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.

Jesus, Not Germs

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, with emphasis this time: America is drunk. What have you people done to this place?? Last week we were all going about our business and going to work and school and buying groceries (albeit too much toilet paper for some of you–you know who you are), and now look at us! You jokers need to get it together and get this train back on the tracks. Pronto.

In the meantime, like most of you, I also want to use this time to reflect and learn as much as I can, like the mature adult I often pretend to be. So today, I’d like to start off by sharing with you a few lessons I’ve learned (and am learning) during this Coronavirus situation.

*Far too many people think they are experts.

*God is fully in control. We, on the other hand, have zero control. Despite my Type A personality needing a straight-jacket over this, it is as it should be.

*I use too many squares of toilet paper at a time.

*Some really wonderful people work at Walmart!

*I rely too much on regular everyday securities instead of God.

*Healthcare workers are saints! Although I’ve known this for years, it’s been reinforced to an infinite degree: I could NEVER be one.

*Toddlers are WAY better at sharing than adults who think they *might* run out of paper products.

*God is fully in control.

*I’m a stress-cleaner. While that’s not new news, I have learned that if you’re planning to stress-clean your way through a lengthy quarantine, 1400 square feet ain’t gonna cut it.

*Social media is keeping me going.

*Social media is killing me.

*God is fully in control.

*My regular life is eerily similar to being in quarantine. (Will be giving this some more thought at a later date)

*Occasionally one of my neighbors comes out on her back step to feed and water her dog(s)…wearing only a bra and shorts.

*I make a lot of little trips to the grocery store during the week.

*God is fully in control.

*Dogs around here do not get walked unless their owners are on lockdown and looking for excuses to take a break while working from home.

*Sitting around the house all day makes me “hungry”

*I am thankful I don’t own a small business. Or a big business. Or am in any way in a position of leadership that requires big decision-making during this unprecedented craziness.

*This new normal means that I know, at any given time, exactly how many rolls of toilet paper are in this house.

*When God slows us all down and removes our distractions, we are actually kind to each other and pay attention to each other’s needs. We will actually see AND help out a neighbor in need when we’re not rushing around all day, focused solely on ourselves, our kids, and our schedules.

*People are hilarious. These Coronavirus memes are STELLAR.

*And last but not least, GOD IS FULLY IN CONTROL.

Friends, I sure do not have the answers. (I am NOT one of those people who starts their posts, “I’m no expert, but…”) I waiver between feeling confident and secure in knowing God’s in charge and stressed/anxious/worried about all the what-ifs. This morning I was talking to a friend with two special-needs sons at home who don’t quite understand what’s going on, and we were talking about how overwhelming it is to think about these next few weeks. I can tell that the more I think about anything past today, the more I stress and lose sight of what I do know. I want to make sure that I focus on Jesus, not germs. I want to let Him be my Provider, my Protector. I want to give Him the reigns and do as He instructs in His Word by focusing only on today. This is FAR easier said than done for me, but with practice, I can get there. And if through all of this, I come out on the other side way stronger and better able to let God be God, what a glorious time this will have been.

I am praying for you all, and I hope you’re spending intentional, personal time with God during this upheaval. Don’t haphazardly toss out wishes; instead, go to the feet of Jesus and lay every single one of your concerns at His feet. He’s already been victorious over anything and everything that might ensnare us. He’s just waiting on us to get that through our thick skulls, as our Southern mamas used to say. Thank you for reading, and after taking a quick second to pray the following prayer with me, please don’t miss the (very short) note after it. Love you all!!!

Dear Lord, thank You that You are solidly, constantly in control. I pray, Father, boldly and confidently, that You knock out this virus just as quickly as it showed up. I declare Your sovereignty, Lord, and I recognize that You don’t need my help in meeting my family’s needs. Take control, Lord, and help me not to repeatedly attempt to take it back from You. While I wait on You to restore work and school and social interaction, God, help me to learn whatever it is You’d have me learn. Search me, Father, and point out what I can work on while life is a little more quiet. I love You, Lord, and I am so VERY grateful to be Your child, especially in a time such as this. It’s in the mighty name of Jesus that I pray this prayer. Amen.

*Reader note: If you’re not already following the blog on Facebook, please feel free to check it out. The page is The Samaritan Woman, and I’m posting some of the great devotionals (they’re quick to read, I promise!) God’s putting before me during this time. I pray it can be a place of encouragement and faith during this dark time. Please, also, feel free to email me with prayer requests: lindseydt@gmail.com. I’d be honored to pray over you guys. Big hugs!

Seed-y Faith

I recently read the story of Charles Blondin, a long-ago thrill-seeker and tightrope walker from France. A few years back in 1860, Mr. Blondin not only walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls (that’s a span of over a quarter of a mile, in case you were wondering), but he did so back-and-forth with a variety of props, so to speak: in a sack, on stilts, while blindfolded, in the dark, etc. Each time he reached the other side successfully, and the crowd roared their praise (relief?). Mr. Blondin then decided to up the ante a bit, and for one particular trek across the tightrope, he chose a wheelbarrow. He asked the crowd, “Do you believe I can walk to the other side, over the tightrope, with this wheelbarrow?” (I’m paraphrasing because I wasn’t there, you see.) Of course, he received a unanimous response of Yes! Mr. Blondin wasn’t satisfied with simply walking an empty wheelbarrow over a quarter of a mile on a tightrope, oh no! How would that be enough when he’d just done it blindfolded and in the dark and on stilts and so on and so forth?! Mr. Blondin wanted an assistant, so he asked his burgeoning crowd, who had just shown their faith in his ability to make it across with the wheelbarrow, who would volunteer to RIDE in the wheelbarrow as he pushed it across the tightrope. What did he get in response to his question? Crickets. Well, probably not the sound of crickets since Niagara Falls is super loud and all, but you get my point. Breaking News: not a single person volunteered to ride 160 feet above Niagara Falls across a tightrope in a wheelbarrow.

Isn’t this how we are with our faith oftentimes? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve believed in God’s ability, have trusted in His might and power, only to quickly put my hand down when it came to volunteering to actually let God carry me across “the falls” of whatever I was facing. It’s like I KNOW He can, but I’m still too chicken to let Him BECAUSE WHAT IF I ACCIDENTALLY GO OVER. (Yes, you’re right, I’m very chill.)

It’s times like this, though, friends, when I’m struggling to have significant faith, that God has already prepared for (of course He has). At times when I need my Heavenly Father but I can only catch the tiniest glimpse of Him, I remember what Jesus said in Luke 17:6: “‘If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.'” Praise the Lord for that promise!

Not to get all Negative Nancy on you guys, but there’s a flip-side to this mustard-seed faith. There have been times, I fully admit, when mustering up (ya see what I did there…mustard, mustering…I’m a comedian!) big faith might be possible, but it would take work and require sacrifice on my part and it wouldn’t be immediate. So instead, I lean perversely on this promise, allowing my laziness to boast in and feel confident in small faith, because after all, didn’t Jesus Himself say that all I need is faith the size of a mustard seed? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to seed-y faith at its greatest.

Because you’re far smarter than I am, I know that you know Jesus wasn’t giving us an easy way out with this verse. He wasn’t excusing us from working on growing our faith. He wasn’t negating the necessity of going from tiny baby Christians with tiny baby faith to mature Christians with big faith. It wasn’t until I found Matthew 13:32 that God helped illuminate His plan for our faith. That Scripture says this about the mustard seed: “Of all the seeds it is the smallest, but when it has grown, it is the largest of the garden herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and find shelter in its branches” (emphasis mine).

Did y’all catch that? Yes, it’s okay if we start out with small faith, if the most we can conjure up in the face of fear or tribulations is faith the size of a mustard seed. But at no point, under no circumstances, should our faith remain that size. A literal mustard seed might start out as the tiniest of all the seeds, but through intentionality and nurturing, that seed grows into the largest of all the garden herbs, large enough even to be considered a tree. So, too, should our faith. Yes, it’s okay to start out small (hello, little baby Jesus) but with God’s help and by walking hand-in-hand through life’s challenges with Him, our faith should grow and grow and grow. So let me ask you this, friend: has your faith grown lately? Are you applying a new kind of faith, a bigger, more powerful faith to whatever it is you’re facing right now?

Look one more time at that Scripture from Matthew. Did you notice that it says the mustard seed grows large enough to become a tree and provide shelter for birds of the air? This, too, is a benefit, a purpose, of our growing faith; it a shelter to us, a security and place of protection and solace in the midst of those rainy and/or stormy seasons of life. Can you imagine what life for a bird would be if there were no trees in which to seek shelter? Those mustard seeds aren’t very protective, friends, but those trees, with their wide, outstretched branches, they’re a place to huddle when the storms come.

The Bible addresses our faith many, many times, and more often than you might realize it wraps it up in the expectation of growth. To better explain what I mean, I’ve collected for you a few verses, ones that help us as believers to understand the process of moving our faith from seed-sized to tree-sized. Please read these with me.

2 Peter 3:18“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”

2 Thessalonians 1:3“We ought always to give thanks to God…because your faith is growing”

Colossians 2:6-7“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in faith as you were taught…”

So, friends, I guess this brings us (and I close with this) to the question of why. Why, we might ask, is matured faith important? Why does the Bible encourage us to cultivate our faith and grow it as we walk with God? As an answer, I give you two additional verses.

Hebrews 11:6“And without faith it is impossible to please Him

Ephesians 6:16“In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Your faith is a weapon. Let me say that again in case you didn’t catch it. Your faith is a weapon against Satan and his schemes. And if that’s not reason enough, it is through your faith that you please the Lord. You cannot beat those two reasons. If we do nothing more with our lives, with our time on this earth, than please God and defeat the devil, I have a sneaking suspicion that upon arrival in Heaven we might get to hear something like this: Well done, my good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21). Bless it!

Dear Lord, thank You so much for this day, for this life, and for all of the many, many blessings You bestow on me and my family daily. Father, I recognize that while it is okay for my faith to start small, it is NOT in my best interest that it stays that way. I ask for Your help, God, in growing my faith. I ask that You guide me as I choose faith over feelings, as I put my faith to work against the schemes of the enemy. Help me to hold firm, Lord, so that with each challenge I face, my faith grows a little more and a little more. Help me to be patient with myself, Lord, as I know all good things take time and effort and sacrifice. I pray that when it gets tough and I get tired, Father, I will choose faith (and pleasing You) over ease or comfort or convenience. I love you, Lord, and I want to grow my faith so that when others see how I handle the curveballs of life, it points them directly toward You. Grow me, Lord, and grow my faith so that I might, in turn, grow Your Kingdom. It’s in Jesus’s mighty name that I sincerely pray. Amen.