Friday, October 31, 2008

What's With The Rules?

"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." Colossians 2:20-23

So why do we make rules? Well, as parents, we often make rules to protect our children. We have had a rule that we don't play near the road. That's an obvious rule, it makes the chance of being hit by a vehicle less. But as my children get older, and more aware, no doubt that rule will fade away. Right now we have a house rule that Zander is not allowed to use scissors unsupervised. After cutting hair and other things he shouldn't, this became a necessary rule to have, and the scissors need to be asked for right now. As he gets older though, and understands more, this rule will fade away, and he'll have free access to the scissors. I'm not going to tell a teenage boy that he can't have a pair of scissors because he cut hair when he was four- that doesn't make any sense!

In the same way, many of the rules that we hear within the context of the church, or even in the Bible can apply. Let's take pork for a great example. In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites that pigs were unclean and unfit for eating. Why was this? Pork is fantastically delicious! This is very easy to understand, as pork does not last long out of refrigeration. There was no knowledge of keeping meat cold to prevent disease and bacteria, and I imagine that most meat, when butchered, was consumed over the course of several days, and then the remainder dried into leathers and jerky types of meats. Beef and lamb and mutton do that quite well. Not so much pork. Leave pork unrefrigerated for even a short amount of time, and it's very susceptible to listeria and other infections diseases. God was keeping his children healthy by forbidding pork. Now we have the means to refrigerate, cure, and properly prepare pork, so do we still follow the rule of no pork? No, we don't. (Yes, I know, there are cultures who still observe this), but this is not my point.

The point is that rules are in place for a time, for a season, to prevent hurt, disaster, or destruction. Many of the rules in the Bible are timeless, but many of the Old Testament rules fell away when Jesus died for us and created a new world. I grew up in a church that had rules- things that were supposed to be forbidden of its members. Many of these make perfect sense, I like to always think of the rule of no card playing as an example. No card playing? Really? This rule, no doubt, was formulated during a time when card playing equaled gambling. People lost money, many times money that they couldn't afford to lose. This particular rule always intrigued me, because I always equated card playing and game playing with good times and parties and family. And in fact, now, it's rare to go to a party or get-together and not see some form of card playing going on. It's not the tool of the devil- in fact, I've seen it as quite the opposite, as I've seen the act of card-playing as a great tool of fellowship. People who know nothing about each other can sit down to a game of cards and strike up conversation- it brings people together. There may have been a season where card-playing was detrimental, but now I see it as quite the opposite.

One of the things that Andy and I discussed a lot when we were talking about looking for a new church were the "rules" the church stood by. We didn't want any. And here's why. When you're so focused on the rules, on following the rules yourself, you're bound to mess up. If there is a no dancing rule, and you go to a wedding reception, what happens? You start by declining to dance, but before you know it, a little niece or nephew takes your hand and asks you to please dance with them. What do you do? You dance of course, but then later, on Sunday at church, you are distracted from your worship because you broke the rules. You danced when you shouldn't have- and shame on you! Instead, our focus should be on God and worshipping Him- and we can't because we're distracted. And then, there's also the subject of those around us. What about that little lady in the back row who was also at the wedding and saw you dance? Or what about that couple you've been witnessing to- now he's all sorts of confused.

The rules, and the regulations simply serve as a distraction. It's time to just focus. It's time to look to God for the answers, instead of opening up our Bible and interpreting for ourselves what others should do. If you open up your Bible, and see that it tells you to stop drinking- then stop drinking. But don't assume that the same passage means your neighbor needs to stop drinking as well. The focus in our churches should be on God- not on whether or not the guy next to us was out gambling last night. Imagine what the church as a whole would be like if we all just stopped arguing about what we think the rules should be and focus on worship? I honestly think that God doesn't care if a woman is wearing a skirt or a pair of jeans. He is concerned with the heart- he wants to see what's on the inside, and if that woman is worshipping and praising him with all she's got, the outside doesn't so much matter. I think the keeping up with the Joneses syndrome has gotten into our churches, and we work so hard to maintain an image, instead of just letting the love of God be our image. It's time to let that be what we're working towards. Not following the rules, not making the rules, and especially not judging others for not following the rules the way we see it. God loves you and me, and just wants our hearts- not our rules.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Waking Up

'Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, break out in song' Judges 5:12

"The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They approached 2 the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly, and said, 3 "Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. 4 Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father's relatives." Numbers 27:1-4

One of the things that I've been talking with God a lot about is boldness. Boldness in everything- boldness to share my faith with those around me, and boldness to gently correct Christians in conversation. I've been asking for boldness to step out of my comfort zone if needed and do whatever it is God will ask me to do. This is tough stuff for me! And I'll tell you why- it's because I am a woman.

You know, once upon a time I had some moxie. I was interesting, and I had ambition. I was always involved in student government in school- middle school, high school, and then on into college, I was president of my organization for a time. I even contemplating running for a state office in that organization. When I joined the workforce, it was with ambition, I was determined to be the youngest store manager in my company- and I was well on my way. Had I stayed at work instead of leaving to stay home with my infant daughter, I would have had my store within the year- along with the six figure income that came with it. I was 22 at the time.

Then I reveled in the joys of motherhood. And wifehood. We had a few bumps along the way as Andy stepped into the role of sole provider, and I stepped into the role of full time mom and wife. But things evened out, and life was wonderful. Eventually, we made the choice to start going to church again, and quickly became comfortable there with what we were doing and what areas we served in. There was no place in any of this for ambition, and quite honestly, it was work enough to care for my family, I didn't need to add to my plate with areas of ministry or service. Being a humble housewife was normal for me very quickly- and in fact, that's what I almost called this blog, The Heart of A Humble Housewife. I had intended to blog a lot about the fact that it was wonderful being at home, and I had plans of sharing my journey of becoming that humble housewife I thought I was meant to be. I thought I knew my place, and where it should be, and that was far from any area of real ministry. Oh, I cleaned the church, because, what else would a woman be more qualified to do? Men were busy ministering and doing the tough jobs, surely I could at least keep the building clean for them. I was happy to be a Martha- being the busy bee to get things done so the more important work could be done by others.

And I've struggled a bit with maintaining this blog. I was even chastised for it once, because normal women don't put their personal feelings out on the internet for everyone to read. It's also been difficult, because I never know who is reading this blog, and for a while I worried about saying the wrong thing to offend someone, or sharing a little too much information about myself that could come back to bite me.

I'm done with all that.

We are in a new age, and a new era, and let me be the first to say that I am not, nor have I ever been a feminist, waging war for women's rights. But I have been feeling a stirring in my heart, and I know that something is about to break free and break open. It's begun by a simple change in my mindset. I am still a woman, and I am still a housewife, but by golly, it's not Martha who I wish to be, it's Mary.

"As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Mary sought out her Lord. Mary chose to dwell in the presence of the Lord, and wait. Martha was so concerned with preparing the meal, that she missed what was most important. Mary certainly would have done the same work, had Jesus asked. But she chose to wait until he asked. She chose to spend time in his presence listening for what he might have to say to her.

In addition to Mary, I've been reading about Deborah- one of the great leaders of Israel during the time of the judges. You can read about her in Judges, chapter 4. She was a prophetess, and the leader of Israel for a time- and she was a woman! In a time when women were seen, but not heard from.

The daughters of Zelophehad have also been coming to mind, because they grabbed hold of that boldness after their father died, and stepped forward to claim what was rightfully theirs. A humble woman would have shrunk back and just accepted whatever scraps were available to them. Instead, they marched forward and took an audience with Moses, who took their concerns to God for them. God agreed, and these single women were given that which was usually given to men.

I am just a woman, but I am not going to just sit aside and smile and nod my head and do all the busy work anymore. I am not going to let the mindset of "I am just a woman" keep me from doing anything that God wants me to do. God has a place for me, and a plan for me, and until I stop doing that busy work, and just reside in his presence, like Mary did, I will not hear when He speaks to me. And I will be willing to be a Deborah, or a daughter of Zelophehad if needed. God gave me that ambition in the first place, and while I may need to guard against selfish ambition-

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 2:3

that ambition is there nonetheless, deep down, and I daresay that God has been stirring it up as of late. I have no idea where that is going to go, or what it's going to do, but I do know that it is time for me to wake up. I wake, and I wait at his feet, listening for my instructions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Praying With Zander

"I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding." Philippians 1:9

We're having a tough week with Zander. Saturday night he came into our bedroom in the wee hours of the night just sobbing. He'd had a nightmare- obviously, a pretty bad one. So he crawled into bed with us, where I could comfort and cuddle him, and more importantly, pray some good dreams into his little mind. We slept the rest of the night, but every bedtime since, he's practically been in tears because it was bedtime, and he's worried about having that bad dream again. This has given us plenty of opportunity to talk about praying to God when we need something, and talking about God hearing us when we pray, and that God likes it when we talk to him. Still... it's tough to see my little guy be so frightened at night. He is so upset at the prospect of this bad dream that he told me tonight not to pray so that he can hear me- he doesn't want to think about it for even a second. I prayed nonetheless, because this is an opportunity for him to see God at work, because I know that as he sleeps upstairs, there is an angel standing guard over his dreams.

This is new territory for Zander. While we've had many discussions about God and Jesus, and there has been praying here and there, we've been very careful to not make praying a routine in our house. And I know that sounds like a bad thing, but here's the thing. When you teach a child to say the same words over and over again, how long is it before they don't really mean them anymore? I clearly remember growing up that in my family, we all took turns praying at the dinner table. And one by one, night after night, every single prayer from every single child was identical. Finally, one night, my parents said something about this, and said that we should pray because we mean it, not because we're supposed to pray before we eat dinner. And after that, we always gave our prayers a little more thought. So that's how we've been raising our children. There's no rote prayers at mealtime or bedtime. But we pray when it's important, and when something is on our minds. I prayed with Zander not too long ago when a friend of his missed preschool -he was worried about them. With Abigail, she announced this week that while Zander had a bad dream, she doesn't remember dreaming much at all, so I prayed with her that she would have fun and lovely dreams and remember them when she woke.

And of course we pray when someone in the house isn't feeling well, but for the most part, I do more talking with my kids about praying. I tell them that I pray when I do the dishes, and that I pray when I lie down in bed at night, and I pray in the shower. By talking and being casual about praying, I'm showing them that I can pray whenever and wherever I need it. If Abigail is nervous about a test at school, I want her to be able to have the confidence to pray about it right on the spot, and not think that she needs to wait until her routine prayer time at bedtime. Is my way the right way? I could hardly say- every child and every person is so different. I know I've read books on Christian parenting that tell me the opposite- that it's important to set those routine prayer times. For myself, I want my children to be able to pray whenever it strikes their fancy. I want them to want to talk to God all on their own- not kneel down and say a few words simply because it's part of the bedtime routine. That's no different than brushing their teeth!

So this week we're learning a powerful lesson about prayer in our home. Zander is learning that God does answer prayers, as he hasn't had a bad dream since that night. Abigail, I think, is learning that she can be a little more open with Mommy about God, that I won't think her silly for her own thoughts. And Mommy has had more opportunities to get in some prayer time herself. Because although we've prayed about it, I've still had to snuggle my little man into dreamland, so I've spent a great deal of time telling God how wonderful my children are , and thanking him for his protection over them, even as they sleep. And as I've snuggled my son and simply marveled at how precious he is, I also think about how precious he is to God- as precious as Zander is to me, how much more precious he is to God.

"Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy," Philippians 1:3-4

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Sense of Urgency

"As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him." Mark 1:16-20

As I read in Mark this morning, these verses completely jumped out at me. The first disciples were made that day, and just read these verses again! It amazes me that there was no discussion here. Simon and Andrew didn't discuss with each other whether they should go- or even ask Jesus what he wanted from them- they just went! James and John didn't take a minute to discuss it with their father, they simply left him to do the work of three alone and set out to follow Jesus. Don't you wonder what they saw in Jesus? What was it that they saw and heard that made them drop everything on a dime and completely walk away from the life they knew?

I'll tell you, I think that in that instant, in that moment they had a real interaction with a Real God and they knew it, and instantly, they knew that if they didn't follow this man they'd regret it forever. There was an instant insatiable hunger in them to be with Jesus, and they were going to follow through, no matter the cost.

I think that this passage speaks volumes as to where we are going wrong as Christians. People want to see a Jesus, they want a real God, but they sometimes don't know it. They go through life clinging to their finances and their jobs and their families, maybe their vices, looking for that one thing that will make them happy. What they don't realize is that they're looking for Jesus. But we as Christians do, we try to tease them in, we try to entice them. We tell them that if they come to our church, they can ease in, they can get their toes wet. There won't be any convicting messages, just things that will make them feel better about themselves so they can make it through the next week, and hopefully, come back next week because that little booster will have worn off by then. We do the same thing as people. We get to know our neighbors, our children's friends, our community as plain old us, and maybe along the way it will leak out that we go to church sometimes. We have the regular interaction with people "how are you?" "I'm doing fine" and then we're on our way.

Simon, Andrew, James and John did not ease in. They did not get their feet wet and try to decide if this man was going to offend them first. They dropped what they were doing and devoted their life to this man because they saw God in Him. That's what people are looking for. When someone makes the decision to go to church for that first time, it's usually because life pretty much sucks right now, and they want a change. Or they have children and they want their children to have some good influence in life. Why can't we just whack them with Jesus straight off the bat? Why can't we see that new person and come right out and ask them if they've met Jesus? And what about in our day to day life? Why is it so hard for me, when someone asks how I'm doing, for me to reply and say "I'm wonderful, God gave us a wonderful new day, how are you doing?" Because that's totally how I've felt lately.

And the more time I spend with God, the more I want. It's totally funny, because we liked our last church, we loved the people there, but for us, for that time, we were happy being the once-a-week church people. Sunday morning was enough, the rest of the time was ours. But here we are, involved with a body of believers where every time two-or-more-gather, God shows up, and all I want is more of it.

"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20

I'm trying to figure out the logistics of going to church several times a week now, instead of being content with just once. It's like Jesus showed up as we were busy and said "Hey, are you done yet?" And we realized that we were being busy just for the sake of being busy and that was that. Now we want that busy-ness to have purpose. And I walk around with this feeling that I just can't get enough.

And I think some more on these verses in Mark, and I just can't help but think that if people walked in the doors of our churches and met Jesus there, how few of them would be considered visitors, because they would realize that they'd found a home-away-from-home. They would find their refuge and their ever-present help. I realize that I can certainly do nothing myself to change the face of churches today, but at the very least, I can pray. I can pray for the churches and Pastors in my community that I'm living in now, and I can also be more mindful myself of my own interactions with people. I can choose to be bold and honest with those I come in contact with.

Because, my friends, time is ticking, and we're running out of it. The last thing I want is to come across someone from my past who knew me as just me, and not as the little Jesus I'm trying to become, and have them say "why did you never tell me about Jesus?"

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." Matthew 24:36-37

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Living Word

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

It's fantastic to pop up the verse of the day and see this verse, because it came up in conversation a few times yesterday when talking with different people. We were talking about the living, breathing Word of God and how cool the Bible really is. The statement that it is living and active is so true, and explains to us how different verses and chapters can mean different things at different times to us. Did you ever notice that? How certain verses will fit a certain situation in your life for a time? And at other times, other verses just kind of pop out of nowhere and you wonder why you never noticed that particular passage before? It's the living word of God. The actual scriptures, the verses and the words never change, but it's the "layers" the meanings that may change over time, often in regards to how mature you may be in your walk with Christ.

I still have the Bible my parents gave me as a teenager. It's a Study Bible, and I certainly put it to a lot of use, there are tons of verse highlighted and there are notations galore, notes tucked in, things like that. In fact, it's still my favorite Bible to use, and every time I buy a new Bible, I lament the fact that it's not the same as my Study Bible for teens. But what is especially interesting to see is when I open up the Bible the verses that are most often highlighted and notated are about love and friendship. 1 Corinthians 13 is highlighted in several different colors, circled, and underlined in pen. And I remember doing all that... I was a teenager, lamenting the lack of "luv" in my life and reading love verses as something romantic and written about real love. Those verses were important to me because they gave me hope about finding love with someone in the future.

That was important to me then, and that's how I saw it, which was just fine for that season of my life. But now, I read those verse, and I read a lot of the love verses in the Bible, and I see them with different eyes. I see them with the eyes who have experienced the love that turns into a commitment of marriage, and more importantly, I see these verses in a new light- I see them written not about love between two people, but love from an awesome God. I can read 1 Corinthians 13 and read it as I'm trying to understand how God loves me, and how to love others as God does. That is the season that I am in now, and that's what these verses are saying to me. The exact same verses, just a different layer of understanding.

It's the living Bible that keeps me coming back for more. For a time I didn't read my Bible so much, because I knew what was in it. Oh, I'm no expert- I can't just rattle off verses and references like so many people (I wish!) but I thought I knew the Bible, I read it several times through, and that was good. But now, I'm in a new season of my life where these old verses have new meaning. Old Bible stories take on a whole new life when viewed through different eyes, even though you know how they turn out in the end. I still think one of the coolest studies I've ever done was when our small group studied Exodus last winter, I truly had no idea how much of that could apply to me today. It was fascinating and fantastic, and I've gone back and read it through so many times since, because it's exciting to me to read it again and see those wonderful nuggets of information.

So keep diving into the Word of God. You never know which verse is going to leap off the page for you today- personally, I like to pick up my Bible and read until that very thing happens. Sometimes I'll only read one verse and it will sing to me straight off the pages. Sometimes, I'll read ten or twelve chapters, or entire books before something catches me. It's exciting either way, and I'll continue diving in. I just wish I could find another Bible that I like as much as my teenage study Bible. :-)

Friday, October 24, 2008


"he said, "Listen to my words:
"When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams." Numbers 12:5-7

I believe that God does speak to many of his people in dreams. In fact, I believe he speaks to most people through their dreams, but we're taught that dreams are silliness and don't mean anything. In fact, I suspect a lot of dreams mean something. If we stop and look at our dreams sometimes, they can tell us something about ourselves, and show us what areas of our life we maybe need to work on. But today, I'm thinking about the dreams that wake me in the night. Just last night, in fact I had a dream about a church that we had recently visited. It was a wonderful church, and the pastor is fantastic, with heart full of Jesus. I enjoyed our visit there, and I've enjoyed subsequent opportunities to fellowship with the pastor and his wife. I had a dream of being in their building with the members of their church and just praying fervently. It woke me, and at first I puzzled about this dream, did it mean something? I have no idea, and maybe down the road an answer to that will come, but to me the important part there is what I did then. I prayed. I prayed for that church, for the people and especially for the pastor and his wife and family.

I think that is a majority of what the dreams we have may mean. There are often times where I'll have a dream about someone or someplace, and I'll just wake, feeling a need to pray for that person or place. One of the things that I heard recently is that women, in general, tend to be real prayer warriors and intercessors. And do you know why that is? Especially for those of us who are not in the work force, but I know I find myself praying while I'm working. I'm cleaning my house and I'm praying. I'm doing dishes and I'm praying. I'm tending the garden, and I'm praying. All day long I have a stream of little prayers running towards heaven. Andy, not so much, because he is busy working. He's working hard to earn an income, so he needs to focus and do his job well. Me, not so much, who really is going to notice if I don't quite get all the weeds pulled because my mind is elsewhere. I love that thought, and since I have this running stream of prayer, when I have a strange dream at night, my first instinct is to pray about it.

"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." Joel 2:28

And yes, from time to time there may be those real and true dreams, those dreams of God talking to me. I've had two for sure that I know of. One I shared here not too long ago, and the other was a little tidbit just for me that I'm slowly following through on. But you know, once I learned that God could actually talk to me about my dreams, I began looking at them differently. I look at all the ones that wake me, or that I remember upon waking, to see if they have any hidden meaning. Many are discarded as nonsense or silliness, but sometimes, like this morning, they stir something up and I pray. That church is going to be in my thoughts and prayers likely all day today.

The whole point of this post today is just to encourage you to look at your dreams. Are they telling you something? I certainly couldn't tell you, but God can, and sometimes all you need is a little prayer to reveal the answers. You can also ask God to reveal Himself to you in your dreams. He may do just that. But one thing is certain, you can also use your dreams for practice. Whether you think your dreams are God inspired or not, take the opportunity to pray for those who you dream about. I mean, let's be real, who couldn't use a few more prayers on their behalf? Dreaming and praying go hand in hand, and every night I go to bed wondering what I'll be dreaming. I pray that I will continue to be open to the possibilities that God would have for me, and may he truly bless those he's brought to my mind this morning.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


"But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today" Deuteronomy 8:18

"Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past" Deuteronomy 32:7

One of the things that I think we miss on sometimes as Christians is the act of remembrance. Within the church as a whole I think we do a fine job, we celebrate communion to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us, we gather each week on the same day to remember the Sabbath. But what about within the context of our own lives? Do we remember those times that God reached in and intervened? Or do we casually forget them a few weeks later? I think it's important to remember what God has done for us- it gives us hope and encouragement for the future. It gives us a testimony- something important to share with everyone around us so that they too can know how God cares for His people.

As I sat down at the computer this morning, I was thinking about how I went to bed last night not feeling so good. I'm at the beginnings of a touch of a cold I think, and last night by bedtime, I really was not feeling great, and during my prayer time, I did take a minute to ask God to keep me going and give me the energy I need to still be the mom I need to be while enduring a cold. At the same time, I thanked him for the timing. Colds are necessary, they are part of the process of giving the body immunity, and I understand that, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Anyway, I thanked God that I didn't come down with a cold last week when I was really looking forward to the conference. I thanked God that it is really before the holiday season, so that hopefully I will just be able to look forward to them. So I wake up this morning with a touch of cold symptoms, but nothing severe. My throat is tickling, I have a touch of a sniffle, but I don't immediately feel like I'm ready to crawl back into bed. I have a spark, and I am so grateful for that. But that led me to remembering other things that God has done for us in the past, and I thought that I need to remember these things.

I remember the time that God took care of a debt for us. And I'm not talking about just a few hundred or even thousand dollars. I'm talking about over $90,000. According to the state of Wisconsin, Andy owed years of back taxes from his defunct business. Sales tax, which he didn't even collect, but they said he owed. Since we didn't have the paperwork to back this up, we simply had to owe it. There was nothing we could do about it except start the process of paying it off. They started garnishing Andy's meager wages, and we struggled, but there was nothing to be done about it. At the time, our church began a series on giving. As a church we were planning on buying our building so that we could grow and expand, but that was going to take money, and we all took a good hard look at finances, and we made pledges towards our monthly giving. We looked at our finances, and even though we couldn't really afford to give, we chose an amount that was above our means and pledged it, praying that God would come through for us and help us to meet that pledge. And of course, you know where this is going by now. Just a short while later, we received a statement in the mail stating that an error had been corrected, we were found to have paid the full amount owed to the state for back taxes- and we'd even overpaid a bit and were due a small refund! Just like that, God wiped away $90,000.

As amazed as we were at the time, I'm even more amazed to remember that and think on that. I think people look at their financial troubles, and don't talk to God about them. I know I feel that any financial mess we end up in is my fault. Bad debt and too much credit is my fault, and I don't talk to God about it, because He shouldn't have to bail me out of bad decisions. But then I remember what He has already done for us. It literally was a miracle that God took care of that debt for us. And he can do the same today- not just for us, but for any of his children who seek His face and ask Him for help.

Another area that I am remembering this morning regards Andy's job. Twice. I will never forget the week that Andy was living in a nightmare. We were working on the HS musical and it was our tough week- he had taken two days off of work, and we had two long days of working at the school, polishing up the show. At the last minute, his boss went off on him and told him that he needed to make a choice over the musical or his job. It was a completely unfair statement, as he had approved Andy's involvement and the time off months prior. It was a horrible week. And then the day came where he had to miss one of those two days of musical work, because he was pretty much told that if he chose the musical, his job was over. My husband, the responsible provider, made the difficult choice and went to work. At the end of the day (horrible, horrible at school for me, btw.) his boss drove him home, dropped him in the driveway and fired him. Seriously. We had just moved into our home, which was more expensive to live in for us, so immediately, all these thoughts went through our minds, and Andy immediately hit the computer, looking for a new job.

45 minutes after Andy had been home, and we were dealing with the shock of being fired, my parents drop in. I seem to recall it was really for no reason, they just felt like popping in to see the kids. We told them what had happened, and right away, my Dad said that we needed to pray about it, so we did. We all spent some time together praying for the situation, spent a short time together, and then they left to continue with their day. 1 1/2 hours after he had been home, Andy decided that he needed to call one of the guys he had been working with on the job. It was a guy from a different company, but Andy had been his go-to contact for the job, and Andy felt that he needed to let this guy know what happened so he could be prepared. That was a God-led phone call, because after Andy talked to him, the phone rang 15 minutes later. Andy could start working for them in two weeks- could he come in and fill out his paperwork? God provided quickly on that one! Andy was fired, with no prospects, and two hours later he had a new job with a company that he really respected and admired. God proved to us that he does indeed hear the cries of his children and answer prayer. It was a fantastic thing to call my parents up and share the news.

And I can tell you that when Andy started working for that company, he had no idea how wonderful it was going to be. He loves working for them. He enjoys the job, and his bosses are a pleasure to work for. Yet last year, at this time, work prospects for the company were looking grim, and he was told he could expect a six month lay-off. There was no way that we were going to be able to live on that, so Andy took another job with a different company, very regretfully. That new job was a nightmare. He worked his fingers to the bone for very little pay, and the carrot that they dangled to get him to take the job was quickly taken away. There would be no raise, no promotion, and he was on call all the time. It was nothing short of a nightmare, and the more he worked, the more into debt we went, we couldn't afford to live on his rate in pay. We prayed a lot during this time, so it shouldn't have been a surprise when his former boss called him up in late March, asking if he was happy with his company, and would he consider coming back. Um, we didn't have to think about that one! Andy returned back to the job her truly enjoys, and so far there is no end in sight. We have been blessed abundantly through this job, and I know that God will continue to do so. He loves his job, and has especially enjoyed all the opportunities he's had to share God with his co-workers.

It's important to remember. It's so important to look back and remember the things that God has done for us, because He ALWAYS sees us through. He hears His children when they call, and wants, more than anything, to hear our prayers. He wants us to ask and to seek Him and His face. Remember how He has blessed you, because he wants you to share those blessings with those around you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


" Everyone enjoys a fitting reply;
it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!" Proverbs 15:23

I don't know about everyone else, but I love it when someone tells me something I needed to hear. Sometimes I just need to know a little something- maybe instruction on how to do something properly. Sometimes I need some good advice from someone who may have been there before. Sometimes, (as happens often when you have a blog with a local following) I get unsolicited advice from people who are strangers to me. Yet, most often, all those conversations have a point, they have purpose, and I really have to think about that sometimes. When someone sees me at the grocery store and they recognize me from the paper, I often get food related question. Will this work? What do I think of this product? How do I make this? I love those conversations, because those are things I can answer. I love being able to help someone find a solution.

Isn't that interesting! I love it when people tell me something I need or want to hear, and I also love being able to do the same for other people. I think I should think about this more when the opportunity arises to interact. How often do we maneuver through life in our little bubble? I know I do a lot. I love grocery shopping when both kids are at school. It's quiet, and quick, and wonderful. For the most part, I ignore the other people when I'm shopping, and maybe I should stop doing that. I should think about simply smiling and saying good morning more often. People are wonderful if you just give them a chance! When I catch a glimpse of someone I haven't seen recently, maybe I should make eye contact and start a conversation instead of pretending I didn't see them and turning the corner. (As she hangs her head in shame, yes, sometimes I do that.)

The thing is, as I change on the inside, people need that opportunity to see that. My husband is the best example of that I can think of. There was a time where we didn't go to church, we were enjoying our Sunday mornings and we really didn't see a need. I clearly recall a conversation with new friends of ours about church and Andy's nonchalance about it, and his disaffection for church as a whole. That one conversation really stuck with us and about a year later we found ourselves walking in the doors of the very church that these friends belonged to. The friendship grew even more as we grew in Christ together during our time with that church. Andy has always been outspoken about pretty much everything, and these friends really got to see Andy grow. Now here we are, even further down the road, and it's incredible to hear from these friends about how much different Andy is. That difference is Jesus and the constant change he is undergoing to become more Christ-like. It's when we see people who we knew once upon a time that we really should make an effort, because these old friends and acquaintances will surely see the change and wonder what it is.

So I'm going to keep this verse in mind. As much as I enjoy sharing information with other people, imagine how wonderful it would be to share that life-changing information. Imagine the possibilities when people start asking more about God and the opportunities that could present itself. Those are the conversations I would like to have and the words I would like to speak.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

God Loves YOU

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Luke 12:6,7

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

God loves you. Crazy as it may sound sometimes when we're running around maybe being not-so-bright, God loves us. God loves each and every one of us, and you especially.

I heard something really cool this weekend, a cool analogy about how God loves us, and how he created us. As you go through a day, look at all the different people you see. Each and every one is unique and an individual. No two people are identical- just as no two snowflakes are identical. Not only is there uniqueness though, there is something special about Every. Single. Person. Before your parents parents were even glimmers in their parents eyes, God designed you. God created you in a special and unique way so that only you could be you. You are a masterpiece, a work of art. If you study a painter's paintings over time, no two paintings are ever identical, they are different and unique, and true masterpieces. So are you! You are a masterpiece in God's eye. Of course you are, He created you, and He is perfect, so our God would not create something imperfect. Think about that, if God does not create imperfect people, that means you are absolutely perfect-just the way God designed you to be.

God knew YOU before you were born.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:5

Before you were even an idea, God designed you in just the right way that was pleasing to Him. God's paintbrush painted each and every stroke, every feature, every organ, every iota of DNA was put right where it was supposed to be. You personality is exactly the way God wants it to be so that you can be a unique person- you can be what YOU were meant to be.

God loves YOU! So much so, that he sent his only Son to die for you, so that you might spend eternity in Heaven with Him. God loves you so much that he also came to earth in the form of the Holy Spirit, a Spirit which is with us at all times.

"May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us." 1 Kings 8:57

God loves You. He wanted you to know that today.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Willing Spirit

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." Psalm 52:12

"Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say." Proverbs 5:7

"The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." John 10:3

"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Matthew 26:41

I am very slowly digesting all the information I took in over the weekend. It was truly an experience, listening to these wonderful men and women of God, and hearing what they had to say. It was so incredible to me that when one of these people would speak and share something, one of the other people would jump up, nodding with excitement, and then sharing how God told them the exact same thing, or the completely different messages that they'd all prepared separately completely melded together into one complete message. I am going to be thinking on a lot of things for weeks and months to come. And there's going to be a lot of prayer.

One of the things that many of these people just kept sharing is that we need to share our wants and needs with God. He knows what we need and want, of course, but what God is waiting for is for our prayers- he's waiting for us to ask for what we want. He's waiting for us to turn to Him and ask for the blessings that he's just waiting to shower upon us. All he wants is to hear our prayers asking for it first. One of the things that I was asking for, going into this weekend, was some kind of revelation. We are certain that we are at the church where God wants us, but neither Andy or I really knew what it was we were to do there. Part of me wondered if God was going to show us something completely different that he wants us to do, something new that will help shape the people we are becoming.

It's really different deciding to be a part of a new body of believers. It's one thing when it's obvious your particular skills are needed or there's no one doing what you do. It's completely different to see people already doing what you know to do. In our case, Andy has a passion for sound ministry, and I've been enjoying playing percussion with the worship team. At our new church, there are very qualified people taking care of those needs. But sure enough, God has plans for us. The first night Andy was there, he spent a fair bit of time talking with the sound person, and for lack of a better word, they bonded. They shared a connection and no doubt, there will be plenty of opportunity for Andy to contribute in the ministry which he really enjoys.

My answer did not come so quickly, and it really took me by surprise. I have always wondered what it would be like to have someone come up to me and say that they had a message for me from God. I don't wonder anymore. We were worshipping on Sunday morning, and I was right in the front row at church, praising God and worshipping when a woman put her arm around me. She introduced herself, asked my name, and then said "Honey, I sense that God does not want you here in the seats. He wants you to be with the worship team." Now anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a hugely emotional person, but my eyes instantly started filling with tears. God wanted to tell me this! Me! I consider myself a plain jane kind of person, and the fact that he had this woman take time out of her praise and worship to share with me was amazing. Then she took me by the arm and walked me up to stand with her at the front and turned to me and said "now you are a part of the worship." And later on, after I'd recovered a bit and praised God and thanked him over and over for giving me that word and that direction, I thanked this woman, and she gave me the biggest hug and said "this is where you belong."

That really was something. I'm still amazed by the whole experience. God spoke to me this weekend, and I can't say that I expected that. I expected a feeling in my stomach, or maybe something that one of the ministers shared to trigger a reaction or something, but this was completely unexpected. And exciting. I have no idea where this is going to take me, really, but here I am, a willing spirit and servant. My words to God exactly were that I would do whatever he asked of me. And I pray that the willing spirit will translate to the courage and the boldness to do what I am asked to do!

Friday, October 17, 2008

He Confides!

The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Psalm 25:14-15

Just look at that! God confides in those who fear him! He confides! What does that mean? A confidant shares secrets, they share things that no one knows. A confidant is also an like an informant, giving information when it's needed- and often just when it's needed. When we reach that point of love and fear and respect and humility and adoration all at the same time, we begin to have new thoughts and God becomes more, somehow. He makes his covenant known, and he lets us know what our part is going to be in sharing that covenant with others. And as long as we keep our eyes on Him, on God and not what is going around us, he will rip us out by our roots and take away the everyday fears we have. The snare of fear that this world wraps tight around us will be removed and destroyed and we can experience His ultimate freedom and grace.

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed this morning, I have to say. We've had a couple of amazing nights, and I'm completely looking forward to today and tomorrow, and seeing what God has to say. So I'm going to cut this very short this morning, as we'll be away from the kids all day, and I need to spend what time I can with them. I'll also be taking off from writing tomorrow, I think. I'll be back Monday- have a very blessed and wonderful weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Words and My Thoughts

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." Psalm 19:14

This is one I am working on. What are my words and my thoughts? What would God think of the words that I am about to speak? If my thoughts were broadcast on a loudspeaker for all to hear, would I continue to think like that? It completely changes your perspective when you really think and dwell on the fact that God knows each and every thought. Every single unpleasant, mean, hateful, rotten thought. I've mentioned this before here on the blog, but it's definitely something I'm being challenged with a lot right now. That means that this is something I'm working on, and definitely not something I've mastered. At all.

My thoughts... sometimes I'll just wonder even where a thought comes from, really. And I guess that's why this issue needs attention. When I'm driving is an excellent opportunity to work on this. It drives me batty when someone tailgates. I'm kind of a speed-limit driver. Sometimes I'll push it a few extra digits when we're running behind, but for the most part, I realize that I have the most precious cargo to me in my vehicle, and I'm going to drive the speed limit. But when those people pull up so close to my vehicle, trying to nudge me to go faster, I get annoyed and sometimes angry, and I'll think all kinds of nasty thoughts about them. Why do I do that? Really, did you ever stop and wonder where these thoughts come from in the first place? Why on earth do bad names leap to the forefront of my mind all the time when I'm driving? So I've been trying to be a more relaxed driver. The first step is to leave early for wherever we are going so that I don't have that time hanging over my head. Yes, sometimes that means we get to dance class 20 minutes early, or we get to church almost half-an-hour early, but it really does help me to be more relaxed when I'm driving. And when I'm relaxed, I'm less likely to be scoping out the other cars and drivers, just looking for ways that they annoy me. Sometimes, it's the practical steps that can help the spiritual steps make advances.

As to the words part... well, I already live by a rule where if I can't say something to someones face, I don't say it behind their face either. Life is just so much better and so much more pleasant when you evict the gossip. But to me it's more than that, it's about meaning what I say in my interactions with people. When I ask someone how they are doing, it's because I genuinely want to know. I'm giving them an opportunity to talk if they need it, and perhaps there will be something there that I can pray with them on, or for them. And that's another thing. How many times, as Christians, do we say to someone "we'll pray about that."' We say that a lot, but... how often do we follow through? How often do we really mean what we've said? And I'm talking about more than a fleeting thought to heaven. I'm talking about really and truly praying and interceding on behalf of that person. When we don't follow through, when we tell someone that we'll pray, and then we don't, why, we're lying. Straight up, we're lying to their face when we say that we'll pray and then we don't. And a liar is not someone I want to be.

So I'm working on my words. I'm learning to speak what I mean, and not just fluff, and not just what the other person wants to hear. There is a lot of merit to the saying about thinking before speaking. And see, that's where the thoughts and the words intertwine. What comes out of our mouth reflects what we're thinking. So it's worth it to take a minute to think first and think about what would please God? What would he have you say to that person?

May my thoughts and words be pleasing at all times. And may God use my words in whatever way he needs them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

There Is No Other

"How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears." 2 Samuel 7:22

This is exactly what I woke up singing this morning. :-) "There is No One Like You" from David Crowder Band was in my head when that alarm went off. Well, that and "I can't believe that's the alarm already." But really, I woke up wondering what God is going to have in store for today. It's actually a bit of anticipation on my part. Tonight is the first night of a several day conference that we'll be attending, and I'm kind of surprised to find myself looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to seeing what God has to say to us this weekend, and I'm anxious to get in that frame of mind to be open and accepting. It's going to be a fantastic time.

Because there is no one like God. We have no idea how his mind works or what he has in store for us each and every day.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD." Isaiah 55:9

We can never know what God is going to do next, but we do know that it will be something exciting, and this is new for me, to be excited about something as basic as going to church. I mean, I've always enjoyed going to church for the most part, but to actually be excited about it and looking forward to it is new and different. It's a good thing.

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near. " Isaiah 55:6

God is always near, but sometimes it seems like he is nearer than others. I am praying for revelation this weekend. Andy and I have so many different ideas of what we'd like to be doing, but we really don't know specifically why God has placed us in the church he did. One of the things we said we were expecting was that when we found the church God had for us, it would be immediately obvious what we were to be doing. Except that we've found the church to belong to, but it's not immediately obvious what we are to be doing. The things we can do are already being done for the most part, and I can't imagine that we were called to this church just so that I can play a little percussion from time to time. So what does God want from us? Do I really want to ask and know the answer? I am open and receptive, and I expect that we will find the answers we are looking for this weekend.

And whatever else God decides to throw in the mix will be interesting and exciting as well. For there is no one like Our God, and I can't wait to see what He has in store for us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Non Conformity

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2

I read this verse through a few times, and it was one of those that I thought to myself that there was something good here. There's something really interesting about this verse, but I can't quite put my finger on it. In that instance, my plan of attack is usually to look at the verse in other translations to see how it compares. I read through a few, but they were very similar, until I read the verse in The Message. While The Message usually does come through on an interesting variation, I think this time, it was right on the money. Check it out.

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you." Romans 12:1-2

There are definitely those times where I wonder what the Bible is talking about. Verses like Romans 12:2 say to not conform to the ways of this world, and other verses say the exact same thing, but what, exactly does that mean? Is it different for every person? Does it mean we should stop doing specific activities or buying specific things? I love how The Message specifically says that it's about our everyday life. Our everyday activities, the dropping off of kids at school, the grocery shopping, the day at the office, preparing dinner, giving baths, carpooling, eating dinner, all should be given to God. When we are out and about during the day, how many people do we come across? And how many of those people even see us or notice us. We're so busy blending in, keeping busy and keeping up with the Jones's that we are just another busy bee, going about from task to task.

But what would happen if we gave that all to God? What if, at every transition of activity, we would take a minute to talk to God, to ask him to prepare our minds, to open us up to the possibility of sharing His love with those around us. I have to suspect that God would take us up on our offering. People would begin to look up and look at us, and see instantly that there is something different about us. The people we interact with every day will see God's love in our eyes and want to know more- they want to know what we've got, so they can get some too.

There's a second part to this as well. "Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is"- the more we spend open to the possibilities that God would have for us, the more the answers will come to us. If we spend more time seeking God's Will for us, and giving Him that time, we'll become more receptive to His Word for us. When you first get to know someone, it sometimes takes a few meetings before you recognize their voice on the phone. But the more you talk to them, the more you know who it is at the first hello. The exact same holds true for God. It doesn't do any good to wander about being willing to do God's Will, and wondering exactly what God's Will is, if you aren't spending the time to talk to Him. If you are so busy everyday that you just move from task to task, you aren't talking to God, and more importantly, you aren't giving Him the time to talk back.

And God's Will is always perfect. And look above- it's always pleasing and always good. Why wouldn't we want to take the time for that? The Message states that God brings out the best in us- unlike the world around us that may bring out the worst. Of course God brings out the best in us, He is perfection. Again though, that means we need to spend time with him! Think of a marriage. Think of the two people involved. When they first become husband and wife, they are two people, coming together, usually with two very different personalities and traits, but as time goes on, as the years pass, the two people become more like each other. They adapt to embrace the other spouse's uniqueness. Someone who is usually shy and reticent will eventually pick up on her husbands boldness and tendency to be stubborn. And often times, that spouse who is more bold and outgoing may pick up on some of that hesitancy to speak first, think later. These two personalities compliment each other, and it comes from spending time together. I often hear married couples talk about how their spouse brings out the best in them, but it doesn't happen when one spouse is gone all the time. In the exact same way, God will bring out the best in us, but first we have to spend time with Him.

Do not conform to the patterns of this world. That is such an interesting thought! If that truly is talking about my everyday, my boring everyday activities, what could that mean for me? It's kind of exciting to think about an enhanced life of sorts. I already can tell when I'm spending time with God versus when I'm not. When I'm focused on God for much of the time, I'm much more productive. I get more accomplished in a day, and I sleep better at night. When I'm slipping, I spend more time being lazy, and I often find myself playing catch up with my tasks because I've spent too long reading or watching TV or cruising online.

May God use this verse today. May it stay at the forefront of my mind as I go about my everyday activities. By dwelling on this verse, perhaps more revelation will come. That's exciting to think about!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Productive Hands

"The wise woman builds her house,
but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down." Proverbs 14:1

I have a busy week in front of me. I have a house that just cannot seem to stay clean, I have a garden to finish cleaning up and harvesting, and I have a mountain of apples that really need something done to them. Add to that the regular chores of laundry, grocery shopping, escorting children to and from school and activities, and then a conference that will completely consume the end of the week, and it's looking pretty daunting to me. In fact, when that alarm clock went off this morning, I really didn't want to get out of bed. I just knew that when I did that, it would mean the beginning of busy-ness. A part of me though also thought about my mental checklist of things to accomplish this week, and I thought of what I could put off for another day so that I could spend part of today relaxing, maybe doing some reading or some sewing.

Thank God for His Word.

For I do not want to be the foolish woman who tears her home down with her very hands, which is what I would be doing if I put off to tomorrow what needs to be done today. In the example of the garden, I have some things to harvest and put by for the winter to come, and if I don't my household could suffer from a lack come Andy's lay-off time. What if tonight is the night for that killing frost? By the time tomorrow came I would have lost all that is left. In the case of the housework, I have areas of my home that really need to be cleaned to halt the spread of any germs that may be lurking about, we simply don't have time to deal with sickness. I need to plan some menus so that my grocery shopping is efficient and so that I'm conscious of how much I'm spending, and keeping it within my budget.

"She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks. " Proverbs 31:17

May the Holy Spirit keep me mindful this week of my idle hands. May he help me keep my hands on task and keep them productive so that I may keep my household running smoothly, even amidst the seeming chaos. And may He give me the energy I need to get just one more thing done when I think I am completely spent. I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Little More On Fruit- Pruning

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." John 15:1-7

So after reading the other day's verses on fruit, imagine my surprise to open up my Bible and be drawn to a little more on bearing fruit! I talked a bit about bearing good fruit versus bad fruit, but I think it's important to look a little deeper at our "structure" here. While we can do what we can to try and bring out the good fruit, we also need to remember that Our Father is our master gardener. A garden, when left untended, will often times still yield fruit, but it will perform so much better when the gardener gives it some attention. The gardener will remove weeds, which can choke out roots and steal nourishment. The gardener will add supports to weak vines if needed, and the gardener will do a much needed, and very necessary pruning.

Let me tell you about pruning. This summer I started my own tomato plants from seed for my garden. I was so excited to try growing these unique varieties of tomatoes, and I reveled daily in my beautiful plants. When the time came to put them in the ground, I did so very lovingly and carefully, and I daresay I spent much of the summer simply watching these plants. I added support where needed, fertilized a touch, and pulled intrusive weeds. But I forgot one very important detail- the pruning. A tomato plant is actually a vine. Off of the main vine, the branches grow off to the sides, and these branches will eventually bear the actual fruit. As the plants remain healthy, new shoots begin forming and growing. Sometimes these new shoots (commonly referred to as suckers in the tomato world) bear fruit, but most often, these suckers are just useless branches. I read all kinds of literature and websites that told me to prune these suckers, because these gorgeous and healthy branches would simply steal vital nutrients from the rest of the plant. But in my head, all I could think of was that more branches meant more possibilities for the plant to bear fruit! I wanted as much fruit as possible, so I'll tell you, I didn't prune a single sucker.

The result in my garden was that my favorite tomato plant only yielded eight gorgeous tomatoes- yet the plant itself was vibrant and healthy. My cherry tomato plant was the most gorgeous- loaded with branches and blossoms, but the plant was so prolific that all it's energy was going to forming new branches and flowers, that I didn't get a single cherry tomato. Had I pruned, had I removed the suckers which suck life from the rest of the plant, I would have had a beautiful harvest of cherry tomatoes.

It is the exact same way with God. I can be like that cherry tomato plant, full of energy and putting out branch after branch, being involved in so many activities that my plant is full to bursting. But because I am so involved and so spread out, I'm not really giving my all to any one project, and I am also not putting out the fruit that God wants me to bear in that atmosphere. So sometimes in life, God, our master gardener comes through and gives us some attention. He may add that bit of support, strengthening our soul a bit, but then he comes through with the pruning shears and snips off a branch, or two, or three. And before we know it, we have little resemblance to what we once were, and it's almost like we're starting over. Except that we're not. All that extra, all those excesses have been trimmed from our life and we can now focus. We can focus on setting the fruit on the remaining branches that are left.

Sometimes it's exactly like that. We may feel that situation after situation is crumbling, doors are closing to us, and we may feel discouraged, but we can take heart and look at what is really going on. God is pruning us, cutting back on what is distracting us and helping us to focus. He's preparing us for the important tasks ahead- for the fruit we are to bear and share with others. He will add the support that we need exactly when we need it, because he IS the master gardener and knows exactly what we need, when we need it. As long as we remain firmly rooted in Him, He will tend us and guide us and take care of our every need. Sometimes being pruned is uncomfortable and awkward, but if we have the determination to see it through, we will be witness to exactly what God has for us. And I'm going to hold Him to that, I want to see where this vine is going and which branches are going to bear the best fruit. God's glory will be revealed through that fruit, and I don't want to miss a second of that.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Listening To Advice

"Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:20-21

I used to never listen to advice from other people. I admit that I spent a lot of time being my own person, determining my own best choices at all times. I would let people politely tell me their advice, but as soon as I was not around them I completely forgot what they said. I was just so determined to just be me and not let other people influence me and my choices. And then I became a mom. And the advice just wouldn't stop! Complete strangers saw fit to share any tidbit they had about babies and child-rearing. Family and friends and online acquaintances were just fountains of this and that and the other thing. It's unbelievable how much advice the world has to give to a new mom! I quickly took the stance of being polite to every one's advice, but pretty much ignoring it later on. Until one specific moment in time, and it was advice about discipline.

When Abigail was around one years old, we started having to deal with discipline of some form. Andy and I both grew up in homes where things like spanking was normal, and even though so much of the world around us declared that form of punishment abuse, we were determined to raise our child in the manner in which we saw fit. We were, after all, this child's parents, it was up to us to set the bar and see that line adhered to. So when she started being naughty, we started the long road of doling out punishment with slaps. We would slap her hands if she was doing something she shouldn't- like pulling all the photos out of a box or ripping a book to shreds. As she grew, from time to time she would get a swat on the backside, but nothing extreme. We had friends at the time who were very anti-physical punishment, and every time we got together, they would suggest trying alternatives. I was so not going to listen to them. What kind of a punishment was a time-out anyway?

But you know how God places people in your life at just the right time with just the right advice? This was that time, but I simply refused to listen.

Then we had Zander. And like Abigail, we started with hand slaps and such only... they didn't have the desired effect. Instead, Zander would try striking back. Or he would become mad or frustrated and reach out and hit whoever was closest. It really bothered me that my sweet little boy would act out in such a manner. One time I clearly remember reaching out and slapping his little hand for trying to grab a knife when I clearly heard my friend's voice in my head, suggesting that slapping was not the answer. It was odd. I was clinging to a verse in Proverbs that I was doing the right thing.

"He who spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." Proverbs 13:24

But God showed me something about this verse. Do you see anywhere where the discipline is defined here? Look at it in the King James Version:

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."

The use of chasten struck a chord with me, because when I think of chastening someone, I think of correcting their behavior through the use of words. That's what discipline is- it's behavior correction. Even the dictionary does not define discipline as a physical activity. My eyes were opened as I looked at different versions of this verse. I did not need to cling to that physical discipline as the correct form. At that moment in time we ceased to become "spanking parents" and have not physically struck our children since. (Well, I slapped Abigail once across the mouth for something very sassy and unbecoming coming out of her mouth- she won't do it again.)

Something changed both in us and our children when we did that. Our children started behaving better because they wanted to- not because they were afraid. Think about that for a second, and that is my big revelation and why I am so glad for listening to advice. My daughter would follow the rules because she was afraid Mommy or Daddy would hurt her. Just thinking about that makes me wish we'd have started following that advice much sooner. She was afraid we would hurt her if she was naughty. Zander would not be curious (as a baby is known to be) because he was afraid of being struck by those who loved him most for simply reaching for the wrong thing. But discarding the physical discipline changed our household completely for the better, and I know that God knew that would happen, and that's one of the reasons why he placed those people in our lives for a time.

Changing the way we discipline has made a world of difference for our family. Our children behave because they want to. They behave because they want Mommy and Daddy to be proud of them. Most times, we don't even have to punish them, because they know when they've disappointed us, and it bothers them. Zander stopped trying to hit a long time ago, and we all are a much happier household without the threat of physical discipline hanging over out heads. We've also learned that there are things worth getting punished for, and things to relax more about. Children are always going to be curious, and we need to be careful about squelching that curiosity with over-parenting.

I still discard a lot of advice. :-) But I do listen to it first and analyze it to see if it has merit. And sometimes, that advice will come back. I'll hear a word of advice, initially dismiss it, but then down the road it comes back to the forefront of my mind. I listen carefully to advice and instruction. Does it make me wise? I hardly think so, but I am always learning something new. God created people in such a fantastic way that we can learn from each other, and learn from each other's mistakes. We have life, which we live from day to day, and is never the same twice. We can learn from each other, and become wiser because of it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bring On The Good Fruit

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." Matthew 12:33-35

What does your fruit look like?

I could probably leave today's verses at that short question. What does your fruit look like? And not just your Sunday morning fruit- but your everyday fruit. What does your fruit look like when you are home alone, just you and the internet? What does your fruit look like when you are driving and someone cuts you off? What does your fruit look like when you have to wait in line for a really long time at the grocery store? What does your fruit look like when that person you really don't like much calls you up and asks for help? For those are the moments that define who we really are on the inside. It's so easy to show up for church Sunday morning and put on a happy face and be glad to see everyone. It's not so easy to do the same on a Thursday morning when you walk into work after a long week, or when you're waiting in line to drop off the kids at school.

The fact is, what goes in is what comes out. And if we're feeding ourselves reality television and adult websites, that's where our mind is going to be and what is going to come out. Getting along with people is really not just like the game of Survivor. You don't just decide that you don't like that one person and then vote them out of your group. Good fruit- the fruit that comes from God is the fruit that is filled with patience, love, understanding and compassion, and instead you will take the time to get to know that annoying person.

"For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." Wow, that is quite the statement! What do you do in a moment of crisis? What comes out of your mouth? Is it a cuss word? Or is it a quick prayer to heaven? A driver cuts you off, do you unconsciously call them a bad name? Just think about these things for a little while. You know what comes out, and only you can take the time to change what comes out. You can start by putting in some good stuff- fruit need fertilizer, and we can feed our fruit from the Bible each and every day. Maybe music inspires you, try picking up a new CD from a Christian artist or a praise CD if that would give you a much needed boost. And make a conscious effort to not call people names- even in your head. Make a conscious effort to try and eliminate those words from your vocabulary. Instead, try looking at those people through different eyes- through eyes of compassion. You don't know why they are the way they are, and Jesus would not walk around the grocery store glaring at all those who are in his way.

Let's try and be more conscious of the fruit we're bearing. Especially when we're in the private of our own home and our own minds. For what we do in private- God sees, he sees that ugly fruit and he so desires to prune it away for you, but you need to let him, and you need to put some good in to get good fruit. Good in equals good fruit. Bad in equals bad fruit. I certainly don't want to stand before God on the day of judgment with gleaming, gorgeous fruit hanging from my branches, only to have the fruit opened up to reveal rot and disease. I want what shows on the outside to be what is on the inside as well.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Love Is...

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

I've been writing a lot lately about love. Specifically, I've been writing a lot about God's love, and loving those around us with God's love, and loving ourselves with God's love, and most importantly, loving God in return. What I don't talk about often, or write about often is a different kind of love- the love that a husband and wife share. The love that causes two people to enter into marriage and profess a lifelong commitment to each other. I don't write about this love very often, because I'm certainly no expert at it. I have a wonderful marriage and husband, but that definitely doesn't cause me to be extra knowledgeable or able to address problems.

But I do know this, love is all of the things mentioned in Corinthians 13, and from time to time I think we all need to be reminded of it. We need to be reminded of it, and we need to put it into action because one of the things the devil would love to see is a marriage falling apart. He loves to find that crack in relationships and try to break it open further. He'll put an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend in your mind, and before you know it you're looking up their facebook "just to see how they're doing". And if you don't think the devil won't use that- you're surely mistaken.

There are two things specifically in 1 Corinthians 13, verse 5, that I thought of this morning. The first one is that love is not self-seeking. Wow- how the media and all the "experts" love to contradict this one! How many times do we hear or read or see something that is telling us as women that it's okay to do things for ourselves. That it's perfectly normal to demand that attention on ourselves or to seek that time away for yourself. But right here in the Bible we see that love is not self-seeking! Love, in a committed relationship, means selflessness. Really and truly, it means that you put your relationship and your spouse in front of yourself.

I can't tell you how many times I struggled with this in a really trite way. I used to get really annoyed with Andy when he needed new clothes. I know, I know, that sounds really lame, but there it is. I took pleasure in buying him something nice to wear or a new sweater, but what I'm talking about is those work clothes. Those clothes that he puts on simply to coat them in mud. It would plague me to no end when he would tell me one day that he was down to two pair of pants and needed more. I hated the idea of spending money on something that was just going to be ruined! That's the story with work clothes! Yet at the same time, while I was getting annoyed with him for actually needing something new, I was taking great pleasure in buying myself that new sweater or new skirt. Or buying my kids a new pair of pajamas- all the while claiming that we really didn't have the extra money to spend on three pair of work pants. I was being completely self-seeking. If we had money in the clothing budget, I wanted it to be for nice clothing that helped me or my family look nice.

Then one day I was thinking about this very thing, and I was wandering through the Goodwill aisles looking for inexpensive work pants for Andy when it completely hit me with what I was doing and grumbling about. Andy works for a living to support me and our children. He gives of himself selflessly so that I can stay home and care for our children and our home. Yet I couldn't find thirty bucks to buy him a new pair of Levis? And furthermore, he couldn't very well go to work without clothing. At the time, he was working in the dead of winter, and working in sub-zero temperatures just to put food on the table and care for his family- being miserable all day, no doubt. Yet I didn't want to buy him new pants or a sweatshirt to keep him warm. Oh, God rocked me with that one, don't you doubt it. Right then and there, I swore to God that I would change my mindset. I would be more mindful of how I thought of my husband and his needs. He was being selfless and putting his family first, I would do the same for him. I put the clothes back that were in my cart (which, of course, were for me anyways) and when he came home from work, I took him shopping for the items he needed for work, without complaining or grumbling.

Love is not self-seeking. I cannot put myself first if I am going to be in a successful marriage. This even affects our discussions and our thought lives. I have to admit to you, it used to be that when we would discuss something of importance, I would do my best to try and dominate the conversation. Often times, I just knew that I was right, and I would try to just tune out what Andy was saying, or cut him off to keep from saying the wrong things out loud. So often those conversations weren't really conversations, they were really more like one-sided lectures on my part. Thankfully, I have a persistent husband, because he always tried to squeeze in his ideas and words, and before long, I felt that nudging again. I had been reading about the Proverbs 31 woman, and I just felt such a conviction that I wasn't placing enough faith or trust in my husband or what he had to say. All this time I felt like the superior Christian because I knew more. And I did know more- I probably still do, but that doesn't make what he knows and feels invalid. And God drove that straight home to my core and has been keeping that in my mind ever since. What's funny is that I changed almost immediately, and I started really listening to what Andy was trying to say and once I let him say it, I was often surprised by what he said. God doesn't just speak to the more knowledgeable one in the family. He speaks to all. By being self-seeking, I was keeping the other half of me from voicing his opinion. I am thankful that God intervened and showed me what I was doing. And he's also been showing me that one-sided communication isn't really communication- nor is it healthy for a relationship. Two people mean two sets of ideas and they are both valid, and in a truly non self-seeking relationship, you will really want to hear those other ideas before your own. Who knows, your ideas may change because of what your "better half" has to say.

The second thing that I wanted to point out today was the last part of verse five, love keeps no record of wrongs. That is so important for keeping a marriage healthy! If Andy says or does something that really hurts me or makes me mad, it's so important that we discuss it, work it out and then I have to completely let it go. Imagine what would happen if I just harbored those hurt feelings. Many a marriage has been lost to unresolved issues. If I keep that in, if I hold in something that Andy has done and keep it in the back of my mind, I can guarantee you that the devil sees and knows that and will bring it out when it best serves his purpose. I truly need to forgive and forget and move on, not hiding away those feelings. Things need to be dealt with. So far in our marriage, any problems that have come up have been dealt with between us, but you can bet that should we sense the need, we would involve our pastor or other elder in Christ to help us to resolve our issues. That's one of the reasons God puts those people in our lives, is to help us through those troubled times.

Of course, having said all this today, putting these issues in the context of marriage, I also have to say that the same can be said for our other relationships in life. God's love is not self-seeking, nor does it keep a record of our wrongs. When we do wrong, and confess our wrong to God and ask his forgiveness, he does just that. He forgives us and then completely forgets that we ever did wrong in the first place. Lessons from marriage can be used in any relationship, and vice versa. Often times in the relationships of life we learn something that can only be used to strengthen our marriages. No doubt, that's exactly what God wants for us. He wants our marriages and relationships to be strong, and he will give us the tools to help do just that. A good start is 1 Corinthians 13. Usually that chapter in the Bible is reserved for wedding ceremonies and Valentines Day, but it can be used every day. Try reading it today with new eyes, maybe in a translation you've never read it in before, and ask God to show you what you can work on today with your spouse. It will change your marriage for the better, and God wants that more than anything.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Listen To The Holy Spirit

"For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us." 1 Corinthians 2:11,12

I read this verse this morning and it was definitely a wow moment. I must have read this verse a hundred times before, but this time I REALLY read it. You know how that is? All the sudden a verse in the Bible will just jump out at you and you'll see what it's talking about. I love that, and as it happens, that is the help of the Holy Spirit, helping you to see what the Bible has to say to you.

When we become Christians, when we make that step and decide to live for Jesus and ask him to be a part of our lives, He sends us a helper, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the helper who dwells in us- he becomes a part of us. The Holy Spirit is that guide who often acts as a conscience, and helps us to make right decisions. Because he dwells in us, the Holy Spirit knows us. He knows us well, he knows our thoughts before we even think them. We are not mind-readers, but the Holy Spirit is, and he knows each and every thought that crosses our mind- good or bad. That's what the first part of this verse is saying- it's saying that there is no man who can know our thoughts, but the Holy Spirit can and does.

At the same time- and this is the really cool part- the Holy Spirit comes from God! The Holy Spirit is also a part of God, and the Spirit knows the thoughts of God. So think about that for a second. Think about the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, knowing our thoughts and helping us from day to day, and then think that this exact same Spirit is dwelling in God! Oh my! And as He knows the thoughts of God, he can help us to reconcile our thoughts with what God may be thinking. That's not only really cool, but that's pretty crazy to think about! The one and the same Holy Spirit is our direct link to God at all times.

So those times where we are unsure what to do, and we lean towards one choice, but feel that uneasiness and sense of warning in the back of our minds, that could very well be the Holy Spirit prompting us- sharing with us what God's thoughts are about a particular situation. That's fantastic to think, that not only do we have the Holy Spirit with us at all times to help us, but that he is also with God at all times. So those times when we are reading our Bible and something really jumps out and grabs us, we can know that it's the Holy Spirit giving us a nudge and saying "Hey, this is what God is thinking about for you today." There have been times, where I am thinking that I'll get my Bible reading over quickly that day, and I open it up willy-nilly, hopeful that one lone verse will jump out and grab me. Of course, that doesn't always happen. Lately, when I open my Bible, my method is to read until something grabs me. Yet, when I have the mentality of "let's just get this over with" I find that the sense of humor of God comes through as I read 6, 7, 12 chapters before something really grabs me. But it's always the right something. Whether it be a word of encouragement, or a revelation applicable to my life. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what God is thinking, and he also knows where my heart and mind is that day, and He knows exactly what I need to read.

The end of this verse today is just as meaningful and a delight to read. We can rest secure in our knowledge that the spirit that dwells in us is not of this world. It is a Heavenly Spirit- a part of God, sent to us to help us to understand our God better. The spirit of our world is often one of sadness, depression, oppression and that sense of being lost. We can take heart and hope in knowing that the Holy Spirit does not want those things for us. When we feel those things (and many other not so desirable feelings) that's the world pressing in. And that's when we take some time to recharge our batteries. We spend some time focusing on God and asking the Holy Spirit to help us, and he will fill us with what we need to muster through. What God has freely given us is His Love. His Love will always, always see us through. The Holy Spirit will sometimes help us to see that love when it seems hidden to us, but it's always there. We have a God who loves us so much, His son died for us. We have a God who loves us so much, he truly wants to spend eternity with us. And he sends his Holy Spirit to dwell in us to help us get there. So let's listen when He speaks or prompts us. I like the idea of following what God is thinking.