Monday, December 18, 2017

What Mary knew...(A Short Pre-Christmas Study)

A popular Christmas song asks the question, "Mary, did you know?" I appreciate the song and find myself pondering Mary's role as mother of our Lord and Savior. These are things to think about, but as I've been studying the Christmas story and events leading up to it, I find thoughts of what Mary knew running through my head. 

Tonight I had the opportunity to discuss this with friends at our local Titus24U group. I'm excited to share this lesson with you and look forward to hearing your thoughts. In these days leading up to Christmas I encourage you to open the Word and learn a bit more about the woman who brought Jesus into the world. 

So to begin a few questions to get you thinking -  What comes to mind when you think of Mary? How would you describe her? What can we learn about God through her? How can we apply her story to our life? 

Let's begin our study by reading Luke 1:26-38. Here Mary is visited by an angel. The girl is betrothed to be married; this is not a casual agreement, but a promise to Joseph. Many commentators believe she was 15 or 16 years old, but as we will see, even if she was young, she was spiritually mature. As you read these verses think about these questions -

What did the angel tell her?

How did Mary respond?

What trait in Mary would you like to exhibit?

Friend, it's interesting to back up and read the previous conversation between Zechariah and the angel. The news is similar, but the response varies. Mary and Zechariah are both distressed, told not to be afraid and are promised a son, but that's where the similarities end. The dad to be asks a question and hesitates while Mary receives the news and believes. How do you respond when faced with unexpected news or direction?

Before leaving this conversation, a quick point I found verse 36, the angel tells Mary of Elizabeth's pregnancy. God didn't just send a promise to His favored one, but also provided evidence of His power. Friend, we may not have an angel bringing us news, but when we get God's direction, may we look to His Word and remember the countless examples of His power!

As we continue our walk through the Word, lets read Luke 1:39-45. What catches your attention here? What do Elizabeth's words tell us about Mary? More importantly what do they tell us about God and Jesus? 

Perhaps one of the most important lessons we can learn from this short passage is another powerful example of humility. Elizabeth is human, just like you and me, but yet she didn't let jealousy take over or envious thoughts enter her mind...she recognized the presence of the Lord and knew her right position. May you and I do the same!!

As we move forward, we hear from Mary herself. Read Luke 1:46-56. Here we read what has come to be known as "Mary's Song" or "The Magnificat." Mary clearly knew the Old Testament as she draws on words from Scripture to offer praise to God. 

Read 1 Samuel 2:1-10. What similarities do you notice between Mary's words and Hannah's prayer? 

Use the following cross references to get a better understanding of Mary's knowledge of scripture. Note what you learn about the character and power of God in these verses. 

Luke 1:47-48 – 1 Samuel 1:11
Luke 1:49 – Psalm 111:9
Luke 1:50 – Psalm 103:13,17
Luke 1:51 – Psalm 89:10
Luke 1:52- Job 12:19
Luke 1:53 – Psalm 107:9
Luke 1:54 – Psalm 98:3, Isaiah 41:8
Luke 1:55 – Genesis 17:7

Friend, these words from Mary express her emotion and experience. From her meditation, we see she had words from the Old Testament hidden in her heart. Her praise to God before the promise even comes true is a powerful remedy to pride; may we remember this and practice it in the future!

To close, I encourage you to pause for a minute and think about Mary. She is a woman who set an example worthy for us as women to follow. She brought Jesus into this world and friend, you and I still shine His light. We can do that better if we model some of the characteristics we see in Mary. 

She was a woman who seems to have thought more than she spoke. (Luke 1:29, 2:19, 2:51) She was a woman of faith - she didn't doubt, she didn't laugh and she didn't ask for a sign - she believed. She was submissive, even when it involved risk. Teenage pregnancy had consequences, but she trusted God's plan and offered to serve Him in the greatest way. She was familiar with Scripture and close to God. Finally, she was a woman of humility...she didn't argue with the angel, but accepted God's call. She admitted her position and knew she was a recipient of God's grace before she was ever a giver of it. She was secure in her identity as a child of the most high God.

There were things Mary didn't know as she held Jesus in her arms, but there was plenty she understood as she started the journey with Him. The same is true for us. Wherever we are on our walk of faith, there are questions we can't yet answer, but friend there are promises we can cling to and truths we can stand on. This Christmas, may we follow Mary's lead and humble ourselves so that the Holy Spirit can shine through us and do what He knows needs to be done!!

Dear Heavenly Father, You are the Mighty One. You have the power to do the impossible. Thank you for Mary's example and help me too be one who believes. Help me to meditate on your Word and cling to your Truth. Equip me to trust and obey. Tender my heart so that I hear your voice and walk in your ways. I echo Mary's words and say, my soul glorifies you and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. As Christmas nears, help me abide in your Word and enjoy your presence. Mary physically brought Jesus into the world and through my words, actions and life may I spiritually do the same. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Stocking Scriptures

As December begins, Christmas comes to mind. I've bought some presents and the kids are ready to decorate the cookies, but before another day goes by I've found myself praying about one of my favorite traditions. I've shared the following post before, but will take the time to do it again. Friends, prayer truly is a gift that money can't buy and it's one God will bless! I encourage you to add "Stocking Scriptures" to your list this year! 

Christmas is getting closer every 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'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!!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I am...

"I am..." an open ended statement that could be completed in so many ways. Before I fill in the blank today, answers from the past come to mind. Over the years, I've finished that phrase in various different ways. I've said,
"I am little."
"I am scared."
"I am ugly."
"I am a basketball player."
"I am unqualified."
"I am NOT good enough."
"I am depressed."

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea...I haven't always had a positive view of myself. I've struggled with my looks, my ability and my purpose. Friend, maybe you can say the same. If so, I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to be that way. 

Lately, I've found myself thinking about completing this statement with a different word - LOVED. My friend and one of my favorite Bible teachers, Wendy Blight, will soon be releasing her new Bible study and I'm greatly looking forward to it. The book is titled, "I Am Loved - Living in the Fullness of God's Love" and I'm sure God will use it to point readers to His transforming Truth. 

I have yet to do this study, but God is using it before I even turn a page. The other day I got to thinking about the title and I was reminded of my struggle. For years, I was able to recite John 3:16 and knew other verses that spoke of God's love, but I didn't understand or experience it in a personal way.

Nearly 4 years ago as I studied Wendy's first Bible study, "Living So That" my thoughts started to change and my mind was renewed. Wendy pointed out how John was the disciple that Jesus loved and went on to share, "Oh that we would have that confidence to unabashedly speak those same words: "I am the girl Jesus loves!!"  I reread an old post and noted how in the margin of the book I wrote, "I've never said that." 

Thankfully, God did what He does when we spend time in His Word...He changed me from the inside out. I no longer doubt His love for me and I don't feel like I have to earn it. I understand I don't deserve it, but I experience it and am so grateful for it. 

Today in Sunday School I heard this statement, "I won't understand who I am until I know who God is." Without a doubt I can say that is true! God is the One who created me, He knows me and has much to teach me not just about life, but about myself. This simple truth has me excited for Wendy's new study; as I learn about God's love, I'm sure to learn about what His love can do in and through me as well. 

So, now I'm thinking about a new fill in the blank activity - 
Since I am loved by God, I ____________________

Stop with me for a minute and think about this. Have you experienced God's love? If so, what difference has it made in your life? A few answers instantly come to my mind - I am forgiven (John 3:16), I am chosen (John 15:16), I am victorious (Romans 8:37-39) and I too can love (1 John 4:7). 

I'd love to hear your answer, so leave a comment below. I also know my answers can increase, I can learn more about God's love, experience it better and share it more powerfully. Friend, so can you! I'd love to invite you to a little preview of Wendy's new can sign up for a wonderful 5 day devotional that will not only excite you for her book, but more importantly immerse you in God's Word. Learn more HERE

As I close a quote from "The Chronicles of Narnia" comes to mind - "Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger." "That is because you are older, little one," answered he. "Not because you are?" "I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."

That sounds like a simple little conversation, but it should be a picture of our great God. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but friend our knowledge of and relationship with Him can change. It can get better, we can know Him more! What a great thought with a new year on the horizon! What would your life, your relationships, what would you look like if your understanding of God's love grew? I can't say exactly, but the word "better" comes to mind. 

I'll give you a jumpstart and share a few powerful verses about the love of our Heavenly Father - 

The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.  (Jeremiah 31:3)

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8)

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.  (Zephaniah 3:17)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the love you lavish on us. For loving us while we were still sinners. I am grateful that your love changes me. Help me understand that better and experience it more. I am not worthy of your love, but so grateful for it. Fill me with your love so that I can love others like you love me. Father God help me love you with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. I thank you for your steadfast love that endures forever. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

When you don't know what to do...

Has life ever had you in a situation where you felt like you didn't know what to do? Perhaps as a mom or a wife or at your work place. Maybe even as a child of God. I've sure experienced that; more than I care to admit. But, awhile back as I was walking through yet another one of these situations, God gave me a plan. It has blessed me and my prayer is it will equip you as well.
The first phrase to come to mind might sound funny to you, but honestly it wasn’t a real surprise for me. “Give Up!” That seems a bit crazy because we teach our kids to try hard and chances are you were to taught to never quit, but friends there is a time and a place for giving up. As women we need to give up trying to do it all and to figure everything out. Another way to say it is we need to surrender and the important thing to remember is who we are surrendering to. We are yielding to our heavenly Father who created us, loves us and has a purpose for us. We are giving up so that we can obey Jesus’ command in Matthew 16:24. Here we read, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Friend, when we follow Jesus we give up control. As we let Jesus lead, we are no longer in charge. Sometimes this feels scary, I know, I’ve been there, but if we call ourselves disciples we should echo Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live in the body, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This dying to self isn’t a one-time thing or a when I want to action; it’s day after day, moment after moment choice we must make. When times are good, when days are bad, when walking in faith is a joy and when life leaves us defeated. We must give up…our dreams, our plans, our ways, our fears, our time, our kids, our everything so that we can put God first.

Giving up is the what, but you may be asking yourself, “How?” We find our answer in the Word of God. The verses I encourage my kids to hide in their hearts come from the living and active Word of God that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. It can and will equip us to do what we need to do. Scripture will also teach us about God and help us get to know Him better so we can trust Him more. We can’t just encourage our kids to read, study and memorize, we must abide in the Word as well!

Immediately after I give up, there is something else I need to do – “Look up!” Surrendering without seeking will leave me defeated and drowning in the mess around me. Awhile back I was organizing our schedule, which includes Awana’s, junior high basketball, elementary basketball, wrestling, life on the farm and so on, and I found myself getting overwhelmed. I’m a planner and a list maker, but sometimes that can become my focus. I know it’s good and necessary to organize and be prepared, but that day as I sat with a calendar and three schedules the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart that it’s more important to look up than it is to look out.

Friends, I know we are busy and schedules are crazy and we can be tempted to look in many directions, but we must heed the words of Psalm 121:1-2a. We read, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord…” I don’t know about you, but help is something I know I need. I need help raising my kids, teaching them, disciplining them, being the wife God created me to be, being patient and the list goes on. Friends can offer help and self-help books promise it, but God is faithful to always provide it. So again the what is “Look up!”, but the how is through prayer and seeking the Lord. Friends I know our to do list is long and our work is never done, but prayer is our most important work. We can and should pray for our kids, but we must also seek God’s will for us as parents too. He will provide answers and direction, we just need to ask. 

Finally, after we “Give Up!” and “Look Up!” it’s time to “Step Up!” Sometimes this is the hardest piece of the puzzle. We know what needs to be done, now we need to do it. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Life brings so much joy, but it also brings work, frustration and some tears. Walking in faith is not easy, but it is good and friends, we must remember it is so very important! 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.” This verse says much, but I want to focus in on two key words tonight…good works. It doesn’t say easy, enjoyable or fun, but instead good. The things we do as a wife, mom and disciple of Jesus are good and they require work. It takes effort and perseverance to build God's kingdom and train up our children, but it’s good and God will equip us to do just that.

So again, the what is “Step Up!”, but what about the “How?” In my 17+ plus years as Christian and 14+ years as a mom, the thing that’s helped me is fellowship with others. Sharing struggles, seeking advice and walking together with sisters in Christ has been priceless as I walk this road. Their words, prayers, wisdom and example help me do the work I need to do. When I struggle it can be tempting to be silent and Satan wants me to think I’m all alone. But Hebrews 10:24-25 states, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Just yesterday as I prepared to share this message with a group of moms, God gave me a few opportunities to practice what I was preaching. I was coming home from basketball practice and my 14 year old son was driving...if you ever want to feel the need to "Give Up and Look Up" just wait til your teenager is behind the wheel. I wasn't worried about his speed and reckless driving, instead I was in a hurry. Before I could say something I'd regret or encourage him to do something I don't want him to do, God pricked my heart and reminded me of the message I was about to share. I silently gave up, whispered a prayer and got home when time was short and did what I needed to do. Like my daughter said in a recent play, I realized, "Hey, it works!" 

Friend, I pray the next time you don't know what to do the Holy Spirit will remind you to "Give up, Look up and Step up!" Let's keep pressing on and walking in faith, our Heavenly Father will also show us what we need to do and equip us to do it!!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Now that I know...

Moments after I made a turn at an intersection, my daughter said, "Mom, there's a cop behind you." I looked in my rear view mirror to see his lights were on. Instantly, anxiety filled my body and my daughters and their friend went silent. I pulled over wondering why and tried to figure out what I had done wrong. The officer approached and I was nervous. He asked for documentation before stating the problem.

I'd been stopped twice in my life...once in high school and 16 years ago days before our wedding. I fumbled through the papers trying to find the right documentation and with each passing second, the anxiety climbed. The officer could tell and assured me all was fine. Eventually, I discovered we didn't have the current registration sticker on our license plate. He assured me it was OK and would be a simple fix. I drove on, eventually calmed down and we made our way to the softball game. Now that I knew what to do, I could fix the problem and avoid another stop by the police.

This story came to mind last night as I shared a new situation with my husband. I am currently coaching junior high girls basketball and yesterday instead of just leading practice I participated. Twenty-one years have passed since I was officially a member of a team and though the drills are still fun, my body is NOT the same. Clearly, I am out of shape. This job is about more than me teaching the girls, I'm also learning a bit myself.

I've had a general understanding of my lack of physical conditioning, but my 2 hours in the gym brought it to my attention. Now that I know, there's something I need to do.

Friend, perhaps you are in the best shape of your life and maybe you don't have any missing license plate stickers, but please don't stop thinking about this. This idea of knowing and doing is a powerful one. When we know something, we must respond. I knew my sticker was missing, so I had to get another one. I know I'm out of shape, so I must prioritize exercise. What do you know? How will you respond?

James 4:17 says, "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." There is a spiritual dimension to this as well. Let's look beyond our vehicles and even our bodies and take a glimpse at our heart and mind. Are you doing, saying or thinking things you know you shouldn't? Are you avoiding things you know you need to do or say?

Friend, this is about more than a traffic ticket or aching's about our relationship with the almighty God, our heavenly Father. Open your Bible and the living, active Word of God will speak to your heart. There will be things you know. The question is because of this, what will you do?

A few scriptures come to mind...

"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21)

"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." (Colossians 3:5)

"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light  (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." (Ephesians 5:8-11)

There are some big, heavy words, but they contain important truth. It might be tempting to think about them in the worst context and dismiss yourself, but allow God to examine your heart. Sin is sin even if it doesn't become headline news. Think about the things you do and say. How you treat others and use your time. What about the TV shows you watch and conversations you participate in. We must be honest and admit we all have our struggles and if we have the desire to live right before God, He will point them out. It might be a little frightening like my experience with the cop, but He is just doing His job and wants what is best for you and me, His children.

So now that you know, what will you do? If God's put something on your heart, I'd love to hear and will commit to lifting you up. Knowing is the easy step, but it's an important one! Start there and then do what you need to do!

Dear Heavenly Father, open the eyes of my heart and show me what I need to know. Tender my heart so I respond righty. Remind me your conviction is a gift, help me humble myself and do what I need to do. I love you and long to obey, help me do what I need to do. Thank you for your Word, may it sanctify me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Monday, November 6, 2017

When we don't know what to do...

Cancer, sudden death, the Texas church shooting. All things that have been part of my life over the last three days. My heart hurts. So much pain and loss, but yet let's of questions, some worries and fears. Last night, I knew I needed rest and my body took the right position, but my mind was racing and my heart was hurting.

Though the shooting took place in Texas and I live in Iowa, it hit close to home. That church wasn't much different than ours...a small, rural congregation where young and old assume we're safe. Words from my kids and questions they asked as we watched the news came to mind. I know they were hurting too. Stories of a 14 year old girl and 6 year old boy broke their hearts as well. It also made them ask, "What if that happened at our church?"

I also thought of my friend, who'd just received the unexpected news of her mother's death and my heart hurt some more. Then another loved one who received the cancer diagnosis came to mind and the pain continued.

My body was still, but my thoughts wouldn't stop. I'd say a quick prayer and share more thoughts with my husband. At one point, he said in response, "Evil has no bounds." Those words stuck and reminded me we are in a battle. There is evil in the world. Bad things happen to good people. Even Jesus told us, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

This little nugget of truth opened the door for more scripture to come to mind. I instantly recalled a verse from a passage I'd been studying. In 2 Chronicles 20:12b we read, "We don't know what to do, but our eyes are on you."

In all of these situations, and even a few more, there are times I don't know what to do. I don't know what to say and sometimes even think. The pain in our world makes no sense and gets more complicated when we put ourselves in the shoes of those who hurt. Perhaps the first thing you and I need to do, is admit we don't know what to do.

Surrendering ourselves, our abilities, our desire to figure things out and be in control is vital. Letting go and giving up opens the door to letting God be God. It also helps us move our eyes.

Yesterday, once I heard the news of the shooting, I found myself glued to the coverage. For big chunks of time, I didn't learn anything new, I just listened to a different person tell the same, sad story. Our problems and pain have a way of monopolizing our attention. We must be mindful of our focus.

These words from Jehoshaphat shifted my attention. And I pray they do the same for you.

He found himself in a hard place. He had three armies coming against him and his people. Earlier in the same chapter it says, he was alarmed. Other versions say he was afraid, but regardless of which specific emotion we can learn from his example. In this state of mind, he decided to seek the Lord.

He didn't ask for another briefing, he didn't choose to dwell in fear or analyze the situation. He went to our great God. Then the people around him did the same. We read the beginning of his prayer in verse 6 - "LORD, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you."

He goes on to speak more truth about God and promises the continued seeking of his people as he prays. The closing words to his prayer are the words we must not just remember, but learn to practice - "We don't know what to do, but our eyes are on you."

Friend, I don't know what you are wrestling with or focused on, but I know life can be hard. Tragedies make no sense and our hearts hurt. It can be easy to let pain and bad news become the center of our attention, but we must "fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)

It can feel like evil is winning in our world today, but when we set our eyes on Jesus we are reminded that He is victorious! 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 says, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Friend, I pray you take comfort in these truths and promises today. If you do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, my prayer is you reach out and come to know Him personally. He offers hope, provides peace and gives us eternal victory in a world that daily leaves us defeated. Talk with a Christian friend, leave me a comment or visit this SITE to learn more.

Dear Heavenly Father, Lord we set our eyes on you. We don't know what to do when tragedy strikes, death happens and diagnosis change our plans, so we look to you. Our great God and good Father, the one who provides and protects. The One who loves and forgives, who offers mercy and grace, who has a plan and always acts with purpose. Lord, we know Satan is on the prowl and evil knows no bounds, but you never change and your victory is eternal. Thank you for renewing my mind with your Word, for helping me trust in your truth and for providing peace that surpasses all understanding. And Lord, if there is one reading this prayer who doesn't know you, I ask you to open the door of their heart. Give them eyes to see, ears to heart and a heart to understand. Help them know you in a powerful, personal way. When we are tempted to think we need answers and reassurance, Lord remind us all we need is you. Remind me of that when today's trials come. In Jesus' precious and powerful name, Amen. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Who's your Timothy?

Have you ever heard something and it tends to stick in your head? Wise words you find yourself pondering day after day. Me too. The other day I listened to a teaching by Stephanie Shott and her words have stuck with me. She said, "The biggest impact you make may not be because of what you do, it may be who you raise."

She went on to reference 2 Timothy 1:5 where Paul says, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also." This is the only time the two ladies are mentioned in Scripture, but I have to believe they are noted for a reason.

Paul, who loved Timothy as a son, was aware of their role in the young man's life. He knew the part they played was significant. Friend, if you are a mom or grandmother, God knows the same and much more about the responsibility He's given you.

As parents or grandparents we are raising up the future generation...we must not only teach them their ABC's and 123's, but must pass on our faith. This is more than teaching them right from wrong along with respect and responsibility. We need to instruct them on who God is and explain His plan for salvation. Our role isn't limited to instruction, we also must set an example. If we long for our children to one day live a life of faith, we must show them. If it's our hope they will turn to God for their daily needs, we must do it first. If we desire they be people of prayer, they need to see us humble our hearts and trust the Lord.

With 5 children of my own, I know this is not an easy task, but lately I've been reminded it is of utter importance. The work is worth it. I want God to work in and through my children, which means I'd better be willing to let Him work in and through me as I train them up.

Friend, maybe you're thinking I don't have any children so this post isn't for me, but that's not true. One, you can encourage your friends who are moms to live out this high calling and two, spiritually you have some "Timothy's."

Paul had no children, yet in 1 Timothy 1:2 he addresses his letter, "To Timothy, my true son in the faith..." Paul was a father figure to the young man who went on to preach and teach. He shared wisdom and truth. He set an example and offered encouragement. They spent time together and Paul wrote letters to him as well. The elder loved the younger, he cared for him and longed to see him.

In our world today, we'd call Paul a mentor and though the role may go unrecognized, it is priceless. As one who's had older women pour into my life, I know the value of being blessed by those who are a step ahead. I appreciate the wisdom others share, the example they set and encouragement they offer. Their prayers are powerful and presence in my life, whether close by or far away, often means more than words can express.

Friend, today I encourage you to think about your "Timothy's"...perhaps they live in your house and demand your attention, maybe they've grown up and live on their own or it could be they aren't even related at all, but no matter the reason recognize the connection. God has created it for a purpose. Thank Him for trusting you with the responsibility. Ask Him how you can share your faith and help build theirs. Pray for your Timothy's. Make yourself available. Be willing to do the work and make the sacrifice. Raising your "Timothy" is one of the most important things you can do!

While you're hard at work don't forget you are a Timothy too! Allow others to pour into you and help you mature in your faith. We are all works in progress and have more growing to do!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the reminder to pour into the future generation. I lift each mom to you...may she know to the core that You've equipped her for the work you've called her to. May she make mothering a priority and find joy in the journey. Help her keep parenting in perspective and may she draw her strength from you, our heavenly Father. I also lift each woman who has spiritual children to you...may we remember you're blood connects us all. Thank you for the role spiritual moms and sisters have played in my life; the work you do through your family is vital. Help me speak life, make time and pour into those following in my steps. Set our eyes on you and fill us with your Spirit so that we can share our faith with "Timothy's" you bring across our path and into our lives. In Jesus' Name, Amen 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

It Never Ends

I posted this 2 years ago, but needed to read it again tonight as another harvest season unfolds. Friend, if you find yourself in the midst of a season that doesn't end, may these words and truths encourage you! Blessings from the farm!

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 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!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Friend Like Paul

I appreciate this picture of my captured a moment when they were friends not just siblings. Our 5 J's are normal children, who fight and have rivalries like all, but they also enjoy one another and remind me family can be friends. Which is what we need to do as members of God's family. We are sisters in Christ and can also be friends in the faith!

This morning as our pastor preached a unique thought crossed my mind. We've been studying 1 Thessalonians and as we worked through verse 12 of chapter 3 today, I thought, "I want a friend like Paul." That's not a bad thought, but it's not something I can control, which is why I believe the Spirit immediately put a new thought on my heart - "Be a friend like Paul."

I'm guessing chances are pretty high you're not in a verse by verse study of 1 Thessalonians or one of Paul's other books, so let me share a bit about him. Learning about this man of God can help us each be a faithful friend in the faith.

As I prepared to write this post, I quickly jotted down words that came to mind as I thought about Paul as a friend. Looking over them I noticed the first letters could be arranged to spell H-E-L-P. If you want to be a friend who helps others, I pray these examples from Paul give you some direction.

H - Honest
If you've spent any time studying a book Paul wrote you know he tells the truth. He is aware of what is going on in his life and the lives of those he is writing to. In 1 Thessalonians, he shares his heart with the people. He points out the good, but doesn't ignore reality either. He acknowledges his role and lives out his calling without fear of what the people will think.

E - Encouraging
Don't you love receiving a letter from a friend? Real mail is such a rarity in our world today, but it is a treasure. Words are powerful and our greetings are too. Think of the power in Paul's opening words to the people..."We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3) He goes on to remind them of shared experiences, powerful truths and life-changing promises. Paul's words provide encouragement, which is a gift we all need from time to time.

L - Love
We don't "see" love in Paul's letter in the same way we might include it in ours. He goes beyond closing with a simple and quick, "love you." Instead, he expresses love in different ways. First, he takes the time to put his heart on paper. Next, he shows the people the time they shared together was important as he recounts details. Finally, he tells of his desire to see them face to face. Reading his books assures you of the love he has for the people he ministered to. Do friends know you love them through the words you use?

P - Pray
The most powerful way we can help our friends is through prayer. Paul provides countless examples of this in his letter to the Thessalonians. He mentions prayers of thanksgiving and supplication. We see his prayers or recaps of them throughout his writing. We too must thank God for our friends and ask Him to help them.

Finally, the most important characteristic we need to take from Paul is his faithfulness. Clearly, he is faithful to our heavenly Father. His relationship with God is right, which enables him to be in good standing with those he loves, teaches and ministers to.

Friend, may you and I be faithful as well....first to God and then to the friends He's put in our lives. God clearly can use people in the lives of others, He did that with Paul and can do the same with us. How can you be a friend like Paul? Is there someone who needs your honesty, encouragement, love and/or prayers? Will you be faithful to be the friend God's called you to be?

Heavenly Father, thank you for friends. I'm grateful you are a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Thank you for the friends you've placed in my life. I'm grateful for their honesty, encouragement, love and prayers. Thank you also for your Word. May I learn from Paul's example and be a faithful friend. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stay in Position

Last night my son played in his final JV football game for this year and God brought a truth to life for me. You see, three times over the past two weeks I've heard a teaching on submission. Clearly it's a topic God's again brought to my attention and reading friend, since He brought you here, I trust it's one He wants to speak to you about as well.

Now, before you close this window, I encourage you to read to the end. If you're a wife and Satan's tempting you to think, I've heard this before, read on. If you're single and think "this doesn't apply to me," read on - you have friends, sisters and co-workers who may turn to you for advice. Are you prepared to offer it?

I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about what submission is...the placing of ourselves under authority or when it needs to take place. God does a good job of this in His Word -

"Submit yourselves therefore to God." James 4:7a

"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders." 1 Peter 5:5a

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Ephesians 5:22

"Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands." Ephesians 5:24

"But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God." 1 Corinthians 11:3

Like I said, God clearly commands us to submit in Scripture, but via a football illustration I want to encourage you to obey.

So to begin, a basic reality when it comes to football is players must stay in position. Athletes are taught ways to hit, tackle, throw and catch. They each play different positions, but they must all stay in position. The same is true for us as disciples of Christ and as wives in a marriage relationship.

Friend, as wives it's important, even vital that you and I stay in position. "Why?" you ask, let me share the thoughts that came to mind as I watched a game.

Staying in position...

PREVENTS PAIN - Football players are taught the proper way to hit and tackle. One of the biggest reasons coaches do this is for safety. If a guy leads with his head, he's more likely to get hurt. When we don't submit and do as God commands, we will experience pain as well. It may not result in a concussion, but we will hurt. The pain may not happen immediately, but eventually our disobedience will bring a consequence.

PROVIDES PROTECTION - Have you ever watched a quarterback try to make a play when his offensive line doesn't do their job? It usually doesn't work very well. The O-Line's job is to protect their quarterback and friend, our husband is called to do the same. But sometimes we're like the anxious QB who's afraid to stay in the pocket and don't allow our husband an opportunity to do what God's called him to do. Submission may feel like you are giving up, but remember the QB depends on the O-Line and we too can not only trust the man God has given, we can trust the One who gave!

PROMOTES PROGRESS - Let's look at another key player on the field, the running back. He too must stay in position. His job isn't just to run the ball, he must follow his blockers. These guys are the ones who help him gain yards. Friend, when we submit and put ourselves in right position first behind God and then our husband, we too will move forward. This progression won't lead to touchdowns, but may bring personal success and growth in God's kingdom!

PRODUCES PEACE - When it comes to football or most any sport, staying in position and playing your part are vital. It's true some positions on the team get more glory, but they are all important. When every player, from the superstar to the last guy off the bench knows and carries out their role, a fun team, and often successful team is formed. Friend, when we stay in position as disciples of Christ and women in marriage peace is produced. God is a God of order and peace comes when we stay in order.

So that's my quick lesson from the football field! I pray you are encouraged to submit to those God has placed over you and have been reminded that though the job is not always easy, it has a purpose!

For my married friends, I hope you can make this your team motto -

Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.
Psalm 34:3

Together may you and your husband live out your roles, stay in position and find success with God and for Him!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Faith Matters

Welcome friends, I haven't posted back to back on my blog for a long time, but today I'm sharing a devotional at Encouragement Café and I'd love for you to join me there. You can read, "The Girl Who Wanted To Die" by clicking HERE.

It was interesting to re-read those words today, on our son, Jed's 8th birthday. I think back to the fall of 1999 and realize if my plans had unfolded, life would look much different. Not just for me, but my husband and 5 children as well. Since my plan for suicide occurred before we were married, my 5 "J's" would not be here. On this day of celebration in our home, I'm grateful God's plans are higher than my own! (Isaiah 55:9)

I'm also reminded that our life is never just about us. We've been studying 1 Thessalonians and this short letter from Paul has much to say about faith and fellowship. Friend, your life and your faith matters. It obviously matters to you and impacts your relationship with God, but there's more.

In this book, we learn much about Paul's relationship with and love for the Thessalonians. He had been with them for a short while preaching the Gospel in not the best environment yet they responded to the Truth he pointed them too. Then he was called away.

Think for a minute about what happens when you are away from ones you love and those you've taught. Do you ever wonder how they are doing? Do you worry? Is it possible to be discouraged?

Well, in Paul's situation much went through his mind. He had heard reports...some good and some bad. He longed to see the ones he loved. He was in a hard place and needed encouragement. So he sent a mutual friend to check on them.

Timothy returned and "brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us as we long to see you." Notice he doesn't just say he's thankful they are doing well, he points out their faith and love. He was encouraged by their response to God and others.

He doesn't stop there as he goes on to say, "for this reason, brothers in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith." (1 Thessalonians 3:7)

Years ago, my lack of faith, would have left many people hurting and grieving. I believed the lie that I didn't matter, but my actions would have made a difference. Today I know believing the Truth matters and realize my faith makes a difference. Do you?

Can you encourage someone today with your faith? Perhaps God wants you to share your testimony? Maybe it's a smile or encouraging word? Or it could be living like Jesus in your home and loving those who know you best and sometimes see you at your worst? I don't know, but God does. Spend sometime in prayer and His Word, He will equip you and lead you as this day unfolds.

Remember somebody like Paul might be waiting to see your faith so that they too can say, "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?"

Friend, I'd love to hear how you've been encouraged by another's faith? When you are discouraged or doubting how has a brother or sister helped you stand firm?

And a BIG thank you to all who've encouraged me, strengthened me and walked with me! I thank God for you and your faith!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rooting out the Lies

Have you ever learned something and later realized you needed to be reminded of the same truth? Have you ever taught your children a lesson, but then time passes and you need to reteach? That happens at our house, so don't feel bad if you experience the same!

Today I found myself re-reading this post from 6 years ago and was grateful for the lesson God put on my heart and evidence of the work He's done in my children's hearts. Friend, if you are a mom longing to teach your children about identity in Christ, I pray this example helps you. If you are a woman who struggles with the lies the world and Satan share, I pray this lesson brings truth and helps you take your thoughts captive. So with that words from 2011-

Yesterday I shared a conversation I recently had with my 6 year old daughter and today we worked on how to respond if that happens again. To recap the story, Joy was upset when two other young girls said she looked like a boy. She was hurt, I was hurt, but we've both learned a lesson.

That night as Joy shared her experience with me, I was determined to not let these lies and doubts take root in Joy's heart like they had done in mine many years ago.

My teacher mind got going and I thought - How can I get Joy (and my other children) to understand this better? So today, the kids helped make a tree to put up on our school room wall. The entire time they were cutting and gluing, making branches, roots and dandelions, questions were being asked, "Why are we doing this? What is this for?" and on and on.

After talking about trees, I asked, "How are we like a tree?" The responses varied and a few being quite interesting, but hen our lesson began.

We all gathered around our newly decorated school wall and I shared Joy's recent experience with all the kids. I asked, "Is she a boy?"

Her 4 year old sister looked at me like I'd lost my mind and said, "No!"

I responded, "Jaylyn, you are right! So were those words about Joy true?" Again I hear, "No." So I ask, "What is the opposite of the truth?"

My 8 year old answers, "A lie." And little Jaylyn adds, "They are bad!!" "Right again, a lie is bad, kind of like weeds in the garden or dandelions around the tree."

We then turned our attention to the tree that had caused so much curiosity. Only now there were words on the dandelions (as you can see art is not my strong point - they are the yellow lollipop looking things!!) and on some of the roots.

We talked about  how we are like a tree and our roots are what make us strong and help us grow and stand tall. But sometimes things happen in our hearts just like they do on the other side of the window - weeds creep in and mess things up.

So I asked, "What do we do with weeds in the garden?" Three little voices tell me, "We pull them out!!" "Right again! So Joy why don't you come up here and pull out this weed!!" She thought that was great!!

But there was more, I went on to share when the weeds aren't there, the roots have a better opportunity to grow. Then we focused on one root specifically, one that said, "Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord." Psalm 45:11

We read the verse, talked about what it meant and Joy added some construction paper so the root could grow!! I pray the one in her heart grew as well!!

Minutes ago I asked Joy what she thought about our tree or what this meant to her...this is what she had to say, "Somethings that people say might make me cry, but they're a weed. I need to think about that and try not to cry and remember God made me. My roots need to grow and that's stuff that is really true cuz He thinks I'm beautiful just like you think that too."

We ended the day with a new picture, one without weeds, but ladies I believe we all know the ones in our heart grow back faster than the ones in our garden!! May we all remember to weed them out, so our roots can grow and we can be who God made us to be!!

Today, what weed do you need to remove? What root needs to grow? I'd love to hear what truth you can cling to as you grow in Christ today!