Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dad said...

Breakfast was finished and my husband said to our 9 year old, "You can get the table cleared off please."

She instantly replied with, "Why do I have to do it?"

From the other side of the table, her big brother eagerly replied, "Well, dad told you to do it, so it's your job."

As the Mom, I took this as a teachable moment and spoke to J.D. "Just like last night when Dad gave you the job of plowing." This instantly stopped the conversation because he knew exactly what I was getting at...he was enjoying getting after his sister for whining about a job when just 12 hours earlier he had done the exact same thing.

Though the words between siblings ended, a conversation continued in my head. As I finished talking with the kids about accepting our jobs and doing the work responsibly without comparing it to everyone else, God spoke to my heart.

The Holy Spirit brought to mind things God was calling me to do - things I was avoiding, things I considered too hard, things I thought someone else could do better. As I spoke with my kids about obeying their dad, I was convicted to obey our heavenly Father.

Friend, we may no longer whine like a child does or grumble to others about the work we are given, but sometimes we don't obey. Stop for a minute and think about what God is calling you to do. Has He led you to step out of your comfort zone? Is He calling you to forgive? Is He asking you to serve one who's never grateful? Does He want you to stand up for your faith, for Him, when others won't understand? Is He telling you to love the unlovable? I don't know what it is, but I'm guessing you do.

Now think about your response. Can you relate to my Jaylyn? Are you looking around and seeing others not having to do what you do? Are you like my son and wonder why you always get the hard job? Are you like me and are afraid, finding yourself stuck in fear when you should be walking in faith? Again, I don't know, but God does. He sees our response, He knows our heart. He wants our obedience.

My son's words have come to mind a few times through the day and I can still hear him saying, "Well, Dad told YOU to do it." The Dad I think of is God, our Abba Father. The "it" isn't doesn't matter if it's something BIG or small, something easy or hard, something new or a mundane task...when God calls us to do it, we are to obey.

You don't have to take my word on this, God's Word has much to say about our obedience. Here are a few verses that come to my mind and speak to my heart...

"Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." Joshua 1:8

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." James 1:22

Scripture clearly tells us what we are and are not to do. The Holy Spirit will help us discern the Word, but knowing is not enough...we must do what we know.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you." John 15:16

Friend, God has work for you and me to do. He gives us roles and responsibilities for a reason - the things we do for Him and through Him produce fruit. He created us, chose us and knows us...He will be faithful to equip us and use us.

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

The things God calls us to won't be easy, sometimes they won't seem fair and they will often bring opposition from the enemy, but we must remember the bigger picture. God has a plan and He will use, and reward, our obedience.

Regardless of what "job" you have today, I pray, like me, you hear your heavenly Father telling you to do it. And then I pray we respond rightly and obey with hearts that are humble, hands ready to serve, feet ready to walk and a mouth willing to speak up or remain silent.

Heavenly Father, You are my Abba and I'm grateful. May I always remember the joy and privilege it is to be your chosen child. As a mom I know children have responsibilities; one of the most important is to obey their parents. Lord, I ask you for a heart willing to obey. Keep my eyes focused on you, don't let my heart compare or my mind worry. I pray for strength and boldness and ask for gratitude instead of grumbling. The next time you speak, may my words be a quick, "Here am I Lord" followed up by "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said." I love you Lord and long to serve you and you alone. In Jesus' precious and powerful name, Amen"

Monday, December 5, 2016

Encouragement from the Christmas Story

December has begun, which means Christmas is coming. Those 3 words entail much - decorating and gifts, cookie baking and candy making, parties and programs and so much more. As our children have been preparing for our church's Christmas program, memories flooded my mind. Back in 2012, our daughter, Joy, was Mary and this year our daughter Jaylyn will have the same role. Seven years ago, I had the part and God taught me much. 

This morning I woke up with something God has had on my heart...something that involves stepping out of my comfort zone and trusting Him. Something I've been wrestling with and at times trying to avoid: I haven't figured it all out (though I've tried) and sometimes it doesn't make much sense. I know God brought this post, and more importantly the Truth it contains, to me for a reason. Friend, I believe the same is true for prayer is He will speak to your heart today.

From 2009 - This past weekend I had the privilege of playing Mary in our Sunday School Christmas program. Six weeks ago when my husband first informed me of the role, I never expected to write the above words. You see acting is not my thing! I'd never been "Mary" as a child and I didn't think now was the time. Honestly, when my husband, one of the Sunday School leaders, told me about this I thought he was joking...

But the following Sunday as the kids were practicing and I was in the nursery with our new little man, I was informed I got the part without having to audition!! I realize being the real life Mom of this year's baby "Jesus" had something to do with it, but still...

Anyway, I agreed, thinking if I don't want my kids to be afraid of this I'd better set a good example. Besides it wasn't like I had that many lines!

So the whole month of December we spent Sunday School time practicing for the play and I was given a new appreciation for those who direct! More than that I began to understand why God had cast me in the role I had never received as a girl. Back then I would have never understood and actually I'm not sure I would have a year ago, but this year there was a reason.

Last January, I was in the midst of editing my book and beginning to make plans to organize a women's retreat. Everything was in the early stages, but still I sensed God was up to something. I was excited, but mostly I felt so undeserving. I can remember sharing some doubts, worries and fears with my husband and basically I told him I wasn't worthy of what God was calling me to do.

He listened, reminded me none of us are deserving of what God gives and then asked, "How do you think Mary felt?" The question had me - back in the day when all of us Sunday School girls wanted to be Mary, I would have answered the question rather quickly, "Lucky, Blessed, Special...," but now as an adult I pondered the question a little longer.

Really I even thought about it in a different way and the idea of "why me?" came to mind. I look at her situation and wonder if she felt the same and another question comes to mind, one Scripture shows she asked, "How can this be?" (Luke 1:34) The angel answered her question - "the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon her" (Luke 1:35) and she was reminded that with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)

So the character my husband pointed me to last January became a bit of a study the whole year through. As God continued to call me out of my comfort zone time and time again, thoughts would often go back to Mary, the one who said, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said." (Luke 1:38) I always knew she was the mother of Jesus, but in 2009 I've looked at her story in a whole new way.

In today's world we often glamorize the story, the beautiful nativity scenes are nice, but it was more than that. When I stop and think about the reality of it all, wow, I cannot imagine. How does a virgin girl explain this situation to her soon to be husband? Have you ever thought about traveling to Bethlehem by donkey when your nine months pregnant? (I thought the 20 miles to Grandma's by car was bumpy and long at times!!) And then there's a baby born in a stable...what a contrast to our sanitary, state of the art delivery rooms today!

All of these questions and more have crossed my mind, but what's really been on my heart throughout the year was Mary's response. The angel gave her a glimpse of what was to come, but still there was some unknown just like there is for me. What would have I done? What would I have said? I'm afraid to say my words would not have been the same. I look back on my life and just as my calling is different than Mary's my response has been as well.

I tend to be an analyzer and in my head I try to play out how things will unfold. I often find myself wondering how it will all work and what people will think. I believe in a way those thoughts had to cross Mary's mind as well. Did the unknown stop her? No! How about fear of what others would think? No! Maybe the thought of "Why me? I don't deserve to be the mother of the Savior of the world" never crossed her mind, but if it did she didn't allow the feelings she had about herself trump what God said.

She humbled herself and accepted what God wanted to give. I've often thought humbling myself meant stepping aside, playing the behind the scenes role and letting someone else stand in the spotlight. In a way that understanding is correct - there is only One who should be under the light and take center stage, but my recent acting debut has shown me that sometimes Christ does that through people, even me.

Mary didn't question the role God had for her, well maybe in her mind she did, but she didn't question the One who gave it to her. She responded with some words I've come to know quite well, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said." My prayer as the new year begins is that God moves me from simply knowing Mary's words and saying them at our Christmas program to living in a way that her words become mine everyday of the year.

Me, Mary? Initially it was a role I didn't want to play, but now has become a desire of my heart. And the thing is there isn't just room for one, I believe God will take as many Marys as He can find, so will you join me today and audition for the role as well? Trust me, it will look different than you expect, but with God as the director we know the final result will be blessed and beautiful.

Friend, have you ever sensed God calling you to something that is crazy and beyond you? Do you ever feel unworthy or unqualified? Do you respond like Mary or feel more like me? What advice do you have for the one who wants to be a Mary, but feels more like doubting Thomas' sister? 

May this Christmas be one where we seek Him and say the words Mary said...

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this Advent season, fill us with your Spirit and joy as we prepare to celebrate your birth. As we reflect on the Christmas story, encourage us to be like Mary - may we trust you with the unknown, join you in your work and see your perfect plan unfold. Lord, humble our hearts and use us as your servants. In Jesus' Name I pray...Amen

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Holiness...Is it even possible?

Welcome to those of you joining me from our holiness study - I was grateful to hear from some of you and thankful to see God at work! I invite you to join us for the 2nd half of our study and would encourage you to share your thoughts, insights and/or questions in the comment section - we can learn much from one another. (You can find part one HERE.) This is a topic I've been learning about and even taught on, but none of that matters if it's not a part of my daily life. I've been praying and asking God to fill me with His Spirit so I can fulfill His call to be holy. This helps immensely, but it's not 100% effective because I'm a sinful human. Friend, a few days ago I was reminded how frustrating this reality can be...

It was past our kids' bedtime when we'd returned home from a wonderful Thanksgiving Eve worship service. The night time routine was about complete when I learned child A had tricked child B and then went on to lie about it. THANKFULLY, my heart was in the right place and I was sensitive to the Spirit's leading as I confronted child A. Since I've been soaking in the topic of holiness and continually ask God for opportunities to teach my children, I asked a question before convicting the one I knew was guilty. I simply said, "Do you know what holiness is?"

I don't recall all of the details but we did discuss God's holiness and the fact that He is without sin. Child A agreed with this, but fell apart when I said, "And He calls us to be the same." Instantly tears fell from her eyes and these words came out of her mouth, "I'll never be who you want me to be." My heart softened as well and I assured her I'd felt the same. I tried to assure her God's (and me) not looking for self-achieved perfection, but instead longs for us to join Him in this daily sanctifying work. Is it easy? No. Is it possible? Yes, but only with His help.

We went on to have a long talk that included more tears, some hugs, a confession, forgiveness and prayer. It truly was a teachable moment...for child A and for me. Friend, part of the high calling of holiness is conviction of sin because our sin separates us from God and keeps us from holiness which means being set apart for Him. I hope this is a topic we continue to understand more and live out better on the Beran family farm and I pray the same is true for you! The place to start is prayer, so let's do that now...

Dear Heavenly Father, 
People say the high calling of holiness for a reason...this is no easy task. I fall short everyday, but yet that doesn't change what you ask me to do or who you ask me to be. Your Word says I'm to be holy as you are holy. Help me understand this more and live it better. May I surrender and give up trying to do this on my own, but instead may I allow you to fill me with your Spirit so that you can work in and through me. Father as I start this study, I ask you to prepare my heart - tender it so I'm willing to receive what You have to say. Your Word is living and active...penetrate my heart and reveal any and all evil in my heart and mind. Equip me to see, confess and repent from my sin. Lord, you are faithful and just and will cleanse me from all iniquity and purify me from unrighteousness, thank you. I praise you in advance for the mighty work You will do. In Jesus' precious and powerful name...Amen

As I studied holiness and started to understand it better, I realized this high calling was even more challenging than I initially thought. I found myself crying out to God, “How do I do this?” Shortly after praying that prayer my daily Bible reading time took me to Romans 6 and in verse 19 I read, “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Immediately, I underlined those last four words and started a new study as I worked to find the difference between righteousness and holiness. Do you know the difference?

This is a topic definitely worthy of more time, but for now I’ll keep it simple – righteousness is our right standing before God, which happens when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Holiness is a process of becoming more like God which should happen continually as our relationship with our heavenly Father grows. Like Paul says, righteousness leads to holiness, so when I helped my daughter memorize 2 Timothy 3:16-17 God gave me some insight. Here we read – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Scripture is useful for training in righteousness, which means God’s Word helps you and me become holy. Striving for holiness is a good work we must be equipped for!! So let’s turn our attention to 1 Peter 1:13-16 and dig a bit deeper.

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16)
 After an initial reading, what do these verses mean to you?

An important thing to do when studying Scripture is to understand the context so here’s a quick overview – Peter wrote this book to persecuted Christians during the time of Nero. He was attempting to encourage believers and remind them trials would come while stimulating them to respond rightly to God’s gift of salvation. Today, he can do the same thing for you and me, so let’s pull this passage apart and see what we are able to learn.

Let’s begin with a closer look at verse 13. What are some keys words? What role does our mind play in our pursuit of holiness?

As I read this verse a phrase jumped out at me…“set your hope”, and I found myself wondering what this meant, so I did a bit more researching. After doing so I discovered this is an important command that has much to do with our desire for heavenly things over earthly ones. (Matthew 6:19-21) What have you set your hope on? Worldly treasures or success, selfish gain or achievement or God’s grace and His glory?

Friend, we can’t be holy until we die to self. We’ve studied surrender and it’s a constant step on the road to holiness. May we continually ask God to help us set our hope on Him!

 Now let’s move to verse 14 where Peter says, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Are you an obedient child? Why or why not?

I want to look at this a minute from a Mother’s perspective…five young people call me “Mom” and I’m so grateful when they obey. I’ll admit part of that joy is selfish because their obedience makes my job easier, but part of it is also pure. As their mom I love them and want what’s best for them; as all parents know that comes from obedience. God knows this better than anyone and friend, as our loving Father He longs for us to obey, but is willing to forgive us when we don’t.

We realize Peter is addressing us as obedient children, but what is he telling us to do?

When did we have these evil desires?

Let’s look at a few verses to try and understand this a bit more. Read them and make note how they connect to verse 14. What insight do they offer?
2 Corinthians 5:17
Romans 8:5
Romans 12:1-2
Ephesians 2:3-10
Ephesians 4:17-24

Before we move on, I want to encourage you to take some time to reflect as you think about these questions – What sins did you struggle with 5 years ago? Are there certain sins you’re prone to during certain seasons or with specific people? What sins do you succumb to when you are angry, tired or alone?

Spend some time in prayer and ask God to help you live as a new creation. Pray you won’t return to old ways, but will instead be filled by the Holy Spirit so God can work in and through you for His glory and your good.  

Moving on to verse 15, we find more instructions for those who call themselves Christians. What are your initial thoughts after reading these words? “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do…”

Let’s break this verse into two parts; first what it says about God. Here Peter tells us God is holy. Friend, this is a constant characteristic of God. It doesn’t change…He can’t be holier today than He was yesterday. He will never not be holy.

Now let’s look at what it says about us…first it states we are called. Friend, not everyone has this high calling of holiness, but as believers it’s the expectation God has for us. We often think about our callings in regards to jobs or ministries, but calling typically has more to do with our daily lives than our life-long careers. Our calling is connected to our thoughts, actions and words. Next let’s focus on a powerful two letter word – be. God is holy and we are called to be holy…there is a difference. Like I mentioned earlier, this is a constant state for God, but it’s something we have to do. I can be holier today than I was yesterday and so can you. I can be holy at church or as I lead Bible study and be unholy as I react to my disobedient child. When it comes to holiness, God doesn’t have a choice, but we do.  We must choose to be holy. Finally, again the last four words are vital. What do they say?
We are called to be holy in all things and at all times. Like my daughter commented, does this seem impossible?

Let me assure you of this, on our own it is impossible! But let’s take a look at a few scriptures that will help us know how to fulfill this calling. Make note of the insight they offer…

Galatians 5:16
Romans 6:12-23, 12:9-21
1 Thes. 4:3-8
2 Corinthians 7:1
Proverbs 1:10
Ephesians 5:1

We are called to be holy, which means we are set apart for God and from sin. We are to be different in all our conduct and in every role. Friend, this is not easy and we will not do it perfectly, but the One who calls us will be faithful to equip us.

Finally, let’s look at verse 16 – “ for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.” This is a short verse with a powerful important truth. Peter is not the only one who makes this claim about God, our heavenly Father. Read the following passages, what does each one say about God and what instruction does it offer for us?

Leviticus 11:44-45
Leviticus 19:2-4
Leviticus 20:6-8

Friend, I’d encourage you to memorize these verses from 1 Peter 1:13-16 and pray you continue growing in your understanding of holiness. I understand this is a difficult topic, but over the last 2 months I've learned studying it is so important and powerful. Before doing this, I knew what sin was and I understood I was a sinner, but digging into God's Word has given me a better idea of not just the damaging impact of sin on my life, but more so the pain it creates in God's heart. God despises sin; He can have nothing to do with it. Think for a moment about the last sin you committed...does that break your heart? I truly believe we need to constantly ask God for help in seeing sin the way He does. And I'm not just talking about sin in the world, we must first be concerned with the sin in our heart. The more we study and are aware of sin the more likely we are to see it how God does...this is a hard thing, but a good thing.

I type that paragraph and am reminded of the story I shared to open this post...initially, my child's heart was hard towards sin she'd committed. Since, we're all human, we often respond in a similar way. As her mom, my heart broke to see this and God's does the same when we sin. He sees our potential and knows the power He provides; He longs for us to be holy, but this won't happen until we call sin, sin and decide not to enter in. Like I told my daughter, we can make that decision and still fall short, but when we do we must recognize our sin and go to God. One quote I read was "When we mess up, we must give up." It's easy for one sin to lead to another, so let's be aware of that and not let them snowball - be it with our thoughts, words or actions. Friend, God will be faithful to help us be who He calls us to be, but will we be faithful to pursue this high calling of holiness?

With that I’ll leave you with a few more passages if you want to dig deeper, a prayer and a song that helps me meditate on holiness. Thank you for joining me in this study…I pray God has met you in His Word and has continued the transformation work of making you more like Him!

More verses on Holiness
Psalm 119:9-12, 1 John 3:1-10, Hebrews 12:10, Colossians 3:1-11, Titus 2:11-12

Dear Heavenly Father,
God you are holy and that will never change. I’m thankful you will always be the same and have created me with potential for change. I pray you would continue transforming me into your image. Help me see sin rightly like you do. May I take it seriously and I ask you to convict me of the sins I commit. May it break my heart like it does yours. Lord, you’ve reminded me that I’m sanctified by your Truth, so I ask you to increase my hunger for your Word. Father, forgive me for the sins I’ve committed and thank you for the righteousness you’ve made possible for me. Lord, make me holy like you are holy. In Jesus’ Name I pray…Amen

Listen to the words as Addison Road sings "What do I know of Holy?" 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Study on Holiness

Holiness, a topic I eluded to in my last post and one that has been on my heart for the last month. I've searched the Scriptures and dug into God's Word to attempt to study an attribute of God we're called to imitate. (1 Peter 1:13-16) Friends, this isn't something we will understand or do overnight, but I know this study has impacted my walk of faith and I pray it does the same for you!

So as we begin, let's pray...
Heavenly Father, you and you alone are holy. You are perfect. You have no flaw and can have nothing to do with sin. I am a broken sinner who seeks your forgiveness and longs to be more like you. You've called me to be holy, like you are holy. I realize that is a command, but I want to understand it better. I ask you to walk with me thru this study, open my eyes to see, ears to hear and heart to receive. Use your Word to convict and comfort, encourage and equip. Sanctify me with Your Truth Lord. In Jesus' Name, Amen

What comes to mind when you hear the word holy? Who or what do you picture? Would you use this word to describe yourself?

How would you define holy?

Webster's dictionary states, "exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness, divine." A few different Bible dictionaries offer these definitions - "to be different, not common, clean, distinct, set apart, sacred, totally other, one without sin."

Holy is a foundational attribute of God. One of the most familiar verses connected to holiness is found in Isaiah 6:3. What do you read here? Now turn to Revelation 4:8, what do you read here?

In each of these verses we read of heavenly beings praising the Lord. How often is the word holy repeated? Is this significant?

This is the only time in scripture an attribute of God is repeated in this manner, which commentators say is of importance. Three is a significant number in the Bible and a word being repeated this many times signifies the passion and importance of it. Many believe holiness is a foundational attribute of God meaning all His other attributes flow from this - his love is holy, his mercy is holy and so on. The other significance of these verses is they show God is the same in the Old and New Testaments. God was holy yesterday, He's holy today and He will be holy tomorrow.

God is holy...see Exodus 15:11, Psalm 98:1, Psalm 145:17 and 1 Samuel 2:2, but what does holiness have to do with us as believers? The answer is much. This is a call and a command. God chose us to be holy. So friend, what does that mean?

I found myself asking the same question, so I started searching scripture and found that this little word or a form of it appears 611 times in the Bible. One of the places it occurs the most may surprise you...the book of Leviticus, the book that may leave us wondering what it has to do with our world today. This is a book of law, which plays a huge role in our quest to better understand and rightly pursue holiness.

The laws in this book are what set the Israelites apart. The 10 Commandments, which we find in Exodus, are important and a vital piece of our Christian faith, but many civilized nations accepted them because they have a similar code of conduct. These moral laws weren't that different, but the ceremonial laws we find in Leviticus set God's people apart. Take a minute and read a few of them - Lev. 12:1-5, 19:5-9, 20:6-8. What do you read here? Does this apply to your life?

Thankfully, we aren't expected to carry out these ceremonial laws, but that's no reason to avoid them. Leviticus has much to teach us about holiness. These are often referred to the clean and unclean laws. God is clear on what to do and not to do, but in many cases the reason behind the laws is not understood. There are many distinctions in what the Israelites were to do and not do, but they often came without reason and logic. It boils down to one simple truth - God defines clean and unclean, holy and unholy. In false religions, men create their own gods and design rules according to their own desires; in Christianity God makes the rules and they often go against our human desires.

Turn with me for a moment to Acts 10:9-15. Here we read of a vision that Peter has, make note of what he says in verse 14. This is a reminder to us of how serious the people in Bible times took God's word about clean and unclean. If God had labeled something unclean, the people saw it as detestable, they wanted nothing to do with it. How does that compare with our world today? How does it compare with your view on sin?

Does this give you a better picture of holiness? What does God declare as unclean or unholy today? I encourage you to take some time and pray about the following questions, ask God to examine your heart. What am I doing that is unholy? How am I living unclean? Am I calling something clean that God says is unclean? Write a prayer below asking God to purify your heart.

Friend, these aren't easy questions, but they are important. Remember God knows all and sees all. He cares about the details and in His eyes sin is sin. We must strive to live as God requires not how the culture encourages. God calls us to be holy and has set us apart for Himself...our AD (after death to self and accepting Jesus as Savior) life should look different than our BC (before Christ) days!

I'm praying for you as you study God's Word...may He comfort and convict and equip you for the high calling holiness! I'd love to hear what He speaks to your heart and teaches you through His Word. I also invite you back next week as the study continues! May you have a blessed Thanksgiving my friend!! Thanking God for YOU today!

If you want to add worship to your study, here's a song to get you started...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fair Lambs...A picture of holiness?

Before I begin this post I'm going to share something our pastor often says, "Illustrations are good, but eventually they fall apart." I agree with him...I'm a big fan of analogies and illustrations, but I know we can't ever completely compare earthly pictures to spiritual Truths. I pray the picture I paint in the post to come provides a good illustration for you, but want you to know it's not exclusive. So with that a lesson from my fair lambs...

Growing up I was involved in 4-H and showed sheep at our county fair. This was a project that made me nervous (early on I feared getting drug around the ring) and one that always made me money - our ribbon auction bidders were very generous! Thru the years, I learned much from my woolly little animals, but just recently God may have taught me the most important lesson. 

I've been knee deep in a study on's a broad topic of utter importance. It's a word we hear in church, sing about at worship and perhaps struggle to understand. The song that's been on my heart has the title, "What do I know of holy?" And that's the question that's been on my mind. Thankfully, my answer is better now than it was a month ago. 

Let me ask you - "What do you know of holy?" 

Friend, we will each answer that quite uniquely, but the important thing is to have a better understanding of God's holiness with each step we take on our walk of faith. That will happen as we seek Him and can happen as we study His Word. I'm praying now that God will give you the desire to dig in and understand this better...there is much to share, but I'll start with a lesson from my lambs. 

In order to take market lambs to the county fair in June we had to weigh them in during early spring. It was then my dad would help my sisters and I select the ones he thought were the best. We'd weigh them, give them a special ear tag and record their number. Often we'd bring them home and put them back in the same pen. The only difference between them and the others was their new piercing. A couple months would go by and we'd put all the fair lambs in a pen of their own. We'd feed them a bit more specifically and start training them to lead and stand. It was then when we'd give them names and start to grow attached. Eventually, fair week would arrive and we'd get out the Woolite so we could wash them and prep for the big show. Weigh-ins would happen, fair goers would come and ribbons would be passed out. Then the fair was over and our lambs would be sold. 

So, you might be wondering what this has to do with holiness. That's a great question and I pray I give you a good answer. In a way, we as believers are like the fair lambs. We too are set apart for a special purpose - we're not trying to win a purple ribbon, but instead have been chosen to bring God glory. God doesn't give us a special mark, but His Son's hands hold the piercings that change our lives forever. Initially on-lookers might not notice a difference between us and the rest of the world, but as time goes by and God's transformational work begins, change happens. We must feed on His Word and be trained by His Truth. Our Father in heaven has a relationship with us, He knows our name and equips us for our purpose. He doesn't use a special soap, but He washes us white as snow. God isn't preparing us for a one time show, but instead a daily walk. And unlike the fair lambs that go to market just like all the others, we as believers are destined for our eternal home in heaven. 

Friend, holiness doesn't have to be a complicated topic, but it shouldn't be an overlooked one either. This is mentioned 611 times in Scripture and over 80 times in the book of Leviticus. In simple terms it means set apart, without sin and sacred. Some consider it the greatest attribute of God and it's not one we inherit when we are created in His image. For example, all people have the capacity for love and joy, but only those born again and filled with the Spirit have the call, command and capacity to be holy. 

1 Peter 1:13-16 says, "Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at His coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"

I read this verse and it started a journey for me. I've been on a quest to understand holiness better and as I study His Word I have a growing desire to live it out more. I encourage you to do the same. Pray about this, look for it as you read God's Word. John 17:17 says, "Sanctify them by your Truth, your Word is Truth." We can't be holy if we don't read God's Word. God will hear your prayers and give you the desire of your heart. I'll warn you the journey won't be easy - it will bring you to your knees and will leave tears in your eyes. Seeing His holiness opens our eyes to sin, but it's worth it and what we need if holiness is our desire. I pray you will join me back here next week when I continue looking at this topic and share a short study with you. 

Until then I pray we each live out this high calling of holiness! Blessings to you friend! For all my fellow believers be thankful you're set apart and keep pressing on to win the prize!! Trust me it's much better than the old fair ribbons I have in a box!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Willing to be a Walk-On

You could say it was the weekend of the walk-on here in Iowa. Friday night my girls and I traveled to Ames to watch the ISU Cyclones; the teams did not disappoint. It was my basketball loving girls first time in a big arena so watching them was about as much fun as watching the games. Their eyes got big and their dreams grew bigger. We had much to talk about, but today I want to share one thought that went a bit deeper. 

Have you ever thought much about walk-ons? If you're not a sports fan, your answer will be a quick "no". And even if you enjoy the game, walk-ons probably don't have much of your attention, but this weekend my girls and I spent time talking about this important role and I've spent even more time thinking about it. I pray you will do the same, but first I want to ask you a question - "Are you willing to be a walk-on?" 

As you think about this question, let me share a few more thoughts...

Like I told my girls, a walk-on has an important role. It's said that a team is only as strong as it's weakest player. A walk-on may not get much time on the floor when the lights are on and stands are full, but they are vital when it comes to practice. They help the starters get better. Though people don't know or flock to these players like they do the All-Americans or even know their name like some of the starters and key reserves, they still have skills. Walking on is not something just anybody can a way coaches choose these players too. 

My daughters understood this, but their little competitive selves struggled with the idea of sitting on the bench. They are only in 4th and 6th grade but already love to play the game and had a hard time imagining doing all that work, going to all the practices and just sitting on the bench. After hearing their thoughts, I reminded them of the importance of teamwork and the fact that playing basketball has to be about something bigger than themselves. Walk-ons are truly athletes who love the game, have the desire to be part of a program and are often humble. They are willing to give up the glory and must make a financial sacrifice to follow a dream.

This conversation continued and went deeper as we talked about being a walk-on for a team other than the Cyclones. Let me add to the question I asked earlier, "Are you willing to be a walk-on for Christ?" 

Will you lay down your dreams and desires so He can get the glory? Are you willing to work behind the scenes while other brothers and sisters get the spotlight? Will you sacrifice financially and personally to follow where He leads? Are you willing to work hard, put in extra time even if nobody ever knows your name? Will you humble yourself, play your role and trust God's plan? 

Friend, those are all simple questions to state, but can be challenging to really answer honestly. I know my girls aren't the only ones with big dreams and desires...we're all human, our flesh wants to be noticed, some of us are competitive and we want to play. But in all of this we must remember God is good...He is a coach who has chosen us. He doesn't have 5 star recruits and walk-ons, His team consists of sons and daughters. He knows our name, our role and our potential. Trust Him, "play" for Him. 

A few thoughts from His Word to support this thinking - 

"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1 Corinthians 12:21,27)
Friend, every member of a basketball team is important regardless of stats and in the same way every member the body of Christ is important regardless of roles. 

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last-so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you." (John 15:16) When it feels like the world forgets us we must remember the bigger picture - God has chosen us!! He has work for us to do and even if it doesn't look like we expected or dreamed about we must give Him our all and our best!!

"For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 14:11) Like I said it takes humility to be a walk-on. A friend's son is currently experiencing his freshman year as walk-on and I have to guess this is not what his dream looked like as a child - sure he dreamed of being a D1 player, but we don't dream about sitting on the bench. Thankfully as we mature our understanding grows and so does our willingness to accept reality. He is grateful for the role God's given him on this team and I pray we all feel the same as we humble ourselves and embrace our role on God's team. 

A few final encouraging words - these words from God's Word are true. Friday night Stu, the beloved walk-on at Iowa State, enjoyed a few minutes on the court. The crowd cheered when he took the floor and then erupted when he scored. He's put in his time, accepted his role and found some success. Then on Saturday night, another walk-on here in Iowa, was given time in the national light. Keith Duncan, a freshman walk-on kicker for the Hawkeyes, nailed the game winning field goal to knock off the mighty Michigan Wolverines. 

Friend, when you and I humble ourselves for our Father in Heaven He will give us more than success on the basketball court or football field. He will bless our obedience and give us eternal rewards. And like all walk-ons know more importantly than individual success, God will get the glory and His kingdom will grow!!!

Dear Heavenly Father, 
Lord, thank you for the opportunity to be on your team. Help each and everyone of us embrace the role you give to us. Help us die to self so that we can live for you. May we surrender our dreams and pursue your plans. Transform our thinking and renew our minds. Equip us to live for you and you alone. Lord, humble our hearts and let your perfect plan unfold. May we always remember the privilege it is to be used by you. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Some things will stay the same...

It's election night...the evening started with my 13 year old doing play by play every 5 seconds. The girls were getting into it too and even our little guys were asking, "Who won?" I'm a gal who tends to be competitive and appreciates NFL score updates on Sunday afternoon, but tonight this was all just too much.

All day I've been a bit on edge and as the wait continued I found myself growing anxious. As we all know this election does not just impact the next 4 years, but has the potential to impact the next 4 decades with the supreme court appointments. With that reality I find myself wondering, and honestly worrying a bit about what the future holds for our kids and our future grandkids.

Tonight we eventually turned the coverage off for work called my husband and oldest son back outside, the other kids played UNO and I escaped to our bedroom to spend some time in prayer. This helped me put things in perspective and reminded me who was in control. As I cried out to the One who already knows the results we are waiting for I was reminded of an important truth. Friend, if you are feeling anxious and worrying about the change this night could bring I pray the following brings you peace, offers encouragement and points you to the King of Kings who is, was and will forever be on the throne!

It's a given that the future will bring change regardless of who wins the election. Change is a constant in life, but there are some things that will stay the same. Tonight I find myself clinging to two constants - who and what. Over the last couple of weeks I've found myself immersed in a study of holiness and as I prayed some of the truths I've been learning and studying rose to the surface.

Who God is will stay the same. God will not change. Pause and remind yourself of that truth. Malachi 3:6 assures us of this when we read, "I the LORD do not change..." He is the beginning and the end, the everlasting. And He is holy. Do you know what holy means? I asked my kids this question and they responded with some right answers - "without sin, set apart, different."

His holiness sets Him apart and it's a foundational attribute of the God we love, serve and follow. Holiness is mentioned often in Scripture, but tonight I want to focus on one interesting discovery I made in my study. In Isaiah 6:3 we read, "And they (heavenly creatures) were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory." Revelations 4:8b tells us this - "Day and night they (heavenly creatures) never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."

A few interesting things about this - one, this is the only attribute of God that is mentioned 3 times in a row. This characteristic expresses His awesome and majestic nature. This statement is made in the Old and New Testament which indicates that God is the same before Jesus' birth and after His death and resurrection. He doesn't change.

The other truth I've been clinging to, and challenged by, is what we are called to as believers. This has not, and never will, change. In 2 Timothy 1:9a we read, "He has saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace." This command is also part of Peter's words in his first book - "Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" (1:13-16)

Friend, this is a calling we must not take lightly. The last couple months of the election process alone show us we live in a nation that is not holy. That is easy to see, but sometimes what's harder to recognize is our own sin is part of this. If we want change, we must let it start with us. I encourage you to take some time to ask God to search your heart and help you see where you fall short. We are called to be holy, to be set apart, to be different and that doesn't happen when we follow fleshly desires or live as the culture does.

That last paragraph has some heavy stuff, but there is some encouragement. On our own this can't happen - holiness is one of God's attributes that is not inherent, but it is possible through a relationship with Jesus. The one who gave us a helper - "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever..." (John 14:16) Friend, this Helper is the HOLY Spirit. The third member of the Trinity will help us be what our Heavenly Father calls us to be.

Hours have passed since I started the post and the wait I was avoiding still continues, but the anxiety has lessened. Prayer has put things in perspective and these truths remind me of the foundation we stand on and the King we trust in. Friend, no matter who is president, God is God and we are called to be holy as He is holy. Let's continue seeking Him, following Him and abiding in His Word so that we can share His love, speak His Truth and spread His message.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Lord you are holy and I am not, but yet it's what you call me to be. I ask you to change me from the inside out. Make me more like you. Mold me and change me. Help me surrender so that you can transform. And Father God on this election day, I pray for our nation. May your people humble ourselves and cry out to you. You promise to hear us and never leave or forsake us. Help us keep our eyes on you, I ask you to fill us with peace and pray you would make us strong and courageous. Lord, we long for you to bless America and draw our nation to yourself. We know you hold the king's heart in your hand, may we trust you and continue to stay on our knees in prayer. In Jesus' Name...Amen