Feel the Burn

Today, I want to tell you a story. This story is about two men, mired in frustration and confusion, even the complicated and painful feelings of betrayal. They are shocked and disappointed. They feel a little uncertain about where to land in the midst of all these emotions. They’re trying out a little logic, a little anger, a little reasoning, and a little hope.

These two men, these two disciples, and their multitude of emotions can be found in the book of Luke, specifically chapter 24: 13-53. This story picks up immediately after the death of Christ and the discovery of His empty tomb. It’s a story that many of us have heard again and again: two disciples are walking the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They’re discussing all of the events that have taken place over the last few days, and they’re so engrossed in their discussion that when Jesus appears to them, they fail to even recognize that it’s Him! I’d be willing to bet that upon hearing this story, many of us have thought “How crazy!” and continued right on doodling through the sermon or reading to the next chapter in our Bibles. But to do so is to truly miss out on an enormous lesson, one so very applicable to our own lives and stories.

Let’s take a moment to consider what it would be like to be in the dusty sandals of these two disciples. First of all, they’d just lost their leader, their friend, their beloved teacher in a brutal, astonishing crucifixion. They feel sad and hurt, traumatized perhaps, and even betrayed because it all ended so gorily and in such anti-climactic fashion (given they can’t really see the “big picture” yet). They feel lost without the leadership of Jesus, and on top of everything else, they’ve just been alerted to the fact that Jesus’s tomb is now empty! So many questions. So much confusion. And all of it like salt in the wound of the hurt they’re still feeling over His very recent and dramatic death.

Like you and me, these two men are so caught up in their emotions, so very caught up in their external circumstances and trying to understand everything and make sense of everything that they become blinded to what’s right in front of their faces: Jesus! The Bible states that, “And while they were conversing and discussing together, Jesus Himself caught up with them and was already accompanying them…[but] they did not recognize Him” (vs. 15-16). Y’all, this right here is me!! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been so caught up in my problem or my situation, so focused on myself and my own attempt at reason/logic that if Jesus stood directly in front of my face, I’d likely miss Him. How many times He must have moved on my behalf only for me to miss it because I wasn’t looking for Him, I was looking for an explanation.

Jesus, waving His hand in front of my face: “Um, hello. Right here with you.”

Me, all caught up in my problem: “Oh, where are you Jesus? Where have you gone when I needed you?”

Yep. Been there. And it’s not like He just shows up when I need Him and stands around. Instead, when I need him,  Jesus is with me, speaking to me, questioning me so that I can see the answers and sense His presence for myself, but I’m so busy talking and fretting, my head so full of my own noise that I don’t recognize Him, His voice. Our disciple friends did exactly that same thing. In fact, when Jesus begins questioning them regarding what events had taken place to get them so upset, they get frustrated with Him and His ignorance. The disciple named Cleopas even goes so far as to basically say, “Are you seriously the only stranger in this whole area who doesn’t know what’s just happened around here?” (verse 18) In other words, you and your ignorance are inexcusable. (YIKES!!) The disciples go on to answer Jesus’s question about what’s happened by listing ALL THE WRONGS that happened. All the negatives. (Let’s take a quick moment right here to recognize that because they didn’t know what God knew and because what they expected to happen was based on their own limited understanding of God and how He worked, they’re even more upset, confused and worked up than if they’d just remember who Jesus was and put their trust in the same Father He trusted. Preaching to myself. Okay, back to our story.) So after listening to Cleopas and his fellow disciple-friend detail all the things that had gone wrong and upset them, Jesus had something to say…something He’s probably said to me a thousand times: “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” Did you catch that exclamation point? I hope so. Jesus’s statement paraphrased: “Are you braindead? I told you what was going to happen, it happened, and now you’re confused? Have some faith, my friends!” Isn’t that what you and I should be doing in the midst of our upset too? Shouldn’t we be purposefully reminding ourselves of God’s promises in His Word, taking a couple of deep breaths, and intentionally choosing to believe that God will do what He says He’ll do?

But of course our story doesn’t end there. Fast forward through their journey. The two disciples arrive at their exit and implore Jesus to stay with them instead of continuing on. He agrees, even staying to have dinner with them. It was during this meal, when Jesus took the bread (remember, they have a kinship with this man they can’t quite understand but they still think he’s merely a friendly stranger), broke it and prayed over it that the Bible tells us “…their eyes were instantly opened and they [clearly] recognized Him, and He vanished (departed invisibly)” (vs. 31). CAN. YOU. IMAGINE? My head would be absolutely spinning! I’d be so shocked that Jesus was right there with me (wait, what?! Isn’t he DEAD?!), and then after He just vanished, I’d be left trying to remember all the crazy mess I’d said in front of Him when I thought He was just a random stranger. Surely Cleopas thought, “Oh no, I got snarky with Jesus!”

Like what you and I would most likely do, these two friends had to verbally rehash all that had happened since this stranger came into their presence. I love verse 32 because it really shows us the humanity of these men, trying to explain a greatness that they can’t really put into words. Putting ourselves in their shoes we can see how they were both calmed by this “stranger” and even desired His presence without even realizing it. This is such an important moment of awakening for these hurting, confused men that I want to separate it out. Verse 32 is below.

“And they said to one another, Weren’t our hearts burning within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Look at this. Jesus’s message to them was so anointed and so impactful that these two men, despite being overcome with so many different emotions, had a physical reaction to the words of Jesus. I want you to take a minute and think about whatever is weighing on your heart lately. Or, think about something you were going through recently that lasted substantially longer than you’d have preferred. Jesus talks to us in the midst of our struggles, you know. He’s right there. The whole time. And you know what else? He’s guiding us. But like these two men, we get so caught up in foolishly trying to understand it all or having our own way or being mad because life didn’t happen the way we expected that we shut down the burn from the Holy Spirit that we feel within. Some of us shut it down with substances. Some of us shut it down with noise: social media, hectic schedules that keep us busy and occupied from sun up to sun down, television, even social engagements so we make sure we aren’t ever still and quiet. Some of us shut it down with food. And then others of us find ways of insulating ourselves against that burn with anger or harshness or hatred. But what if we stopped all that? What if we just let ourselves feel the burn? What if we just stopped making excuses and getting so wrapped up and just let Jesus be Jesus? Sure, it’s going to be hard to do and, I’ll be totally honest, pretty painful at first. But look at our reward: Jesus, by way of the Holy Spirit right there with us, guiding us, explaining things to us, helping us in every possible way. That’s definitely worth it, wouldn’t you agree?

At the close of Luke 24, Jesus is taken up into heaven while in the presence of His disciples, including the two friends from our story, but before going, He says to His friends, “Peace be to you!…Why are you disturbed and troubled, and why do such doubts and questionings arise in your hearts?” As friends of Jesus, He is saying these things to us, too. He’s asking you and me, why are you choosing doubt and upset and anger and food and alcohol and distraction over me? I am trying to help you. I am trying to point out to you the things in your life that need your attention. I am trying to help you make decisions that, while possibly inconvenient and unpopular right now, will set you up for abundant blessings down the road, but you refuse to heed the burn of My Holy Spirit’s prompting within you. Stop fighting Me. Stop avoiding Me. Stop carrying into your future all that baggage (guilt, hurt, shame) that I died to save you from. Why are you disturbed and troubled when I’m right here? I want to help. I died to help. Please, let me.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit that, as a believer, I get to carry within me at all times. Thank you for the continual guidance and instruction I receive from Your Spirit. Father, I ask that You please help me to mirror my life after Your Son. I recognize that Jesus’s life wasn’t comfortable or easy, and I know that sometimes mine won’t be either. I know that You’re right there with me, though, when things get tough, and I know that You’re using those trials to bless me and bring glory to You. Help me, also, Father, to stop tuning out the voice of the Holy Spirit when I feel it burning within me. Help me and those I care about to stop seeking ease and comfort and to start seeking You, no matter what that costs us. I love you, Lord, and I simply want to know You and to have more of You. In Jesus’s name I pray, Amen.

 

 

From Marriage To Mascara

Ah, the New Year. The glorious changing over of the old year into a new one; a time for shluffing off the old and stepping into the new with a renew attitude and a legal pad full of goals. BOOOOO!!! {insert thumbs-down emoji here} The truth of the matter is this: I am OVER this whole New Year’s resolution trash-talk. As of last Thursday, I am 37 years old, and in those 37 years, I have yet to meet a single individual who bettered himself/herself because of a New Year’s resolution. I mean, just think about it. At what point have you ever kept a goal that was forced upon you? I bet there are at least four of you reading this right now who, two years ago, vowed to spend the rest of your life eating kale, only to have eaten kale exactly once since then. And what about those who spent $250 on exercise outfits (what a ridiculous, costly phrase that is: exercise outfits), only to get roughly 12 drops of sweat in them. They sure look pretty folded neatly in that drawer, though. All matchy-matchy and expensive. And clean.

So instead of this resolution nonsense, this once-a-year goal-setting that is doomed before it’s begun, I’d like to propose something a little different. What if we were to spend our years in continual self-reflection and self-awareness? Now stick with me for a second. Hear me out, oh lovers of the resolution. Instead of one single goal at the start of the year that’s based on whatever the latest Facebook or Instagram fad is, what if we invited the Holy Spirit to work within us CONTINUALLY as we go throughout the year, so that as we live our lives, the Spirit helps us grow and change, prompting us to take note of those strongholds we need to loosen and those Christ-like traits that need further developing? Wouldn’t that be a better use of our time and energy? By the time that year was over, our spiritual maturity would be at an all-time high, and there’s no way our relationship with God wouldn’t be stronger. Plus, as an enormous added bonus, this Spirit-breathed self-awareness would give us many opportunities to sharpen our ability to hear from God. How is this not better? Isn’t this partnership not much more likely to improve our minds, bodies, hearts, souls, diets, attitudes, habits? And guess what….no kale! This is clearly a win-win, people.

In the spirit of the self-reflection that catapulted me onto my soapbox, and because of the change to a new year and the birthday I just had, I’ve spent some time recently thinking about what lessons I’ve learned and plan to carry with me into 2018 and the age of 37 that I didn’t have a decade or more ago. I know those of you who are older than I am have probably learned these lessons years ago. Some of you who are younger might even know a couple of these yourselves, but perhaps you need a friendly reminder or, even better, maybe you can learn from me without having to make the mistakes that go hand-in-hand with the learning. So, without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you Life Lessons with Lindsey Thomas:

  • Coffee is a miracle drug! Where has this glorious bean-water been all my life?! It wasn’t until I became an exhausted mom that I started drinking coffee each morning, and heavens to Betsy! How I lived all those years without it, I do not know. Not a coffee drinker yourself? Those of us united in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Coffee Addicts will pray for you.

 

  • WEAR SUNSCREEN! We have zero ozone. Zero. We cannot have this willy-nilly lifestyle of sun worship and skin neglect. Ladies, get out of the tanning bed. We have spray tans now. Trust me, it’s all fun and games now, but once you hit 35-ish and those fun little sun spots and wrinkles start showing up, you will remember this and you will wish you had listened. RIP to those four moles I lost because I, too, thought I didn’t need sunscreen in my youth. Learn from me!

 

  • Slowing down and doing something well and the right way is totally worth it. From marriage to mascara, taking the time to do our lives right the first time is worth it. Being in a hurry creates issues and heightens our chances of mistakes. In this fast-paced world where we are constantly rushing to get to the next thing or complete the next life step, there’s value and beauty in slowing down and doing things fully. Trust me, you’ll never be successful putting on mascara in a hurry, and relationships aren’t built overnight. Solid foundations take time, and giving them that time is worth it. It’s perfectly okay to slow down and not move at everyone else’s pace.

 

  • A sacrifice (of yourself, your time, your energy, your money) isn’t a sacrifice if you require something for it in return: recognition, attention, accolades, favors from God, etc. Do you find yourself going out of your way to do something for your spouse or your kids or your coworkers only to get upset because they didn’t recognize your effort? (guilty as charged…so many times!) That behavior and the mindset that goes with it are self-serving, and if you haven’t noticed, “self-serving sacrifice” is an oxymoron.

 

  • You know those helpful (air quotes on that one!) pregnancy books such as What To Expect When You’re Expecting? Well, THEY ARE FILLED WITH LIES!! Oh my word, how is it even legal to make such false statements as, “___________ will go away after pregnancy”?? You know what are the ONLY two things that go away after pregnancy? Your youth and your ability to relax. That’s it! That dark spot on your face that came up around week 20 and that the book swears will fade once the baby arrives? How about you ask this one that’s been on my cheek for the last five and a half years what its plans are for disappearing. And guess what news I have for you about that swollen uterus they just swear will pop right back into shape post childbirth….yeah, good luck with that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all totally worth it in the end, but I’m pretty sure we now all know who the creator of the fake news concept was. Pages and pages of lies.

 

  • I could write an entire blog post on the stupidity of the falsehood that is a thigh gap. If you are both the parent of a daughter and unfamiliar with this topic, let me encourage you to rectify that immediately. I vow we stop calling it by this ridiculous euphemism, and start calling it by its real name: anorexia.

 

  • I’m not sure if I’m just a real dumb-dumb or what, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I came across a novel idea that radically changed my life. Did you know that you can choose your mood?! Say what?! I spent so much time when I felt sad or angry just marinating in that emotion, waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen that would change it into something happier and more positive. How dumb! I have awesome resources like prayer and thankfulness and praise and the Word of God at my fingertips to propel me into joy and happiness, and yet I would sit around waiting on some combination of people or circumstances to fix me. Think about how much time I wasted waiting to get happy when all I had to do was decide not to be angry or upset or down in the dumps. You choose your mood. Your life doesn’t have to be governed by your emotions. {mimes mind blowing} Just amazing.

 

  • Trust God to be God! He’s way better at it than we are.

 

  • The more you ignore God’s prompting via the Holy Spirit, the less easy it’ll be to hear Him the next time. Having trouble hearing from God about an issue you’ve been praying about for a while? Unsure what direction God’s leading you in right now? Take a moment to be honest with yourself about one thing: how many times has God laid a burden on your heart to do something (walk away from a conversation, turn off that tv show or movie, call someone and apologize) and because it wasn’t convenient for you, you decided to ignore Him? I’ve done it countless times. And the Bible tells us that every time we ignore God, every time we know we’re being tapped on the shoulder by the Holy Spirit and we choose to actively ignore Him, the tenderness in our souls that’s required for hearing God’s “voice” is calloused. Immediate obedience smooths away those calluses and keeps them away so that we can clearly hear God speaking.

 

  • Are you a female between the ages of 16 and 29? If so, listen up! This one’s for you. WEAR EYELINER PENCIL WHILE YOU STILL CAN! You don’t know this yet, but there will come a day when it’s next to impossible for you to use that eyeliner pencil. That skin around your eye will no longer be delicate and pulled tight. Oh no, you’ll have to get up an extra five minutes early just so you have plenty of time to chase your eyelid all around your face with that eyeliner pencil. There will be plenty of time for that liquid eyeliner later, young friends. Pencil it up while your eyelid is still stationary. Trust me on this.

 

  • Stop worrying!!! God’s got this and no amount of worry from you is going to make the situation any better. Did you know that for every minute you spend worrying you get three gray hairs? I don’t think that’s true since I just made it up, but let’s pretend it is so it can help us rid ourselves of this useless sin. Deal? Great. Now stop worrying!

 

  • Okay, all you not-a-parent-yet folks, pay attention. REST NOW! RELAX NOW! Sure, sure, laugh it off, but one day, you’ll remember this and you’ll wish you’d listened.

 

  • Go to God first and not to other people when you have a problem. God already has the solution and knows every single aspect of whatever it is that you’re facing. Humans do not. Even if that person is your “person” and they know you and they know everything about you and they know all about whatever is upsetting you, they are not God. You go to Him first. You address your needs and your problem to Him, and THEN, if He feels you should seek the counsel of someone in your circle, He will prompt you to do so. God first, others second.

 

  • The less you judge others, the less you will feel judged by other people. In Luke 6:37, Jesus tells us “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” and yes, in this verse He’s talking about our relationship with God. However, I 1000% believe He’s also talking about how things work on Earth, too. Being judgmental is a mindset, and if you spend your time constantly evaluating others, what they’re doing, the choices they’re making, how they look, and on and on and on, your mind will be so caught up in judgment that it will come back against you. You will feel judged in all ways and by everyone. For years I had a very judgmental attitude. I was insecure, and because of that insecurity, it made me feel better to find things in others and their lives that I felt were lacking so that I could hold that up against my own life and make my sad, self-conscious self feel better. I promise you, even if you’re doing it and don’t feel it’s on purpose, it sucks the life right out of you. Suddenly you’re even more self-conscious and insecure because you assume that everyone is doing what you’re doing and you don’t match up. Guess what…they’re not. I can testify to the truth that once you let go of that judgment and stop this cyclical, destructive thinking, you’ll feel better about yourself, your life, and the choices you make. It’s hard to do and it’s painfully slow sometimes, but it’s so very worth it.

 

  • Ever feel like you’re different than everybody else? Like they’re all in some exclusive club and you didn’t get the invite? Maybe everybody you know is married or engaged, but you’re not. Maybe you find yourself having a different thought-style than those around you. Does it ever feel like you’re just a little bit different than everybody else, too old or too young for the time in which you were born? Whatever the case, having also felt that way numerous times, let me take a moment to encourage you to stick with being yourself. Be who God is leading you to be, and if that’s not like everybody else, that’s totally fine. God has a plan for you, and if you haven’t noticed, Jesus wasn’t like everybody else either. He gets it. He’s been there. Feel free to talk to Him about it. I can guarantee you’ll feel a lot better once you do.

 

  • You can either complain or be “helpable” but you can’t be both. Fun story: in one of our first couple of years of marriage, I was unloading the dishwasher and complaining about all the stuff I did around the house, how much I was responsible for doing, etc. Basically, I was having a grand ole pity party. Nathan, however, was having none of it. When he asked me what he could do to help, when he told me that all I had to do was tell him what I needed help with and he’d do it, and all I did was brush him off and continue complaining, that was the last straw. Usually laid-back and quiet, he said in a way that can only be described as stern and authoritative: “Either take the help when it’s offered or shut up. Tell me what to do or stop griping.” Praise the Lord for His hand on me, because instead of bristling and getting defensive, I immediately saw the wisdom in what my husband was saying. As it turns out, this truth applies to many situations in life. Just like Jesus asked the man who’d been lying next to the healing pool all those years, let me put this question to you: “Do you want to get well?” In other words, do you even want your circumstances to change–are you actively trying to improve them–or do you want to just stand around and unload and complain? That wise man of mine was really onto something because it’s completely true: you can either complain or get better, but you don’t have enough energy for both. The decision is yours.

 

  • Jesus instructs us to keep the peace. This is obviously true. But some of us have confused peace-keeping and/or meekness with passivity and avoidance. Let’s just state this clearly: avoidance is NOT the same thing as peace-keeping. There’s a lot to be said about this and this post is already long enough (isn’t that right, Dad?), so let’s just leave it where it is and save unpacking this truth for a later date.

 

  • And last but not least, something I’m still working very hard every day to learn: reasoning is exhausting. There’s a reason that verse in the Bible exists that cautions us about leaning on our own understanding. Human beings don’t understand much of anything as it turns out. We can spend our time reasoning out the hows and whys of a dilemma, but it changes nothing because we don’t have that aerial view of our lives that God does. We don’t see the whole picture because we’re not Him. So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the biggest lesson I’ve learned of all, the smartest thing I can take with me into 2018, into my next year (and decade) of life is that I am not God. You, my friend, are not God. You and I cannot do what He can do. We are not made to do what He does. Cut yourself some slack. Stop trying to do more than you’re capable of doing, and relax knowing that the One who knows EVERYTHING has you exactly where He wants you. And if you’ve gotten a little off track, He’s still there, and He can still work all you’ve done or didn’t do for your good. And one more time for good measure: You. Are not. God.

 

Take a deep breath, everyone. 2018 is going to be a good year.

Fruit of the Womb

I’m not totally sure why, but this post has been really challenging for me to actually get written. Maybe it’s because my tiny girl has been battling the flu plus a sinus infection plus a possible virus for the last week and a half. Maybe it’s because I’m overwhelmed by the news that, as it turns out, many, many famous men are total pervs. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I have just really struggled with this one. I’ve had the subject in mind for over three weeks, but for some reason I haven’t felt God leading me to really discuss it in a clear way until sometime over the last couple of days. (At least I hope it’s a clear way.)

Like many of you, I grew up in church and have, therefore, heard the telling of the Christmas story for as long as I can remember. As an adult, I feel that the repetitiveness of the story itself presents a special challenge: how to think about Christmas in a way that doesn’t feel routine and doesn’t desensitize me to the huge impact the birth of Jesus has on my life today. As a girl and as a woman, I always found myself so intrigued by the story of Mary. Now, as a mom, it’s become a fascination. I’ve had a wiggly, growing baby in my belly.  I’ve had swollen feet and tired legs in the almost-9th month of pregnancy. I’ve felt overwhelmed by the challenges I was soon to face with impending motherhood, so I can understand her situation in some ways. However, I’m pretty sure that’s where our similarities stop. But to really understand this miraculous event that is Christmas, a better understanding of Mary is where we must begin.

As we know, Mary was merely a child when she we selected by God to be the mother of His Son Jesus. One of the questions I’d love the opportunity to ask God is “why Mary?” What was it about this young girl (although not nearly as young as 13-14 is by our current standards) that made her the perfect person to carry, birth, love, and raise the Savior of the entire human race?? While thinking about this question recently after hearing my all-time favorite Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know?,” and while studying a portion of Galatians 5, I felt as though God opened my eyes to help me understand just a little bit more about why Mary was the chosen mother of Jesus.

Before we circle back around to Mary, let’s play a little game, shall we? I’m going to list for you several character traits. I ask that you simply slow down, look at each trait carefully, and rate yourself and how well you exhibit each trait on a scale from 1 to 10.   (1=nope, not me at all; 10= me, all day every day) Okay, ready? BE HONEST! (Shame on you for trying to lie at Christmas!)

*Love                                     *Patience                    *Faithfulness

*Joy/joyfulness                    *Kindness                   *Gentleness (meekness)

*Peace/peacefulness          *Goodness                   *Self-control

So, how’d you do? If you’re like me, several of these made you cringe. In this past week alone, my scores for patience, gentleness, and peacefulness are very low. Yes, it’s been a challenging and stressful week, full of tests and trials, but isn’t it during difficult times that our true selves rear their heads? The list above isn’t something I made up. It’s God-breathed. These traits can be found in Galatians 5:22-23. In these important scriptures, God lists the traits, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, so that those of us reborn in His Son will know exactly what’s expected of us behavior-wise: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy (gladness), patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence).” If you’ve ever wondered exactly what God expects of you, or how to know if you’re being the kind of person/Christian that God wants you to be, there’s a way to know. Simply take a minute and evaluate how you, your attitude and your behavior match up.

Now after all that, you’re probably wondering what in the world this has to do with Mary, right? (Edge of your seat, I can tell!) Well hear me out. If God saw Mary, saw her heart and her soul and decided she was exactly who He wanted to be the mother of His Son, isn’t it safe to assume that Mary embodied many of these fruits of the Spirit already? In my opinion, there’s absolutely no way that God would choose to inhabit the womb of a woman who wasn’t loving, who wasn’t joyful, who wasn’t good and kind and faithful, who didn’t display self-control and wasn’t patient with others. This was the future mother of Jesus, for crying out loud! She was going to grow him and nurture him, and lead and guide him. Before the Holy Spirit, before Jesus, there was Mary, and given Jesus was the fruit of her womb, isn’t it safe to assume that she bore many of the same traits that He did, even if to a lesser degree?

So what does this birth mean for us, living here in 2017 just trying to survive the utter insanity and sin that is the world today? It means that a baby was born, long ago, who brought with Him all the goodness and love and peacefulness and gentleness and patience that you and I could ever need. It means that you and I now know God personally, that you and I no longer have to live by hundreds and hundreds of laws just to avoid hell. It means that we have an example for how we are to live our lives, and we have the Holy Spirit within us to help us bear fruit with our lives. Galatians 5:16 instructs present-day Christians (um, hello, that’d be us!) to “walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit], then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh…” But as Christ-followers eager to be more like Jesus, to have more of Him in our daily lives, we must go one step farther than simply acknowledging the necessity of walking in the Spirit; we must have a clear understanding of what the Spirit looks and sounds like so we make no mistake (or excuse) about which parts of us we must keep and develop further and which ones we must work hard to remove.

“We cannot know God through someone else.” A relationship with your Savior is personal. No one can develop those fruits of the Spirit in your life for you. No one can cultivate that relationship for you. Let me encourage you, if there’s an area where you know you struggle–maybe your peace is so far gone you don’t remember what it even looked or felt like…maybe you’ve tossed aside your self-control so many times that you’re not even sure where to begin in order to get it back–take that area (or areas) to the One who can help you to once again bear good fruit. “A good (healthy) tree cannot bear bad (worthless) fruit, nor can a bad (diseased) tree bear excellent fruit [worthy of admiration]” Matthew 7:18. You and I may not be Mary, but we are good people, people who God loves so much that He gave us His Son, that we might be joint heirs with Him in all that is good and holy. We are the children of God, just as Jesus is, and it’s through His Holy Spirit who lives in us, who bears these good fruits in our lives, that we are sealed (marked, branded, and secured) as God’s own (Ephesians 4:30–AMP).

This Christmas season, I’d like to invite you to consider the Spirit of Christmas in a slightly different way. How much of the [Holy] Christmas Spirit are you carrying around with you today? How much will you carry around with you tomorrow? This Christmas, spend some time evaluating what kind of fruit–good, healthy fruit or bad, diseased fruit–you’re producing in your life. Spend some set-aside, intentional time thinking about what the birth of Jesus was really like, for His earthly parents, for His Heavenly Father. Let us aspire to be both like Mary and the fruit of her womb, Jesus. Let our lives bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Dear Lord, thank You so much for my Savior. Thank You for His birth, for His earthly parents, for His purpose. Father, I am so grateful that when Jesus left earth and ascended into Heaven, You didn’t leave us empty but instead sent the Holy Spirit to abide in each of us who believe in Your Word. I ask today, Lord, that You take my hand and my heart and guide me through life so that with my actions and my decisions I bear good, healthy fruit to glorify Your name and Your kingdom. Help me, Father, to be honest with myself and honest with You so that I can ratify from my life any strongholds crippling my maturity in my relationship with You. Thank You for Christmas, thank You for all that it means. Thank You for the sacrifice of Mary and Joseph and their families. Help me to spend my holiday with my eyes and heart focused on You so that I am clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ, able to resist the weaknesses of my flesh. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful that You hear this and all the prayers that I pray. It’s in Your Son’s glorious name that I pray. Amen.

***MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!! May your 2018 far surpass your expectations, and may God show up in a mighty way in your lives this next year. As always, I continue to be so grateful for your loyalty and support. God has blessed me in a HUGE way with each of you! Now go drink some egg nog (yuck!) and eat some Christmas cookies (much better!)! Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Jesus!

 

Broken-hearted Thankfulness

I know, I know. You’re busy. You have a house to clean, children to entertain, food to buy and prep and cook. You have presents to purchase (for the holiday that’s not even here yet) and Black Friday deals to procure. As Thanksgiving arrives, you will undoubtedly have, both figuratively and literally, a lot on your plate (you see what I did there?!). But setting aside all the hurry and worry for just a second won’t kill you. So go ahead, take just a second to read something that, perhaps, might just help you enjoy your Thanksgiving a tiny bit more.

Before we get into the meat of the discussion (look at all these genius food-related metaphors!), take a second to read the section below. Thanks!

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Thankful: (adj) feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.

Hebrews 13:15, “Through Him, therefore, let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.”

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Despite one of these being taken from a secular dictionary and the other coming straight from the Bible, they have much in common. Let’s start with the verse in Hebrew. Many of us aren’t hearing for the first time this concept of being thankful to God at all times and in all circumstances. If you’re like me, you’ve read verses like this before, and after realizing it’s another verse telling you to do something you know you’re currently not doing very well, you sort of mumble “Sorry, God, I’ll do better,” and move on to the next verse. Don’t get me wrong, I think the type of attitude and mindset described in this verse is the key to living the kind of life that God intends for us. However, I don’t think the first part is the most important within this verse. I want us to really stop and look at the intentional reference to this mindset as “a sacrifice of praise.” A sacrifice. By definition, a sacrifice is something you choose to do, something that costs you something to carry out, but it’s something you do anyway because you believe it to be the right thing. Y’all, we cannot sit around waiting until our mood allows us to praise God, waiting until we feel like praising God. We must adopt a mindset that, no matter what we have going on, we are going to glorify the name of Jesus.

Notice the idea that thankfulness (like joy…see previous blog post!) is not a “when you feel like it” thing according to the dictionary definition either. Yes, there are many, many times in our lives when we feel deeply, deeply grateful, but there are many others when we don’t. Being thankful, according to Webster, might be a feeling you feel, but it might also be a decision you make to express gratitude.

I don’t know what you’re going through, I don’t know what you’ve been through, and I don’t know what you’ve lost this year. I do know, however, that the examples set for us in the Bible show people at their weakest, facing their greatest adversity, and coming through it successfully–blessed abundantly!–because they chose to praise God through each miserable step. Even when the devil is trying his best to help me remember every single upset in my life, I want to keep this song in my heart: I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart. I will enter His courts with praise. I will say this is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice for He has made me glad. I want to value my relationship with my Heavenly Father enough that I purposefully use my time to simply be in His presence. To say thank you. To worship Him. I want to be so undone by His generosity that I have nothing but my love and my overwhelming, broken-hearted thankfulness to offer Him.

God is teaching me that for His children to live with Him in their hearts and minds all day each day isn’t convenient. It’s not natural for us, and it’s not easy. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, it’s even uneventful sometimes. And because I’m a sinner by nature, it’s sacrificial. John 4:24 says that “God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being) and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (reality).” Guys, just being thankful when it’s easy, just praising God for His innate goodness on Sunday mornings, that’s not enough. That’s nowhere near making a sacrifice of praise. It should be the first item on our “To Do” lists EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just when a holiday forces us to do it: “Give to the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord…” (Psalm 29:2).

In my Bible reading this morning, the children of God were called “blessed.” Because I use an Amplified version of the Bible, it gave me deeper insight into what this term meant when applied to Christians. Blessed people = people who are happy, to be envied, spiritually prosperous, with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions. With all my heart, I want this description to apply to me. Spiritually prosperous? Yes, please! Possessing life-joy? Absolutely! (I love that term, by the way…life-joy) Being joyful and satisfied regardless of what my outward condition is simply because I have a God who loves me enough to favor me and who rescued me from my sinful nature out of the goodness of His own heart? One million times yes! We serve an AMAZINGLY good God, y’all. He’s FOR us. He LOVES you. No matter what your heart feels like during this Thanksgiving holiday and the Christmas season to follow, be thankful. Choose to offer that wonderful God you serve your sacrifice of praise. You can never out-give God. Whatever it costs you to choose to set aside your sorrows and your worries and your upsets to white-knuckle your praise to God, DO IT. You will be repaid so very, very richly.

(Before the closing prayer, I’d like to take a minute and let you guys know how beyond-words thankful I am for you. I feel like I’d so often like to offer you an apology for the quality that you get here, but you don’t seem to mind. I will never be able to express my gratitude for your time and your feedback. Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for sticking around. God is teaching me SOOO MUCH through you, and I’m forever grateful to Him and you. Big hugs to you all, and may everyone have a blessed Thanksgiving.)

Dear Lord, thank you so much. Thank you for every single thing in my life that you so continually provide. Father, I love you, and I ask that you help me to a more worshipful and grateful attitude regardless of my outward condition. In Psalm 25:12 it states that the person who worships You “shall dwell at ease,” and Father, this is what I want for my life. Please teach me to lay aside myself so that I can choose to offer You the sacrifice of praise that You so greatly deserve. Lord, I am incredibly thankful to be Your child. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

 

Abraca-NOPE!

Our local Chick-Fil-A hosts a wonderful (FREE!!) event each year called Prince and Princess Night. The location varies, but the concept never does: boys and girls dress up as their favorite princes and princesses and attend a super-charged meet-and-greet with various Disney favorites. There is a main stage with performances by each prince and princess that the kids get to participate in, games and prizes, and more photo opportunities than you can imagine. It’s something we look forward to every year! I guess because of this impending event, during a recent conversation with a friend who was struggling with a long-running issue, I started thinking about my approach to prayer, specifically how I thought about prayer (how I treated it). Sadly, it turns out I have a much more “Disney” than Jesus approach often times.

This might be kind of tricky to explain, so stick with me.

You see, often times I use prayer as a means to an end. I have a problem or a challenge. I don’t know how to handle this problem or challenge or, more likely, I just want it to go away. So I pray about it. Then, I expect God to wave His Disney-esque magic wand and simply remove my problem or challenge because “I did my part” and said my one prayer about it. I mean, isn’t that how this works? God sees poor, stressed Lindsey and breaks out His magic and all my problems melt away? Abraca-NOPE! It turns out, prayer is a lot more powerful and foundational than that.

I do want to make sure I’m clear about one thing right off the bat: I ONE-HUNDRED PERCENT believe that God can answer a prayer either before we ever offer it up, or the second the words leave our hearts. He is mighty and able to do more than we could ever even dream. I don’t doubt His ability, but as I’ve learned more about the heart of God, about His desire for a real, deep, binding relationship with His children, I’ve started to see that God uses prayer as a bridge, and not one that He’s willing to quickly discard. Think about it this way. What if every time we had a problem, we prayed about it once, God moved immediately, and our problem vanished. Where would this leave us as Christians? Where would this leave us in our relationship with God?

I believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, has created prayer to be, not as a magic wand, but as a door that we, His children, can use to gain access to His voice, His guidance, His wisdom, and His love. Prayer is not a last ditch effort to restore our earthly calm, uttered only at the apex of our need. Prayer is a way for God to guide us small step by small step through our challenges and trials and temptations until at last (sometimes at loooong last), we are on the other side. If the purpose of our struggles is to teach us to be more like Jesus, what good would a magic-wand response from God do us anyway? We know from watching Jesus’s actions and hearing His words that He exhibited a variety of character traits: grit, determination, faith, forbearance (self-control), patience, grace, love, long-suffering, tolerance…and that’s just to name a few. These qualities were the tools Jesus used to persevere through His trials and tribulations. It’s these qualities (plus a few others) that made Him Jesus! There was no magic wand. There was no immediate relief. There was, however, prayer.

In researching some biblical truths about prayer, I came across a verse that I don’t remember ever really paying attention to before, but it really emphasized the importance of prayer in our personal relationships with God. Job 22:27 states powerfully, “You will pray to Him, and He will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows to Him.” Did you catch that? Prayer is such a significant vehicle for solidifying our personal relationships with God that Job refers to it as vow fulfillment. When a couple gets married, isn’t it the ceremonial vows that set the foundation for how their relationship should go? Aren’t the vows what dictate the sanctification of a marriage, the unbreakable bond that marriage creates between those two people? Hopefully now we’re beginning to understand why God lets that trial linger longer than we’d prefer, why He allows us to develop a prayer life that involves our repetitive return to Him for guidance and strength instead of simply taking that magic-wand approach we so often hope for.

If we were meant to deal with our struggles by reaching out to God once and only once, if God wasn’t interested in using our prayer life as a doorway into close relationship with Him, we wouldn’t need verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly].” We wouldn’t need to be encouraged BY JESUS HIMSELF “…always to pray and not to turn coward (faint, lose heart, and give up)” (Luke 18:1). If prayer isn’t something that helps us develop long-suffering like Jesus and an ability to persevere like Jesus, there’d be no need for these scriptures. Take a second to look closely at Psalms 145:18, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely and in truth.” Let that sink in…the Lord is near to all who call upon Him. So how, again, do we draw near to Jesus? Prayer. How do we put ourselves into the very presence of the Lord? Prayer. Friends, this is proof that God’s purpose for prayer is far greater, far more important really, than simply answering our requests. Sure, He does that, too. He’s a loving God who wants only the very, very best for His children. He wants to bless them and show them how mightily He can move on their behalf. However, for Him, prayer is so much more than that. It’s His line to us.

So often we come to God with our needs and we feel unheard and unimportant when instant gratification isn’t granted. Instead of getting upset and maybe even angry with God over what we perceive to be His distance, let’s choose instead to remember what the Bible says about Him. He loves us. He longs to be in close relationship with us, and prayer is the cord the binds us to God. I think it’s worth our time to consider a change in our prayer lives, also. Before you disagree, hear me out. In James 4:8, the Bible states, “Come close to God and He will come close to you.” (Sounds really similar to Psalms 145:18, doesn’t it? Wonder if we should pay close attention when God repeats Himself in the Bible? <–SARCASM!) Look carefully at the order of the actions mentioned in this verse. Which comes first, does God draw near to us and then we reciprocate only AFTER He’s made Himself known? Nope. It’s our move. We must reach out to Him FIRST. We draw near to God, and THEN God is near to us. Prayer first, for however long it takes, then God moves on our behalf. But there’s even more good news written between the lines here. You know that in-between time, when you’re still praying over your struggles but God’s not moved visibly yet? Guess what…He’s still right beside you.

Going back to that change in our prayer lives that I mentioned above, let me just throw this idea out there. What if we didn’t want until we needed something serious (and immediately) to tighten our bond with God? What if we fulfilled our vows to Him by praying on a regular basis, about all things? I can only speak for myself and as I go through life I might find this isn’t necessarily always true, but for me personally, I’ve found that when I’m strengthening my relationship with God regularly, in other words, when my prayers are prayers of only thanksgiving or simply conversations with God instead of a litany of requests thrown down at peak urgency, God seems not to need to use trials and tribulations to get my attention and my time. Life just seems a little easier, a little calmer. It’s certainly not magic and I certainly don’t profess to know what God does or why, but sometimes common sense wins out. If God is determined to have a relationship with us and prayer is that relationship’s foundation, God will encourage us to pray by whatever means necessary. In that case, what would it hurt to try praying regularly and in ALL circumstances instead of waiting until you desperately need God’s assistance to speak with Him? Maybe, just maybe, those trials and tribulations that force you into the presence of God wouldn’t be quite so necessary. Just sayin’….

Dear Lord, thank you so much for creating a way for me to speak directly to You. Thank you for ALWAYS hearing me and for ALWAYS working on my behalf to bring the most good into my life. Help me, Lord, to trust Your presence and to believe Your hand is moving even when I cannot see it or sense it. Help me, also, Father, to commit myself to a close relationship with you, one that doesn’t have me running to you only when I need something. Teach me to be patient in my prayers and steadfast in my commitment to my relationship with You. Help me to spend time with you daily so that I’m not reliant on difficult seasons of life before ever reaching out to You. Thank you for the example Jesus set for me with regard to prayer, and I ask you to help me to be more like Him in that regard. I love you, Father, and I thank you for all my many, many blessings. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” ~Corrie Ten Boom

 

Keeping the Peace (of Jesus)

IT’S FALL, Y’ALL!!!! Finally! Fall is my absolute favorite season. I love everything about it. I love the decorations; I love the weather; I love the pumpkin patch; I love Thanksgiving, and I love the clothes. Ah, the clothes. I love the cozy socks and the oversized sweatshirts and the scarves and the boots and….well, you get my point. I just feel better snuggled down into something warm and roomy. (Shut your mouth, it does NOT have anything to do with these such clothes being the kind to hide all manner of bodily imperfections, like the food-baby I sport for a large portion of the fall season.) But you know what? Some of us wear our emotions like cozy fall clothes. For me, I feel most comfortable in a state of worry. I can slip on my worry, and it feels comforting, familiar, like being in the presence of an old friend. However, for others, maybe it’s not worry you wear like that oversized sweatshirt. For you, maybe it’s bitterness. Maybe it’s rejection. Maybe it’s self-pity. Maybe it’s anger. I don’t know about you, but just like I’ll feel about those fluffy socks come warmer spring weather, I’m ready to shed those unhealthy emotions, no matter how comforting the devil might convince me they feel.

Shortly after becoming a mom, I noticed a SUBSTANTIAL decline in my inner peace (my daughter was born at 7:08 pm, and this happened about 7:09pm). At the time, I believed it was just because motherhood and its vast responsibilities were so new to me, but three months, six months, 18 months later, my peace had not returned. It was around this time that God really placed a deep, sincere craving for His peace within my spirit, unlike anything I’d ever longed for before. It was such a strong desire that I immediately began to actively seek that peace. During this search, the Lord started making it clear to me just how absolutely necessary peace is for the life of the believer. As I’ve stated so very many times, worry was my biggest peace-stealer, my biggest hurdle. But despite my own area of difficulty, lately, while praying for God’s guidance with my next blog topic, God really placed a burden on my heart to spend some time discussing the importance of trading not worry this time, but anger and strife for His peace.

So before we get into the thick of it, let me ask you this: is this you? Do you, my friend, have leftover anger and/or resentment toward someone (even years-old anger) that keeps you from feeling content and at peace? Does it affect your relationships? Does it keep you just unhappy enough, just on edge enough, that your household suffers? That your health suffers? That potential relationships suffer? Does it keep you just angry enough that your relationship with God suffers?

Through the guidance of Jesus, I’ve come to believe that there are four steps to ridding our minds, bodies, homes, and lives of the stronghold of anger and strife. Let’s trade in that damaging anger and resentment for the peace of Jesus, shall we?

*Know God’s love for yourself so that you’re able to show it to others

In order to let go of anger and irritation at the moment they arise, to prevent their taking root and festering, we must be able to replace those undesirable emotions with something worthwhile, with fruit of the Spirit. If you don’t know God’s love for you, if you’re not 100% convinced He’s your #1 fan, how can you, when faced with the hard choices of life, choose love as the Bible instructs? My friends, it is the love of Jesus within us, and that ALONE, that allows us to excuse someone else’s words or behavior and opt for love toward him/her instead of upset. Think of it this way: it’s impossible to give away something you yourself don’t possess. How, then, can you give the love of Jesus to others if you don’t accept it for yourself? It is only once we each personally accept God’s unearned love for us that we can show that same unearned love to someone else when the moment of truth comes. What is it that you believe keeps God from loving and accepting you? Whatever it is, I can promise you He’s over it. It’s not an issue for Him. “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you [ransomed you by paying a price instead of leaving you captives]; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). You. Are. His. Still believe that whatever you have in your past is awful enough that God can’t possibly love you? Look no further than Jesus Christ. Fact: His blood was shed. Fact: your sins were forgiven. The end. No disclaimers, no tiny legal print. God knew exactly what He was doing when He made you. He knew you before you were in your mother’s womb, He knows everything about you, He believes you are wonderfully and beautifully made, He knows you are sinful and flawed, and He knows you were so very worth the sacrifice of His Son. God loves you. Say it. Accept it. Embrace it. Believe it. Then, go show it to others.

*Be (intentionally) slow to anger and quick to forgive

In the book of James, we are told directly that anger is not what God has intended for us to settle down into and walk around in. In chapter one it states that EVERY person should be “slow to speak and become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (vs. 19-20). WARNING: time to watch your toes again…stepping is about to commence! Have you ever justified your attitude, your decision to hold onto your anger, your choice to actively hold a grudge against someone because that’s just how you are? That’s just how your personality is? Or maybe that’s just how you were raised? Well, stop that mess. Deep down, you know those are nothing but excuses to be mad because it’s that “cozy sweatshirt” emotion for you, and it’s way easier than getting unmad and forgiving. “But you don’t know what so-and-so did to me!!” You’re exactly right, but God does and I’ve yet to find a verse that gives a little loophole for those of you who’ve met a certain level of hurt/rejection/wrong-doing. Choosing peace over anger IS NOT NATURAL. We were not made to do this automatically. If we had been, there’d be no need for verse after verse instructing us on the hows and whys of letting anger go and being quick to forgive. Just look at Proverbs 29:11. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Notice it says “in the end” is where the calm is. It’s okay to get mad. It’s okay to feel angry about something. That’s normal and human and just part of life. But to settle down and live in that emotion is NOT. It’s detrimental to your spiritual walk, and it puts up a barrier between you and God. Maybe it’s just me and maybe I’m crazy (hush!), but fool is NOT one of the titles I want associated with my my name.

And don’t forget that second part, forgiveness. Maybe you’re not too bad about letting go of your anger. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of getting mad, deep breathing or counting to 10 or whatever, but you can’t quite forgive. Maybe you’re a cataloguer, someone who never forgets the ways others have wronged you. Please, be so very careful about this dangerous tight-rope walk. In Colossians 3:13, we as believers are instructed to “…forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” But our Bible doesn’t just stop there. God wanted to make sure that you and I fully understood the danger of walking around with that unforgiveness, that anger in our hearts. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). Whoa! Read that one more time. Carefully. Out loud maybe even. Listen to what God is saying to us: if we don’t let go of our anger, if we don’t go that one step further to forgive the person or people who’ve wronged us, until we do, we will not be forgiven of our own sins. YIKES! I don’t know about y’all, but I screw up a lot. I desperately need God’s forgiveness on a daily basis (who am I kidding, it’s more like an hourly basis some days…can I get an amen?!). We must be so careful about this. We MUST let that love of God shine through us so that we can dismiss our anger and forgive those who trespass against us as we’re instructed.

Before we move forward to the next point, I do want to take a second for those people who might fall into yet another column with their unforgiveness. So maybe forgiving others you can do, but your struggle has been forgiving yourself for something you did/didn’t do/mishandled in your past. The Bible has you covered, too! Remember what Jesus did for you, how fully He’s seen your sin and how quickly He’s forgiven it: “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Or maybe this helps you see just how forgiven you truly are: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). The message is this, my friend. Peace isn’t possible until you let Jesus do what He gave His life to do: save yours, forgive yours, empower yours. Believe in His complete forgiveness so that you can do what He’s instructed you to do: forgive yourself, forgive others, and live peacefully.

*Mind your own business

Shout out to all you nosy social media drama queens! 🙂 Y’all, what are we doing with this social media bit? Are we improving our lives? I just don’t know. For every uplifting Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer post that helps me feel safe and secure, there are 753,000 that bring me crashing back to the disaster that is our world. And wouldn’t it be interesting if we could all be in a room together and honestly respond if I asked for you to raise your hand if you’ve ever felt your blood pressure skyrocket over something you’ve seen on social media? {slowly raises hand} Again, what are we doing? We are allowing our peace to be stolen so that we get three and a half minutes of entertainment while looking at the silly Internet (which just might be the anti-Christ, anyway). And don’t even get me started on people who’ve allowed social media to ruin family relationships and friendships! As is His usual, God knew what was coming. He knew what we were facing and the temptations and faults we’d cave to. So guess what He did…He covered this topic in His Word, too. First Thessalonians explains how we are to approach such behavior. In verse 11, God’s Word tells each of us “to make it your ambition and definitely endeavor to live quietly and peacefully, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” Let me translate: mind your own dadgum business, stay busy with your own life, and make a continuous, determined effort to keep the peace of Jesus. As that grossly overused expression goes, enough said.

*Purposefully avoid strife

Most of us would probably agree quickly that anger within our hearts and homes is dangerous and far from what God intends for us. But what about strife? Strife is a word used within the Bible to describe an atmosphere of bickering or a confrontational attitude people take on. You know those days when you don’t feel good or are tired or just over it completely and you meet every single statement from your spouse or children or coworkers as a challenge? That’s strife. It’s that unsettled feeling where no one’s full-out fighting necessarily (although that’s frequently present in strife-filled households too), but you can feel in the atmosphere that peace is not prevailing. It hardly takes a rocket scientist to determine that a house or heart full of strife cannot simultaneously be one of peace and calm. Quarrelsome behavior doesn’t allow for peaceful interactions, and the presence of such behavior is something we are strongly cautioned against in II Timothy: “And the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending). Instead, he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered [preserving the bond of peace]” (vs. 24). It is our JOB, as followers of Jesus, as people of the Church, to purposefully walk in peace. When that person behind you in the checkout line is stepping straight on your last, worn-out nerve….choose to remain in peace. When your child misplaces his/her shoe for the 7,000th time on the morning you’re running late…choose to remain in peace. When your coworker will NOT stop asking tedious questions about whatever dumb new thing your company is attempting to implement…choose to remain in peace. When it would be so easy to make that cutting remark to your spouse’s question…choose to remain in peace. I’m sure some of you recognize yourself in these descriptions of quarrelsome behavior, and maybe you even think that it’s not really that big of a deal. I’m sure some of you think it’s not like you’re really fighting with your wife or your husband or your kids, and who did bickering ever hurt anyway. If you feel this way, I strongly encourage you to take a minute to read Galatians 5, especially around verse 20. Just how serious is strife? Our Bible puts it in the same category as adultery, witchcraft, murder, hatred, and idolatry. Did you catch that?? Something as “simple” as strife is so potentially damaging and so dangerous that it’s grouped with the “biggest sins” one could think of. I guess it kind of makes sense, since after all, it certainly is murderous on our inner and outer peace.

So regardless of where you fall in the tendency to get angry and act upon that anger, I think it’s safe to say that we all need more peace in our lives. We know we can’t expect others to create that peace for us. It is up to us to choose that lifestyle and attitude for ourselves, but we also know that we don’t have to go it alone. Not only do we have a great, tried-and-true instruction manual at our fingertips that teaches us how to behave so as to encourage more peacefulness (um, hello…it’s the Bible!), but we also have a Teacher who is more than happy to meet us right where we are. He’s more than happy to help us in big ways and small ways until reacting with love, forgiveness and peace feels way more cozy and snug than anger and resentment and upset ever have.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that I don’t have to rely on myself alone when it comes to making big changes in my life, especially in my behavior and attitudes. Father, I ask that you help prompt me when my behavior doesn’t glorify You. Help me to recognize areas which need improvement, especially those involving my tendency toward anger, upset, and strife. I want to be at peace, and I ask that You help me to desire the peace that comes from You, Jesus, above anything else. Help me to crave the peace that surpasses all understanding more than I crave the temporary satisfaction that human emotion gives. Thank you, Lord, for hearing my prayer and for walking with me into this new way of being. Help me to be patient with others and patient with myself. Thank you for Your Word and guidance. In Jesus’s name I pray this prayer. Amen.

 

 

Just ride your bike

My initial plan was for this post to be written and published Thursday or Friday of last week. I wanted to use this post to discuss a prayer on my heart, a lesson God was teaching me. However, while praying about and thinking about my post’s content, I felt God guide me toward waiting so that I might also include the BIG way He was planning to show up and answer my prayer (i.e. show His power and love). So, I waited…because I’m smart like that.

Before I get into the aforementioned lesson, let me ask you a question which God has really been pressing upon my heart lately: do you only believe in God, or do you actually believe Him, too? In other words, do you truly believe, deep down, that He not only can but WILL fulfill His biblical promises in your life, just like He did for Mary or Moses or Joshua, or even Jesus? After some careful, honest self-reflection, I found that I leaned way more toward believing in God, but when it came to believing God, believing He will do for me what He says He’ll do, I doubted His promise fulfillment in my own life. It wasn’t that I thought He couldn’t do what He said He could do, it was just that I doubted He’d do those things for little ole insignificant me. I mean, I totally understand why God parted oceans for Moses…he’s Moses for crying out loud! But Lindsey? Who am I that God would move mountains, part oceans, burn bushes for me?

As I’ve told you before, I struggle with a negative outlook at times, especially during challenging times, which unfortunately dampens my faith and hinders my trusting in God’s plan and hand. This is something I’ve recognized about myself for many years, and it’s something I’ve longed to correct but felt unable to do. I recently began reading Believing God by Beth Moore, and if you struggle in this same area, I HIGHLY recommend it (even if you don’t struggle with trusting that God will do what He says He’ll do, it’s a fabulous resource). In this book, Ms. Moore posits the question I asked you earlier about whether you’ve stopped at believing in God or matured enough spiritually to believe God and His promises. Because I was spending time reflecting on where my belief truly fell, I started noticing how I approached God’s promises, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t liking what I saw.  At all.

Back to that lesson I told you about earlier. In order to really up the celebration factor for our daughter’s recent fifth birthday, my husband and I decided to surprise her with a weekend trip to Branson this past weekend. For most of you, this will seem like no big deal. Branson is only a little over two hours away, and we were only planning to stay two nights. But for us, for our little family, this was a BIG, stress-inducing deal (especially for me). Not only does our sweet girl’s food allergy situation present a really big challenge when eating out (and when eating in an unfamiliar town), but she’s never really slept away from home. She’s a HUGE fan of her own bed, and even in it, sleep it not always her friend. (Just so you understand the magnitude of this, she’s now five and we’ve slept solidly through the night maybe 15-20 times…total. In her whole life. Help me, Jesus.) My gut reaction was to give in to the fear that this trip might be exhausting and difficult and just cancel the whole thing. However, God’s really been showing me the danger of living a life where my decisions are based on my human fears and limitations, so we kept the trip on the calendar and pressed forward.

Fast forward a couple of days, past days devoted to praying my burdens over to God instead of trying to plan out every single movement myself (“Do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes.” Proverbs 3:5-7). Fast forward a couple of days where I had to remind myself literally as often as eight to ten times a day that God was in control and I wasn’t. That He was planning each minute, each circumstance, and not me. Fast forward a couple of days so that you’re in the midst of a trip that turned out far better than we could have ever expected. Did I know exactly how we were going to get our daughter to sleep each night before we got there? No, I did not. But God did. Did I know exactly what she was going to eat for each meal while we were there? No, I did not. But God did. And, friends, hear this: not only did He make sure her needs were met, but He went above and beyond (because that’s how He rolls, if you’ve not noticed). Where, besides Chick-Fil-A, was the only other place in Branson that we found where it was safe for her to eat? AT OUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN THAT WHOLE CITY!! Are you hearing this? Not only did we find a restaurant with menu items (plural…itemS!!) that would feed our child, but we found them at the restaurant that is our go-to, can’t-miss stop each time we’re in Branson!! God is so good! And do you know what else? We slept. Was it the most peaceful, uninterrupted sleep of all time? No, but it was fine. It wasn’t perfect, but it was progress. It was progress that was, without a doubt, God-ordered and constructed. As it turns out, I don’t have to have it all figured out ahead of time. God was right. If we trust Him, if we put our faith in Him and His promises, He. Will. Deliver.

During this time of trip prep and a mentally tiring cycle of feeling worried, turning that worry over to God, and blocking it from my mind, I revisited the story of Abraham in Genesis 12. In the first verse of that chapter, God instructs Abraham (Abram), saying, “Go for yourself [for your own advancement] away from your country, from your relatives and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” After promising to bless Abraham and protect him and his future descendants, verse four tells us that “…Abram departed, as the Lord had directed him.” Think about that for just a minute, what this exchange really entails. 1. God visits Abraham. 2. God tells Abraham to leave every single thing (He even lists them!) that he’s familiar with and go where God directs. 3. Abraham does as he’s instructed. Okay, hold the phone. I don’t know about you, but if this happened to me, I can PROMISE YOU that I’d need a little something extra between 2 and 3 that included the tiny detail of WHERE I AM GOING!!! What in the actual world?! Look at the faith and trust displayed by Abraham in just these verses. God doesn’t tell Abraham each step to take. God doesn’t tell Abraham the game plan or the big picture or even a tiny hint toward what He has in mind. But does that stop Abraham from trusting God and stepping out? Not one bit. Unlike me, Abraham’s faith and trust exist stronger and bigger than his desire for understanding or planning. He (again, unlike me) didn’t need to know the next step or where he’d be one week later. He didn’t ask God why. He just went. Without question and with nothing but trust. He believed God.

And, friends, this is exactly how God wants us to be, too. In Isaiah 42: 16, God promises His guidance: “I will lead them in paths that they have not known. I will make darkness into light before them, and make uneven places into a plain. These things I have determined to do [for them]; and I will not leave them forsaken.” Put yourself into God’s shoes for a second. Can you imagine our reactions if He were to tell us each bump in the road we’ll face between now and heaven? We’d freeze up. We’d be so overwhelmed and disheartened we’d miss every single blessing lying in our path. So instead, God does for us what He did for Abraham: He encourages us to trust Him; He promises to be with us continuously; and He guarantees that He’ll never forget to guide us to that next blessing and through that current/next hardship.

As another surprise for our daughter’s birthday, we got her a new “big girl” bike. The morning she got it, we took her to a nearby trail so that she could ride it. People, you do not know patience at the level it took to survive this jaunt on the new bike. Without training wheels, she would have literally fallen slap-dab over from the utter lack of speed. For someone like myself who really values getting things done quickly, this was less than enjoyable. However, with some practice and after seeing that her dad really was going to be able to keep up with her (good grief!), she finally began to pedal at a decent speed. When it was all said and done, that little birthday girl rode over three miles! And she did all of that with only one fall. Her mistake was in failing to trust that her dad was by her side, like he said he’d be. Instead of keeping her eyes on the trail in front of her, she turned her head to search for him because she’d gotten worried and started to doubt that he was right with her. Then, when she turned her head, she turned her wheel, and suddenly her success turned to accident. After we got her tears dried and got her back up on her bike, I said to her, “Just ride your bike. Dad is going to be right where you are. He’s not going to forget to guide you. You look where you’re going and don’t worry about what he’s doing.” As soon as those words were out of my mouth, I heard God say to me, “How about doing the same thing yourself.” Here I was fussing at her because she wasn’t believing what her dad said, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I was planning a surprise trip and stressing over things I had no way of controlling when all I had to do was take that one step forward like Abraham and trust God to come through with the rest. Friends, our Dad is right there. He’s not going to forsake us or forget to guide us. He’s not going to let us be misled. But we have to trust Him. We have to make that forward progress, even over the bumps and uneven patches, and trust that He’s still right there with us.

I know that right now, some of you are facing something you don’t understand. You’re up against something that has you confused and worried. You don’t know what to do next or where to go from here. The good news is that God does. Take it from me, a major planner and someone who needs desperately to have figured out every detail before anything even happens. That’s not faith. Reasoning and self-reliance aren’t faith. The Bible doesn’t tell us that our reasoning and ability to solve our problems is what activates God’s power. It tell us, instead, that it’s our faith–our trust–that allows God to work most in our lives. And yes, sometimes that’s really scary because it means we don’t get to control it all. But you know what I think the future holds for me, now that I’m making every effort to let God lead? I think the future holds a lot more joy and a lot less worry and stress, and that sounds amazing. “But what joy for all who take refuge in Him!” Psalm 2:12.

Dear Lord, thank You so much for bearing my burdens for me and for creating a relationship in which trust is rewarded and valued. Help me, Lord, to trust You more. Help me to rely less on myself and to choose to put aside my worry and just take one small step at a time in faith. Second Samuel 22 tells me, Father, that Your ways are perfect, Your promises are true, and You are my shield and my protection. Press these truths onto my heart and mind, Lord, so that I desire closeness with You more than I desire to reason out and rationalize my life. Like Your Word promises, Lord, I know you will make me “sure footed as a deer” and that You will make a wide path for my feet. Thank You, God. Help me to believe You so that in the midst of the trials of life, I step back and give You the reigns. You are a loving God, and I thank You so much for loving me enough to be my Guide, my Protector, my Shield, and my Refuge. Help my trust in You to be seen by others so that they, too, might glorify You with their lives. Thank you, God, for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.