Go Again

This past Sunday was one of those days where nothing special really happened, but it was a glorious day all the same. It was one of the first weekend days in a while were my little family of three got the whole day to ourselves. We spent the day just playing and spending time together, but it was while we were outside in our “pool” (it’s a 4×4 blow-up kiddie pool that the adult–it only fits one at a time– must vacate if Her Majesty wants to “swim”) that I took a minute to simply praise God and be intentionally thankful. I was thankful for my covered back porch, for my shady backyard, for that $15 kiddie pool that was keeping my feet cool, and I was so overwhelmingly thankful for the sweet girl swimming around in it. My greatest thanks at that moment, however, went up on behalf of the amazing man I get to share my life with. Despite being enamored with all of his muscles, I was somehow able to look past those and think about his character, his heart, and all of the qualities that make him so wonderful. But before I cause you all to throw up in your mouths a little with more syrupy sweetness, let me fast forward. Somewhere between thinking about what a great husband and father Nathan is, I started thinking about what it means to be a godly man. That line of thought had me thinking about a couple of men in the Bible who are either a little less well known, as in one case, or almost too well known, as in the other, and what they have to teach us. So, a little more thinking along those lines, and here we are.

Now, I know that 99.9% of the twelve of you who read these blog posts are female. I know that men in the Scriptures get way more than their fair share of the focus, but bear with me. With Father’s Day right around the corner, it’s worth a deeper look at two men in particular; however, let’s worry less about the gender of these two individuals and more about the lessons they learned, and most importantly, what we can learn from them.

ELIJAH

There are many scriptures and stories in which Elijah is discussed, but for our purposes I want to focus on his story found in 1 Kings 18:41-46. I know this is kind of long, but let’s look at these verses together first.

“41 And Elijah said to Ahab, Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of abundance of rain. 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And said to his servant, Go up now and look toward the sea. And he went up and looked and said, There is nothing. Elijah said, Go again seven times. 44 And at the seventh time the servant said, A cloud as small as a man’s hand is arising out of the sea. And Elijah said, Go up, say to Ahab, Hitch your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you. 45 In a little while, the heavens were black with wind-swept clouds, and there was a great rain. And Ahab went to Jezreel. 46 The hand of the Lord was on Elijah. He girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

I know that the constant “go up, go down” is a little distracting but try not to get bogged down. They’re on Mount Carmel, hence the upward and downward movement, and for our focus, it’s unimportant. We want to zero in on Elijah starting in verse 42. It’s clear that he’s separated himself from the others for the purpose of prayer. We see him bowing reverently before God, and although we don’t know what he asked of God, the following verses make it pretty clear he’s asked for rain. Here’s where Elijah’s behavior becomes so elevated beyond that of what you and I often do. He’s expectant and he has faith that God will bring him rain (that’s even apparent in verse 41). If you’re like me, you’re even good at this yourself sometimes: you go to God, you ask, you expect, you have total faith in His response. But a couple of days pass and still nothing. Around day three of waiting on God, we start backpedaling on our faith, wondering why God’s not answered, berating ourselves for not praying the right words or in the right way, blaming our mistakes for getting between us and that prayer we were so sure God was going to answer. Check out Elijah, though. He sends his servant to go see if it’s raining yet, and the servant comes back, “that’s a negative on the rain, sir.” And Elijah sends the servant again. Nope. And again. Still nothing. SEVEN TIMES Elijah says “Go again” in earnest anticipation before the tiniest cloud appears far out on the horizon, “a cloud as small as a man’s hand” as it’s described in verse 44. Take a second to search the above scripture again for missing details between verses 43 and 44. Surely God left something out, right? Surely there are major details here about what Elijah did every time the servant returned with a potentially discouraging report about Elijah’s as yet unanswered prayer. But there’s nothing missing, is there?

How do you act when you pray expectantly and faithfully for something and God doesn’t deliver it when you think He should? Or in the way you think He should? Y’all, I’m here to tell you I revert back into a baby Christian with toddler-esque emotions. I get irritated and frustrated. I get mad and tearful. I start feeling sorry for myself, wondering why God’s out there answering all these other prayers while mine–WHICH WAS PRAYED IN FAITH, HELLO!–is being ignored or dismissed. I get mouthy and doubtful. Do you recognize these behaviors, too? Elijah does not. At no point does he change his prayerful, respectful positioning. At no point does he get up, start walking and mouthing about how he doesn’t understand why God isn’t answering his prayer when it was prayed so earnestly. He simply maintains his faith, maintains a respectful posture, and he waits. He KNOWS God is faithful. He KNOWS God will answer. He knows that rain is coming, and even when the sky is void of clouds, he continues to rely on faith, not sight.

And would you look at that? Not only did Elijah’s faith earn him that small-as-a-man’s-hand cloud, but verse 45 reports that he got so much rain–such an abundant response from God–that the heavens were black and it poured from the sky. Praise God that His faithfulness doesn’t mirror our own, amen? Praise God that He’s willing to wait on us with love and patience instead of growing angry at us when we trade our faithfulness for doubt because He doesn’t do what we want or think He should. I pray that I grow to be more and more like Elijah, that when I boldly approach the throne of God, I trust Him to answer me. I pray that when I don’t get a reply as quickly as I’d prefer, I’m able to simply tell my spirit, “Go again,” maintaining my faith, my expectancy, and my respectful posturing until that answer, no matter how small it might seem at first, appears on the horizon. Lord, help me to be more like Elijah.

NOAH

While Elijah might not be a biblical figure that you easily remember, I’d be willing to bet that Noah is. Since we were all knee-high to a grasshopper (where did this ridiculous saying come from?) we’ve heard the story about Noah building the enormous ark, his loading up two of every animal and sailing to safety as God flooded the earth. We know that eventually the waters went down, a dove indicated that dry land was indeed available again, and after disembarking, Noah was given the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise never to destroy the earth by flooding ever again. So, in an effort to avoid repeating all the parts of the story we all already know, how about we talk about the man named Noah? How about we focus on the small details, the ones that so often get overlooked because we’ve all heard the story a million times and know all of it by heart. But do we really?

The story of Noah, a good man who trusted God and believed in God, can be found starting in Genesis 6. If you’ve never really read the story for yourself, if all of your knowledge of Noah is based on children’s books or your 1st grade Sunday school teacher, I highly recommend that you read it for yourself from its original source. I can’t really explain it, but it’s just different when it’s read that way for some reason.

There’s a lot of scripture that covers the story of God choosing Noah, God instructing Noah, Noah building the ark, and the subsequent flooding, water recession, etc. Because of this, I’ll leave the scripture reading up to you, and we’ll spend our time focusing on the details that make Noah a man from whom much can be learned. For example, did you know that while scholars and theologians aren’t in total agreement, they do agree that somewhere around 100 to 120 years passed between when God instructed Noah to build the ark and when it actually began to rain? WAIT, WHAT?! Can you believe that?? Do you know what kind of mess would be happening in my head if I heard  what I believed was a word from God only to have ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS pass before it came to fruition?! How wise God was that He didn’t choose Lindsey Thomas to build His ark! (Can I get an amen??) Y’all, think about this small, frequently overlooked detail. Think about the faith that this conveys. Noah didn’t get all up in his feelings when he finished that ark and the rain didn’t start. He didn’t get himself convinced two or even fifty years later that he’d misheard God, that he’d fabricated the vision God had given him and the Word He’d placed in his heart. I do NOT handle things this well. I get frustrated and doubtful and impatient. Why is this not part of the ark story when they teach it?

But as remarkable as it is that Noah waited so long to see his contract with God fulfilled, there’s something even more significant that I learned from his story. God said, build an ark. Noah said, okay, I’ll get right on that. And at no point did Noah say, maybe I’ll wait until I see there’s a little rain starting before I totally decide to believe that God’s going to do what He said He’s going to do. Nope, Noah was immediately obedient. Oh how I desire to have that level of immediate obedience in my life! I so often fail at being immediately obedient because I need those first sprinkles for my sight to confirm that God really is doing what His Word says He will. I need to think it over for myself, reason out God’s plan and make sure I’ve ruminated on all aspects of His instructions. And sometimes, more than any other reason for stalling, I need to consider what everyone else would think if I did whatever it is that God’s asking me to do. But not Noah. God said, build an ark because I have a plan. Noah said, yes, God. He didn’t worry that it wasn’t raining. He didn’t worry that his neighbors and friends and family might think that this giant boat he was building under a sunny sky was absolutely insane. God spoke; Noah obeyed. Immediately. Now THAT is worth a Sunday school lesson or two, is it not?

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the examples You have given to us in both Elijah and Noah. They have such strong, long-standing faith, Lord, and I ask that You help me to study Your Word and develop my relationship with You so that I, too, can be an example of unwavering faith and belief. I want to take the time right now, Father, and state that I KNOW You do as You say. I declare that I KNOW You are always faithful. Help me to listen to Your promises and close my ears and my heart and my mind to Satan’s lies. And maybe above all, Lord, I want to be the kind of Christian who is immediately obedient when I hear Your voice. When You speak, Father, I will listen. When You instruct, I will obey…immediately. Thank you for Your patience with me, for continuing to work with me in order to help me develop into a mature believer. Thank you for hearing my prayer, Father. In Jesus’s name I pray this and all my prayers. Amen.

#FixItJesus

You know, I knew it was coming. I knew it was inevitable. I’d seen it happen to many, many people; I knew that no one escaped it. Heck, I’d even seen it happen to my own husband. But even with all that expectation, I was ill-prepared for it to happen to me. And it did happen…just a couple of short weeks ago. It’s a painful, difficult story to tell, so bear with me–

It was a regular day, unremarkable in most ways. Then, everything changed. I thought to myself, is this really happening?? Is that what I think it is?? Despite my ferocious denial, there was no pretending this away. I knew life was never going to be the same because there it was, right in front of my disbelieving face: MY FIRST GRAY HAIR!!! RIP, youthfulness. RIP.

Okay, so maybe I had a slight overreaction (I said slight, dang it!), but feeling insecure about my appearance is certainly nothing new for me. I want to take a minute, though, before going forward and blame this all, all of my insecurities based on appearance, on my friends. Y’all, all my friends crawled out of the same weirdly mutated pool apparently. They’re all vampires who have figured out not only how NOT to age, but they’ve obviously signed some seriously binding contract with the devil that allows them to look BETTER as they get older. What is this nonsense?! In a fun turn of events, they’re all smooth skinned and youthful looking (literally not a single one looks her age–it’s ridiculous!), and I’m saggy and baggy enough for all of us. I mean, if ever a case deserved #FixItJesus, it is this one.

All joking aside, struggling with my self-worth based on my appearance and setting my personal value based on how I felt I looked is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. It’s a stronghold (it’s actually a sin, believe it or not) that God has really been helping me to be loosed of, but full disclosure: I have a long way to go. While you might not struggle to the same extent that I do, I’m guessing that you, too, have felt insecure, not good enough, or less than simply because of your appearance too. That is certainly not a godly way to think and feel, so please join me in trying your very best to begin thinking about yourself as God does.

As it turns out, there’s this great book called the Bible (you might remember my mentioning it before) that helps us understand God and His character, and most importantly for today’s topic, how He feels about us, His creation. In Ephesians 2:10, we are described in one translation as “God’s handiwork,” in another “God’s workmanship,” and in yet another, we are referred to as “God’s masterpiece.” I know you have better things to do than listen to me quote Webster, but just sit tight for a minute. If you look up the word masterpiece, you’ll find that it’s defined as “a person’s greatest piece of work.” Let that sink in for a minute. God made every single thing. All of it. And yet we, not only collectively but each of us individually is His masterpiece. Imagine what it must feel like to have created something you love so much that you’re willing to give up what’s most precious to you for that creation, only to have it picked apart and fussed about and taken for granted. Y’all, I really and truly pray that the next time I start fussing about my thighs or those fun skin-wings that my arms are rapidly growing, I’ll remember instead that every single part of me is a masterpiece made by the God I so love. I pray that that thought stops me in my mental tracks, switching me instantly to gratitude instead of grumbling. After all, the truth is, my God loves me so much that He sent me a message letting me know just how much intentionality went into my being created: “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born” (Jeremiah 1:5 CSB). You were no accident. Your crooked nose? No accident. Your thin lips or balding scalp? Not those either. All of you was on purpose. And all of you was for a purpose.

Yes, you say, I know God loves me and I know that I shouldn’t focus on my appearance, but when I’m around others and I feel like the ugliest one in the room or the heaviest person in the group or the least desirable of all my friends, it hurts and I can’t get past it. First of all, I think it’s important to acknowledge that every single person, no matter how beautiful he or she may be in others’ eyes, has felt insecure over appearance, probably way more often than you think. In fact, just the other day I read an interview with a stunning TV actress who seemed flawless but who admitted that some days she has to remove herself from social media because of how bad it makes her feel about herself, about how she looks. Do what?! Y’all, none of us are immune. That being said, an overly negative mindset full of self-hate is completely wrong and goes against all the Bible tells us should be the focus of the children of God.

In 1 Samuel 16:7, the Bible addresses our human, yet faulty, tendency to place value on our own (and others’) outward appearance, saying, “But the Lord said to Samuel–‘Don’t judge by his appearance…the Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.'” Oh how wrong we get this…on both counts! We judge ourselves too often based on what’s visible on the outside and we unfortunately pass that useless judgement on to others as well. It’s such a problem for human beings that even Jesus addressed it in John 8:15, “You judge according to human standards [just by what you see]. I do not judge anyone.” So let’s think about this logically: If Jesus isn’t the judge, that means God is, and we’ve already established that God made it clear He’s interested in our hearts, not our looks when passing judgement over the lives of His children. I believe the logical conclusion here is that the only judgement we should be concerned about is from our Heavenly Father AND He cares ZERO about our physical appearance. ZERO! Don’t believe me? Can’t follow my logic? Try this on for size: “Don’t let your beauty consist of outward things…but rather what is inside the heart–the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4). Where’s that mic? I need to drop it.

Look, people, I know we are constantly bombarded by people and companies and products that both directly and indirectly tell us that we’re not good enough as we are, that we won’t be successful without this change, that we aren’t really beautiful unless we look this way. The disease of self-value based on physical appearance that so many of us have contracted, me included, is eating us all alive. Take what I found on statisticbrain.com for example: 91% of women are unhappy enough with their bodies that they resort to dieting. NINETY ONE PERCENT! That’s not the worst part though; 80% of women say the images they see on social media make them feel body-insecure. But we sure don’t put it down and pick up our Bibles do we? Nope. This is no formal study, but I’m guessing we’re all more likely to immediately Google some product or fad diet that we think will help us become more like those images we’ve just poured over instead of putting effort toward changing our thinking so we feel about ourselves more like God does.

Tragically, these women who are so undone by their own appearances (that’d be you and me, friend) are allowing this insecurity and self-loathing to trickle down to our precious girls. On that same site, it stated that 90%–let me repeat that…90%– of 15-17 year old girls desire to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance. How sad God’s heart must be over this. To pour His time and love and purposefulness into our sweet girls (and it’s boys and men, too, let’s not pretend) only for us to teach them that they’re not perfect just as they are. And honestly, I’d like to just tsk-tsk at this, say what a shame it is that these girls feel this way, chalk it up to their moody youthfulness, but I’d be hard pressed to limit myself to only one physical attribute I’d like to change. Their self-disapproval and my own self-disapproval is a slap in the face of the God we claim to love and serve and glorify. Shame on us.

So what do we do? How do we change? How do we fix this mess? First, as we discussed before, I think it’s so very important that you know how God feels about you–what He literally says in His Word–and that you pass that along to your children. When we hear our girls or boys complain about their bodies, when our brains instantly go there about our own bodies, isn’t it pretty simple to just remember that, 1. God loves me and made me on purpose, and 2. God REALLY likes me, just as I am. God doesn’t care if your eyebrows look microbladed. He doesn’t care if the skin under your armpit is bumpy or splotchy (in your face, Dove!). He is completely happy with how He made you, and not one bit of how He formed you was accidental.

The second step, in my opinion, is to know what God says about valuing outward appearance. There are so many verses that encourage us to spend our time focusing inwardly, ensuring that our hearts are right before worrying that our hair looks perfect. The average woman spends 335 hours a year, that’s TWO FULL WEEKS of her year, working on her appearance (Today.com). I cringe thinking about how much time would be represented if women were asked how much time a year they put into strengthening their relationship with God…reading their Bible…spending quiet time in prayer with their Savior. In Joyce Meyer’s book How to Succeed at Being Yourself, she doesn’t mix words over the importance of getting ourselves back into a godly mindset with regard to our thoughts about ourselves: “How we feel about ourselves is a determining factor in our success in life and in relationships.” There’s not a single area of our lives that’s not immediately and negatively affected when we have a poor self-image. Our dreams fail, our spirits fail, our marriages fail, our children fail. And Satan gets a hearty, satisfying laugh. I’m not good at this, y’all, but I desperately want to be. And lucky for us, we serve a God whose grace and mercy are all we need when trying to align our thinking more with His. I absolutely cannot do this alone. But I know that if I study what God says about me, if I bury those scriptural truths down in my heart and I use those to shut up the devil when he presses me to feel unworthy and insecure, I CAN defeat this attitude. I can reconstruct my brain so that my self-worth comes from knowing I was perfect enough AS I AM that Jesus died on the cross for me.

And before I finally shut up, let me say this. Some of you might be on the opposite side of this coin. Maybe you’re beautiful. Maybe you’re successful and athletic and you feel REALLY good about yourself. Good for you–if you put forth the work it requires to be those things, you should be proud of yourself. HOWEVER, you shouldn’t be convinced it was all your doing, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel superior or to base your self-worth, despite it being positive, on your appearance either. The Proverbs 31 woman is such a great example because it carefully reminds us all that “Charm is deceptive and beauty does not last but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised” (vs. 30).

Let me reiterate, if you struggle with this in any form, you are not alone. God knew we would and the Bible is filled with scriptures to help us turn to Him for guidance and the renewing of our minds. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be something that you pray about once and walk away changed. And moms, a quick, non-judgmental word to you: please, please, please stop criticizing your bodies in front of your daughters. They are your children, they have your DNA, and when their hair or nose or ears or breasts or thighs or whatever turn out to be just like yours, how do you think they’re going to feel about themselves then? God doesn’t focus on our external appearance, and neither should we. Now THAT deserves a #FixItJesus.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that You have crafted me with such precision and with great purposefulness. Father, please forgive me for all of the times that I’ve set my value on such a superficial and fleeting thing as my appearance instead of, like You, valuing what’s internal. God, I ask for your help in changing my thinking; please deliver me from this negative mindset, and help me to see both myself and others as You do. Lord, as your Word says in Romans 12:2, I pray that I stand strongly against copying the behavior and customs of this world, but instead let You transform me into a new person by changing the way that I think about myself. I love you, Lord, and I know that to feel good about myself I must see me as You do, and I’m beyond grateful to be so loved. Help me to share that love with myself and with others. Help me to find balance, Lord, so that I can care about my appearance enough to keep myself healthy and well cared for, but not so much that it becomes priority. I desire to care less about physical training and more about training for godliness (1 Tim. 4:8) so that I might be blessed by You. Thank you for hearing my prayer, Father, for it’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and a Billy Goat

I began writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago, pretty much immediately after posting the most recent one about secrets. However, about the time I got ready to sit down and actually type it out and upload it, my sweet 92-year-old grandmother passed away. As weird as it sounds, her passing actually made this post even more special, and I can feel God’s hand on it after seeing how these events aligned. I’m about to tell you a story that begins with an old country church. It just so happens that this very church is the one where we laid her to rest–right beside my grandfather–last week. Because of her death, I was able to visit the exact spot where my story took place all those years ago. Isn’t it amazing how God uses regular life events to confirm His presence and activity to us?

So back to this super cute, very quaint country church. It was in this church that my dad, as a boy, attended both Sunday school and church services, although it wasn’t really Sunday school like many of us think of it. This church, Beaton United Methodist Church, was only one building: the sanctuary. That meant that Sunday school was conducted right there where they’d later hear the sermon and sing their hymns. All of the Sunday school classes. Right there together. The adults gathered up at the front near the pulpit; the older kids gathered in one back corner, with the young children in the other. Needless to say, that level of focus and attention has dissipated with our generation.

Well, it was during Sunday school one Sunday that my six-year-old dad overhead some of the adult class’s lesson. He explained to me that while he was “listening” to his teacher, his attention was caught by the adult teacher (which was likely my grandfather) discussing some very strange names from the Bible. He said he heard Shadrach. Then, he heard Meshach. But it was this next one that had him really tuning in, because after naming these two guys, my dad heard, “and a billy goat.” He then continued to listen closely to figure out what a billy goat had to do with anything, but obviously the Bible never addressed that within the story. So time passed, and young Ricky went on wondering about these two oddly named men from the Bible and their billy goat.

As the years passed and this story was told in Sunday school and church from time to time, my dad carried that mental image around in his now teenaged head of this strange group: two men and a billy goat. He said he always listened to hear that explanation of why these guys lugged this goat around everywhere with them, but he just never did catch it. Then, during one sermon in which he was following along with his Bible, the truth was illuminated (in my head this involves bright lights and singing): there was no billy goat! It wasn’t Shadrach, Meshach, and a billy goat. It was Shadrach, Meshach, and ABEDNEGO…a third strangely-named guy! Pretty incredible what you can sort out by opening that Bible, huh? 🙂

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I want to spend some time with you today talking about these three guys (no billy goats included!) and the story from Daniel that shows what mighty men of faith they were. All of today’s discussion is coming from Daniel 3, and if you’ve not read this chapter for yourself (no excuses–it’s pretty short), I highly encourage you to do so. But before we start in on the circumstances facing these men and the decisions they made, as much as I hate to spend your time simply summarizing the Bible for you, I think that’s best so we have a clear picture of what’s taking place when these men enter the picture.

Daniel 3 begins with King Nebuchadnezzar instructing the creation of a golden idol. And not just a small gold statue for people to bow before. It was enormous: 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. And with this idol, King Neb (no way am I typing that name multiple times) created this rule: when those within his kingdom heard any of a variety of musical instruments being played, they were to immediately “fall down and worship the golden image” (vs. 5). And being a narcissistic king, there was, of course, a consequence for anyone who refused to do as he commanded: “And whoever does not fall down and worship shall that very hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (vs. 6). Okay, so clear enough. Music plays, you drop what you’re doing and bow to the golden statue. If not, you burn. No questions asked, no excuses accepted, no exemptions made.

Enter our three main characters. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were brought before King Nebs because it was brought it his attention that they refused to bow to his idol, and it infuriated him. Once they’re before him, he questions their refusal, reminding them again that a fiery death awaited anyone who met his command with disobedience. To me, I picture the king with his puffed up chest, convinced of his own power and ability to scare these men into doing exactly as he desires. However, these three aren’t having it. They serve ONE God, and ole Nebby’s idol is NOT it. I love their response to the king’s threats. It says that they answered him saying, “…it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point. If our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up!” (vs. 16-18) I love that first sentence: it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point. In other words, King, this is not up for discussion. Ha! We don’t care what you threaten us with, we don’t care what you demand, we aren’t even considering doing what you’re asking us to do because we serve God and that’s that.

How often do you and I get this part wrong? How often do we find ourselves selling out and worshiping those “golden images” of wealth, status, popularity, self, convenience, fear, worry, etc.? How often do we bow our heads and bend our knees in front of those things while pushing God aside? Thank you, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for lesson number one: if we expect God to save us from pain and anguish and even certain death, we must bow to Him and Him alone. He must have first priority in our hearts and our lives, no matter what it appears to cost us.

In those verses above, I was also struck by another indicator of their attitudes in the midst of difficulty. You’ll notice that they have full confidence in God’s ability to deliver them from the fire they’re facing. HOWEVER, they’re also convinced that it’s fine no matter what God chooses to do. “But if not…” I don’t know about you, but I need to adopt this mindset much more often. When I’m facing something unknown, something uncertain and upsetting, I need to set my mind on the mighty God I serve and His ability to deliver me, but at the same time, I need to remember that if God chooses not to remove this fire from before me, I will still believe in His goodness and His love. I will still trust His plan and His promise to do good for me. Pssst…that was lesson number two.

Okay, so surely by this point you know enough about King Neb’s personality to know that an outright refusal by these three guys to do as he commanded wasn’t met with happiness. He was furious, and in an effort to punish them even more for their disobedience (because apparently burning to death isn’t tough enough), he demands that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than normal. Just to give you an idea of how hot this was, the king’s men who were tasked with throwing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace were killed immediately by the radiating heat. And then the miraculous happens…

Starting in verse 24, King Nebuchadnezzar is astounded, in total disbelief because, despite being clothed and bound, these three men are still alive! But that’s not even the most shocking part! Looking into the furnace, the king declares, “Behold, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt! And the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” (vs. 25) Hmmmm, wonder who that fourth man is in that fiery furnace with our three friends? Hint: IT’S JESUS! And just like that, we have lesson number three. Friends, no matter what “fire” you’re facing or even right smack in middle of walking through, you are not alone. The God that these men served, the God who literally protected them from the fire under their feet is the exact same God you serve. He is the same today as He was yesterday. There’s NOTHING that He can’t save you from, and if He allows you to face that fire, it’s because He has a plan and because He knows you can do it with His walking right beside you.

Because of Jesus’s protection, “the fire had no power upon their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed; neither were their garments scorched or changed, nor had even the smell of smoke clung to them” (vs. 27). Look at what your God can do for you! With His help and His presence and your trust in Him, He can not only get you through that fire, He can do so without any harm coming to you. You can emerge victorious on the other side of that furnace without a single injury, even without the smell of smoke clinging to your skin. Because our three friends clung to God’s power and refused to turn their eyes from God no matter how dire their circumstances looked going in, their faith allowed God’s power to be recognized and glorified. After witnessing this miracle, the king declares, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him!” (vs. 28)

Lesson number four, my friends. Can you imagine what God is doing through whatever affliction you’re facing right now? Can you imagine the pride and thankfulness you’ll experience if you hold steady to your Jesus, to your faith in Him, through your “fire” so that He can be glorified through YOU?! Can you imagine the life-changing lessons your circumstances and your decision to trust God can teach your children? Your coworkers? Your spouse? Your friends? God is working. God is for us! Some of us might get to avoid that fire altogether…this time. But for most of us, God’s simply going to walk right through it side-by-side with us, holding our hand if need be, so that when we come out on the other side, we’re greeted by His abundant blessings. Not only will we be alive when it’s all said and done, but like these three guys with funny names, we’ll be unbound from anything holding us back, anything meant for our harm; we’ll be unharmed by those around us and those circumstances that seem to be lapping at our ankles; we’ll have been so protected through it all that there’s not even a leftover hint of that trouble that threatened to do us in. There will be no baggage for us to carry, no smoky smell to wash from our clothes. And most importantly, others will know Him because of what they’ve witnessed through us. Praise the Lord!

Dear Lord, thank you so much for loving me so much that You’ll never abandon me. I ask, Father, for Your deliverance from the fire I’m currently facing, but God, mostly I simply ask that, no matter what, You help me to feel and recognize Your constant presence. Help me not to question You and Your plan but to trust that at all times and in all situations You’re working for my good and protecting me when the going gets tough. I love you, Lord, and I ask that You use my life to witness to others, no matter what that might cost me. Help me to stay strong in my faith so that I don’t ever give in to the temptation to bow my knee at worldly idols. I declare today, Father, that You are my number one, and I ask that You guide me through Your Word to be strong enough to make that choice despite the furnace in front of me. Thank you for the faith of these three men and the lessons I can learn from them. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

(No billy goats were harmed in the writing of this blog post.)

Secret Secrets

“Shhhhh…it’s a secret!”

How many times we’ve whispered these words to conceal something wonderful and exciting until just the right moment when the secret can finally be revealed. Brand new baby bumps, impending proposals, and perfect birthday gifts are only a few in a list of milestone moments that begin frequently as happy secrets. But this phrase, as we all know too well, can turn very sinister when the secret it conceals is a dark one.

These days it’s almost impossible to open up social media sites or turn on the news without seeing the brave, secret-blasting movement known as #MeToo. It’s certainly no secret (pun [lamely] intended) that we’re seeing secrets brought to light at a staggering pace. But we, as Christians, shouldn’t be surprised by this. Why? Because Luke 8:17 tells us exactly how God handles dangerous secret-keeping: “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.”

Fun, harmless, short-term secrets we most often bring to light ourselves;  we tell our friends and family of our pregnancy, we ask that special someone to marry us (and hopefully, subsequently announce it after she says yes), and we give that meaningful gift so it can be opened and enjoyed. But it’s the secret secrets, those that we keep–sometimes even from ourselves–those we push deep down with an intentional effort to hide, it’s those secrets that God brings to light for us. He does this out of love, friends. He does this for us because these secrets fester and create wounds, they erode our character and our integrity, and they weaken (even kill!) our relationship with Jesus.

Before we go on, however, I think it’s crucial that we clarify something incredibly important. These secrets that the Bible mentions God bringing to light are unequivocally not those of past confessed and repented sins. Our God is NOT in the business of airing your dirty laundry. He is NOT interested in gossip, and He certainly does not create fodder for the greedy gossip mill. If you have something secret from your past that you did but have fully addressed before God, asking for His forgiveness and changing your life to remove that sin from it, the Bible tells us clearly that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our [sins] from us” (Psalm 103:12). We are reassured again in 1 John 1:9 that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So, no, that one thing you did years ago but confessed to God, asking for and receiving His forgiveness over is NOT the type of secret we’re talking about today. It’s SOOO important that you understand this, I’m going to say it one more time. If you’ve confessed and repented and renewed your walk and your ways, you’re good. It is those secrets we’re still keeping, those we’re still actively participating in, that He brings to light for us. Especially those we think we’re hiding from God Himself.

Play along for a second, and please read the following statements about secrets that I found during my prep for this topic. I’m pretty sure that you don’t have to have lived much life to find that these contain truth.

  • Little secrets grow up to be big lies.
  • There are no secrets that time does not reveal. –Jean Rancine
  • If you have to sneak to do it, lie to cover it up, or delete it to avoid it being seen, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
  • Nothing makes us as lonely as our secrets.
  • Secrecy is the enemy of intimacy.
  • What you do behind someone’s back you also do in front of God’s eyes.

As is typical of the loving Father we have, He fully understands how dangerous secrets can be in our lives. He fully recognizes the loneliness they create, the depression, the shame. He loves us far, far too much to allow us to be eaten away by the internal disease that these secrets become. He’s not only concerned about those of us with big secrets. He’s just as worried about those of us who keep seemingly small secrets. Yes, sure, it’s only one cigarette, and you don’t even smoke it around your kids…but does your spouse know? What if your internet search history was read out loud by God? Do you find yourself worrying instead of praying and just hoping God doesn’t find out that you don’t really trust Him? Who cares if you have vicious road rage and flip people off and yell and scream? I mean, you keep it together when your family is with you. And what about that food you keep hidden away–or eat secretly before you ever get home? How many drinks are you hoping God missed seeing you drink last Tuesday night?

Maybe you see these types of secrets as harmless. If so, I encourage you to re-read that first bulleted statement above. Intentional, conspiratorial secrets are lies, my friends. The Bible makes this distinction for us. After Ananias and Sapphira attempted to keep a secret, deciding instead to lie, they were asked, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3). Conspiracy is not a God quality. It is, however, very much a slithering serpent quality. Big or small, important or seemingly unimportant, hidden deeds corrupt our witness, leaving God no choice but to save us by bringing them forward into the light so that from them, we can be set free. In Max Lucado’s Ten Women of the Bible he states our frequent approach to lying this way:

“The truth, we learn early, is not fun. So we avoid it. We want our bosses to like us, so we flatter. We call it polishing the apple. God calls it a lie. We want people to admire us, so we exaggerate. We call it stretching the truth. God calls it a lie. We want people to respect us, so we live in houses we can’t afford and charge bills we can’t pay. We call it the American Way. God calls it living a lie.”

It’s is so very crucial that we, as Christians, pay attention to what we allow ourselves to ignore. How very accepting of our own faults we’ve become while holding others to an impossibly high standard. Buried so deeply in our own secrets and lies and sins, but drowning while steadily pointing the finger elsewhere.

BUT WAIT! I have good news! If you’d rather not wait to have your secrets brought to light for public consumption, you can set yourself free from the bondage created by withholding the truth from the Holy Spirit. I hope that you, like me, are asking HOW?! How do I rid my life of anything I’ve not been honest with God about? The Bible says that it’s very simple: “You will know the truth, and the Truth will set you free.” Friends, it’s not possible to feel better about ourselves, to see ourselves as worthy of God’s love, until we know His Truth. We must read His Word (regularly and with a prayerful spirit and open mind) so that His Truth can set us free. So…

  1. Know the Truth. KNOW God’s word, and plant it deep in your heart so that you can use it against the enemy when he aims to keep you buried under your secrets. Truth annihilates lies. Know the Truth.

2. Accept God’s love and grace. Don’t assume it is for everyone but you. Don’t assume    that because your earthly parents weren’t loving, your Heavenly Father’s not either. Don’t assume that the rejections you’ve suffered have been His rejections. Don’t believe that your secrets are too dark and deep for Him to cover. Accept what He so lovingly offers: love, with enough grace and mercy to cover our every screw up.

3. Confess your specific secrets and sins to God. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t make excuses. Fess up. Admit your mistakes–CALL THEM BY NAME– and be truthful and forthcoming.

4. Ask for God’s forgiveness. Again, don’t justify your behavior. Don’t excuse it. Just ask for forgiveness.

5. Accept God’s forgiveness. Use that Truth that you’ve stored away in your heart so that when Satan comes back at you, attempting to convince you that God didn’t really forgive you, that you have to pay for your sins one way or another, you can remind him of the Word of God that says otherwise. “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Your Father loves you. He’s not threatening your exposure because He’s trying to ruin you. He’s trying to save you.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for loving me enough not to allow me to continue keeping secrets, especially those that I pretend to be keeping from you. Father, I ask that you please help me to be transparent in my life, both in my secular life and my spiritual life. I want to keep NOTHING secret from You, God, because I know it will only bring destruction. Thank you that I can come to You, ask for forgiveness, and receive it. Help me to be sincere and so full of character that I can confidently ask you to search my heart and reward me based on my conduct (Jeremiah 17:10). I love you, Lord, and I am so grateful for the parent You are. Thank You for looking out for me in all ways, and please help me to find the strength and courage to end the secrets in my life. Thank You for taking every step with me. 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.