Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Joy and Grace - There is a Connection

December 29th...an important day in our house - the birthday of our oldest daughter. Today we celebrate Joy's 11th birthday...my little girl is growing up. Though this is a day of joy and celebration it is also a day that marks another anniversary. On July 29th, our niece, Grace was killed in an accident, so today we've been grieving her loss for 5 months.

I'm grateful God has blessed Joy with another year of life, but we still don't understand why it seems Grace's life was cut short. I know Scripture tells us God knows the number of our days (Psalm 139:16) and I believe that to be true, but in the grieving process we do wonder why. I trust that's why Scripture also tells us to lean not on our own understanding, but to trust God with all of our heart. (Proverbs 3:5)

It's obvious there are many things in this life we don't and won't understand, but as I think about Joy and Grace today I'm reminded of something I've been learning.

The night of Grace's funeral I remember Joy saying to me, "Mom, Grace was like a big sister I never had. I want to play basketball like her. I want to love people like she did. I want to tell them about Jesus like she did."

Death is hard...grieving is a process. And when you're a mom something is added to this - pain for your personal loss and hurt for your kids as they grieve. Joy was 10 and Grace 20 at the time of her accident and Joy did look up to her, enjoyed being with her and liked laughing with her. Grace was a role model, who took the job seriously and included little people in her life. She shared grace and brought joy.

Awhile back as our pastor preached from Philippians, he made this statement, "Joy and Grace aren't cousins. Joy is a sister to grace." He was not talking about two people in my life, but about things you and I both need.

He came to this conclusion by studying the words in original language. In the Greek, the word for grace is "charis" which means grace, favor and kindness. In the same language, we see the word for joy is "chara", which means joy or gladness.

I'm no scholar, but I've dug into this a bit deeper...do you see how similar these two words are in the old, original language? There is a connection between the two and it's more than a base word or similar spelling. One commentator kept it pretty simple - joy is grace recognized, while another explained joy is being properly aware of God's grace. Ultimately they both come from Him.

Friend, I know death can diminish our joy and Satan will try to steal it, but when we remember God's grace nothing can destroy it. This isn't some superficial, happy all the time joy, but a fruit of the spirit. A joy the world can't offer and doesn't understand. A joy that still sheds tears and experiences all kind of emotions. A joy that comes from the Lord because of God's grace.

Today, on the 29th of December, I remember Grace with Joy. She's a girl we all loved and now miss. We remember gifts she gave and things she said. Joy dreams of doing things she did and living a legacy like hers too. I also remember Grace with joy. Because of God's grace, our Grace is with Him today and one day we'll all celebrate together again.

Until then, I pray God will continue to pour out His grace on us. As we receive it, experience it and share it, I hope we will be filled with joy because of it. Today, we'll celebrate Joy and remember Grace, but I pray all of us embrace God's grace and experience His joy!

"So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." (Jesus' words in John 16:22)

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (James 1:2-3)

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Eyes Up!

Welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe today! Serving you with words is so much easier than serving you food, so I pray my devotional "Choices at Christmas" fed your soul.

These are words I wrote awhile back, but as I reflect on them now I find myself thinking about decisions. I am not very decisive...just ask my husband. Growing up I often used the line, "My decision is choosing not to decide." That statement may have worked when my parents asked where I wanted to eat or friends asked what I wanted to do, but when it comes to life as an adult it doesn't lead to good results. 

The last couple of weeks life has reminded me I need to decide where my mind will go and choose not to give my feelings too much power. As Christmas approaches I've found myself revisiting much grief from the past year...in just over 6 months I've lost a college classmate and two of his young children, a first cousin just a year older than me, a 20 year old niece and an uncle. 

Loss is hard - we grieve for our own personal loss, but we also hurt for loved ones too. My heart hurts as I think of loved ones missing their husband, children, mom, sister, daughter, dad, grandpa, brother. Christmas is typically a time we look forward to, but when loss impacts the tradition the holiday is also hard. 

The other day as I battled with thoughts of sadness and feelings that accompany grief, my mind quickly jumped to basketball practice. This was kind of an odd shift of thinking, but I believe it was God answering my prayer. You know, the help me take my thoughts captive one? 

In my mind I saw the previous night's practice I'd had with my elementary girls...they were doing dribble lines and I was saying, "Eyes up. Don't watch the ball, look at me. Head up." God used that picture from practice to speak to my heart. 

Friend, our Heavenly Father, our life coach wants you and me to follow the same advice. We must keep our eyes up. He doesn't want us to focus on our problems or feelings, He created us to look at Him. This instruction can be hard for my future Wildcats, but if they want to improve as a player it's something they must do. If we want to grow and mature in our faith, we must do the same.  

When a player chooses to keep her eyes up it could lead to an easy shot for her teammate or it might prevent a turnover. Spiritually when we decide to keep our eyes up, we're more likely to see Satan's attack and we are able to focus on God's Truth. This strategy helps an athlete see the court and it allows a Christian to view life from God's perspective. 

Hebrews 12:2 tells us, "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." When we look at Jesus, our perspective changes and we remember the power God has. 

Psalm 16:8 states, "I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken." If our eyes are up and we're looking to the Lord, we remember we are not alone...God is with us. 

As I bring this post to a close, my mind again envisions basketball practice and I see balls bouncing off feet and girls looking down. Friend if you've ever been in a gym with 10-12 year old girls, you know it's a challenge for most of them to dribble without looking at the ball. The same is true for me when it comes to walking through life while looking up...it's not my natural response. I too need reminders and encouragement. I try not to be a coach with unrealistic expectations and a lack of patience...I want my girls to try and not fear failure. God wants the same and He instructs us perfectly! 

The decision to keep our eyes up won't always be easy and sometimes we'll forget. There are times it will be hard and require putting our feelings aside, but it's a choice that will be worth it and an effort that God will reward! 

Friend, I don't know what choices you have yet to make this Christmas, but I pray you will join me in making an effort to keep your eyes up! If we choose to look to God, He will provide what we need and enable us to do what needs to be done. Focusing on our Father will also remind us of the GIFT He's already given! 

Today, I pray for you and me...Heavenly Father, Lord we know Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, but we also know it can be hard. Regardless of how we are struggling today whether the battle is grief, financial, relational or lies from the enemy, I ask You to help us keep our eyes up. Rather than our problems or pain, help us look at You and look into Your Word. Give us your perspective Father and fill us with Your Spirit. This Christmas may we choose to receive the gift you offer and then help us share that gift with others. Lord, thank you for the gift that puts all others in perspective. We love you Lord and want to keep our eyes on YOU. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Sunday, December 13, 2015

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

Monday, December 7, 2015

Stocking Stuffers

Christmas is getting closer every day...my 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 myself...one'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!!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas is Coming

A big welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe! It's a joy to be sharing there today though the topic of my devotional is tough. If you want to read, "Christmas Without You" click HERE.

With Thanksgiving behind us, it means Christmas is upon us. This recent holiday has reminded me that this season can be hard. There's the grief that accompanies it when we celebrate (or try to) without the ones we love. There's the stress and shopping. The busyness and baking. The Christmas programs and plays.

Christmas is coming and that thought can leave us overwhelmed, but fried it doesn't have to. Just so you know I'm writing this post to myself because honestly I've been trying to keep the upcoming holiday a bit of a secret around here. It was working until the other night when my 6 year old spotted lights and decorations when we left Thanksgiving Eve service. Then yesterday the same little guy came to me and said, "Mom, they're singing the rum, pum, pa, pa-mum song on the radio. Is it gonna be Christmas?"

I had to be honest and let him know it's coming. His eyes lit up and my breath grew deep. I know my little people get filled with excitement and anticipation. They look forward to all the season holds. I do too, but sometimes I don't appreciate what it does to my kids...they get a little wound up, they want to decorate and re-decorate...which makes the new decorator happy, but the first decorator mad!!

So now before December even begins, I find myself thinking about Christmas coming and really I want to enjoy it. I want to make memories my kids will remember and I'll be thankful for. You see, whether I enjoy it or stress over it, we're making memories. This year I don't just want to sing, "Joy to the World", I want to share joy with my family.

Christmas has a lot to do with joy, but this season isn't always filled with joy. Those moments we're grieving and the tears are falling, the times our kids are crazy and we're lacking patience, when the prices are high, but money low. When are stomachs are full, but hearts are empty. When calendars fill up and energy pours out.

I don't know about you, but joy and happiness isn't the first emotion that comes to mind when I read through the above scenerios. Would you agree? So what do we do?

For me, remembering that the season is not about perfection is helpful. Realistic expectations are critical as well. 12 years as a Mom, and I'm finally starting to figure that out. We can make plans and prepare, but we must hold that all loosely because unless you're celebrating alone things can, and often will, change.

So what expectations do you need to re-evaluate as this Christmas draws near? Do you need to expect grief to hit? Do you need to remember that money is tight and a budget important? Do you need to expect your baby will grow tired and need a nap? Do you need to expect the kids to go a little crazy when decorating the tree?

Take a little time and really think about this...what has stole your joy in the past? Ask God to help you prepare for that and handle it rightly in the future.

Finally, and most importantly, I (maybe even you) need to remember what joy truly is and where it comes from. Joy isn't simply a feeling and will never be found in the perfect plans or party. It will fade away if we rely on gifts to create it. It won't last long if we wait for well behaved kids to bring it. I'm guessing, you get the idea - joy doesn't come from people.

Ultimately this great gift comes from God, it's a fruit of the Spirit and a command in Scripture. Philippians 4:4 says, "Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice!" Friends, I'm not saying this is easy, but I'm learning it is essential. Truth is life is hard, but God is good.

The coming Christmas season is proof of that...think with me for a minute, "Why did God send His Son, the boy whose birth we're about to celebrate?" John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall never perish, but have eternal life."

No matter how hard, crazy or busy this Christmas season is, I pray we each remember why we are celebrating. It's more than all the stuff we do and gifts we give, it's about the coming of the One who saves and sustains us. It's about the One who's strength can be our JOY.

Friend, ready or not, Christmas is coming! This year may we expect tears to come and plans to change, but may we commit to finding and sharing joy in the journey!

This pic is one of my favorites and is a reminder to keep things in perspective. Notice all the ornaments missing from the bottom of the tree? I'm sure that frustrated me in the moment and though Jesse was probably contemplating how to get the star down, I look at it now and it reminds me of the wonder of the season. Not the wonder of - "What's in this package?" "Or what should I give my husband?" Or "Where should we go for dinner?" But the wonder of how a virgin gave birth to a child and He was called, Immanuel, God with us.

Friend, this Christmas, let us not forget He is with us - when the cookies burn, the kids grumble and even if the tree falls down, our Heavenly Father is with us!! That is a reason for JOY!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

When Thanksgiving is Hard

Today I came across a post I wrote last Thanksgiving. It was one I needed then and need again today. The holidays are upon us and I find myself thinking of my cousin's family, my niece's family and my uncle's family. We said "Good-bye" to 3 people far too soon this year and life will never be the same for many. I can't imagine the pain that accompanies losing your child, spouse, sibling or parent, but friend if you're there this Thanksgiving, I'm praying for you.

May these words lift our eyes to Jesus and remind us who is in control. Our circumstances can change, but our God never does...let's thank Him for who He is!

Thanksgiving is a day that always makes me think and it has become my favorite holiday. I appreciate the simplicity (no gift-buying pressure) and treasure the memories. Fourteen years ago, on the eve of the big day, Job surprised me when he asked me to be his wife and four years ago we learned we were expecting our 5th child. This holiday holds memories that our dear and represents a concept that is critical, but today I was reminded that sometimes Thanksgiving, and giving thanks, can be hard.

A childhood friend, who I grew up with, went to school with and later coached with lost her dad...15 short months after losing her mom. My heart hurt when I read the news...Chuck was one of a kind! "Sir Charles" and I always enjoyed a good conversation...he kept people on their toes and loved them from the heart. I can "see" him now as memories race through my mind and again the tears fill my eyes. I think of his 3 daughters and 2 sons and the pain they must feel. I've never been in their shoes and can't begin to understand, but the situation has me thinking.

Thanksgiving, like I said, is my favorite holiday, but sometimes the things we love are hard. Today, a day many were looking forward to and enjoyed, was hard for my friend and her family. And friend, there may have been moments that were hard for you as well. Moments when you found yourself missing loved ones who weren't there. This was my 2nd year without my grandma B and yesterday as I prepped and worked in the kitchen I thought of her. I missed her, and though I'm thankful for the memories, I'm reminded sometimes remembering is hard.

For my friends, this day will forever be marked, Thanksgiving may always be hard. All this had me thinking about the bigger picture...Thanksgiving may be a single day on the calendar, but God longs for it to be a constant state of the heart. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, "In everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 

We often wonder what God's will for us is and here He clearly tells us...it's not a job or a ministry, a place to live or a trip to take. It's not a complicated task, but it is a difficult one. We are instructed to give thanks in everything. Today when I spoke with ones I love and spent time with some as well, it was a fun thing and honestly, an easy thing to do. But tomorrow, next week or next year when I'm personally living out the bad news it won't be enjoyable, but God will still expect it.

Friend, His will for you and me, is to give Him thanks. How can we do that on days that are not created with that focus? On days when it's hard? I'll admit I've wrestled with these questions today as my thoughts drifted to my friends who were planning a funeral instead of enjoying a feast. I struggle living out the command when my kids and I are having a bad day.

I found myself asking God, "How? How do I do this, give YOU thanks in EVERYTHING?" And then He reminded me of a verse our pastor shared last night at our Thanksgiving service - James 1:2-5. It says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." 

I'd been studying the beginning of this passage, but the last verse really hit me. Considering our trials pure joy is another thought that is quite contradictory to our human emotions and something I struggle with. Perhaps you do too. If so, be encouraged by verse 5. Friend, when we don't know how to give thanks in everything or how to consider our trials a joy, we need to ask. God will guide us, direct us and provide for us. That truth alone is something to be thankful for. 

Friend, I pray your Thanksgiving has been blessed, but if it's been hard I'm asking God to draw you near and use HIS WORD to speak to your heart. Go to Him now with the hard stuff, the trials, the painful memories and ask Him for wisdom, He will provide. And then on this night of Thanksgiving, do the thing we are created to do - give Him thanks. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The top of my list...

Thanksgiving...my favorite holiday for at least the last 15 years. It was then when Job proposed after Thanksgiving Eve services and when we discussed building our marriage and family on the Rock. Now that 14 years have passed since our wedding and 5 kids call us their parents, I still enjoy this holiday. I appreciate the no presents and simple decorating, but I'm especially grateful for the reflection.

As a Christian, I'm told to "give thanks always" (1 Thes. 5:18) and "give thanks to the Lord" (Psalms 118:1), so this thanks-giving shouldn't just happen in November, but personally there's something special about this time of the year. Being thankful is talked about, it's expected. It's out in the open and on the forefront of our minds. Oh to live that way always.

Tonight, once the house was quite and I had some time alone, I started to think and pray. I was grateful and praising God. I have much to be thankful for, but I found myself wondering about what was at the top of my list. I'm not sure if that's right or wrong, but it's what was on my heart.

As I paused to think, a song came to mind. A song I've always appreciated, but one I haven't thought about or heard for quite sometime. As the words played in my head, I found the answer to my question. John Waller's "Somebody Else's Story" reminded me of the many who've played a part in my story. The ones who've shown me love and shined the light of Jesus into my darkness. The ones who helped me find comfort and hope. The ones who changed my destiny.

I grew up going to church and believed in God, but it wasn't until later in life when I understood Christianity wasn't about religion, but a relationship. I was nearly 24 years old when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. God did that and had His ways, but to accomplish His plan and change my destiny, He used people.

Friends, and strangers too, who prayed, who shared and lived a life that I observed. With their words and actions these people pointed me to Him. In them, I saw something different, something I didn't have and through them God drew me to Himself. Their encouragement and example, their teaching and transparency played a part in my story. A story God forever changed and one that leaves me forever thankful.

As I think about this, I'm humbled and grateful. I'm challenged and encouraged. I'm reminded of many...some who will never know the impact they made and others who think I thank them too much. I'm also reminded to be thankful for those who continue to point me to Him. My "iron" friends and mentors who continue to teach Truth and encourage obedience. The ones who lift me when I'm down, convict me when I'm comfortable and comfort me when I'm hurting. Fellow believers who inspire me to grow and motivate me to follow.

This post takes me down memory lane and I'm grateful, but I'm reminded of another thing from long ago. I'm not sure if it's possible to thank someone too much, but I remember processing this with God once. I prayed and asked God if I should thank a friend again because honestly I know flattery is a bad thing and I didn't want that. I know I'm to praise the Giver, not the gift, and I remember what James 1:17 says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above..." Knowing all of this, didn't remove the desire to say "Thanks". So I proceeded to write the note and as I did God put something on my heart I've never forgot - "Don't just thank her, do what she does."

Friend, this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to do a few things - first, and most importantly, thank God. Spend sometime in prayer and just give Him a list...He knows all He's blessed you with, but it does us good to remember! Then ask yourself, "Who am I thankful for?" Thank God for that person and then take some time and share appreciation with him or her. Finally, take it a step further - why are you grateful for that individual? Answer the question and then do the same.

God can and will use you to make a difference in somebody else's story and that my friend, will bring Him glory!!

Heavenly Father, thank you. Those words seem so simple, but yet they mean so much. I could fill this screen with an unending list of all I'm thankful for, but like I said in this post, at this moment You've reminded me to be grateful for the people who point me to You. Thank you Lord for your body, for my brothers and sisters in Christ. The ones who encourage and teach, help and pray, convict and rebuke. I'm grateful for how you've worked through others in my story and Father, I ask you to use me in another's story. Help me learn from others and do what they do. Lord God, you and you alone are worthy of all our praise, honor and glory. May Your name be lifted high this Thanksgiving. In Jesus' precious and powerful name, Amen

A few songs for you this Thanksgiving -

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Walking in Faith

Do you ever sense God leading you to a place you're not sure you want to go? Perhaps He's asking you to do something you don't feel qualified to do. Maybe you don't feel worthy of the task He's given. Or you're afraid of walking into the unknown? When this happens, what do we do?

We must seek His guidance - go to Him in prayer and listen. He will show us what to do and confirm His direction, but you and I must be aware, listen and look for His response. It will come in His Word, through His soft whisper and by way of words from a trusted friend. 

Another thing that will help is remembering what the Lord had Joshua do at the Jordan. He told him, "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight." (Joshua 4:2-3)

Do you remember why they were told to do this? We find the answer in verses 6-7, "to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.

Friend, in the moment when God is leading you into the unknown, look back and remember the places He's led you through. Let His faithfulness in the past give you courage for the present and hope for the future. If He calls you to something, no matter how big, hard or scary, He will lead you through it. Keep your eyes on Him and allow Him to work in you and through you! 

Let us remember, and live, 2 Corinthians 5:7 - "For we live by faith, not by sight." (NIV) For a fresh look at the verse, The Voice says, "The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes."

And friend as you walk in faith don't forget these powerful words Paul shared in Philippians, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (1:6) Today, let us walk where God leads and trust what He does!!

Friend, where is God leading you? How is He asking you to walk in faith? Leave a comment and I'll be sure to pray!

Dear Heavenly Father, Lord, sometimes it's hard to walk in faith. I can feel afraid or not equipped, but Your Word tells me You've created me to do good works and more than that I'm commanded to pick up my cross and follow You. Father God, in those times when that's hard, I ask You to fill me with Your Spirit and power. Remind me of who You are and the power You possess along with the perfect plan You've created. Lord, today may I follow You and walk by faith, not by sight. May I lean on You and not my own understanding; help me trust YOU with all of my heart. Thank you Father for all You've done in the past and what You promise to do in the future. May my faith glorify You! In Jesus' precious and powerful name, Amen 

Monday, November 16, 2015

What are you afraid of?

Yesterday the blog post you find below showed up in my Facebook Memories. The picture definitely took me back, but the message was one I needed as well. Friend, flipping on the news can make us fearful, thinking about the future may leave you afraid and wondering about tomorrow may lead to anxiety, but it's important to remember who we need to fear. May these words serve as a reminder!

The other day I opened the door to our suburban to find this - 

Job, my husband, who I do love, has a sense of humor I don't always appreciate!! I'll admit I screamed and jumped about 3 steps back. Thankfully, nobody was around to see my reaction. Once I caught my breath and moved past the angry thoughts towards Job, I thought, 'Jill, what are you afraid of?'

This coon, that had made my heart skip a beat, was dead. There was absolutely nothing it could do to me, but for a few minutes it kept me from doing what I needed to do. My fear messed with me so much I even resorted to calling my husband and asking, "What am I supposed to do now?" He stated the obvious, I did it and then I moved on with my day.

Later on as I thought about this, God started speaking to me about other things I am afraid of - like failing and letting people down. He also brought up my fear of man and worries about the future. He didn't stop there, He went on to liken them to the coon. These fears can also stop me in my tracks, make my heart race and keep me from the plans God has for me.

Being afraid of a dead raccoon really is ridiculous, but friend it's just as crazy to fear man and failure. An animal that is no longer living truly is not a threat. Though it can't harm me, I'm not saying it won't scare me. I may be scared of failure or letting others down, but I can't let that fear paralyze me and keep me from doing what I need to do.

I've been spending some time studying Ezekiel, the man I really only knew for the dry bones story, but I'm grateful for all God's been teaching me through him. He is a man who was being sent by God to his own people, ones who were rebellious and ones God said would not listen to him. Doesn't that sound like a fun assignment?!?! (If you're a mom, perhaps it's one you can relate to?!?)

Personally, I would have been afraid! And honestly, I think Ezekiel was too. Why else would God say these words in verse 6, "And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people." Three times God told him, "Do not be afraid."

Oh friend, God has told me the same thing too many times to count! And often times even though God says that, I can still be afraid. When I read on in Ezekiel I appreciated knowing I was not alone; verse 14 tells us he went on in anger and bitterness. He really didn't want to do it. But more important than our shared feelings is the simple fact that Ezekiel went. He was afraid, but yet he obeyed. 

His obedience trumped his feelings. I hate to admit I sometimes allow the opposite to happen in my life. My feelings, especially those of fear and doubt, can keep me from doing what God asks me to do. How about you?

But the good news is God is a loving Father who teaches us and gives us another chance! The next time He asks you to obey, even if you're afraid, remember you're not alone and our fears can't hurt us, but disobedience does have consequences. 

I didn't want to remove the raccoon from our vehicle, but I did it anyway. I really didn't have any other choice. And friend, I pray you and I will walk in obedience in a similar way.  When we're afraid, when obeying is hard and even when it makes no sense, I'm asking God to help us do it anyway!

Something to think about - When is a time fear paralyzed you? Can you share an example of when you obeyed even though you were afraid? How does reflecting on this impact you?

A great song that speaks to this very idea is "Do it Afraid" by Elizabeth South. Listen to it here - 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Grace for the Grieving

Another phone call with news we never want to hear...my uncle Arnie passed away today after a battle with cancer. The same disease that took his mom, my grandma, two and half years ago. As I let the tears fall, memories filled my mind and sadness filled my heart. Thoughts of Arnie's wife, sons, daughters-in-law and grandkids made me hurt. We've been on this road of grief and I know they have hard days ahead.

As I sympathized for them and grieved with them, thoughts went to others who've lost loved ones too. New grief wounds seem to open old ones. My kids talked about heaven and all the people they know there. My mind thought about earth and all the ones we miss here.

Our minds are a powerful thing and sometimes mine can be a dangerous place, so as my thoughts started to drift, I decided to take them captive. (2 Corinthians 10:5) Rather than allowing myself to become depressed, I started to pray. It was good, powerful and needed. Once I was done lifting those I love, I was still and tried to listen. Friend, we must remember prayer is not a one sided conversation.

As I sat in the silence, God whispered a question to my heart - "Jill, what do you need." Instantly a one word answer came from my lips - "Grace". We need God's amazing grace to save us, but in moments of grief I'm reminded we also need it to sustain us. God's grace is a gift...one we need to receive.

These thoughts went through my mind and I was reminded of our sermon from earlier this week. Our pastor preached from Philippians 4 and verse 19 comforted my soul. Here Paul says, "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus." Join me for a minute and think about what this means.

First of all, Paul points us to our provider - God is the one who can strengthen, comfort and provide perspective. What do you need? God will provide. Go to Him. Seek Him. Ask Him.

Then He reminds us of a promise - God will meet ALL our needs. As Pastor Tim said, "All is a promise, but needs must be qualified." And God is the one who can rightly differentiate between needs and wants, requirements and desires. If you're a Mom, you understand how parents are to provide for children's needs - God is our Heavenly Father and He understands this perfectly.

Finally, Paul tells us the extent of God's provision. Paul says according to His riches, not from them. Pastor Tim used a great illustration - friend, we have unlimited refills. God's grace is inexhaustible. We don't have to worry about there being some left over for tomorrow. Ask for all you need today. He's able to provide it. Then He can do the same tomorrow. His resources never run out.

Friend, if you are grieving today I pray you will go to God and ask Him for grace. He has what you need, what I need and what my uncle's family needs. And if you're walking alongside those who are grieving, allow God to use you as a vessel to pour out His grace.

The grieving (whether it's fresh or on-going) need others to listen, share a smile, offer a hug and bring a meal. They also need people to be present and share memories. And to remember that grief is personal and unique to each individual, so respect that and offer grace as they walk a road that's hard. Let's also not forget that grief never really goes away...when a loved one leaves this world for the next we'll always miss them whether it's been a day or a decade.

A big thank you to all of you who have been praying and encouraging my family and me over the last few months in our walk down the grief road. We're grateful for you and the grace God gives through you!

Know this: my God will also fill every need you have 
according to His glorious riches in Jesus the Anointed, 
our Liberating King. Philippians 4:19 
(The Voice)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Lesson in Humility

This picture is not real clear because it's not a picture I wanted to take. Actually I didn't take it, because it's a vision of something I'd like to forget. But my husband did capture the moment on his old cell phone and for the sake of this post, I'll share it with you.

Last week, I offered to go with my husband as he took wagons from our farm to another field. Once we arrived he decided to fill the wagons and we enjoyed a little uninterrupted conversation in the combine. All was going well...he was combining and I drove the tractor and wagons so he could unload on the go. We were finishing up and he told me to pull the wagons on the road and pick him up on the other end of the field. Sounded simple enough.

I turned out of the field onto the end rows, glanced back and saw the tire crack off. It seemed to happen in slow motion, but there was nothing I could do as I next watched the wagon tip and bushel upon bushel of corn flow out. I was sick. My husband was heading the opposite way, so he saw nothing. I didn't have my phone so I couldn't call him. So what did I do? Sat there and cried for awhile.

I felt terrible. I'd made a huge mess. I glanced out the tractor cab and saw dollars on the ground instead of corn. Eventually, I saw Job start making his way towards me. I got out of the tractor and saw everything up close and started to cry again. I walked to him sobbing and shaking.

"Just relax. It's going to be OK," were his first words to me. He assured me it wasn't something I had done and was a mishap he'd actually experienced before. At this point, the rain started to fall and his brother was on his way with the skidloader, our kids and shovels.

We jumped in the combine and my stomach continued to churn as I remembered I was suppose to lead Titus24U that evening and share about humility. I told Job, "I'm going to call Jackie and tell her I can't do it." He assured me it would be fine and that I would be going.

Once we met up with the clean-up crew I felt terrible all over again. Here I'd made the mess, but they were sending me home to lead Bible study while they would get soaked scooping up grain. My little Jaylyn saw the distressed look on my face and reminded me, "Mommy, it's not your fault."

As I headed home much went through my mind..."Sometimes God humbles us in our humility." "It takes humility to receive grace." And "If we want our kids to be humble, we'd better live out humility." Friend, we do need to humble ourselves in order to die to self and obey God.

I'd been knee deep in study of this topic that is broad and deep and He used this experience to continue the lesson. Friend, let me ask you - what is humility? What does a humble person look like? I think we can all give general answers and examples, but Biblically this is a big, important topic that can be somewhat hard to understand.

Prior to my study, I would have said humility is the opposite of pride. It's NOT that cocky NFL player who is all about me. This is true, but there is so much more. Andrew Murray said, "Pride is the lack of humility," which I thought was an interesting perspective. Especially when I connect it with a Susie Larson quote, "Insecurity is a form of selfishness, which is pride.

Now for someone who's battled insecurity for most of my life this quote hit home. For years, I at times labeled my insecurity - my shyness, my lack of confidence, my fear of speaking up, my worry about what others thought, as humility. And friend, that is SO wrong.

Humility is all about God, not me. Humility is an emptying of self. Being humble requires confidence, in Christ. Humble people focus on God, not self. When we're humble we acknowledge God as Creator and remember we are simply His creation. In Greek, humility means to submit self, a meek, gentle and lowly state.

Humility is needed to learn and teach, lead and follow, give and receive, help and be helped, share and listen, receive criticism and rightly confront, serve and be served, ask and offer. Humility is necessary if we want to be like Jesus...the one who was HUMBLE.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God 
something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing 
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself 
by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!" 
Philippians 2:5-8

Friend, there is so much more I could say, but I believe it will mean more if God is the one talking, so I'm going to do something a bit different and leave you with some homework. Everytime I sat down to search the Scriptures and dig into God's Word on this topic, He spoke to my heart...and convicted it too. That's not necessarily an easy thing, but let me assure you it is a good thing. 

If you're up for the challenge, here's some notes from our local Titus24U gathering that will get you started. I encourage you to humble yourself and ask God to teach you and transform you! I pray your lesson won't include a mess like the one I described above!! Feel free to print this out. I'd love to hear what God teaches you, so be sure to comment. I believe this lesson in humility will last a lifetime, so if we can learn from each other, we perhaps can avoid some humiliation and grow in our humility!

A Short Study on Humility
Words From Others
“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” C.S. Lewis
“Humility is the proper estimate of one’s self.” Charles Spurgeon
“The level of our faith matches the depth of our humility.”
“Lack of humility often is the cause of much of our difficulty.”
“Pride is refusing to accept God’s gifts or taking credit for what God has done; Humility is accepting the gifts and using them to praise and serve God.” (Bible notes - Luke 1:48)

Words from God
As you read these Scriptures think about these questions - "What do they tell you about humility? Where does humility come from? What does it lead to? Is it necessary for a believer? Why?

Proverbs 3:34, 11:2, 13:10 29:23  
Jer. 6:16-19
Psalms 25:9        
Isaiah 57:15
Philippians 2:3-11        
1 Peter 5:5-6
Colossians 2:18-23, 3:12                
Eph. 4:1-2

Examples of Humility
As you read of these influential people, take note of the role humility played in their life.
Abraham - Genesis 18:27-32
Jacob - Genesis 32:10
Moses - Ex. 3:11
Joshua - Joshua 7:6
Job - Job 42:2-6
Elizabeth - Luke 1:43
Jesus - Matthew 11:29
Paul - Acts 20:19

Humility Homework
Define humility -

Describe a humble person -

Think about your roles - What does humility look like in each of them?

Humility is a matter of heart…take some time and examine yours -
Am I humble?
Do I serve with joy?
Do I compare myself with others?
Am I jealous? Do I envy?
Do I strive for praise? Long for approval?
Do I react wrongly when others are praised?
Do I forgive? Do I accept forgiveness?
Do I judge?
Am I humble in seemingly insignificant daily tasks?
Do I desire to be more humble?
How can I grow in humility?

Write a Prayer for Humility (Verses to consider- Ps. 26:2, 51:10, Jer. 18:6, Is. 66:2, 1 Peter 3:3-4)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Running the Race

Welcome to those of you joining from the Encouragement Cafe today! I'm grateful you stopped by! And friend, if you haven't visited the Cafe, I encourage you to stop by for some food for your soul. It's a pleasure to be sharing there today. If you want to read my devotional, "Forget The Things That Don't Matter", click HERE.

In my devotional, I shared there are some things we don't need to remember. Years ago, during a game of Memory my oldest said to me, "Mom, you have a good remembory." It was a cute, little word made up by a young child, but it described me quite well. Like I said remembering is good in most situations, but there are times it's helpful to forget.

I was reminded of this truth last week when I was beating myself up over something that had happened. My husband listened to me, but then responded, "Forget that. It was yesterday." The thing is the mess I made impacted him more than it did me, but he was able to let it go. Me on the other hand, well, I was dwelling on it.

This conversation brought to mind Philippians 3:13-14 - "forgetting what lies behind reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Along with Hebrews 12:1 - "Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

It's been awhile since I ran a real race, but one thing I remember from my days on the track is our coach's advice: "Don't look behind you." When you are running you want to focus on the finish, looking back will slow you down and can interrupt your focus. I no longer run laps around the football field, but I am running the race called life. And friend, so are you.

I believe my coach's advice for a sport applies for us in life. Our races don't look the same and we no longer know the distance we are running, but we are advised to press on, forget what lies behind and throw off everything that hinders us. Much can fit into this category, but today will join me in looking at the things we remember?

The other day I was focusing on something I had done...it wasn't even my fault, but I played a part and Satan was eager to use that against me. For awhile I let him mess with my mind and feed me lies, but thankfully my husband shared wisdom and gave me permission to forget. There are other times the problems I ponder are my responsibility, but rather than dwelling on them I need to learn from them and confess them. God who is faithful, will forgive me. Friend, He'll forgive you too. Still there are troubles that life creates and others cause, how can we forget them? That's a good question. As humans I'm not sure we'll ever really forget, but we can focus on them rightly and remember God is still good.

As I reflect on my days as a runner much comes to mind...it wasn't easy, it was hard; it wasn't always fun, sometimes it was lonely and there were moments I wanted to quit. Honestly, sometimes life feels the same. Would you agree? Sometimes it seems like an uphill race. A challenge that will never end. A course with endless obstacles.

In moments like that, we must focus on the finish or as Paul says, the prize! When we remember what lies ahead, we're more likely to press through the pain and realize the work is worth it. Friend, today as we run the race of life let's remember Paul's words, "Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly..." (1 Corinthians 9:26b) and "Run in such a way as to get the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:24b)

Praying we can all forget what weighs us down and remember the One who lifts us up!!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Do it now! "the GRACE project"

Three months, actually 93 days have passed since Grace's accident. Some days it feels like that was yesterday and others it seems like she's been gone a long time. We continue to process through and learn about grief...it is something that is definitely unique for each person. And even looks a bit different each day. We miss her. We cry. We laugh at memories. We hurt for her family and all who are grieving.

The other day the kids and I watched a video of her singing and we all cried, sat in silence and gave each other a hug. In that moment I returned to that day 3 months ago when I told the kids the news. A day when everything changed. A day when dirty dishes weren't important, laundry didn't matter and I left my agenda go. A day when much was put into perspective and focus returned to what was important.

As I thought about this, I recalled one of my prayers from shortly after Grace's death. I asked God to help me remember that people matter, moments don't last forever and sometimes we don't get a second chance. Today on the 3 month marker He is answering and is whispering 3 powerful words to my heart - "Do it now!" He's giving me 3 specific areas to focus on, perhaps you should consider them too.

Say the words. Speaking up and sharing from my heart are two things I'm not very good at. Especially in face to face conversations. But it's something I'm learning I need to do. Two important phrases come to mind - "I love you" and "I forgive you." Friend, is there someone who needs to hear from you? Somebody who needs to be assured of your love? A loved one who needs to know they are forgiven? In this life there are no guarantees, say what needs to be said. As we speak may Ephesians 4:29 guide our words, "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."

Take the step. When I think of Grace I remember a girl who held her plans loosely. She was willing to let go of her agenda and embrace God's. I tend to be a list-maker and an over analyzer. I want to know how everything will turn out before I even begin, but often this is not the way God works. Instead of all the puzzle pieces and a picture of the final project, He gives us one piece at a time and enough light for the step we're on. What is He calling you to do? Step out in faith? Quit your job? Adopt? Submit to your husband? Do mission work? Speak out for the unborn? Take the step. Then take the next one and the one after that. Do it now...don't wait til you have it all figured out, have more money, the kids are grown. If He's calling you to action do it now!!

As you step out remember Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." Friend, He understands, so we don't have to!

Make the choice. The final area God has been encouraging me to take immediate action is with my faith. First of all, if you haven't made the choice to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, friend I beg you to dig into this deeper. Talk with a Christian friend, a trusted pastor or email me. (jillberan@yahoo.com) This is not something you want to put off, Grace's death is a reminder that we do NOT know the number of our days. And friend if you are a believer and are walking with Lord, make the choice to grow closer to Him, spend time in prayer and abide in His Word. Then make the choice to do what you were created to do - live your faith, share your faith and glorify our God. Chances are there is somebody in your sphere of influence who needs to know Jesus...talk with them and prayer for them. Joshua 24:15 elaborates on this choice, "And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

In the last few months I've again found comfort in Cheri Keaggy's song, "There Will Be One Day". She reminds us that one day there will be no accidents, no death, no tears and no pain. The suffering will end and grief will be over. But when that day comes our opportunity to witness and build God's kingdom will have have fleeted away. The chance to confess Christ as Lord and Savior will be gone. Friend, today may we receive His grace and "Do It Now!" whatever the it is!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Just call me Gideon

Doubts, fears, "I can'ts" - all things I'd shared with my husband when he responded, "Come on Gideon." I knew exactly what he meant, we'd been down this road before. God had put something on my heart...something He wanted  me, created me and planned for me to do long ago, but yet I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure if it was really Him or if I really could or if I even was worthy of the opportunity. This something usually involves stepping out of my comfort zone, overcoming fears or hard work. Often all of this and more. 

Job gave me this new name awhile back, but this week I've been thinking about it again. I continue to wrestle with something it seems God has called me to...I have doubts, fears and excuses. Yet God brings it up again and again. In places and ways I never expect. Deep in my heart, I know what He wants me to do, but like Gideon I put the fleece out again and again looking for confirmation. 

Clearly, we want to make sure it's God leading us and not others pushing us or ourselves directing us, but when God calls, He expects us to follow. We need to be patient and wait on Him, but sometimes I'm guilty of being lazy or fearful and make Him wait on me. That's a role reversal that shouldn't happen. And friend, He won't wait for me, or you, forever. 

In the midst of this mental wrestling match, God perfectly timed this weeks Sunday School lesson - we're studying Gideon, my namesake. I've found myself digging in a bit deeper about this man my husband compared me to and though I've read this account countless times God is teaching me a new lesson for the first time. 

In Judges 6:12 I read, "When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." I underlined "mighty warrior" and read on. I stopped again when I came to verse 15 - "Pardon me, my lord," Gideon replied, "but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.

While I was reading words on paper,  God was speaking to my heart. Friend, look for a minute at the contrast between how Gideon saw himself and how God saw him. Gideon is already disqualifying himself because of his background and status. Weak and the least are the two words he chooses to describe himself. This is about opposite of the words the angel of the Lord uses to address him. So let me ask, what response do you give God when He calls you? Like Gideon, and me, do you label yourself based on status or strength? Past performance or appearance or ability? 

Let me remind you, and me,...God does not see us the way we often see ourselves. He sees our potential. He sees our heart. He doesn't define us by our looks or call us according to our qualifications. He identifies us as His own and chooses us because He is sovereign. He isn't looking for a beautiful body, but a humble heart. He doesn't need someone with a perfect past, but one who will be faithful in the future. God knows who we are and wants us to believe we can be who He created us to be.

Though this was true for Gideon, he, as an earthly man, still needed confirmation. He put God to the test and set out fleece, not once, but twice. I don't know the why's behind his actions, but I know my heart and as I've studied Gideon I've been convicted. I've been setting out the fleece.

Now I haven't sheared one of my dad's sheep and literally put this into practice, but I've looked to others to confirm what God's already said. I've pushed the pause button thinking perhaps that's an idea for later in life. I've let doubt win, forgot who I am in God's eyes and doubted not only myself, but Him. 

Friend, I don't know if you've ever been called "Gideon", but if you've ever felt or acted like him, can I encourage you? God is faithful. He is a promise-keeper. He will do what He says He will do. Don't believe me? Read the rest of Gideon's story in Judges 6-8. 

In Chapter 6 verse 16 we read, "The Lord answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.'" God not only did this, He did it with methods that were out of the ordinary. I need to remember the same God who worked so powerfully in Gideon's life is willing and able to do the same in mine. How about you? 

Friend, today will you join me in really listening...the God who spoke to, called and worked through Gideon has work for us to do as well. Let's spend time with Him, look for Him and be prepared to hear from Him. When He speaks, may we each listen and believe what He has to say. And then friend, perhaps the most challenging step of the process, let's do our part and walk in obedience. 

I write this post because it's one I've needed to hear...just last night one of my girls was grumbling a bit about some chores. In an attempt to avoid the work, she kept asking questions, making suggestions and simply avoiding the work. As my frustration level grew, I simply said, "Honey, sometimes you just need to quit asking questions and do what you're told." Those words came out of my mouth and I froze. Granted I haven't been asking questions about dishes, baking or household chores, but I have avoided doing something God has asked me to do. 

In the past I've found myself frustrated thinking about  being compared to our friend with the fleece, but today as I think about our God, the One who chose and used Gideon, I'm encouraged. Friend, I pray you are too!

Now, you "Mighty Warrior", chosen child and gifted girl go do what you are told!! (If I just sounded like your mom, I'm sorry!!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It never ends...

The other night I took my husband supper as he unloaded corn in the dark and my son as he hauled it from the field. It was late and I was about to put our younger kids to bed, but the farmers worked on. At harvest (and honestly every season on the farm), the work never ends...there is always something more to do.

As the world went to sleep and the farmers pressed on, my mind went to work - this never ending work, it's not just a farming thing. Thoughts drifted back to my basketball playing days...if the season ended today, my philosophy was next year's started tomorrow. There was no off-season. There was always work to do and areas that needed improvement.

My roles no longer include playing or coaching, but I do have the title of wife and Mom. Friends, those of you who wear these hats understand - there is ALWAYS more to do. Seasons come and go, but there's always work to do. Our kids grow and change more than my husband's corn and beans, we don't have the option of taking a year off or changing the growing rotation. We must press on and be diligent.

This idea is even more true when we look at our role as Christians. Following Jesus and being His disciple is not a role to take lightly and not a task we can complete by going to church on Sunday morning. Just like the farmer, we must work from sun up to sun down if we want to grow closer to the Son who saves.

Friend, I have to admit it but the other night when it was late and I was delivering another meal, I was a bit tired of the work harvest demands. Honestly, I really wasn't doing the work...sure it's changed our daily routine, I've made a few extra trips to get corn tested and have told my 12 year old to drive careful more than usual, but I'm not the one in the tractor, running the augur or making decisions.

But isn't that how it is in life? Am I the only one who sometimes gets tired of the work? I mean there's always more dishes, more laundry, more meals. And that's the easy stuff because there's also more sibling fights, illnesses and disobedience. That's just the physical stuff, but the spiritual and emotional things continue too - there's more tears, more anxiety, more sin. Daily we have new sins to confess and prayers to pray.

This work...it can get tiring and at times can even be overwhelming. The other day I found myself focusing on the what (work) and when (always) a bit too much. Through my morning devotional God spoke to my heart and reminded me of the who, how and why. As I read His Word my mind was renewed and perspective was changed. Friend, if you're there may these words from Him encourage you -

"Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. * Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. * Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the LORD and not to men, knowing that from the LORD you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. * We desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. * Run in such a way that you may obtain it." (Romans 12:11, Eccles. 9:10, Col. 3:23-24, Hebrews 6:11-12, 1 Cor. 9:24)

Friend, just like the farmer we have work to do...often it's hard, takes a lot of time and requires effort. We must put in the time working diligently from sun up to sun down and then get up and do it again tomorrow. We must remember WHO we are working for and not forget the purpose our work fulfills.

When my husband finishes the harvest and sells the crop, he knows the work was worth it. In the same way, when you and I finish our work and hear our heavenly Father say, "Well done my good and faithful servant" we will know our effort was not in vain. Today as we face a job that never seems to end or face work that is always there, may we hold on to Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:58 - "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

Praying for you now...may you know the work you do is the Lord's and may you remember He sees you and your efforts even when nobody else seems to notice! Finally, a big thank you to my friend, Brooke Sprung, for the pictures of an Iowa sunrise and sunset from a farmer's point of view. It looks like she's a professional photographer, but she's a full-time farmer diligently doing the work that never ends!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Birthday Traditions

Birthdays are a time of excitement...especially in our house with 5 little people. The other day, Jed, our #4 turned 6 and he was overflowing with joy. Everyone was ready to celebrate the day they'd eagerly been anticipating! As a Mom, I'll admit I don't always enjoy the big day as much as the kids, but I'm learning that traditions are important.

Jed's day began with a balloon on his chair and a candle in his pancake. We started this nearly 12 years ago when our oldest turned 1 and the kids expect it now. There's also their choice of meal for the day, but their favorite is the cake. Baking is not my strong point and my creative skills are even weaker, so when J.D. was little I let him help with the decorating. Little did I know it was the beginning of something they think is great! So each birthday they help stir up the cake and frost it too. Through the years many have been covered with sprinkles and little tractors. And now my girls are old enough to basically do it all themselves!

All these traditions are good and part of the Beran birthdays, but the other day I was reminded of my favorite one - the birthday letter. When each of our kids were born I wrote them a letter and I've continued the tradition on their birthday. It recaps some big events for the year, highlights their relationships with family and assures them of my love. A couple of years ago, I started adding more - a verse I prayed for them and a prayer I wrote for them on their special day.

We tuck my written words in a simple folder and every birthday read them from start to finish. In their early years this was NO big deal, but on the eve of my oldest son's 10th birthday he said to me, "Mom, don't forget to write my letter!" Honestly, I was amazed! I figured down the road it would be a keepsake for at least one of them, but I didn't expect my 9 year old to feel that way!

Laughing at the memories and the things they use to say are fun. Remembering their favorites and funny stages is good. We enjoy comments the older kids jot down as well, but for me, and eventually I pray for them, the important thing will be the evidence of God's presence in their life, His faithfulness and power. I see that as a parent when I read words I lifted up 365 days earlier. And this year, I'm seeing it's a tradition that will continue - Joy (10) wrote her little brother a letter that melted her mother's heart!

Friend, I don't know what birthday traditions are part of your family, but I encourage you to incorporate this one. Not because it was my good idea, but I believe it's a good teaching tool and a reminder of our love. Words are powerful and written ones can be kept. Prayers are even more powerful and they will be answered. Reflecting on our words reminds us of where we've been, how God's worked and that Philippians 1:6 is true. Paul tells us that "He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it!"

This idea of marking and remembering isn't new, the Israelites were commanded to do it as well. In Joshua 4:4-7 says, "So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

Possibly a new tradition?!?!
Friends, God wants us to remember who He is and what He does! This simple, little birthday tradition helps our family do just that! I'd love to hear how your family does the same!