Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is believing doing?

There were other words I'd planned to write, but rather than share some thoughts and insight God's leading me to share a story and make this a bit more personal.

Believe is a word that has been on my heart...I've looked up it's definition according to Webster and in the Hebrew and Greek; basically it means to trust. I've been thinking about what I believe, who I believe, how I struggle to believe and why, the results of belief and those of unbelief. 

Through this process, I've had the thought that our beliefs should make a difference; when I believe something it should have an impact on my life. So God's taken that thought and had me think about the Bible, a book that I believe contains the living, active Word of God. 

That belief is good, but God's showing me I can make it better...if I believe the Bible, which I do, that means I believe every book in it, every verse in it...even the ones that are hard to live out. 

Saying I believe these words, these Truths, can be easy, but friend - talk is cheap. God doesn't want me to simply say I believe, He wants my beliefs to become actions. And the world definitely doesn't need me to talk the talk; they need me, us, to walk the walk. When we contradict ourselves they eventually quit listening, but they never quit watching!

So these thoughts have been brewing in my mind and today, God challenged me to quit thinking and start doing. Life presented an opportunity to live out a verse...one I believe, or claim to anyway.

My plans for the day were not the same as the ones my husband was envisioning. And as we discussed what would take place the day looked less and less like I expected and more and more like what he wanted. I wish I could say my desire to live out my beliefs took over at this point, but that's not the case.

The day went on and my attitude grew worse...I focused on my loss and what appeared to be his win. I thought about what I wasn't doing instead of embracing the opportunity I'd been given. My husband even made this statement, "I knew you were upset with me, so I just stayed out of the way."

Let's just say those are NOT the words a woman who's trying to follow hard after Christ wants to hear. But friend, can we admit that sometimes the words we need to hear are the ones we'd never choose to have spoken?

That was the case for me and my husband didn't have to utter another word because God picked up where he left off. He brought to mind a couple of verses and they, along with thoughts of living out my beliefs, cut to the heart...

"Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord." Colossians 3:18


"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters..." Colossians 3:23

I believe these are God's words given to Paul, I believe they are commands that are meant for good and I believe they are for me. I believe all these things, I've said that, but today my friend, I didn't live out my beliefs. And I'm left wondering, If I don't do it, do I really believe it?

I don't think I threw away my beliefs this afternoon, but I made a choice to believe I had a better way. I chose to live out of the flesh, strive for my selfish desires and then grumble when they weren't met instead of living in the spirit and depending on God to help me do what I believe.

I read somewhere that belief leads to obedience and unbelief, well that leads to sin! With that, can I encourage you to look at the path you are on...your beliefs and the choice to live them out or ignore them are leading you somewhere. Praying for you, and for me, that God will help us believe Him, strengthen us to obey Him and make us more like His Son, the One who always BELIEVED Him!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Modern-Day Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a little girl who grew up going to Sunday School and trying to be good. As she grew, she was confirmed, taught Sunday School and fell in love...with basketball. The game was her life! Though she had some success on the basketball floor, there were struggles elsewhere. The girl felt like she wasn't good enough and often cried herself to sleep.

Though times were lonely, life moved on. She went to college and the love of her life went with. She continued playing ball, but even though that goal was met the sadness remained. It grew when she suffered a career ending injury the end of her freshman year. There wasn't just sadness, but frustration too as she wrestled with the "Why's?"

Again life went on and eventually it seemed she found an answer - "Why the injury?" It helped her make a decision - with her playing days behind her, it made sense to pursue a career in teaching and coaching. Before graduation she had a chance to practice her future role and found joy in the path she had chosen, and confirmation that some of her teammates were right, there was a reason for her injury. She could now reach out to her players when they were hurt.

With this new found knowledge time passed - she landed a real job, was teaching her own class and coaching her own team. Goals were met, but yet there was something missing. She thought, "Maybe it's the love of my life" - basketball wasn't the same and as classmates were married, she wondered if she'd ever even date! The times of loneliness added to the sadness that had never really gone away.

That was bad enough, but feelings of failure pushed her deeper into the pit that was already there. By September of her second year teaching, depression had taken over. The little girl who'd never quit on the basketball court was ready to quit in the game of life. One night she came home full of frustration and feeling worthless, so she pulled out a journal to write some final thoughts. She sat on her bed scribbling, sobbing and shaking, so much so that everything she'd tucked in the book fell out.

The thing that caught her attention was a thank you note she'd received from a parent of a girl she'd coached. This mom thanked her for encouraging her daughter thru an injury and being a bright spot in her life. The words were enough to shake her up a bit more - she then reached for the phone instead of her keys and called for help rather than going on a ride that would end it all. Her teammates were right, there was a reason for the injury, it helped save her life.

The girl's parents came, listened and offered to help. She was diagnosed with depression and the medication helped, but the real cure was soon to follow.

One day she was home alone when she picked up her roommate's book, "I Kissed Dating Good-bye". With one date on her resume the girl knew she didn't need any help, but still she read on. And as she did she began to understand the reason for her loneliness - it was because she really didn't know Jesus.

And as she read about Him being the first love of her life, she knew what she wanted. So one day as the 90's were slipping away that little girl did what Paul describes in Romans 10:9, "Confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved." She prayed to receive Christ and committed to living her life for Him.

Well, as you know the "little girl" is me and if you're wondering about the happily ever after...the story is not yet over, more joys will come and the trials will too, but one day there will be a happily ever after when I meet my Savior in heaven!

Friend, I know life is far from a fairy tale, but I pray you know Jesus as Lord and Savior so that someday you too will experience your own happily ever after!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Small phrase...Big message!

I recall Christmas days from my youth...back when I thought the biggest package contained the best gift. The rationale most kids have - the more of whatever it is in the box the better. I've progressed and now understand the truth in the statement - great things come in little packages!

So why then was I surprised when God used a short verse to bring me a big message? I'm currently participating in Wendy Blight's online study titled, "Quiet my Anxious Heart" and this week we've focused on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The other morning I read John 11 out loud to the kids and then they decided to act the story out, which was fun!

As the day came to a close I had plans to dig into our homework for the week, but life on the farm and my role as Mom changed that. Waiting was a topic Wendy had brought up and now I realize God was asking me to do just that. At the time I didn't make that connection, but instead just felt the frustration that comes with things not going as I planned.

So I went to bed and though the study questions weren't in front of me, the story was still on my mind. I sensed God had something to say, so I asked, "Lord what message do you have for me in this story?" I'm not sure what I expected, but I know it wasn't what I heard - "Jesus wept." (John 11:35)

Honestly I was surprised and even a bit disappointed. This, the shortest verse in the Bible, is what God had for me? Why? It was as if the Spirit heard my unspoken question and the thoughts continued, ”Jill, Jesus cried, He showed emotion and God used it.”

It didn't take long for me to understand why that was His message for me, the girl who showed little to no emotion all thru school. The young woman who struggled with depression, kept her feelings silent and tears hidden for years. The Mom in her 30's who still has a hard time shedding tears in front of friends, sharing from the heart with passion and expressing joy for what God has done.

As this lesson unfolded in the dark of the night, I did what Jesus did, I wept. First of all, I was in awe of how God worked...I'd went to bed frustrated thinking I had to "wait" to hear from God, but He was showing me He had a purpose for the wait! There was a message He needed me to receive and a truth I needed to remember - He's always ready to speak, I just need to listen.

God knows I have a heart to follow Christ and He used these words, two simple words, to teach me how to be like Him. With this short statement I'm reminded that it's OK to cry, Jesus did and God used His tears. Jesus' tears showed his love for Lazarus and I believe for Mary and Martha too. And friend, God can use our tears as well.

I've always struggled to verbally thank friends who've poured into my life because I fear shedding a tear. A few years back I'd found the perfect gift (the only ones I really enjoy giving) for a friend, so I wrote a little note, handed it to her and didn't say a word.

She read the card and started to do what I was trying to avoid; I said to her, "I'm sorry for making you cry." Her response? "It's OK, I cry all the time. It's good."  At the time those words made no sense, but I do remember her actions touching my heart. I was beginning to realize sometimes we say more when we say nothing at all.

As I continue to walk in faith, God keeps drawing me closer and is making my heart tender. I pray He makes me more like Jesus. A man who did much, a Savior who was strong and a friend who wept.

Today may I encourage you (and especially myself) to be real, share from the heart and not be afraid of the emotion God gave us to express.

And to you my blog reading friend, I'd like to say "Thank you!" I appreciate the time you take to read the thoughts God puts on my heart and the comments you leave to share the ones He gives to you as well!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mentoring Matters - It happens!

Mentoring (training, teaching or advising) is a topic close to my heart and something I spent time discussing with friends last week. We discussed what it was, the importance of it and what it looks like in our lives. There was much time spent trying to answer the question, "How intentional should we be about mentoring?"

This question continues to roll around in my mind...mentoring has been important in my life, God calls us to do it and more importantly He equips us to do it! I know I should be intentional, but I left my wonderful time with friends and returned to reality. A reality that involves 5 children who need me and a husband who does as well. Then my thoughts grew - realistically how intentional can I be about mentoring? 

In my current season of life, it's not possible to sit down daily, have conversations and go deeper with women who are a step ahead or with those who are walking where I've been. Those things are important and needed, but I've been reminded mentoring is more than that. 

God's used a couple of emails to show me that mentoring happens. Last week a friend closed a message with these words, "I am making a big dinner for us all.  Such a happy mom I am!!!" Instantly I thought, when's the last time I said that? Honestly I'm not sure I've ever connected making a big meal with being a happy Mom. So I was convicted and encouraged to do all things as unto the Lord. (Col. 3:23) 

The very next day, this same friend sent another message in an attempt to answer some questions for me. She opened the message stating she was waiting for her son and would answer the urgent question. She did, then shared he hadn't arrived so she'd keep going. The answers continued and then I read, "Here comes my boy!!" and the message ended. I read those words and God instantly had another lesson for me. 

Oh friend, I hate to admit that once again I don't relate to my friend as often as I'd like (and should)...I was convicted and rightfully so as I instantly thought, how often do my kids come to me and my response is just wait a minute?? I don't even want to know the answer, but with these words God's showing me it should (and can) change. 

I'm sure if I asked my friend if she set out to mentor me as she shared those words, her answer would be no. I doubt she set out to intentionally influence me to love my husband and children (Titus 2:4), but God used her words to do just that. 

As time went on, He used her words for more. Like I said, I've been thinking about intentional mentoring and I'm realizing I need to be aware that mentoring happens. God uses the moments and conversations I share with others that are specific and take place because of a plan, but mentoring can, and does, happen in our everyday life. Remember what they say about raising children...more is caught than taught!

Friends, this happens when we grow up too! Today I'd love to encourage you to think about the people who speak into your life...if they are ones who are walking with the Lord and digging into His Word, listen to what they have to say - when you specifically ask them for wisdom and in the everyday conversations. God will use them to mentor you!

Secondly, if they are not ones who are walking with God in faith think about the message they are sending. Even if you are not intentionally looking to them (friends, strangers, radio, TV...) for advice and training their words are sinking in. Just a word of caution for you and for me - be aware of the message you are receiving.

Finally, think about the ones who are listening to you...those who hear your words are receiving a message, let's make sure it's one God wants us to be sending. Like my friend, let's share words that build others up, speak Truth and don't malign the Word of God. (Titus 2:5)

Today instead of wondering about how intentional I should be about mentoring, I'm focusing on the fact that it happens in the everyday, ordinary conversations that take place. I'm praying God will use that awareness to help me speak words of life and Truth! And friend I'm praying the same for you too!

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

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mother's Day...it makes me think!

Mother's Day, a day set aside to honor the ones who loved us first, sacrificed for us and have walked thru life with us. This day makes me think about many things: I reflect on the time I've shared with my mom and the influence she's had on my life, I think about all the dynamics of a mother-child relationship, I hurt for those who long to be a Mom, but have yet to be blessed with a child, and I think about my children. The ones who make celebrating this day possible.

Ten years ago I never expected to be at this place - a stay-at-home Mom with 5 children ages 1 to 10. There are moments I've said to my husband, "Can you believe we have 5 kids?" Sometimes those words are spoken out of pure joy...children truly are a blessing! There are times that question comes during a moment of frustration...children make a lot of noise, have a lot of stuff and they aren't perfect either. But friend, most often those words come from a place deep inside that is often overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed in many ways and for many reasons...overwhelmed for all that lies ahead - teaching them right from wrong (and I thought potty training was hard!!), training them to be respectful and responsible, equipping them to someday leave home and possibly be a parent themselves and most importantly encouraging them to love the Lord and live for Him.

This work of motherhood can overwhelm and when it does, I can be overwhelmed with more - fear and doubt as I wonder if I can do all my children need me to do. If you're a Mom, you know...the work never ends and I'm not just talking about the laundry, dishes, meals and rides! There's the character development and spiritual disciplines I'm responsible for...thinking about this can be overwhelming. Would you agree?

I won't lie, there are moments these thoughts, coupled with my failures, bring me down and leave me discouraged, but I'm thankful I don't stay there as often as I use to. You see instead of getting depressed and wanting to quit, something happens that I didn't expect...

These thoughts, and experiences, of not being enough often remind me of the parent Who is enough...my heavenly Father, who's blessed me with 5 little ones here and 1 He already holds. He has called me to motherhood and equipped me for the job I need to do. The role is a privilege, but yet I'm guilty of taking it for granted. The call brings responsibility, but I must remember my children are His.

Friend, if you're a Mom (and if you're not share this with one who is), I pray you are encouraged to be overwhelmed with mothering in a new way...be overwhelmed with the goodness of the One who's given you your children, be overwhelmed by the power of your perfect parent, be overwhelmed by the grace He gives when His child disobeys (then share that grace with your children as well!) and finally be overwhelmed by the love He has for you...a love so big that led Him to give up something that seems impossible to me, His Son, for you, for me and for the little ones we love!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mentoring Matters - "Why do I need to do this?"

"Why do I need to do this?" This was a question my former Algebra students often asked and now my children wonder the same. Honestly there are times I still think about it as well. Perhaps you do too.

It's natural to want to understand the purpose of doing something. When we understand the reason we are being asked to work and/or sacrifice we are more willing to do what needs to be done.

This question has come to mind as I've dug deeper into a passion of mine - mentoring, which takes place when one person walks alongside another to train, teach and disciple. This is a topic many associate with Titus 2:3-5, which says -

"Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.  Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."

This passage has been important in my life for many years and one I've read and studied numerous times but recently my focus has shifted from the what of mentoring to the why. Specifically the end of verse 5, for two and a half verses Paul focuses on what must be taught and then in a few short words he tells Titus why. Read these words slowly - "so that no one will malign the word of God."

Have you ever thought about why mentoring is important? I have, but I have to admit until recently I never gave Paul's answer much thought. But as I've thought about his words, which are about God's Word, my passion for mentoring has increased.

Friend, this is a serious matter...as followers of Christ who consider God's Word our ultimate authority we must do all we can to keep it from being maligned. (To speak evil of, slander) One of those things is to be teachable so we can learn from the older women in our lives and secondly we must come alongside those following in our steps so we can disciple them as well.

Thinking about this has increased my passion, but it's also made me more aware of what's expected of me...and you. I've been thinking about how intentional I am to mentor and be mentored, what that should look like in my life and if I'm capable of doing a good job or not.

As I've thought about this Titus 2:11-14 has come to my attention -

"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

I once heard somebody say this passage was the "Gospel in a Nutshell," but the words that have spoken to me lately are again the final phrase - "eager to do what is good." I know my works or service won't save me, but as I follow Christ I know I'm called to do what He did and friend, if anyone did what is good it was Jesus!

These words provided reassurance that my passion for mentoring is a good thing because I believe it's a good work God wants us to do eagerly! They alone didn't do much specifically for my doubts and insecurities though...

So rather than drowning in them, like I've often done, I continued to ask God for direction and seek His Word for assistance. He provided the answer I needed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 -

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 

At first I read this verse, another familiar one, and didn't think too much about it, but then I read it a second time and again the last few words jumped out at me - "equipped for every good work." I knew I was eager to do a a good work, but here I was reading that I could be equipped to do it. And friend, you are too!

I'm in awe of how God works and provides what we need and I'm also struck with how the dots in this Scripture search really do connect - 

God told me, us, why mentoring is important - so that His Word would not be maligned.

He showed me it's good to be eager to do good works.

He reminded me that He's equipped me to do what He created me to do.

And finally, He helped me understand Scripture, that is breathed by Him (2 Tim. 3:16), is what ultimately will keep His Word from being maligned. Friend, in order to do what He's calling us to do we must read the Word, live the Word and then teach the Word.

I don't know if you've ever asked the question, "Why do I need to mentor or be mentored?" but I pray these words have encouraged you to do just that! Someone needs you to walk alongside them and another has a lesson to share with you, but most importantly God has a work for you to do!

Remember God's a teacher who doesn't just tell us what to do, He let's us know why we need to do it and then He even equips us to complete the assignment! 

Let's talk...had you thought about this being a reason for mentoring? How can you apply this to your life, home, walk, ministry? Looking forward to what you have to say!

Monday, May 6, 2013

"Look at me!"

A post from 2008 has come back to mind...I guess I needed to read it again. Maybe you do too...

This past June while attending the local county fair my brother-in-law came across a picture in a scrapbook from years ago. It was of me during my early high school days and as he showed his wife, my husband and children I was embarrassed.

Though everyone laughed, I hurt as I recalled many negative feelings associated with my looks. What really hurts is they haven’t entirely disappeared over the past 20 years. As a child and teen I was a tomboy who enjoyed sports and life on the farm much more than fashion, make-up and the latest hairstyles and my picture proved it.

The doubts on the outside weren’t the only ones I recalled as I took a look at who I once was - I recalled the insecurities as well. The picture brought back a statement I’ve said to myself quite often as I’ve journeyed through life, “look at me!”

These words have never been an attempt to catch everyone’s attention, but instead have given me a reason to doubt. Many times I’ve looked at myself and thought I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough or worthy enough to do whatever it was someone was asking me to do.

After giving my life to Christ in my early 20’s I caught myself giving the same response to God – “Look at me!!” He obviously had made a mistake; I wasn’t the girl for the job!

In the past few years God has used one of my children’s favorite stories to speak to me. My kids are intrigued with the idea of walking on water and have attempted to do it themselves, but more important than Jesus’ ability to defy nature is the message He has for all of us.

In Matthew 14:22 – 33 the story is told of Jesus walking on water. It begins,“Immediately after this Jesus made his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake while he sent the people home. Afterward he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves.” I think we can relate, I know there are times when storms hit my life and it feels as though Jesus is far away. In those moments it can be easy to lose focus and rely on my own strength. It is then that the “look at me” worries, fears and doubts resurface and seem just as powerful as the strong winds and heavy waves.

But we read on – “About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking he was a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them at once, “It’s all right,” he said. I am here! Don’t be afraid.” A man walking on water, who wouldn’t be afraid? But Jesus assures them of His presence and the story continues,

Verses 28 and 29 – “Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water.” All right come.” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on water toward Jesus.” Again can we relate? Have you ever felt God’s presence in your life and by faith reacted to his calling? Like Peter have you jumped out of the boat with complete trust in your savior who is calling you? Have you taken the initial step of faith only to experience what came next for Peter?

In verse 30 we read, “But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

I read this verse and can picture Peter mentally saying, “look at me” I’m walking on water and then when the reality of the situation hits I see the statement move from being one of pride to one of fear and doubt. He looks around and sees the danger in the situation coupled with the lack of his own ability to do the very thing Christ told him to do and fear sets in.

As I share this story with my kids, I see myself in this role all too often – God calling me to do something and then in my heart I say yes, but as I survey the situation I too become terrified and start to sink. The “look at me” phrase returns and leads to many excuses in my mind that cause me to sink before my feet even leave the boat.

But as God continues to prove Himself faithful, the final verses of the story carry more power. It says, verses 31 to 33…"Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed him. “You don’t have much faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshipped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.”

How many times has Jesus uttered the same words to me? “You don’t have much faith. Why did you doubt me?” For years I believed doubting myself couldn’t hurt God, but I’ve realized that is wrong. If it is Him who lives in me, when I say I can’t who am I referring to? Take a minute and think about that.

As I do just that I think about our evening at the fair and I recall someone saying, “Well at least you can say your looks have improved.” Perhaps, but more importantly than what’s on the outside is what’s happened internally.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!” I’m grateful I don’t see the same person anymore and I’m more thankful that every time I hear the familiar phrase “look at me” I’m beginning to sense God whispering, “No Jill, look at me.”

Though He has yet to call me out of the boat and literally walk on water, He has asked me to do things I never thought I would do. How does this happen? By keeping my eyes on Jesus. As Peter did this he did the unimaginable – he walked on water! When I focus on Christ, though the winds may blow and the waves rage, He keeps me from falling and proves himself true. Sisters he will do the same for you – keep listening for his voice, you will hear him say, “Look at me.”