Sunday, February 27, 2011

Thoughts from Sunday Morning

True to form this morning our pastor gave a wonderful sermon...the only difference is this week was anything but normal for him. Last Monday night his dad passed away, somewhat unexpectedly. Just hours before Paul's death, Tim (our pastor) had spent time with him and gave him what would be his last haircut. They enjoyed their time together, but had he known it was their last visit on this earth, Pastor Tim said he would have looked into his dad's eyes a bit longer and said "I love you" a bit stronger.

Like he said none of us know when our time will come and perhaps scarier yet, when the time will come for the ones we love. So we must make the most of the moments we share. Pastor Tim didn't just this morning to remind us of a truth we all know and too often forget, no he pressed on and allowed God's faithfulness to shine through Him.

Pastor Tim has dealt with death many times and officiated many funerals, but this week the subject became personal in a whole new way. As he dug into the Word for comfort and wisdom; God gave him a message we all need to hear.

He started our time together with Philippians 1:21-24, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body."

Now I've read these verses many times before, but today God has really caused me to pause and allow this to sink in. With Paul do I say, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." I can say it and type it, but do I believe it always and live with that thought constantly? Honestly, I don't think so. Death is hard and one of those subjects I have a hard time looking at...one, I can think of the rosy side of heaven and tell myself all will be well or two, I focus on what I will leave behind or what I will miss when a loved one passes away and almost find myself getting depressed. But I haven't taken the time or really allowed myself to dig into the topic very deeply and scripturally.

This morning through Pastor Tim's message God has challenged me to do just that because really by understanding death; I have a greater understanding of life! Just like God had a purpose and plan for Paul's life, He has one for mine as well. And this life I live is not my own, by accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I have died and He lives in me. Like Paul told the Philippians that means labor for me, but if I allow God to work through me it will be fruitful labor.

Which brings me to the other passage Pastor Tim shared, 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, "So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."

It's true, my day will come and before it does I want to say with Paul, "to die is gain!" But I also agree with his other statement, "to live is Christ!" So until then, I pray God will work in me and through me to shine His light and share His love during the moments of joy and in the times of trial. May I live to please Him and always remember what I do in this life matters, now and for eternity.

Friend what are your thoughts this Sunday morning?? I pray they are pleasing to Him and I hope He's spoken to you through mine. May we live for HIM today!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Who am I?" - Scarred and Forgiven

Welcome back to our journey...this week my answer to the question is "scarred and forgiven." I have to say these thoughts were prompted by a devotion my blogging friend, Kimberly wrote. (Visit her site, you will be blessed!!) Her devotion was titled, "The Blessing of Scars" and the worldly contradiction in the title really hit me and had me thinking.

Those thoughts reminded me of a t-shirt I was given back in college after I'd hurt my knee and had reconstructive surgery. Remember the "No Fear" line back in the '90s, well this was one of their shirts. The words said, "No Scar, No Proof." I had the scar and today it still reminds me of what I went through and the effort I exerted to return to a game I loved.

But now, 16 years later this line has me thinking about something else. My mind no longer just thinks of the physical scars, no I think of the emotional and spiritual ones as well. Some scars have been caused by circumstances and even others, but quite often my focus is on the ones I've created myself.

According to the dictionary, scar means the mark left after an injury or wound has healed. I believe the key word in the definition is the very last one, healed!! Memories of these scars shouldn't create guilt or regret, even the ones that were self-inflicted because healing has taken place. This on the other hand is not because of anything I have done!! This healing only occurs because of who I am!!!

I am chosen by God and He loves me this much - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 And this Son, Jesus, the One He gave, has the power to heal because of His scars.

Jesus could have worn my shirt back in the day, He had the scars for proof! Read His words to Thomas in John 20:27, "Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

As His followers we must remember to do what He commands, believe!! Acts 13:37-39 reminds us, "
Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses."

Friend, the forgiveness of sins is the healing of our scars!! So today though you may have scars, remember you are forgiven!! As children of GOD, that is who we are!!!

Today I leave you with the words to Point of Grace's song, "Heal the Wound" may you never look at your scars the same again...

I used to wish that I could rewrite history
I used to dream that each mistake could be erased
Then I could just pretend
I never knew the me back then

I used to pray that You would take this shame away
Hide all the evidence of who I've been
But it's the memory of
The place You brought me from
That keeps me on my knees
And even though I'm free

Heal the wound but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful You are
I am broken, torn apart
Take the pieces of this heart
And heal the wound but leave the scar

I have not lived a life that boasts of anything
I don't take pride in what I bring
But I'll build an altar with
The rubble that You've found me in
And every stone will sing
Of what You can redeem

Heal the wound but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful You are
I am broken, torn apart
Take the pieces of this heart
And heal the wound but leave the scar

Don't let me forget
Everything You've done for me
Don't let me forget
The beauty in the suffering

Heal the wound but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful You are
I am broken, torn apart
Take the pieces of this heart
And heal the wound but leave the scar


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday's Winner

Thanks to all of you who took part in the give-away! It was great to read your comments and hear your thoughts about the power of words. I pray those you intended to encourage were blessed and I pray God blessed you as well!!

Now for the winner...Brooke, please contact me (jillberan@yahoo.com) with your address and I'll get a copy of "Letters from Leanne" in the mail!

"Who am I?" - Today's Thoughts

Well, once again it's Wednesday, time for the "Who am I?" study and this week's post is going in a direction I didn't expect. You see last Friday night our small community experienced a tragedy - two young adults were involved in a car accident. One, Brooke Elliot, a senior from our small school was killed. Her death has left many hurting, grieving, questioning and reflecting.

I am part of that group - you see I was Brooke's junior high basketball coach a few years back. I knew "little Brooke" before she was crowned Homecoming queen earlier this year. I know many of her friends who are hurting right now and I hurt for them.

But the Mom in me hurts for Tracy, Brooke's mom, who's life will never be the same. I can't imagine being in her shoes, but in the last few days my mind has gone there. Brooke's death reminds me that none of us know when our life will end and for me a harder truth than that, I don't know the number of my children's days either. But God does, which is yet another reminder of why it is important to know His answer to the question, "Who am I?"

When hard times happen and tragedy strikes, I must remember who I am and more importantly remember whose I am. During the difficult days I must draw near to Him and let His strength sustain. In those moments when I'm empty, it's His love and peace that will fill me!

Brooke's life, one that many think ended way too soon, has also made me think about identity in another way. We can't wait to be who God made us to be...there is no guarantee tomorrow will come. As I think about the many great words others spoke and posted on Facebook about Brooke I was reminded our influence really does go farther than we think. When that day comes for me I wonder what others will say, but as I had that thought GOD reminded me, really that's not what is important. No, all that matters is what He will have to say.

I pray I will hear a response similar to the servant in Matthew 25:21a, "“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!" This will only happen if I use the gifts He's given to me and be who He created me to be! So please join me again next week as we continue on this journey of seeking HIS answer and until then let's strive to be who HE says we are!

Until then I want to share the words of two songs...Last night as I drove in for Brooke's visitation I heard a song I've enjoyed for quite sometime, but this time the words were personal and powerful in a new way. As I listened to Casting Crowns sing, "Who am I" these words were real,

"I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours"

The brevity of life has been a truth our community has come to understand this week and I pray as Brooke's friends and family feel themselves falling they will know they are HIS!!

Then as I drove home with tears in my eyes and hurt in my heart, God once again spoke to me through song. This time Brandon Heath's, "Your Love" came on the radio and as thoughts raced through my head and my mind wondered how any parent would get through this, God gave me peace as I heard Brandon sing,

"The only the thing that matters is Your love
Your love is all I have to give
Your love is enough to light up the darkness
It’s Your love
Your love
all I ever needed is Your love"

It's true there is nothing any of us can do to make things better for Brooke's parents, sisters and all who are grieving. Only God's love can light up the darkness! Friend perhaps today your community is not in the midst of tragedy, but I'm sure someone is experiencing darkness. Will you remember who you are and allow the ONE whose you are to fill you with His love so you can share it with another? If you are in need of prayer, please share and I promise to lift you up! And I ask you to do the same for all who are grieving the loss of Brooke. Today they will gather in our gym, where she cheered just a week ago, to say their final good-byes and then the congregation will be served walking tacos - the menu she'd planned for the graduation party she was looking forward to. Thank you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Power of Words (+ a Give-Away!)

Earlier this week, Renee Swope had a Proverbs 31 devotional entitled "Just the Right Words" and in it she shared part of my story. I am touched and humbled to think God used my story to encourage others, but the work He's doing through this doesn't end there.

No, He has me reflecting and really thinking about the power of words! If you missed the story I encourage you to go and read the devotional now...

As Renee mentioned, Leanne had just the right words for me during a very difficult time. Over the last couple of days, my mind has returned to that time of my life over 11 years ago. It hurts me to think that I really was at a place where taking my own life seemed like the only answer and escape. I still have the note Leanne sent and I tremble when I read it - sometimes because it takes me back and I feel like I'm once again all alone ready to end it all, but usually because I am amazed that God used those words to help save my life.

But, the story doesn't end there - those words that were just right didn't just save my life physically, no in time they helped save me spiritually as well. You see back then, I was a church-goer who believed I was good enough to get to heaven, but really I was lost. I knew I was empty, but I didn't know why.

In the months that followed that dreadful night, God really began to call me to Himself. And once again, one way He got my attention was through Leanne's words. In this same card she had mentioned, "I am a firm believer that God has a reason for all things." I had casually believed this, but as I walked through some very difficult times, I was challenged to see if I really felt the same.

So I started seeking Him and He revealed Himself to me, in a personal way! This didn't happen over night, but three months later I gave myself to Christ and accepted Him as my Savior! Just the right words had saved my life physically and more importantly spiritually!!!

Like I said at the beginning of this post, God has me thinking and reflecting - it is amazing to see the power words have played in my life! As I've thought about this I've wondered, "What kind of difference do my words make?" And they do make a difference, it's just is it a positive one or negative? Do they encourage or tear down? Most importantly do they point another to Christ?

Honestly, this last question convicts me! You see I know the damage words can do, so I really do try to think about what I say and don't intentionally set out to hurt another. But as I think back on my own life and how God spoke through Leanne to get my attention, I realize sometimes I don't do a very good job of sharing my faith in daily conversations. No, sometimes I worry about what others will think and don't allow God to share just the right words through me - words that may have the power to save a life!!!

Today, I'm challenged to give my voice to God as I remember the power of words and pray He will use it to share just the right words with whoever needs to hear them!! I hope you will join me!!

Now I can't close a post titled, "The Power of Words" without mentioning the power of the Word!! As Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is alive 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." If you are in need of some powerful words today, read HIS! They have the power to correct and convict, encourage and equip!!

Friend today, may others be blessed and God be glorified by the words of our mouth!! On a side note, don't forget about the words you speak to yourself - there is power there as well!!

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

Now for the give-away - God has put it on my heart to share a copy of "Letters from Leanne." To enter simply click on comments and leave your name and email along with the one you plan to bless with your words or share how you've been encouraged as you encourage another! Check back on Wednesday for the winner!

"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." Proverbs 11:25

On a side note - our small community experienced a tragedy this past weekend as we lost Brooke Elliot, a senior, in a car accident. Many are in need of the powerful words of prayer at this time and I trust GOD will strengthen them as we intercede. Thank you!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Who am I?" - just Jill

Welcome back for our "Who am I?" series. I'm not sure about you, but for me God has bringing the idea of identity to mind quite a bit here lately. That's a good thing because remembering who I am is critical if I want to be who He made me to be!

As this topic has come to mind, I've thought of an answer I've given quite often to the question, "Who am I?" Through the years as this search for identity has taken place in my mind I know I've asked myself the question and replied, "just Jill." With these two simple words I meant - I'm nobody special, I'm not popular, I really don't matter, I'm nobody important - you get the idea, I really didn't see much value in myself. I'd come to measure my worth by my achievements, appearance and acquaintances. As I played the comparison game I never measured up and merely saw myself as "just Jill."

I never really thought much about this until a friend responded to a message I left on her voice mail. I had simply left a message I'd probably left with people hundreds of times - "Hi! It's just Jill, I was calling to..." Anyway this friend responded with words I have yet to forget! When the two of us finally connected, she opened the conversation with and I quote, "Don't ever say you are 'just Jill' again!" I heard her mother voice come out as I felt her scolding me!

We went on to have quite the conversation about how God sees us, how I am not 'just Jill' to Him. And friend if you've ever thought this way, today I pray you will know you are not "just insert your name" to God. He knows you and He knows me, chances are better than we know ourselves!! He created us and formed us uniquely and knows us by name! A name that is engraved on His hands. Let that soak in for a minute - He knows you!! Thus He, our Lord, our Savior, our Father, knows the answer to our question, so let's keep seeking HIM!!

Honestly that conversation with my friend changed my thinking, I don't believe I've ever left that message again, though there have been times I've felt like it. But what always jumps out at me is when I hear others say the very same thing on my voice mail or in a conversation. Really my heart breaks and I quietly think, "Don't say that! You are not just another name!"

As I wrap this up, the word 'just' really hit me as God brought to mind another answer I've given to our question. When I left my teaching position 8 years ago, I often found myself responding with these very words, "I'm just a Mom." Believe me, I know better now, but that's a conversation for another day, so I'll leave you with this, "What just response have you given to the question, "Who am I?"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

From the mouth of my child...

Welcome to those of you stopping by via Renee's blog! I'm glad you're here and pray you find your visit worthwhile! Renee's devotion about just the right words has me thinking...after reading it you know just the right words have played a critical part in my life. And if we think about it I believe we'll all realize that words (sometimes the right ones, other times hard ones and yet other times even the wrong ones) have shaped who we are. Words are something we hear everyday and if we take the time to listen to them, God can speak through them.

In my nearly 8 years as a Mom, He's showing me the voice He chooses to use isn't always my pastor, my husband, my mentor or friends or even a well known speaker. No over the last month, He has once again shown me He can speak through who ever He chooses and lately He's been speaking some powerful words through my son!

J.D. will be 8 on Thursday and has blessed my life immensely in those years (changed it as well!) This little guy can wear me out with his constant action and noise, but I'm repeatedly amazed by his desire to know about and read the Bible! As a toddler he loved Bible stories, but now he's no longer content with the typical children's stories. He loves listening to the morning Bible trivia on the radio and typically knows the answer before I do! I know God has great plans for this little man's life! Beginning now by speaking truth to me!!

Let me explain - a few weeks ago Chris Tomlin's song, "I Will Follow," came on the radio and I mentioned to him that I liked the song. He asked, "Why?" So I explained it had an important message and he sincerely responds, "And that's what you're trying to do."

He wasn't trying to impress me or encourage me, but God did! You see I'd been wrestling with following God. He was asking me to walk away from something that I enjoyed, was good and was from HIM, but selfishly I wanted to stay. In time it was obvious that I was losing the battle, so I surrendered and whispered the words of the song, "God I will follow!"

I had peace at that point, but as my son shared, his words were just the right ones. God reminded me that it's not just what I say to my children, they are watching, and seeing me walk in obedience is exactly what their little eyes need! Thank you Lord for just the right words!!

The story doesn't end there...no nearly two weeks after that precious moment with my son, God spoke through J.D. once again. This time the words were hard and convicting, but yet they were still just the right ones.

It was a cold, windy day here on our Iowa farm and my little guy wanted me to head outside with him for cattle chores. After explaining to him that I needed to get supper ready, fold a little laundry and watch his little brother, he again uses his sweet little voice and looks at me with his big blue eyes and says, "Mom, you're just like Moses. You always have an excuse."

Honestly, my mind first recalled some excuses he'd given me an hour earlier, but then my heart listened and like I said that hurt. He does hear "no" more than he wants (sometimes it's necessary), but it was a call to reflect and perhaps make some changes in my mothering.

But the impact of his comment didn't end there, no God used it as well - He brought to mind the excuses I've given to Him. He reminded me of things I'd said in the past - moments and plans I doubted, but yet He provided and completed. But what's really stayed on my heart are the excuses I've given lately as He once again leads in a direction I don't understand.

I've said, "I can't" but He reminded, "I will."
I've said, "I don't have the time," but He says, "I hold time in my hand."
I've said, "I'm not good enough," but His truth says, "My strength is sufficient."

And once again I hear just the right words at just the right time!! Friend today I pray you open your heart and mind to not just hear these words, but listen to them. He will speak, sometimes in ways we don't expect, but always in ways that touch our heart and have the power to change our lives!

Again thanks for stopping by! I invite you back tomorrow when we'll pick up our Wednesday "Who am I?" study!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Who am I?" - Does it really matter?

A couple of weeks ago after I finished my post for this series, a question entered my mind, “Does this really matter?” This question started out focused on the post and once I opened the door for doubt to enter in, Satan kept the ball rolling. My mind played right along, “Does this series really matter?” and then “Does my blog even matter?” Doubts about my writing weren’t enough. No, my mind even asked the question, “Does who I am really matter?”

Thankfully I was able to recognize the lies that were entering my mind and counter them with God’s truth!! A few verses that He brought to mind -

“For you are a chosen woman - You are a royal priest, a holy daughter. God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

For you are God’s masterpiece. He has created you anew in Christ Jesus, so you can do the good things he planned for you long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

“I formed your inward parts; I covered you in your mother’s womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made by Me, and My works are marvelous.” Ps. 139:13-14

Truth from God’s Word reminded me of who I was and God used what Satan intended for harm for good! Through that experience He not only reminded me of who I was and how valued I am, but He showed me the question, “Who am I?” really does matter!

Friend this question is not just an important one for me to ask, no it’s important for you as well. Just the other night I watched Lysa TerKeurst’s Made to Crave webcast and she spoke of changing our pity into purpose. I believe by tackling this issue of identity in our own lives we can do just that! From comments you have left and conversations I’ve had, I know the struggle to understand our identity is not one that ends once we graduate. And though our identity changes and we become a new creation once we accept Christ, my experience a few weeks back proves the struggle continues, which is why the question is important.

I pray in the days ahead you will keep asking “Who am I?” And as you do remember the question isn’t for your spouse, parent or child, it’s not for anyone, but the Creator Himself!! Friend don’t just ask Him the question, listen to His answer, trust His truth and rest in His reassurance!!

Today would you share with us a truth you cling to that assures you of who you are?! I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mirrors and Windows

Let me ask you a question, "Do you spend more time looking out a window or looking into a mirror?" Personally I find myself looking out the window much more often - checking on the kids, watching my husband or enjoying the beauty of God's great outdoors.

And it's great to look out the window when our intent is to see what's outside, but this past Sunday during the children's sermon our pastor made us think about things in a different way. You see he held up the window first of all and as the kids looked through it, he asked them who they saw. Every one's response was the same, "Them!" They were right they saw all of us seated in the pews.

Then he pulled out his second prop and placed a mirror in front of them and they each took turns smiling and laughing as they looked at themselves. Once again they each gave the same answer for his question, "Who do you see?" "ME!"

After establishing the fact that looking through a window and mirror result in seeing two different things he went on to make his spiritual connection. He brought up Jesus words in Luke 6:41-42, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

Then in an attempt to explain this to the children (and all of us adults in the pews!) he spoke of how it's easy to look through the window and see what everyone else is doing. Think about the last time you just gazed out your window - it's simple and doesn't involve work. There may even be times we don't like what we see or moments we're glad it's someone else doing the work, but when we're on the inside looking out, in a way we are removed from the situation.

Now switch gears and think about the mirror. As I do this I think of the pastor making comments to the kids as they each took their turn looking at themselves - he'd say, "See yourself. Aren't you cute? What do you see? Do you see you're missing your front teeth?" This comment was made for my little Joy and after he said he put the mirror back so she could see again; well this time she was embarrassed and didn't want to look.

I knew the point he was making Sunday morning and her reaction instantly hit me - how often do I (and perhaps you) do the same. We go to the mirror and don't like what we see. Sometimes that's physically and others it's on a spiritual level and like Joy it can be easy to throw up our hand so we can't see or simply walk away and not deal with things. But that is not what we need or God wants. No, He wants us to deal with the issue! Only when we remove the log from our own eye and the sin from our own life can we help others do the same!

So today if you find yourself glancing out the window, don't forget to spend time first looking in the mirror!!!