Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Who Our Father Is

I think we often don't understand the way that God deals with us. We are confused by His discipline, or we choose to follow our own paths instead of His guidance, and we lack the understanding to know the difference. Considering He doesn't exactly write us notes across the sky, it's understandable that our human limitations often get in the way. But I do know that I can know who He is and what He has promised through His word, thus there are certain truths I can be sure of in the way that He operates.

All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers.

You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” - Deuteronomy 8:1-3

He is more than just some master giving orders. Everything He does has a divine purpose, and His desire is to get man involved in His great purposes. When I consider that the One who holds the whole universe in His hands is interested in getting me intimately involved with the events in that great universe, it's humbling. It is also beyond humbling to realize that I truly can't live by bread alone because everything I have and everything I am, I owe to Him.

Just because I've been writing about strength in scripture doesn't mean I have it all figured out all the time. If anything, I need these kinds of reminders daily, which is why I decided to write them in the first place. We have a God who brings us through the wilderness and teaches us along the way, and that's something to celebrate.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Worship

Since I'm spending the month writing about finding strength in scripture, I can't ignore another very important counterpart to scripture in which that strength is often magnified – worship. I've always found worship to be a very personal and humbling experience because it's so unique to each individual, and thus such an incredible expression of His glory in the way that He understands His children so intimately.

For me the old hymns are most effective at awakening my soul and stirring up the truth that's bubbling beneath the surface. When I need a recharge, it's often because I need the connection that comes through worship.

I'm blown away by this performance of How Great Thou Art by Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood every time I see it, and I just happened across it again today. May you also be blessed by it, and by the beautiful lyrics below.
 
 
   How Great Thou Art

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

And when I think of God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Discouragement

It's easy to get worn out in this life.

Though I do a pretty good job of 'looking on the bright side', I am most often discouraged when I start feeling the weight of the world, and by that I mean I can be crushed by having too much coming at me all at once - things like unmet expectations, disappointments, hurt feelings, stress, and all of life's little downers. And sometimes BIG downers.

But whenever I get discouraged, what I generally try to fall back on is taking all of the good in my life and bringing it to the forefront. It's tempting at times to dwell on what's wrong, but the 'wrong' is always there. We are in a fallen, completely messed up place, out of sorts absolutely all the time. We have to make a habit of finding our little joys and focusing on the good – otherwise we run the risk of getting swallowed up by the bad.

I'm human, and sometimes I forget who I am and what's important. I forget to have perspective, or better yet, I choose not to have the right perspective – because attitude is always a choice.

The good is often pretty simple and easy to see. My children are healthy. We are comfortable and fed and warm in our beds at night. I have people I love to share my life with, however messy that life may get. That kind of perspective tends to keep me going.

But if you are feeling the weight of the world right now, perhaps it's not all that easy to make a list of the good. Thankfully, we can find rest in the hope that lies beyond the veil, despite the battle that wages around us.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
- 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

I truly believe that all we see and experience has value beyond the temporary and a greater and more beautiful meaning than we could ever imagine. Without that hope, I'm not sure where I'd be. I do know, however, that I can have glimpses into eternity by knowing the One who has promised it to me.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: When Life Happens

Well, I missed a couple of days. It was bound to happen, since that's just how it goes sometimes, and I have a good excuse (I was spending quality time with family out in the country, aka 'away from it all'), so I can't say I'm all that distraught about it. Plus I made it a full 23 days into this challenge, faithfully writing about strength in scripture every single day, and I'm grateful that I have these little devotionals to look back on and to one day share with my kids. I suppose I'll just keep on truckin' and write a few more to finish out the month.

One thing I can take away from this whole experience is that even when I fail to carry out the tasks I set out to do, and even when other people in my life fail me, and even when the world fails to give me the answers that I seek, there is always one constant in my life.

The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” - Lamentations 3:22-23

And part of my reasoning for participating in this challenge was to ensure that I'm pursuing growth and improvement. I never want to stay still, stuck in my own inadequate ways, never reaching for all that I can to make me a better person. I have the ultimate example of what that can look like.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” - Hebrews 13:8

I pray that I will raise my children to pursue that kind of integrity because it's certainly a challenge in the world today. I hope that they will learn faithfulness through the words that I've written to them and the examples that their father and I try to set for them. And I hope that we will all continue encouraging one another as we face the challenges that come our way.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Perspective

Sometimes it's as simple as making the effort to get up and move to the other side of the bus.

How To Have A Positive Perspective

Other times it's not that simple, but we always have a reason to find hope in the life we've been given.

He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” - John 7:38

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: The Soundtrack To My Life - Songs For Every Occasion

I love music. Who doesn't, right? Surely only crazy people. Music has so much power to impact our moods – it's no wonder that it's so important to so many of us. But to be honest, you probably wouldn't know how much I enjoy music if you were to observe my daily life. I often forget to play it...I'm so busy with the daily grind that I tend to forget that it exists...which seems kind of ridiculous, considering how much it would probably help me out if I'd just allow it to work its magic.

I even recall one day a few weeks ago when I was talking to my husband about how I'd been feeling a little frustrated and overwhelmed with the house and the kids and the usual stuff, and how I'd been struggling to get through the day, and he casually mentioned, “Why don't you turn on some music?”

Well, duh. Why don't I?

For me this month has been all about finding strength in scripture, but I think that our interpretations of scripture often take the forms of songs and poetry. Many of the the lyrics in my favorite songs impact me on a spiritual level, and I don't doubt that they are often divinely inspired. And even when they're not, I can often find truth and substance in them anyway.

Some of these songs and artists include:

Josh Garrels, my new favorite lyricist. If you are not familiar with his music, go right now and make yourself familiar. Every single song of his has so much depth – I can't get enough of his music. These lyrics are from one of my favorite songs, 'Beyond The Blue':

Stand on the shores of a site unseen
The substance of this dwells in me
Cause my natural eyes only go skin deep
But the eyes of my heart anchor the sea
Plumbing the depths to the place in between
The tangible world and the land of a dreams
Because everything ain't quite as it seems
There's more beneath the appearance of things
A beggar could be king within the shadows,
Of a wing

And wisdom will honor everyone who will learn
To listen, to love, and to pray and discern
And to do the right thing even when it burns
And to live in the light through treacherous turns
A man is weak, but the spirit yearns
To keep on course from the bow to the stern
And throw overboard every selfish concern
That tries to work for what can't be earned
Sometimes the only way to return is to go,
Where the winds will take you

And to let go of all you cannot hold onto
For the hope, beyond the blue”

U2 has always been my all-time favorite band, especially old-school U2 albums with lyrics like these:

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for”

and

I wanna feel sunlight on my face
I see the dust cloud disappear without a trace
I want to take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name”

Mumford & Sons also has many quotable lyrics that are relevant to life in general:

Hold on to what you believe in the light, when the darkness has robbed you of all your sight.”

Tom Petty wins, hands down, for Best Road-Tripping and Feel-Good Music:

I know that look on your face
But there's something lucky about this place
There's something good coming for you and me,
something good coming, there has to be.”

I could go on and on, but of course, I certainly don't think music needs great lyrics to communicate from one soul to another. Some of the most beautiful, epic adventure music comes from orchestral movements and movie soundtracks. I think that through music God gave us a really unique, soul-searching, universal language, and we should tap into that more often. It certainly alters my day to have good thoughts running through my head, and one surefire way to do that is to have some uplifting music filling my space.

Kudos to the hubby for reminding me of this! I'm going to make more of an effort to utilize the power of music in my life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: On Trials And Testing

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” - James 1: 2-4

That's a doozy right there, isn't it? Consider our trials joy??? I don't like that. At all. I can think of many horrors on that 'trials' list that no one in his or her right mind would find very joyous. I think that if we're being honest, we have to admit that this is an uncomfortable verse for us. In fact, the only way I'm able to write about this right now is because I'm not currently facing a hard trial.

But I have before and I can say that I do understand what this verse says about the testing of faith producing endurance. Smaller trials prepare us for the larger ones, but also, the more we exercise our faith, the more natural it becomes to do so. And let's face it – it's not all that difficult to exercise faith when everything is going our way. How often do you hear well-meaning (but not suffering) people toss out phrases like, “it was God's will” or “He doesn't give you more than you can handle”? Sure, it might sound nice when you're on the other side of pain and suffering, but in the throes of it? Sometimes there just isn't a phrase or verse that will ease the hurt. Pain is heavy stuff.

The key is those verses point us to the One who has promised comfort and rest to us, who gives us strength and grace in our weaknesses, and in whom we can trust for the hope and peace that we seek. That's what we have to be joyous about. He never changes, but instead His promises stand no matter how much we waver and struggle, no matter what we're up against.

There are no throwaway moments in life. There is no waiting for the good part – because the present, no matter how good or bad it may be, is still an important part of the good.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” - Romans 5:3-5

He understands suffering because He did so on our behalf. But what happened right after that trial of His? He rejoiced. In fact, there was much rejoicing because He overcame it and every other trial we would ever face. Though we may not feel like rejoicing today, one day all we will know will be joy...and love...and peace. That's the promise that keeps me going, that keeps me from giving up.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you, but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” - 1 Peter 4:12-13

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Servanthood

Some days I just don't know what to do with myself. I wake up all ambitious and think I'm going to clean the whole house until it's spotless! And then I'm going to create meal plans and bake from scratch! And then I'm going to come up with fun activities for the kids! And then I'm going to write half a novel! One of my daughter's favorite phrases scrolls through the back of my mind – this is gonna be the BEST DAY EVER!

I don't think it has ever gone quite how I envisioned. Too many distractions, too much fatigue, and not enough perfection. I still have some pretty awesome days, though, so I can't complain. However, it's important to note that the days that are the greatest are always the ones when I have the right attitude. At the end of the day, what got done or what accomplishments were made are always of less importance than the mindset I had when I carried out the tasks.

I think that many times it boils down to having the mind and heart of a servant. Did I give my kids everything they needed today? Was I thinking about what was best for my family? Did I consider the impact my actions might have on someone else? Were my intentions good? Having the right mind and heart when going into the tasks we face naturally makes the outcome so much better.

After all, no one can serve two masters, right? I can't be both what the world wants me to be and also who God wants me to be. Their goals often don't line up. So I have to consider what purpose I want the day to have and which plans I need to let go of. We have to give up the illusion of control to which the world so desperately wants us to cling and seek the guidance that we so desperately need. It is when I'm being led, not trying to lead myself, that I discover grace.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
- Luke 14:11

Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” - Luke 17:33

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” - Luke 9:24-25

Sunday, October 19, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: When You're Weary

Sundays are exhausting for me. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, that makes Sundays that way, but after church and lunch and all the hustle and bustle of the morning, I usually end up taking a nap or fighting the urge to take a nap. While it is supposed to be a day of rest, I often feel so tired that I can't enjoy my rest (if that makes any sense?). Resting is supposed to be fun, right? Not make you more tired!

Verses For When You're Tired And WearyThe truth is I feel a little of that every day, and I think that's just how it is when you're a mom of littles. They are tiny fireballs of energy-suck. Even on days when I feel like I didn't accomplish much, by the time evening arrives I feel like I ran a marathon. I adore them, though, of course, and realize that this time is so precious. I just wish I had an energy level that matched theirs.


Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” - Galatians 6:9

This verse has never rung truer for me than when raising children. They're only little for a short while (as the saying goes, the days are long but the years are short), and in time we mothers and fathers will reap the rewards of what we put into it now. I especially need that reminder on the days when I'm not as diligent about my work. It may not be the kind of work in which the results are seen immediately, but it's still important work, and it's still good work.

And the good news is I don't have to solely rely on my own energy:

For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” - Colossians 1:29

There are countless verses that talk about finding rest in God. We can run and not be weary. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. He alone is our refuge, and He refreshes the weary. So to all you parents who are feeling zonked today, and to all of you workers in other fields who are in need of some rejuvenation, tell yourself this, and remember that it's true:

I can do this, and I am not alone.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: The Vulnerability Of Love

So I'm on Day 18 of this challenge to write daily (and also read scripture daily, which is why I chose the topic I did), and although it certainly hasn't been simple, I have been surprised by how smoothly the thoughts can flow from my brain if I just allow them to do so. I don't do that very often – I filter much of what I write through revision, and I tend to 'edit as I go', so it's easy for me to be too strict on what I allow myself to write, especially when I know someone else might read it. (I think things like: Would someone misunderstand this? I can't say that. Would this possibly upset someone?)

Bible Verses About Speaking In Love
I'm very cautious with revealing my thoughts. It reminds me of my son when he says something cute or funny – I laugh and sometimes repeat it, to which he says, “Hey! Don't say my words!” His words are precious to him. Even though I think he's hilarious and adorable, he might be embarrassed by my response, and I totally get that, so I try to be mindful of how I respond to his words. Words matter; we can't treat them lightly.

It has also made me think about how we need people in our lives to whom we can be vulnerable. Not long after I first started blogging, I put this C.S. Lewis quote on my About page:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Many bible verses speak of bridling our tongues – they remind us that there are times when it is important that we are guarded about what we share, especially when the words are not edifying. (“Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” - Proverbs 17:28) But there are many other verses that emphasize speaking truth, which reveals that we shouldn't always stay silent – many times we need to show love, and that requires speaking up and being honest. It takes wisdom and an understanding of what 'loving others' truly means to know what should flow from our mouths or from our fingers to the keyboard.(“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” - John 13:35)

This challenge has been a good exercise in finding that balance. If I kept my heart to myself, I'd miss out on opportunities to love and be loved.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” - Colossians 4:6

Friday, October 17, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Changing How I Seek Wisdom

Ever since I discovered it, I've always loved this verse:

Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” - Jeremiah 33:3

I loved it because I thought it meant that whatever knowledge I desired would be given to me as long as I asked. If I simply approached God in faith for the answers, any mysteries of the universe that I wondered about would be revealed to me. This appealed to my thirst for knowledge and my desperate desire to understand the world around me, to make sense of everything in the Bible and how it related to life on earth so I could wrap it all up in a neat little package.

I now realize that there is so much more to it than that. First, how could I expect to ever have the infinite wisdom of Someone whose thoughts are not my thoughts and whose ways are higher than mine? And, of course, there is more to the context of this verse, but most importantly, what is my attitude toward seeking truth? What is my approach, and am I understanding what it truly means to call upon Him?

Until we reach a point of absolute humility, when we recognize that He alone is our source of wisdom, when we see that we are ignorant in our human limitations and we are incapable of teaching ourselves anything about divine wisdom, only then will we sincerely and humbly call to Him in pursuit of truth. I could memorize the Bible front to back, but if having that knowledge is what I think makes me wise, then I really don't have a clue. If I never experience Him in a real and meaningful way in my life, then there is no wisdom to be found – because I have to seek Him, not just what He can give me.

Life is not only about learning, but also about unlearning. We have to figure out how to get ourselves out of the way in a world that is constantly telling us to be self-centered. I want wisdom because I want to be wise, but I should want it because of Who offers it to me. We can know absolutely nothing apart from God's grace, and it takes great humility to understand and believe that.

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. - Jeremiah 9:23-24

If anything we are learning does not open our eyes to our need for Him and our complete dependence upon Him, then we should question our approach in the pursuit of wisdom.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Everyday Joy

Both of my grandmothers had birthdays in October, and as those days approach, I find myself thinking about each of them and the impact they had on my life. Two years ago in October, I wrote about one memory of my grandmother that taught me something about joy. Many of the most beautiful scriptures in the Bible are about joy and how to find it in all things. God gives us so many simple gifts to enjoy each and every day.

"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." - James 1:17

As a reminder to myself, I wanted to share this story again:

One year my grandma told me she wanted a new pair of house shoes for Christmas. (For those of you unfamiliar with southern speak, house shoes are slippers.) Such a simple request, so I had no problem purchasing the house shoes for her, lovingly wrapping them in pretty paper, and placing them underneath her tree. I didn’t tell her what the gift was, though I was pretty sure she knew, and looked forward to seeing her open it on Christmas morning.

A few days later I visited her again. I was relaxing in her recliner when I happened to glance down at the gifts under the tree and noticed that mine appeared to have been tampered with.
I picked it up and examined it, and sure enough, the paper was wrinkled, and the tape had definitely been peeled off and replaced.

Grandma lived alone. There was only one explanation.
“Grandma!” I exclaimed. “You opened your present!”

Her eyebrows raised, but she didn’t even hesitate.
“Well, yeah,” she said casually. “I was just sitting here the other day, and I thought, ‘I’d sure like to put on my new house shoes’, so I did.”

I giggled in disbelief.
“So you just opened your present? You just…you just opened it up, put them on, wore them for a while, and then wrapped them back up?”

“Well, yeah...” she said. “They were too small.”
I rolled on the floor in a fit of laughter.

Grandma! You’re not five. You’re nearly eighty years old – you should know better!”
She just grinned as I laughed at the absurdity of a grown woman not being able to wait until Christmas to open her present (and mostly at her attempt to cover it up).

But you know what? Her casual admission said it all – I think she did know better.
At her age she’d probably spent much of her life waiting for things to happen…waiting for the gifts to appear…waiting for the right moment to enjoy them…and perhaps she had simply decided there was no point in waiting.

Enjoying The Small ThingsI want to be like Grandma. What a tiny, simple, unimportant gift, and yet she literally could not wait to open it.
How great is it to have something to look forward to? To have something that you’re so excited about that you just can’t wait for it? To have a goal, a trip, an opportunity, an event, a moment…something that you long for and go after with your whole heart?

And how much better is it when it's something as simple as a pair of house shoes?

As I walk this path of mine, I want to stop and unwrap my simple gifts along the way with excitement. I don’t want to wait for them if I don’t have to. Life doesn’t last forever, so I’ve got to open as many gifts as I can, right?
So what are my ‘gifts’, those things that I should seek in this journey? What fascinates me? To which parts of life am I irresistibly drawn? What captivates me?

They are the moments that I feel compelled to write about or that prompt me to grab my camera. They are the tiny hands that hold mine, the embrace that calms my fears, and the desires in my heart. They are the things that make me laugh, the things that make me cry, and mostly, the things that open my eyes.
They are everything that is simple and pure and true, and so often overlooked.

Things That Fascinate Me In Life

Those are the things I find myself craving. Those are the simple gifts I want to enjoy each and every day, and I refuse to wait until Christmas.
 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: You Have A Purpose

I came across this passage (known as the Sermon on Mars Hill) in my scripture reading today:

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'” - Acts 17:24-28

This is the apostle Paul's response to the Greeks in Athens after observing the objects of their worship, including an altar with the inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD'. My understanding is that the Greeks did not want to risk offending any of the gods by leaving one out, so they just covered their bases with a generic label. This led Paul to give them a description of the God they didn't know.

As someone who believes that every single individual on earth has a god, whether known or unknown, this passage struck me as an incredibly wise explanation of God and a beautiful, straightforward presentation of the simplicity of the gospel.

Some of us believe in the God of the Bible, some of us believe in only one god with many paths to him, some of us believe in many gods, some (and possibly most) of us believe ourselves to be gods, and some of us would just rather not commit to one, lest we make the wrong choice. Human beings are all over the place when it comes to our approaches to deities, but what this passage points out is something that we all have in common – He knows each one of us deeply and intimately, so much so that He knows what we need in order to come to a place where we begin to seek Him.

He alone is sovereign. He alone gives life. And His relationship to humanity goes so much more beyond just some guy in the sky arbitrarily making things happen on a whim. He promises so much more. I should never take for granted that precious divine trait – I not only have the opportunity to know Him, but also to be close to Him.

The Orchestrator Of All Things wants me to seek Him. He wants YOU to seek him. He cares about who we are and how we fit into the story. If you're like me, you may not always find that truth to be easy – that we each have a vital role to play in God's plans. Who am I? I sometimes ask. Yet I believe we all desire to know God and be known by Him – that is where the desire for purpose and meaning within the human heart comes from. What strength it can give us to know who He truly is and that we matter to Him more than we ever could have imagined.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Life Gets Messy

I took this picture of my kids' room today:


When You Can't Keep Up With The Mess

Though the beds aren't made and we don't exactly have the best organizational system for their toys, this is the cleanest their room has been in a while. And I needed the picture because it won't be like this for long.

Despite the fact that I can not stand clutter and desire a clean space to keep my sanity, my kids couldn't care less. They have fun, they make messes, and they would be perfectly content to keep it that way. I recently sat down with them and had a talk about how we can all help each other by cleaning up our own messes and learning the right way to put each item in its proper place (I am growing weary from all the missing socks and shoes I have located in the toy box), and at least Hannah seemed to understand where I was coming from.

“What would our house look like if we never took the time to clean it up and just left our messes everywhere?” I asked.

“Um...” she thought for a moment. “A pot of stew.”

Yes, great job, kiddo. That is the most accurate description I have ever heard.

So today we I got rid of a bunch of broken toys and trinkets that were probably still only in their room because of their silly mama's nostalgic attachment to them, and at least for now, the ambiance is much better. But a lived-in home is one that requires constant care, so these results won't last for long.

And that is exactly how it is in life. It gets messy. We clean it up, we change our mood, we give it our attention, but living requires getting messy, so there is always more cleaning up to do. It's a maintenance process, not something we can just get out of the way and be done with.

The good news is that no matter how messy our lives get, there is one promise of which we can be certain: “...I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die...” John 11:25-26. We will overcome any suffering, brokenness, drama, pain, strife, and general messes of life because He has overcome them. He has turned the 'messy' into a message.

I admit I'm one who longs for the pristine life. I don't like messy. But messy is real, and if I pretend messy doesn't exist, I risk missing out on opportunities to be blessed by others through real, honest relationships. And to be blessed by Him through His grace.

So that's where I am right now. Today we're all cleaned up around here, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. Remember the wonders He has done.” Psalm 105:4-5

Monday, October 13, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: The Wait And The Hope

Be still and know that I am God....” Psalm 46:10

I have few words tonight. Often when there are few words to be said or little to think upon, there is personal growth to be had. I'm thinking about what I've written so far and looking forward to seeing how He teaches me throughout the rest of the month. I'm trusting in the future, in what is to come.

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Romans 8:24-25

I know who God is, I know He is faithful, and that is all I need to know right now.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: An Eternal Perspective

I have been through different seasons in my walk with God. There have been times when it was dry and dusty, and I thirsted for water that I couldn't find, times when the sun shone and the path was beautiful, and times when I thought the cold would swallow me up. There were times when I led the way and He stayed ten paces behind, and times when I felt closer to Him than anyone else. What a difference the right focus makes. When I am consistent in my pursuit for God's will in my life, when I am not concerning myself with the trivial issues of this world, when I am setting myself aside (man, that's a hard one), I truly am a different person.

No one can serve two masters. “...for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” - Matthew 6:21

The Bible tells us to store up our treasure in heaven and not here on earth, but how can we do that when we are here on earth? It's rarely easy to lay aside what we think we should have in favor of what we truly need, especially since we're constantly surrounded by messages that contradict that particular teaching. But it starts in our minds.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” - Romans 12: 1-2

I have to change my mind about what matters, sometimes several times a day. Am I presenting my whole body as a sacrifice to God? Or am I worshiping something else entirely? Because it isn't possible to do both. Anything done in this life that has no eternal value is worth nothing. That's a hard pill to swallow when I think about how often I'm engaged in activities that don't matter at all. Yet when I look back on those seasons of my life and consider which ones were the most fruitful, it doesn't make 'renewing my mind' seem all that difficult.

I used to wish I had the superpower to see into the future, but that was because I wanted the ability to control it. Now I know that's a useless endeavor – the question is am I willing to operate in faith in the future that has been promised to me. That is when true transformation occurs.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: What It Looks Like

As I've spent the past ten days reflecting on scriptures and putting into words some of my thoughts on them, I have also found myself reflecting on the ways in which I see the words of the Bible come alive to me, and the most powerful way I've seen them made real in my life has been through human beings.

Despite our flaws and weaknesses, we were designed to demonstrate holiness to one another. I wrote yesterday about how we sometimes let each other down, but it's important for me to also write about how we can come through for each other, and how it can be extraordinary.
 
How To Be A Godly Husband

When I think about who has shown me the strength that I've read about in the Bible, and the faith, the love, the determination, the perseverance, and the integrity, I think of my husband. (I think of many other people as well, but he is my closest relationship.) He so often shows me what it looks like to be a light in the darkness, to be a vessel for truth and love.

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Psalm 1:1-3 - “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.”
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He holds me up when I am weak. When I have doubts, when I'm hurting, when I don't know what to say or how to deal with what life puts in front of me, he speaks truth.

He loves me sacrificially, even if I don't deserve it. He sets his needs aside when necessary and puts his family first. He loves his children. He teaches them and guides them and nurtures them.

He is committed to knowing God and seeking His wisdom. He does what is right, even when it's difficult. He is more patient than I could ever hope to be, and he leads others even when he doesn't know it.

He doesn't buy me expensive gifts or win me over with flowery words. That isn't what I want or need, and he knows my heart. All I need or want is a companion who walks beside me hand-in-hand, through the sunlight and through the storms, as we embrace all this abundant life has to offer.

I am so thankful for him, my sacred gift. As we all navigate our individual paths, we can never take for granted the blessing that is the hope we find in one another. We may falter and we may fail, but there is always love. There is always, always love.

Friday, October 10, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Why Hope Matters

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19

Even the Bible recognizes this conundrum of living a life of faith. If Christ really wasn't raised from the dead, if everything we are living for and preaching about is all in vain, then how sad are we? How sad is it to think of living a meaningless life just to die and return to the earth as dust?

But, I suppose that's the alternative, no matter how you look at it.

There are certain things I hate about being a Christian. I hate that some people hate me for what I believe, I hate that they make assumptions about who I am (anti-gay, anti-woman, etc), and I hate that there is absolutely nothing I can do or say to change their minds. I know many other Christians who have gained the maturity to no longer care about what other people think of them, but I'm not one.

Yet it's to be expected because the Bible even makes mention of that:

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22

I guess if everyone loved me, I'd ought to be worried, but I believe that desire comes partly from the eternity that He has set in our hearts. I am loved, truly and wholly, by Him, and one day I will know nothing else but that kind of love. For now, however, I am stuck in a different world, one that sometimes feels like a prison.

Thankfully, there is hope to be found in scripture about that very thing.

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” - 1 John 4:4

Every human being has the potential to let us down. Even Christians. There are plenty of criticisms we could make about the church, including the self-righteousness that can arise when there are disagreements over scripture, and the hypocrisy and cliques that so often push people away. What we all have to come to realize is that it isn't about us. It isn't about 'them'. It isn't about anyone except 'He who is in us', and if we'd all just get out of the way and let Him take care of things, we'd be a whole lot better off.

Perhaps it's this fact that makes the whole faith thing worth it: If it's only us who are in control, with all of our faults and awful imperfections, then there is no hope to be found. But the redemption is there, and it's real, and it's so much better than anything we ourselves have to offer.
            

Thursday, October 9, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Simple Faith

My kids made me smile today. Well, they make me smile every day, but here is why they did today:

They worked for a long time on what I assumed to be an art project, and then they came to find me. They excitedly told me,“we're superheroes!” Hannah had created arm guards for herself and Abram held little yellow construction paper cutouts over his eyes.

“Wow! That's very creative,” I said. “What are your superhero names?”

“I'm Magenta Girl, and he is Triangle Man,” Hannah said.
 
What Does It Mean To Have Childlike Faith
 
So of course I snapped a picture of Magenta Girl and Triangle Man since it is so rare to have an actual superhero sighting, though I was never able to determine which super powers they possessed. I did, however, determine that these two are brilliant and creative and hilarious, as moms tend to do. But there's so much more to it than that. There's so much more to be seen, and they give me glimpses. 

Magenta Girl wore her arm bands to dinner at a restaurant tonight, and I was reminded of one particularly incredible super power that I need to tap into more often.

Yesterday I wrote about prayer and how it doesn't have to be as complex as we sometimes make it out to be, and tonight I listened to a four-year-old supergirl say a grace before our meal that brought tears to my eyes.

“Dear God, Thank you for our food. And thank you for our family. And thank you for all the things you give us every day. And thank you that you love us. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.”

How simple it can be. Just to recognize the superhero in this story. The source of every ounce of strength. The giver of every blessing under the sun. The life-giving love for every being on this earth.

All we need is the faith of child. It's the super power that can't be beat.

1 John 5:11-12 - “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

John 5:24 - “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

John 6:28-29 - “Therefore they said to Him, 'what shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

31 Days Of Strength In Scripture: Pray Without Ceasing

Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

An extremely difficult undertaking, isn't it? The whole prayer thing? I have to say, I've never considered myself to be very good at it. It has never come easily to me, at least not in the way that I used to think it was 'supposed' to occur. I don't know if that sounds strange coming from a Christian or not, but I've known others who have felt much the same. Oddly enough, it took me a long time to become comfortable with the idea that there is no magical formula for prayer.

When I'd hear others pray out loud, I couldn't help but think about how mine didn't sound like that. But now I realize that most of us probably don't sound like that when we're inside our own heads. Some of us ramble about through our jumbled thoughts, getting constantly distracted by other jumbled thoughts (at least, I'm hoping I'm not the only one). Add that to the fact that we are told to never stop praying, and well, it seems like a huge task.

I used to ask, if we are supposed to 'pray without ceasing', what should that look like?

There are several acronyms often taught in the church to help Christians learn 'how to pray'. One in particular that I remember is 'ACTS' – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. I realize there are many benefits to formulas, and there have certainly been times that I benefited from following this model for prayer, but I've found that it's much like when we did something called TAG writing in our junior high English class. I spent too much time being concerned with whether or not each sentence properly modified the one before it to actually write anything of substance.

Following a prayer model can certainly be a bit like that – it's possible to allow the formula to overshadow our deep need to connect with our Savior on a more personal level than, “what comes next?” For me, the idea of vulnerability has always seemed daunting enough as it is without tossing in a formula to 'get right'. Using a model is likely a great tool in the beginning as we're learning the ropes, but there comes a point when we have to be comfortable enough in the process to just pray what we're going to pray, or write what we're going to write.

In the past I have struggled with that aspect of communication in my human relationships – the vulnerability part. I tend to shy away from trusting others with my innermost thoughts. I am not an open book, nor do I desire to be one, but the more I live life, the more necessary I see that kind of openness to be. I especially need to be that way with God, if I ever expect He's going to mold me.

Prayer has so much more to do with delighting in His presence and continual meditation on His word than simply telling him our thoughts. That's what I'm learning right now – that my 'praying without ceasing' is about allowing Him to lead me through my life day by day, moment by moment. When I am continually aware of Him, seeking His guidance, giving Him thanks...that's my communication with Him. That's my ceaseless prayer. And all day, every day, without fail, He is there.