Monday, September 25, 2017

Lessons from Cross Country

Cross Country...a sport I never participated in, but one I'm now enjoying. Our 7th grade daughter is logging miles and improving her times as she runs up hills and across courses. She's enjoying it and I am too. She's learning about her ability to persevere and I've had a few lessons about my faith, which I'll share with you today.

FOLLOW - At the start of each race, the runners line up a few hundred feet behind a golf cart and the driver leads them thru the course. A mile into the race, the runners are pretty spread out, but the lead gal is always following the cart. No matter how fast this runner goes, she doesn't pass the golf cart.

Friend, as we walk through life, we too have someone to follow. Matthew 16:24 says, "Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'" We must go where Jesus goes! As we run through life, we must also remember Jesus sets the pace. We may be tempted to run ahead, make our own plans and go at our own speed, but for our own good we have to let God lead.

FORWARD - In a cross country race, runners get tired. At the junior high level, some of them even walk for awhile. Still if they slow down, the athletes keep going forward. They move towards their goal.

Friend, life gets hard. We grow weary. Following Jesus brings challenges and can leave us exhausted. Satan is always on the prowl and his attacks wear us out, but we need to keep moving forward. In Philippians 3:12-14 we read, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

FOCUS - Cross country may be an individual sport without plays, but it still requires focus. As athletes run hills over rough terrain, they need focus and discipline. The competition isn't just the girls with a different name on their jersey, but sometimes the biggest opponent is the voice in a runner's head. These races are long and take time; a runner's mind can wonder. 

Whether you run or not, can you say something similar about life? I can. Days can be long, situations can overwhelm. Sometimes I feel like I'm climbing a hill that just keeps getting higher. As I do, my mind often runs faster than my feet. Satan loves to distract us with doubts and leave us anxious or confused with lies. As we run the race of life we must follow the advice we read in Hebrews 12:1-3...
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

FINISH - One of the neat things about cross country is every athlete not only gets to participate, but they finish too. Personally, it's encouraging to stand near the finish line and cheer the runners on. The medalists come through with quite a crowd watching them, but the last ten are just as enjoyable to watch. These athletes have given it there all and work hard to do what maybe they didn't think they could. Their time won't win them a medal, but crossing the line brings a reward money can't buy. 

Friend, our race is a bit different because we're not trying to do it in a certain time, but we are called to finish. God doesn't expect us to read the Bible a certain number of times or go on X number of mission trips. We are to love Him, serve Him and obey Him every day He gives. We are to walk in faith day after day after day. Even when we are tired and want to give up. So like Paul may we too someday say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the opportunity to run the race of life. As I do, may I follow you and always move forward. Give me focus and help me finish. Help me press on and keep my eyes on the prize for which you have called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. In His Name, Amen

Monday, September 18, 2017

That's Not Who I Am or Is It?

A BIG welcome to those of you joining me from Encouragement Café! It's a joy to have you here! In my devotional today, I share a bit of my heart about giving God the glory that He deserves. If you want to read "It Wasn't Me," click HERE. I also encourage you to read on because if we want to give God glory, we must be who He called us to be.

Nearly 10 years ago, I had a poem published in the Hearts at Home magazine. At the time, there was only a handful of people who knew I did some writing. It wasn't something I shared and didn't fit who everyone knew me to be - the quiet, shy, insecure farmer's wife who kept thoughts to myself.

So when my husband shared the magazine with two of my friends, I wasn't surprised with their reaction. After reading the poem, Andrea seriously said, "She spells her name just like you!" She continued on to read the short bio and with a bit of confusion said, "Wait, this is you."

I hadn't thought about this for quite sometime until the other night when I drove home from Bible study. I have to admit internally it was a bit awkward leading women I look up to and respect through a study with my name on it. And it was different gathering in the church to learn about the Bible with  girls I'd coached to play basketball in the gym.

It seems a bit crazy. The insecure side of me struggles and I think of reasons why many other people could be doing what I'm doing. The fearful part of me worries about what others will think. The one who's at times been afraid of failing, doubts and grows anxious about letting others down.

Satan loves when this happens and is more than willing to throw fuel on the fire. He tempts me to compare and think about all the reasons I don't measure up. He feeds me lies that can quench my hunger for God's Word. He is a roaring lion and he is on the prowl. All he wants to do is steal, kill and destroy and friend, he does that when we question who we are.

Thankfully, you and I have a heavenly Father who loves us as we are (John 3:16), sees us as His masterpiece and created us for a purpose. (Ephesians 2:10) He has prepared good works for us all to do. Will they be what others expect? Maybe not. Often they aren't even what we expect, but they are what He calls us to do.

It's pretty likely I will forever be a farmer's wife who prefers blue jeans and a baseball cap, but that didn't stop God from dressing me up a bit and putting my picture on the back of a book. Chances are speaking up and out will always bring some nervousness, but God's already given me courage to do things I never thought I would.

What about you? Who are you? Do you focus on what others expect you to do or do you strive to be who God created you to be? Are you content to be who you've always been? Do you know God's chosen you and called you?

I encourage you to slow down and think about these questions. The answers will give some insight into who you are and what you do; while also revealing if you're living the life God created you for.

If stepping out and doing something others don't expect scares you a bit, cling to the promise we find in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." When we give God a willing and available heart, He can and will work.

One final piece of encouragement as you wrestle to be and do what God calls you to...if you ever feel alone, remember you're not. I for one just shared my story, but there's a better one than that! Read these words from Isaiah 53:2-3 -

"For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not." Isaiah 53:2-3

Friend, Jesus wasn't the one others expected or even noticed. Worse yet, he was despised. But the reality of this rejection didn't prevent Him from walking out God's plan. He laid down His life for you and for me. He did the unexpected and God did what He promised.

We aren't going to bring salvation or offer the hope of heaven, but perhaps us doing the unexpected will point others to Christ and give glory to God. Are you up for it? I hope so! God has you, and me, where we are for a reason. He can touch others through our words, our actions and our stories, but we must speak up, step out and do the unexpected!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your living and active Word. I'm grateful you speak to me through it and transform me with it. Increase my hunger for it. And Lord, help me live up to your expectations...keep making me who you created me to be. You are the potter and I am the clay. Have your way with me. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How fruit grows...

Have you ever done much with seeds? I’m not much of a gardener, but I am a farmer’s wife. We plant acres of corn, beans and oats. We don’t purchase packets of seeds, but buy them in bulk. We put a lot of seeds in the ground and trust God to grow them.

Not long ago it was time to harvest the oats; we had to cut them down so they were in windrows. There were places they piled up, so my daughter and I went up and down the rows to level them out. As we did our work, God spoke to my heart. He had things to say about separating wheat from the chaff, a plentiful harvest and working for His glory, but today I want to focus on a specific verse that came to mind.
John 12:24 says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
As I thought about this verse in light of my time in the field, I had some questions and thankfully my husband had some answers.
"How many seeds do we plant?" I asked. We plant 3 bushels per acre and this year we harvested 90 bushels per acre. Next I needed to know how many seeds were in a bushel. I learned there are 15,000 oat seeds per pound and 32 pounds per bushel. So I did the math and found out we had planted 1,440,000 seeds and harvested 43,200,000. Those are some big numbers, so I simplified things a bit and it breaks down to one planted seed produced 30 seeds at harvest. 
On the farm we are grateful for the multiplication effect that happens, but have you thought about this in a spiritual sense? 
When Jesus says these words in John 12, he's talking about more than farming. This illustration gave the disciples a picture and it should provide us with one as well. He goes on to say, "Whoever serves me, must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be." As I read this verse, Galatians 2:20 comes to mind. Here we read Paul saying, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."
I have again been studying surrender and the more I study the more I realize I need to surrender. In simple terms, surrender means to die to self. We let go of our desires, our plans, our wants and our ways. We put down our fears and anxieties, our selfishness and pride. Necessary, yes; easy, no. Does surrender come with a cost? Yes, but the results are priceless. 

Here on the Beran farm life is busy...we're transitioning back to school (my first year homeschooling all 5), we're enjoying cheering on our football playing son and cross country running girl, and prepping for the harvest that lies ahead. My husband is teaching Sunday School and I'm leading a women's Bible study. 

In my last post, I invited you to an online study of ReNEWal Road: The Journey of Becoming More Like Jesus. I had plans to post weekly, but I'm feeling that was more my plans than God's or perhaps He's telling me to wait. Regardless of the reason, I'm surrendering. 

Rather than focusing on the study not happening, I find myself thinking about that seed dying. I'm not sure what will grow from it, but I trust God will do more with a seed that dies than one I try to make grow.

So friend, if you were planning on joining I encourage to get the book and invite a friend to walk the road with you. And stay tuned...this farmer's wife knows sometimes it takes awhile to harvest the fruit that only God can grow!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for speaking to our hearts and using your Word to guide us in your ways. Keep our eyes set on you and our hearts tender to your leading. Help us die to self so that can you can live. Thank you for the reminder that seeds that die produce fruit. Open my eyes to see the fruit you are growing in my life. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Little Reflection and Big Invitation

Hello Friends, it's a joy to join you here today! I'd love to invite you to join me for a journey - the journey of becoming more like Jesus! This fall I'm hosting a study here on my blog and at my church...together we will be walking through "ReNEWal Road"!

This is a journey that will be like any trip you've taken; there will be hills and valleys, good times and bad, but it will all be worthwhile. Time in God's Word is never wasted! Pause now and think about this question - "Do you need renewal?" 

If you answered "yes," I ask you to pray about joining us. Life can wear us out and worry can weigh us down, we need renewal and God will provide it. And as we seek Him in one area, He often will impact another. I know He's worked in and changed my heart as I studied, wrote and now continue to live out this message. I have no doubt He will do the same for you!

As the publication process unfolded for this study, I found myself reflecting. God has been renewing my mind and transforming me from the inside out. I don't recommend this book to you or invite you to the study because my name is on the cover, but because God's Word holds the power. I can say without a doubt the living and active Word has changed me, and friend, I believe it can and will do the same for you. 

A couple of weeks ago we held the 6th Renewed Life Women's Event and again God did more than we had asked for or could have imagined. I was encouraged by the things I saw and stories I heard. I was impacted by the messages others shared and appreciated the fellowship that took place. In the days that followed I experienced one of my friend's favorite sayings, "God blesses obedience." I echo her words. 

You see, writing this study was an act of obedience. Standing on stage and sharing my testimony was the same. Being transparent and speaking in front of a group don't come naturally for me, but God led me to do it and I did. He equipped me, provided for me and used my words. 

The day following the event, I stood in church and let the tears fall as we sang, "Blessed Be Your Name." In the wake of such a good day, you might think that would be an easy song to sing. It was, but it was emotional as well. You see those words are ones I asked our pastor to sing 9 years ago, the day after we had a miscarriage. 

There were tears then as well...tears of pain, loss and grief. Like Job, I had experienced God taking away. At the time, I was only 8 years into my walk with Christ and this was the first real painful loss I'd experienced. The memories of those days still bring tears and remind me of how lonely a miscarriage can be. At the same time, I'm reminded of how powerful God's presence truly is. 

I had experienced God's provision and peace, but this took everything to a new level. His comfort, His Word and His people were seen in a whole new way as I walked through pain I couldn't even describe. My flicker of faith became a flame as Jesus accompanied me through the shadow of death. A desire to share my faith was born as I grieved the little one who had died. 

Nine years have passed since that Sunday and God has done much. Psalm 37:4 says, "Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Through that trial and time of suffering God drew me to Himself, renewed my hope and strengthened my faith. In the years that have followed, He's drawn me into His Word, transformed my mind and given me the desires of my heart. 

Friend, I still can't put it all in words, but I know Hebrews 4:12 is true - "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." I've also experienced 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 

As I wrap up this up let me encourage you, nine years ago I never expected to write a Bible study. If you find yourself in a place of pain, deep grief or unending trial, keep seeking the Lord. Ask Him to give you a hunger for His Word. He hears your prayer and will speak to you through the Scriptures. He is our good Father and great God...walk with Him and run to Him. He is faithful and worthy of our worship when He gives and when He takes away. May we always remember Romans 8:28 - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." 

Friend, if you find yourself needing renewal or looking for a tool to get you into God's Word I again invite you to join us for a study as we walk "ReNEWal Road" and learn from one another. My plans are to share a blog post every Wednesday as we work through the study. I'd love to hear from you and learn alongside you! 

If you need a copy of the book, you can order one directly from me by clicking HERE or order one on Amazon or Barnes and Noble