Count It ALL

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I have had the distinct pleasure of being called to jury duty at least a half dozen times within the last 10 years…and yes, just got another summons a few weeks ago. I have served on several small jury’s and had an encounter just this past fall on the inner workings of a federal grand jury. I have sat in a courtroom countless times and yet regardless of the size case or the severity of the case at hand – there has always been a common thread in the reactions of those awaiting the news of whether or not they would be called to serve.

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 10.54.11 PMJury Duty. It’s funny how those two words stir such disgust in people. I was offered condolences. I was given a multitude of tips on how to get out of serving. And consistently across the board every single person made some kind of awful face at the news. My first time heading to a courthouse here in South Carolina – I put all of the warnings and advice aside, and went to fulfill my duty. And low and behold the attitudes of the people at the courthouse were even worse than those who had warned me not to go. It was a spectacle indeed. There were those overly dressed up and ready to demonstrate that they were just too important to be there. There were others who went to great pains to look awful; from their dress, to their facial expressions, to the way they sat in the chair – everything screamed – ‘you know you don’t want ME on this case’! There were those who appeared to be clueless…but didn’t seem to understand that there is a line between clueless and calculating. There were some who thought if they just looked out the window, they wouldn’t be called on as if this were high school (has that trick ever really worked even in school?). Even the lawyers and presiding judge made comments on the painfulness of this process and that it would all be over soon. I sat through that entire experience and came to one resounding conclusion…people hate trials.

It doesn’t matter whose trial it is…trials are inconvenient, stressful, painful, and hard. And yet… James, brother to Jesus, tells us to consider them pure joy. Specifically, he says Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’  (James 1:2-4) Surely, that is a typo right? No, after checking almost every translation available they all say to consider trials as pure ‘joy’ in each one. The only differing verbiage comes from The Message and it says that we should ‘consider it a sheer gift’ – what?! Trials, a gift? A joy?

lilypadsAbout 30 min from my house is a really unique place called Cypress Gardens. It is one of the area plantations – a sweet mix of history and beauty filled with random wildlife and scenic views. Sadly it bore the brunt of some major damage in a massive flooding we had this past fall and is currently closed to the public as they try to rebuild. When I was there a few years ago I loved so much about my experience, but was overcome by the massive swamp that encompassed a huge portion of this 170 acre plantation. The swamp was edge to edge lily pads. It was ridiculous. And in many cases there seemed no break – no glimpses of the water they floated in. It was amazing. The ‘water’ was about as disgusting as you could imagine; covered in a nice thick, green, slimy film; a perfect oasis for the many alligators that I knew lay hidden beneath. Why I found this to be so remarkable were the countless waterlilies laced throughout the entire swamp. Waterlilies that were pure white, unblemished, in full beautiful bloom – gorgeous – and all I could do was ask ‘how?’ How on earth could something so beautiful come out of something so disgusting?

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Intrigued by the beauty of the waterlilies I went home and ‘googled’ how they could grow in all of that yuck. Turns out – they were designed for the yuck. Rooted deep in the ground beneath the swamp waters – they rise tall and strong so that that their blossoms and their leaves come up tall above the swampy waters. For each lily pad you see on the water – a beautiful bloom was once attached.

James tells us to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds’; ‘you will face trials of many kinds- when you do think of it as pure joy’; ‘my friends consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way’; and my favorite – ‘consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.’ I hear that, I read that, I clearly see it printed before me and all I can do is ask ‘how’? How on earth can something so hard be counted as pure joy?

In Romans, Paul echoes these same thoughts… Romans 5:3-5 – “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us.’

Peter later confirms…in 1 Peter 1:6-9 – “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

And just in case, we haven’t quite gotten the picture just yet…

1 Peter 4:12-13 – “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

There is not one of us that has escaped the experience of trials. Very rarely are they a once in a lifetime thing. For myself, trials have always been an underlying reality – in a way, like the waterlily, it seems as though I too was designed for the yuck. When I was little I lived in a home that had some pretty peculiar experiences. The youngest of three sisters we each had our own room – and we were each to stay in our own room. We had to ask permission to come downstairs – and that was usually only to ask a question, never to just hang out or play or watch TV.  I never learned to ride a bike, don’t remember ever playing on our swing set (though we did have one) and only once did I ever have a friend come over. We were not allowed to be in each other’s rooms. I often say it was like we were baby dolls placed on a shelf. When my mom wanted to play with us, she’d bring us off our shelf otherwise that is where we stayed. Now for me, as a mom of four very active children – in need of interaction and quality time and affection and conversation and fuel to their overactive dramatic minds and hearts – I am blown away by the reality that was my childhood. There were times of great sadness and loss, there were times of great fear and insecurity, and the details (too great and too numerous for any retelling) were anything but beautiful. That said, I can tell you that I absolutely look back and count it all joy. I found solace in the comfort of stuffed animals. I found creativity in the multitude of coloring books and stories that filled my shelves. I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone…as my sisters each endured and struggled. Oddly I look back on my childhood and it looks strikingly like the swamps of Cypress Gardens. Gross, disgusting, nothing you would want to swim in and yet out of it came something beautiful. I am not defined by my past or my upbringing. I have no disclaimers that say ‘because of these choices, because of these trials, Sarah is this …’

As an adult, the trials simply took on new form. I can easily think of financial trials and countless trials over failing cars. I can go back to multiple times of stress and busyness that placed a strain on my marriage. I can recall difficulties that arose in my pregnancy with Lacie and the hard questions and decisions regarding her health and life. I have vivid memories of enduring a miscarriage alone in the floor of my master bathroom. I can recall a few toxic friendships and poor choices in college. I can still instantly tear up as I recall the Lord allowing everything I loved – friends, work, church, and at the time…my purpose and heart – to be ripped from me with no clear explanation. I cringe a bit at the uncertainties of job changes and the unknowns of ‘what’s next’ that even face me right now. In John 16:33, John sums it up simply ‘in this world you will have trouble…but take heart (find joy, realize the gift) I (Jesus) have overcome the world.’

My sweet friend when it comes to the trials that we face in life – find comfort in the fact that we were designed to rise above the trials. We need to root ourselves into the deep soil that is Jesus Christ – and when we have, He will help us to rise tall and strong even in the most unlikely of scenarios. We have to stop looking angrily at the trials that come our way or that were our past. We have to look for how His hand held onto us…how His hand holds us still. A great pastor, Wayne Corderio explained it this way (and I’m merely paraphrasing) ‘sometimes we go through times of trial where instead of God lifting us over it he grabs us by the hand and drags us right through it. Sometimes that process of dragging us on the ground is repetitive. We are battered and beaten, but even in the dragging – he never let’s go of our hand.’ …even in the dragging – he never let’s go of our hand!

It is a fair question to ask…how on earth can something beautiful come from something so disgusting? Perseverance, character, hope, endurance, and a deepened faith in Christ – beautiful! Thank you Lord – if this is what brings me closer to you then keep on dragging me Lord – yes, I will count it ALL joy!

Caught Off Guard

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As a mom of four, a children’s director to 100’s and a Christ follower for over three decades – I am always looking for God in everything. I try to find the teachable moments that will resonate for my kids; those tangible moments where you can take a scripture or a truth from God’s word and watch it come alive through an illustration, an experience or even a story. Last week I was overwhelmed by such an encounter and sat down to capture it here so that I could remember. Now, normally when I write, I average a cool 15 or so folks reading it at best. So imagine my surprise when my simple retelling of a night at the movies hit numbers in the 6 digit range as it was shared all over the world.

I confess that the reaction has caught me somewhat off guard. I wasn’t writing it so much to illicit a response as I was hoping to just capture a moment. But as I am prone to do – I have spent the week trying to find God through this experience. What was the reason? What was the take away? What was He trying to teach me? It’s a funny thing, seeking after God – you will undoubtedly always find Him, but He will not always give you the answers you are after; a purposeful twist in having us continually looking for Him further. 😉

I can’t really say ‘and here is why the Lord allowed this,’ but here are a few take aways that it has brought to mind.

  • People are funny. I received an outpouring of thoughts and comments on the things that I wrote and among those were some pretty funny questions. Questions that I will not be answering, but found funny nonetheless.
    • Am I going to start doing movie reviews on all movies now?
    • Your kids don’t really talk that way do they?
    • (and my personal favorite) You are aware that you’re not a perfect mom, right? 😉
My only response to these and other questions posed: ‘For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.’  Galatians 1:10 HSCB

 

  • IMGP6694You are watched even when you’re not paying attention. The first thing that came to mind through this experience was a game of hide-n-seek that I played with my first born when he was just three years old. He thought he was so perfectly hidden behind the curtains in his room – when as you can see from the picture – it was pretty evident where he stood. Very often we don’t pay attention to those around us – we don’t notice if they are watching us or if they hear the things we say. We throw a thought or comment on social media, we go about our daily routines, we carry on…normally with our own objectives and plans in mind and little else. We forget that people might be observing the things we say or do. We underestimate the example we are or the witness we could be. If we claim to be followers of Christ – people will be listening, people will be observing. Do the things you believe and claim match the life you live? Are you someone that draws others toward Christ or make them want to run the other direction?
‘For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.’ John 13:15 HSCB

 

  • Words are powerful. I am a lover of ‘words’. Words have the power to bring forth untapped emotions. They can bring healing and hope. They can tear down and destroy. They can be used to demonstrate unbelievable amounts of love or to inflict unspeakable levels of hurt. Words that have been written can be revisited over and over or used as walls to hide behind as we throw out anything and everything toward another. In the course of this last week I experienced both sides of that coin; powerful words of encouragement and gratefulness…biting words of disagreement and anger. While I did not feel the need to respond to either of these positions – how it resonated that it was because of my words that these strong emotions rose up. Our words are powerful. Are we building each other up? Are we tearing each other down? Are we driving anger or hate or are we seeking to bring moments of hope? The gift of words has been given to each of us – how are we yielding this powerful weapon?
‘I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’ Matthew 12:36-37 HSCB

 

  • My God is far bigger than me. I don’t really need to elaborate much on this one. I am mess of a woman. I am flawed in many ways. I am terribly busy with the things of this life. I am hopelessly sarcastic. I am insecure. I have a long list of titles (mama, wife, best friend, sister, daughter, co-worker, boss, teacher, writer, enemy, Christ-follower…). I am just ‘me’. But God can and does do a lot with the ‘just me’s’ of this world. My plan was to capture a moment, God clearly had something else in mind.
‘Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.’ Proverbs 19:21 NIV

 

  • The rocks WILL cry out. At the end of the day I have absolutely no clue why that article spread to so many so quickly. I don’t know how the Lord fully used my words, and I am totally aware and fully confident that this time next week I will be resting comfortably again with my faithful 15. What I do know is that at every moment and in every opportunity I want to bring Him glory…in what I say, what I do…what I write. If I take nothing else away from this…if I can do nothing but encourage you – may it be in this…In the good moments – proclaim His glory. In the difficult times – praise His name. In the random, in the planned, in the unexpected, in the funny, in the serious…in all things at all times may we see Him, honor Him, praise Him, glorify Him and point others toward Him.
‘Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise…’ ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭96:2-4‬a NIV

 

An Unlikely View…a Different Review

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untitledAs I sit here this evening – I am overwhelmed with words and emotion and yet unsure how to express either. Days ago, I walked into a movie theater to view a movie I had been excited about since I had first heard it was in the works. Beauty and the Beast. I was 15 years old when the animated version came out. I remember watching it with my sister when she was home on break from college. I remember at the time feeling so moved by such a beautiful movie. The story hit me personally somehow; the music moved me; the characters impacted me. I remember even then thinking – how can this beautifully crafted cartoon have such an affect on me? So to say that I was both excited and nervous about the live action version is a bit understated. Excited to revisit a favorite in a new way and yet nervous because what if they totally destroyed the story I loved so much (it is after all Hollywood, where that is pretty par for the course).

Weeks before the movie was to be released – the world suddenly seemed turned on it’s side – as various reports about additional elements in the movie began to spin. I listened and observed an anger rise up in many; I heard the actual cries of ‘kill the beast’ at the hint of an ugliness that may be present in the film. Based on little information – I saw decisions made, lines drawn, and judgments locked in. I began to research sources that I trusted, and their reviews didn’t seem to align with the many angry voices I kept hearing. So four days ago, with girlfriends in tow, I went to see this newest version of my all time favorite animated movie. It was overwhelming. The cinematography, the music, the costumes, the littlest details, the story. It was far more beautiful than I was prepared for. The story so true to the original and the additional elements that were laced in – so perfectly placed and rich. For as much as I was swept away and entrenched into this poor provincial town – I did view certain moments and characters through the lens of the reviews I had heard before walking into the theater. Did I notice anything? Was there an agenda? Was there a moment? Those things couldn’t help but cross through my mind – as I watched from the perspective of ‘mama’, ‘minister’ and even just ‘friend’ for I knew I would be questioned from each of these vantage points. As I processed, I was so very moved by the character in question; watching a transformation of heart and conscience change him – I felt so proud. Then watching a hopeless ‘beast’ understand where his choices had lead him and yet he was able to hope again and an absolute jerk of a character, who swayed the masses and yet never learned a thing…I cannot say enough.

IMG_3599I knew that I wanted to take my two oldest children – my 12 year old – who is wired just like his mama with a deep heart and an overall love for theater and musicals; and my 9 year old, who has struggled thus far in life in often living out the role of Gaston more times than not. As we made our way to the theater, I had a little heart-to-heart with the kids. I asked them to do me a favor as they watched the movie tonight…I asked them to watch it with God in mind. I challenged them both to see if they could find any ‘God moments’ in the film. The opening monologue that spoke of there being no good in the beast – immediately had my 12 year old leaning over – saying ‘right there…that’s a God moment. Without God – there is no good in any of us’. The movie carried on and it soon got to the scene where the beast saves Belle from the wolves. My 9 year old leaned over and asked ‘why would he do that mama? why would he save her?’ – My simple answer in the moment was ‘because he is not evil’ – Her response ‘It’s God in us that would cause us to make decisions like that, isn’t it?’ Needless to say, I laid a challenge down to my kids and they both quickly affirmed they were up for that challenge. I soon began to look at the movie through this lens as well. Can I tell you how even more remarkably beautiful this movie became with God in mind?

free in christAs we walked out of the theater – my oldest was choked up. ‘Mom…the scene where the beast changes back to a man. That’s what happens when we give our hearts to Christ. The bad choices we made, the ugliness that may have been all over us – is cleared away. We are made new in Him.’ My Lacie chimed in ‘Mama, he had no hope. He thought he would be a beast forever – but with love he found that hope. That’s God, right? If God is love, we can find our hope in him, right?’ Back to my oldest…’The character of Gaston was a lot like Satan. Satan often makes himself look ‘beautiful’ but there is no good in him. There was no good in Gaston – none – and yet everyone (except a few) were swayed by his appearance. What a scary realization that so many can be so easily swayed by the enemy.’ The conversation continued the entire way home.

This movie was not created to be a catalyst for the gospel. It was not designed with an agenda to lead people to the cross or challenge them in their walk with the Lord…and yet that is exactly what our family took away. Was there sin in the movie – yes. There was a hateful man that treated women and men like the dirt beneath his feet, who lied, who abused, who lifted himself above everyone else. There was the inclusion of magic, of prejudice, the belittling of women, the hint of homosexuality, the abuse of the elderly, the worship of idols to name just a few. Not a one of these sins greater than the next; not a one less ungodly than the the other. None of them so blatant – all just a piece of the tapestry of the film. As a mama, I had a choice. I could have pointed out all of these things to my children before going into the theater.I could have painted a picture of hating all of these things and they would have watched the movie through that lens – absolutely. Instead, I asked them to view with God in mind. They did observe those same things, these sinful moments, but with the perspective of God in mind they viewed them with a broken heart, from a place of understanding our need for Jesus in this world. My little girl hopeful that she too would come to a place where she trusted the hope that is in Jesus – that she doesn’t have to be a ‘beast ‘ forever. My oldest challenged in his faith, strengthened in his walk. Their mama moved beyond what she can adequately express.

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The lessons I gleaned with God in mind tonight…are too many to elaborate on in an already long message. However, in one of the new songs written for this version of Beauty and the Beast – the words read ‘Love is beauty, love is pure. Love pays no mind to desolation. It flows like a river through the soul. Protects, proceeds, and perseveres and makes us whole.’ How can we not see God in those words?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

I will simply say … when we look for evil, we will find it – every time. It won’t be hard to find and we won’t even have to look too deep…if humans are a part…sin will be present. When we look for God – He can and will be found. Every time. Put that lens of ‘looking for Him’ on – it is amazing what He will allow you to see.

How to free a hummingbird…

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IMG_6516About 4:00pm on Tuesday, I was getting ready to prepare dinner – homemade lasagna night! 😉 Got all of the ingredients out and realized that we had used all of the cheese on taco night the evening before. Cheese is a pretty crucial ingredient when cooking lasagna and I had already gotten it locked in my head that this is what we were having so I loaded up the kids and started off to the store. I had gotten as far as our neighbor’s house when I heard my, then, sweet four year old say – ‘I don’t have shoes.’ Sigh. Brakes. Garage door open. Out he runs as fast as his little legs could take him and just as fast he was back – shoes in hand – yes, hand – but at least we had them. Around 20 minutes later we were back at the house and to my surprise the garage door was open. Somehow with the in-and-out of my little man, I had not closed it as I pulled out. Oops.

As I drove into the garage, Isaac matter of factly said, ‘Mom, there’s a hummingbird in the garage.’ To which I quickly responded ‘No there isn’t!’ Several rounds of this back and forth commenced until I finally got out and looked at our ceiling and brilliantly said, ‘There’s a hummingbird IN our garage.’ Bless this sweet hummingbird’s heart – he was so very scared and so very dumb. As we began to watch him (and of course name him – Squeakers), he just kept flying to the ceiling. He kept looking up, hitting his head on the ceiling – over and over and over. I tried countless things to try and get him out – even pulling the car back out of the garage so that nothing would block his exit out. None of this worked. He just continued to flutter across the ceiling. Soon my concern for him melting in the heat of my garage became frustration over how dumb a bird are you? There is a massive opening a foot below you – and you won’t look down and go out?!? Dumb bird!Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 10.09.55 PM

 

A few days ago, I shared this story with some friends and did so from the perspective of a mama’s role in leading her children. But as I work my way through the book of James, stumbling onto today’s verses in James 2:12-13 – ‘Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.’ I suddenly see this real life illustration played out in a much different way. It was roughly 95 degrees in our garage that day. I tried for several hours to encourage this bird to get out and no matter what I attempted to do – he continued to hit his head on the ceiling or hide on top of the garage door. I wanted him to be free. I knew that the conditions he was currently in would literally be the death of him. My approach began gentle and sweet, but as time ticked by and my dinner began to get delayed – I began to just get frustrated. And yes, even coming to that moment of ‘well if you want to stay in the garage and get hungry, hot and die – that’s on you bird!’ But instead of leaving him to his own demise, I Googled ‘how to remove a hummingbird from your garage.’ First words were ‘It is very easy to remove a hummingbird from your garage.’ Like poo it is – we’ve been at it for over two hours and that stinker is still hanging out in there! But with simple suggestions of being mindful of it’s fears, helping to create a focus, and having everything point clearly to the light outside that gives freedom – he will quickly leave. We removed the kids, set out red objects to help focus it’s attention, kicked on the headlights and soon he flew right out. When I tried to get in the way, with my attempts of freeing it – it only scared it more and sent it flying in the wrong direction. When I gave up, judging it as a dumb bird – it gave up and just sat – still stuck – in our garage. But when I realized that I wasn’t going to be the thing that saved it and set it free…when I realized that my attempts were only condemning it – I knew I had to change my approach. 

My approach with people has to change as well. I am not to judge, not to think I know what is best for what will set them free or that I can help them see the light. Did you catch verse 12? God’s law is what gives freedom. If I judge others, if I intervene with my opinions and thoughts, I’m not extending grace or mercy and may very well be sending them in the very opposite direction. Mercy triumphs over judgement. Stop casting judgement, start showing mercy. Thank you ‘Squeakers’ for this reminder!

My prayer for Today…

IMG_6513Lord – It is such a temptation to want to cast judgment on others. It is so easy to think my words or opinions could be THE thing that will help someone else see the light. Woo, glory forgive me for those moments of such arrogance and pride. May I never forget that I will never see all of what is going on in the heart and life of that other person. I may not – but you do. May I realize that my words, my actions, my judgements may in fact turn them off to Christ. But mercy Lord! That is what you’ve called me to. ‘Mercy’ – compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone
whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. My words could so easily hurt, my actions could so easily punish…but that is not what you called me to. You in fact say that you’ve got that covered. Mercy – compassion over punishment; forgiveness over harm. Glory Lord. May I love them as you’ve called me to – you are the one that will teach them the lessons they need to
learn; you are the one that will challenge them, grow them and refine them. May I not just listen to these words Lord – may I DO them. Thank you for the mercy you have continually shown to me Lord. Continually! Love you so greatly! In Jesus name – Amen!

Do I REALLY have to touch THAT?

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So…for a wordsy girl, I am feeling a little quiet this afternoon. (And everyone breathes a sweet sigh of relief! 😉 Finding myself with a few – highly sought after – quiet moments – the thoughts and burdens of ministry seem to be sitting heavy on my chest. God called me to be a wife, He called me to be a mama, He called me to lead in my church, He called me to be a friend – there is not an aspect of my life that isn’t drenched in ministry. There is so much joy in it, and there is so much heaviness to it. There are moments you feel so high and excited as you see light bulbs go off in the eyes of another, as you hear His word spoken, as you see love wash all over the face of your child…and there is such sadness when the realization there is only so much you can do hits. All of it – the joys and triumphs, the helplessness and sadness – bring with it a roller coaster ride of various forms but it truly is so worth it – as it all ties back to my relationship with Christ. There are moments in ministry, in family, in life where we are faced with a choice. Let it consume us or let it glorify Him. Reminded me of an experience I had sometime back…

Many years ago my husband selflessly allowed me to sneak away for a weekend alone so that I could have some one-on-one time with my Jesus. No, I didn’t go to any kind of conference. No, I didn’t go with a laid out or detailed plan. No, I didn’t take anyone with me. It was just me, my Bible, my praise music, my Bible study on James and my Jesus. It was a sweet time. It held moments of great emotion, moments of intense excitement (LOVE studying His great and powerful word!), and just tender moments of working through the hidden areas of my heart. But those details…I will keep between me and my sweet Jesus.

photo (11)This weekend stands out in my mind, honestly, because of what I found when I arrived at my get away retreat. Forgive the picture, but I needed the visual for you to understand. When I arrived and pulled into the driveway…this little guy pictured here was laying in the middle of the driveway. Seriously, gross, right? Now maybe I’d been hanging out with my, then, three adventurous kids for too long, but I had to check him out. Not that I am going to ask you to, but if you click on it and look closer the little bugger is completely missing a leg. I don’t know what this thing got himself into…but love his heart it did not come out well for him. And suddenly I found myself with a dilema…what do I do with him?

 

Options…

  1. Though obviously dead…back the car over him repeatedly to verify death.
  2. Find something to throw over it – covering it up so I don’t have to look at it.
  3. Pretend like I never saw him (though being right in the middle of the driveway…that was going to be a stretch).
  4. Find a shovel and remove him to his final resting place in the woods.
Now put a pause on this scene from the nature channel…and fast forward to why I went away that weekend. I went away for some focused time with my Jesus, but what does that mean exactly? Well, it was time to pray over those the Lord has placed in my life. It was time to dive deeper into His Word and try to learn more about this great God. But it was also a time to get real with the Lord; to look at those areas of my heart and my life, that I have been trying to hide away from the Lord. Those areas that we (who are all sinners) should always be seeking to unravel and allow the Lord access to. I don’t know about you but this can be a scary thing to do sometimes. Do I allow the Lord full access into my heart? Do I allow him into places that I myself sometimes don’t want to go? And suddenly I am faced with some options…
  1. Do I replay past events, past choices, past sins repeatedly to verify that I am worthless?
  2. Do I find something to throw over that area of my life to cover it it up so I just don’t have to look at it?
  3. Do I pretend that those areas just don’t exist? Why even bring them up with the Lord – let’s focus on the good stuff and pretend those aren’t there?
  4. Do I get down on the ground, even it takes an ocean of tears, even if it’s painful, even if it gross…and just remove it and allow the Lord to put the junk in it’s final resting place?
Back to my little friend…as I considered my options I really did begin to lean toward pretending it wasn’t there and just trying to avoid it…but it became all I could think about. First of all it was just icky. But let’s say I did leave it – what if it encouraged other critters to come out and feast on it right there by my car? ‘Ick’ intensified. As much as I wanted to just walk away – that was not a viable solution. I wish you could have seen me remove this thing. It’s not like I even had to get my hands dirty. I just had to grab a shovel, scoop it up (although scooping was more like pushing it across the driveway until I could gain some traction to scoop) and walk a few yards toward the woods. I barely touched it and that gag reflex came over me and I stood there shuttering. After a quick ‘man up’ speech…I pushed, scooped and carried the little bugger to it’s final resting place (head turned away the entire time). And like that…the problem was solved, the yuck was gone and I could move on.
You know where I’m going now, right? 😉 I won’t drag it out…don’t continue to beat yourself up over past choices. Don’t try to hide it away – hoping others but more importantly Jesus won’t see it. Don’t try to pretend that it doesn’t bother you, isn’t ‘that big a deal’ or think that avoiding it will prevent further pain. Avoiding it will only prevent further healing. Similarly don’t let current circumstances or situations have such victories in your heart and mind. Don’t beat yourself over what you could have done or should be doing. Don’t hide away and think that absense will just make it all go away. Don’t pretend there isn’t something there hurt, heavy or weighing. Grab your shovel…fall to your knees…there’s only one choice friend…
Praying for you.

NOT my favorite…

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IMG_6462A few years back, we decided to load the kids up and head to Carowinds Theme Park – just a short two and a half hour drive north. We had only been there twice before, never with a baby in tow, and never during a season when their waterpark area was also open. So this was a new experience to say the least, but was surprisingly fun for everyone. Well, on the whole it was fun, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that there were times throughout the day where someone struggled just a little. The struggle, surprisingly, wasn’t in the waiting in lines or in enduring the weather, as we had timed our trip for a less busy day and God blessed us with overcast conditions. No, the overall struggle that reared it’s head in several different ways was with fear.

We had been to Carowinds before where Isaac had come face-to-face with a roller coaster called ‘The Intimidator’. A large red coaster with lots of deep drops and that went pretty fast. At the time, he was not quite tall enough to ride it, but since that trip he has stressed and worried about the day when he would be tall enough. For months preceding this current trip – he would come downstairs well after he was supposed to be asleep – and tearfully share his concerns over the safety of this ride. Would it break? Would he get hurt? What if…? He had no knowledge of this coaster other than what his little eyes had taken in and therefore what he assumed about it. And the judgment call that his mind made was that it was scary and dangerous and that filled him with all kinds of fear and stress.

We were not at the park very long before we were able to get in line for the ‘Woodstock Express’ – a fun little wooden coaster that even my then four year old Caleb could ride. Caleb was excited to get to be my riding buddy and was ready for the adventure. We got into our seats, belted in and off we went. Suddenly that excitement disappeared. Where he had gotten into the car with his hands already flung high into the air, they soon lowered as we began to move and before the first turn he was gripping my t-shirt. When he saw the first little hill, well little to me, that we began to go over – he was done. Something in him realized that this is not normal and he was instantly afraid to get back on, claiming ‘it was too fast. Fast is NOT my favorite.’ He had placed judgement that the speed was too much, that he was unsafe and therefore he wanted to write it off.IMG_6476

Later in the day, I had a chance to ride a bigger coaster with Isaac and Lacie. It was the kind where the bar drops in over your head and your feet dangle in the air. I sat looking in the seat beside me and Lacie suddenly looked so small. And instant fear came through me as we began to move – ‘what if she falls out.’ I was overcome with anxiety over the safety of my children and yes, as silly as it sounds, prayed for their protection the entire ride.

I have thought of each of these moments on and off as I have been processing today’s verses from James. These are the first four verses found in chapter two and they read, ‘“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”‘ Stay with me a moment as The Lord has been pressing a thought in my mind that connects what James is saying and what I experienced. At face value, I look at the illustration James paints here and know that there have been times when I have made similar judgement calls. I have allowed the appearance of a person or situation to factor into my reaction and  my response. Making such judgement calls goes against so many things that the Lord asks us to do – ‘Love others more than yourself‘, ‘Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’, and on and on. In light of this situation, it is easy to see why one would pick a favorite – I have even see the reverse where the one who was dirty and poor was thought of more highly than the rich one. But what keeps ringing in my head is not that we tend to choose favorites, that we tend to make assumptions, that we tend to do for one and not another…what keeps blasting in my head is – why? Why do we do these things? Why is it that so often we can make assumptions, judgments and even decisions based on very little. In my opinion, it is because it is easier. Going after the one that looks like they have it all together, on the surface, makes it seem like we won’t have to get so dirty ourselves. Less work, less time, less energy, less time needing to pray about it and take it before the Lord…it just looks easier. What concerns me is how much of our lives we live in this way, making these assumptions, choosing favorites, looking for the nicely packaged deal. In relationships we look for the best friend, not the absolute mess. In jobs, we look for the most money with the least amount of work. In extra curricular time, we look to the fun not more work. We do these things for a number of reasons (selfishness, pride – sure), but I think there is fear in choosing the wrong thing. There is fear in being in a relationship with someone who requires more time and has nothing to offer to you. There is fear in working a job that is hard and offers just enough to live on. I think we tend to let the fears of this world, and our personal short-comings, overtake us. I think we tend to forget that we are to cast all of our cares on the Lord, that He desires to carry the burdens that this world places on us, that He loves us so much and that we are filthy rags that he reached down to make clean again. We let fear and uncertainty consume. We try to justify. We try to find the loop hole that makes it okay. Do you take every situation, every decision, every thought captive and to the Lord? Or do you let fear consume? Do you let uncertainty overwhelm? Do you let laziness dictate your actions and thoughts?

IMG_6465When we stepped into the theme park that day – we immediately went to ‘The Initimadator’ – knowing that it would ruin Isaac’s entire day if he had to stress and fret over this ride. We talked with him about how, as his parents, we would never intentionally put him in danger. We asked him to trust. When he got off of the ride, he looked at me and said ‘That was awesome.’ (followed by ‘I am a man!’ – ha!).

When we got off of ‘Woodstock Express’ and Chris saw the fear and tears in Caleb’s eyes – he scooped him up and said, ‘Come on, go ride this with your daddy’. He then began to tell Caleb – he was a Cinnamon. Cinnamons loved fast. He asked him to trust. Caleb got off the ride – ‘That was so cool. I love fast!’

As I sat, wrestling with my own fears – the Lord just washed over me – reminding me that no matter what He’s got in store for us – whether that’s here on earth or in heaven with him. He asked me to trust. And I got off the ride, big smiles and hugs – and told the kids ‘That was great!’ IMG_6479

God didn’t call us to the pretty. He didn’t call us to the easy. Not that we won’t have pretty, easy people and encounters in our lives. He called us to trust in Him, to love others more than ourselves and to be His. Favoritism, making judgments – shuts a door – let Him direct your thoughts, your decisions, your path. And praise Him, that He does not choose favorites himself! 😉

My prayer for Today…

Precious Lord, In everything may I make my requests to you. When faced with relationships – no matter how deep or surface-y; no matter the length of time I will spend with them (building deep trust or talking in the grocery store line) – may I look on them through your eyes. May I not turn away from one for another. May I not think I’m better. May I not be afraid of getting down on the floor and getting dirty. May I not be afraid that I’m less than. May I not get so consumed in my thoughts and fears, but be more concerned with loving as you have loved me. In situations where I have the opportunity to make a judgement call – may I look to you – what would you have me do, how would you have me respond. May I trust that in hard times you will hold me. May I trust that you don’t always call us to the difficult – but you do promise no matter what that you will be there to see us through. Forgive me for the many times I have chosen favorites. For the many times, I have been selfish and prideful. For the many times, I have just been so scared to seek you and trust you. I love you Lord. Thank you for not turning me aside, for not looking away, for not being afraid to get dirty, to take on both my pain and shame, for loving me so completely. For my friend reading this today, Lord, how I pray for them. I pray that they would trust you with an unwavering trust. I pray that every situation, every opportunity, they would put ‘self’ aside, they would seek you and they would trust your ‘whys’, they would trust your lessons, they would trust your outcomes. I thank you for loving them so perfectly, so deeply. May they feel that in immeasurable ways today Lord. Humbled by you today Lord. In you Jesus’ sweet name – Amen!

How to be His girl…

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The church I grew up in…

The home that I grew up in was fractured at best. I was a preacher’s kid. My father preached and my mother lead the choir. At church we were always dressed in our Sunday best, always smiling. We had to look the part and in most cases I believe we pulled that off. We had to keep superficial relationships, but even those remained at arms length because to get too close meant you might see imperfection, you might see chaos, hurt, anger, loneliness and levels of dysfunction too deep and painful to speak of here. What went on within the four walls that we called home was nothing of what was seen at church on Sunday…not even a shadow of the truth because we were a ‘religious’ family. We hid behind our title, we made sure that we did all of the right things and had all of the right appearances, most of all we made it a point to never tell the truth of what home life was like to anyone. Part of keeping up with those appearances was not only in what we didn’t say it was in what we didn’t do. We were religious…so that meant no joining the band, no going to parties, no real friendships with anyone ‘unchurched’, to name a mere few. There was never an option ‘to be real’ but always – always – we were to have it together. Somehow my parents, and many of their generation, thought they were adhering to these verses found in James – ‘Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:26-27  They thought that by avoiding or ignoring the things of this world that was ‘keeping oneself from being polluted by the world.’ But that is NOT what James means here. How did they miss such obvious truth?

It has taken many painful years to learn to be genuine, to learn that ‘being religious’ is not the goal. I do not have it together -and to try to spend all of my time trying to convince you I do and not be concerned about your heart or your walk is foolish, and that time worthless. This is such a tender subject to me as it brings up childhood memories I would very much like left hidden away, but it is a subject that still rears it’s head up even today. Praise the Lord…let me say that one more time…PRAISE the LORD that He brought me out of that home and into a true understanding of what being His entails.

James concludes his thought by simply expressing that we need to be compassionate down to the ones who are at the lowest and most vulnerable position. That means we’re gonna have to get our hands dirty and we’re gonna have to risk our own hearts for the heart of another. Here is my paraphrasing – ‘You say you love Jesus. You say he is in your heart and who you live your life for. If that’s true that’s gonna be evident in how you live, how you love, how you accept, how you forgive, how you’re compassionate. It’s more than talk. If you’re just talking the talk – be quiet. If it is genuine – it will be evident by how it pours out of you. It’s gonna mean that you’re gonna have to step down from your high horse and get down and dirty. When you do get out in the world – to love the unloved, to encourage the broken, to hold the abandoned, to protect the insecure…protect your heart. In your attempts to love those of the world…don’t fall victim yourself.’ James NEVER says don’t be in the world. He NEVER says don’t reach out to the world. Just merely – remember that when you have faith in Jesus, he goes with you, he’s in you – don’t pollute that, don’t lose that, don’t neglect that hope. It’s not about being religious. It’s not about following an endless list of do’s and don’ts. It’s not about appearances. It’s about loving a God who is crazy in love with us. It’s about taking that love into the world. It’s about holding tight to Him so that the world that wants to suck us in can never get that grip. May we stop desiring to be religious and just desire to be His!

My prayer for Today…

Lord…this subject hits such a tender nerve with me.   Lord, at the end of the day…I want nothing more than to be your girl. I want to be a genuine reflection of the relationship that I have with you; loving others as you would love them, spreading the truth of your great love. I desperately long to lose the title of ‘religious’ and just simply be ‘yours’. Help me where I stumble…hold me when I fall. I love you…Amen.

Mirror, Mirror…

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clover-antique-silver-decorative-framed-wall-mirror-516607-0-1343678445000Mirror mirror on the wall, why must I look at you at all? Okay, let’s just get to it…”Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.’ James 1:22-25 NIV

Reading through this section I have to laugh, again, at how perfect James paints an illustration where I can relate. I can only speak for myself here, but I am not a fan of mirrors. I’m not really sure where this dislike for them originated, but nonetheless I’m not a fan. I am your atypical ‘glancer’. I glance quickly to make sure my outfit looks all right. I throw my hair up in some fashion and glance quickly to see that it doesn’t look too awful. And on the occasion that I put on make-up I don’t use a mirror at all. I’ve never really gotten caught up in how I look – not that this is a good thing – just one of my silly quirks. So I fully understand what James is talking about here. I look so quickly in and out of the mirror that I really don’t have a clue when I walk away of what I really look like. But I love this analogy because if we want to evaluate how we look our number one tool for doing that is by using a mirror. There is no real way to assess our appearance any other way. If I want to make sure my hair looks cute, my teeth are free of debris, that my skirt isn’t riding too high or if I need to get something out of my eye – I only have one recourse. We can go for a while avoiding mirrors, but eventually – we need to take that time to get things in check. God’s word, as James points out here, operates in very much the same way. If we think of His word as a mirror – it too is something that we peer into in order to see ourselves as we really are and we use it to adjust things so they are better. Knowing this, there are times that we want to just take a quick glance and keep going because if we look too closely we may see that we are not matching up to what is in His word. Or we may take the time to read – checking it off our list – but then walk away and live our lives the exact same way we did before we read – forgetting what we read almost instantly. Nothing changes, nothing is convicted and therefore nothing is altered, and very often we forget what we read anyway. I have to quote commentator, Warren Weirsbe, here – “If we are to use God’s mirror profitably, then we must gaze into it carefully and with serious intent. No quick glances will do. We must examine our own hearts and lives in the light of God’s Word. This requires time, attention, and sincere devotion.’ I think sometimes the reason that we only glance at God’s word is because we are afraid of what we might see. Because, as James says here, we can’t just read the word, we can’t even just hear the word, we MUST do what it says. I don’t know about you, but I feel the Lord convicting me more and more to search His word and let it become a part of whom I am. I am so guilty though of not taking the necessary time that might require. I make excuses; I give into distractions (sleep, schedules, laziness…) and don’t take that sweet time alone with Him. That is part of my challenge in this time, I think, to push myself to be in His word, to let it speak to me, to let it cast a light on areas of my life that needs altering, to have it push me, refine me and even encourage me.

This section of scripture really does feel like James is giving a lesson in simple math. Let’s break down what he’s saying here…

‘Do not merely listen to the word’ – There is more required to time in the Word than just hearing it preached on Sunday or by influential speakers. There is more required than just quickly reading through it on your own. More is required, but what?

‘Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves’ – If you just listen to a great podcast or make your way into a church building come Sunday morning – you are lying to yourself if you think that is going to ‘fix’ what’s stirring in your heart or even take you further in your walk with Christ. If you quickly read a few verses from your Bible or read through a powerful devotional and then go about your day without giving it any more thought – you are deceiving yourself to think that your life, troubles, relationships, experiences will be effected and impacted for Christ. If you think the checklist of listening and reading is good enough – you are lying to yourself.

‘Do what it says.’ – Short of grabbing a bottle of white out or scrolling quickly past this 4 word sentence on your phone…there is no way to misinterpret the meaning here. Don’t just listen, don’t just read…DO what it says. If we want to find peace through the storms and trials that come – we can read the Bible until we’re blue in the face and we won’t be able to weather the winds of those storms any better. Until we DO what His word says…Cast our cares on Him; trust in the Lord with all our heart; lay our sacrifice on the altar and go reconcile…we have to put what we read, what we hear into action in our lives. We HAVE to let His word – which is alive and active and living – transform our lives, our hearts, our attitudes, our words, our reactions, our emotions, our concerns…everything. Otherwise – we are lying to ourselves. Glory.

And then in case we are a little slow, stubborn (or not really listening to His word to begin with) he breaks it down just a little bit more. ‘Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror’ – now let’s stop here. Can we take a quick lesson from this man? He goes immediately to an example that not one single soul (short of some third world remote individuals) is unable to relate. Have you ever tried to explain your faith or your love for Christ and felt yourself get a little preachy or felt you had to articulate in some huge way? James is shooting that approach right in the foot. He’s bringing the gospel…Christ’s desire is that we understand Him and that He be accessible to us is so that He can in fact change our lives. He puts it in terminology and gives examples that we can immediately relate to and understand. What a fabulous example for us as we seek to bring people to the thrown of God! We can relate to looking in a mirror. We can feel the insecurities of what we see when we look in and how that affects the way we look in the mirror or the length of time. Instantly we are drawn into that emotion and experience – oh that we can speak the gospel with such transparent speech.

‘…and after looking at himself, immediately goes away and forgets what he looks like.’ If we immediately forget…did we really soak it in? Did we really ask ourselves the questions of how the verses could apply to our lives? Did we see hope and want to praise the Lord? Did we come away with questions and continually talk to Him throughout the day looking for answers? Were we challenged to go love, to go forgive, to ask for forgiveness, to let go, to turn away? If none of those things happened – what were we doing?

‘But whoever looks intently…’
* Firmly fixed; concentrated
* Engrossed
* Having the mind and will focused on a specific purpose – Oh! To look at His word                     like that…may that be our prayer!

‘…into the perfect law that gives freedom…’ – note it doesn’t say ‘that gives you lists and lists of rules that you must adhere to’; it doesn’t say ‘that is hard to understand and leaves you frustrated and confused’; it doesn’t say ‘that is just fluff with no real purpose or meaning’ – NO – it says ‘that gives FREEDOM’ – why are we skipping over this so quickly? Why aren’t our quiet times more intentional and focused? Why do we hope the morsels tossed at us on Sundays will be enough to keep us fed throughout the week? His word gives freedom.

…not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it’ – yes, he’s clearly already said this, but isn’t repetition the father of learning? In other words…he’s trying to drive home a lesson here!

Looking intently + the perfect law that gives freedom + continually doing this + not forgetting + DOING it = being ‘blessed in what they do’. Simple math that we WAY overcomplicate.

When is the last time you sat gazing into His Word? More then just listening to His Word – what is He is calling you to DO? What is causing you to forget; what is preventing you from doing?

My prayer for Today…

Lord, I love reading your word. I love how practical and identifiable you drive your message home. I confess that these verses hit a nerve in me Lord. Far far too often I merely glance at your word – and think that the tidbit of truth I consume will be enough to hold me for long periods of time. I read, but then trials come up and suddenly the truth of your love, your plan for me, your grace, your magnitude suddenly jump out of my head and I forget how big of a God you are. Forgive me Lord for my pride – thinking I can manage any portion of my life without having you intentionally guiding my steps. Forgive me for my arrogance – thinking that ‘good enough’ is what you’ve called me to . Forgive me for knowing the things you’ve called me to do, but for a slue of reasons, I just don’t do them. Lord – it is so clear here . May I dive deeper into your word. May I realize it will be the answer to all of my ‘what if’ questions, it will give me the direction I seek, it will affirm your love for me. But then once I take that time, may I actually DO what it says I should do. Thank you for the simplicity. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for my friend here – may they look intently on you and do what your words says, as well. We love you so preciously! – Amen

Angry!

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1175106_10151818009453566_1388293132_nDo you ever get onto Facebook and it reminds you of something that took place on this day, so many years ago? I have a horrible memory – so I’ve come to really value those reminders from the past. Today I got one of those reminders and I couldn’t help but get tickled because it was SO perfect for where the Lord has been taking me in Scripture. It was a small blurb about how my daughter had gotten ridiculously and needlessly angry. Earlier in the week, my three older kids had been preparing for getting to spend Saturday with their grandma. Grandma had thrown some ideas out to the kids but ultimately assured them no matter what they decided they would have fun. That morning when she came to get some love from the baby and pick up the other three – she mentioned to the kids that they would need to put their shoes on because she was taking them to the park to play. Without hesitation, without a breathe,
immediately got angry. “But you said you were going to take us to Celebration Town to jump on the jumpy castles…you said!’, apparently this was one of the options thrown out in their brainstorming. We encouraged Lacie to just get her shoes on and that she was going to have a great day, but she was already too upset. Instant frustration washed all over her face, her voice got loud as she reiterated ‘but you said!’ and she stormed up the steps to get her shoes. Grandma just sat there silently. In moments Lacie was back down, putting her shoes on, inwardly grumbling, and that’s when Grandma decided to speak. She said ‘Lacie, Celebration Town does not open until 10am, so I was going to take you to the park to play until they opened. But now…because of your reaction…we will not be going.’ Ouch!

Tell me this memory is not perfect in light of today’s verses – My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.’ James 1:19-21. I would wager to say that we could think of many such scenarios where our children are in fact slow to listen (do they listen, really?), quick to pop off at the mouth and super quick to let frustration and anger pour out of them. It’s one thing when they are kids…but when we still behave this way as adults…woo. (You will notice I avoided any personal stories of myself here today – that was not by accident. 😉  I have read these verses countless times in my Christian walk. I have quoted verse 19 to my children, to my friends, to myself  – repeatedly. But will confess that I usually don’t think much of the rest of the passage. Now I am a rule follower, ‘get the task done’ kind of girl…so of course when James gives us an instruction… I’m only gonna focus on the instruction itself. But he didn’t just give an instruction – as you can see he also gives the reason for it. And that is something worth noting today. In particular what stands out to me in this passage is the phrase to ‘humbly accept the word planted in you.’ Hhhmmm… ‘which can save you.’ Don’t make the same mistake that I have so many times before. Don’t discount the importance of the words in this verse. For some reason I can’t seem to get this phrasing out of my head and in fact it has me thinking of the parable of the four soils found in three of the gospels. Particularly in Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus is telling a parable about four different types of soils and the seeds that were trying to be planted in each. Following his story, Jesus goes on to explain that the seed along the path is ‘when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart (Matthew 13:19).’ The seed that fell on the rocky places? This ‘is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away (Matthew 13:20-21).’ For the seed that fell among thorns, Christ said that it represented ‘the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful (Matthew 13:22).’ And finally there is the seed that fell on the good soil…this ‘is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop… (Matthew 13:23).’ 

What I really love is how these words – directly spoken from Jesus’ mouth – are reaffirmed here in James. When Jesus is explaining the parable he tells us that the planting of the seed is when we hear or receive the word of God. If you will notice the first three don’t really listen. They half listen (in one ear out the other, kind of thing) or if they have questions they just don’t care to find the answers. Or they hear but still allow the hardships, or as Jesus said ‘persecutions’, worries and fears to cause them to flee from it. Okay – let’s stop – hasn’t James been telling us to get ready, trials and hardships are coming? You know what he is doing? He is tilling our hearts getting them ready for this seed of God to be able to really take root. Don’t you love that? Even in verse 18 he spoke of how the truth of the word was a first fruits of God. Do you see how God is incorporating these scriptures? Oh, it gets me so excited. Okay, so we see the Lord telling us, through James, that moral filth and evil are prevalent – we also see that in Matthew in the example of the four soils, that if we don’t get deeply rooted in the word, in Christ – it will take barely anything for that to be snatched away.

What a challenge to you and me. If we are not grounded in Him…if He is not the root of hearts…if we are not in the strong rich soil of His Word…if that Word is not planted in us – we will be devoured, our joy robbed and we will go nowhere. And if that weren’t challenge enough, James goes on to talk about how we should humbly accept the Word planted in us. We’ve already heard him explain that we need to be careful to walk in humility, but even Christ demonstrates this idea by explaining that the seed that hit the rocky places – sprang up quick – it was all about the ‘high’, the ‘look at me’ kind of moment. I would even venture further to say it’s the person that takes on the roles of Christian – a door greeter, one who does hospital visitation, who volunteers in the kids area, whatever – the one who becomes all about ‘looking the part’, but never taking the time to really grow in the Lord. Pridefully taking on roles or positions so that others will think – look at her, now that is one Godly girl, getting them-self ‘off the hook’ from having to actually become a Godly girl. (Oh, I would love to say that I have never fallen into that trap). And then – as if there haven’t been enough parallels – James finishes this section by telling us that humbly accepting the Word in us is what saves us! Jesus explained that we can hear the Word all day long, we can even know that He is Christ – but if we don’t let that take root, if we don’t let that change us, and if we don’t reproduce that seed to help yield a harvest – we will be snatched up, devoured, scorched, trampled, choked…in other words we will not survive without His word planted in us! God’s word is amazing. God is amazing!

So what is preventing the Word from being planted in us…well, if we are filled with moral filth and evil – there is no room for His Word to reside in us too. So we need to get rid of that junk. When does the moral filth take root? When our anger gets a hold of us so much that there is no place for His righteousness. Why does our anger get to that breaking point where there is no room for His righteousness and we give way to moral filth and therefore cannot have his word planted in us? When we are slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry. Hhhmmm…Quick to listen? When I think about it – the times that I am furthest from the Lord (where I haven’t been spending time with Him in His Word or in prayer), I have a quick temper, no patience and seem to just get angry on a dime. The times where I am deep in His Word, really seeking His face and trying to be about Him…I have a patience that can’t be explained. Being quick to listen is what got the first three guys in the soil examples into trouble and away the Lord. It got Lacie sitting on the sidelines instead of having fun with jump castles. It is a challenge for us – but such a worthy one, wouldn’t you agree? So are you quick to listen? Are you slow to anger? Time to get into that deep soil and let His word take root in you. Praying for you today.

My prayer for Today…

Lord, again I stand amazed by how connected and intertwined your Word is from one book to the next. I admit Lord, that there have been times where I have been in the wrong part of the field. There have been countless times, even recently, where I have been put to the test – will I be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger or will I only half listen – inserting all of my opinions and judgments into the mix; quick to speak – making sure the stupidity of the situation is made clear, spouting what I believe to be right and true; quick to anger – where in a split second I suddenly become like a cartoon character – eyes bulging, steam pouring from my ears with my head about to blow. First, I thank you Lord that in those moments it has been your Word, your truth, your encouragement found in Scripture that has quieted my voice and calmed my heart. I thank you Lord for the wisdom and guidance found in the words of Jesus, your son, and James, his brother. I thank you Lord for the reassurance that having your Word within keeps the various experiences of this world from devouring my heart and mind. Lord, help me as I hear of wrongdoings to a family member, help me as I hear pains of a friend, help me as I witness a family falling a part, help me when it is all directed at me or inadvertently in my path. May I hold to you, look to you, trust in you. May I remember that for every inch of space I give over to anger, that is one less inch of space for finding joy. The two can’t take up the same space. Which will I choose? Which will my friend here choose? I praise you Lord for your aword and knowing that it can, it does, it has, it will – SAVE us. We praise your name!!! I love you more each day sweet Jesus! In your name I pray – Amen!

Even in the Shadows

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shadows‘Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.’ James 1:16-18 NIV

Today, if you will humor me, I just want to look at the simplicity of these verses.

Every good and perfect gift is from above…how often do we try to chalk things up to coincidence, or attach some other ‘thing’ to it…when clearly, plainly – the things we experience, the things gifted to us are from Him; simply from Him…for us.

Our Father in heaven – does not change like shifting shadows…how often do we humanize God? There are countless people…most people I would dare say…that we encounter who, in time seem to change like a shifting shadow. Their expectations don’t get met. They get bored or uncomfortable. We begin to go in a direction that they don’t desire to go in. They say one thing, but do another. Their behavior completely changes like shifting shadows…and whether intentionally or not, we begin to think that God operates in much the same way. ‘Sure he’s giving us something good now, but it won’t last. He’ll go away; He’ll take it away; He’ll expect something I can’t give,’ and the list goes on.

The word of truth…the Bible we hold in our hands, scroll through on our phones, study in moments of quiet, look to in moments of desperation, sing to in times of worship – His Word, His Scripture…is truth.

Why is it so easy for us to discount what the Lord is doing? Why is so easy to think less of Him than we should? When He allows something good in our life, why do we quietly wait for ‘the catch’ or for the bottom to just suddenly fall out. Why do we sing of how great His love is, but when we are at our worst, feel He could never really love us. Why can be believe some aspects of the Bible (he was born of a virgin, he died on a cross, he rose again), but we question when it says that he takes great delight in us. I don’t know about you , but when I’m at my lowest…when the trials are most painful and the temptations are great…my ‘go to’ question can tend to be ‘God, where are you?’ Today I want to take one of His most precious gifts, His Word, His truth, and see that when He says He does not change like shifting shadows – He backs that truth up again and again. He means what He says. You may be tempted to skip through these…but I challenge you to read each one and allow the truth, the promise and the hope to resonate within you.

He never changes…He is from everlasting to everlasting…

  • Malachi 3:6 – I the Lord do not change.
  • Psalm 90:1-2 – Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
  • Nehemiah 9:5b – Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.
  • Isaiah 40:28 – Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He is eternal…forever…lasting from generation to generation…

  • Jeremiah 10:10 – But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.
  • Daniel 6:26 – I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and
    reverence the God of Daniel. ‘For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.’
  • Lamentations 5:19 – You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
  • Matthew 24:35 – Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:18 – So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
  • Psalm 100:5 – For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

He is the I AM…yesterday, today, forever…

  • Exodus 3:14a – ‘God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM.’
  • Revelation 1:8 – ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’
  • Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
  • Psalm 102:25-27 – In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.

He is our rock…our firm foundation…

  • Psalm 18:2 – The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
  • Deuteronomy 32:4 – He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
  • Psalm 40:2 – He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
  • Colossians 1:17 – He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
  • 2 Timothy 2:19 – Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’

He never fails…He never leaves

  • Luke 1:37 – For no word from God will ever fail.
  • Isaiah 14:24 – The LORD Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen.’
  • Matthew 28:20b – And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
  • Hebrews 13:5b – Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
  • Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
  • Isaiah 43:2-3a – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God.

How often the enemy tries to deceive and tell us something so different from what you see above. How awesome that this list does not even skim the surface of what scripture says about the unending, consistent, solid, powerful, and eternal God that we love and who loves us! What a beautiful reminder of a wonderful God who’s crazy about someone like me…like you. Hoping you are soaking Him in today!

My prayer for Today…

My precious Savior, how I love you. Lord, you have brought me through some exceedingly difficult times. Challenges and changes that I could never have envisioned have quickly and quietly snuck in and out over few years. And Lord, while in my head I know you say you love me and that you will be my refuge, my strength, one that will not leave me – how many times have I questioned – where are you? How patient you are with me. Thank you for the gift of your Word. What I read in one place, you back up in another. What I question, you confirm again and again. I have seen, even just this week, people who operate like shifting shadows. I’ve seen hypocrisy at it’s finest. May I not take those experiences that I’ve witnessed and presume that you would dare operate in the same fashion. What you say – you do. What you promise – you fulfill. No shifting. Nothing hidden in the shadows. You are who you say are. You do what you say you will do. Help me to continue to remember that as truth! What greater reason to find joy! To my friend reading with me today – in the good times or bad, may they hold to the truth of your word. May they find rest in you, hope in your word, joy in your truth. When they don’t have answers, may they look to your Word. When they are discouraged or down, may they trust that they can hide themselves in you. Where even in the shadows you stand strong. Thank you Lord. In Jesus’ sweet name – Amen!