapter one and read straight through to chapter 8. What struck me as I read is that there are a lot of details there that one may think is trivial. In those chapters, King David dies and the Kingship of Israel is passed along to Solomon. Solomon then proceeds to build a temple and his palace. The temple took seven years to build, and the palace thirteen. The whole time, 1 Kings is describing the details that went into building each one. Normally, I think I would have just kind of skimmed over the details. I mean, why is it important that we know that one room was 50 cubits long? And why was it important to note that the pieces to the temple were finished off-site, that no iron working tools were used on the actual temple itself? I honestly don't know, God does, and I'm sure those details are there for a reason.

But as I read through these details, I noticed something. I read a lot, and I recognized a pattern building. The tone of what I was reading was building a sort of suspense. As each detail was revealed, it was like another step closer to something really and truly exciting. It was not unlike driving down the road to a destination and seeing the signs off to the side that tell you you're getting closer- you get even more excited as each sign goes by, and the excitement and suspense begins mounting. And then you finally get to your destination.

As I read 1 Kings, chapter 8, I realized that I was about to read something really exciting, and then I had to read it twice. So I'll paste it again here.

"While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them. Then he said:
"Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised with his own mouth to my father David."

It took Solomon seven years to build a temple and thirteen years to build his palace, but look who he gave the credit to. He didn't stand in front of the assembly of Israel and say "look what I did" or even "look what we all did, working together". He said "Look what God did." He gave all the credit and all the glory to God for seeing the project through to completion. He praised God for fulfilling His promise to David in front of the nation of Israel- any other king in that position would have praised himself.

There is definitely something to learn here and to take away from this. No matter how hard we work, or how long we work at something, it is not for us that we are toiling. We are toiling so that we can give God the glory for what He has allowed us to accomplish. We are giving God the glory for fulfilling his promises to us. It would be so easy at this point to look at Andy's success with work this year and say that Andy did well, Andy worked very hard and has deserved the rewards that has come along with that hard work. And while all that is true, the credit and the glory goes all to God. God is the one that provided the employer and the lucrative work that Andy's been doing all summer. God is the one who provided the energy Andy's needed to accomplish each day of work, and God is the one who provided the paychecks that have blessed us greatly.

The fact is, we are nothing without God. When we accomplish something great, it is through God that we accomplish it. God gives us those abilities and that drive to succeed at our tasks-no matter what the task is. It could be something as simple as baking a cake or something as complicated as building a house. Without God, we are nothing, and we need to give Him the glory for all we do and accomplish. We can thank God for Solomon's example, and take it to heart and remember that we are not seeking praise for ourselves, we are seeking praise for God.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fattening Up

"The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
But the soul of the diligent is made fat." Proverbs 13:4

This verse made me smile this morning because it's different. In normal life if you are a sluggard and do nothing, you get fat and your body becomes poorly. If you are diligent in being active and eating right, you become thin, your body does very well and is overall more healthy. But here in this verse we're talking about the soul. We're talking about the very core of you- what makes you you. It's very interesting to me to see the absolute truth here, and to see the exact opposite of our physical bodies in play.

If we go through life being busy with life and don't take the time to feed our soul, our soul will be become withered. It's also more than just taking a time out to do some Bible reading or going to church, it's also about taking the initiative to do just that. It's about actually taking care of those intentions instead of just letting them hang out there. And I know we all know what I'm talking about. Just this morning I was woken up at 5:15 am. That's over an hour before the alarm was supposed to go off. Just the same, the carbon monoxide detector decided at that moment to be low on batteries and beep. I got up and pulled out the bad batteries so it would stop beeping and allow the kids to sleep. Looked at the clock, and my very first thought was "only an hour to the alarm, maybe I should get up and read my Bible." Followed by "I wonder if I can get back to sleep- that's another hour I can sleep." And which do you think I chose? It's very kind of you to think I chose wisely and chose the first one. But the truth is that I crawled back into bed, closed my eyes, and then proceeded to toss and turn for the next hour. I didn't sleep a wink, and I also didn't get any extra Bible reading in. Basically, it was a complete waste of an hour. Even worse, I had the same thing happen this past Monday morning- although it was an early morning phone call and not the CO detector.

And in retrospect, I obviously chose poorly, and I wonder if it happens again will I rise to the occasion and grab hold of the opportunity to feed my soul? I wonder if I had gotten up would my day have gone better? In Monday's case, I woke with a cold, so the day was kind of a bust before it even began. In today's case, I'm already anticipating that I'm going to be needing an extra shot of caffeine or two to simply make it to the end of the day. Perhaps if I'd chosen wisely and got up and fed my soul instead, God would have just given me a natural energy boost to make it through the day productively.

It's easy for me to give God the end of my day. I'm home alone during the week, so I tuck the kids into bed and then I usually take the rest of my day to relax. I catch up on blogging or watch something. I've been working on learning some new skills with a needle as well, and I use that time for that. But it's nothing for me to stay up an extra hour or so to catch up on what God wants to tell me. It's easy to do that. It's so much easier to give up that hour of sleep at the end of my day. It's not so easy to give up that hour at the beginning of the day. So the question is: is waking up an hour early twice in one week coincidence? I doubt it. But am I going to take that step? Am I going to listen to what the Holy Spirit is pushing me towards? That is a tough one for me- so tough! I so want my soul to fatten, but maybe the end of the day isn't where I'm getting the best feeding. Maybe it's that morning one I need to really give me what I need. *Sigh* This is going to be a tough one.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. " Jeremiah 29:11-13

What was that I wrote yesterday about just the right verse jumping out of the Bible at me? Lol. I am a take charge sort of person. I am not the first person to volunteer to take the charge, but if a task is presented to me or I am asked to do something, I'll run with it as far as I can take it. I also usually follow through on the task to the absolute best of my ability. So when something changes here at home, when we find ourselves moving in a different direction, I take that up almost immediately. I think about the last time we decided it was time to move. The day we made the decision, and before we'd even found a new home or gave our notice, I was already beginning to pack things up and make those all-important lists. Thanksgiving is coming up, and I'm already planning the meal in my head. I am a planner, and I love it when a plan comes together.

Except that my plans are not always the same as God's plans. When Andy first took his job working for a company out of another town 45 minutes away, I decided instantly that one of the things that meant was that we needed to move to that little community. So I started looking up things online about that community. Obviously, we never moved there. God's plans were for us to stay right where he'd planted us. Even this past week, we went and checked out a church 30 minutes away. Before we even went, I had it half in my mind to be sure and check out the community we were in, because it may be God's will that we move to that community. I'm just so quick to jump the gun sometimes! I think that part of me is just so willing to do whatever God asks that I look for the possibilities before they even present themselves.

I'm starting to think though, that I most likely have no idea what God has in store for us. And what I need to do more than anything is use that patience that we've been learning. I just have such a natural sense of urgency, that when something needs to be done, it needs to be done yesterday. (Well, unless we're talking about housework, then I seem to be able to let that slide from time to time.) But God knows what He has planned for us, and He'll share that with us when the time is right. I need to trust that His timing will be best, and I just need to spend more time seeking Him in the meantime, learning more each and every day how to trust.

And actually, this means a second thing to me too. For me, it's much more than learning to trust in God, it's also learning to trust my husband. It wasn't too long ago that he was the baby Christian and I was the more mature Christian, and many of the decisions we made were based on a lot of what I had learned from the Bible or from God. In the last few years though, my husband has grown 100-fold in his walk with God, and I need to trust that. I need to trust that when he says that he really feels God speaking to Him, that it is what it is. I need to remember that God has placed my husband at the head of this household and that God will guide him in the important decisions we need to make. That doesn't mean that I can't question him or discuss matters with him, but it does mean that I need to be more careful about discarding some of the things that he says.

Reading this verse today is so exciting. Just look at it again! "For I know the plans I have for you!" And that comes straight from God Himself. Even better, look at the next part "plans to prosper you and not to harm you." I'm going to hold God to that one, as well as the next part "plans to give you hope and a future." I'm looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for us, and for our children. But until it is time for the future to be the now, I will settle for being patient and seeking. Otherwise I will drive myself batty.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Confidence To Move Ahead

"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." Hebrews 10:35-36

I read this verse this morning and it was as if it blazed itself right into my heart. I just love it when I read a word from the Bible and it's as if it was written just for me, just at that moment. I have lots of thoughts rolling around my head this morning, so I'll try and keep them in line so they make sense. But this verse this morning was like a much needed shot in the arm. When we made the decision a few weeks ago to listen to what God had been telling us and make big changes in the life of our family, we took a big step of faith. And since then, we've kind of been in an awkward place of questioning everything. And I mean everything. Part of us is worried that we'll make the wrong choices and the wrong decisions, and we're worried that the devil will do everything in his power to lead us astray.

One of the things that we'd hoped would keep going with this time of transition was our small group time. We cherish the families who come to our group and really value our time together. But wouldn't you know, as soon as we shared our hearts, other opportunities began coming up for members of our group. Our group has given up it's Sunday afternoons and evenings religiously for...hmm... I think it's almost four years. And just like that, other opportunities have sprung up for different people in our group and it looks like now our cherished group time has come to a close for now. And at first, we were really worried about that. We were worried that what was really happening was the enemy coming against our group and doing what it can to break it up. But then we really looked at what was happening, and it's not like people in our group are just going to sit at home doing nothing. They're going to be using the time for God, to take a new direction that wasn't available for them before. And that's a great thing. Where we started out worried, we now have confidence that God will use that time for each and every one of our group members to benefit them. We also have confidence that our time will be filled as well with something new and exciting- and we're looking forward to seeing what that is!

I guess at times I almost find myself just looking around a little wild-eyed and thinking to myself, what is really going on here? You know, I look at everything cross-eyed, waiting for something bad to happen because of the choices we've made. This past Sunday we went to a church that we really had high hopes for, and while we all enjoyed our time with the church we didn't have that moment of "this is the one" and I think we were all a bit disappointed with that. That means our quest continues, and if you've ever flipped open the yellow pages and looked at the church listings, you could see how our task might seem daunting.

But I have confidence. I have confidence that we are following God's timing. That when it's time for us to walk into our new church home, that they will be ready for us. I have confidence that we are in a season of growth and that one of the things we are growing is patience. And we will persevere! We will continue seeking His Word and spending time in prayer, and we will continue to seek out the church family that God has for us. We are still a part of the big church, and that in itself is a big boost to not be discouraged. We are all part of God's church, and that is a wonderful thought to dwell on. We are just looking for that little piece of believers where we can be put to good use for His Glory.

I have confidence in my God to us through to completion on this one. And in the meantime I will rest in Him and I will listen to what he has to say to me each and every day.

"My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him." Psalm 62:1

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What To Do While Waiting

"My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,

turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,

and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,

and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God." Proverbs 2:1-5

While we are in a time of waiting here, it could be so easy to do just that. To sit and wait. To go about daily life as normal, just patiently waiting for the day that God would say to us to go, and then show us where to go. I know we do that with our regular every day stuff. We look at the calendar and say there's less than 100 days to Christmas, and while we know that in our minds, and we also know that we like to give people gifts, yet we tend to not go out and buy our gifts until the last minute. We do that with the summer even. We enjoy the lazy days of summer and then all the sudden there's only a few weeks left, and there's a huge list of things to do that we never got around to. We're so content to just wait for the next thing to come along. But this time, it's going to be different.

This time, while we are waiting to see where God wants us, we are going to do our own work to get to that point. Rather than wait for God to come to us we are going to spend some time going to him. We're spending a little more time in His Word, praying that His words will hold meaning in our lives. We're spending a little more time in prayer, not so much praying for ourselves, but for the many people that the Holy Spirit has placed on our minds to pray for. We're going to make the choice to not spend our Sunday afternoons watching football and instead focus on our children and spending time with them. Basically, we're taking action while we're waiting, instead of simply waiting. And everything that we are doing, everything that we are making our focus, will help us as we turn the next page. Spending time in God's Word could never be a bad thing, and the more time we spend in it, the more God may reveal to us. We want to store up his commands in our hearts so that we can reflect that to those around us.

And maybe by being proactive about this, other areas of life will naturally fall in. I can't tell you how many times I'll look at a clock and think to myself that I only have so many minutes left before I have to do this or that, so then instead of doing something productive, I'll sit at the computer for those 10 or 15 minutes. Do you know how much other things I could get done in 10 minutes? I can clean my living room top to bottom in 10 minutes. Do I do it? Of course not, that would be productive. I would like to be more mindful of those little nuggets of time that I am wasting away. And the first step, at least for me, is to give some of those nuggets of time to God and ask Him to help me use them wisely.

Anyway, it's a good thing to do as long as we're waiting anyways, right? And if I can just take that mindset and make it mine, I think I'll be in better shape because of it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sharing The Excitement

"For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." Acts 4:20

Joy and excitement are contagious! Did you ever notice that? Last night we got to spend some time with some friends that we haven't spent a whole lot of time with lately- life happens and people get busy, and that's okay. What was extra special about spending time with these friends was that they shared with us that they are expecting a little one for the first time. Oh my! How exciting is that! And as they shared their news and some of the details, we very quickly were caught up in their excitement and spent a bit of time being excited with them. Happiness is so contagious!

Even yesterday, as we went to a new church for the first time, we were excited about simply checking it out, the message was great, the kids had a nice time in children's church, and when we left we felt like we were energized, we'd received something great from that church. On the way home we passed a large Lutheran church that was attached to a school, and Andy and I noted to each other that it looked new and nicely done. Fast forward a few hours and Abigail decided to ask me about that church attached to a school. She asked why they were attached, and so I told her a little about it. She got very excited- and her eyes lit up and she looked at me and asked "so they get to learn about God- even in school?" And when I said yes, she very excitedly said "Cool!" and went back to her watermelon. That really made me think for a minute. And I'm still thinking about it.

Over the last several weeks as we've made decisions and discussed plans, Andy and I have made no secrets with our kids, but I think we don't realize how much they just listen to the things we say and talk about. And we've also made no secret about being excited about discovering God's plan and place for us, and by golly if I don't think my kids are catching that excitement! They are eager to learn more, and they also know that we're looking to them to help us decide which church we are going to call home for the time being. It was pretty cute yesterday to discover that both kids have what they call "head lists" putting churches in order of their favorite to least-favorite.

The thing is, when God is such a focus and a feature of our life, we can't help but talk about it-whether we're talking to a neighbor or our children. And as we talk about the things that God has been working with us on or that we're anticipating, we get excited, and people want to know more. Our kids want to know more about God, our friends want to know more about how we place our faith in God, and our neighbors want to know more about this God. God is so exciting to us, that this verse in Acts speaks right to the core of how we are feeling, that we cannot help but talk about what we are experiencing. God is so gracious and amazing and even though I know right now that we are in a time of learning patience, I can be excited about that patience, because that means that we are learning something important that we'll need in the next stage of life for us. It's exciting! And I pray with all my heart that the excitement is contagious and that we get even more opportunities to share what God is doing in our lives. Because that's what it's all about ultimately, doing what we can to help bring more believers to Christ. Now that's a plan that I can get behind!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

To Be Child-Like

"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." Mark 9:37

"When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Mark 10:14

Children are truly the most precious gifts from God. Jesus made a name for himself in the New Testament by always seeking out the children, by allowing them to spend time with him. One of the things that I love about my children, and other children is their sense of wonder. Once upon a time I was a manager for an educational toy store, and it was always a treat to watch kids walk into the store for the first time. It was a good-sized store, and all toys and games, and every possible thing a child could play with. As they made their way through the store, you could just see the excitement and the joy as they touched and played and explored everything there was to explore. Even better though, were the adults who set aside their adult-ness for a time and got down on the floor and played with their kids. That Dad who threw dignity aside and plopped right in the middle of the carpet and drove cars and trucks with his son. Or that Mom who ran to the back of the store to meet Angelina Ballerina and give her a hug. Shoot, that was one of the benefits of working at the toy store- we had permission to play with anything at anytime. We all had yo-yo's in our pockets, and during down times we could frequently be caught working on a few tricks.

The Disney corporation makes a big promotional campaign about how adults at their theme parks become like children again for a time while they are there. And how true that is! When we were at Disney, we so enjoyed the time meeting princesses and riding rides and exploring Mickey Mouse's house. It was a wonderland, designed for the whole family to enjoy. We talk often about going back soon to explore again with our growing children.

But how much more is Heaven going to be. :-) It's going to be so much more wonderful than even Walt Disney could have imagined. And when we are in Heaven we will all be as children.

So maybe we need to take a little more time to spend with children. Their excitement and wonder is contagious, and it's also interesting to note that in my son's mind, God can and will do anything and everything. Yet as adults, we lose that. We lose that faith that God can and will do anything and everything. We worry about asking praying with the right words, or worry about asking in just the right way. I think it's about time we started thinking more like a child. Go to our Heavenly Father with that sense of wonder, that sense of joy, and ask our petitions, knowing full well that he will grant us that which makes our hearts happy.

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:9-11

Friday, September 19, 2008

Guarding The Tongue

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Ephesians 4:29

This is one of those things that I think every single person could benefit from. Guarding against unwholesome talk is way harder than one would think- because think about how many times we may say something that is not a benefit to others or the situation. I noticed this yesterday even as the kids watched cartoons, and I heard one character call another stupid. Even something as simple as saying stupid can hurt someone dearly. In fact, stupid is a naughty word in our house for the kids, and they are quick to call Mommy on it- even if I'm talking about something completely random. We also don't say shut up to anyone, and of course, the plethora of cuss words- many of which I can be an ignorant mom and hope that my kids haven't heard some of them yet.

But unwholesome talk goes much farther and much deeper than a few cuss words or calling someone an idiot. Of course, there is gossip, which never is wholesome by nature, but is so hard to fight against because we have a seriously curious way about us that just naturally makes us want to know more! It's just wrong to share news or intimate details about other people. A good way to know whether or not something is gossip is to think about whether or not you would say that about that person if they were right there with you. Sometimes I think we toe the line when it comes to gossiping by covering it up with a "we should pray for..." You can be far more general in your conversation without giving away details that would be embarrassing to the other person.

I'm also thinking about unwholesome talk and simply sharing ideas. When I think back to those school days and brainstorming sessions... I think we were on to something. Remember those? You'd get in a group and come up with ideas to solve a problem- the catch was that everyone could share their ideas, and there was no such thing as a bad idea. Then together, you'd come up with the best idea and present that as a solution. It was a great team-building exercise, and also a problem-solving exercise. I think we can easily apply that here as well. When you're discussing a problem with someone- even your spouse (maybe especially your spouse) it's important to not belittle their ideas or thoughts. There really is no such thing as a bad idea, but there my be better ones out there. We can work harder on responding in these cases with kind words instead of harsh ones.

And I think that unwholesome talk can also apply to those words you mumble under your breath- and I know we all do that. We grumble about that driver who cuts us off, or say something unbecoming to that guy who lets his dog poo in your yard. It may not be loud enough for that person to hear, but the mere fact that you've said it is enough. I guess when I think of that, when I think of all the times I may say something to myself about another driver or person in that manner, that there is work to be done. Because if those words, and those unkind thoughts are coming out of my lips, they're obviously coming from somewhere. And if that's what I've got on the inside... well, I don't want that.

So let's be a little more on guard. Let's speak as though our children are listening at all times to call us out on our naughty words. Let's speak uplifting and positive thoughts to each other- and not the unkind ones that only cause hurt. And let's be mindful of what we let leave our lips- it's a reflection of what's on the inside, and even if only we can hear it, we need to work on eliminating those words altogether. We'll be much better because of it, and it will be yet another way to show God's love to others by speaking only words of love and care.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Away With Pride

"But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble" James 4:6

"Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice." Proverbs 13:10

I've come to discover that there are different kinds of pride. Some are kinds of pride that we should delight in. Some are kinds of pride that we should do away with. The good pride is that of a parent. When I see my child accomplish something new or tackle a difficult task, or reach a major goal in their life, I become very proud. I am proud of their efforts, of the work they've put in to accomplishing such a goal. That is a great pride to have, pride in one's children shows the children that their activities and accomplishments are worth something. And as long as we keep that pride in check and not use it as a way to belittle other parents or other children, it's okay to be proud in that manner.

The bad pride is the one that keeps God from getting closer. The pride that we have that says "I don't need any help" or "I can manage on my own." Because, the fact is, we will always need help, and we simply cannot manage on our own. We've learned this several times over, and I believe that we needed our pride to be broken. We needed to hit bottom so that we could learn to accept help and assistance and be grateful for that very thing. And I happen to have an excellent example of this.

Two years ago, we were very different people. We were struggling with Andy's time off, money was scarce, and the pantry supplies severely dwindled. We had several people ask us often if we needed anything- did we need some groceries? Did we need a few bucks for gas? And we always turned people down. Surely we could come up with what we needed on our own, and usually we managed somehow. But last year, we found something different going on. People stopped asking us if we needed help. Instead, they took it upon themselves to just help. Every once in a while a roast or fillet of fish would end up in our freezer because someone "bought too many on sale". We had one friend in particular who would just show up at our door randomly with a bag of groceries or a gallon or two of milk. I recall one day looking at our gallon of milk, and looking at the calendar and praying that the milk would hold out for two more breakfasts for the kids. Wouldn't you know it, a few hours later, the doorbell rang and there was not one, but two gallons of milk.

As time went on, we began to let down our pride. When people asked us if we wanted something or needed something, we began saying yes. We began letting people help us out, and we were blessed more times than I can count because of it. One day I just about cried as I went through Abigail's closet and realized that she had very little as far as sweaters and warm clothes for winter. Just a day or two later, a friend e-mailed, asking if we needed sweaters, because they had too many. God was so looking out for us, and He was using those around us to meet our needs.

Now let me tell you something about what this has taught us. People want to give. They want to help, and sometimes they are prompted by God to do just that. I know that Andy and I take great joy in helping out someone who needs us, and when we allow other people to do the same to us, we know that they experience that same joy. When we walk into a strange church for the first time, and we are greeted with smiles and genuine excitement that we are there that morning, it makes me want to thank that church by giving in the offering. I love walking into a church and seeing the love of God in someones eyes, that genuine love that says that they are so happy to see us, even if we never come back to that church again. It makes me want to bless that church and what they are doing with a little something in the offering basket. And I know that when I do give in that way, when I want to bless the church, that God uses that blessing to bless the church. So think about what it feels like to walk into a church, feel welcomed, and greeted, and then be told that when offering time comes around, I shouldn't give because I'm visiting that day. Right at that moment, I feel robbed. I feel like I have been told that this church does not want what I can give, and consequently, does not want my blessing, or to be blessed by God. It tells me that there is pride where there shouldn't be, and chances are good that we will not be returning to that church.

It's the exact same way with people and friends. If one of your closest friends offers their help time and time again, and you constantly turn them down, eventually, they are going to stop asking. They are going to feel like they aren't wanted, or that their help isn't good enough for you. They are going to feel robbed- and they should be, because your pride has robbed them of their opportunity to bless someone with what God has given them. It's been a long, hard journey for us to learn this. It is so, so hard to admit when you need help, and it's hard to let someone else provide for your needs that you want to provide yourself. Yet, it's a necessary thing to learn, because the giving and the recieving are important acts of love. It's just like Christmas time. My family exchanges gifts, but we don't exchange gifts just to get the stuff. We exchange names and put thought and time into the gifts we give. And when we give the gifts, we are rewarded with the joy someone has because they have recieved something wonderful- and that you can't put a price tag on.

Pride is a tough thing to let go of, but the results of doing so are really, truly worth it.

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." Proverbs 11:2

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." Psalm 34:8

"Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God," Psalm 146:5

I experienced a full blessing from God the other day and I wanted to share it. Late on Monday afternoon, we decided to head towards Appleton to take care of some paperwork for Abigail's dance school. As we were headed out of town, I noticed the van was pulling pretty hard to the left, as though a wind were blowing us from the side. I wondered to myself how it was that Andy drove the van all over the Twin Cities with this tug going on, when something started feeling really wrong. I pulled over, and decided to turn around. Well, turning around ended up not being a possibility, as I had a flat tire. And of course, I am the last person on earth rolling around without a cell-phone. I had a flat tire once in my life and did learn how to change to a spare because of it, but I couldn't find a spare.

So the kids and I started walking. We walked up the road a little to find someone who was home, so we could borrow the phone and call our mechanic. The kids thought it was an adventure! They were exploring the countryside, pointing our bugs, and we ended up at a farm with animals all over, so the kids got to explore chickens and geese and roosters. I used the phone, the mechanic came and changed the tire, and then we followed him back to the shop so he could replace it. 24 hours later I have a van with four brand new tires, as the ones we had on were old and rotten. And while the whole thing could have been stressful and annoying and really weighing on me, it really wasn't. That was such a blessing!

Because the whole time I was dealing with the van, I was thinking about the awesome timing. We knew we needed new tires, and had planned on getting new ones installed this fall. But thank God a tire didn't burst while we were away for the weekend! Thank God it didn't decide to burst while on the interstate going 72 miles an hour! And thank God we weren't in the middle of nowhere, miles away from help, and subject to the whims and expensive of a crazy mechanic who doesn't know us and could charge whatever he wanted for a new tire. It was also a blessing to have the tire go flat on a trip that really didn't need to be made, or at a bad time. Just imagine if I had been rushing home from town in time to get Zander from preschool. Or if we were on our way to Abigail's dance class. Even though the flat tire was a nuisance, thank God it happened precisely when and where it did! Our mechanic dropped everything to come help us out on the highway, and he went above and beyond when putting on the new tires as well. The whole experience could have been awful, but instead, I've just been kind of praising God because of it.

Now we have all new tires on the van, ready to roll in the winter months ahead. Thank God they didn't decide to give out in the winter! When walking the kids to school or walking to the store would have been uncomfortable and freezing cold. Instead, the kids and I did a bit of walking for two days, but we got to enjoy warm temperatures, with the added bonus of the scents of fall in the air. As we walked to and from school, leaves were falling, and it just was perfect weather for walking around.

The whole time, from the moment I pulled over to the side of the road, to the moment last night when I picked up the van and we drove to dance class, I just felt so blessed and loved. I really felt the peace of God, and felt that He was with us and watching out for us, and that His angelic mechanics held that tire on while we were away this past weekend. I feel very lucky and very blessed, and this morning I am just so thankful for His provision and His timing. Taste and see, for the Lord IS GOOD!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Let Your Actions Speak For You

"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom." James 3:13

When I read this verse just now, I could literally see an accent on the word 'show'. How often do we, in the course of conversation, find ourselves talking about things we've done. Or maybe things we're going to do, or even things we want to do. And I'm not talking about the day-to-day stuff, but I'm talking about the deeds and good things we've done. Like telling someone about the big check you wrote out for that missionary. Or dropping off a grocery card at someone's house, or filling someone's tank with gas. Perhaps you spent some time volunteering and you tell everyone you come in contact with about how wonderful and rewarding it was. Why is it that we do talk about all these things? Sometimes I think we share these things maybe to inspire others. You know, when people in the same situation see us responding in such a way, maybe it would help them to think in that way. But mostly, I think we share these things, these good deeds we've done to get ourselves a little praise.

But this verse today tells us that the wise and understanding person will show by the way they live the good they have done or are doing. Maybe instead of just randomly taking someone groceries, I could call a few friends and organize a full-scale effort to stock an empty pantry. When I write out that check, whether it's big or small, I need to do so quietly and privately.

And eventually, your daily everyday actions will reflect that wisdom and understanding. When we begin to do things simply to do them instead of seeking that recognition, our hearts begin to change and soften. When we're looking for that recognition, that says that there is a bit of selfish motivation behind the action. But when you're really and truly doing something because your heart tells you its the right thing to do, the rewards are so wonderful. For you are blessing someone else with the love of God that is oozing out of your soul. When you reach out a hand to that neighbor, without even thinking about yourself, they see that. They can see Jesus' love in your eyes, and they want to know more, they want to know why you are helping them, and they want to know what it is that you've got that they don't. Our actions truly do speak louder than words.

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." James 3:17

We can strive for that pureness. We can strive to be full of God's love and we can work on our motivation for doing the good works that we do. Change is not going to happen overnight, but little by little we can fight back against that selfish and vain ambition and really open our eyes and look around us. Once we start to see all the need and the hurt around us, we'll feel that change begin. When we can look through the eyes of compassion, then we can let our actions do all the speaking for us.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Losing The Need To Complain

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe" Philippians 2:14-15

It seems like there is always something to complain about. Isn't there? You could be having the best day ever, and something will jump out that needs to be complained about. The thing is, we get into a mindset that we need to complain. Critics are highly regarded these days, whether they be movie critics, food critics, vacation critics, sports critics, etc. There is always a designated "expert" who has permission to complain and point out faults- they are focused on picking out the bad. I know I can go out to dinner with my family, and later on remember that one thing that bothered me, and that will keep me from going back there again for a long time. It's because we've been programmed to look for the bad, instead of focusing on looking at the good.

This is something that I think most of us really need to work on, because our children see when this behavior, and are only too easy to play along. This past weekend was an excellent example for us. We spent Saturday at a Renaissance Festival having a great time. The weather cooperated for the most part, and we all got to see and do things we wanted to see or do, the kids found the treasures they had been looking for, and the adults got to see a few things they wanted to see. At the end of the day though, we all decided we'd had enough and had a great time, but Abigail got sad because she didn't get to see the fairy that she'd been looking for. She'd had a fantastic time, but as we headed for the front gate, that one negative really weighed on her. And of course, she learned that behavior from us, from her parents, because sometimes we do the same thing. Someone asks about a vacation or a place we've been, and why is it we can always say something about how great a place was except for one or two little things.

So we need to work on that. Especially while, as a family, we are looking a time of transition while we look for the church God wants us at. There isn't going to be that one specific place that's perfect. Perfection is what we'll get someday when we all get to Heaven. There isn't going to be one specific congregation out there that completely meets our needs and wants, and will be without problems completely, and we need to be careful to not focus on the bad. We could have a wonderful church experience, but if we dwell on the one negative or the one fault, we could completely miss the body of believers that God would have us belong to. So we're making the choice to not focus on the negative. Instead, we are going to focus on the positive. You know those lists people make of pros and cons? There won't be any cons for us. We're going to focus on the pros and the positives, and we're going to will that outlook and attitude to carry over to other aspects of our life. We want to follow the directions as given here in Philippians, to not complain or argue.

By not complaining and consistently pointing out the bad, we are showing that we are different to those around us, and that's our goal. We want to show those around us that life is different and better with Jesus, and if the first step in that direction is to get rid of complaining, that's certainly a worthwhile step to take.

Friday, September 12, 2008


"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4

Rejoice in the Lord- always. I love the use of the word always. With each and every day that we have and live, we should rejoice in the Lord. Some days I don't do that so much, but I've been trying to do better. Yesterday it rained here. It hasn't really rained in over a month, and while I doubt we even got an inch of rain, what we did have was so wonderful! It down poured for a while and the street was full of water, and I could just see the grass and the plants soaking up every drop they could. It was a reason to rejoice! Yet in the past month, as I've watched the grass brown up and die, and the plants shrivel up and need to be pulled out, it's been harder to find a reason to rejoice.

But then something will come to me. I will see a wasp or two and shoo them out of the house and I will be reminded that if we had a normal rainfall, the wasps would indeed be plentiful instead of just the few there are. The mosquitoes have all but vanished this year with such little rain. And even though the garden is struggling with so little water, it's still such a pleasure to spend time tending the plants and wondering at the marvels that God created.

Every day, every experience is a reason to rejoice! The fact that we get to experience these things at all is a reason to rejoice- life is worth rejoicing. Yet death is worth rejoicing as well, because while it means and end of life here as we know it, it means a beginning of an eternity of service in Heaven!

I have a fish tank- a pretty big one. Our first fish tank experience was a Christmas gift for our daughter. She loves her fish tank, but I'm the one who mostly takes care of it, and it didn't take long before I found myself wanting a bigger tank for myself. I love my fish. I love just sitting and watching the community of fish- seeing them interact and breed and eat and eventually, some of them die. As I've watched these fish, I've often wondered why on earth God would create this type of fish. They're certainly not big enough for eating or anything- what purpose would they serve? Who really knows, but I do know this, as I watch the marvel of life being played out behind those glass walls, I have another reason to rejoice. I really enjoy my fish, but as they die or get hurt or who-knows-what, I simply pull them out and flush them, and don't give them another thought.

WE have so much more and so much better with God. He doesn't just watch us flounder around here on earth. He gives us the tools we need to have a successful journey. He gives us the right companions at the right times, and while occasionally He will through an obstacle in our way, He always ensures that we have the means to overcome the obstacles. I can rejoice in knowing that my God loves me so much, and that right there is reason enough to rejoice.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Help Is Big Help!

"I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1,2

This verse will always be in my head in song form. And then after I'm done thinking of the song that I heard a lot growing up, I picture a nun, and stained glass windows and the movie The Sound of Music. Now there was a real-life situation where a family relied on God for His help. That movie was eerily accurate to how life truly was for the Von Trapp family, except that what the movie failed to convey was the family's devotion to God. They spent prayer time together as a family, and whenever a situation arose, the family frequently turned to their knees and their Lord for guidance. Eventually when they made their way to the United States, they toured with their music, and most of their music was deeply spiritual, and it meant something to them, they weren't just singing the words, they were living and breathing it.

Most of us will never face a situation as dire as Nazi occupation. Thank God for that. Thank God mightily for that, that we live in a nation where the idea of conflict on our soil is hard to fathom. Yet today is a day to remember when someone did try to attack our nation, and succeeded on some levels. During the days after the terrorist attacks, it was a major time of reflection for everyone. I remember that at that time, we weren't attending a church, and I had such an inner desire and need to simply go to church and spend time with God. And it wasn't too long after that when we did decide that it was time to take our young daughter to church each week. But even during that point in my life when God wasn't much of a presence in my mind, I wanted to turn to God first in a moment of crisis. After all, who else would I turn to?

And while today is a time of reflection and a reason to give thanks, it's also a reason to rejoice! For look at this verse! When trouble comes our way and we need help, where do we get that help? Why, our help comes from the Lord, who is mighty indeed. He is so mighty, He is the one who made the heavens and the earth. Our help just can't get much better than that! The being who created everything is the one we turn to in times of need, and he will most certainly come through for us. If he could conceive of and create the world around us, he can definitely help us through our troubles. And then we can share the solution of our troubles with those around us. When people ask "how every did you make it through?" We can smile and share the joy that we know as our Heavenly Father. We can share the love He has for us, and for those around us. The idea of being able to share His love and His help is almost enough to make me want trouble, just so that we can have more opportunities to show others what God wants to do for them too. So while we can be grateful for His Help in times of trouble, we can also be thankful for the times of trouble, because they are times of opportunity- not only can we draw closer to Him while mounting our struggles, but we'll have an incredible testimony to share later on. God loves us and wants to help us, but it is our job when all is said and done to give God the credit for the victory.

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Psalm 46:1

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What He Wants

"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." Isaiah 46:4

Yesterday as I was driving around running some errands, I had a rare opportunity to listen to the local Christian radio station. The song "Praise You In This Storm" by Casting Crowns came on, and as I listened to the song an overwhelming thought came to me.

"And I'll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am
and every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm"

No matter where we are, no matter what we are going through, and no matter how terrible and awful life may be for us, God wants us to praise Him. Even when we are going through the absolute darkest days of our life, God wants us to love Him unconditionally, and He wants us to praise Him. When we feel beaten and broken, God wants us to still raise our hands towards heaven and shower him with love and praise. So often when we are in a struggle, we are questioning God, asking Him why this had to happen, and we focus on ourselves and how awful we feel and how awful others around us may feel. But God wants us to take the focus off of ourselves and focus on Him. We need to stop questioning and simply praise Him and love Him, unconditionally. Because when we can do that, when we can turn our eyes to heaven in our darkest hour, we have truly given God our all, and that is what He wants.

God wants our every fiber of our being. He wants our love in every moment of every day, he wants to know that we will drop anything and everything for Him, should he ask it of us, and it's in those moments of desperation that we sometimes realize how much we truly need our God. We do need Him, and He will be with us until the end of time, He will sustain us, provide for us, and rescue us from the pit of despair. Don't you think He deserves our praise and love? Don't you think He deserves our complete adoration and submission? Job was a man who lost absolutely everything, and still professed his love for God. Job was at the bottom of the barrel with nothing else to lose except his own life, yet he still praised and adored his God. And what happened at the very end of the story of Job? God restored everything and then some. Job was blessed even more so than he was before, because he still praised God during his storm. God carried Job to the end of His days.

"The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first." Job 42:12

"After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so he died, old and full of years." Job 42:16,17

When we are suffering, when we are truly in a time of despair and grief, will we still praise our God? Will we still love our God- no matter what? God loves each and every one of us, and he wants that love in return. Can we give it to him? I know I certainly intend to try.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Storing Up Treasures

"And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

18"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

20"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

21"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Matthew 12:16-21

This is one of those lessons that we've been working on. In today's society and today's uncertain economy and world we often hear about the importance of saving for tomorrow. In our financial aspect we are told that we should have six months worth of incomes saved up and hiding away in a bank in case something happens with Andy's job. In our home life, we are told to have three months worth of provisions and food on hand, in case of disaster or a pandemic. And while I am all about being prepared, and we always have a well-stocked pantry, isn't that a little excessive? I mean, if you're working very hard to put things aside for a later time, who's top say that you're actually going to need what you've put away? And in the case of foodstuff, it does go bad or expire after a while, so then you're back to where you started and you have to go through the process all over again.

And in the meantime, while we're focusing on squirreling away, there's a family across town who is looking at empty pantry shelves and an empty bank account, and they wonder where their next meal is coming from. And then when there is a request to help restock the local food pantry or you hear of a family in need, you rationalize keeping most of what you have. You rationalize that this extra food on hand is important for your children's well-being should there be a power outage or a disaster or you get laid off. We keep children's clothes in tote after tote and bag after bag, just in case we might decide to have more children down the road. We keep unused electronics on hand, just in case the new one we purchases goes on the fritz.

Shame on us. We are so focused on ourselves and the "possible need" in the future, that we don't think to open our eyes and look around us and see all the need and the hurt. And yes, I mean even with the bank account. If we are truly focused on God and what he has for us, then we will know that he will provide. He will take care of us in every storm that comes along. So when we hear of that family who lost everything in a house fire, we can write out that big check and drain our savings. Isn't it worth it? The sense of security that we get from a stocked pantry, a full basement, and a padded bank account is false. It is false security. One day our dollar could be worthless, one day our basement full of stuff could flood, one day insects could completely devastate our pantry, but God will always be there. He is our sense of security, He is the need we should focus on.

Because we do need Him. We need Him more than anything. When our heart feels empty or heavy it's because we haven't been spending enough time in His presence. When I've spent time with God, whether it be in a church setting or here in the comfort of my home, when I'm away from God I miss Him. My heart almost feels sad because I'm not in an active state of worship. God is all I need, and when I focus on that, and focus on Him, He will take care of all that extra stuff. Because that's what it is- just stuff.

Monday, September 08, 2008

New Beginnings

"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." Psalm 143:10

New beginnings are tough. First of all, they're tough because a new beginning means the end of something else. When I was working, I always hated both endings and beginnings. I hated quitting a job to move on to something else, because I usually always enjoyed my jobs. I also really hated that first day of work someplace new. Being the new person... I soooo hated that, each and every time. In fact, as I recall, there was even one time where I was so nervous and sick to my stomach about a new job that I called them up and told them it wasn't going to work out, and I never went to work there.

And now here we are, at another new beginning. Yesterday was our last Sunday with our church family here in town. It was bittersweet for us, we're very excited to be moving on to what God has for us, and to see where He is going to take us. But at the same time, we have friendships and connections with the people in this church that simply aren't going to be the same now that we won't be seeing them every Sunday morning. It will be so exciting for the church though... Andy and I have left a few holes in service that will need to be filled, and it will be so wonderful to see the people who may have wanted to do such things step up and fill in where needed, and that will be fantastic for the church body as a whole.

So what does that mean for us? I sure wish I knew! What we do know is that God told us it is time to move on, and yesterday it became clear to Andy and I what our goal for the future is, but in the meantime... we have some things to learn and we need to find a church to belong to for that purpose. It will be exciting to check out some churches that we've always talked about checking out, but never had the opportunity to do so. We also know that we are going to be stretched, and we keep mentioning- when people ask- that we're going to be going out of our comfort zone to see what God has for us. Yesterday it occurred to me though that I'd rather just expand my comfort zone, that idea is more palatable in my mind. We honestly don't know exactly what God wants us to do, but we've had glimmers of ideas. We have a host of talents that we can take to a body of believers, but we also need to explore some new skill sets to equip us for future service. Prayer and music are two areas that God keeps putting in my mind, and I pray that he gives me the courage and the talent to do what I may be asked to do.

The verse above today is our prayer as we move ahead. We've taken the right first step, and while we can be optimistic about finding the right church at the first one we go to, we also realize that the process of finding a church could take longer than we'd like. As we are in a time of "wandering" though, we look to God to teach us what we need to be taught, and we look to the Holy Spirit to keep us on the right path and to keep us from straying from the path that God has planned for us.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Warm Fuzzies

"Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." John 14:23

This verse gave me a nice warm feeling this morning. Read it a few times and let it really sink in what it's saying to you. It's telling me that life is actually quite simple. The first thing that Jesus says is that if anyone loves him, they will obey his teaching. What has Jesus taught us? Well, he's taught us so much through his parables and his life, but specifically, there is this:

"On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." Luke 10:25-28

Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. It's all about love. If we profess to love Jesus, then we need to follow these rules- the greatest commandments given. It is true when you hear songs that say "all you need is love" or "love makes the world go 'round" or "love lift us up". Love is the key. And please note, this is not romantic love at all, this is the love that causes us to hold a door for someone, or check up on a neighbor. This is the love that drags us out of bed early on a Saturday morning to help a friend put siding on their house. And we need to look at the unlovable in our life and ask God to help us love even them. We need to ask God to love them for us, and to help us to show that love that he has for all man-kind.

The warm fuzzies I was talking about though come from the next part of the verse above. If we follow the commandments that Jesus shared with us, God will love us and God and Jesus will come to us and make their home with us. Our home will be their home. Man! Just think about that. Think about waking up every morning in the presence of God, or going to bed at night, knowing that you are going to get a great night of sleep, and that God will speak to you in your dreams. Think about having someone just walk into your home and feel a sense of peace that only comes from God. That is what we want more than anything. We want our home to be a haven for people- whether it be young people or grown adults, and whether it be an apartment or a grand estate. All of that comes full circle right back to the beginning of the verse, with love. If we love, unconditionally, eventually we will see more opportunities to share that love.

And I love that thought. I want to share these warm fuzzies with everyone I come in contact with. God is love, and to be a vessel of that love... well, what could be better than that?

Friday, September 05, 2008

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

"Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD;
keep watch over the door of my lips." Psalm 141:3

We've all heard that saying before, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." (Or something along those lines.) The thing is, it's absolutely true. I have been thinking for some time on this verse and other similar ones, because they really are true, and I have been trying to watch what I say. For the most part. The thing is, this isn't just talking about the words we say directly to another person. At least for me, it's easy to not say something hurtful directly to a person, it's just not part of my nature to be a mean person. But it's the words I may say about another person that I need to be watchful about.

Sometimes that can be easy too. At least it's easier now. A while back our small group decided to put a moratorium on gossip. We found ourselves doing quite a bit of it, and as a result, our time together didn't feel right all the time. I'll tell you though, as soon as we all decided as a group that our time together was going to refrain from gossiping, our time got sweeter. First of all, because we weren't spending more time talking about other people, we got closer to each other by sharing our hearts, and secondly, we drew closer to God, because we were doing what he wanted and we were focusing on Him and on the companionship we'd found with our group. In a group setting, it's easier to declare gossip off-limits because we have each other to be accountable to. When the conversation starts to turn a little gossipy, we have no qualms about calling each other out on it. It's when we're not in a group that I struggle with the gossip and saying negative things about other people.

Particularly when Andy and I are talking. Let me say that it's perfectly natural to have disagreements about other people, and it's also perfectly normal and fine to share those frustrations and complaints with your spouse. Andy love that at the end of the day, we have each other to share our day with. But sometimes our conversation will take a shift and we'll both find ourselves focusing on one particular person or situation and we'll be going on and on about the negative and about why we think that person or group is wrong. And we feed off of each other. That's the thing, and the big problem for us. I'll mention a complaint about someone or something, and then he'll add to it by telling me this, that, or the other thing. And then we'll continue in that fashion, and before you know it, we're full our bashing someone or something, and that really hadn't been our intent in the first place. And then sometimes we'll get so caught up in that that we aren't focusing on anything else. Prayer time goes out the window because we're so bothered and stewed up about this other situation. And let me assure you of one important thing here. The enemy sees this.

And he'll use this in any way that he can. There is nothing he wants more than to see a child of God hurt another and cause problems. And the enemy sees our frustrations with individuals and situations and he'll do everything in his power to stick that knife in deeper. That is why we need to be so careful with what we say- and even what we think. When we dwell on those negatives and lump a whole bunch of negatives together to cause a real problem (at least in our eyes) the enemy will use that to his advantage.

Instead, we need to be mindful of what we are saying and thinking. Instead of feeding off of each other as Andy and I do, maybe we need to stop our "vent sessions" altogether. We are being taught today that the occasional venting is okay, and I've certainly been known to let off steam at one time or another, but that venting will always come back to hurt someone. Instead of going on and on about a situation or a person, we need to stop and pray. We need to commit that person or thing to our prayer time, and pray for God to bless them instead of wishing them ill.

And so today I am committing the verse above right into the inner core of my being. May the Holy Spirit bring those words to mind if I even think about saying something I shouldn't. May he guard my mouth- and my mind.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sound Teaching

"What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us." 2 Timothy 1:13-14

Yesterday I posted about how God is our teacher, and that we need to go to Him to learn His Will for our lives. Today, I read this verse and it kind of went a little deeper for me, and told me a little of what to expect from The Good Teacher.

Have you ever tried to teach a child something that was so totally frustrating? I have. My daughter has had a bicycle for five years now, and she still doesn't know how to ride it. Part of the blame there is that we don't have space to ride bikes in our yard. We don't have a sidewalk to ride up and down, so in order for her to ride a bicycle, we need to make an effort to do so. She just hasn't been getting it with the training wheels, and this summer we decided to take the training wheels off and see if she could just master the thing straight up. As I would hold onto her bike for her while she so slowly pedaled away, I would easily become frustrated. Very frustrated. Almost angry, because I know how to ride a bike. I know that if she just held her head up high and pedaled faster she'd get it. Before long, she gets mad at me because I'm getting frustrated and short with what I'm trying to tell her, and the bike goes back in the garage.

Andy, on the other hand, can teach our daughter things because when he puts on that teacher hat he instantly fills with patience and love for his daughter. He uses gentle words of encouragement, but stern reprimands when he needs to. He's also much more straightforward with what he is telling her, without providing commentary or telling what he used to do. He gives her straight up instructions, laced with encouragement. Even Abigail sees the difference, and after the last debacle with the bike, she told me that she would learn how to ride a bike only with her Daddy. Lol.

We should be the exact same way with our Bible.

How many times do we read a verse and then try and interpret it ourselves? I certainly know I have done it- and I have the archives to prove it! Or we take a verse completely out of context so that we can apply it to whatever situation we are in. Sometimes too, we water down what we read. We can read right in the Bible "do not commit adultery" but we water it down and say well, obviously, I shouldn't cheat on my spouse physically, but it would be okay if I just connected emotionally with someone of the opposite sex. It's just really easy, when you're reading your Bible, to put your own spin on things. We could each write a different translation and tailor it to what we want to read, but then it wouldn't be the Word of God now would it? It would be the word of Erika or the word of Mary, and that's not something that sound even worth reading!

Instead, we need to look at the teachings in the Bible as an example. When Jesus spoke to the disciples and the crowds and gave his sermons, every single one was full of love and faith. They were true and honest, often times convicting to the people who were listening. But behind that conviction, the compassion in Jesus came out with the conviction. Jesus shared God's Word with those around Him because He loved them. He loves us, and he wants us to make the right choices. Sure, there are times where we read something in the Bible and then feel utterly convicted right there on the spot. Any time I read a verse about being lazy or slothful I want to crawl under my desk and hide. But I need to read those verses, I need to be told them. How can I change my ways if I don't know that I'm doing wrong in the first place? When we rationalize sin to those around us, we're confusing them, telling them that they really don't need Jesus in their lives each and every day. When we fall short and then we pat ourselves on the back and say "that's okay, that's why God gave us mercy" we aren't doing anyone any favors. God did not give us mercy so that we could feel better about ourselves. He gave us mercy because we are undeserving in the first place. And when we stumble and fall, we should feel bad about what we did- we should feel convicted for our wrongdoing, because unless we do, we aren't going to be willing to change.

My desire, for each and every day, is to follow the sound teaching straight up in the Word of God. Every word. When I don't, when I have a day where I maybe did something I shouldn't have, then I need to fall to my knees in humility in front of my God and beg for His forgiveness, and seek the Holy Spirit and ask Him to help me to resist the next time. My heart has been filled with the love of Jesus, and I need the Holy Spirit's help to keep that love pure and untainted, because all it takes is once for the enemy to try and squeeze in and find a way to crack into my heart. I need to be on guard, and I need the Holy Spirit to help me with that task, because you know that it's the Holy Spirit who's sitting there on your shoulder telling you not to do something. And I need the Holy Spirit to keep me from watering down what I read in the Bible and to read it just as it is- as a Bible full of wisdom meant just for me. Each and every word applies to me and my life, and I need to cling to that.