Sunday, December 23, 2018

What Mary Knew... (A short Christmas study)

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. 

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.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas Without You

Christmas seems to have snuck up on me faster this year than it has in the past. Our busy schedule may have something to do with that, but today as school and sports have hit pause for the holiday season I've found myself thinking more about it. Many thoughts have entered my mind, I've checked my shopping list and started to bake and as my focus shifts, memories come to mind. Some have made me smile, others bring a laugh and a few bring a tear. I've recalled Christmas celebrations without ones I love and I know others are walking that road for the first time this year. Friend, my heart hurts for you, but I also want to share hope with you. Christmas really is a birthday party for the One we call Savior. No matter who you are missing, He is here with you. No gift under your tree can top the One God has already given. In the midst of your grief and loss, I pray you remember the ones you love and cling to the One who loves you. 

Words from 2013 - 

As we gear up to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year my heart is heavy. I've found myself thinking of and missing my grandma B quite often the last couple of weeks. She loved Christmas - the gatherings, the presents, the fun. Memories have flooded my mind and tears have filled my eyes. And thankfully hope has filled my heart.

G'ma B with Jed in 2011.
My gratefulness for Christmas has increased...Jesus first had to be born so then He could die. Friends, that death was for you and for me. And now as I grieve and experience Christmas without one I love, I'm thankful He came. Regardless of what gift I find under the tree, this Christmas Christ has already given the greatest gift to me. He's saved me and given eternal life. He provides peace, creates joy and gives me hope.

I'm missing G'ma B and Christmas is hard, but yet I'm reminded of Jesus and know Christmas is good! The words below are an attempt to express that a bit better....

Christmas without you just isn't the same.
Empty is the stocking that bears your name.
Thoughts of the presents you'd buy
brings a tear to my eye.
Family gatherings were always fun,
especially when the dishes were done!
Your meals were always delicious
because you were so ambitious!
Memories of the gifts you made
are ones I hope never fade.

Christmas without you is kind of sad,
but I know you wouldn't want me to feel bad.
These feelings of grief during the season
leave me reflecting on the reason.
Christmas is a time to celebrate
something, Someone special and great!
Jesus, the baby, was born
so we wouldn't be torn.
God gave us His Son
so His will could be done.

Christmas without you leaves me thinking of what lies ahead
and I'm reminded of what was said,
"Whoever believes in the baby who came
and confesses in His name
this one will be saved,
his road to heaven is paved."
You did these things
and know the joy it brings,
You've been completely restored
and are now celebrating with our Lord.

Christmas without you is hard,
my heart feels a little scarred,
sometimes the tears fall
and then it's Jesus I call.
With Him I share my heart
and the pain starts to depart.
I'm reminded of the hope He brings
and to Him my soul clings.
This year I celebrate without you,
but someday we'll be together and all will be new.

Thoughts of G'ma B and moments of grief make me think of others too - friends who've lost their mom, another who lost her dad, some who miss their little boy and others celebrating their baby girl's first Christmas without her. Friend, if you are experiencing grief this Christmas, I pray you can look to Christ, the baby in the manager who grew to be our Savior, and find ALL that you need.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; 
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, 
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, 
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 
Isaiah 9:6

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

More to the story...

The other day I read a verse from the Bible and this picture popped into my head. It's from over 5 years ago, but it always brings a lesson to mind.

On first look the picture is cute...2 boys and a puppy are bound to bring a smile, right? My son and nephew were having a wonderful time giving grandpa's new puppy a ride on the swing.

We've heard it said that a picture paints a thousand words and I agree with that statement, but I also know there's almost always more to the story. When a moment is captured in time, we can not possibly know all the details. By simply looking at this picture, you can't tell me where it was taken, who was in it or what was going on. You don't know what led up to the event or what took place afterwards.

You will be quite grateful I don't have a picture for what happened next. You see the verse I read that brought this picture to mind was Proverbs 26:11, which says - "Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly." 

I apologize for the image that may have popped into your head and though I battled with writing about this gross reality of a dog's life, God's led me to share. It's true - this cute little puppy got sick from his ride and did what makes us sick, he returned to his vomit.

Friend, instead of focusing on the nastiness of that picture, let's shift our eyes. Let's take a closer look at the end of this proverb. Solomon informs us that this disgusting picture is no different than a fool returning to his folly. This is wisdom we need to pay attention to!

Now, chances are you don't consider yourself a fool, but I want to encourage you to think for a minute. Do you ever do anything foolish? Do you participate in folly? That's not a very common word, so let's define it quickly: to lack good sense or a foolish act, idea or practice. We can dig a bit deeper and look at it from a biblical perspective. Here we find the meaning: anything contrasting wisdom, to act with self-sufficiency, ignorance, and without thinking.

When we look at it that way, I have to admit I've been a fool. It pains me even more to say - "I've repeated my folly." How about you?

The picture we see as we read the beginning of this Proverb isn't good, but friend the picture God sees when we live out the end of verse 11 is even worse. Thankfully, God is a good, gracious and forgiving Father, but we must remember He is holy and hates sin. Our foolishness separates us from the One who called us to be set apart. 

It's vital that we as believers have our eyes opened to the foolish things we say, do and think. I trust these words will help us do just that...

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7) No matter what folly came to mind, remember God can help you turn from it. Go to Him, humble yourself and ask Him for wisdom. Then once He provides, apply what you learn. 

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26) Self-confidence is not a good thing. When we rely on ourselves and live according to the flesh, bad things happen. Ask God to fill you with His Spirit and help you walk in His ways...He will lead us away from the folly, but we must trust Him!

The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly (Proverbs 15:14) What are you looking for? Who are you looking to? In our world today, countless things vy for our attention and promise what we want, but we must stay focused and set our eyes on Christ and allow God to feed us with His Word. It is the living water that will equip us for life. 

Friend, please know these words don't come from one who has this figured out...God always has me write a message I need to read. He's opened my eyes to foolish things I do over and over again. It's truly no different than a dog returning to his vomit. That's a gross picture, but it's a powerful one too. Sometimes we need to look past the surface and beyond the perfection a picture can paint, we need to remember there's more to the story. We're not perfect, but our perfect Lord and Savior can change us from the inside out. 

As you wrestle with this and do the work wisdom requires, please remember Jesus loves us and always welcomes us back just like man does with his 4-legged best friend! 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Knock, Knock

Hello Friends! Thank you for joining me today. A big welcome to those of you stopping by from Encouragement Cafe. It was a joy to share a devotional with you! (Read it HERE.) We were talking about choosing friends wisely and thoughts about friends brought Proverbs 18:24b to mind. Here we read - "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Aren't you thankful that Jesus is that friend? I know I sure am!!

I want to encourage you to pause for a moment and think about your friendship with Jesus. How would you describe it? Are you working on it? Are you investing in the relationship?

If you're taking this exercise seriously those are challenging questions. But that's OK. It can be helpful  to have our eyes opened and beneficial to realize improvements can be made.

There's a verse my pastor taught on back in August that continues to be on mind and I trust could be helpful for you to think about as well. It truly helps our relationship with our BFF!!

Revelation 3:20 says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

Chances are you've heard these words before, but have you studied them? Have you applied them to your life?

Don't worry if your answer is no...the beauty of our relationship with others, including Jesus, is it can grow. The same is true with God's is living and active and our understanding of it grows as we mature in the faith.

Revelations is not the easiest book to read or understand, but it opens with letters to churches. Jesus offers words of encouragement, but he also mentions areas of concern. Chances are He would do the same for you and me today.

We can get a glimpse of what He might say to us from  His letter to the church in Laodicea. He points out some problems, gives advice and offers an invitation. If we consider Him our friend, we must listen to His words.

Friend, He is standing at the door of your heart and knocking...will you let Him in?

You may be thinking - "I've already done that. I've accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. I've confessed my sin and professed my faith." If that's the case I'm grateful, but I also know you may need to respond to yet another knock.

These words in Revelation 3:20 were written to the church. Jesus was instructing them to let Him in. As believers you and I have accepted Him, but have we surrendered all? Have we welcomed Him into every area of our lives? Does He have ownership of our whole heart? Are there moments we go in a different room? Are there times we act like He's not with us?

Again, I realize these aren't easy questions, but the past few months have shown me they are important ones. We are in the midst of harvest season when days are busy and patience can run short, in these moments it can be easy to respond in the flesh. I'm mom to 5 and there are times my reactions don't match my desires. When that happens, I know I haven't responded to the knock.

We are in a spiritual battle...our enemy, Satan, knows Jesus has power and has already left him defeated, but he also knows how to tempt. He doesn't want us to open the door. When we leave Jesus on the outside, we are weak and likely to fall. If we don't open the door, we react and end up with regrets.

Today, won't you open the door, invite Jesus in and enjoy time with your best friend?!

For my mom friends...if you'd like to teach your children about this, here's an idea. We've spent time studying this as a family and have agreed to use a knock to help each other out. When we sense or observe someone in our home living in the flesh, we do a gentle knock (only after making sure we've already answered the knock on our heart). It has been a simple way to get attention and encourage one another to walk in the Spirit. It was a humbling experience when my daughter did a knock for me, but I'm grateful for the tool it has been as we all walk with Jesus.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Ripple Effect

A welcome to those of you joining me from Encouragement Cafe! It's been a blessing to share a few recent devotionals and to be walking through my study, "ReNEWal Road" with you! As I've read comments and prayed, God's brought much to mind. He's reminded me of doubts, fears and insecurities. I never expected to be at a place where I wrote and then led a Bible study, but God worked. He's done so much in my heart and mind. He's helping me become who He created me to be. He's helped me overcome and trust. He's equipped me to seek and obey. He's given me the gift of faith and helps me believe. His mercies are new every morning and His grace never ends. 

He's used time in His Word to renew my mind. He's used messages from my pastor to convict and teach. He's worked through people - prayers, encouraging words, wisdom and listening ears. All of this plays a part in who I am and what God has done. I'm so thankful for each and everyone who's helped along the way. 

Tonight the Lord brought to mind a post from a couple of years ago. Before you read it below, I want to encourage you with a truth that's been on my heart: "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6 Friend, no matter where you are at or what your life looks like, God is still at work. Seek Him, Trust Him and Obey Him. His work doesn't always follow our schedule, but it is part of His perfect plan. 

As He works in you, may you allow Him to work through you. The things you say and do make an impact. Do your best to be a part of someone else's story!

The Ripple Effect (April 17, 2016)
Spring has finally arrived here in Iowa, which means life is busy on the farm. Today in between feeding my farmers and helping clean up some oats, the kids and I took time to do one of their favorite things. We walked down to the neighbor's quarry and threw rocks. We've been doing this for years and though I no longer push a stroller, God continues to teach me a lesson. 

One thing that continues to strike me as I enjoy the view and slice of solitude is the ripple that's always created when the kids throw rocks. No rock enters the water without making a difference. Few rocks leave a single impact on the water. Most of them create a ripple in the water that continues to spread long after the rock pierces the surface. 

Today as my kids enjoyed this activity for the first time in months, my mind went to work thinking about something God has had on my heart. I too am leaving a mark...granted I'm not throwing rocks to do it, but I am using words and my actions to make a difference. The question is: Is it one for good or not? 

Friend, join me in thinking about the words that left your mouth today. Did they encourage, uplift and equip? Or were they filled with anger and pierced the heart? Our words impact the one we are speaking to, but they affect others as well - the people who over hear our conversation and those who come in contact with the one we impacted. Just like the rocks my kids throw create ripples in the water, our words do the same in the hearts of those we love. 

Do you want that impact to be positive for those you love and glorifying to the God we serve? If so, scripture has some wisdom for us -

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

"Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips." (Ecclesiastes 10:12)

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:6)

There's much more to say about our words and the power of the tongue, but let's also think about our actions a bit. Think about the things you do, the attitude you have and body language you use. What kind of impact does this have on the people around you? I know it doesn't take long to read that question, so I encourage you to stop for a minute and really think about it. How would your husband or children answer that question? Or your co-workers or church family? 

Friend, I know it's possible for Satan to use this to condemn you, but I pray that won't happen. Instead if it's necessary I'm asking God to use it to convict you. Allow Him to examine your heart and if needed let Him show you how your actions aren't leaving the mark you want. God created each of us for His glory and to do good. This is no easy task, but with God's leading and the Spirit's filling it is possible. 

Colossians 3:17 pretty much sums it up - "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

As I watched my little guys, I realized they didn't have to do much to create a ripple effect. They simply had to pick up the rocks and throw them. Friend, we don't have to complicate this process either. Let's allow God to fill us up by spending time with Him in His Word and through prayer and then let Him pour us out. 

This sounds simple and easy on paper, but I know it's work. It takes time, effort and self-control. But you know what? If we don't practice this before we throw the rock, so to speak, it will take more time, effort and self-control to fix the mess we create. Because the truth is we are always creating a ripple effect! We might as well make it one we're proud of and God is pleased with!

It was quite fitting tonight to read the following post when I checked Facebook. A friend had shared these words with a mutual friend - "So thankful for you and for how you change my world constantly and consistently by pointing me to Jesus!" Followed by this quote, "You get to change the world every time you change someone's day." Friends, that's a glimpse of a positive ripple effect. The things we do and say - they matter. It doesn't matter if they are BIG or little things, but instead it's the heart they are said and done with and the One they point to. Want to change the world? Start by changing someone's day!

I want to close with a song that God periodically brings back to me...John Waller's, "Somebody Else's Story". I encourage you to think about the words he sings, they tie right in with the ripple effect. 

Do you want to be a part of somebody else's story? Do you want to be the one who shines the light of Jesus? I know that can be hard and scary, but think about it this way - Who has played a part in your story? Who's ripple has impacted you in a positive way? Aren't you grateful for them? Let their ripple continue as you impact another!!

Friend, I don't know if we've met face to face or not, but God has connected hearts here and I'm grateful for you!! I appreciate YOU, your encouragement and friendship! I'm thankful YOU are part of my story and I pray 1 Thessalonians 5:11 continues to be true in your life and mine - "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Dear Heavenly Father, in the same way the water ripples, I pray my actions and words will positively impact others. Thank you for the reminder that what I do matters and always impacts others, I desire for that to be a difference that matters for eternity. Use me Lord in another's story...may I point others to You and may they in turn do the same. It doesn't take a big rock to make a splash, which reminds me it doesn't take a famous speaker or powerful pastor to impact Your kingdom. So Father God I ask You to fill me up so You can pour me out. Help me create a ripple for You today. In the precious and powerful name of Jesus I pray...Amen

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Everyone Needs a Cheerleader (And an Invitation)

Sports have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but a while back I found myself thinking about an activity I've never been a part of - cheerleading. We always had cheerleaders at our games and leading our pep rallies, but as one playing these individuals never had my undivided attention. I was aware of their presence and appreciated their role, but just recently was reminded of the importance of their job.

I'm embarking on something new and have been a bit anxious about it, but I knew it was God's leading, so I stepped out in obedience without really sharing my fears. At the same time, I'm also embracing God's change of plans for me though the worry of what others might think has entered my mind.

So as I walk this road, others come alongside. They don't always know what I'm experiencing or how I'm feeling, but God does. Sometimes He meets our needs through the people He puts on our path. He did just that with words from my friend. Words that expressed excitement and confidence. A message that brought peace and joy. Ones that left me thinking - "Everyone needs a cheerleader!"

My friend would probably say she didn't do much, but I want to remind all of us - our words matter. So does the time we take to share them. They are an investment we make, not only in others, but when we are encouraging one who's walking in faith, we're investing in God's kingdom.

Think about the people in your life. What are you saying to them? Would they consider you a cheerleader? Or would they label you a critic? I'm a football mom and I'm sorry to say life has more critics than the bleachers and sidelines on a Friday night.

There is a time and a place to offer criticism and point out sin, but there's also a great need to offer words that uplift and remind others they are not alone. So my prayer for today is we'd all be a cheerleader. You don't need a skirt and pom-poms, but you need a heart that loves. You can simply speak words that inspire and motivate; ones that offer courage and support.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near."

Cheerleaders play a role at athletic events, but their job is much more important in the spiritual sense. As believers we're in a battle much more difficult than any game, we face an opponent stronger than any team, so we must join together and cheer one another on. Will you join me?

One of the areas we can support each other is studying God's Word. If you'd like to be involved in a study, I'd love for YOU to join me at Encouragement Cafe! Starting September 24th, we will be walking through ReNEWal Road: The Journey of Becoming More Like Jesus. This is a study God led me to put on paper and now will use to guide you to His Word. If you'd like more info let me know and visit the official invitation page HERE.

Finally, for my cheerleading friends a BIG thank you! God truly uses your words, support and encouragement more than you know! As Thessalonians 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." Keep it up - you are doing a good thing!!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Fan and Follower

Did you hear the Super Bowl was played this weekend? That may sound confusing as the NFL season just kicked off, but in Iowa we had our state's biggest game. With no professional teams to cheer for the most anticipated game of the season is the battle between the Iowa State Cyclones and Iowa Hawkeyes. It took place yesterday in Iowa City and much to my dismay the hometown Hawks came out with a victory.

We are a Cyclone house for the most part, but our two little guys are breaking the trend and sporting the black and gold. Needless to say we had a little trash talking going on throughout the week. Like any good fan, we were confident our team would win.

So the game came and went. There were moments of joy and frustration for both sides, but in the end our little guys had the bragging rights. They were excited and though I was disappointed, life moved on and as it did God reminded me of a truth.

When it comes to sports, we are to be fans. We can cheer and wear our team's colors. We can even get excited when they do well and disappointed when they lose, but we must keep it all in perspective.

Yesterday during halftime of the game I made my way to the kitchen and got the dishes done. As I finished the job, a thought entered my mind: I hadn't turned the radio show on to listen to the analysis. I instantly said a quick prayer, "Thank you Lord."

You see, there have been times in my life when sports were too important. I had to know all the details, hear all the commentary and read all the stories. I wasn't just a fan of my team, I was a follower. Back then a loss like yesterday's would have left me miserable today.

Thankfully, I no longer "follow" the Cyclones, but I follow Jesus. Matthew 4:19 says, "And He (Jesus) said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'"

Friend, kept in perspective sports can be a great thing. They not only provide joy, but teach countless lessons and paint pictures of spiritual truths. But if they become the object of our focus, we're going to get in trouble.

We need to follow the One who knows where we need to go. We need to set our minds on Him and things above. The fruit of His Spirit brings true joy that will never fade when a season ends and His peace trumps the pain a loss can bring.

I believe we can be a fan of sports while we are following Christ, but we must keep it all in check or we may be tempted to become a fan of Jesus while we follow our team.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Watch for Weeds's something we have plenty of in our organic bean fields. I was blessed to share one way we try to combat them on Wendy Blight's blog. I'd love for you to stop by, enter for a chance to win a copy of my study and subscribe to her site - you'll be blessed! You can do so by clicking HERE.

Sometimes cultivating is not enough and we have to walk the beans. This means we walk up and down the row and pull the weeds. It's not an easy job, or a fun one, but it is often an educational one.

A tiny weed hidden between two bean plants.
A couple of weeks ago, I was out in the field with our hard-working crew when I got to thinking about how some weeds are hard to see. Some of them are small, look a bit like the beans and grow up right with them. If I'm not looking closely, I will walk right by. If I'm not paying attention, I won't even realize they are a weed.

I shared this info with my children and the rest of the crew and then God started speaking to my heart. Weeds grow between the rows of beans, but they also grow right up with the plant we hope to harvest. I was reminded the same is true in a spiritual sense...sin can creep right in with the fruit we are producing.

This lesson took place a few weeks before our women's event and the weed the Holy Spirit warned me about was pride. The cocky, boastful self-talk we know as pride is easy to recognize, but pride can look different and be hard to see. Insecurity is a form of pride as is a focus on self rather than God. Friend, this ugly weed can grow right up with the fruit God is growing in our lives.

Other weeds can too, so we must constantly be alert. I've found it powerful to pray Psalm 139:23-24 - "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life."

If we pray that prayer, God will answer it. We need to be prepared to respond to His answer. I'm never excited to see another weed in the field, but when I do I know what needs to be done. The same is true for the weeds in our heart - when God reveals them, we must remove them.

Friend, I encourage you to take some time to tend to the field of your heart. Ask God for eyes to see the weeds that are hidden and for a willingness to do the work of removal. Your efforts will be rewarded and the harvest will increase!!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the seeds you plant and the weeds you can remove. I ask You for eyes to see. Lord, if there is any pride growing up with the fruit please help me see it. If there's other sin I'm unaware of, open my eyes. Remove the weed. Uproot it all so that the harvest you produce in me and through me is pure. Thank you for the work you have begun and promise to complete. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

10 Years Later

August 30, 2008, a day I will forever remember. It was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Our children were 5, 3 and 1 and we were expecting a new baby. We were waiting to share the news, but the events of the day changed our plans.

A trip to the Dr. confirmed what my mother intuitions already knew - we had a miscarriage. My heart was broken. Tears fell. Questions came.

It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed. As I look back four things come to mind –

I could still tell you the events of the day…people I talked to, songs I heard, Scripture I read and the pain I felt.  My “favorite” memory from the day is truly grieving with my children. They were all too young to understand that “the baby in mommy’s tummy died,” but they were sad when our 2 year old goldfish, Dorothy, died that day too. The opportunity to grieve together was precious.

I wonder what our little lady would look like? Would she like basketball like her big sisters? Would she tease her big brother and play farm with her younger? I truly don't know and honestly, don't let my mind dwell there.

My faith is important, healing takes time and God is present. I know without a doubt God's ways are not mine and I understand the family of Christ is important. I realize the Lord is my shepherd who walks me through the valley of the shadow of death.

The most important thing I do on this 10 year anniversary is worship the God I love, the Father who carried me through and the Savior who's death assures my baby and I won't be separated forever. 

I worship God because I remember who I was before 8-30-08 and I'm thankful through that trial God revealed Himself to me in powerful ways. My faith became stronger and my desire to share the source of my hope grew. 

I worship because I don't have to wonder. I'll admit, in the days and months following our loss I asked, "Why?" I didn't understand and I wanted to know, but now I'm OK. I worship God because He is sovereign; I may not understand His plan, but I trust Him. 

I worship because I realize His Word is powerful. Tomorrow morning we'll read the same Scripture I read 10 years ago...Luke 22. Here in verse 42, Jesus says, "Father, if  are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." That morning before heading to town so the Dr. could confirm what I already knew I found an example of what I needed to do. Like Jesus, I asked God to change what it seemed my day held and also like my Lord I submitted to my Father's will. Days later when it seemed I was drowning in the pain, I returned to this passage. It was then I turned verse 43 into a prayer and asked God to send an angel from heaven and strengthen me.

Ten years have passed and much has happened since...there's been life (2 more baby Berans) and death, joy and pain, laughter and tears, good times and bad, but through it all God has remained the same. He's been present and powerful, gracious and mighty. His Word has been a light and given hope. I'm no longer grieving, but I'm so thankful my faith is still growing. 

Friend, if you are walking through a hard loss or experiencing pain, let me live out 1 Peter 3:15 and share where my hope comes from - Jesus. He's more than a character in a book or a teacher who lived long ago, He's my Lord and Savior and He can be yours too. Simply admit your sins (Romans 3:23), accept God's free gift (Romans 6:23), embrace the love He gives (Romans 5:8), confess Jesus is Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10) and know "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:13)

This relationship with Jesus determines your eternal home and impacts your daily life. As you seek Him, He sustains you. As you read His Word, He transforms you. As you pray, He brings peace. As you worship, you gain perspective. When you walk through trials, He will comfort. He's done that for me, let Him do it for you. 

Heavenly Father, oh Lord, thank you for who you are...a great God, loving Father, my good Shepherd, my Savior and my Lord. I'm grateful for your Word and the Truth it holds. May I cling to your promises now and always. Thank you for healing my hurting heart. Thank you for being present and providing peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding. Lord, meet those who are grieving, make yourself real, dry their tears and comfort their heart. When we don't understand, help us trust. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Do you need your wipers?

The other night I was driving down the road when it started to rain. As I turned my wipers on, a memory came to mind. Instantly, I was 14 and in Driver's Ed again. I clearly remember the first time I drove with our say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was focused on the road with my hands on 2 and 10 and it started to rain. I kept driving with eyes looking ahead and hands gripping the wheel when eventually my teacher said, "You can turn the wipers on."

I reflected on that story and instantly a new illustration came to mind. Friend, sometimes we can walk through life in a similar way. Our vision is blurred, our focus distracts and our actions aren't safe. We know using our wipers makes driving safe when our view is unclear, but have you ever wondered if your view as a Christian is out of focus?

My long drive in the rain gave me plenty of time to think. As we walk through life, storms come and fog settles in. Our view isn't always clear. It's not always the physical elements that blur our sight  either. Sometimes our thoughts get in the way and wrong motives of our flesh or lies from the enemy distort our view. Others it's simply the busyness of our daily life or even our numbness to the sin our culture embraces.

In the same I way I couldn't see the road all those years ago, we can struggle to see God. Now, we're not going to literally see God, our Father, but we can see Him at work, in creation and in His Word. If our focus is elsewhere or our vision is blurred, we won't. And when we don't see Him, we tend to drift from Him.

Think for a minute to when you've driven in the fog or with a broken wiper blade - crossing the centerline is easy to do and drifting onto the shoulder happens quite quickly. The same is true in a spiritual sense.

Matthew 5:8 says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." These are words Jesus spoke to the disciples and all who gathered to hear the sermon on the mount.

Personally, the word that catches my attention is PURE. The Greek word for this is katharos, which means clean, pure and unstained. If we dig a bit deeper, we find a pure heart is one that is unmixed (without undesirable elements) and it is free from the contaminating influence of sin. 

I no longer need a reminder to turn my wipers on when the rain starts to fall, but I think sometimes I need to remember to purify my heart in a spiritual sense. How about you?

We can't do this by flipping a switch or pushing a button, we need to humble ourselves before God, spend time in His Word and allow Him to convict us. Once that happens, we must confess and repent. Though that can be hard, God forgives and our view gets better!

It's dangerous to drive when our vision is blurred and friend, it's just as risky and unsafe to walk the road of faith with distorted vision and a polluted heart. I pray we each take some time to turn on the wipers of our heart!

Dear Heavenly Father, Lord thank you for this simple picture. Wise, experienced drivers know there are times we need to turn our wipers on. I ask you to help me be a wise, mature follower of you so that I allow you to purify my heart. Lord, I want to see you, but know my vision is often blurred and my heart can be impure. Humble my heart, open my eyes to sin and help me repent. In Jesus' Name I pray, Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Can you watch the gate?

Today I did something I haven't done in the gate as my husband fed cattle. I've done this plenty of times before, but lately it's one of our kids who does the job. They were all doing their own thing when Job texted and asked, "Can you watch the gate?"

I could and I'm glad I did. As I stood there with half grown calves looking at me, God gave me a picture. There was nothing keeping these larger than me animals in their pen once I swung open the red gate and waited for my husband to drive through. As I stood there hoping I wouldn't let any out, memories flooded my mind.

I recalled my days on the farm as a child and the countless times I feared getting run over by a cow, pig or sheep while doing the very same job. I was also afraid of upsetting my parents if I didn't do the job and created more work. But, what really came to mind was memories from this past weekend.

I attended and helped organize the ReNEWed Life Women's Event where we were blessed with the teaching of Stephanie Shott. She showed us the power and relevance of God's Word. She challenged me as a believer and as a mom. She encouraged and equipped me too.

This morning as I watched the cattle gate I thought about two different gates. First of all, the gate of my heart and mind. Friend, all day long there's potential for things to enter our heart and mind. Some of these things are good and beneficial; others, not so much. Some are truth and bring life, others are lies and lead to death.

As I purposely stood and intently watched our cattle gate, I wondered - "Do I do this with my heart and mind?" The honest answer is: not always. If I had not watched the gate, we might still be chasing cattle and when I don't watch the gate in a spiritual sense there are consequences as well. Think with me for a we watch the gate of our mind, what should we keep out? 

A few answers that quickly come to my mind...lies from the enemy, worries and anxious thoughts, and false teaching. We must remember failing to watch our farm gate results in cattle getting out, neglecting my spiritual gate leads to bad things getting in!

Being a mom, I thought about the spiritual gates in my children's hearts and minds. They need watching too! As their mom, I need to be mindful and aware of what they are exposed to and consuming. And just like we did on the farm, we need to teach them how to watch the gate. As they grow and mature, they need to learn and be given opportunities to filter what goes into their heart and mind.

They won't know this simply by turning a certain age and even as an adult I need assistance too. Time spent in God's Word will encourage and equip me to do the job I was reminded I needed to do.

Proverbs 4:23a tells us - "Above all else, guard your heart..."

1 Corinthians 16:13 says, "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong."

Friend, we can clearly see that we need to guard our heart. We need to guard it from the things of this world, from the ways of our culture and from our enemy Satan, who is constantly on the attack.

2 Timothy 1:14 instructs us with something else we need to guard. Here Paul says, "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you-guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us."

God has given us His Word and as we read and study it, we get wisdom and understanding. We can hide truth in our hearts, but we must guard it. It takes more intentionality to watch our spiritual gate than my cattle gate. We must be discerning and take in sound teaching and then we must be wise and guard it! Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit to help us!!

Friend, I'm going to ask you the same question my husband asked me - "Can you watch the gate?"

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for being an ever working, always teaching Father. Help me watch my spiritual gate. Sometimes the job is hard and scary, but it's so important. On the farm we don't want to let the cattle out and when it comes to my faith, I don't want to let lies and half-truths in. Oh Lord, give me wisdom and diligence. In Jesus' Name I pray, Amen.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Growth takes time...

Have you ever found yourself thinking much about growth? As a mom to 5 and a farmer's wife, it seems growth happens all around me. My children are getting taller and our corn is too. This is a good thing. It's what kids and crops are supposed to do!

Lately I've found myself thinking about a different type of growth, the kind we don't necessarily see with our eyes, but the development that should take place for every believer - spiritual growth.

The 7th annual ReNEWed Life Women's Event is quickly approaching and I'm again blessed to be a part of it. As I work with our team and connect with our speaker, my excitement builds. I know God has good things in store for us yet again, but at the same time I'm a little bit sad. I've told the team, I'll be stepping down after this event.

I trust God is leading me to make this move, but as I've said before, "Sometimes stepping away is just as hard as stepping out." That very thought leads me to reflect and makes me remember the days of stepping out. I'm not the same person I am today as I was back in 2012 when this all began. Praise the Lord for that!

Back then I'd been married for 11 years and a mom to a 9, 7, 5, 2 and 1 year old. I was extremely nervous and felt quite unqualified to talk with our speaker as we planned. I struggled to share my ideas with the team because I wrestled with doubts and feelings of insecurity. I worried about what others would think when I spoke from the stage and battled perfection as I prepped prayer cards for all the attendees.

Six years have passed and we just celebrated our 17th anniversary, I now have a 15, 13, 11, 8 and 7 year old. We just finished a softball season and are gearing up for high school football and junior high cross country. Life is busy and I still get overwhelmed, but thankfully I've learned what to do and where to go when stress hits and chaos comes.

As I prepare for the 7th, and for now my final, ReNEWed Life, I'm grateful. God has changed me. I too have grown. As I share a bit about this growth, I'm going to share some pictures of my 2nd born, my daughter Joy. You will see her "grow up" in the pics and I pray as you reflect on your own life over the last 6 years, God gives you pictures as well.

When ReNEWed Life began, Joy was only 7, but she already had a desire to be a part of it all. She sat through each session and made friends with the speaker. To this day she still remembers Lisa Whittle's words to her - "Live up to your name." God has helped her do this and He also changed me with that line as well. Friend, you and I have probably answered to different names through our years, but the one we must live out is: Child of God. A huge part of my growth has come from knowing God more, which helped me understand who I am as His beloved daughter.

After year one, Joy was hooked and in 2013 she was able to hang out with Wendy Blight. The Holy Spirit truly connects hearts and He did that Joy and Wendy. My daughter and I have both grown spiritually because of Wendy's prayers and her teaching. Children need food and rest to grow, crops need sun and rain and friend, we need something as disciples. Romans 10:17 comes to mind. It says, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ." If we want our faith to grow, we must spend time in the Word. It is what has the power to transform and as God changes us from the inside out, we will grow.

Year three brought Teske Drake to Cresco and Joy not only attended, but she started to serve. She helped decorate the day before and made an apron for our speaker. Teske spoke of the faithfulness of God and as we grow we see it more and more. Maturing in our faith deepens our roots, which leads to fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 becomes more alive in our lives and we experience "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Others are blessed by it as well! As we embark the teenage years, I pray Joy and I both continue to grow in the fruit of the Spirit!

ReNEWed Life 2015 was truly the most difficult event for my girl and me. Not even a month prior, Joy's 1st cousin, Grace, was killed in a car accident. As the older sister she never had and a niece I dearly loved, we both experienced deep grief, yet God led us forward. Our theme for the year was, "From Broken to Beautiful" and through Mary DeMuth God met us in our pain. Many there were grieving and broken, but she encouraged us to cry out to our Lord and Savior. God knows our pain and hears our cries. Friend, growth isn't always easy...children can experience growing pains and Christians can too. God truly uses our trials to deepen our faith and strengthen our relationship with Him. This growth isn't fun, but it is so productive. Keep seeking.

2016 brought Micca Campbell to Iowa and Joy's younger sister, Jaylyn, to her first ReNEWed Life. Together my girls were so excited and honestly, I was a bit exhausted by their enthusiasm as we prepped and decorated. There was a moment I clearly remember questioning why I brought them along, but as I reflect I'm reminded growth is a process. Micca talked much that day about surrender and it's a huge part of growth. Friend, you and I ultimately are not in control of growth. We can pray, read the Bible and worship, but God changes our, and our kids, hearts. He determines how tall we are and the depth of our faith. Just like the corn we plant, there are seasons in our walk of faith. We must be patient and trust Him with the process and then thank Him when the plant starts to sprout and the harvest begins to happen.

Last year, Joy was thrilled to have Luann Prater join us and she did something she had never done. She joined me on stage and helped introduce her faraway friend. In 5 short years I went from wondering if my little girl could sit still all day to watching her address an audience of 100. Clearly, growth takes time, but when we invest in the crop and trust the Creator it happens. As we grow, God leads us to do new things, helps us overcome our fears and bless others in the process.

Friend, I don't know what journey God has had you on over the past few years, but I trust He's been at work. I encourage you to pause for a moment and think about the growth that has taken place. I look back at the pictures of my girl and clearly see she has grown...she's not a little girl anymore, but she clearly has a better understanding of who she is as God's girl. Can the same be said about you?

I may no longer be planning a women's ministry event, but I pray my walk with God continues to change me from the inside out. As I look back at the past 6 years, I find myself looking ahead to 2024. Lord willing 3 of my children will have graduated and they will all have grown and changed. Physically, I'm pretty sure that will happen and I'm praying spiritually it will happen too!

Dear Heavenly Father, Lord thank you for the reminder that growth takes time, but it does happen. You work in amazing ways. I pray you continue to change me from the inside out. Renew me. Restore me. Make me more like you. As my physical body changes, help me not lose heart because I know internally you are renewing me day day. Thank you Lord for your faithfulness in the past help me see it and praise you for it in the future. In Jesus' Name, Amen