Tuesday, October 30, 2018

More to the story...

The other day I read a verse from the Bible and this picture popped into my head. It's from over 5 years ago, but it always brings a lesson to mind.

On first look the picture is cute...2 boys and a puppy are bound to bring a smile, right? My son and nephew were having a wonderful time giving grandpa's new puppy a ride on the swing.

We've heard it said that a picture paints a thousand words and I agree with that statement, but I also know there's almost always more to the story. When a moment is captured in time, we can not possibly know all the details. By simply looking at this picture, you can't tell me where it was taken, who was in it or what was going on. You don't know what led up to the event or what took place afterwards.

You will be quite grateful I don't have a picture for what happened next. You see the verse I read that brought this picture to mind was Proverbs 26:11, which says - "Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly." 

I apologize for the image that may have popped into your head and though I battled with writing about this gross reality of a dog's life, God's led me to share. It's true - this cute little puppy got sick from his ride and did what makes us sick, he returned to his vomit.

Friend, instead of focusing on the nastiness of that picture, let's shift our eyes. Let's take a closer look at the end of this proverb. Solomon informs us that this disgusting picture is no different than a fool returning to his folly. This is wisdom we need to pay attention to!

Now, chances are you don't consider yourself a fool, but I want to encourage you to think for a minute. Do you ever do anything foolish? Do you participate in folly? That's not a very common word, so let's define it quickly: to lack good sense or a foolish act, idea or practice. We can dig a bit deeper and look at it from a biblical perspective. Here we find the meaning: anything contrasting wisdom, to act with self-sufficiency, ignorance, and without thinking.

When we look at it that way, I have to admit I've been a fool. It pains me even more to say - "I've repeated my folly." How about you?

The picture we see as we read the beginning of this Proverb isn't good, but friend the picture God sees when we live out the end of verse 11 is even worse. Thankfully, God is a good, gracious and forgiving Father, but we must remember He is holy and hates sin. Our foolishness separates us from the One who called us to be set apart. 

It's vital that we as believers have our eyes opened to the foolish things we say, do and think. I trust these words will help us do just that...

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7) No matter what folly came to mind, remember God can help you turn from it. Go to Him, humble yourself and ask Him for wisdom. Then once He provides, apply what you learn. 

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26) Self-confidence is not a good thing. When we rely on ourselves and live according to the flesh, bad things happen. Ask God to fill you with His Spirit and help you walk in His ways...He will lead us away from the folly, but we must trust Him!

The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly (Proverbs 15:14) What are you looking for? Who are you looking to? In our world today, countless things vy for our attention and promise what we want, but we must stay focused and set our eyes on Christ and allow God to feed us with His Word. It is the living water that will equip us for life. 

Friend, please know these words don't come from one who has this figured out...God always has me write a message I need to read. He's opened my eyes to foolish things I do over and over again. It's truly no different than a dog returning to his vomit. That's a gross picture, but it's a powerful one too. Sometimes we need to look past the surface and beyond the perfection a picture can paint, we need to remember there's more to the story. We're not perfect, but our perfect Lord and Savior can change us from the inside out. 

As you wrestle with this and do the work wisdom requires, please remember Jesus loves us and always welcomes us back just like man does with his 4-legged best friend! 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Knock, Knock

Hello Friends! Thank you for joining me today. A big welcome to those of you stopping by from Encouragement Cafe. It was a joy to share a devotional with you! (Read it HERE.) We were talking about choosing friends wisely and thoughts about friends brought Proverbs 18:24b to mind. Here we read - "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Aren't you thankful that Jesus is that friend? I know I sure am!!

I want to encourage you to pause for a moment and think about your friendship with Jesus. How would you describe it? Are you working on it? Are you investing in the relationship?

If you're taking this exercise seriously those are challenging questions. But that's OK. It can be helpful  to have our eyes opened and beneficial to realize improvements can be made.

There's a verse my pastor taught on back in August that continues to be on mind and I trust could be helpful for you to think about as well. It truly helps our relationship with our BFF!!

Revelation 3:20 says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

Chances are you've heard these words before, but have you studied them? Have you applied them to your life?

Don't worry if your answer is no...the beauty of our relationship with others, including Jesus, is it can grow. The same is true with God's Word...it is living and active and our understanding of it grows as we mature in the faith.

Revelations is not the easiest book to read or understand, but it opens with letters to churches. Jesus offers words of encouragement, but he also mentions areas of concern. Chances are He would do the same for you and me today.

We can get a glimpse of what He might say to us from  His letter to the church in Laodicea. He points out some problems, gives advice and offers an invitation. If we consider Him our friend, we must listen to His words.

Friend, He is standing at the door of your heart and knocking...will you let Him in?

You may be thinking - "I've already done that. I've accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. I've confessed my sin and professed my faith." If that's the case I'm grateful, but I also know you may need to respond to yet another knock.

These words in Revelation 3:20 were written to the church. Jesus was instructing them to let Him in. As believers you and I have accepted Him, but have we surrendered all? Have we welcomed Him into every area of our lives? Does He have ownership of our whole heart? Are there moments we go in a different room? Are there times we act like He's not with us?

Again, I realize these aren't easy questions, but the past few months have shown me they are important ones. We are in the midst of harvest season when days are busy and patience can run short, in these moments it can be easy to respond in the flesh. I'm mom to 5 and there are times my reactions don't match my desires. When that happens, I know I haven't responded to the knock.

We are in a spiritual battle...our enemy, Satan, knows Jesus has power and has already left him defeated, but he also knows how to tempt. He doesn't want us to open the door. When we leave Jesus on the outside, we are weak and likely to fall. If we don't open the door, we react and end up with regrets.

Today, won't you open the door, invite Jesus in and enjoy time with your best friend?!

For my mom friends...if you'd like to teach your children about this, here's an idea. We've spent time studying this as a family and have agreed to use a knock to help each other out. When we sense or observe someone in our home living in the flesh, we do a gentle knock (only after making sure we've already answered the knock on our heart). It has been a simple way to get attention and encourage one another to walk in the Spirit. It was a humbling experience when my daughter did a knock for me, but I'm grateful for the tool it has been as we all walk with Jesus.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Ripple Effect

A welcome to those of you joining me from Encouragement Cafe! It's been a blessing to share a few recent devotionals and to be walking through my study, "ReNEWal Road" with you! As I've read comments and prayed, God's brought much to mind. He's reminded me of doubts, fears and insecurities. I never expected to be at a place where I wrote and then led a Bible study, but God worked. He's done so much in my heart and mind. He's helping me become who He created me to be. He's helped me overcome and trust. He's equipped me to seek and obey. He's given me the gift of faith and helps me believe. His mercies are new every morning and His grace never ends. 

He's used time in His Word to renew my mind. He's used messages from my pastor to convict and teach. He's worked through people - prayers, encouraging words, wisdom and listening ears. All of this plays a part in who I am and what God has done. I'm so thankful for each and everyone who's helped along the way. 

Tonight the Lord brought to mind a post from a couple of years ago. Before you read it below, I want to encourage you with a truth that's been on my heart: "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6 Friend, no matter where you are at or what your life looks like, God is still at work. Seek Him, Trust Him and Obey Him. His work doesn't always follow our schedule, but it is part of His perfect plan. 

As He works in you, may you allow Him to work through you. The things you say and do make an impact. Do your best to be a part of someone else's story!

The Ripple Effect (April 17, 2016)
Spring has finally arrived here in Iowa, which means life is busy on the farm. Today in between feeding my farmers and helping clean up some oats, the kids and I took time to do one of their favorite things. We walked down to the neighbor's quarry and threw rocks. We've been doing this for years and though I no longer push a stroller, God continues to teach me a lesson. 

One thing that continues to strike me as I enjoy the view and slice of solitude is the ripple that's always created when the kids throw rocks. No rock enters the water without making a difference. Few rocks leave a single impact on the water. Most of them create a ripple in the water that continues to spread long after the rock pierces the surface. 

Today as my kids enjoyed this activity for the first time in months, my mind went to work thinking about something God has had on my heart. I too am leaving a mark...granted I'm not throwing rocks to do it, but I am using words and my actions to make a difference. The question is: Is it one for good or not? 

Friend, join me in thinking about the words that left your mouth today. Did they encourage, uplift and equip? Or were they filled with anger and pierced the heart? Our words impact the one we are speaking to, but they affect others as well - the people who over hear our conversation and those who come in contact with the one we impacted. Just like the rocks my kids throw create ripples in the water, our words do the same in the hearts of those we love. 

Do you want that impact to be positive for those you love and glorifying to the God we serve? If so, scripture has some wisdom for us -

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)

"Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips." (Ecclesiastes 10:12)

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:6)

There's much more to say about our words and the power of the tongue, but let's also think about our actions a bit. Think about the things you do, the attitude you have and body language you use. What kind of impact does this have on the people around you? I know it doesn't take long to read that question, so I encourage you to stop for a minute and really think about it. How would your husband or children answer that question? Or your co-workers or church family? 

Friend, I know it's possible for Satan to use this to condemn you, but I pray that won't happen. Instead if it's necessary I'm asking God to use it to convict you. Allow Him to examine your heart and if needed let Him show you how your actions aren't leaving the mark you want. God created each of us for His glory and to do good. This is no easy task, but with God's leading and the Spirit's filling it is possible. 

Colossians 3:17 pretty much sums it up - "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

As I watched my little guys, I realized they didn't have to do much to create a ripple effect. They simply had to pick up the rocks and throw them. Friend, we don't have to complicate this process either. Let's allow God to fill us up by spending time with Him in His Word and through prayer and then let Him pour us out. 

This sounds simple and easy on paper, but I know it's work. It takes time, effort and self-control. But you know what? If we don't practice this before we throw the rock, so to speak, it will take more time, effort and self-control to fix the mess we create. Because the truth is we are always creating a ripple effect! We might as well make it one we're proud of and God is pleased with!

It was quite fitting tonight to read the following post when I checked Facebook. A friend had shared these words with a mutual friend - "So thankful for you and for how you change my world constantly and consistently by pointing me to Jesus!" Followed by this quote, "You get to change the world every time you change someone's day." Friends, that's a glimpse of a positive ripple effect. The things we do and say - they matter. It doesn't matter if they are BIG or little things, but instead it's the heart they are said and done with and the One they point to. Want to change the world? Start by changing someone's day!

I want to close with a song that God periodically brings back to me...John Waller's, "Somebody Else's Story". I encourage you to think about the words he sings, they tie right in with the ripple effect. 

Do you want to be a part of somebody else's story? Do you want to be the one who shines the light of Jesus? I know that can be hard and scary, but think about it this way - Who has played a part in your story? Who's ripple has impacted you in a positive way? Aren't you grateful for them? Let their ripple continue as you impact another!!

Friend, I don't know if we've met face to face or not, but God has connected hearts here and I'm grateful for you!! I appreciate YOU, your encouragement and friendship! I'm thankful YOU are part of my story and I pray 1 Thessalonians 5:11 continues to be true in your life and mine - "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Dear Heavenly Father, in the same way the water ripples, I pray my actions and words will positively impact others. Thank you for the reminder that what I do matters and always impacts others, I desire for that to be a difference that matters for eternity. Use me Lord in another's story...may I point others to You and may they in turn do the same. It doesn't take a big rock to make a splash, which reminds me it doesn't take a famous speaker or powerful pastor to impact Your kingdom. So Father God I ask You to fill me up so You can pour me out. Help me create a ripple for You today. In the precious and powerful name of Jesus I pray...Amen

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Everyone Needs a Cheerleader (And an Invitation)

Sports have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but a while back I found myself thinking about an activity I've never been a part of - cheerleading. We always had cheerleaders at our games and leading our pep rallies, but as one playing these individuals never had my undivided attention. I was aware of their presence and appreciated their role, but just recently was reminded of the importance of their job.

I'm embarking on something new and have been a bit anxious about it, but I knew it was God's leading, so I stepped out in obedience without really sharing my fears. At the same time, I'm also embracing God's change of plans for me though the worry of what others might think has entered my mind.

So as I walk this road, others come alongside. They don't always know what I'm experiencing or how I'm feeling, but God does. Sometimes He meets our needs through the people He puts on our path. He did just that with words from my friend. Words that expressed excitement and confidence. A message that brought peace and joy. Ones that left me thinking - "Everyone needs a cheerleader!"

My friend would probably say she didn't do much, but I want to remind all of us - our words matter. So does the time we take to share them. They are an investment we make, not only in others, but when we are encouraging one who's walking in faith, we're investing in God's kingdom.

Think about the people in your life. What are you saying to them? Would they consider you a cheerleader? Or would they label you a critic? I'm a football mom and I'm sorry to say life has more critics than the bleachers and sidelines on a Friday night.

There is a time and a place to offer criticism and point out sin, but there's also a great need to offer words that uplift and remind others they are not alone. So my prayer for today is we'd all be a cheerleader. You don't need a skirt and pom-poms, but you need a heart that loves. You can simply speak words that inspire and motivate; ones that offer courage and support.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near."

Cheerleaders play a role at athletic events, but their job is much more important in the spiritual sense. As believers we're in a battle much more difficult than any game, we face an opponent stronger than any team, so we must join together and cheer one another on. Will you join me?

One of the areas we can support each other is studying God's Word. If you'd like to be involved in a study, I'd love for YOU to join me at Encouragement Cafe! Starting September 24th, we will be walking through ReNEWal Road: The Journey of Becoming More Like Jesus. This is a study God led me to put on paper and now will use to guide you to His Word. If you'd like more info let me know and visit the official invitation page HERE.

Finally, for my cheerleading friends a BIG thank you! God truly uses your words, support and encouragement more than you know! As Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." Keep it up - you are doing a good thing!!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Fan and Follower

Did you hear the Super Bowl was played this weekend? That may sound confusing as the NFL season just kicked off, but in Iowa we had our state's biggest game. With no professional teams to cheer for the most anticipated game of the season is the battle between the Iowa State Cyclones and Iowa Hawkeyes. It took place yesterday in Iowa City and much to my dismay the hometown Hawks came out with a victory.

We are a Cyclone house for the most part, but our two little guys are breaking the trend and sporting the black and gold. Needless to say we had a little trash talking going on throughout the week. Like any good fan, we were confident our team would win.

So the game came and went. There were moments of joy and frustration for both sides, but in the end our little guys had the bragging rights. They were excited and though I was disappointed, life moved on and as it did God reminded me of a truth.

When it comes to sports, we are to be fans. We can cheer and wear our team's colors. We can even get excited when they do well and disappointed when they lose, but we must keep it all in perspective.

Yesterday during halftime of the game I made my way to the kitchen and got the dishes done. As I finished the job, a thought entered my mind: I hadn't turned the radio show on to listen to the analysis. I instantly said a quick prayer, "Thank you Lord."

You see, there have been times in my life when sports were too important. I had to know all the details, hear all the commentary and read all the stories. I wasn't just a fan of my team, I was a follower. Back then a loss like yesterday's would have left me miserable today.

Thankfully, I no longer "follow" the Cyclones, but I follow Jesus. Matthew 4:19 says, "And He (Jesus) said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'"

Friend, kept in perspective sports can be a great thing. They not only provide joy, but teach countless lessons and paint pictures of spiritual truths. But if they become the object of our focus, we're going to get in trouble.

We need to follow the One who knows where we need to go. We need to set our minds on Him and things above. The fruit of His Spirit brings true joy that will never fade when a season ends and His peace trumps the pain a loss can bring.

I believe we can be a fan of sports while we are following Christ, but we must keep it all in check or we may be tempted to become a fan of Jesus while we follow our team.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Watch for Weeds

Weeds...it's something we have plenty of in our organic bean fields. I was blessed to share one way we try to combat them on Wendy Blight's blog. I'd love for you to stop by, enter for a chance to win a copy of my study and subscribe to her site - you'll be blessed! You can do so by clicking HERE.

Sometimes cultivating is not enough and we have to walk the beans. This means we walk up and down the row and pull the weeds. It's not an easy job, or a fun one, but it is often an educational one.

A tiny weed hidden between two bean plants.
A couple of weeks ago, I was out in the field with our hard-working crew when I got to thinking about how some weeds are hard to see. Some of them are small, look a bit like the beans and grow up right with them. If I'm not looking closely, I will walk right by. If I'm not paying attention, I won't even realize they are a weed.

I shared this info with my children and the rest of the crew and then God started speaking to my heart. Weeds grow between the rows of beans, but they also grow right up with the plant we hope to harvest. I was reminded the same is true in a spiritual sense...sin can creep right in with the fruit we are producing.

This lesson took place a few weeks before our women's event and the weed the Holy Spirit warned me about was pride. The cocky, boastful self-talk we know as pride is easy to recognize, but pride can look different and be hard to see. Insecurity is a form of pride as is a focus on self rather than God. Friend, this ugly weed can grow right up with the fruit God is growing in our lives.

Other weeds can too, so we must constantly be alert. I've found it powerful to pray Psalm 139:23-24 - "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life."

If we pray that prayer, God will answer it. We need to be prepared to respond to His answer. I'm never excited to see another weed in the field, but when I do I know what needs to be done. The same is true for the weeds in our heart - when God reveals them, we must remove them.

Friend, I encourage you to take some time to tend to the field of your heart. Ask God for eyes to see the weeds that are hidden and for a willingness to do the work of removal. Your efforts will be rewarded and the harvest will increase!!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the seeds you plant and the weeds you can remove. I ask You for eyes to see. Lord, if there is any pride growing up with the fruit please help me see it. If there's other sin I'm unaware of, open my eyes. Remove the weed. Uproot it all so that the harvest you produce in me and through me is pure. Thank you for the work you have begun and promise to complete. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

10 Years Later

August 30, 2008, a day I will forever remember. It was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Our children were 5, 3 and 1 and we were expecting a new baby. We were waiting to share the news, but the events of the day changed our plans.

A trip to the Dr. confirmed what my mother intuitions already knew - we had a miscarriage. My heart was broken. Tears fell. Questions came.

It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed. As I look back four things come to mind –

I could still tell you the events of the day…people I talked to, songs I heard, Scripture I read and the pain I felt.  My “favorite” memory from the day is truly grieving with my children. They were all too young to understand that “the baby in mommy’s tummy died,” but they were sad when our 2 year old goldfish, Dorothy, died that day too. The opportunity to grieve together was precious.

I wonder what our little lady would look like? Would she like basketball like her big sisters? Would she tease her big brother and play farm with her younger? I truly don't know and honestly, don't let my mind dwell there.

My faith is important, healing takes time and God is present. I know without a doubt God's ways are not mine and I understand the family of Christ is important. I realize the Lord is my shepherd who walks me through the valley of the shadow of death.

The most important thing I do on this 10 year anniversary is worship the God I love, the Father who carried me through and the Savior who's death assures my baby and I won't be separated forever. 

I worship God because I remember who I was before 8-30-08 and I'm thankful through that trial God revealed Himself to me in powerful ways. My faith became stronger and my desire to share the source of my hope grew. 

I worship because I don't have to wonder. I'll admit, in the days and months following our loss I asked, "Why?" I didn't understand and I wanted to know, but now I'm OK. I worship God because He is sovereign; I may not understand His plan, but I trust Him. 

I worship because I realize His Word is powerful. Tomorrow morning we'll read the same Scripture I read 10 years ago...Luke 22. Here in verse 42, Jesus says, "Father, if  are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." That morning before heading to town so the Dr. could confirm what I already knew I found an example of what I needed to do. Like Jesus, I asked God to change what it seemed my day held and also like my Lord I submitted to my Father's will. Days later when it seemed I was drowning in the pain, I returned to this passage. It was then I turned verse 43 into a prayer and asked God to send an angel from heaven and strengthen me.

Ten years have passed and much has happened since...there's been life (2 more baby Berans) and death, joy and pain, laughter and tears, good times and bad, but through it all God has remained the same. He's been present and powerful, gracious and mighty. His Word has been a light and given hope. I'm no longer grieving, but I'm so thankful my faith is still growing. 

Friend, if you are walking through a hard loss or experiencing pain, let me live out 1 Peter 3:15 and share where my hope comes from - Jesus. He's more than a character in a book or a teacher who lived long ago, He's my Lord and Savior and He can be yours too. Simply admit your sins (Romans 3:23), accept God's free gift (Romans 6:23), embrace the love He gives (Romans 5:8), confess Jesus is Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10) and know "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:13)

This relationship with Jesus determines your eternal home and impacts your daily life. As you seek Him, He sustains you. As you read His Word, He transforms you. As you pray, He brings peace. As you worship, you gain perspective. When you walk through trials, He will comfort. He's done that for me, let Him do it for you. 

Heavenly Father, oh Lord, thank you for who you are...a great God, loving Father, my good Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. I'm grateful for your Word and the Truth it holds. May I cling to your promises now and always. Thank you for healing my hurting heart. Thank you for being present and providing peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding. Lord, meet those who are grieving, make yourself real, dry their tears and comfort their heart. When we don't understand, help us trust. In Jesus' Name, Amen