Thursday, January 18, 2018

A New List

"When your mom's gone, does she leave you a list of jobs to do?" the question I heard my daughter ask her friend not long ago. She then went on to say, "My mom always does...she has lists for everything." 

It's true I'm a list maker...I have a never ending to-do list, a shopping list, a grocery list, a list of who needs to be where when and so on. I've kept a list of all I'm thankful for, but a couple of weeks ago I made a list I'd never really made before. 

In my previous post, I'd made mention of being in a bit of a spiritual slump and it was during that time, the Holy Spirit put this idea on my heart. The idea of doing something that's really not fun to write about and share with others, but an activity that was pivotal in getting me back on track, so it just might be beneficial for you as well.

God led me to make a list; not one of things I need to do or ones I'm thankful for, but instead a list of my sins. You know, the things, thoughts and actions we'd rather just ignore or forget? That's what I was to put on paper. I'll admit, I didn't grab a pen and start immediately. I fought this for awhile. This list didn't come naturally like all the other ones I make, but eventually the idea didn't go away and I sat down to do it. 

Like most lists, it started kind of slow, but I'm sad to say once I got going things came to mind pretty quickly. Nothing on my list is going to show up on the news or be printed in next week's paper, but they play a role in my spiritual slump. 

Friend, in simple terms, sin means "to miss the mark." In Greek, it's the word they used while doing archery. If a shooter didn't hit the bull's eye the scorer would yell, "Sin!" meaning they had missed the target. It didn't matter if the arrow was an inch away or didn't even stick to the target and it's the same with sin. No matter how it compares to someone else's sin it still separates us from our holy God. It doesn't matter how the world labels it or how we try to justify it, sin is wrong and it brings consequences. Sin affects us more than we realize and it impacts others and our relationships as well. Sin can snowball and it messes with our mind. We should never minimize it.

Putting my sins on paper, naming them one by one, really was a powerful activity. One I wanted to avoid, but now actually recommend. Doing this opens our eyes and really should break our hearts. 

I know this isn't an easy topic to think about and even a harder one to deal with, but if we want to grow in our relationship with God, strengthen our faith and shine a light for Christ it is something we must do. 

Growing up my sister and I liked to exchange quotes with one another and she'd often say to me, "Realization is half the battle." That statement is more true than I used to like to admit and it's vital when it comes to dealing with sin. When we are in the midst of sin, we can be blind to it and Satan clearly wants us to justify it or compare it to those whose sins maybe look worse than ours. We will never deal with it until we acknowledge it, so today I encourage you to make the list I didn't want to make. No matter where you are in your walk of faith, I trust you will be blessed through it...perhaps not immediately, but long term God will use it for your good and His glory. 

Once you take the first step, He will lead you to what comes next. Confession to Him, possibly confession to others, prayer and repentance all lie ahead. They are stops on the road that lead us to Him. I'll close with words from Him that speak about the list I pray you will write...

When anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. Leviticus 5:5

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Proverbs 28:13

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Acts 3:19

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Don't Give Up

Basketball season is upon us and this year for the first time in ten years, I'm officially coaching. Though I've done it before this team adds a new twist with my daughter on the team. We started the year pretty strong with a 3-1 record, but have lost our last 3 games. Last night I tried to encourage the girls with the fact that our mistakes are correctable and the games have been winnable. I also reminded myself this is junior high, the girls are improving and I need to keep it all in perspective.

We have some competitive girls on the team and they don't like to lose, but I know a streak of loses can be frustrating and mess with your mind. As I thought about this, I knew I wanted to encourage the girls not to give up. I hope the frustration fuels them to work harder and get better instead of leaving them defeated and wanting to quit.

As a coach, I've seen them each succeed and know they have potential for improvement, but they need to believe that for themselves and one another. I want them to know a shooting slump won't last forever and we can learn from our losses. Reflecting on all of this, reminded me sometimes I need a similar pep-talk for something more important than a game, life.

You see, I've been in a bit of a spiritual slump. Instead of missing shots, I've missed some quiet time with the Lord. Rather than turnovers that lead to easy points, I've given into temptation and let Satan win. Mistakes play a part in a loss, but sin leaves us defeated as a believer.

Last week God was bringing this to my attention, convicting my heart and drawing me back to Himself and last night as I thought about what I should say to the team, He spoke to my heart as well.

Friend, I don't know what life has for you right now, but maybe you need a pep-talk too. If so, read on; if not, read on anyway...perhaps God will bring to mind one you can share these words with or maybe after a loss or two of your own, He'll help you recall the Truth you read below.

Let me say this and I pray it seeps deep into your heart - "Don't give up!" If you've sinned and fallen short, remember Romans 3:23 assures we all have, own your sin and press on. God will convict you, and me, as our loving heavenly Father it's what He does. When He does, confess it, call it what it is and turn from it, but don't let Satan condemn you. Believe me, He will try. Especially, when life has you down, but don't you give up. Cling to the truths and promises you know.

God forgives. He loves. He transforms.

Perhaps it's a relationships that has you feeling defeated, again I say, "Don't give up!" God is one who restores and renews. He is working, even when we can't see it or understand it. Keep praying, hoping and pressing on.

Even more importantly than not giving up on your relationship, dream, role or self, "Don't give up on God!" In those moments when life leaves us feeling defeated, and it can, can't it? Remember who God is...

Holy - "The Lord our God is holy."
Psalm 99:9

Sovereign - "Our God is in the heavens, He does all He pleases."
Psalm 115:3

Merciful - "For the Lord your God is a merciful God, He will not abandon or destroy you..." Deuteronomy 4:31

Omniscient - "Great is our Lord and abundant in strength, His understanding is infinite." Psalm 147:5

Omnipresent - "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good." Proverbs 15:3

Omnipotent - "I know you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted."
Job 42:2

Friend, that's just the beginning, God is this and so much more. He is worthy of our trust; He can't not be faithful. He deserves our love and obedience. He is a promise may question your ability and doubt your call, but never give up on God. And remember, just like I'm not going to give up on my team, He's not going to give up on you. He's called you by name, you are His! If you're in the midst of a losing streak or shooting slump, turn to Him. He knows exactly what you need to get back to your winning ways!!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Strategy for the New Year

As 2018 begins, I'm resharing a post from the past. It's a strategy that remains effective and truly will never grow old. Friend, I pray your year is off to a good start and if you have a strategy, be it old or new, I'd love to hear. So leave a comment with a tip to make this year the best! 

From January 2014 - 
Another new year is underway; I believe I'm getting older because I really can't believe we've hit 2014. Twenty years ago I was a senior in high school and this date seemed so far away. Back then I really didn't have much of a strategy as a new year unfolded, but perhaps with age I've gained a bit of wisdom. This year I plan to continue using a strategy my pastor shared a few years back and elaborated on this past Sunday.

He preached from 1 Timothy 4:7-8, "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." As my pastor shared, God spoke to my heart.

I tend to be one who tries to take care of everyone else and as a Mom of 5, I often have to do this, but God has been reminding me I need to first take care of myself - physically and more importantly spiritually. I've been trying to do this, but I know I can do better. How about you my friend?

In order to do this, I plan to apply the strategy my pastor shared...a 5 Step RMS Plan.

Reorganize My Schedule - If I want to become more like Jesus and grow closer to Christ, I must spend time with Him. I must plan for it to be part of my day because it won't just happen. 

Read More Scripture - Friend, if we long to live Godly lives we must know and understand what that is...we need to get into God's Word, so it can get into us!

Read More Slowly - Scripture reading is not meant to be a task on my to-do list, but I'll be honest, sometimes it has been. If our desire is for God's Word to transform us, we must slow down and allow it time to work. This year I long to not just read the words with my eyes, but see them cut to my heart.

Really Meditate Scripturally - Our pastor linked this to a tea bag, we have to soak in God's Word. We have to think and pray about it. We can't just read our Bible in the morning and move on with our day...if we want God's Word to be living and active in our lives, we must think about it continuously and look for opportunities to apply what it says.

Reside More Submissively - I'll admit, I added this RMS because our pastor challenged us to think of one for his closing thought - OBEY! If you and I want to move towards godliness we must not only read God's Word and meditate on it, we must do it!! There are many commands in Scripture...ones God has given with expectation of us living them out. We must live in submission to Him and His Word.

It's only the 2nd day of the year and I've already failed, but I pray God tenders my heart and gives me the desire to persevere and the ability to get up when I fall, because I will. Friend, I pray He will do the same for you!!

Monday, December 18, 2017

What Mary knew...(A Short Pre-Christmas Study)

A popular Christmas song asks the question, "Mary, did you know?" I appreciate the song and find myself pondering Mary's role as mother of our Lord and Savior. These are things to think about, but as I've been studying the Christmas story and events leading up to it, I find thoughts of what Mary knew running through my head. 

Tonight I had the opportunity to discuss this with friends at our local Titus24U group. I'm excited to share this lesson with you and look forward to hearing your thoughts. In these days leading up to Christmas I encourage you to open the Word and learn a bit more about the woman who brought Jesus into the world. 

So to begin a few questions to get you thinking -  What comes to mind when you think of Mary? How would you describe her? What can we learn about God through her? How can we apply her story to our life? 

Let's begin our study by reading Luke 1:26-38. Here Mary is visited by an angel. The girl is betrothed to be married; this is not a casual agreement, but a promise to Joseph. Many commentators believe she was 15 or 16 years old, but as we will see, even if she was young, she was spiritually mature. As you read these verses think about these questions -

What did the angel tell her?

How did Mary respond?

What trait in Mary would you like to exhibit?

Friend, it's interesting to back up and read the previous conversation between Zechariah and the angel. The news is similar, but the response varies. Mary and Zechariah are both distressed, told not to be afraid and are promised a son, but that's where the similarities end. The dad to be asks a question and hesitates while Mary receives the news and believes. How do you respond when faced with unexpected news or direction?

Before leaving this conversation, a quick point I found verse 36, the angel tells Mary of Elizabeth's pregnancy. God didn't just send a promise to His favored one, but also provided evidence of His power. Friend, we may not have an angel bringing us news, but when we get God's direction, may we look to His Word and remember the countless examples of His power!

As we continue our walk through the Word, lets read Luke 1:39-45. What catches your attention here? What do Elizabeth's words tell us about Mary? More importantly what do they tell us about God and Jesus? 

Perhaps one of the most important lessons we can learn from this short passage is another powerful example of humility. Elizabeth is human, just like you and me, but yet she didn't let jealousy take over or envious thoughts enter her mind...she recognized the presence of the Lord and knew her right position. May you and I do the same!!

As we move forward, we hear from Mary herself. Read Luke 1:46-56. Here we read what has come to be known as "Mary's Song" or "The Magnificat." Mary clearly knew the Old Testament as she draws on words from Scripture to offer praise to God. 

Read 1 Samuel 2:1-10. What similarities do you notice between Mary's words and Hannah's prayer? 

Use the following cross references to get a better understanding of Mary's knowledge of scripture. Note what you learn about the character and power of God in these verses. 

Luke 1:47-48 – 1 Samuel 1:11
Luke 1:49 – Psalm 111:9
Luke 1:50 – Psalm 103:13,17
Luke 1:51 – Psalm 89:10
Luke 1:52- Job 12:19
Luke 1:53 – Psalm 107:9
Luke 1:54 – Psalm 98:3, Isaiah 41:8
Luke 1:55 – Genesis 17:7

Friend, these words from Mary express her emotion and experience. From her meditation, we see she had words from the Old Testament hidden in her heart. Her praise to God before the promise even comes true is a powerful remedy to pride; may we remember this and practice it in the future!

To close, I encourage you to pause for a minute and think about Mary. She is a woman who set an example worthy for us as women to follow. She brought Jesus into this world and friend, you and I still shine His light. We can do that better if we model some of the characteristics we see in Mary. 

She was a woman who seems to have thought more than she spoke. (Luke 1:29, 2:19, 2:51) She was a woman of faith - she didn't doubt, she didn't laugh and she didn't ask for a sign - she believed. She was submissive, even when it involved risk. Teenage pregnancy had consequences, but she trusted God's plan and offered to serve Him in the greatest way. She was familiar with Scripture and close to God. Finally, she was a woman of humility...she didn't argue with the angel, but accepted God's call. She admitted her position and knew she was a recipient of God's grace before she was ever a giver of it. She was secure in her identity as a child of the most high God.

There were things Mary didn't know as she held Jesus in her arms, but there was plenty she understood as she started the journey with Him. The same is true for us. Wherever we are on our walk of faith, there are questions we can't yet answer, but friend there are promises we can cling to and truths we can stand on. This Christmas, may we follow Mary's lead and humble ourselves so that the Holy Spirit can shine through us and do what He knows needs to be done!!

Dear Heavenly Father, You are the Mighty One. You have the power to do the impossible. Thank you for Mary's example and help me too be one who believes. Help me to meditate on your Word and cling to your Truth. Equip me to trust and obey. Tender my heart so that I hear your voice and walk in your ways. I echo Mary's words and say, my soul glorifies you and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. As Christmas nears, help me abide in your Word and enjoy your presence. Mary physically brought Jesus into the world and through my words, actions and life may I spiritually do the same. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Studying the Shepherds

The Christmas story, one full of characters, emotion and Truth. A story that brings joy and makes me think. Each year as I read, it seems a different person or group of people stick out. I believe this happens because God has a lesson He knows I need to learn or revisit. This December I've found myself studying the shepherds and realize there is much we can learn from them.

The first thing that comes to my mind is they are the ones sometimes overlooked or forgotten in this story. I look at our Sunday School kids practicing for the program and shepherds are not typically the part kids ask for - they long to be Mary or Joseph, the wise men or the angels. Of the cast of characters, shepherds are the ones we probably best relate to, yet it's not a role many strive for.

That last line is key in the lesson I've been learning...shepherds were poor, overlooked and even looked down upon during Jesus' time. They lived in tents and did their work. They were the ones who raised and supplied the lamb for the sacrifice and now they were invited to see the Lamb God sent as the ultimate sacrifice.

Friend, the shepherds are not the ones the world would expect to be visited by angels and some of the first to see the Christ child, but God favored them. Those who had innocent employment and an honest calling just like the patriarchs Moses and David. Ones who were awake and aware. I study them and wonder, "Am I like the shepherds?"

Before you or I answer that question, let's learn a bit more about them. We find their story in Luke 2:8-20. In verse 9 we read, "And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terribly frightened."

Recently my eyes have been opened to a fear I'm struggling with and as I read this verse I had peace, which was quickly followed by encouragement. Did you see the shepherds initial reaction? They were frightened. I'll admit I've never been in their shoes with an angel standing before me, but I've been a bit scared of what God has said and the directions He's given. This story reminds me I'm not alone in that reaction, but it also encourages me not to stay there.

The shepherds listened to the angels and some commentators suggest they joined the angels in praising God. (Verse 14) Following this, they responded rightly - "When the angles had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, 'Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.'"

Friend, the shepherds were willing to go. They eagerly obeyed. Can you and I say the same? The Lord had made something known to them and they wanted to see. Let me ask, "What has He made known to you?" Do you have a desire to see this or doing something because of it?

The story continues - "So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger." (16) God rewarded their seeking, blessed their obedience and was faithful to His promises. Friend, the next time He speaks to and calls you and me, ordinary women the world may overlook, let us remember His response to the shepherds.

The end of the story is just as important as the beginning..."When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all that they heard and seen, just as had been told them." (18-20)

The shepherds found what they were looking for, but they didn't stop there. They shared what God had told them, which solidified the story in their hearts and built faith in others. It resulted in public praise and private meditation. The event impacted the shepherds - they saw God's Word honored, which led them to testify about His work.

Though you may have never volunteered to be a shepherd in the Christmas program, I pray you will consider following their example as you walk through life. May we be individuals who hear, go, see and tell.

If you'd like insight into other members of the Christmas story, click on the following links -
Jesus - A Baby Born to Die
Me, Mary?
A Look at the Wise Men

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Stocking Scriptures

As December begins, Christmas comes to mind. I've bought some presents and the kids are ready to decorate the cookies, but before another day goes by I've found myself praying about one of my favorite traditions. I've shared the following post before, but will take the time to do it again. Friends, prayer truly is a gift that money can't buy and it's one God will bless! I encourage you to add "Stocking Scriptures" to your list this year! 

Christmas is getting closer every little guys remind me of this every time they remove a ring from their chain and put an X on the calendar. They are getting excited and thankfully, I'm not getting stressed. Though it may happen, I've found myself filled with peace as I think about our traditional stocking stuffer.

So this tradition is only on its third year, but I know it's one that won't grow old. It won't be the wrong size, the batteries won't die and it's not something that will go out of style. It's also not loaded with sugar and it doesn't cost a dime. What is this perfect gift you ask - it's what I've called, "Stocking Scriptures".

A few years back I was doing a Bible study about praying Scripture. I really hadn't intentionally done that, but this study taught me how powerful it was. Friend, "God's Word is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

Isaiah 55:11 tells us this, "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

Finally another important verse about Scripture - "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the Word of God." (Luke 8:11) Jesus says this as He explains the parable of the four soils. God's Word is a seed that can take root in our hearts and produce a crop. Now granted the soil needs to be good and hearts need to be pure for it to grow, but if a seed is never planted the crop will not be harvested.

This study really prompted me to pray Scripture seriously and the timing of it led me to give it as a gift. Now as the month of December unfolds, I find myself reflecting on the year and thinking about where I want my kids, husband and self to be in the year to come. I think about the fruit I'd like to see and know God is able to grow, then I study God's Word to see if there is a Scripture that speaks to that quality or character trait.

Once I find a verse or passage for each of us, I type them up or write them out, and put them in our stockings. For example, my daughter struggled with pleasing people and being over-concerned with what others thought, so I prayed, "Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe." Proverbs 29:25

Another child was struggling with fear, so 2 Timothy 1:7 was a natural choice, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline."

And for the child who has yet to confess Christ as Lord and Savior, "Therefore He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25)

For my mom friends, be prepared - your little people are not very excited about a piece of paper when they compare it to the other goodies, but we know the value it has. And as they grow, they will understand as well. My older daughter still has her first 2 cards and each time she reads them, I believe good seeds are being planted.

I not only put the verses in the stockings, but I also print a couple of copies for's in my Bible and another posted by my treadmill. As I read the verses, I pray them and also hide them in my heart. It's a gift that keeps on giving!

This Christmas if you're struggling with what to give, I encourage you to pray about incorporating "Stocking Scriptures" into your holiday routine. It will bless those who receive and the one who gives!!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I am...

"I am..." an open ended statement that could be completed in so many ways. Before I fill in the blank today, answers from the past come to mind. Over the years, I've finished that phrase in various different ways. I've said,
"I am little."
"I am scared."
"I am ugly."
"I am a basketball player."
"I am unqualified."
"I am NOT good enough."
"I am depressed."

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea...I haven't always had a positive view of myself. I've struggled with my looks, my ability and my purpose. Friend, maybe you can say the same. If so, I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to be that way. 

Lately, I've found myself thinking about completing this statement with a different word - LOVED. My friend and one of my favorite Bible teachers, Wendy Blight, will soon be releasing her new Bible study and I'm greatly looking forward to it. The book is titled, "I Am Loved - Living in the Fullness of God's Love" and I'm sure God will use it to point readers to His transforming Truth. 

I have yet to do this study, but God is using it before I even turn a page. The other day I got to thinking about the title and I was reminded of my struggle. For years, I was able to recite John 3:16 and knew other verses that spoke of God's love, but I didn't understand or experience it in a personal way.

Nearly 4 years ago as I studied Wendy's first Bible study, "Living So That" my thoughts started to change and my mind was renewed. Wendy pointed out how John was the disciple that Jesus loved and went on to share, "Oh that we would have that confidence to unabashedly speak those same words: "I am the girl Jesus loves!!"  I reread an old post and noted how in the margin of the book I wrote, "I've never said that." 

Thankfully, God did what He does when we spend time in His Word...He changed me from the inside out. I no longer doubt His love for me and I don't feel like I have to earn it. I understand I don't deserve it, but I experience it and am so grateful for it. 

Today in Sunday School I heard this statement, "I won't understand who I am until I know who God is." Without a doubt I can say that is true! God is the One who created me, He knows me and has much to teach me not just about life, but about myself. This simple truth has me excited for Wendy's new study; as I learn about God's love, I'm sure to learn about what His love can do in and through me as well. 

So, now I'm thinking about a new fill in the blank activity - 
Since I am loved by God, I ____________________

Stop with me for a minute and think about this. Have you experienced God's love? If so, what difference has it made in your life? A few answers instantly come to my mind - I am forgiven (John 3:16), I am chosen (John 15:16), I am victorious (Romans 8:37-39) and I too can love (1 John 4:7). 

I'd love to hear your answer, so leave a comment below. I also know my answers can increase, I can learn more about God's love, experience it better and share it more powerfully. Friend, so can you! I'd love to invite you to a little preview of Wendy's new can sign up for a wonderful 5 day devotional that will not only excite you for her book, but more importantly immerse you in God's Word. Learn more HERE

As I close a quote from "The Chronicles of Narnia" comes to mind - "Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger." "That is because you are older, little one," answered he. "Not because you are?" "I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."

That sounds like a simple little conversation, but it should be a picture of our great God. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but friend our knowledge of and relationship with Him can change. It can get better, we can know Him more! What a great thought with a new year on the horizon! What would your life, your relationships, what would you look like if your understanding of God's love grew? I can't say exactly, but the word "better" comes to mind. 

I'll give you a jumpstart and share a few powerful verses about the love of our Heavenly Father - 

The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.  (Jeremiah 31:3)

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8)

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.  (Zephaniah 3:17)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the love you lavish on us. For loving us while we were still sinners. I am grateful that your love changes me. Help me understand that better and experience it more. I am not worthy of your love, but so grateful for it. Fill me with your love so that I can love others like you love me. Father God help me love you with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. I thank you for your steadfast love that endures forever. In Jesus' Name, Amen.