Monday, April 27, 2015

The Bug Bites Again

The other day, my 2 year old daughter rushed up to me. She was holding a small, pink cape with a yellow lightning bolt on it in her hands. It actually belonged on this giant, life-sized doll that my sister had gotten her for Christmas. She held this little cape out to me and asked, "Mom, will you put this cape on me? I have a mission!" I velcroed it around her little neck, and then she rushed off, presumably to carry out her "mission."

This cute little act of pretending got me thinking. Do I do this? Do I daily put on my own cape to carry out my mission? What keeps me from doing this daily and diligently?

I know what I do sometimes. I take my eyes off of my mission, off of my calling, and I start checking out someone else's. I think, 'Man, I don't sing that well,' or 'I wish I was artistic like her.' I forget what God has gifted me in, and I start wishing I could do what I see others doing around me.

That Comparison Bug bites again!

Why, as women, do we so easily forget that we are special to God? Why do we so frequently compare ourselves to each other, trying to see how we measure up to the women around us, even women we call our friends? We forget this truth from scripture:
"For we are God's masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago" (Ephesians 2:10).
Each one of us, on our own, is God's crowning achievement. We are the best things He created. In His eyes, we are a work of art. And also, He has planned good things for us to do. He chose, in advance, to use us just as we are. With the help of Jesus, we can actually accomplish these good things that he has for us to do.

So what is our problem? Why do we forget who and what we are to God? Why do we allow the Comparison Bug to bite us?

I think it is because we take our eyes off of our own "cape." We look at our friends' capes, and by doing so, we allow the Devil to sneak in with the doubt. He whispers to us, "Her cape is prettier than yours. It is such a nice shade of purple. It is longer, too," and on and on he goes if we let him.

But, if we keep our eyes focused on the one who gave us our very own cape, who strengthens us to carry out our very own mission, that nasty bug will be repelled. The Devil and his doubt will flee.

We have all been assigned a mission: to use our own talents and gifts to serve God, bringing others to Him. This is our mission. Do we choose to accept it? Do we choose to accept that it will look different on every person?

You know, I could try to wear my daughter's cape. However, it would be too small and would probably strangle me. This is true when we try to carry out someone else's mission, or we try to do our mission like someone else would. We find that the mission doesn't fit, or we feel strangled by the burden to be someone we're not. I'll wear my cape; you wear yours. God made us, and amazingly, we're His masterpiece.

I've linked up this week with Intentional Tuesday, #RaRaLinkup #TellHisStory, and #coffeeforyourheart

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Uncomfortable and the Unknown

"But, I'm scared!"

This is my son's declaration as he stares down at his supper plate. On it, staring back at him, is a curly, cheesy noodle. You'd think it was escargot or something.

Why is my son scared of a noodle? Well, of course, I don't think that is what he means. After all, he's four. But I think a lot of us can relate to this statement. What I think my son really means is that the noodle looks like a new, unknown food, and it makes him uncomfortable.

Yep, I can relate to that. The idea of "new" scares me sometimes because it is unknown. And the thought of the unknown makes me down right uncomfortable.

What does God say about the uncomfortable and the unknown? Well, I know one thing: God does not have a problem with us being uncomfortable. In fact, that is what He wants. When we are uncomfortable, we are more likely to rely fully on Him. As Paul relays to us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, God told him, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness." So when we are weak and uncomfortable because something is new and different and hard, we can rely fully on His power at work in us. It is when we are uncomfortable that God can best shine through us.

And as for the unknown, we serve a God who knows it all. This is what He tells us in Isaiah. "Do no be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). We have no reason to be afraid. The God who knows it all is always with us. I particularly like the New Living Translation that tells us not to be discouraged. I often get discouraged when I'm overwhelmed or when things don't go my way. But we have a God who is bigger than what overwhelms us. He is bigger than our chaos and disasters. And, He is holding us up!

We can face our uncomfortable, unknown situations with the peace and the love of God! He promises He is always with us. His promises are true. We can face our "noodles" and feel brave. God is holding us up.

I am linking up this weeks with #livefreeThursday, #coffeeforyourheart, and Christian Mommy Blogger.

Monday, April 20, 2015

When life isn't what you planned

Beautiful actresses. Famous athletes. Well-known politicians. Super-skinny models. Wealthy, powerful businessmen. These groups of people share fame, renown, and riches. Our culture looks to them as leaders. They seem to have it all. They have risen to the top of their trades. They have it all together. Or so it seems.

Does anyone really have it all together? I have been thinking about this lately. My main question: Is anyone living the life they planned?

I had dreams and plans. Maybe they were childish; maybe they were ignorant. But, I had made plans for my life while I was growing up. I would go to college, meet a husband, get a job, have kids, and live happily ever after. My dreams got more specific as I got older, and I learned a little bit about the world. My husband would work at a great job, but he would be home every night for supper and on the weekends. I would work as a teacher while beautifully balancing life as a mom too. We would live close enough to my family so they could babysit occasionally. Life would just go along seamlessly as my wonderful husband, who always would agree with me, and I raised our family.

For those of you that know me, you know that very little of my plans actually happened. I married a wonderful man, but his job did not fit my ideal mold. He's a farmer, the job that is the very definition of unpredictable, long hours. We have two amazing kids, but we live 9 hours away from my family. So, that idea about babysitting is out the window too. I became a teacher but gave that career up to stay at home with my kids. I never thought I would do that! It was not part of the plan.

Am I the only one living a life that was not planned? What's a girl to do?

As always, I go to the Word. In the New Testament, we find a pretty good example of someone else whose life did not go as he planned it. The apostle Paul is my guy. Paul began his adult life as an adamant persecutor of Christians. Jailing and killing Christians was his life's mission. But, as so often in our lives, God intervened. Saul had a run-in with God, and he was never the same.  Therefore, the life he had planned was majorly transformed.

Much of the scripture that Paul wrote was penned while he was in prison. Incredibly, he was still able to offer up encouragement, teaching, and guidance to the people he ministered to and to us today. As a result of God interfering with Paul's plans, Paul wrote a majority of the New Testament.

The passage of scripture that spoke to me about this subject is found in Philippians chapter 4. Paul wrote this message to the Christians in Philippi while he was in jail; however, he is able to offer some words of encouragement to those of us who wonder what happened to all of our plans and dreams. Paul says, "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little" (Philippians 4:11-12). How does he do this? What is his secret?

Searching the passage further, I think the secret is found in two parts.
  • First Secret: verse 13. "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." Paul realized that the secret to living a content life is full dependence on God. He knew that even while he was imprisoned, God was working, and God was taking care of him. This is a popular verse, but I don't think we Christians always believe it. Too often, fear keeps us in our safe "plans" and stops us from living a full, adventurous life. We settle for the life we had planned instead of taking God at His word and allowing Him to transform our lives, just like he did for Paul.
  • Second Secret: verse 19. "And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus." Paul knew that true contentment comes from allowing Jesus to meet all of your needs. God's "glorious riches" are infinite. He can give richly to me and still not be depleted at all. Eventually, money runs out. Health fails. Beauty fades. Houses fall apart. But God's everlasting riches are eternal. Belief in Christ Jesus secures these riches for us. That verse says they have already been given to us. This is Paul's secret! He knew God well enough to know that anything God had to offer him was far better than he could have planned.
How can we apply this today? That's what I've been wondering. Obviously, my life is not nearly as tough as Paul's. And most of you would probably say the same. So, why do we dwell on what our lives could have been? Why do we daydream about our old plans?

Too often we allow our sight to settle on our current circumstances. Something goes wrong or makes us uncomfortable, and we start wondering how we could have done better. When times get tough, I am guilty of this. I focus on the problems instead of seeing how God is already at work in them. We just have to remember Paul's secret. It can be our secret too.  Allow this scripture to whisper in your ear and heart, as it has mine.  Let God intervene and transform our normal, ho-hum plans. He will put in our hearts new, exciting God-dreams. His plans our better than ours. Always. To quote another verse penned by Paul, "Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Amen.

I've linked up with #IntentionalTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, and #TellHisStory this week. Check out these great websites!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blooming in Bad Weather

Spring. Blooms. Flowers. Plants. These are all wonderful things that make their appearance during this time of year.  It is a time for renewal and expectancy as we await new growth. In my world, however, I have not been experiencing these things.

Here has been my last couple of weeks...
First of all, about 3 weeks ago, my fairly new washing machine broke down. Any woman knows that this is a huge inconvenience. Top that off with a struggle to find the original receipt of purchase so we can get the work and parts covered under warranty and you have one annoyed mama! Next, my kids decided to be sick. My son had an intestinal issue Monday morning (yuck!) and then my daughter threw up all over me on Monday night (double yuck!) It was literally on my face! With no washing machine, my husband had to haul pukey clothes to his dad's house to use his washing machine while I cleaned the carpet in my underwear. Even more annoyed and now disgusted mama! Tuesday started off in the right direction, but then my dishwasher began leaking all over the floor and down into the basement. Great! Then, on Wednesday, my daughter woke up with a fever. Wow! All of these events have really put a damper on my week. Oh, and by the way, my family is coming for a visit on Friday! We've all been looking forward to that for a month, but it is the "interesting" timing of these events that really just makes this mama say, "Enough already!" and "I give up!" Needless to say, things have not been blooming around my household lately.

We've all heard the saying "when it rains it pours" before. And you know what? Things could definitely be worse. However, it is often the little annoying things that really get us down. We start nit-picking on the little things that are going wrong around us. One downpour after another after another and our eyes are not focusing on God anymore. All we see is the bad weather around us. We see the gloom, not the bloom.

Well, since we can always turn to God's word for encouragement, that is what I did. God's word is great about giving us a new perspective. And when I searched for some positive words, He did not disappoint. I have just recently read Hebrews chapter 11 as part of a Bible Study. (Awesome, by the way. It describes heroes of the faith and tells why they are esteemed by God.) Reading about all of those faithful men and women of the Bible was encouraging. I almost felt like I was hearing a powerful sermon/testimony of God's faithfulness. (Check it out!) But it is the verses that follow this chapter that are encouraging me today, in the midst of my mess.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2)
This passage of scripture told me exactly what I needed to hear. I need to strip off my issues (sickness, annoying appliances, a huge to-do list) and focus my eyes on Jesus. He is working to perfect my faith in Him. Today, I am choosing to see how God is going to work through my mess. If we look for the ways He works, we will see that nothing happens without a reason.

It is by keeping our eyes on Jesus and living our lives with endurance and in His strength that we can bloom in the bad times. Even in our mess, God can still use us. In fact, a bloom in the midst of a mess is always more beautiful.

What about you? How do you "bloom" in the midst of your mess? I'd love to know!

Linking up this week with #livefreeThursday and #FellowshipFriday

Monday, April 13, 2015

No Job is too Big, No Pup is too Small

Lately, my kids have been "playing" Paw Patrol. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this show, I will elaborate. One boy, Ryder, is in charge of six pups. Each pup has a different job, and they go out on missions to help the people of Adventure Bay. My son (the oldest) is Ryder, aka, the boss.  My daughter pretends she is Sky, the only female dog in the group. They spring into action whenever they hear, "Ryder needs us!" To explain further, think Captain Planet from back in our day. Each force of nature was important, and they worked together to fight crime. "Earth! Wind! Water! Fire! Heart!"  Except in Paw Patrol, it is six dogs with special skills like using construction equipment, driving a fire truck, and flying a helicopter.

They are crazy about this show! And you know what, I kind of am too!  Not only has it entertained my kids and spurred their imaginations for about a week now, but I think it has a message for us adults too. Let me clue you in, lest you start thinking I'm suggesting we all pretend to be dogs!

First, each of the dogs is important and needed to help the entire group.  This is a concept taken straight from scripture! In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Paul explains this to us adults.
"The humans body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit."
To translate this into today's terms, "Some of us are new Christians, some of us have been going to church since birth, some of us are stay-at-home moms, some of us moms work outside the home, some of us are young, some of us are older, some of us are blond, some of us are brunette..." I could go on and on.  But the special thing about this scripture is that it unifies us. If we accept Jesus as our Savior, we get the Holy Spirit. Yesterday at church, my pastor described the Spirit in a great way: the spirit is God, active on earth and present in us. Each believer carries the Spirit within them. That is why we can recognize God in someone we have only just met! We are unified by the Spirit!

Secondly, this verse describes the equality we all share in Christ Jesus. Whether slave or free, Paul said any believer has the Spirit of God. So, no matter where we fall physically, socially, or economically, the Spirit of God equalizes us.  In God's eyes, that is all He sees.

Lastly, we are all needed and wanted! The body works best when all of its parts are functioning perfectly and according to God's design. God has a job for each one of us! And whether it is public speaking, writing, wiping noses, doing dishes, farming, cooking, teaching, whatever, it is important as long as we are doing it for Him. Each and every job and person is important in the body of Christ. The Bible tells me so! (Specifically in Colossians 3:17. "And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.")

This cute little show also has a quirky catchphrase. (Of course, what kids' show is without one?) After Ryder accepts a mission, he always says, "No job is too big, no pup is too small!" Believe it or not, I think we can be encouraged by this! No job committed to the Lord is too small.  No person in the body of Christ is insignificant. Don't worry, our God is big enough to handle all of our differences! He can use any pup, I mean person!

I've linked up this week with #intentionalTuesdays and#RaRalinkup
And #TellHisStory Check them out!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Beating Back Bugs

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I took our two kids on a mini-vacation to the Water Park of America in the Twin Cities.  My son had been begging to ride the green slides that extend out of the indoor water park building, and my daughter kept saying how she wanted to see the "Mall of 'Merica." (You have to say that like you have an American Flag tattooed on your shoulder). We were all excited to have a little getaway, even if it was just for one night.

No sooner did we arrive home that I began to see some friends' pictures of their vacations at the beach. My excitement and joy from my own short trip quickly deflated. Why did I let that happen?  Because I allowed the nasty Comparison Bug to crawl into my heart and mind.

If you are like me, it is so easy to compare your family to someone else's. If we allow ourselves, anything can be used to make these toxic comparisons.  Vacations, activities, sports, academics, houses, cars, etc.  I could go on and on and so could you.

This "bug" sucks the joy right out of you.  As Jennie Allen says in her book Restless, "Comparison robs us of the joy of obedience."  I just want to shorten it: comparison robs us of joy.  It takes your eyes off of your own blessings and focuses them on the lives of others.  When we stop counting our own blessings, our joy ceases to flow. 

The Comparison Bug also nibbles at your sense of purpose.  We examine how other families spend their time and money, and we decide that our decisions about these things are inferior.  They must be living out their purposes better than we are. Since God made each person on earth to be unique, doesn't it make sense that each family is unique?  Each individual has a special, one of a kind purpose that is fully designed by the God of the universe.  That goes for each family too.  God designed each family unit to be a team that works to bring Him glory in their own unique ways.

I love how Paul encourages us in Romans 12.  I especially love the Message's translation of verses one and two.
"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you and quickly respond to it."
We all want our families to thrive, to experience life to the fullest.  This verse is the encouragement I need to keep pursuing it.  Keep my attention on God and recognize what He wants from me and my family only. Allow God to change my thinking (I need this in every area of life!). Stop trying to compete with others who seem to have it together (no one does).  God created families for support and enjoyment, so let's focus on that and enjoy each other.  Keep your fly swatter ready and beat back that nasty Comparison Bug!

I've linked up this week at #livefreeThursday! and at FellowshipFriday

Monday, April 6, 2015

From Dinosaurs to Peace and the Spirit

They sounded like dinosaurs. At least according to my four year old. The drums started pounding slowly and quietly, just the bass drum keeping the beat.  The musicians added in the other drums, the snare, the tom, and  and picked up the intensity.  Lights flashed in time with the drums like lightning. Words flashed on the screen: MORNING, FREEDOM, PURE, JOY, LIFE. The tomb was empty! "He is not here; He is risen, just as He said!" (Matthew 28:6). We celebrated that Jesus conquered death and sin once and for all. Easter is truly a reason to celebrate!

But Monday morning, I found myself pondering what else Jesus' death brought us. We are guaranteed eternal life if we believe in Him and accept his sacrifice for us.  But what about these days we have left on the earth? I think part of living life abundantly is accepting the other gifts Jesus gave us after He went to Heaven.  In order to live in the joy of our salvation, we have to claim these gifts for ourselves.

First, Jesus brought peace. He told the disciples, "I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27). This peace is a precious gift, and once you have experienced it, you know that it is supernatural.  Who else can bring peace in times of grief, disease, financial troubles, etc.? This kind of peace is found only in one person, not in any object or amount of security on earth. Jesus is the "path to peace" (Luke 1:79). Knowing Him and spending time in His presence leads us to peace. In His presence "you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).  Living abundantly means travelling down this path toward peace, allowing the Prince of Peace to guard your hearts and minds. 

Secondly, Jesus did not leave us alone. He is not a God that just watches His creation from above. No, before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples to "not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4-5). That's right!  The third member of the Trinity comes to us and lives in us when we accept Jesus as our Savior!  According to 2 Timothy 1:7, the Spirit brings us power, love, and self-discipline.  It casts out fear and timidity. The Spirit works in our hearts to produce good fruits: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). You know I could go on and on about these fruits! I won't.  Maybe another day...

How do we take advantage of these things?  How do we experience peace and power and all of the fruits of the Spirit?  We ask. James 4:2 says, "Yet you don't have what you want because you don't ask." These things are gifts promised to us, so of course God wants to give them to us! "For all of God's promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding 'Yes!'" (2 Corinthians 1:20, emphasis added). 

I like that word "resounding."  It means "echoing loudly" or "impressively thorough or complete" ( May the evidence of Jesus in our lives echo loudly to others.  Because through Jesus' work on the cross, our lives are impressively complete.

I've linked up this week at Intentional Tuesday! and RaRaLinkup and #TellHisStory

Thursday, April 2, 2015

It's My Party and I'll Cry if I want to

Recently, I have diagnosed myself with a condition.  I have what I'm calling Saturday Depression. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it's true for me.  Because my husband is a farmer, he works most Saturdays. He works during the week as well, as most husbands do, and I'm ok with this.  But on Saturday, as I see pictures of others on Facebook having fun family days, I find myself depressed by my situation. A symptom of this "condition" is self pity.  And when I throw myself this Saturday pity party, I use excuses to decorate!

You know what I'm talking about! The bad self-talk (or even out loud talk) that comes as a result of a bad attitude.  I tell myself, "My husband would rather work than spend time with me," or "Everyone else is having amazing, exciting adventures this weekend while I'm stuck at home doing the same thing I did all week." These are just some examples of the excuses I tell myself, so I can feel justified in my bad attitude and anger at the world. 

In my mind, I know I am choosing to believe lies.  I know I am choosing to wallow in self-pity.  I know I am allowing my circumstances to steal my joy.  But if you are like me, you struggle to turn it around. I know I should be joyful, but how do I flip the switch?

I recently came across a verse in the Bible that spells it out for me. It gives me some advice on how to make the change from pouty to positive.  Here it is: Psalm 42:5, "Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again - my Savior and my God!"

This verse gives me three ideas to apply and reflect on.

1. Put your hope in God! I cannot rely on my husband or family or friends to give me a hopeful attitude.  I surely cannot rely on this world or our current circumstances.  But when I acknowledge that God is my only true source of hope, I know I have no reason to feel depressed.  We can hope in God because He is always faithful.  That is part of His character. 2 Timothy 2:13 says, "If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who he is." He says He will never leave us nor forsake us.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If we believe this, we can have confident hope every day!

2. Praise Him again (and again and again)! When we praise God for who He is and for all He has done for us, our small and temporary problems disappear.  "Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings see what God has done." The author of this hymn knew what he was talking about.  When faced with life's struggles and hardships, naming and praising what God has already done is one sure way to stop your pity party. It is just like giving your testimony to yourself!  Sometimes, that is just what needs to be done. Testimonies are meant to be told, even if it is just to yourself.

3. Your Savior and Your God is for you! You have the maker of the universe living within your heart. His love for you is so great that His only son died for you. He is always with you, fighting whatever battle you are facing at the moment. Romans 8:31 says, "If God is for us, who can ever be against us?" We must change our negative self-talk to the positive, life-affirming words of scripture. Meditate on scriptures that encourage your heart, and the darkness self-pity will surely fade away in the light of His word.

So, living abundantly means no excuses (not even to yourself!). Excuses are traded for encouragement.  Pity is replaced by praise. And our bad attitudes are resurrected by the very one who was resurrected from the grave.

I've linked up with #LivefreeThursday! Check it out!