Sunday, September 28, 2014

What God Can Do...

The other day I found myself in awe of what God was doing...I looked at my life and smiled. I've been blessed with a wonderful husband, 5 great kids, amazing friends and family, a loving church home and opportunities I never expected.

Now before I paint a perfect picture, I want you to know though I love the people in my life and am blessed by them, they are people similar to the ones in your life - they challenge me, upset me, try my patience and sometimes let me down. And I do the same to them...we are humans living in a fallen world. I'm grateful for the opportunities I've been given, but they haven't come without stepping out of my comfort zone, battling fear and facing rejection. So my life, like your's, is far from perfect, but I've been reminded it is good...because God is in it.

This time of reflection led to memories from years ago because you see God hasn't always been in my life. Well, not in the center like He is now. I grew up believing there was a God, but didn't know Christ personally until nearly 15 years ago.

In September of 1999, I was in my 2nd year of teaching junior high math and coaching the 7th grade volleyball team. I often wore a smile on my face, but depression clouded my heart. My friends were getting married and I feared living life all alone. I longed to make a difference, but struggled with not being good enough. I tried to please people, but rarely experienced joy myself. I worked hard, but my strength was never enough.

One night after a rough day in school and a worse night in the gym, I hit the bottom. I contemplated taking my life and ending it all - the pain, broken heart and depression nobody saw. God intervened and stopped the plan I'd created...the night I thought would be the end was really the beginning.

I found medical help for depression, opened up about my struggles and began to pay attention to the work God was doing. It wasn't long and Psalm 40:2 became real in my life - "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire; He set my feet on the rock and gave me a firm place to stand."

My mind began to clear and my perspective started to change; after a few months passed my life was no longer the same. God worked in amazing ways, made Himself real and drew me close. Eventually, Romans 10:9 became a reality in my life - I confessed Jesus as Lord and believed in my heart. I was saved. Initially I didn't understand what this all meant or where it would lead, but as I look at my life through the rear view mirror I am amazed. And I have a glimpse of what God can do.

Friend, these memories bring tears to my eyes, but I pray they bring encouragement to your heart.

God can take what is broken and make it whole. He can open the eyes of the blind and heal the heart of the hurting. He can change your life and encourage your soul. He can open doors and do the impossible. He provides peace and brings joy. He creates connections and changes us from the inside out. He can give a quiet girl a voice and use my mess to share His message. He can save and strengthen. He offers forgiveness and blesses obedience. He can take one who's insecure and help her become humble.

I could share a story for each of these points, but I pray you can see the power our God possesses and I'd love to encourage you to look back on the life you've lived and work God has done. It has been good for me to remember...I appreciate the memories, but I needed the reminder of God's faithfulness. Though God has done much and changed my heart immensely, sometimes the old me returns. I worry, I doubt and I fear. I'm impatient and insecure. But God, He never changes and tonight as I reflect I'm reminded of this from Philippians 1:6, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Some days I look at myself and can get discouraged when I realize I'm not there yet, but tonight I'm encouraged because God's not done yet!!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"What's on your heart?"

"What's on your heart?" When is the last time you thought about this? Have you thought about it? Do you know? Does it matter?

This is a question a friend posed to me the other day and those four words have my attention. I'll admit, I was caught a little off guard when she asked, but I did share what God had brought to mind in a quiet moment of prayer before we connected on the phone. 

A few hours passed and God again brought that question to mind; this time I had many thoughts go through my head. I was grateful my friend cared enough to ask and I was challenged to really think about my answer to her question.

Good things and hard things, reflections on the past and worries for the future all came to mind. Things I need to do as a wife and a mom, people and relationships, personal struggles, dreams and doubts sum up the list I jotted down. 

As I thought about this a few verses came to mind - 

"Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind." Psalm 26:2

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Proverbs 2:23

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Matthew 5:8

I'm not sure anyone has asked you this question, but I believe God knows the answer! Friends, He sees our's an added bonus when someone asks what's on it. He knows what is weighing us down, what brings us joy and what our motives are. He examines our hearts, it's good for us to do the same.

In Proverbs we are instructed to guard our heart and it's hard to do if we aren't aware of what's on it.  If we are holding on to lies or replaying doubts in our mind they will weigh on our heart. As I thought about the things on my heart one thing that came to mind was the thought - "I'm not good enough." If I don't recognize this for what it is, a lie from Satan, I won't guard my heart against it. As you examine your heart, look for things that don't belong and guard your heart against them.

Finally, I've been encouraged as I remove what doesn't belong from my heart, I can better see what does. I can see the people as ones God loves; I can see the problems that God can work through; I can see roles God can use, I can see the me God created me to be. But best of all, when my heart is pure I can see God. And friend, you will too.

After I pondered her question for a day, I told my friend she should be glad she asked when she answer had grown with every hour that passed. Initially her question was a surprise, but now I know it was a gift! So may I share it with you today and ask, "What's on your heart?" I'd be honored to hear your thoughts, but more importantly you'll be blessed if you really think about the answer. Take some time and make a list of all God brings to mind...I pray He will direct your thoughts, guard your heart and open your eyes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Lesson From My Little Man

He's not a "Baby", but he'll always be my baby!
"Mom, me a baby?" asked my 3 year old little man as he entered from the other room.

"No," I responded.

He looked up with appreciation and quickly left the room only for me to hear, "See I told you me not a baby. Mom said."

These were words aimed at his older (by not even 2 years) brother. They'd been arguing about something and Jed, the big guy, resorted to calling Jesse, the little guy, a name. Once the younger told the older what Mom said the argument was over and the farming resumed.

Though my little people returned to their "work" God pushed pause on mine. He used my little man's question to teach me a lesson. This is what He had me thinking about -

Jesse hadn't even stopped to let Jed's words soak in. He didn't let this name affect him or make him question who he was. The label was not one he accepted. Instead my little guy immediately went to the one he could trust, the one who knew who he was and an authority figure who would assure him of truth.

As I thought about this, God had me think about the times my identity is mistaken and I receive the wrong labels. Friends, I hate to admit, but my son didn't learn this skill from me. Granted I haven't been called a "Baby" in years, but I've battled with labels like "Not Good Enough", "Not Smart Enough" and "Unworthy" in the recent past. Many years have passed since my little sisters called me names, but Satan sometimes does it daily. And when this happens, I haven't been real quick to seek a second opinion.

The quick observation of my son has taught me quite a lesson! I'm the authority figure he trusts and friend, God is the same for you and me. Jesse believes who I say he is and is not, why don't you and I believe our heavenly Father when He tells us the same?

Friends, I've learned countless lessons from my 5 children, but this one is big. It's such a picture of something God has had on my heart the last few years - we must find our identity in Him! He knit us together in our mothers' wombs (Psalms 139:13) and knew us before we were formed (Jeremiah 1:5), let's go to Him to learn who we are!

When circumstances, sin or Satan call you a name or define you wrongly, may you be encouraged to immediately go to the ONE who knows and ask Him if that is who you are. Friend, listen to our Father's answer and then like my little man stand confidently in the label He gives you!

In case you need a few reminders of what He says -

"I no longer call you slaves, because the slave does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father." John 15:15

"But to all who have received Him-those who believe in His name-He has given the right to become God's children." John 1:12

"And when you heard the word of truth - when you believed in Christ - you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit." Ephesians 1:13

Friend, I pray we will all be encouraged by the lesson God brought to life through my little man! I'd love to hear one of the favorite verses He uses to tell you who you are!!

Brothers...and usually friends!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another Encouraging Example

Welcome to those of you joining me from The Encouragement Cafe. It is a joy to be sharing a devotional there today! (Read it by clicking HERE.) Like I shared, Elizabeth sets an encouraging example for all of us. I want to be a friend like her.

As I've read Elizabeth's story in Luke 1 and reflected on my own life, God has brought something to mind. Through the years He has blessed me with "Elizabeths" - women who are a little further along on the walk of faith, who bless me with their words and wisdom. They set an example for me as a child of God, wife, mother, friend and woman in ministry. I often thank God for how He works through them to bless, equip and correct me.

Recently, He's opened my eyes to the part I play in this process and He's used Mary to provide another encouraging example. Friends, Mary is the mother of God's Son and our Savior; she's played a role NOBODY else ever will, but yet she's one of God's girls just like you and me. She heard from an angel and embraced God's plan, but I wonder if she struggled with worry, doubt or fear? I know I would have if I was in her shoes!

But Mary responded with a humble heart and trusted the Lord's words would be fulfilled. It's what she does next that has had me thinking. Luke 1:39-40 tells us, "At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth." She went to Elizabeth, her older cousin. She didn't wait for her to call or worry that she wasn't invited.

An angel has never greeted me and I haven't been called to carry God's child, but God has led me to step out of my comfort zone, He's asked me to walk through some trials and He's put me in situations where I needed help. During those times, He's done much and drawn me to Himself, but He's also put it on my heart to do what Mary did - go to someone older and wiser who will encourage and point me to the Truth.

I hate to admit, I don't always respond like Mary did. Instead my mind takes over and I battle the doubts - I don't want to be a burden and I can think I'm not worthy of "Elizabeths'" time or words. Pride also tries to convince me to be quiet and not put my problems out there. In my mind, I often wait for the invitation from the one I respect while I long for the wisdom from the one I trust. And sometimes waiting is good and right and what God wants, but others it's Satan succeeding at what he does best - stealing opportunities, killing connections and destroying plans God wants to unfold. (John 10:10)

Friend, I've failed at following Mary's example in going more than I want to admit, but I have followed it and been blessed. I can think of a few specific situations when God put it on my heart to reach out and though it was out of my comfort zone and involved a battle, I did it. God blessed my obedience and touched my heart through the "Elizabeth" He'd brought across my path.

The other day I was visiting with someone who's walking through a hard situation and I asked, "Have you talked with anyone about this?" Her response? "Not really." I hurt for her, but I also understood her pain and could relate to her position. Opening up can be hard to do, but I've been reminded and I pray you will be encouraged that it is an important Godly thing to do. Friend, we need sisters in Christ just like Mary needed Elizabeth, we need to connect with another so that God can work in and through us to help one another grow, stand firm and repent.

If you are hesitant to go to an "Elizabeth" I encourage you to follow Mary's example and take the initiative to connect with the one who is a step ahead. Remembering these verses just might help!

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12

"For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline." 1 Timothy 1:7

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Friend, regardless of your age, God's created you to do what He calls you to. He's also filled you with His spirit and will equip you with His power, so trust and walk with Him so that you can obey and glorify Him. Mary and Elizabeth did this...may we their example encourage us to do the same!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Old Phrase; New Lesson

Today as I prepared to leave a voice mail message for a friend, an old familiar phrase came to mind. In the split second it takes to wait for the beep, nearly one hundred thoughts went through my head - Should I really leave her a message? Other people, more important than me, are contacting her. And then the phrase that got me in trouble years ago - “Just Jill”.

Immediately, I went back in time and struggled with knowing where my identity comes from. I no longer saw myself the way God does, but instead let thoughts and feelings define who I am. Old emotions and ways of thinking took over, doubt set in and the battle raged. Thankfully in the next second, my mind was renewed and Truth triumphed.

I left a message and it didn’t include my once common phrase of “just Jill”. Two little words that said much - things like - I don’t matter, others are better and I’m really nobody. I hung up the phone thankful I’d won that battle, but reminded of the war that never really ends.

God has taken me far on this journey of knowing who I am in Christ and I’m grateful, but sometimes it seems the further I walk with Him the more my eyes are opened. Time goes by and I see progress, but then something like this happens and I realize the struggle is still there. Better yet, the sin. Because friend, really this all boils down to not believing God.

In His Word, God tells you and me -
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" John 1:12

"For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." Galatians 3:26

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." Psalms 139:14

There are countless other verses that help us understand our identity in Christ, but for now meditate on these and dig deeper into the following ones God brought to my mind throughout the day.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us, "For we are God's masterpiece created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." And in Ephesians 4:22-24 we are told, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

Friend, like me, perhaps you've read these verses countless times, but today can I encourage you, perhaps even challenge you, to use them to guide your prayer. Mine went something like this, "Lord, I know Your Word says the people you created are Your masterpiece. I believe that...until I sometimes look in the mirror. Father, I believe Your Word is true for me just as much as it is for everyone else, but sometimes feelings and thoughts counter that belief and make me doubt, so please Lord help my unbelief. Give me eyes to see the me You do and help me be the masterpiece You created me to be. I pray You'd help me humbly depend on You so that I can confidently be who You made me to be.Lord, thank you for helping me take off the old self more and more, but I ask You to help me keep on my new self. I want to be like You - righteous and holy, that will only happen when I'm secure in who You created me to be. Use your Word to renew my mind, help me hide it in my heart and recall it when Satan whispers lies."

Friend, Satan wins when we doubt and he loves it when we don't embrace what God longs for us to hear. Our heavenly Father is glorified when we live as who He created us to will you join me in remembering we're more than "Just Jill" or Amber or Rachel, or Bev or "Insert Your Name"! We are God's girls, wonderful women He's created, ladies who are loved by Him, daughters who can depend on Him and children who have been chosen by Him. We are girls He's gifted to become devoted disciples who follow Him and glorify Him.

You know initially I didn't really enjoy this little trip down memory lane and I came close to beating myself up because of it, but as the day comes to a close I'm grateful for the lesson I've learned. It's true, I'm more than "just Jill", but this is just another stop on the journey of becoming who He made me to be. I'd love to hear about the journey He's taking you on as you continue to become the One He created you to be! I'm praying today we will all take another step towards Him and continue to grow up in Him! Blessings to you my friends!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Honest Questions

"Sometimes I question myself and wonder, 'Is Jesus really real?'" These were words from my middle child the other night, my little 7 year old Jaylyn. She is my little ball of fire who tries everything thing her big brother and sister do. Her heart is tender and thinking is deep.

It's been over a year since my grandma passed away and we all miss her, but it's Jaylyn who is still grieving the most. There are still nights when I tuck her in and the tears start to fall. She will again say, "I miss Grandma B. I wish she didn't die." We often recall a memory, share a story and pray for comfort. Minutes pass, the tears stop and she's ready for bed.

The other night was different...there were no tears, but there wasn't her typical smile either, just a serious look and a big question. I know my children must make their faith their own, but honestly I wasn't expecting this deep conversation with a 7 year old. So I quickly prayed for wisdom and then shared what God put on my heart.

I talked with her about how it can be hard to understand Jesus is real and God is really there when hard things happen like death. She just nodded her head and then I proceeded to tell her a story about my last conversation with Grandma B. They had called the whole family home, hospice was coming in and her condition was worsening.

I approached my grandma laying on the couch, we talked for a bit and I asked if I could pray. She nodded, I took her hands in mine and began to talk with God. As I did her breathing eased, her body relaxed and peace filled us both. In that moment I knew she was ready and I was reminded God was real.

As I shared with Jaylyn she listened and I prayed asking God to help her see Him. Then I asked her, "How can we know Jesus is real?" She confidently responded, "Because the Bible says so." And then was ready for the conversation to end.

So she went to sleep and my mind went to work. I found myself praying one minute and worrying the next. I also realized these are honest questions, ones we all have and should at one time or another. Life is hard, sometimes God's plan doesn't make sense and His ways aren't the ones we'd choose, but yet in those moments He works. He showed Himself to me as I said my earthly good-bye to one I loved and offered peace the world can't provide and I'd never be able to create. So friend, let me encourage you to ask God, or a trusted friend who will point you to Him, the hard, honest questions.

Once I realized my daughter's question was OK and natural, I began to pray and ask God for insight. He brought two different scriptures to mind. The first guided my prayer for Jaylyn - in Mark 9:24 the man with a sick boy says, "I believe; help my unbelief." For the last week I've been praying for my daughter's, well all of my children's, faith. Asking God to increase it and make it real.

The second passage that was quickly on my heart was Deuteronomy 6:4-9 - “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."  These words guided my prayer for me and encouraged me yet again to live the faith I claim. My children are watching and as the saying goes, "More will be caught than taught."

Friend, I appreciate your prayers for my little Jaylyn as she makes her faith her own and for me as I try to live out Deuteronomy 6! Also if you have any words of wisdom, my ears are open!! And finally if you have questions yourself, follow my daughter's lead and ask away...I may not know the answer, but I will pray and ask God to give you the answer!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Lesson from the Feedlot

The other morning, I found myself outside helping my husband with chores on our farm. It was a dreary morning, the yard was muddy and the cattle lot was a mess. As the rain fell down, thoughts came to this blog and comments about my lessons learned on the farm. It has been awhile since I've really gleaned a lesson from the great outdoors...not because God hasn't been teaching, but I haven't been looking for it. So as I stood there watching the gate, I prayed a prayer and asked God to use this time as a teachable moment. And friend, He did.

First of all, as the rain fell and the conditions were less than ideal, I was reminded that farmers never get to pick when they work and as Christians you and I shouldn't either. We need to do our best to live out Colossians 3:23 - "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for man." This is a lesson He's taught before, but obviously I needed the reminder.

As I watched the cattle in the other lot, God gave me quite a picture. Like I said it was raining and had stormed through the night, so the feed bunks were full of water. Before my husband filled them with feed, he used a shovel and removed all the water. I kept one eye on the cattle and the other on him and had the thought, "What if I did this with my heart?"

It has been said that God's Word is food for our soul and friend if we want to get as much nourishment as possible from our Bible, we must follow my husband's lead. Job knows the cattle will waste the majority of feed if it is mixed in with the mess the rain creates. Oh friend, isn't that true of our hearts? If our hearts are full of sin, anger, bitterness or any other bad thing there's less room for the Word to go. Sure we may ingest some, but we'll waste more.

Over the last few days I've been challenged to take some time for confession before I feast on the Word and it's been powerful. I encourage you to give it a try!

As I stood in the feedlot, watching water and leftover feed get thrown from the bunks, reality hit - I know there have been countless times I've read the Word prior to cleaning my heart. I thought about this for a bit and wondered if the picture I described above was all wrong. It was then 2 Timothy 3:16 came to mind, "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."

I reflected on this verse and I looked at the scene in front of me a bit differently - sometimes God's Word acts like the rain. It washes things and opens our eyes to the mess that is there. Scripture will accomplish the task God sends it for. (Isaiah 55:11) Sometimes God's Word will wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:2) and at others the Holy Spirit will intercede and teach me things and bring to remembrance all Jesus has said. (John 14:26)

Friend, I don't know if there is a mess you need to clean up before God can fill you up, but I encourage you to examine your heart and if there is something that needs to be removed be like the farmer and do the work you need to do. If there is a Word you need from God to grow in your relationship with Him, go to His Word and seek His direction, He will provide what you need.

Regardless if the sin in your life and mess in your heart is obvious or if it takes awhile to reveal it, I pray you find comfort in these words from Psalms 32 verses 1-5:

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess my transgression to the LORD."
And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Friend, I am also asking God to use these words to motivate us because though we want to find comfort in the promise that God will forgive, we must NEVER become comfortable with our sin. And whether we want to admit it or not, we are all sinners who fall short. When we see the sin, let's call it what it is, confess it and turn from it...God will always do His part, but first we must do ours!!

A few days have passed and my husband has yet to clean the bunks again, but through that I'm reminded that when he's aware of the mess, he cleans it up. And when he's not, he does what he needs to do. Friend, I pray you and I will do the same as we deal with the mess in our lives and feed our soul with God's living and active Word! Blessings to you from the farm!