Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Go First - But Don't Put Yourself First

No one gives us a manual on marriage and no human has all the answers. It's detrimental to our relationships that we, as a society, put more emphasis on self rather than our spouses. When we buy in to the romance that Hollywood portrays, we miss out on something so much better. But when we step out beyond ourselves, we are able to experience the love God meant for us. The hardest thing for us to get, as humans, is that it just isn't about us.

Someone has to be willing to go first. Someone has to be willing to be changed for the sake of the other. Maybe in an ideal world do you hear of both people going at the same time but obviously we don't live in one. What was so hard for me to accept is this:
People have to want to change, we cannot make them. If we try and manipulate the change ourselves, they'll resent us for it later. They have to be in the position of seeking change with all their hearts before they can hear or even consider. Chances are you need changes at least as much as they do, so why not go first?
The person who wants change the most has to be willing to meet the others person's needs as much as necessary without asking for anything in return.  That person has to want change badly enough that they're willing to overlook "petty" things in order to see some changes take place beyond themselves.

That person has to be willing to forgive and give the benefit of the doubt, because forgiveness is key in relationships between flawed people - and we all are flawed. I have realized that my husband has had trouble forgiving himself of certain things. My forgiveness seems to set forgiveness in motion full circle. Last week, I asked him to share with me what I do that makes him feel loved the most. His response was an unexpected but pleasant surprise, " You show me kindness when I mess up."

Go first, be willing to be transformed by the One who knows what He is doing. Give up what you want because that's the best way to show love. Don't wait on Him to change someone else's heart when you could be missing out on a bigger blessing. Sometimes we don't know the why's, how's or what if's but we don't really have to know - we just need to trust that it's always His desire to heal relationships.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Handle with Care

Emotions are at the wheel and our world is out of control. In just 35 years, I can't help but notice that we as a society are becoming increasingly emotionally driven. It's commonplace to hear things like, "If it feels good, do it." Nearly everything we do is driven by how we feel, directly opposite of discipline and self control. I've been convicted of it quite often and it's taken me this long to realize that being a Christian means I must put my feelings aside in order to experience the life He meant for me.

Here are my observations. Self esteem and faith are intertwined all for the sake of feelings because we all think we have to feel good about our self to the extent that we miss out on experiencing true joy. Marriages are falling apart because people decide they don't feel "in love" anymore. And parents are more permissive than ever, making their main goal to make their kids to "feel good" even if it means discarding all the right things to teach them. You see it in the news constantly - someone is out of control, making decisions that they won't be happy with later all because they followed their feelings.

I get hung up on my feelings as much as anyone, and I'm not pointing any fingers here. Nonetheless, we shouldn't let our feelings boss us around, and the proof is in the Word. Times when I have chosen  to be a slave to my feelings, my life has been a huge mess. I have found that you have to actively check your feelings against God's guidelines or you'll just be tossed around like a small boat in a hurricane.
Keeping my feelings in check provides for accountability. When someone hurts my feelings, it's up to me to get over it and to forgive. And even if they do apologize, I have to make a choice here to move on past how I feel. When an unhealthy thought crosses my mind, it's up to me to decide whether to continue pondering on it and if I don't my feelings will get too big for their britches and try to rule me again. When I feel emotional, it's up to me to maintain control of myself. I often have to remind myself, "Just because I can doesn't mean I should."

Feelings change but God never does. Feelings are fickle, and we never know what we'll get if we count on them to guide us. However, feelings do have a valuable role. Feelings often steer us from danger. They can serve as a compass when used properly, but never on their own. God's word has to be our check and balance point for thoughts and feelings alike in order to avoid misery.

We are called to be the salt and the light. Salt isn't easily manipulated - it changes everything it touches. With salt, you always know what you're getting and you can't miss it. Light can't be hidden no matter what, even if you bury it and it would still shine on something. If we're to be light and salt, we can only be those things from the faith we have in Him - not in ourselves and surely not in our feelings.
Some valuable resources I have found on feelings are:
Bible verses about our Feelings
Attitudes and Emotions
Please feel free to share any resources you have as well.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pressure Points

I tend to worry, I tend to over think things - a lot. My parents are both worriers and I have struggled with worrying my whole life, even as a child. Because I expect a lot out of myself, I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right and frankly I fail more times than I care to count. Somehow I have the thought in my head that it's up to me to get it right and I struggle with that lie more often than any other.

I put all this pressure on myself to accomplish things that at the end of the day aren't really all that important. I find myself having panic attacks from the needless stress that I put myself through. I get so tired of the pressure and the sinking feeling in my stomach that it causes. It affects my moods, my relationships and my spiritual life. Are you starting to see the pattern here?

Some people are so laid back and tend to go with the flow much more easily than I do. They rarely, if ever, seem stressed and never seem as disappointed as I tend to get. So many times I catch myself envying that personality trait and wishing I were more like that, but I'm not and I can't make myself be someone I'm just not. But then again every personality has it's flaws and we all struggle with something.

The Holy Spirit recently led me to see that the pressure I feel is pressure I put on myself and it isn't about what I can do, who I can be or whether I get it right - it's about less of me and more of Him. It's not even about whether I get anything right. It's about whether I'm willing to surrender what I want, who I am and the life I live to Jesus Christ no matter what feelings I might battle in any given moment. No matter what I feel, being a Christian by Christ's standards means I surrender it all - both the things I can and cannot do.

The pressure to get it right is gone when I realize that all I have to do is surrender. Surrendering isn't giving up, it's giving our life to Him. But if we look as surrendering as a loss, we miss out on the love and the mercy He is offering us. If we overlook the importance of surrendering everything, we miss out on opportunities to grow our faith and to grow closer to Him. Lack of surrender equals lack of faith. Lack of faith equals loads of pressure, loneliness, useless striving and an unrewarding life in general. We greatly underestimate how crucial surrendering is in our society.

We can each believe in ourselves and our abilities for so long, but eventually we all have to come to see that we just can't do as much or as well on our own as we originally thought...then what? Then we're supposed to surrender to Him, who can.

Ah ha! It took me 35 years to get that...but it took so long not because of Him, but because I am so hellbent on doing it my way so much of the time. Please pray for me on this matter. And if you struggle with this too, please leave me a note or send an email to me at and I'll do the same for you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Starving for Information

I like to write, but I also love to read. I especially love to read in order to learn from the experiences and ideas of others. I never, ever want to discredit the Bible, but I'm a big believer that one of God's gifts to us is each other and I think we take it for granted when we don't want to learn from the things He has shown others. Even though none of us see things the exact same way, being teachable through our willingness to learn from others helps us to think outside of our own boxes. I am so guilty of being stuck in my own box and not being able to see outside of it at times makes me nuts, so I seek to understand more than I am naturally able to by reading. He has used others so many times to help me to see things another way and It's time I share with you some of my favorite sites on various topics. However, we should never underestimate that the Bible, above all things, is our BEST resource.

I hope you'll find some you like and, most importantly, that God will help you to learn something new. I invite you to leave a comment and share some of your favorite articles and blogs with me as well. I might even share them on my blog in a future post.
Thanks and God Bless.

Love, Marriage & Relationship Blogs
Marriage Works - I love this sites articles on how to apply godly principles in marriage.
To Love, Honor and Vacuum - Sheila Gregoire talks about various marriage topics and has recently written a book for the ladies. She also has a contest going right now where you can win money towards a 2nd honeymoon.
The Romantic Vineyard - is a husband and wife site that focuses on offering Christian guidance for all stages of marriage.
The Generous Wife - a blog written for the woman's point of view that draws a great picture of the perfect Christian marriage.
The Generous Husband - the companion blog to the Generous Wife blog, written especially for men.
Love and Respect - a blog surrounding Ephesians 5:33, written by a known author and speaker, about the importance of love and respect in marriage.
365 Acts of Love - written by a man who is using his blog to help him focus on showing love to his wife daily. I have genuinely enjoyed this short read everyday.
Happy Wives Club - a blog by a woman who truly loves being married and encourages others to do the same. She has grown quite a large network of women she calls "The Happy Wives Club".
Journey to Surrender - a marriage blog with wonderful tidbits of marriage truths and advice.
One Flesh Marriage - a blog written by a couple, who through their own struggles, are compelled to share what they've learned about a godly marriage.
Marriage Gems - offers research-based marriage tips and advice.
Encourage your Spouse - offers great advice to husbands and wives, encouraging married people to have meaningful marriages.
"Husband", a User's Guide - is a site obviously for husbands who want to have a godly marriage, helping them to relate to we complicated women. However, I have read many of his articles and they have helped me to understand a lot.

Other Blogs / Sites
Michael Hyatt - has many great articles full of encouraging and godly information to help us to live more intentionally.
The Dobber Times - is a site by a local preacher, John Dobbs, that is full articles about Biblical topics.
The Thriving Family- is a Focus on the Family's site and has many great articles related to family topics.
The Handwritten - is a site where the author writes handwritten summaries about Bible verses, making you see the verses in a whole new light in many cases.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Perfect Parent

Yesterday, my oldest daughter and I had what someone might call a "Come to Jesus Meeting". She has gone over and around my rules regarding makeup more times than I can count and it was time that I stop shielding her from the consequences of her actions. She's only twelve - old enough to follow instructions but not quite old enough to make her own rules, and of course she thinks she knows what's best for her better than I do. Her excuse was something like, "I did it because I don't like the way I look when I do it your way." Before I go any further, this story is not an attempt to call her out but to share with you what I've learned from my circumstances.

Although I've explained on more than one occasion that my rules are there to help her-- not to put a damper on her life in any way, she chose to ignore them. As I thought about how to show her what she has done, it came to me - she disobeyed me in order to follow her own desires. Then it occurred to me that I recently did this very thing to God. And although I didn't think about it that way at the time, it was mere disobedience.

Anytime we choose our own selfish desires over what He tells us to do is nothing less than disobedience. Many times, it's something directly contradictory to His word but quite often we disobey direction from His Spirit as well. If we know the right thing to do and do not do it, we are doing (to Him) the very thing that many of us refuse to tolerate from our children. Isn't it time that we walk the same path that we set before them?

You might argue that there is a difference but I totally disagree. Disobedience is disobedience no matter who the subjects are. The very worst kind of disobedience, I believe, is disobedience to our perfect, omniscient God. He knows better than any of us what is best for each of us. He commands us to do or to avoid certain things because He doesn't want to see us hurt. Doesn't that sound exactly like our reasoning for the rules we set forth for our children?

Oftentimes, we tend to think we know better than God what's best for our lives. We pray for things WE WANT and we think if He doesn't give us the exact thing we pray for then He isn't listening or that He doesn't care. There have been many times that I failed to ask His will as I pray, and instead I ask only to be granted what I want. But isn't that merely another manipulation technique that our kids use on us?

Who are we that we should tell God what to do for us? Who are we that we think we know better than the God of the universe - who can see all things, knows all things and can do anything? When are we going to realize that it's NOT about what we can do, what we want or what we feel? Emotions have led humans astray for centuries and you'd think that if we are as smart as we like to think we are that we would have this lesson down pat.

Obedience requires a sacrifice. Part of that sacrifice means trading in my way for His way. The Bible is very clear on the importance of obedience. We cannot be Christians and live life our way - we just can't. How can you have faith without obedience? You cannot separate the two.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments." John 14:15
I am a firm believer that our children mirror us and if we aren't careful to live what we believe, it will produce rebellion in the hearts of our children. He also showed me that as I punish her actions, I can and should handle her with kindness, mercy and love as I expect her to do to others- but at the same time I must be firm. I have to get her attention somehow, someway. I showed her mercy by finding a more appropriate punishment for her actions. I showed her love by reminding her that I still love her and always will but part of loving her means that I have to reign her in when she goes astray. I'm convinced that He chastises us in the same way.

I hope to model His way of parenting and I pray that He will help me to be conscious about being obedient to His commands. Afterall, the we are called to live intentionally. I pray the same for each of us because our God deserves our obedience.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It Takes Time

I fall on my face A LOT. And when I get back up and try again, it isn't long before I fall again. Again and again I fall and become wounded and again and again I get back up and wonder how much more falling I can take. Thoughts creep in causing me to doubt and I grow weary.  I get frustrated because these things God commands of me seem to be the hardest things to do.

I was telling my husband just last night about how I grow frustrated with myself for not getting it right and for taking so long to learn the things of God. Somehow I have it built-in my head that He expects me to get it right --right then. Although the Christian walk requires a heart change and isn't something we can just do on our own, I recognize my need to be what He has called me to be and I tend to rush it. I grow impatient and my frustrations do nothing but land me in a puddle of discouragement.

This morning, I was reading the Parable of the Sower in the book of Luke, in which Jesus spoke of three types of hearers. First, there is the hearer that never really hears and instead Satan takes the seed (God's word) before it can be planted so that the person can never be saved. Then there is the hearer who hears and receives it with joy but since he or she is not rooted in it, they only believe for a while and fall away. Third is the hearer who hears and accepts it but the seed is later choked by riches and cares of the world. Lastly there is the hearer who not only accepts the word but endures wholeheartedly with steadfastness....they "bear fruit with patience."
"As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience." Luke 8:15 ESV
It takes time. There it is..the answer to my frustrations straight from God himself and His timing couldn't have been more perfect. It takes time and patience to grow and bear fruit-- I'm not just a slow learner afterall. It's not expected that change come overnight and that idea is merely a lie from Satan- meant to discourage us from enduring. It doesn't come easily because if it did, we would all be doing it and no one would ever fall away.
Living in the flesh while being led by the Spirit requires constant focus, dedication and endurance and if you take your eyes off Him for a split second you run the risk of falling. If you don't guard your mind and capture every thought, you wind up with a mess in your head that eventually makes it way to the heart. I've heard many people say that you can go overboard with your faith but that tells me that those people were never serious to start with.
Even though He is working in us always - we still battle the flesh. The human side of us wants to come out and run the show. It's inevitable that we will come out with cuts and scrapes if we try to go against the flow. But over time, if we endure, the hope is that our flesh gets a dose of discipline from the head disciplinarian Himself.
"But the one who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 24:13
Notice it doesn't say, "He who tries" or "He who endures for a while". He calls us to endure until the matter how hard it gets or what it takes. He also promises to walk with us if we follow Him, meaning we constantly give up what we want for what He wants.
For me it's reassuring to know that He doesn't expect me to get it right immediately, and to be changed in such a short time. Changing doesn't depend upon us, and if it did the change would only be on the surface--superficial change. Since He works on His own time and He knows what He's doing, we can rest assured that true change will come in time---IF WE ENDURE. I'm quite sure that if He worked too fast on us, we would suffer from shock of seeing all our junk at once. And I'm not sure that my heart could take it all at once.

Therefore, I appeal to you to to endure and persist. Keep getting back up because it's in those falls that we grow character and learn humility. Never give up.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Every Little Thing Counts

Do you ever ask yourself, " Does it really matter if I do the right thing, no matter how small?" I think we all must do that from time to time, especially in dealing with those mundane daily tasks like making supper or bathing your kids and putting them to bed. We get tired, we lose perspective and wonder if it really matters if we do this "small" thing after all.

Recently, I found myself in this very place. I'll be honest. After working a 40 hour-a-week job, growing a marriage, maintaining a household of five and providing for the needs of three kids- I don't need many excuses to skip out on some of my responsibilities. My marriage has been through some challenges, everyone in my home has had a turn at being sick and we're always battling stress from other areas of our lives. We're  tired and we're each facing days where we just want to sleep until it's all over. I highly doubt we're alone in this.

Last week, as I found myself making excuses to neglect one of my duties, I could hear myself say, "It won't matter if I don't do it just this once." And as I heard it, a great truth was made quite real to me--Every single  thing we do matters. Why? Because God says so.
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." I Corinthians 10:31 NIV
"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." Colossians 3:17 NIV
If it all matters, that changes a lot for me. Even if other's don't notice all our hard work--it matters to Him. Every single act, even those that are in the quiet of our hearts, speaks volumes about our character and who we serve. Every thought we think, every word we speak, every task we complete is an opportunity not only to build our character (diligence, patience, unselfishness, etc.) but also to build up those around us. Even if it just encourages others to endure to, reminds someone that they are loved, or simply serves as quiet proof of your faithfulness--it counts.

Sure, it may not matter if you skip it once or twice but the whole point in Christianity is that that you endure, you put others first and you become a selfless servant. When others have needs, we have the opportunity to live what we believe. During this incident. I happened to be experiencing some heart changes and it's critical during these times that I endure.

I read once that character is defined by what you do when no one is looking. And because it has proven so true, it reminds me that even those things we do that go unnoticed do matter in the grand scheme of things. Those "little things" are proof of who we really are inside. 

In some sense, mundane is a safe place to be. And we often overlook that mundane is a drama-free opportunity that we shouldn't squander. The mundane things are as much a blessing as anything else. They provide opportunities to encourage our spouses, kids and others with enduring love. They offer us intimacy on a whole new level if we dare to find joy in them. And they prepare us for the non-mundane.

It is in the little things that the big things are made. I realize that it's important that I be more joyful in the mundane and look for the treasures. For me, knowing that it all counts changes everything.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cry Baby

The pressure is on us everywhere we go to be something we're not. We put up a strong exterior when we're falling apart inside. We hold back our tears, convinced that if we let anyone see them we're weak. Somehow we convince ourselves that it's wrong to show emotions, and we bury the pain as we force ourselves to believe that it's the right thing to do.

Sometimes we put all this pressure on ourselves. Sometimes Satan sneaks in a lie or two--that's what he is good at. And then there are times when people just put pressure on each other, whether it's been spoken or not. I think we humans cause each other at least as much harm as Satan does because even in our own efforts to look outside ourselves we take some extreme approach. We're hard on each other and we show little compassion. We refuse to see past the stuff on the surface, clenching our own narrow-minded ideas.
" Jesus Wept." John 11:35
It's becoming more and more uncommon for humans to show emotion to each other. We see it in marriages and families all the time. Many husbands think that their wives only need to see their strength, which couldn't be further from the truth. And many of us wives convince ourselves that it's wrong to be vulnerable to anyone, even our husbands. We fear telling our husbands about our feelings and mindset struggles because we fear that our husbands will think we're weak. And so, we miss out on opportunities to grow together as one.

We even teach our children, through our actions, that it's best to build a hard exterior towards others in order to protect themselves. We teach them that trusting anyone aside from us will do nothing but get them hurt. And then when they harden up towards us we stand there dumbfounded. Sound familiar?

I'm forced to ask myself some hard questions: What if my someone thinks ill of me for revealing my heart? What if they abandons ship once they see the ugly things in my heart?

Those questions force me to ask myself yet another question. "Who do I really serve?"
If I seek to please someone more than Him, then I have a bigger problem and it's called "idolatry". If I disobey God in order to serve  man, then I have created nothing more than an idol before God.

My effort is not to slap anyone's hand because, if you've read my blogs, you know that I only talk about areas where I've been myself. Last night, as I watched the show "Hoarding: Buried Alive" and as I sat there with my mouth hung open to the things I saw, God spoke to my heart about something He's been working on me for quite some time now. I often hide behind an emotionless exterior because I fear what others will think of me. And that fear just has to go, if I'm going to grow any further. Here are some things He showed me about the fear of showing others what's on our hearts.
There is no strength in hiding. Faith calls us to have courage to believe and obey, no matter what seat you have in the arena and the view it provides. Courage is refusing to hide and challenges us to overcome our fears. Courage brings us out from behind the rocks that we hide behind as it brings about entirely new mindsets and thought patterns. Courage starts with transparency in our Christian walk and transparency is nothing more than complete honesty, to ourselves and to others. We, as believers, are called to be courageous. If we are led more by our fears than by Him, we're missing out on the blessings of faith.
If other people think we're something that we're not, and that we're stronger than we really are then it's not just their problem. There is real danger in hiding who we are / our struggles from those around us. I've seen more people give up on something because they had the perception that no one else struggles like they do, therefore they conclude it must not be meant to be. Others grow angry and bitter with the other person because they perceive the lack of emotion as a lack of concern.

That being said, I'm not advocating that we say whatever we want to others. That's not Biblical either. We're called to be compassionate, yet firm. I'm not advocating that we focus on only our struggles either and become a bunch of whiney babies. The Bible commands us to have self control. That does not mean we lie about who we are, it means we control ourselves from sin as we practice transparency.We have to learn to look beyond the opinions and expectations of others and realize that other people need to know that we struggle too.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wishing for Things I Don't Have

I catch myself quite often wishing that I had the gifts or blessings belonging to someone else. As I begin to hear myself, I realize that I sound so much like an unthankful child. You know the type, the ones who are insatiable. They have so much, yet all they see is what they don't have. I'm guilty--and it's high time I'm more aware of this habit and more intentional about being thankful.

I do it more often that I like to admit. I look at other's talents, and I weight them against my own. I begin to wish I had musical abilities or a different writing styles among other things. I don't crave the material things as I do the gifts and talents, but it's all the same isn't it? It's all basically covetousness.
"You must not covet your neighbor's house. You must not covet your neighbor's wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17 NIV

It seems that I am one of those who cannot dodge the potholes on the road in my journey. I have to hit every single bump and hole in order to learn the lesson that comes with hitting it.

The sad part is that I was blind to it for a long time. Although my intentions were good because I genuinely wanted these things to better serve my God, I was missing the whole point in worshiping the one true God. You cannot serve Him with an unthankful will eventually hit a wall. The whole point in serving Him is to honor Him for all He has done and all that He is. If you're not happy with what He's given you, how can you serve Him with your whole heart?

If we want to be close to God, we are to serve with a thankful heart. And if you have a thankful heart, you use whatever you have to the full extent to glorify Him. He's given us each unique gifts and He wants us to use them. The very best way we can honor Him is to be who we are in Him--meaning we use what He's given us because it's enough. It's enough because He says it's enough. He doesn't want nor need us to bring anything more to the table. Frankly, He doesn't need us at all. I'm just thrilled that He would save me, much less that He might use any aspect of my life to be further glorified.

Everything we do must be done with intent, even if it's just a matter of thankfulness. If you set out to do it, chances are --you will. Will you join me in setting a goal to be more thankful about the gifts He's given you?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stuck in a Rut

Why is it that I know what to expect but then when those expectations become reality, I am taken by surprise? I know that certain things are to be expected because of experience, yet I fail to prepare myself to respond any differently.

I think many of you know what I mean. We know to expect something based upon experience, yet somehow we really don't expect it to happen. We know to expect certain actions and reactions from people around us, but then when it happens we walk away like a wounded dog tucking our tail and licking our wounds. We know certain actions have certain consequences but it never fails--they still take us by surprise.

A good friend recently sent this to me after seeing me struggle over the same old thing for the two thousandth time. I think this was my hint. :-)
By Portia Nelson
Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost... I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in this same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in... it's a habit... but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V
I walk down another street.

Perhaps I wouldn't be so prone to falling apart over the negative not-so-surprises if I "planned" for them. It sounds silly I know, but hey I'm a planner and I don't always adjust well to spontaneous events because they disrupt my great plans, as silly as they might be. Many of us have to actually plan to do things differently, it doesn't just happen.

Several studies have been done on habit changing and each have proven that it takes repetition and time to change a habit. Who we are and how we react are part of our wiring. And whether we're wired-up by our parents, other family members, our environment or a combination of factors is irrelevant because they're all flawed. That being said--no wonder we have no chance of obtaining perfection in this lifetime.

It seems to me that as Christians, everything we do hinges on faith and if we're easily shaken then the first thing we should question is our faith.  As I search myself for reasons why I fall into the same old trap, I realize I could spend a lifetime on the "why's" but I can't pray enough for a renewed mind and an upright heart. I believe that Jesus Christ came to save me from death but even as I grow in faith, I find holes in my faith. And I think all of us are like this...we have faith but as we face hard times we are forced to face the unbelief in our hearts.
"The father instantly cried out, 'I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!'" Mark 9 :24 NIV
Make no doubt about it, hard times can be brought on by ourselves or satan himself but God uses them to help us grow. But it's up to us to accept the things He shows us and use them moving forward. It's up to us to take the insight He offers and accept it as a good gift. I know I wouldn't like to give someone a gift just to see them trash it or walk all over it. But many times that's what I do when He shows me something new, and I doubt it's just a problem that I face.

Nonetheless, this blog serves to be more of a reminder to myself than anything else. When I face hard times, there are somethings I need to remember. First, I must have faith no matter how hard it gets. Next, I need to pray that He close the gaps in my faith. I must also treasure the insight He offers like a good gift--because it is. I must use it over and over and never assume that it has an expiration date. Finally, I must be willing to change and the only way to do that is to stop driving in my own ruts. The deeper they get, the harder they are get out of.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Religion v. Christ

I was pulling out of the parking lot at work one sunny afternoon and, as usual, my mind swarmed with thoughts about the day as well as some harsh thoughts of certain others. I quickly heard His firm warning. As He began to speak to my soul, I became like a child being scolded by her parent and I was stopped dead in my tracks because His message to me was so clear and so justified. He warned me: In your search for me, be careful that you don't wind up religious instead.

In our society the word "religious" suggests that one has faith. I hear the word used most commonly to reference people who cling to a set of cultural beliefs put in place by man. As I read through God's Word more and more, I am convinced that there is a clear difference in being religious and being a follower of Christ.

Following Christ is completely opposite of being religious. Jesus was very hard on the Pharisees, and rightfully so.
“He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules." Mark 7: 6-7
First of all, religion allows you hold to a certain set of rules, many of which weren't taken from the Bible. And those that were are generally twisted to some extent. The Bible refers to this as legalism. Legalistic people are quick to judge you and throw stones when you make a mistake or if you don't follow the same set of rules. They lie in wait, like a predator, hoping to catch you breaking some rule so that they can look good for calling you on it. They do not have mercy or compassion that Christ calls us to have.

Jesus basically told them that worship takes place in the heart, not in their rules. I won't deny that following Him leads us to live an upright life and that we should encourage others to do the right things. But more times than not those who seem to have it all together are the very ones that have the hardest of hearts. And a hard heart is far from Him. He calls us to be merciful and compassionate no matter what. These traits are one of the markings of a believer- and none of us have these traits naturally. He calls us to look beyond the obvious, and offer up understanding to others. Following a set of man-made rules won't get you to heaven because man doesn't get to call the shots.

"He went on: What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7: 21-23
Religion allows you to cling to your creature comforts and strongholds. Strongholds are those messed-up ideas you have in your head that do nothing but hold you from grasping who He is, serving Him and dying to the flesh. It's plain stubbornness and stubbornness against God only hurts you because you cannot cling to God with one hand. You have to let go of everything else you're holding onto in order to truly know Him. We all have strongholds but as we're willing, He removes them.

For example, I have been subjected to only Baptist views in my lifetime and have been taught that the ways of other religions are wrong. I built some pretty high walls in my heart, and they hindered me for a long time. God used my dear husband to inspire me to let go of those ideas, let down my walls and be open to WHATEVER God shows me. If I could offer any one piece of advice, it would be to let go of your preconceived ideas about Him and let Him, and Him alone, show you who He is. You will not be disappointed, I promise.

My husband and I were discussing some struggles this morning, and those struggles stemmed from things we see in churches. Churches are full of sinners, because we are not yet made perfect. But because we are all still imperfect, we tend to discourage one another with our haughty attitudes, judgments and the boxes we try to fit God into. God isn't going to fit in anyone's box. He is far more magnificent than any human mind can fathom. We can't possibly understand it all, but he doesn't ask us to. He does ask us to let go of everything else we cling to- whether it's something we're taught, other people or material items.

I encourage you to be cautious and watchful that you don't get religion in your search for God. When you seek Him, do so with all your heart and soul and ignore the limits people place on God and on each other. We must not focus so hard on other's limitations that we fall away. After all, people won't be judging us in the end.
"Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.'" Mark 8: 34-35

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Project: Application

Many people say they believe, but I can't help but wonder: Is everyone who claims to believe that Jesus is the Christ really going to heaven?

The Bible is clear that many will will proclaim to know Him yet very few actually do. In my own life, I struggle to apply the things He teaches me. My flesh puts up a mighty good fight and I must sadly admit that the flesh wins a lot more than it should. But at the same time, I have no question in my heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and came to set me free from the binds of sin. It seems to me that learning about Christ is the easy part. Applying it is a whole other story.

I pray and I read and I ask for wisdom. But then He shows me significant things and I stand there helplessly struggling to apply it. It reminds me of the first time in my own life that I was given makeup. I stood there wondering, "So, how do I apply this stuff?" Say what you will but finding knowledge is only half the quest. It's when you've learned to apply that knowledge to your own life situations that you become wise and hold great understanding. Frankly, not many people really have true wisdom and the mark of proof is in our lives.

Non-Christians and Christians alike look at those of us who are outspoken about our faith and they wonder why they should bother following Him at all. They see our shortcomings, because we have many. They see our faith and they wonder what is different about us if our faith in the man who is the Son of God doesn't make us perfect. It doesn't make sense to the person who hasn't been broken. It's nonsense to the one who hasn't seen himself in the light of God. Frankly we can't blame them. We grow frustrated with our own selves because we know the truth yet cannot even master the process of application.

I've struggled with this a lot lately. I've learned a lot in the past few months, but at times it seems I'm only seeing more and more ugly in myself instead of improvement. I beat myself up over it because I wholehearedly want to honor our great God who has delivered me over and over. I want people to see his miracles in me and I want them to know how much He loves us to care for us when we frankly do nothing to warrant it.

But in the end, it's not about's about Him. It's not whether I ever master His teachings perfectly, but whether I persist in asking Him to change my heart because only a heart change can make us new. A heart change is a process, not an out-patient procedure. As Joanna Weaver said, "It takes a process to make a product."  The process requires that we fight to the end and never give up.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:13 ESV
Those words ring in my heart like church bells. When I read them, I wondered why they stuck in my head. I felt the need to read them over and over. But now I realize that He's been telling me all along to keep seeking, praying and thirsting. It's not whether we get it all right in this life, but whether we've endured 'til the end, and whether we've done so with faith in His abilities, not our own. Faith leads to a heart change and a heart change leads to obedience. Never make the mistake of thinking that our obedience is of our own doing.

He is faithful to those who love Him, and no matter how hard it gets--He is right there next to us. I pray that you will be fight the good fight and be faithful enough to endure 'til the end by seeking, thirsting and praying because only Jesus Christ can satisfy the needs of our souls. I hope you'll pray the same for me...