Friday, May 3, 2019

What I know...

There are a lot of things I don't know...just ask my kids!! But there are a few things I do. Let's start with the obvious -

I know life is hard. It doesn't often go as expected. I know there are things we will never understand. I know planning is important, but I've also learned sometimes my plans fall apart. I know there will be pain and grief as days go by. I know it's also part of my past. I know there have been, are and will continue to be moments of frustration, conflict and worry.

As I wrestle with some of these realities in my own struggles of life, which really aren't that difficult in the big picture, and think about others living in the midst of the struggle as well, my thoughts run deeper. My heart hurts for a friend whose son attends UNC-Charlotte and had personal connections to the recent shooting. I hurt also for a friend whose sister was just diagnosed with cancer. My heart hurts in a bit of a different way thinking about all the moms preparing for their 'babies' upcoming graduation. I think about those ready to take that next step; I know it's fun and exciting, but I also know there's hard times that will accompany the good.

So we know these things, but what do we do? If viewed wrongly, it can leave us depressed and when viewed only, it becomes our focus. Thankfully, today as I my thoughts ran deep, the Holy Spirit reminded me of other things I know.

I know God is sovereign. He is the One in control. He has the power and authority. He knows all. When I don't understand, He does. He is truly incomprehensible, but He allows us to draw near and know Him more and more.

"Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other." Deuteronomy 4:39

I know God is faithful. When life is hard, pain overwhelms, frustration sets in or fear tries to overtake, it's helpful for me to reflect. All these things have happened before. This isn't the first time I've wondered what the future holds. But as I look back, I'm reminded of the One who holds, and knows, the future. God's walked me through some difficult, trying, unknown seasons in the past, I know He will do it again.

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

I know God is good. Life isn't always good, but God is. No matter how my circumstances change, He never does. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Things may not go like I planned or expect, but He will always be the same - my great God and good Father.

And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone." Luke 18:19

I know God is present. Relationships have a way of changing. Some friends enter our lives for a season; people come and go, but God is always here. There may be times He seems distant, but I'm the one who drifts. His Word instructs us to draw near and friend it also reminds us, He stands at the door and knocks. If, and when, we seek Him, He will be found.

"The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth." Psalm 145:18

I know God. This is truly the most important statement I can type and claim. Knowing these truths about God are good and important, but personally knowing Him is transforming. When the circumstances of life knock me down and waves of grief overwhelm, I know my Savior. When I have no control and don't know what to do, I know my Lord. When I've fallen short and need forgiveness, I know my Father. When I'm hurt or relationships are broken, I know the friend who laid down His life for me.

"so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God..." Colossians 1:10

Friend, today may our minds shift from the hard, painful realities we know about life to the One who gave us life. May what we don't know point us to the One who does. As days go by and we realize there's even more we don't know, may we get to know God better.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for reminding me of Truth. In the unknown, may I always remember what I do know and more importantly who I know. You are the perfecter of my faith, the One who is peace and my great God who works all things together for the good of those who love you. I love you Lord, help me trust You. In Jesus' Name, amen. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Part of the Crowd

Crowds aren't my favorite thing. I'd rather visit with you one on one, but I've found in a big group of people it is pretty easy to blend in. In a crowd, it's tempting to go with the flow and simple to lose yourself in the masses. Friend, this holy week I'd like to encourage you to think about something that's been on my mind - Are you part of the crowd?

Jesus dealt with crowds as well and he was never wrongly influenced by them. Let's make sure we aren't either.

Mass groups of people played a role in Christianity back then and they still do today. Let's take some time and get a closer look. Matthew 21:6-11 paints the picture for us. Here we read -

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” 

Did you notice a mention of crowds? What's your takeaway?

To me it seems Jesus' triumphant entry was met by many. They were welcoming him, cutting branches and announcing his coming. The whole city was stirred. That's a lot of people and activity and excitement.

In our world, Easter and Christmas morning might look a bit like this. We have more people than usual attending church services. Though Christianity is under attack, the world still recognizes these days and celebrates them as well. There is an excitement in the air and joy fills our hearts as we think of the newborn King and our risen Savior.

Let's fast forward in the story just a bit. Join me in reading Matthew 27:55-56 -

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Let's also look at John 19:25 -  

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

Do you notice a difference? What has happened? Where's the crowd?

Friend, this may be a simple thing to overlook in the story of Jesus' last days, but I think it holds a lesson for us. The number of people at Jesus' side has surely changed and so have his circumstances.

What happens when our circumstances change? When the excitement of Christmas prep and Easter fun fades does our zeal for faith do the same? When trials come do we run from God or cling to Christ? When life is busy do we go with the flow and put our faith to the side? Are we content to be part of the crowd and praise Christ when it's convenient?

You don't have to tell me your answers, but I hope you take time to think about these questions. This holy week let's spend time reflecting on the Word and preparing our hearts for Resurrection Sunday, but may we also commit to following Christ wherever the road leads. Let's celebrate His coming and stay by His side always!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Holy Week - The Passover Lamb

Holy week has begun and as I reflected this morning, this post came back to mind. I pray it touches your heart like it did mine. May this week be one we don't rush through, but truly take time to remember what Jesus did for us.

"Do you want to try and sell those lambs?" My husband's words in the early morning had my attention. He had mentioned this briefly earlier in the week, but this time instead of going to my head his words went to my heart.

Our kids have been raising 4 orphan lambs and they will eventually grow up and be sent to market, but my reaction to putting them up for sale now, while they are still young and kind of like a pet, hit me. The thought of someone using them - Skittle, Beefy, Oreo and the lamb with a changing name, for a passover meal made me sad.

The conversation didn't go any further, but my thoughts continued to run and they led me to the Word. Friend, we are in the midst of holy week and for the first time in 41 years, I find myself thinking about the Passover lamb in a real personal way. I encourage you to do the same in the days to come.

Did you know during the original Passover, the lamb played a significant role? First of all in Egypt, a lamb was sacred, it was considered to be a god of sorts and was worshipped by the Egyptians. Clearly, the Lord had their attention when He commanded the Israelites to "take a lamb for their family" (Exodus 12:3). The Israelites exercised their faith and courage by obeying this command.

They didn't just take any had to be a year old male without defect. (Exodus 12:5) These animals were in their prime and were the best of the flock.

The lambs weren't simply selected and quickly sacrificed...they were chosen on the 10th day and slaughtered on day 14. (Exodus 12:6) In between they were cared for...typically in the home. Think about what took place in that time. I'm sure there were messes and noise. There was also time to grow attached and hours set aside to inspect. The people were surrendering normalcy and eventually something they loved.

This story mirrors what took place years later in Jerusalem - Jesus rode into the city and was welcomed as the One who would save. For the next 4 days, He too was set apart and inspected. Just like the lamb, He was found to be spotless and without defect. (1 Peter 1:19) During that time, the people saw him work, learned from His teachings and grew to know Him more.

Friend, chances are you celebrated Palm Sunday yesterday and like the people of years gone by said, "Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" You may have plans to attend a Maundy Thursday service or a Last Supper Remembrance meal later this week. Countless services are scheduled for Friday and Sunday of this coming week as well. These events are important and powerful, but I challenge, and encourage, you to treasure the days to come.

We will not be bringing a lamb into our home, but I've invited thee Lamb into my heart. In the days to come I long to learn from Him and grow closer to Him as I prepare to reflect on His sacrifice and praise my Savior. I hope you will consider doing the same.

Heavenly Father, 
Lord, thank you for continually speaking into my heart and revealing more of yourself. I'm humbled to know you care and know me in such a personal way. As this Holy Week unfolds, may it be a time of reflection and relationship building. Draw me closer to Yourself as I sit with you, study your Word and experience your presence. Thank you for being my passover Lamb - your sinless life saved me from the sin in mine. Increase my understanding of this and gratitude for it. Today I struggled with the thought of giving up one of our lambs for a meal, but Father God you gave up your Son for me - thank you. May I give up my life for you. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Calm is Contagious

The title of this post is a quote I've been thinking about for a week. As my regular readers and local friends know, I'm a fan of basketball so I've been enjoying March Madness. Last week after a very intense and exciting game that put Virginia in this year's Final Four their coach said these words. To most fans it seemed winning was impossible and most fellow coaches knew it wasn't very likely, but they found a way and down the stretch the coach made a difference. You could say it was for various reasons, but his words say a lot.

I've played in a quite a few games and over the years have coached in many is intense, nerves are involved and fear can set in. When a competitor (athlete or coach), feels like hope is gone they can let up, when fear overtakes they might be overwhelmed and when emotion takes over their role is affected. Tony Bennett is a coach, from what I can tell, who doesn't let this happen. He is calm on the sidelines and it makes a difference. It mattered again last night, when Virginia was again in a tight game...his guys held on to win and advance. Calm clearly was contagious.

So, that's great right? It played a part in their win and might help me as I coach the game I enjoy, but what does this mean for you? Well friend, I've thought about that and I believe it means a lot. Life really is a lot like basketball. Whether you are a wife or mom, co-worker or ministry partner life is intense. There are moments of frustration and fear. There are days when hope seems gone and anxiety is high. We struggle to press on and may be tempted to wrongly impact others.

So whether you face an emergency situation, the daily demands of life or the frustration of things not going your way, would you like to remain calm? Or to say it differently, experience peace? I know my answer is yes! This not only helps me walk through life, but like Tony's demeanor and attitude impacts his team, I know my reaction affects the players in my life as well.

We can try to be calm, hope to be more patience and try to prepare for peace, but this doesn't happen on its own. Especially in the moments of chaos, fear and struggle. This my friend is a only God can give.

Before Jesus departed He told His disciples, "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever..." He is referring to the Holy Spirit, who not only lives in us, but bears gifts. Galatians 5:22-23 states, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control."

I believe all of these fruits are part of the calmness Tony Bennett displays. I want them to be part of my life as well. Do you?

It starts with accepting Christ and allowing Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit, but friend, it doesn't end there. We must surrender and let this Spirit live in us. We have to die to flesh and walk in the Spirit. This doesn't necessarily come natural.

When a game is tight and the time is ticking, nerves can take over, old habits and ways of thinking return. Stress is felt and the flesh wants to react. The same can happen when our toddler has a tantrum, the phone rings with bad news or a relationship falls apart. When this happens we need to make a choice.

Colossians 3:15 says, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." In the original language the word for rule takes on an umpire or referee type meaning. Like our pastor likes to say, we need to let the Holy Spirit blow His whistle and then rightly react to the call. When you feel like calmness is fading and fear is growing, redirect your thinking, remind yourself of Truth and allow peace to replace the worry.

This is easier said than done, but it is possible. Peace is a fruit that will grow, but we must water and weed the garden of our heart and mind!

Along with this, we must choose to practice the words Paul shares in Philippians 4:6 - "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God." 

When the Holy Spirit has your attention and you realize your thoughts are going out of bounds take a moment and pray. We don't have to be in a church building to talk to the Lord nor do we always need to bow our heads to pray. In the final seconds of his team's game, I don't know if Tony Bennett was praying, but I know I've cried out (in a whispering, personal sort of way) to the Lord from the bench.

These prayers haven't always led to victory, but they bring perspective and that's more valuable than a win any day!!

I don't know if Virginia will find themselves in another tight game tomorrow as they strive for the championship, but I know their coach's approach will make a difference, win or lose. You and I won't find ourselves competing in front of millions, but we're living in front of others and our approach will have a ripple effect as well. Do you want your attitude and mindset to be caught by others? Remember "Calm is Contagious!"

Thursday, March 28, 2019

For my married friends...

Hello all, I'll keep this short today, but wanted to take a minute and invite my friends who are wives to Encouragement Cafe. I'm sharing a devotion called, "What Kind of Wife are You?" You can read it HERE. I pray the words bless you, encourage or convict. If you have any words of wisdom about living out this role or a story of God working through it, please share in the comments. May your day be blessed!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Words I would say...

Recently I've talked with a few athletes walking through an injury, which always takes me back. This post from 2016 came to mind and in case any of my reading friends are dealing with an unexpected setback I decided to share them again. If you find yourself in a place of pain, I pray these words provide a little perspective.

Life as I knew it changed. I could no longer do what I had always done. My eyes were opened to the fact that I found my identity in what I did, not who I was. Looking back I realize things could have been much worse, but as a 19 year old tearing my ACL was almost more than I could handle.

I blew out my knee doing what I always loved, playing a game that my world revolved around. It was the end of my freshman year in college and though nearly 21 years have passed, today I found myself back in time thinking about what I experienced back then. 

Yesterday I found out another girl from our school tore her ACL only a week after a young man from our church did the same. Three high school seniors, all basketball players, walking a road they didn't sign up for. My heart hurts for them.

This morning as I found myself thinking of them and praying for them too, I had a thought, "What would I say to them?" Friend, chances are you're not a high school athlete struggling with an injury, but maybe you're at a place in life where everything is changing, things aren't going like you expected or there's a bump in the road that leaves you defeated. If so, I pray these words will speak to your heart. 

Friend, I know this isn't what you expected. This isn't the way you thought things would turn out. It's not the plan you had for the months to come. I know I've been there. You may be angry. I was too. You may be sad. It happened to me. You're in pain and you wonder why. Let me encourage you to deal with those emotions. Talk to a teammate, coach, friend or parent. Don't walk this road alone. Others have travelled the same path...reach out to them for encouragement, help and perspective. 

Now for the part you may not want to hear. I say that because these are words that made me want to scream in the days following my injury, so scream if you want, but please hear me out. Don't just read the statement, but listen to my reasoning. OK, I'll say what I never wanted to hear - "It's just a game." 

The people who said that to me weren't athletes and didn't love a game. Friend, I did. Basketball was my life...I had a shirt that said that and my thinking would have proved it. I didn't drink because of basketball. I didn't date because of basketball. I worked out for basketball. I chose my college because of basketball. Basketball was more than a game I loved, it was the god I worshiped. 

I didn't do this intentionally. I never prayed to my ball or bowed down on the court, but the game was the most important thing in my life. I didn't realize this was a problem...well, until the game as I knew it was gone. 

I had surgery, rehabbed and tried to come back, but for me it was never the same. (If you have dreams of returning to the court, it is possible and I pray you do!!) This void, coupled with my struggle with depression, pushed me deeper into the pit. No longer part of a team, I found myself lonely. No longer doing what I loved left me discouraged. Eventually I found myself empty and without hope.

I grew up going to church and being good. I believed in God, but I didn't live for Him. I'd heard of Jesus, but never heard from him. I spent my time reading Sports Illustrated instead of God's Word. It didn't happen over night (it actually took about 5 years), but once the idol of basketball was removed from my life I was able to see God as the One who was worthy of my worship. (Rev. 4:11)

Basketball is still a game I love and I actually coach my daughter's now, but I've learned it is just a game. A game God can use for much and we can enjoy, but something we are NOT to worship or let dictate our lives. Friend, I know you love the game, have made sacrifices and been dedicated, but it won't last forever...even the best athletes hang up their sneakers eventually. 

Grieve your loss and work through it, but turn to God in your time of need. If you've never received Christ as your Lord and Savior, do that now. May what feels like your greatest loss become your biggest gain! If you have a relationship with Christ, allow this to draw you closer to Him - the friend who will never change and will always be there. Cry out to Him, share your heart and your needs. He can and will provide. He alone has the power to heal...that's not a guarantee your knee will someday be 100%, but your heart can be renewed. 

Let me close with words that brought perspective following my surgery...
"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5

A Christian teammate shared this passage with me and I clung to this first sentence in an attempt to find a reason for my injury. Initially the athlete in me found purpose in my injury as I was getting stronger, but after coming to Christ I realize these words say so much more. Friend, our suffering does have a purpose and God works through it to do much. 

If you are struggling with a knee injury, a broken relationship or a financial issue perhaps it's an opportunity to remember who is in control - God the One who gives hope and has a plan. He is good, faithful and powerful, join me in trusting Him with all your heart. 

I don't know if these words have helped, but I pray they've made you think. I also hope they remind you, you are not alone. Others have been in your shoes and God will always be at your side!

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, 
for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you." 
Deuteronomy 31:6

Saturday, March 23, 2019

What do you do with a loss?

March Madness is upon us, which is great for basketball fans of all ages. It can be exciting and fun, but when the losses come it is difficult. Last night my favorite team, the Iowa State Cyclones, took an early exit from the tourney. It's easy to question the coach, fault the players and blame the refs, but my thoughts went deeper today.

First, it is a game. There are worse things than a loss in an athletic contest. This is not a matter of life and death. The sun came up today and most likely the Cyclones will be playing ball again next season.

Second, this hurts the players and coaches more than it impacts any fan. Sure your bracket may be busted, but their season is over. They have poured blood, sweat and tears into this. They set goals and dreamed dreams and now it's all come to a close. I never played in the NCAAs, but I've played in some year ending defeats and coached in them too. Regardless of the stage, it's not a moment you enjoy.

Finally, the focus of this post. As I thought about our team's loss, I thought about the lesson it gives for life. Chances are you're not sitting in the losing team's locker room, but you may have experienced a loss in life. This won't show up on the scoreboard or in the local paper, but life can leave you defeated. So friend, my question is: What do we do with a loss?

The coach in me will provide the most important answer - learn from it. When we experience a loss, be it on the court, in a relationship or at our job, we often want to move on and forget about it, but that should not be our go to response. Take a look at your situation. Ask yourself some questions. Why did you fail? What could have you done differently? How can you improve?

As I thought about this 3 areas came to mind. If you've recently experienced a big loss or feel like you're in the midst of a losing streak would you think about this?

Check your heart. If we want to experience success, our heart has to be in it. We need to be devoted and engaged. If I want to win as a wife or a mom, I must be present. Not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually and mentally. If I have dreams of success as a woman in ministry or at my place of work, I need my heart and plans to be aligned with God's. On the basketball court it doesn't take long to recognize someone who's heart just in it and the same can be said for the game of life. If your heart is the issue, use Psalm 51:10 to guide your prayers - "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." 

Check your effort. Effort is basically another word for work. This is a necessity on the basketball court. It's easy to tell when this is lacking and it almost always leads to a loss. I'm sure the Cyclones are reliving the game in their minds. It's not that they played lackadaisical, but each one can probably point out one individual mistake that played a part in the loss. In the game of hoops every possession matters; in the game of life every word and every action makes a difference. Oh to be mindful of that always. Friend, today instead of just reading this verse, I pray we make it our mission. Colossians 3:17 says, "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

Check your focus. I have no idea how many times I told my elementary girls to focus this year, but it was a key word for our season. I've heard Coach Prohm often talk about staying the course. Often in a loss we can look back and see a lapse in thinking that led to a mistake. Sometimes when we watch a game, we see a player whose focus is on himself rather than the team. This often leads to a loss. Friend, as you strive for victory in this life, what is your focus? Is it on you or Jesus? Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." Are you striving towards your goals or working to live out God's commands? Psalm 119:112 says, "My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end."

Finally, a loss isn't always a bad thing. It can be a motivator. It can lead to improvement, which results in more success. So friend, no matter what loss you walk through, know this - it is hard. There will be pain, maybe even tears, but if we respond rightly it can play a part in victory. I hope and pray the Cyclones reflect on the game and remember the pain as they work towards next year.

We never set out to lose, but like my grandma always told me defeat is part of playing the game.  I'm asking God to help us recognize the losses in our life, so that we can learn from them and experience more success because of them. Friend, win or lose may we make living out Psalm 34:3 our goal!

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!