Blog Post Update: Changes A’coming

Hello, everybody! As promised in my last post, I’m back to give you a little more detail about the switch my blog will be making from WordPress.com to the more inbox-friendly Mailchimp. So here are the deets: 

Beginning in June, for those of you who have signed up to follow The Samaritan Woman blog via email, you’ll begin getting blog posts from Mailchimp. Your inbox may or may not trust Mailchimp, so you’ll want to keep an eye on your spam folder until you can tell your email to trust that site. 

NOTE: If you currently follow my blog but you do so via WordPress’s site, you will have to make a change in order to keep seeing my posts. You’ll need to either follow via email (link below) or follow via The Samaritan Woman on Facebook. 

So as of June, I will only share blog posts via Mailchimp’s email service (directly into your inbox) OR via The Samaritan Woman’s Facebook page. 

**HERE IS THE LINK TO SIGN UP for blog posts to be sent to you via email:: http://eepurl.com/htAIpP

I am so very thankful to all of you who have continued to read, comment on,  and share the blog posts. I pray frequently that God will continue to use my posts to share His Word and His Truth and His GREAT news. I am excited about the Mailchimp switch because it will allow a much greater level of creativity in my posts. I’ll be able to play around with formatting, and I’ll be allowed to include pictures, videos, graphics, etc. when I need them! The switch, of course, makes me nervous because I am not a fan of change (and all those who know me personally said, “AMEN!”). I trust that God will provide where He guides, so that’s what I’m leaning on. 

I hope you all have a marvelous day, and thank you again. 

Lindsey

Ps. There will be an “unsubscribe” button with the Mailchimp emails, should you prefer to stop getting the posts at any time, and once it gets a little closer to June (and I get my ducks into more of a row), I’ll send out a test email to ensure that you are, in fact, on track to get the blogs after the changeover. Okay, I think I’m really done this time. Go love someone in the name of Jesus! Talk to y’all soon. 

Sign up link: http://eepurl.com/htAIpP

You Were Made To Do Hard Things

(Quick side note: My blog “location” will be changing at the end of April. Info regarding the change can be found following the prayer at the close of this post.)

When it comes to writing this blog, I often find myself under additional (self-inflicted) pressure to convey the importance of a Christian holiday, to make sure that I address it in a way that illuminates its relevance and value in the lives we live today. Easter is always the granddaddy of them all; it’s the time I feel the most weight of “getting it right” where it pertains to Christian blogging. Today, though, I don’t really feel that. Maybe that’s due, in part, to the fact I am not going to attempt to show you something “new” about the resurrection. As off as it might seem, I want us to spend today focused on the circumstances surrounding Jesus just prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. It’s an Easter message, I assure you, but not a very conventional one. I hope you’ll read on.

Recently, I decided to put my barely-mediocre crafting skills to work and create a wooden sign for my living room. This sign reads, “You were made to do hard things,” and OH. MY. WORD did the Lord make me live that little sermon 100% of the time I worked on that $%#@ sign!! It’s boring and too long to include here, but, y’all, not a single thing–I am not joking…NOTHING–went easily with that sign. It is finished, however. Does it look fabulous? No, it does not. Is it perfect? Not even in the slightest. Is it hanging on the wall and am I still proud of it, despite the challenge of getting it made? You bet, and honestly, even more so because of how hard it was to make. 

I wanted this sign up in my living room, because as we’ve grown more in our individual walks with God, my husband and I have had so many, many discussions about how detrimental, how truly dangerous the worship of ease and convenience is to the Christian faith. Over the past few years, we’ve begun noticing more and more the lengths people will go to in an effort to avoid a challenge, to make sure they don’t have to put themselves out or inconvenience themselves in any way. And HEAVEN FORBID we actually are inconvenienced for a reason that doesn’t directly benefit us, am I right?! I mean, most of the time instead of “Yes, Lord, send me,” we tend more toward, “Yes, Jesus, I will love my neighbor, but I will only do so when I have the time and resources and will not be in need of my own attention. I’m sure someone else will take care of it, but thanks for thinking of me.”

As with any lesson, however, it’s Jesus to whom we can turn to find how we should handle any problem or concern, any upset or difficulty. I want us to focus today on Matthew 26, in those hours just prior to the crucifixion, and I’d like us to begin in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to unburden Himself to His Father. Let’s begin with verse 36. 

 36 Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Friends, how many of us have wished with ALL our might that whatever awful thing directly in our path would just go away? That we’d be saved from ever having to face that circumstance…that death….that heartache…that incredibly difficult conversation…that new beginning. Jesus knows. He has felt that very same thing. In fact, He was so overwhelmed with sorrow, as this NIV translation puts it, so scared and burdened that He prayed for God to take it away, to change His plan. Look at verse 39. Notice Jesus’s posture before He ever speaks: “…He fell with His face to the ground…” When you are on your literal face before the Father, you are at the very, very rock bottom, y’all. You have no further left to fall, no reasoning left in your brain, no strength left in your soul. Jesus knows. He, too, just wanted God to take it away. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.” You and I have asked this exact thing of God many times, we just worded it a little differently. It might’ve sounded more like, “I can’t do this, God. I don’t want to, and I’m not sure I can make it. I am OVER every bit of this, and I need You to do something about it. Help me. Heal my loved one. Fix my marriage. Break this addiction. Save my child. Find me a good spouse. Find me a job. Bless us with a baby. Bolster my finances. Make me feel loved.” And in Matthew 26:39, Jesus says to all of us who’ve ever been there, “Yep, me, too, friend.”

I learned recently a GIANT important detail that I’d never heard before about this scene in the Garden of Gethsemane (will I ever be able to type that out without having to do it one letter at a time??). Did you know, when Jesus was praying here, He was within one hour of full and total escape? No? Well, same. Seems like someone should’ve told us all this before now, huh? So here’s the deal: off to one side of where Jesus is prostrate at the feet of His Father, there was an area of great wilderness. That means, if Jesus hadn’t been Jesus, instead of His walking sacrificially into the death He had coming, Jesus could have absconded and been free within the hour. He could’ve hiked down that incline (especially since His disciples were sleeping instead of praying) and been swallowed up in the wilderness, unable to be found by Pilate and his cronies. Y’all, if ever the mind-blown emoji was needed, it’s here! Jesus could have walked away from EVERY BIT OF THE PAIN, but instead, He offers this prayer: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Praise Jesus! Sometimes, when I realize what He did for me, I’m undone. I type this with tears of gratitude in my eyes, because what would have become of us all if Jesus had just been another Lindsey Thomas and tried His very best to escape every difficulty that came His way? Praise Jesus for His goodness, for His heart, for His love!!

And while Jesus is the greatest example of how we can and should do the hard things in our lives, the Bible is filled with others: Paul, Ester, Ruth, Peter, Daniel, David, the friends who lowered their paralyzed buddy down through the roof to Jesus, and several other unnamed women of questionable decision-making, just to name a very few. I guess, if I boiled it all down, the greatest lesson I want to take away from this Easter is this: Since Jesus didn’t avoid the hard, the inconvenient (understatement of a lifetime!), and the spiritually challenging, I shouldn’t either. Instead, I should do what He did. 

1. I should acknowledge how I’m feeling about what I’m facing. Jesus didn’t mince words with His disciples; He told them he was overwhelmed, that He was sorrow-filled, and it was clear He was afraid of what was to come. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling those same things. Just be honest with yourself. 

2. All of my feelings, good and bad, need to be taken to my Heavenly Father. I need to be honest with myself (see #1 above), and I need to be honest and direct with Him. There’s NO HARM in asking God to intervene and remove your problem. Remember, Jesus did that, too. But it’s crucial that we not act like infantile Christians if He refuses. Jesus got a big fat no, and not once, not even sort of, did He pitch a fit. We shouldn’t either. 

3. And lastly, in keeping with the right attitude toward God, we should approach the challenges before us being more interested in God’s will being carried out than our own ease being placated. Our goal should never be convenience. Our goal should never be just to do whatever is easier. Friends, our goal is a relationship–a good, strong relationship–with God the Father through Jesus, and the only way to get to that is for us to experience exactly what He’s planned for us on this side of Heaven. God doesn’t sugarcoat it; He makes it clear that we’re destined to have times of troubles and hurts and aches and pains, but He promises never to leave us. Jesus wasn’t excused from His painful burdens, and neither are we. Thankfully, more good than can be verbalized came from His suffering, and that promise holds true for us as well. 

Have you ever heard the age-old motto, “Only do the easy stuff. Forget having anything of value”? What about, “Resist anything hard and live as mediocrely as possible”? Of course you haven’t, because they’re not real mottos (today’s realization: I am awful at making up fake mottos). Wisdom is no fool, and she is very aware that hard work, inconvenience, and trials are what grow us. If we spend our whole lives, especially our whole spiritual lives, trying to outrun the hard stuff by running off into the wilderness where we can’t be found, we won’t be the only ones who suffer. No unbeliever ever met Jesus after being inspired by watching others skate through life doing only what served them and was easy. This Easter, friends, while you meditate on the incredible resurrection of Jesus, take a few extra moments to remember the death that had to come first. Remind yourself that without His pain and His suffering, Jesus’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible. God is offering you a really wonderful experience by His side, but it won’t be easy, it won’t be comfortable, and it sure won’t be convenient. He’s going to expect you to do hard things. He’s going to expect you to do things that cramp your style and take up time that you don’t even think you have. He’s going to ask you to love people you don’t even want to look at. But He’s a God who’s chosen to leave the decision-making up to us. He’s not going to force us to say, “Not my will, but Yours, God.” I am curious, though. The next time you’re faced with choosing ease and convenience over the harder but more life-affirming way, where will your worship lie?

Whatever it is in your path that’s not the easiest route, whatever it is that’s going to take more of you than you are sure you can give, He’ll be right there every single step of the way. Friend, God made you to do hard things. He made you to worship Him, to honor His will. He did not make you to worship a life of ease. If it’s God’s will you choose, there will be blessing and breakthrough in your burden. Your Father guarantees it. 

Dear Lord, thank You so very much that You have promised to be right beside me no matter what trials I face. I have some big things going on, God. I have some scary things before me, and to be totally honest, I would much, much rather they go away than for me to have to face them. I relate so much, Lord, to Jesus in the garden because I ask You respectfully to please remove this burden from me. However, although it’s scary to say this and I’m struggling to feel it fully in my heart, I want Your will in my life more than I want my own. You know more than I do, Lord. Your ways and thoughts are higher than mine, and I trust that You’ll never lead me where You don’t follow. Be with me, Lord. Help me to sense You at every turn. Make Your comforting presence known as I choose the route You’ve determined for me, not just the route that seems easiest and most convenient. I want to worship You, Lord, not my own convenience. Help me to grow in this area. Thank You for hearing this prayer, prayed in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen. 

BLOG POST CHANGES:

Hi, blog readers/followers. I will post specifically about this really soon, but I wanted to let you know that as of June 1, my blog will be moving from WordPress to MailChimp and straight to your inbox! If you are already receiving my blogs via your email inbox, you will be automatically switched to my MailChimp serve list (there will be an unsubscribe option). If you are reading this and you’re not currently getting my posts via email, feel free to choose that option between now and April 30th. More info to come….

Thanks so much!!

“Wise Counsel or No?”

Years ago, around the time Nathan and I had been married three years, we hit a VERY rocky patch. You know, that’s kind of down-playing it. Maybe it’s more accurate if I say we hit a VERY mountain-sized-boulders patch. I’ve written previously about how we came within mere centimeters of actually beginning the process of divorce. During this time, we opted to separate in an effort to get our heads on straight, and I went to stay with a single friend for a week. By the grace of God, this friend of mine was one of moral character and uprightness. She knew Jesus personally, and the advice she gave came from that place. But y’all, she was out of her league, as would be anyone who was attempting to help someone through a major life event they’ve not had any personal experience with. Not to be repetitive but it’s literally BY THE GRACE OF GOD that she helped me wade through that difficult season. And I don’t mean that negatively in ANY way! Now that she’s been married for several years, I feel certain that if we talked to her right this very minute she’d attest to the fact that she was blindly trying to be my friend and my helper while not having any personal experience to pull from. The bottom line is this: it’s nearly impossible to help someone, to lead them well through a complicated set of circumstances that you’re personally unfamiliar with. When I think back upon this portion of my life, I’m yet again brought to my spiritual knees over the goodness of God and His hand over every single part of my life, but also, it reminds me of the necessity, especially for Christians, of choosing wise counsel when the bumps in the road start looking more like hills and mountains. 

It’s one thing for those of us who consider ourselves Jesus followers to be knowledgeable. It’s important that we know the Word. It’s crucial for our personal relationship with Jesus and the spiritual warfare we face. We cannot worship God accurately and fully if the only thing we know about Him is what we see in our limited experiences. However, knowledge is only part of the equation. Wisdom, our ability to take it one step further and successfully apply what we know, is what best indicates our spiritual maturity. And as we learn from various spots throughout the Bible, it’s this application of our knowledge–wisdom–that we should truly seek. 

I love Psalm 1:1, but it’s in looking at a few translations that its point really gets best made. Let’s start with the ESV. It confirms, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…” Simple enough. But let’s look at the NLT translation in an effort to deepen our analytical understanding, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked [ungodly].” And last but not least, we get even more detail with the AMP version, as it calls those who avoid bad and/or misguided advice as fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God. Y’all, sign me up! I want to be considered all those things! I want anyone who looks at my life to see it as fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God, and if I was a betting woman, I’d bet those descriptions sound pretty good to you, too. So, how do we get from where we are now to there? We get smart. We increase our knowledge, but we also increase our wisdom. And when we come upon difficult decisions or circumstances we feel unequipped to handle, we seek WISE counsel. 

There is a two-step order to seeking wise counsel, and despite the fact that goldfish now out-perform humans with regard to attention span (it’s fact…look it up), I am pretty certain we can handle two steps. If you cannot, I can tell you with full confidence, this is not the blog that’s gonna help you with that. Peace be with you. 

Step one in seeking wise counsel is to seek the wisest of all counsels ever created: God. In asking God to help you with your conundrum, it’s imperative that you spend time with Him: read His Word (so much wise guidance there!), talk to Him during prayer time, just like you would any friend. Ask Him for His wisdom because He’s already promised that all you have to do is ask and it will be yours (James 1:5). But don’t forget, when talking with Him, to ask Him to lead you to others who also seek Him and His Word and who could provide you with wise counsel. Proverbs 1:5 promises, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” 

After seeking God and leaning on Him to direct you toward those who will spiritually hold your hand and walk you through your trial, as redundant as it might sound, step two is simply to reach out to whomever it is God’s suggested to you. BUT. Satan’s not going to sit around quietly while you make great strides to fix whatever he’s attempted to break in your life. He’s far too involved and cunning for that. You can bet that he’ll do his absolute best to steer you off course with regard to whom you seek for advice and guidance. Good news! There’s a way to evaluate whether or not a person you’re considering is, in fact, a worthy helper. The Bible tells us in Galatians that a righteous, godly person is known by his/her spiritual fruits, and because God’s awesome like that, He’s given us a list of those identifiers: gentleness, kindness, love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, and self-control. Therefore, when seeking help, if the person you plan to consult doesn’t display at least a few of these fruits in a variety of areas of his/her own life, perhaps they’re not your best option. 

Now please hear this: we are not seeking PERFECT wisdom in fellow humans. That’s a fool’s errand due to its non-existence. However, it’s crucial to note that godly, mature, self-controlled adults are successful in at least some of their long-term relationships. Let me say it like this: 

Seeking wise counsel for help with marital trouble? Seek it out from those you KNOW have a solid, God-centered marriage, NOT because someone’s Facebook or Instagram posts look good. Remember, we are seeking substantial spiritual fruit, not decoration. 

Are you perhaps seeking wise counsel for an issue with your troubled teen? Seek it from someone who has successful young adult/adult children. Does this include your sister who has a four and an eight year old? No it does not. What about your grandmother? God bless her but also no. She didn’t raise kids in this world. Yes, seek her input assuming she’s godly and wise, but don’t stop there since, no disrespect intended, her parenting relevance is nil. 

What about work troubles? Seek wise counsel from a godly, like-gendered co-worker whose work ethic, attitude, and behavior as a whole you respect. What about that mouthy co-worker who will jaw all day about how awful your company/boss/other co-workers are while offering zero Bible-based wisdom? Surely you know the answer to this one. Yep, correct–you shut that mess down. There’s zero wisdom in that person. 

In closing I’d like to share one last story. When my daughter was little, maybe two or three, we were trying to teach her how to properly use 911. We wanted her to understand when it was okay to call 911 and when it wasn’t, so we played a game called “911 or no?” We would give her a scenario, and she would have to tell us whether it was okay to call 911 or if not because it wasn’t considered an emergency. We’d range from statements like “You’re home alone with Mom, and she falls and hits her head and won’t wake up” (911!) to “You really wanted peanut butter and realized you’re out” (NO!!). In the spirit of our fun-filled “911 or No?” I’d like us to play a version of that today: “Wise Counsel or No?” I’ll give you an example of a person and a smidge of detail about his/her life or personality, and you tell me if they would be wise counsel or not. Here we go…

*Your BFF’s first cousin who always has the BEST hair in all of her Instagram posts, leading you to believe girlfriend must obviously have it together? NO!!!

*Your high school classmate who may or may not have lost a tooth or two to a former meth habit that may or may not still be “former”? NO!! Even if she posts pretty Bible verses despite spewing f-bombs in everyone’s comments? STILL NO!!

*Your adorable hairdresser who knows her Bible both in word AND in action and spends time daily in the Word? YES!!! (assuming she has some solid fruit-producing experience in the area in which you’re struggling)

Yes, this is really dumb. And yes, it doesn’t seem all that complicated–because it’s not. But how often do we intentionally seek out advice and help from those we know will back up our opinions. We don’t want actual wisdom; we want our own opinions mirrored back at us. How dare someone tell us that we, too, are responsible for the state of our marriage! How dare someone claim that not providing consequences for my kid might be the reason he’s got problems with authority as a teenager! How dare someone not tell me that all I do is perfect and everyone else is the problem! 

All I’m saying is this: the next time you have a problem you’re unsure of how to handle, be intentional in seeking wise counsel. Get off Facebook and open The Book. Seek God first, and then turn to someone you KNOW is godly. Someone whose life is proof (notice I said life, NOT social media posts) that he or she bears the Fruits of the Spirit. God will most certainly make these people available to us, and not to step hard on one more toe as I end, but if you can’t locate any of these godly, wise people within your circle, maybe that in and of itself speaks volumes. God wants to help you find those who can steer you and your decisions toward Him, but He’s a gentleman and will not force Himself and His ways upon you. Seek Him, friend, and the wisdom and counsel that He provides. Please pray with me. 

Dear God, thank You so much for the Word You’ve given me as a constant guiding light in my life. Father, I want to make wise, Bible-based decisions for my life and the life of my family, but I desperately need Your help to do so. I am seeking You, Lord, as the Bible recommends, for help with ____________. I am very unsure of how to walk through this trial, Lord, and I need Your guidance on who to consult. Provide me with wise counsel, Lord. Remove those from my life, my ear, my circle who don’t give advice based from Your Word. Close my ear and my mind to their jabber so that I’m not distracted and confused by counsel that doesn’t come from You. Thank You, God, for hearing my prayer. I am excited for those whom You’ll bring into my life. Help me not to miss them. In Jesus’s mighty and holy name I pray. Amen.

Jesus Roots

The concept of growth has been on my mind a lot lately it seems. I can’t say it’s been due to a particular verse or a portion of Scripture that’s set up camp in my brain. Not to sound hokey, but it’s more like God’s impressed upon my heart a focus for reflection: growth. I have said in previous posts that I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, and I am definitely not the personality type to “choose a word to focus on for the year” like what’s become trendy on social media (my eyes just rolled so hard y’all probably heard them). So this most certainly is not just a buzz word I’ve forced upon myself. In fact, for me it began well before we rolled from 2020 into its equally crazy twin 2021 (here’s to hoping 2021 starts taking some meds and levels the mess out…can I get an AMEN!). 

This idea of growth, of honestly evaluating where I stand as a person of growth–or stagnation–is directly related to this pandemic for me. After we made it into mid-summer, and when things got really monotonous, I found myself determined in my talks with God to learn something, even more so than usual. I started imagining what it would look like to make it through something so enormous as this COVID era, only to have the only growth in my life happen to my thighs (relatively certain that the 19 in COVID-19 is reference to how many pounds are gained during a year’s worth of quarantine). In my soul, I felt God solidly prompting me to focus on what I could learn, about myself and about Him, during this unusual time. 

As a Christian, I think it helps us to evaluate the rate of our growth in Jesus to look at our attitude toward the major moments in our liturgical calendar. For example, let’s think about this past Christmas. Was this Christmas more or less significant to you than in years past? Now, although it probably doesn’t seem like it, I do try my best (most days) not to step on toes if it can be avoided, but sometimes, it just seems worth it to be direct. So here goes… If this Christmas wasn’t one where you felt closer to God, where you had more gratitude and reverence for the birth of Jesus, why in the world not? Our country has been in absolute chaos, between the pandemic and the political mayhem, and to recognize that we have a God who is faithful every single day, who saw before time began what we would turn into and still loved us enough to press on with His plan and give up His only child for us, but NOT feel stronger toward Jesus as a significant moment like Christmas? Forgive me for being so blunt here, but I don’t see how that’s possible unless perhaps your eyes weren’t really on Jesus. If Jesus wasn’t the cornerstone of your holiday, what was? 

Now, obviously this isn’t a post about Christmas, and since it’s already passed there’s nothing to be done if we feel we didn’t approach it as we should’ve, but we can use it to help us recognize areas in our lives where maybe we aren’t growing as we should. If 2020 didn’t see you growing in your faith, growing in your personal walk with Jesus, growing in the priority you placed on spending quiet alone time with God daily, then I have encouraging news for you: today is a new day! Woot woot! And your God is so full of love and so interested in His relationship with you, He’s given us His Word to help identify what growth should look like. That way, we can determine where we stand–if we’re doing really well, if our progress has been mediocre, or if we’ve moved forward zero steps–and make the necessary adjustments, while praying the appropriate prayers in an effort to eliminate the space between us and Jesus. 

I want us to start by looking at Ephesians 4:22-24 because I feel like it expresses a solid, practical way of determining where we stand. It says this: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitudes of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” As you notice here, if you are truly growing in Jesus, a couple of things should be happening. One, you should have two distinct selves, so to speak. You should have self one, which was more of the “I do what I want!” self, the one unconcerned about showing Jesus to others. But then you should have a second self, a self that’s much more in line with Jesus. A self that is distinctly different than the other. NOT A PERFECT SELF. We aren’t pretending here. Just a version of you that’s changed, that makes an effort that your old self didn’t. Someone who is growing in grace and knowledge–not getting it right all the time (or, if you’re like me, not even half the time most days), but trying and changing one molecule of progress at a time (2 Peter 3:18). 

For some of us, myself included, a change of this magnitude is scary. If we’re being honest, it’s weird to see someone you used to know as one way turn into something completely different, even if it is better. It makes us feel strange because we aren’t quite sure how to relate to that person. But, friends, growth and change, improvement and sloughing off of our old, less godly ways is biblical. First Timothy 4:15 puts it like this: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Our growth should be visible. In fact, it should be visible enough that it loses us some friends if they’re not secure enough to be okay with the new self we’ve put on. It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable and it’s not popular; worthwhile things seldom are, I’m learning. 

While researching what the Bible says about spiritual growth, I came across Colossians 2:7, and the NLT translation really resonated. I love the visual representation here, the depth conveyed: “Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” What a picture of depth and strength and abundance, all of which are elements of a life lived in Jesus. I want to ask you a question, friends, and I ask that you think it over today. Don’t just rush right past in an effort to get to your next task (pssst, that’s not how growth works–it’s not fast). Really ask God to help you answer it in an honest way. My question is this: How deep are your Jesus roots? Are they deeper now than they were three months ago? Six months ago? At this time last year? Are your Jesus roots deep enough that they’re changing your structure as a person evidently enough that those around you can tell by how you live your life? 

I’d like to close out with one more Scripture, one that sums up nicely what our prayer as Christians should be and what deeper Jesus roots look like when lived out in our daily lives. These verses come from Paul’s words in Philippians 1: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God” (vs. 9-11). This portion of the Word sets a trajectory for us, showing us what proof of growth looks like in the flesh, when instead of just hearing the Word, we grow into doers of it. Spiritual growth looks like this: 

*Our love for others (no matter what they look like or who they voted for) is more abounding…it is more plentiful and abundant.

*We have greater knowledge not only of God’s Word but also His character. We can share God with others because we know Him personally. 

*We have a greater depth of insight, meaning our ability to discern the voice and the will of God improves, as does the wisdom visible through our actions and words. 

*We have increased purity. How is this made evident? Maybe the TV we used to watch or books we used to read without a second thought now have us feeling convicted. Maybe we stop letting our tongues wag quite so much. This one can look like lots of things. 

*Our lives display a greater number of the Fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5 for a list). And then as we grow a little more, the depth of these Fruits increases as well. 

*And lastly, the whole purpose in the first place, more glory and praise gets directed at God because of how we live our lives. More people recognize our change; they see us become less anxious and stressed out, less harried, less fearful, and they decide maybe there is something to this Jesus thing after all. 

So once again, friends, how deep are your Jesus roots? Or maybe a more important question, how deep do you desire to see them go? Pray with me, please. 

Dear Lord, thank You for this day. Thank You for all that You’re teaching me, for all the ways You’re guiding me to become a better witness for You. I need Your help deepening my roots, Father. I want to grow in You, I want to know You better, to know Your Word better, to be a true doer of the Word and not just someone who hears it and keeps doing what I’ve always done. Give me the courage to change who I am and how I do life, even when people reject my newness. Keep me encouraged, God, so that I can live life in a way that glorifies You and only You. Draw others to Jesus through me, Lord. Help me be a solid, unwavering example for You. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen. 

Personal, Not Provided

As much as it hurts my teacher-heart to say this, I haven’t carried with me into adulthood many life lessons learned in the classrooms of my high school teachers. Granted, I definitely have used many of the skills I learned over the years, especially the ones from my English classes, but I just don’t remember many snippets of wisdom passed down to me by my teachers. (Disclaimer: I feel 10000% certain this is on me, not them.) There is one little tidbit, however, that stuck with me for one reason or another. In my senior English class, while discussing Wuthering Heights, our discussion veered toward the topic of marriage. I don’t remember much of what was said, but I distinctly remember our teacher telling us that no one could ever explain to anyone else what marriage is like. She said it was just one of those things you had to experience for yourself to fully understand. Again, I’m not sure why that stuck with me, but after getting married and experiencing several years of married life–high highs and low lows–I decided she was incredibly accurate. If you haven’t ever been married, no amount of explanation would ever give you a full, complete understanding. To grasp it, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. I feel certain that this is true for many, many things in life: childbirth, parenthood in general, parenting a teen (please take a moment and begin praying for us now), skydiving, losing a parent, winning a gold medal, and the list goes on and on. 

In many ways, our walk with God is much like this. While others can help us understand the Bible better and know more about God’s truth and character than we might on our own, no one can get to know God for us. No one can add intimacy to our walk with Jesus; we must do this for ourselves. We must put one foot in front of the other and move in small steps forward WITH OUR OWN FEET to really understand what a relationship with God is like. We cannot grow spiritually through someone else’s work. And this isn’t just my “two cents” worth. We see the downside of not being the one in direct conversation with God at various times throughout the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve. 

Take Genesis 2:15-17 for example. Here, God has just made Adam and is situating him as He’d have him be, providing instruction and guidance for how to exist. It states, “The Lord took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” Of course God doesn’t mean that one bite and Adam will drop dead. He’s simply indicating what we now know: with that one bite, the sin of disobedience would be birthed, and the perfect paradise in which Adam exists would crumble under the formation of sin (i.e. death). 

It’s important to note that in these verses, only Adam exists. There is no Eve yet, because it’s not until verses 21-23 that God constructs her from Adam’s rib. So if we mathematicians believe A + B = C, then it’s a safe assumption that because God instructed Adam to avoid eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil at a time when Eve wasn’t around yet, it must’ve been Adam who informed Eve of this rule. You tracking with me? Hang in there, a point is coming soon I promise! But before making my point, I’d like to back up my claim that God’s rule not to eat the forbidden fruit was secondary information to Eve. We see this later in Genesis, in chapter 3, when Eve and the serpent are talking. The cunning serpent twists the words of God, and in an effort to correct him, Eve says, ““We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die’” (vs 2). Did you catch that? In God’s original instructions to Adam, He says absolutely nothing about abstaining from touching the tree. His only demand was that Adam not EAT the fruit. Now it’s possible that Eve just tossed that in there, but seeing as how lying was serpent-only territory and not something Adam and Eve did (yet), it’s more likely that Adam gave Eve that instruction in an effort to communicate the seriousness of the situation surrounding the eating of that special tree’s fruit. 

Okay, now it’s get-t0-the-point time…YAY!!!! Imagine for a moment that Eve herself had had a personal one-on-one conversation with God, like Adam did, in which He’d spoken directly to her of the importance of steering clear of the fruit of that tree. Do you think she would have caved so quickly to the wily ways of the snake? I think it’s highly doubtful, because when you talk to God for yourself, when you and He have such an intimate relationship that you’re able to hear Him for yourself, His words and His directives root deep down into your being, allowing His Holy Spirit to work more powerfully in your life and help you make safer, God-ordained decisions. 

We all know the blessing of an excellent preacher or a friend who speaks Scripture to us and helps us see how to walk in the ways of the Lord. But that cannot be all we get, friends. What’s going to happen in your life when Satan and his lies show up at your door, questioning all you thought you knew, and, like Eve, you’ve only really gotten to know God and His Truth through somebody else? How is that preacher or that friend or that Instagram account that always posts pretty Scriptures going to help you stand up against the spiritual attack from a VERY prepared and previously successful opponent? It has to be personal. Your relationship with God, your intimacy with Him, has to come from the one-on-one time. Your understanding of God, of His ways and His words and His works MUST be personal; it cannot be provided and stand firm time after time. Trust what you saw happen with Eve. She really meant well, and she tried hard. But when it came down to it, because her knowledge of God’s instructions weren’t personal but were provided to her secondhand, she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the schemes of the enemy. Don’t be an Eve, friend. Decide today that spending time with God ON YOUR OWN is worth it. Don’t wrack up a spiritual loss because you refused not to be spoonfed your walk with Jesus. Having a personal relationship with Him is one of those things like marriage and parenthood: no words are going to do it justice. This one you’ll have to experience for yourself. Pray with me, please. 

Dear Lord, thank You so much for the many, many blessings in my life and the many times You’ve made Yourself known to me. Father, I want to rely less on someone else’s accounting of You and more on what I know because of our personal relationship. Help me, please, God, to get to know You for myself on a much deeper level, and help my closeness with You bolster me anytime I am pressed in upon by Satan and his lies and schemes. Teach me Your heart, Lord, and Your Truth, that I might know it all for myself instead of it having to be told to me by others. Encourage me with good preaching and Word-based social media, but help me not to rely solely on those things when it comes to You. I want You to be very personal to me, God. Thank You for hearing my prayer. I love You, and it’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

Leaving the Crowd Behind

Recently, during a Bible-study session, two of my dearest friends and I were talking about the Life of Jesus study that we are participating in through our church, New Life Church. Fifty-eight days ago, our church began an online video series that includes a daily video devotional and blog post (they call it a devo, but I’m not cool or in a hurry, so I’ll just type out the whole word). My two friends and I have been getting together every couple of weeks to discuss the things we’re learning in this educational and thorough study of the life and teachings of Jesus. Using Him as a guide for how we should handle every single aspect of our lives, one thing stuck out to us in a great way: how Jesus handles popularity. It’s no secret that in this day and age (that’s my favorite middle-age person phrase!), with our worship of social media “celebrities” and the lengths that we go to for likes and shares, it wouldn’t hurt any of us to pay attention to what Jesus did when He started being praised and adored. (Worth noting, when I typed the word “likes” above, I accidentally left off the -k and it said “lies”…so do with that what you will.)

At the height of Jesus’s popularity, in Luke 11, we see Him utterly surrounded on every side by people. We are talking rock-star status here. In fact, one woman is so enamored by Jesus, that she cries out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (vs. 27). But in His response to this woman, despite her well-meaning intentions, Jesus redirects her focus so that it isn’t on Him (or His mother either, for that matter). Instead, He challenges her, and everyone around her, to consider blessed only those who not only hear the Word of God, but who step forward and do the Word: “Jesus replied, ‘But even more blessed are all who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.'” (vs. 28) Jesus doesn’t stop here, though, in making sure His own popularity isn’t the priority.

We see similar situations occur in Luke 5:15-16 and Mark 1:45. Jesus’s miracles are gaining popularity and traction. He’s making noise; interest and demand are increasing. Despite warnings, people witnessing His incredible acts refuse to stay quiet. Words of awe and praise are shared over and over again, sometimes in whispers, sometimes in shouts. Translated into a scenario we can understand today, Jesus was becoming the focus of social media post after social media post, racking up hundreds of thousands of likes and shares. Friends, Jesus had gone viral.

But the way He handles all of this popularity is so crucial for us as believers, because it models for us exactly how we, as representatives of Christ, should handle popularity as well. Does the Bible continue on and show Jesus’s ego inflating from this newfound attention? Does His pride increase? To further the modern-day metaphor, do you think Jesus’s reaction to all this praise was to post more and more selfies on His page in an effort to outperform even Himself? I bet you don’t have to open your Bible to know the answer to this one.

The first phrase of Luke 5:16 tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how Jesus handled popularity: “But Jesus withdrew…” We see similar phrasing in Mark 4:35. Again, Jesus is so popular here, so desired and revered that He’s surrounded by people who want just a glimpse of His greatness, who want to tell Him how magnificent they think He is. But He recognizes the danger in this, the chaos that can come from allowing oneself to believe his or her own hype. So He takes His disciples, and “…leaving the crowd behind…” they retreat.

We would be remiss, friends, if we only note Jesus’s actions and not the purpose behind them. Throughout the life of Jesus, He retreats from the crowd and the noise, from the chaos and danger in His life, multiple times. But we don’t see Him setting apart “me time” so He can binge Netflix or get His nails done. No, instead He intentionally removes Himself from all the voices singing His praises (or distracting Him from His God-given goal) for a few reasons:

*To pray

*To gain wisdom from God

*To refocus Himself on His REAL purpose

*To quiet the noise so He can hear the quiet voice of His Father, the One to be glorified

*To deny Himself and remain humble

*To get out from under the weight of it all and hand it over to His Dad, the only One who can help Him shoulder His burdens

Friends, let me ask you something: how do you and I handle it when something we say or do or post makes waves and garners attention? Do we get lost in the noise, or do we retreat so that we are certain we’re glorifying God and not self? Do we pray earnestly to maintain our humility, or do we snap another two or ten selfies so we can replicate this empty like-button praise? At our most popular, friends, who are we worshiping?

For Jesus, popularity made Him retreat. To me, it seems it made Him uncomfortable because it angled the spotlight off God and onto Him. So at the height of His popularity, Jesus said, Not Me…God. In His actions, He went on to say about all of those less fortunate around Him, Not Me…them. And right to your very own face, Jesus says, Not Me…you.

We don’t see this replicated in the current-day actions of His followers, though. You and I, we claim to be Christians all day long, but when it comes to getting attention for ourselves, we find very opposite attitudes existing. We don’t point the finger at God or post for His glory. Sadly, we say through our actions, Not Him…me. To those around us who are less fortunate, we declare, Not them…me. And to our neighbor who might not see eye-to-eye with us, Not you….me.

The example Jesus sets for us during His 33 years on earth, and especially those critical years of ministry, can be simplified. His example can be summed up in one verse from Matthew 6: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (vs 33). Righteousness in this context simply means reign. And that’s essentially our goal, friends. With every aspect of our lives, even when everyone loves us and wants to praise us, we are to direct them immediately back to God. In our hearts, we are to give no wings to the attention of man, but instead, we must target our hearts and intentions on furthering the reign of God.

Today, I want to leave you with this quote from Charles Stanley. I pray that we all begin to worry way less about our online presence and begin anew to grow more in line with Jesus.

“It’s self that limits the eternal influence you have with others.”

Who are you most often glorifying, God or self?

Dear Lord, I am so sorry for the times I’ve put my popularity and/or the attention from others over You and my goal to share You. Father, I ask for Your forgiveness and Your help. I want to care less about what others can applaud about me and more about how much of You my life reflects. Thank You for Your Word, for the incredible example I have through Jesus. Although I so often get off track, Lord, I truly want to get myself out of the way so that I make more room for You. Help me to seek You first, to be more interested in Your Kingdom than my own earthly position. Be with me, Lord. Guide me and encourage me with Your Word. Thank You for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that it’s prayed. Amen.

Identity

If someone asked you to list the five words that best describe or identify you, what would they be? If you’re like me, this isn’t as easy a task as it seems initially. I find there are either too many or too few characteristics to sort into a top five. And compounding the problem is the fact that maybe what I think is an identifying trait isn’t something others would recognize in me. I find myself wondering, are these really my top five traits or are they just what I hope others would pick to describe me?

Identity can be a tricky thing. There are identifying factors in our lives that never change, but so very many of them do. We start out as young only to age out of that descriptor rather rapidly (or so I’ve been told by my older friends). Some of us identify ourselves as spouses, but so often that stops applying at some point at well. Regardless of what you’d list as your identifying qualities or traits, chances are, at least some of them will change and no longer apply to you before you leave this planet for your forever home.

I recently had a weird identity “circumstance.” For those who don’t know me personally, from 2003 to 20012, I was a (predominantly) 9th grade English teacher. Once I got pregnant with my daughter in January of 2012, I finished out that school year and resigned in order to be a stay-at-home mom. You quick-figuring mathletes probably immediately calculated my nine years of teaching. Putting those skills to work again, you likely noticed that I’ve not been teaching for eight years now. I came to this realization myself as school began back in August (that was 15 years ago, right??) . Y’all, it was sort of startling. I have always identified myself as a teacher. I worked hard during my years in the classroom, and I still keep in contact with many former students. I still get called “Mrs. Thomas” when I bump into former students around town. I believe teaching is 1000% a calling, so I’ve always considered myself a teacher. Daughter, sister, wife, teacher, friend, etc. You know how that goes. But here I was in August realizing that I’ve almost been NOT teaching as long as I was ever in the classroom to begin with. My daughter loves the phrase,” Wait, what?!” and that’s exactly how I feel about this nonsensical (albeit correct) math.

Those of you who’ve been here before understand what a weird spot it is to have held such a strong identity only for it to no longer apply to you. Maybe you were once So-and-so’s wife or husband, and although you aren’t any more, it still seems weird. Maybe you identified yourself as a stay-at-home mom or dad, only your circumstances changed and now you’re part of the workforce. Or maybe you identified yourself by those dreams and aspirations you held onto so tightly, perhaps even secretively, but because you’re no spring chicken anymore, your dreams aren’t looking quite so attainable.

God didn’t create us, though, friends, so that we could base our identities on the things of this world. Our families, our careers, our bank accounts, our looks, our talents….none of these were given to us so that we could use them to foster our personas, so to speak. From the conception of the world to this very day in your life and my life, our identities were to be based on only one thing: Jesus. And what great news! The Bible tells us that God is never changing. He is the same today as He was yesterday, and He’ll be the same tomorrow as well. Praise Him for that gift! If we root ourselves in Jesus, if we base all that we are and all that we do in Him, we cannot lose. Our identities will never shift, and although our lives are likely to change and move in a hundred different ways throughout our days, we will never feel as if our feet aren’t solidly planted.

But it’s crucial that we grasp this truth: while it’s vitally important that, as believers, others see Jesus as our greatest identifying trait, we absolutely cannot get there without first seeing that in ourselves. One more time for those in the back: If you don’t see yourself as Jesus’s, if you don’t recognize your value to God, you will never live your life in a way that allows Jesus to formulate your identity. Let me (try to) explain a little more clearly.

Not to sound like a total Memaw, but it’s perfectly clear that within society today, people are truly struggling with identity. When yours isn’t solid, when you don’t feel you belong to any group or family or category, the solidity of identity disappears. Whether it’s gender or sexuality or trends and fads, when you don’t know who you are–and maybe even more importantly, if you don’t like who you are–shifting your identity offers an opportunity for escape. It’s a chance to realign with a group or a theology or an ideology that might offer you what you’ve been unable to lock down thus far: acceptance, success, love. The dangers of changing your beliefs and your morals with the wind are evident. But despite its scariness, the sadness is immense. Friends, if you can look around today and feel hatred or anger but not sadness, you’ve forgotten to ask Jesus to break your heart for what breaks His. He doesn’t see that transgendered person with disgust; He seems him/her with love and acceptance. He doesn’t see that Black person through “white Jesus” eyes; He seems him/her as a child of God, made in the image of God. He sees us all as having one identity, because He’s the One who died to give it to each of us: SAVED. LOVED. ACCEPTED. TREASURED.

So, my friends, if you’re looking at yourself or your personal circumstances (or even this dumpster-fire of a society we live in) and you don’t see it now as hopeful because of the blood of Jesus, please look again. Pray that God would open your eyes so that you see yourself, see others, see the world as He sees it. Still feeling unsure? Still feeling like what I’m saying might be true for me or others, but definitely not for your personal situation? Let me tell you what you and your circumstances are NOT, according to the living Word of God . Friend, you are NOT

powerless

hopeless

orphaned (physically or emotionally)

worthless

guilty

ugly

weak (bodied or minded).

You are NOT a failure or a has-been. You are NOT washed up or past your prime.

You are NOT purposeless

defeated

unloved OR unlovable.

And friends, you are not directionless.

I won’t argue with you and sugar-coat it; there are definitely times when we’ve all been one or more of these things. But. BUT. When we accepted the love of Jesus, when we began to apply His blood to our spiritual and emotional and mental and physical wounds, God did a very new thing in us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) And, y’all, because our God loves us so, this is just the very, very beginning. Our identities get wiped clean by the sacrifice of the Lamb. We get new ones, and let me tell you, they are GLORIOUS! Forgive me, but these are too good. I just have to share a few.

According to the very words of God, we are…

A people for His own possession (1 Peter 2:9)

The body of Christ (Gal. 2:20, 1 Cor. 12:27)

His workmanship, or in other translations, His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)

Children of God (1 John 1:1-3)

Friends of Jesus (John 15:15)

Joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17, Gal. 3:27-29)

Created in the very likeness of God Himself (Eph. 4:22-24)

Wonderful (because wonderful are Your works) (Psalm 139:14)

We belong to God! “I have called you by name; You are MINE.” (Is. 43:1)

Holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4)

Raised up and seated in the heavenly places with Jesus (Eph. 2:6)

The sheep of His pasture (Ps. 100:3)

Members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19)

Engraved on the palm of God’s hands (Is. 49:16)

Lenders and not borrowers, the head and not the tail, above and not beneath (Deut. 28:12-13)

Saved!!!! (Eph. 2:4-5)

When  my daughter started “real school” in Kindergarten, she was nervous every single day. She cried more mornings than she didn’t, but she stuck it out, she worked hard, and she persevered. She taught me lots of lessons that year, especially. When it came time to close the door on Kindergarten, her teacher gave out awards to each student, and my sweet girl was given the “Fearless” award for choosing to be courageous and triumph despite her daily fear. I struggle to see the screen as I type this through tears because what I saw slowly happening within her was so completely an act of the Holy Spirit. God was at work, and what He did for her, He promises to do for every one of us who seek Him. In 2 Timothy we are reminded that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Your Bible might say “sound mind”  or “self discipline” in place of self-control, but regardless of the wording, one thing is true: when our identity comes from Jesus and our close, personal relationship with Him, we get all the good things. The traits we apply to ourselves will be positive and healthy, and they’ll match with those others attribute to us as well. Better yet, people will identify Jesus when they look at us, when they see our lives and our actions, and when they think about who we are as people. Take a minute to praise the Lord with me for His unchanging and steadfast love for us.

Dear Lord, thank You so very, very much for providing for me, through Jesus, an identity unchanged by trends and social opinions. Thank You, Father, that the circumstances of our lives don’t decide who we are as people, because that’s a role given only to You. I praise Your goodness, God, for all that Your Word says I am. Help me to shut out the lies of Satan when he tries to get me to believe I’m anything less than You say I am. Continue to tell me and show me, Lord, who I am in You. Help me deepen my relationship with You so that when others go to identify me, You are the first person they see. I love You, Lord, so very much. I am so thankful for who I am in You, for all that You’ve set aside for me. Create in me a new identity, Father, one that leaves all the untruths behind. It’s in Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

Arm-Twisting and Sob Stories

Who has two thumbs and is back writing blog posts? That’s right: this gal! I want to start this today by bragging on the incredible provision of God. I know you all have stories like this one, but let me encourage you, if you have a need you’re asking God to meet, He hears you and He sees you. Be patient; He’s working. Here’s how I know.

As I mentioned in my last post, my blog has been essentially inactive during this COVID fiasco because my husband is now working from home and using our office. We didn’t have a laptop or anything like that, so my only writing times were on the weekends, which isn’t super conducive to post writing. Once I realized that he was going to be working from home for quite some time (which I LOVE, by the way), I knew that if I was going to keep up the blog, I was going to have to ask God to provide a way. Usually, I’m a do-it-yourself-er and would’ve tried to make things happen in my own way, but this time I really felt God asking me to let Him provide for me. So, I asked the Lord to please provide a way for me to continue on with the blog. Unbeknownst to me, during this time, my husband was looking into a purchasing a laptop for me, but every time he’d decide on one to potentially buy, he felt unsettled. He felt God saying, “Not yet.” Now, fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Out of the blue–we had not discussed this laptop situation with anyone–my mom emails to ask if there’s any chance we or our daughter needed a laptop because her work had some old ones they were GIVING AWAY FOR FREE! Y’all, I was so touched by God’s provision, so overwhelmed by His provision of something so essentially unnecessary, that I cried actual tears when my mom texted to confirm she’d be able to get one for us. Praise the Lord! Right in the middle of this smoldering dumpster fire of a planet we live on, God cares enough about something as minimal as a laptop for me. Just wow! His goodness and His attentiveness are so awe-inspiring.

I do not believe that God works in coincidences–He’s too intentional for that–so it didn’t escape my notice that the very topic on which I was preparing my next blog post when this gifted laptop arrived was tithing/giving. Now, I know that discussing money is no one’s favorite topic. I know that you’re probably considering hitting the X at the top of the page or the delete button on your email if you get my posts that way. But I promise I won’t step (too hard) on your toes. I want to be very clear from the absolute start–I am NOT telling you what to do with your money. Not even kind of. I am NOT judging you for the financial decisions you make or the debt you might have accrued. My ultimate goal today is for us to address this one question, so that you can eventually answer it in a way that glorifies God to the highest degree:

Can you really say that you’ve surrendered your life to Jesus if you don’t include Him in your finances?

As always, I want to be as transparent as I can be, so with that in mind, I have a confession: I am a substantial cheapskate. I do prefer the term “frugal” if I get to choose, but we all know it means the same thing. I am NOT a spender. I am a saver. And while that’s sometimes good and sometimes smart, it also sometimes requires my repentance to God for an ungiving heart and a clenched fist. Here’s where I get it very wrong: instead of God being my security, instead of trusting His provision in our lives, my security comes from bank account numbers and minimal bills. But deep in my heart, I understand that God desires to be my security. Sure, He’s given me a brain and His Holy Spirit to help make smart decisions with my money, but He doesn’t want me to idolize those bank numbers.

Like I mentioned before, my purpose in discussing this topic is not to tell you how to spend your money, or even where to spend it. But instead, I want us to spend time discussing what the Bible says about our finances, about our giving, so that if we aren’t currently surrendering that area of our lives to God, we can re-evaluate.

I want us to begin with the way tithing/giving is addressed biblically. **For clarification purposes, when the Bible uses the term “tithe” it means a specific 10% return to the Lord. We aren’t going to get caught up in numbers today, but I will try to keep the concept of tithing separate from giving, since tithing involves at least 10%. (Clear as mud? Ok, great. Let’s proceed.) The concept of tithing began appearing in the Bible almost immediately. You’ll see references to Abram’s giving as early as Genesis (14:19-20). It’s clear that while it doesn’t quite look like what we do today, it was intended to show gratefulness to God, thanking Him for His provision, and to be generous back to Him. Tithing makes a return again in Genesis (28:20-22) when Jacob dedicates a declared tenth of what’s his to God in an effort to say thank you for God’s care and provision. Moses and the Israelites also tithe a tenth in order to follow God’s commandments in Leviticus (27:30-34).

My point in giving you these three examples is simply this: 1) tithing is biblical and has been around since the beginning; 2) tithing is something the giants of the Bible even did, so you know it still applies to us; and 3) if you’re unsure about the concept of giving, you can and will find answers in the Bible. You have to be intentional, though, and ask God to help direct you so that you fully understand His teaching.

If you know me, you know I like to ask lots of questions, so let me ask you another one. Don’t you think God is deserving of your financial tithe? Look around, friends, at all you have because of Him. Have you ever opened up your pantry or refrigerator and just taken in all that you have? We do not have our needs met in such abundant fashion because we are awesome or because we deserve it. We have our needs met so perfectly because God is good, and He provides! (Praise break!)

Friends, giving back to God shows our loyalty to Him. It lets Him know that He’s our priority, that we worship Him, not all that we can own. It shows that our hearts are more interested in Him than our own desires. It focuses yet another area of our lives on God, which is our whole purpose for being on this planet in the first place, you know?

Remember how I mentioned above that Moses and the Israelites gave a tithe in response to a command from God? Well, there was a little more to it than just the amount. It was specified that the 10% given back to God was NOT to be a leftover 10%. It wasn’t supposed to be what they had remaining once all their other financial obligations were met. It wasn’t supposed to be just whatever they had left over after buying all the things on Amazon. The 10% tithe was to be considered holy. It was to be taken off the top, set apart for dedication back to God. A special gratitude-based, worship-filled offering that wasn’t made up of earthly leftovers. And while it’s been a minute since the days of Leviticus, this still applies to our giving today.

As always, it’s definitely worth our time to gather some words of Truth about giving/tithing from the Bible. I’d like to share a few scriptures with you, and then I promise to hop to it in wrapping this up. (Stop clapping. That’s rude.)

Proverbs, a book that’s always good for some wisdom, says this about giving in chapter 11: “Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (vs 24-25).

One of the most helpful verses, in my opinion, about God’s thoughts on giving/tithing is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7. “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” I just love this verse because it’s so assuring. It lets us know that under no circumstances should our giving to the Lord be influenced by any outside organization or church or pressure. It’s SUCH a personal thing, and in order to meet His requirement to give with a cheerful heart, it must be something we talk to God about. Just like any other area we surrender to God, we have to go to Him with this. We have to ask Him to guide us, to show us where He wants our money to go. We have to confess–if you’re like me and aren’t always the most cheerful of givers–our stinginess. We have to ask for His help in honoring Him financially. I know what I’m about to say is a bold statement, and I recognize its potential for being offensive, but I think it’s worth saying anyway: if you only glorify yourself with your money, you are VASTLY limiting the blessings God can bring upon you and your family.

Do y’all ever read The Message translation of the Bible? It frequently cracks me up. It’s the Bible translation version of your crazy uncle who says stuff in the most off-the-wall way. The wording is sometimes downright nutty, but other times it helps clear things up so, so well. For this verse in 2 Corinthians, I think it helps gets the point across very well: “Remember: a stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when a giver delights in the giving.” I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to be protected from arm-twisting and sob stories. And more than anything, I want to honor the Lord with my WHOLE life, all the way down to each penny I spend. I desperately need His blessings over my life because I sure as mess can’t do this by myself. I want to use my finances to further His Kingdom, to help those He specifically tells me to help: the poor, the needy, the orphaned, the widowed, etc. I want to please Him with the things I do publicly and the things I do privately. Don’t you agree? If so, please pray with me.

Dear Lord, thank You so very much for the abundant blessings You continually bestow on my life. Thank You that Your Word makes it very clear how I’m to handle my giving or tithing. Help me, Father, not only to give back to You what is rightly Yours, but to have a cheerful heart while doing so. I want to please You, Lord. I want to honor You with every area of my life, and I know that includes my finances. Help me to begin somewhere, Lord. Even if I only give a little to start, take it, Father, and use it to further Your Kingdom. Talk to me, God, so that I learn more and more from You about how to maintain my finances with You in mind. This is such a tricky topic, Lord, but I know that if I ask for Your help with it, You will provide. Show me, God. Work on my heart and my mind with regard to giving You FIRST what’s Yours. I don’t want to treat my gratitude toward You like simple leftovers. Be honored in my life, Lord. Thank You for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

 

Consider the Source

I have to share this story because I just got so tickled over it. I have an aunt who is so supportive of my blog; she reads them all, comments on them all–encouraging me and sharing even more insight into whatever topic I’ve discussed. She’s been one of my greatest cheerleaders since I took on this blogging endeavor a few years ago. Well last week she messaged me and asked if I’d double-check my blog’s email list because she was concerned I’d posted blogs that she’d not gotten. That’s how on top of things I’ve been. It’s been so long since I wrote a blog post, my Aunt Sheila thought she’d been accidentally removed from the mailing list! 🙂 I assured her that was not what was happening, I was just trying to figure out how to balance blog posts with a working-from-home husband and one computer. We do have an iPad, but 2020 has taken enough of my sanity as it is; therefore, I will not attempt to type out my wordy messages via that iPad screen. I feel certain it would result in my burning this whole place to the ground, which we do not want. Can I get an amen?!

Speaking of 2020…y’all, what in the actual world?! Can you imagine not being a Christ-follower during all of this?! The other day, Beth Moore tweeted, “Jesus, come get us” and it made me want to laugh and cry and praise and wail all at the same time. Never have I ever longed for the peace and love of Heaven like now. I am surely not the only one. It feels so important–now more than ever before in my lifetime–to be loving examples of Christ, to share His message of hope and salvation with those hurting around us. But in order for us to do this and do it well and effectively, we have to make sure that we get our minds under the control of the Holy Spirit, so that He is able to guide us as we go forth into this damaged world to share Jesus.

Before the events of the past couple of weeks, I had already been thinking over this topic but on a much more superficial scale. Today, I still feel those thoughts are relevant, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak to what’s currently happening as well.

I want to take a minute before I go anything further and make one thing very, very clear: Black. Lives. Matter. This is not a political issue. This is not a government agenda. This is not simply a social media platform. This is a Church (with a capital C) issue. This is a human issue. This is a crucial issue. For those of you who follow The Samaritan Woman’s Facebook page (or my personal Instagram page), I’ve made my stance on this very clear. My job and your job and the job of EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN is to love your neighbor just like you love yourself. It’s not to love your neighbor IF their skin matches yours. It’s not to love your neighbor IF they vote like you do. It’s not to love your neighbor IF they love you first. Friends, the Bible is abundantly clear that Jesus loved us so very much that He died for us BEFORE we could even accept Him, before we could love Him in return. He modeled the way we are to treat each other, and it sure didn’t involve waiting until someone was nice to us or loved us or smiled at us first.

I also want to make it abundantly clear that I am so very grateful for all of those who put their lives in jeopardy every day to serve as officers of the law. I don’t think for one second that all cops are bad. I think that 99% of them are excellent people; the ones I know certainly are. There are bad apples in every single bunch; this applies to every skin color, every profession, every group of people. I am so impressed with the police officers I’ve seen taking knees with protestors, praying with them, and speaking out against the murder committed by those four bad-apple Minneapolis cops. Throughout the Bible Jesus puts His arms around multitudes of people from all walks of life, loving them all, but He does this while simultaneously calling out and holding accountable those living in a manner opposite of God’s will. He is especially hard on those to whom much responsibility and power has been given, and I don’t think it’s a strike against us to hold people in positions of power today to those same standards. However, the more time we spend pointing fingers or calling out others, the less time we have for bettering ourselves, which is a major detriment to the Church. It’s absolutely crucial to speak up for those hurting and those being oppressed, but if you’re not taking time to make sure you’re not doing some of that hurting and oppressing yourself (whether accidentally or intentionally), you’re sort of missing the point. Take responsibility for you FIRST. (Remove the log from your own eye.) Then, after the Holy Spirit has prompted you to move outside of yourself, go beyond yourself to hold accountable those around you. (Then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.)

Today, I’d like us to look at this idea of getting ourselves right in our own minds so that we can be more effective Christians and stand up against hate and stand for love. As I said, it starts on the inside, with each of us individually. Here’s what I mean:

In my last blog post (which was obviously ages ago!), I mentioned I’d been riding the roller coaster of emotions during this Coronavirus mess. For the most part, as we’ve settled into this new normal, I’ve come to grips with it all. However, as we start talking about what school will look like come August, I feel some of those same initial emotions slipping back in, with fear and worry leading the charge. To overcome this, I’ve had to practice 2 Corinthians 10:5 so very many times (often multiple times a day–can I get an AMEN from all the slow-learners out there!). Here is what this Scripture tells us to do when these negative thoughts/emotions first appear: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  The Bible tells me that confusion and fear do not come from God. Worry isn’t from God. Those come straight from the enemy (John 10:10), who steals our peace and joy. So as I recognize these emotions multiplying, I have to stop and remind myself to consider the source. “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). I have to take captive those thoughts that make it seem like things will never change, like everything is one gigantic dumpster fire that’ll never stop burning, and force my mind to focus on Jesus. I have to force myself to think about how Jesus is hope, and with Him all things are possible. How nothing is too big an issue for Jesus to show right up in the middle of, and although it might look bleak right now, all it takes is one single word from the mouth of our God and it could all change instantly.

I think it’s of utmost importance that we apply this same idea to our own attitudes toward people who are different than we are, whether it be because of skin color or political party or religious affiliation (etc. etc. etc. etc….). Spoiler alert: hate is not from God, and pride/superiority is not from God. When we have a negative thought about another group of people, we need to (1) stop and recognize its negativity, holding ourselves accountable for what floats around in our heads; (2) take that thought captive, offering it over to the Lord so that He might help us recognize its true, satanic source; (3) make it obedient to God. Let me give you an example to better communicate what I mean. If you find yourself generalizing an entire group of people and being angry at them because they don’t vote like you do, it’s time to take those negative thoughts and the venom that goes with them straight to Jesus. It’s in these moments when we ask Him to help us with our anger or even hatred toward ____________ group, that He’ll be able to show up for us, share His love with us, remind us that HE DIED ON THE CROSS FOR EVERY ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE YOU FIND INTOLERABLE, and soften our hearts toward our opposite-side-of-the-fence neighbors in ways we’ve not experienced before.

I recently ran across this quote of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s, from her book Switch On Your Brain, and I felt like it was so timely and relevant. She states, “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts.” Y’all! I feel like this is the best news because it literally joins science with Scripture. The Bible explains this exact same mind-renewal concept in Romans 12:2: “Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Friends, whatever way our thinking falls currently, whether it’s born out of love or loathing, God is waiting to help us see others, love others, treat others as He does. He loves us all. He has told us time and again how to treat each other. He has warned us of what can happen when we decide our race, our desires, our lives are more important than those of another.

I wrote two legal-sized pages of Bible verses in preparing for this post. I’ve used a few, but the majority I’ve not been able to fit in. But of them all, one has jumped out at me time and time again. It’s so applicable to the racial divide that I assume we are all diligently working to correct, with regard to our own role in it. But it’s applicable to life in general. We live in a culture of ME! ME! ME!, which is vastly opposite of how God intended us to live. So before I pray with you guys, I’d like to leave you with a verse that I whole-heartedly encourage all of you to spend some time meditating on (as I will be) in the coming days.

Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourself.” One more time for those of you in the back: In humility, value others above yourself. Yes, Lord, make it so!

Dear Lord, thank You so much for sending Jesus to save me before I ever got my act together. Thank You for that example of how I should live my life. Help me, Father, not to expect others to love me before I’m willing to love them. Help me not to make excuses for being distant or angry or judgmental. Instead, Lord, give me a heart like Yours. Help me to see every single person in my line of sight today as You do. Remind me, God, when I get prideful and superior, that You love them just as much as You love me. Remind me, God, You died for them exactly as You died for me. I love you, Lord, and I so desire to be a good example to others in Your name. May my behavior, may my treatment of others–especially those with whom I share the greatest differences–glorify YOU. Help me, Lord, to look inward, so that I might spend time correcting my own thoughts and feelings first and foremost. Give me the courage to reach out to those around me who are hurting, in an effort to share You. Help me to listen and learn instead of constantly running my mouth. I love you, God. Thank You for helping me grow. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

Shared Emotions

Happy Easter, my friends! I pray this finds you healthy and well and rejoicing in the risen King. No greater gift has ever been given and no greater victory has ever been had!

Throughout this week, while reading the story of Jesus during his final earthly days, I found myself identifying more this year than ever before with the emotions the disciples must have been feeling. I don’t know about you, but emotions have been really abundant for me lately, and I’ve ridden the roller coaster from “We got this!” to “This is horrible!” more than once. Sometimes more than once a day. After reading the Easter story this year again and comparing their experiences to the strange circumstances in which we find ourselves, I truly believe that the disciples were no strangers to this emotional roller coaster.

Over the past few weeks, I have felt all of these at one time or another (or all at once), and I believe the disciples felt them, too. I’m betting that you, too, might recognize a few of these shared emotions yourself.

Disappointment–Can you imagine being full of expectations, excitedly planning a big event or championing a cause you felt very passionate about, only to have it erased from the calendar because of something outside your control? The disciples can, and I bet if you know a kid planning a spring birthday party or looking forward to the end-of-the-year celebrations at a school, a senior planning prom and graduation celebrations, or a person expecting to celebrate an upcoming birthday at a favorite restaurant, you can too. So many of us have experienced great disappointment during this quarantine. I’ve talked to parents of kids who were planning exciting things that have been stolen away, and my heart breaks for them. If we were to ask Peter or Mary or John how they felt when, suddenly, death stole from them their expectations and plans, they’d most certainly list disappointment (to the point of heartbreak) among the emotions they experienced.

Confusion–Please raise your hand if at any point since the middle of March (which was seventeen years ago by my calculations) you’ve thought, What in the whole wide world is happening? You know the disciples had to have been so confused, too. No way some of them weren’t asking the exact same question. How many of us have wondered, Where did you go, Jesus? What are You doing? How are death and confusion part of Your plan? The disciples might not have been confused about how to get toilet paper and hand soap, but unanswered questions and jumbled, unsettled minds are something we no doubt share.

Fear–I think of all the emotions, this one I’ve had to battle the most. I have found many things to be afraid of during this pandemic (anyone else hate this word?), and it’s taken A LOT of mental energy some days to shut it down. I bet the disciples get this, too. In fact, I know they did because I read Luke. Sometimes Jesus’s friends were terrified by what they saw outside His tomb. Other times, they felt afraid for their own safety, their own well-being. Same, disciple friends. Same. What happens next feels very up in the air right now, and after the death of Jesus, I’d guess it did for them, too.

Sadness— No one can argue the disciples’ love for Jesus. Sure they weren’t perfect, but love isn’t borne through perfection. Their hearts were good, and their hearts were full for Jesus Christ. And then He died and seemed to leave them alone and brokenhearted. No doubt they were sad because they felt the rug had been ripped right out from underneath them. Surely they also felt saddened by the betrayal of Judas, because even though Jesus paid the price, Judas betrayed his brothers in Christ as well. Through all of this, I, too, have felt such sadness. Sadness over those who are sick or who have lost loved ones. Sadness over those in assisted living facilities and nursing homes whose visits from family and friends have been cut off. Sadness over the kids trapped at home, kids for whom school was an escape and a few hours of safety. Sadness over families who can’t feed their kids without the help of free school lunches. Sadness because we can’t worship at our church or hang out with our family. Sadness because there’s just a lot of darkness right now. And can you imagine a darker time than the day Jesus died and remained entombed? So. Much. Sadness.

Inadequacy–I won’t ask for a show of hands, but how many of you have been gripped by feelings of inadequacy while trying to homeschool your kids and work from home and feed everybody and make sure you are on time for every Zoom meeting and do laundry and feed everybody and feed everybody and feed everybody? Y’all, the disciples felt this too. Even though they jawed back and forth about which of them was the greatest and trash-talked each other, there was ZERO question that Jesus was the leader among them. He was the decision-maker, the guide, the glue. And then one day, He was no longer there. The disciples had no resources. I mean, hello! They weren’t sons of God like Jesus was. What exactly where they supposed to do now?! For crying out loud, you’re not a teacher! What are you supposed to do now?! Yep, this, too, was an emotion we have in common with the disciples.

But as you know, as every meme has reminded us these last two days, Sunday was coming. Victory was about to show up and show out in a MIGHTY way, and the emotions those disciples were about to experience were far from those listed above. Now, friends, we’re not quite there yet. We are still in the midst of that time of waiting, where the darkness and the loneliness and the sadness and fear still fill our hearts. But we can hold strong to what happens next in Luke because it shows us exactly which emotions we are about to have in common with the disciples, and boy, do these sound WAY better!

Hopefulness–Rejoice, friends, because we already know what the disciples were just learning: Jesus won! Jesus always wins! Those guys (and gals) had to learn as they went, but we have seen the way that story ends. We don’t have to wait to see how this virus mess ends to have hope. Today more than any day we can declare loudly and fiercely: HOPE IS ALIVE AND HIS NAME IS JESUS! We might have to wait a little longer, we might have to work harder at pushing out the lies fear whispers about our current circumstances, but we have full hope because of Jesus Christ. I think it’s beautiful to imagine what it must have felt like for those disciples to go from being so dejected and achy to being swollen full of hope and restoration.

LOVE–“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). You are Jesus’s friend. It was for you that He gave His life. To be totally honest, those disciples were a bit of train wreck sometimes…both collectively and individually. Aren’t we all? There are times when I’ll try my very, very best and still blow it. And when I do, God says, “I love you. It’s okay.”

I simply cannot imagine what it must have been like to witness the sacrifice Jesus made, to have heard His cries as those nails were being pounded into his actual body. My stomach knots just typing that. I would never want to personally witness that horror. But I love to imagine what it must have felt like for Jesus’s disciples to come to the recognition that THEY were why He did it. “But God demonstrates His own for love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God hasn’t once taken His eyes from us during this scary, unprecedented time. He’s not forgotten what He promised, and He’s not walked away. Yes, we may be suffering disappointments of varying degrees. And we may be fearful and struggling to feel adequate in the midst of a brand-new (not our choice!) normal. But just like when God was hard at work on the behalf of the disciples even though they couldn’t see it, He’s hard at work on our behalf, ON YOUR BEHALF, too. You, friend, are in the palm of His hand. Choose hope. See His love. Know that abundant goodness is yours for the taking through a personal relationship with Him. God hadn’t disappeared when Jesus was lying dead in that tomb; He was preparing. I am convinced, y’all, that this is exactly what’s happening now, too. I love you all tremendously, and I wish you the happiest of Easters. If it gets dark today, or in the coming days, just do what my BFF Lauren Daigle says to do and look up, child. Please pray with me.

Dear Lord, thank You for Easter. Thank You that when things looked bleak and dark and hopeless, You were preparing SALVATION for me. I trust You, Lord, and I know that You haven’t deserted me. I know that I can seek You and You will comfort me. I admit, Father, I frequently visit those more negative emotions, especially lately. I don’t want to listen to the lies fear whispers, so I ask You, Lord, to please give me Your peace, Your comfort, and the hope that can only be found in being Your child. I KNOW good things are coming because You are a good God. Thank You for Jesus. Thank You for His resurrection. Thank You for loving me and saving me well before I got myself together. You are worthy of every and all praise, Lord. I love you. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.