Monday, March 28, 2016

What's LOVE Got To Do With It?!?!

Welcome to those of you joining me from Encouragement Cafe! It's a joy to have you and I pray my devotional, "Looking for some Motivation" spoke to you. For those who haven't read it, you can do so by clicking HERE.

This blog post is one where I want to encourage you to not just read my devotional, but I want to encourage you to really think about the message. I wrote this devotional back in January, but God clearly wanted me to read it on this day in March, the day after Easter. And friend, if you are reading it now, I believe He has a purpose for you getting the message as well.

I'm guessing some of you may have a song running through your mind after reading the title to this post, but since I can't sing I'll ruin the fun and let you know this has nothing to do with a musical hit from years gone by. Instead I want to ask you to think about the things you have to do or to put a positive spin on it, the things you get to do.

You know, things like laundry, dishes and cleaning. If you're married there's a list of responsibilities that come with being a wife. And if you're a Mom, the list includes parenting, disciplining, listening, correcting, refereeing, and the list goes on. If you consider yourself a Christian, there's also obedience, stepping out of your comfort zone and living like Jesus.

Believe me, I know our to-do lists are long and they truly never end. It can be easy to be overwhelmed and tempting to give up before we even start, but as I re-read the key verse in my devotional I'm encouraged and I pray you are too.

2 John 1:6 tells us, "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands."

In response to that, think about this - Do you love God? Do you love Jesus?

If your answer is yes, think about what that means in light of the verse above.

Friend, I know it's easy to know we should love else do we respond to the One who loved us enough to send His Son to save us? It can also be easy to say the saying says, "Talk is cheap." But would you agree, it's much more challenging to show it?

When I stop long enough to think and pray about this, I wrestle with it. I know I love God and Jesus. I say I love Him. But if I'm honest my actions don't always prove it.

But that's my issue not your's, so I challenge you to sit with this idea for awhile. Think about the roles you play and the responsibilities they bring...God's called you to them, does your response prove your love for Him? Think about how He's asking you to step out in faith, is your obedience to Him evidence of your love for Him?

I don't know your answers to these questions, but God does. I pray you will take some time to process through them today!

Friend, love has everything to do with it! May our love for God lead us to obedience to Him! Then may that love flow from us and bring others to Him!!

If there's a command or call, you are struggling to obey and would like me to pray for you, leave a comment and I will do just that. Thank you for stopping by, it's a joy to walk this journey with YOU!!

Friday, March 25, 2016

An Easter Memory

Easter, a time that brings back memories...many from my childhood involving egg hunts and family dinners; from my teens and the sunrise service/breakfast at church and from parenthood with excited little people. But the memory that was formed only 3 years ago is the one I want to share with you today. It was a good reminder for me and I pray a story that is powerful for you as well. Blessings to you my friend! On this Good Friday, I pray we all remember what Jesus did for us and Sunday may we each celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior!!

From April 2013
My husband and daughters returned home from a shopping trip...they'd left with the intentions of finding the girls' new Easter dresses. (This was my husband's idea.) They came home with what they were looking for and more. Excitement took over the house when they unveiled the dress they bought for me, the gal who's worn a dress once in the last 12 years. And that was to my wedding.

Needless to say I wasn't part of the excitement - the girls were thrilled, my husband just smiled and my oldest son was insistent that I wear it.

Anyway I decided to humor them and try it on. That's when the situation went from bad to worse. I looked at the tag and it was 3 sizes bigger than I normally wear. Instantly my mind took over, "That's the size he thinks I wear? Our baby's almost two I need to lose some weight." And the final thought that came was, "I am not wearing this dress."

So the next day came and I returned the dress. Knowing my kids were more than excited for me to wear a dress, I did exchange it, but the one I found in my size was different than the one my husband picked out. I really didn't think it was a big deal, but by the following night I knew something was wrong.

I asked my husband what was up and he said, "I don't know why this is bothering me, but it's the dress. And the fact you took it back. I didn't even know you didn't like it." I responded, "Job, I don't wear that size. It's 3 sizes too big!!" In return he says, "I know, but I know you don't like things tight and they looked so small. It looked nice on you."

I listened, but I'm not sure I really heard him. (If you know what I mean?) I simply said, "I'll take it back. Maybe we should just forget the whole thing; it's kind of a waste of money for something I'll never wear again."

Two days later, I took the dress back and thought: I'll be a good wife, buy the original dress, wear it and make everyone happy. Well, everyone but me!

So Easter morning arrives and I still had no desire to wear the dress, but I had 5 little people who were very excited about it!

We headed out the door with everyone smiling and me silently praying, "Lord, help me focus on YOU, forget about this dress and not worry about what everyone will say." And friend, I have to admit He answered my prayer.

Many people shared words about the dress...though no one said it was too BIG or that I looked funny! (Though I sure felt like I did!!) As we left the church yard a good friend said something about the dress and my husband replied, "You mean the one we bought twice?!?"

With that statement God had my attention as He quickly spoke to my heart amongst the chaos of a vehicle filled with 5 energized little people!

He whispered to me, "Jill, you were focusing on the label. That label means nothing...think about the love Job was showing. How about the love others shared as well with their kind words? What about your kids, they have no idea what size you are and they love you." 

And then on Resurrection Sunday He continued, "Jill, the size label on your dress doesn't matter to me either. Neither do labels from your past or other people. You are who I say you are - Loved, Forgiven, My Daughter, a Gifted Girl and my Chosen Child. Those are the labels that matter! Today, you celebrate the day I bought you with the blood of My Son...Jill, that's something I only have to do once. My love and forgiveness is not something you can return or exchange, so please accept it. And daughter, do the same with the love your family is showering upon you as well!"

Friend, I don't know if I'll ever wear the dress again, but I don't think I'll ever forget the lesson it taught me. I pray you will join me in letting go of what the labels say and focus on who God says we are!

God taught another lesson with this dress - you can read, "Growing Into It" HERE. 

I know you can't see it, but believe me, it's a dress!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Do we need a Time-Out?

A BIG welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe! It's a joy to be sharing there today. The story in the post ties in with the madness our family has been watching on TV; if you're not a basketball junkie like me - the college basketball tournament is going on and it's been full of excitement.

In my devotional, "Call A Time-Out" (you can read it HERE) I address something that is important in the game and life. There are times athletic teams and we as Christians need to press pause, listen to our coach and evaluate our plan. As an athlete it is sometimes vital to call time-out to simply calm nerves and see things correctly. As a mom, it is vital for me, in a moment of anger, to mentally take a time-out and pray for wisdom. I'm sure we can all think of times this would be helpful and if we're intentional today we'll have opportunities to put this into practice.

I knew this devotional would post this week, so I've been thinking and praying about the blog post I'd write to accompany it. Many things have crossed my I sat in church listening to our pastor I was wishing for a day long time-out so I could ponder, study and pray about the message I'd heard!

As I watched UNI's heartbreaking loss to Texas A and M I thought about time-outs a bit differently. That game grew interesting at the end and our Panthers were out of time-outs. Their lead was slipping away, an injury caused a change in the line-up and the opposing teams pressure created a stressful situation.

Friend, doesn't life sometimes feel this way...Satan chips away at our faith, circumstances change and life's pressure seems overwhelming. Thankfully, our time-out supply isn't numbered. We can go to God as often and as much as want. He is always there!

This made me think a bit more about the "Time-Out" idea...maybe that's really not what we need. What we ultimately and always need is a continual conversation with our Creator. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing." Think about what this means! Pray simply means speaking with God, while without ceasing means to never come to an end. This is a command I struggle with, how about you?

Our pastor has been challenging us to close the gap...praying without ceasing is the goal, but it's not going to happen over night. Perhaps it starts with calling 5 time-outs today, 6 tomorrow and so on. Until we are constantly conversing with our heavenly coach. Can you imagine how different the game of life would look if we did that?

I'm guessing my kids wouldn't frustrate me, life wouldn't overwhelm and Satan wouldn't defeat me. If I obeyed this command to pray constantly, I'd be more likely to obey others as well. Constant communion with my Creator would lead to a life better lived for His glory.

Friend, if you're not use to calling a "Time-Out" during daily life, I pray you will consider it today. If you're one who does shoot out a quick prayer or two through the day, why not make it three or four? Simply put, don't stay where you're at...take a step closer to the goal and pray more! In doing so, you'll take a step closer to God and in the end that's really what we're after!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

You can't chase a sheep!

Life on the farm is rarely boring. Something is always happening...cattle getting out, pigs needing to be moved and sheep looking for a new pasture. Growing up, I had experience with each of these types of animals and it didn't take long to learn the best ways to move them.

Cattle and pigs had some general similarities. One they were bigger than me, so it was a bit scary standing between them and where they wanted to go. But that's what we did...we'd chase them from one barn or pen to another. And when they got out, which seemed to happen way more then as a farmer's daughter than now as a farmer's wife, we chased them to where they needed to be. This didn't always work the first time and ocassionally involved a bit of chaos (us girls will never forget the time a pig ran thru my mom's legs and took her for a ride), but it's how we got them where they needed to go.

Now sheep, on the other hand, were a much different story. My dad often told us, "You can't chase a sheep!" And for my non-farming friends, that statement is true. When we needed to move sheep, we took a much different approach...we got a bucket of corn, went to where they were, gave it a little shake and often simply started walking to where they needed to go. Sounds crazy, but this worked. My dad would even lead them down the gravel road like this for a few miles to our neighbor's pasture. He'd just station us girls and my mom at intersections or field drive-ways. I still remember one time the mail-man having to wait for us...definitely not the typical reason mail was running late!

These memories have come back to me over the last couple of weeks. My kids are raising my dad's orphan lambs and they like to take them for walks. They pretty much turn into pets and they lead them around the yard just like a dog. This doesn't take much, if any, training; it seems being led comes natural for even the littliest lambs.

The picture from my childhood also came to mind Sunday as our pastor preached on Jesus leading us and yesterday as I did my Bible study and focused on God as our Shepherd. Friend, the Bible refers to us as sheep for a reason. I use to think it was simply because they can be a hard headed, not so intelligent animal, but I'm beginning to think the reason is deeper than that!!

When you observe some of the tendencies and characteristics of this woolly little animal, so can see there is a connection. Sheep need a shepherd, they are dependent, they tend to flock together and go where they are led. Perhaps sometimes we need to be more like them!

Psalm 23 says, "The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not be in want." Friend, just like my dad cares for and goes above and beyond for his sheep, God does the same for you and me. There's not much you can force a sheep to do, but with patience and gentleness you can guide and lead them. God does the same with and for us. His Word tells us so...
God will show me the path of life. (Psalm 16:11)
God will instruct me and teach me in the way I should go. He will guide me with His eye. (Psalm 32:8)
My steps are ordered by the Lord. (Psalm 37:23)
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
I trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I acknowledge Him and He directs my paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
I shall hear a word behind me, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever I turn to the right or the left. (Isaiah 30:21)
Thus says the Lord, my Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17)
The Lord will guide me continually. (Isaiah 58:11)
I follow Jesus so I shall not walk in darkness, but I have the light of life. (John 8:12)
I hear Jesus’ voice and He calls me by name and leads me out. Jesus goes before me and I follow him, for I know his voice. I will by no means follow a stranger. (John 10:3-5)
The Spirit of truth has come and He is guiding me into all truth. He will tell me things to come. (John 16:13)
I am led by the Spirit of God for I am a son of God. (Romans 8:14)

Friend, our Good Shepherd is willing to lead us, but our willing to follow? Look for Him today and listen for His voice. Decide now to follow His lead! He's not just leading us down a path, He is taking us where we need to go. He's planned it all out and understands where we need to be and is able to provide all we need! Don't make Him chase will never work! He is the Good Shepherd, let Him lead you! (Sidenote - if you want to share more about Psalm 23 with a child you love, I suggest getting the book, Sammy and His Shepherd - it's a good one! My kids love it and so do I!)
The Good Shepherd loves us even more!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Am I old?

On the night of my 40th birthday I asked my little man, "Do you think mom is old?" He looked at me with that are you crazy look and simply stated, "No, you still new." I tucked him in, gave him an extra kiss and said, "Good night."

Initially, I was grateful he didn't think I was old, but in the last few days I've thought more about his statement. You see Friday morning I woke up and one of the first verses I read was, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16) The words were comforting and a reminder that age is simply a number.

Throughout the day I had calls and facebook posts welcoming me to the club and assuring me it was all downhill from here. A high school classmate even told me I still looked 18, but I responded saying, "I wish I felt 18." Clearly, things are different with each passing year and there is no denying the truth...I'm getting older and my body is no longer what it use to be.

Friend, there is another more important truth you and I must cling to as the days and years go by - Isaiah 46:4 says, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you." No matter our age, our looks or ability God is with us and He will sustain us to do what we need to do.

These promises are real and provide comfort, but I want to get back to a truth we must address. Granted Jesse only said "new" because he's 4 and doesn't yet understand that old has another opposite, young. Honestly though, the truth is I'm not young, but friend I am new. Are you?

If you're wondering what this means let me explain...2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come." Regardless of what the calendar says or how your body feels, if you have Christ you're not old. He can and will make you new. It's not necessarily the new we think of when we think of a new car or home, but it's new according to God's standards. And friend, in the end they are the only ones that matter.

If you're reading this now and think I'll deal with that later, let me remind you we are not guaranteed we have later. The morning after my birthday I found out my friend's mom was killed in a car accident. Hard news, hurting hearts and lives forever changed. I talked with Crystal and though she is hurting badly she has peace knowing her mom is with Jesus and she will see her again.

Friend, her mom is in heaven because she was made new. At some point her life, she began a personal relationship with Jesus Christ...she confessed her sins and acknowledged her need for a Savior then she committed to making Him Lord of her life. Have you done that? Have you been made new?

We can try all sorts of things to make us feel younger and maybe even look may work for awhile, but the only way for it to work eternally is to allow God to make the change. God will do His part, but friend we must do ours as well.

If you're feeling old and want to be saved joining me in doing what Romans 10:9 commands, "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." The choice is ours, but the gift is from God...receive it today! Ephesians 2:8 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Friend, in our society today nobody wants to look or feel old, but the newness we're talking about here is so much more important! If my turning 40 helps you understand that more I will be forever grateful!! And if you are a fellow disciple, my sister in Christ, join me in being thankful for being "new" today no matter what your age says or how your body feels!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Loving God the Mostest!

Mr. Muscles
Jesse is our baby and he is the family clown. Some of the things that come out of his mouth leave me speechless and others, well they create quite the laugh. Just the other night after hearing me say something about having 5 kids, he stopped me, gave me a super serious look and said, "HOLY SMOKES you have 5 kids...that's ALOT!" I'm not sure where's he's been for the last 4 1/2 years, but I'm grateful for the joy he brings.

Though he's still a child I've learned much through and because of him...there was the lesson in identity (read it HERE), the one about obedience (read it HERE) and also about the value of our relationship with God. (Read it HERE). The streak continues as my little guy expresses and learns about love. His desire to learn more has led me to do the same.

Jed and Jesse like to play the game, "Love you, Beat ya!" It's one Jed created a few years back and is simply a race to be the first to say those 4 words at any given point in the day. There are days it's played every 30 minutes and others just at bedtime, but it often leads to conversations about love. Sometimes we talk about love being more than words and others about how I (Mom) can love them both.

The other day in the midst of one of these conversations Jesse said, "But you know who I love the mostest?" Before anyone could respond he asked another question, "We're supposed to love God the mostest right Mom?" I shook my head and simply said, "You're right little buddy."

I'm thrilled my preschooler understands this, but my prayer is he learns to do it. I pray all my kids can do it and friend I pray you and I can too. Because wouldn't you agree it's one thing to know we're to love God most and say we love Him the most, but it's another thing to do it.

Really, stop with me for a second and think, "What does it mean to love God the mostest?" Perhaps more important than that question is this one, "Do you love God the most?"

There are many verses we could look at when it comes to loving God, but one that may not be as familiar rises to the surface for me. Awhile back I shared a short lesson on love (read it HERE) and in my study I spent much time in the book of 1 John. This book is packed full of verses about love, but the last verse really stuck out for me.

1 John 5:21 says, "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." (NIV) The Amplified version puts it this way, "Little children (believers, dear ones), guard yourselves from idols - false teachings, moral compromises, and anything that would take God's place in your heart."

Initially I thought this verse was kind of an odd one to close a book, but as I studied and God continues to teach me I realize it is quite appropriate. And it really ties in with my little guys question! The notes in the Voice translation say this, "John's final bit of pastoral advice sounds an alarm against idolatry. If we look carefully at our culture and into our own hearts, we will find we are ultimately concerned about ourselves, our entertainment, our comforts, and our wallets. None of these are worthy of our highest devotion; but we put more time, energy, money, and emotion into these than we do into the one true God. So John's warning should be heeded: watch out for the steady impulse to love other things more than God."

Friend, this is nothing and I, we get this. We know we are not to have any other gods, but do we live this way? I can easily look back on my life and say growing up, basketball was my god. It's simple to reflect and see the sin that was in my heart before I was even a born again believer, but friend it's hard and much more humbling to look at my heart now. My world no longer revolves around a little orange ball, but with March Madness approaching and the hope that my Cyclones will start soaring I have to check my heart. I don't want ball to become my Baal again.

Old gods can become new idols, but so can people and good, Godly things like ministry. For me it's easy to avoid the things even the world knows are bad, but do you and I ever comprise and let worldly, good things take God's place on the pedestal of our heart? This thought challenges me and I pray it does the same for you.

God, through His Word and Holy Spirit has been convicting me. At times I'm still tempted to look to people wrongly and do things for the wrong reason, but God, the one who loved me while a sinner, loves me even when I still sin. Because of His grace and mercy, He doesn't leave me in that place.

Like the loving Father He is, my Abba, draws me near, teaches me a lesson, forgives my mistakes and tells me to try again. He redeems what Satan tries to steal away and gives me new opportunities to love, serve and grow.

Friend, there is much on my heart, so I know God's teaching is not done. But more important than my words or stories are ones from God's Word. Take a minute and ponder and/or pray through these verses...loving God is important and loving Him most is essential!

"And he answered, 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27
Do you love God this way? Does He get ALL your heart, soul, strength and mind?

"You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." James 4:4
Are you friends with the world? Think about the things you do, shows you watch, thoughts you entertain and success you strive for.

"Don not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with is desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." 1 John 2:15-17 Friend, what do you desire? Is it God or something or someone else?

Let's pray...
El Roi, You see all and You know all. You know where, when and how I fall short when it comes to loving You. Father God, You even know why. I ask for eyes to see who and what I love more than You. I'm sorry Lord. I want to love You most, help me do that. May I let go of the idols in my life. Show me what they are. Help me view people rightly and love them too, but only after I see You clearly and love You best. Be with each woman gathered here today and help us love You with ALL of our heart and ALL of our soul and ALL of our strength and ALL of our mind. May we each love You the MOSTEST! In Your Son's Name I pray...Amen