Really?

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 My kids have learned a new word . . . “Really?” . . . They use this as an expression of disbelief or surprise.  To be completely honest, it drives me crazy to hear them use this word.  It has become a habit, and I am trying to help them stop.  Questioning the truth of what you hear is not a bad thing, but hearing others question everything you say can be offensive.  Sometimes I thing we would be wise to say to ourselves “Really?”  Is the picture of life that we are showing the world true?  Does God want us to put on a happy face and act like everything is fine when it is not?  It is hard to be real when we aren’t happy with real.  I have a friend who calls Facebook “fakebook” for this very reason.  It always makes me laugh to hear her say it because there is truth to what she says.
I am still reading through Psalms.  It has been such an encouragement to me.  Today I came to Psalm 69, and I had to pause as the realization came over me that King David, THE King David who killed Goliath and was Israel’s hero, wrote this Psalm!  Read verses 1-6:
Save me, O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.  I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.  My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.  More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies.  What I did not steal must I now restore?  O God, You know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from You.  Let not those who hope in You be put to shame through me, O Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek You be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.
David was called a man after God’s own heart.  He was the greatest king in the history of Israel, and he had problems!  Somewhere along the way, we have come to think that if we do right, life will be good.  We say that we don’t believe in “prosperity gospel,”  but then when life gets hard, we question God.  We think we shouldn’t face hardship because we are children of God.  I think many of the Israelites thought this way too.  Imagine with me that you are at the temple worshipping, and the priests announce a new psalm of David has been released for public worship!  They begin to sing.  The words are not what you expected.  Why . . . if David, great man that he is, has gone through such terrible times, then where does that leave me?  You keep listening, and David gives you the answer through the song.  Verses 29-36:
But I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high!  I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.  This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.  When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.  For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His own people who are prisoners.  Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in them.  For God will save Zion and build up  the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love His name shall dwell in it.
I love how David points us to the Lord.  Our hope is in Him!  Praise the Lord!  I don’t have to have it all together, in fact, when my life is a mess, I can be honest about my imperfections and point others to the One who loves them and hears the needy.  So, when we act like we have it all together, not only are we putting up a false front for the world to see, we are failing to give God the glory for the times he has rescued us out of our mess.
This is a hard lesson to learn!  I want to have it all together, but I don’t (and probably never will).  But I have learned that if I can be honest, then when others say “Really?”  I can point them to Jesus, then One who holds me when I can’t see then next step.  And when I come through the struggle, I will praise Him with a song of thanksgiving and magnify Him!
Enjoy listening to the song Made me Glad by Hillsong!  May God bless you as you lift up His name in praise!
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Upheaval

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I have been pretty quiet on the blog lately because we moved again.  This time it was only 10 minutes away from our previous abode.  It was a big deal to us because we bought our first house!  This has been a long drawn out process (as it always seems to be).  I went from house hunting to paperwork to packing to cleaning, more packing, cleaning again.  We down sized this time, which is a good thing.  Our other house had so much space that we actually forgot to move a room on moving day!  It has been an adventure, and God has helped us throughout the whole process.  The picture above pretty well sums up my life for the last 3 months – boxes, laundry, and messes.  Most of the boxes are unpacked now . . . laundry, now that’s never going away.  It will be good to get back to writing again.  I have missed the blog!

I am studying the Psalms right now.  It has been such an encouragement after all the time I’ve spent working on the house.  As disorganized as everything has been around here, I relate with some of David’s laments.  Psalm 4:1,3, & 8 says:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have given me relief when I was in distress.  Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! . . . But I know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him. . . . In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

It seems like something goes wrong with the house every time we turn around (which is why we have lived here more than a month and I still haven’t hung our pictures on the walls).  Even in all of these problems, I see God’s hand at work providing for us and helping me to be somewhat calm.  I will admit, I haven’t handled all of this graciously, but the fact that I haven’t lost my mind shows that God is sustaining me even when I don’t turn to him right away.  So, getting back to the Psalms.  Psalm 16 has really encouraged me the last few days.

Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.”  As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.  The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.  The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.  I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.  I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.  For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.  You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forever more.

I especially like the parts “I have no good apart from You”, “in Your presence there is fullness of joy”, and “at Your right hand are pleasures forever more.”  I am learning more and more that anything good we experience is a gift from God.  We don’t deserve these good things, but He gives them because He loves us.  It is all to bring glory to His name – not for me to say “look at the good things I have done and God has rewarded me for them.”  I’m so glad we get to enjoy God!

I’ve been listening to a lot of music (mostly because my youngest daughter turns it on all the time) – I can listen while you unpack.  One song in particular that has resonated with me is “Be Still My Soul/What a Friend We Have in Jesus” performed by Selah.  Click here to listen!  I hope it encourages your heart.

May God bless you richly.  And hopefully I will have more time to write now that our move is behind me!

Hearsay

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Have you ever heard some really good news secondhand (or maybe even “third” or “fourth-hand”).  Sometimes I hear news that way that doesn’t really matter to me.  In those cases I am content to breeze on past the news and move on to the next thing that vies for my attention.  Other bits of news are so important that I am willing to stop everything to find out the truth.  That’s when Google becomes my “best friend.”  She has a woman’s voice on my phone, and instead of saying “google it,” my kids always say “ask google” when we don’t know the answer to something.

Imagine the Israelites telling their children about the wonderful things God had done in order to bring them into the promised land.  I can imagine the young children sitting on the edge of their seats wide eyed with wonder as they hear the story of the battle of Jericho.  The older kids jump in trying to tell the best parts before their father can finish the story.  The teenagers acting bored because they’ve already heard the story a hundred times, but secretly they are proud to know that their dad was one of the men who marched around the walls until they fell.

The next generation begins to tell these same stories to their children, who are just as captivated by the story as their parents.  Then, because the Isreaelites have been making friends with the nations they were supposed to drive out, some of the older kids begin to question their parents, “Did the walls really fall down after the seventh time around?  Balaam’s mom said it couldn’t have been that easy!”  or “Delilah said her god made the rain fall last week.”  and still another would say “Why can’t we get an Ashera pole for our yard? My friend’s parents got one!”

Joshua 24:31 says:

Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel

Some translations say “experienced” instead of “known.”  Telling our stories of how God has moved in our lives is important, but it is no comparison to actually experiencing a move of God.  Of course, we cannot make this happen, it is God who chooses when to show Himself to us, but we can pray for Him to make Himself known to us and to our children.  It is so important for us to be looking for Him to move in our lives.  We get so distracted by other things, wanting to have what those around us have and “fit in.”  God hasn’t called us to be like others, He has called us to love Him! Matthew 22:37 says:

And He said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Just believing stories we’ve read in the Bible or heard from our parents and grandparents isn’t enough.  We need to have faith that leads us to love God and follow Him no matter what the cost.  How different things could have been for the Israelites had they set their hearts and minds on loving God instead of comparing themselves to the nations around them.  It may seem like God is asking a lot of us in following Him, but  I agree with Jim Elliot who said “Heis no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

I pray that God will help us to experience Him in such a way that we believe Him and love Him.  I don’t want hearsay!  Passion for God comes from knowing Him!

Unashamed by: Christine Caine

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We have so many good books at our house.  I have been making a point to read more for myself (not just for the kids).  It helps that my 3 older kids can all read very well now, so they are reading to the younger ones instead of everyone asking me to read all the time.  I think it was Joe McKeever who said that you should vary up the types of books you read.  Read one fiction book, then read a self-help book, and then read a biography, etc . . . I’ve been taking his advice this year, and it has been nice.

This week I finished reading the book Unashamed by: Christine Caine.  It really stuck a chord in my heart.  Christine tells a little bit about her story of being held back by shame – not feeling good enough.  She talks about the victory we have in Jesus and the struggle we have in our mind to believe that we are free.  In her journey, she has found that we have seasons that we are able to live in victory and then there are seasons when we are crippled with feelings of shame.  She gives scriptures and practical steps we can take to help us in those moments when we are struggling to see ourselves the way God sees us.

I think everyone has moments when they feel shame about some part of their past, after all, we are all sinners.  The problem is that God does not want us to live in shame.  He wants us to blossom in the reality that He has transformed us with His love through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Christine has been able to work through multiple layers of shame over many years of letting God show her the truth.  She has started two ministries. A21 is a ministry to help women escape human trafficking and find healing.  Propel Women is the organization she helped start that helps women learn and develope their leadership skills so that they can live lives of success.  Her story is an example of how God wants to use our deliverance from struggles to help others who are also struggling.  We aren’t meant to live our lives hiding our flaws so that those around us think we have it all together.  We are supposed to bear one another’s burdens.  Galatians 6:2 says:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

I hope that if you are struggling with shame as I do at times, that you will read this book.  It can really open your eyes to the truth of who you are in Christ.  May God get the glory as we move forward in sanctification!

Stubborn

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I have been amazed at how the winter has lingered so long.  Being from the south, I am not used to long winters.  Our yard no longer has dirt stained snow covering everything, the last of it melted a few weeks ago.  The piles of snow plowed up in the Walmart parking lot are still there though!  I don’t have a picture to share, but the piles don’t even look like snow any more, they are so covered with dirt, they look like giant sand piles.  We have been getting dustings of snow even though it is now March.  I would call this weather stubborn.  I don’t mind it too much, in fact, I would be happy for one more big snow so that my kids can play in it again.

I have been reading through Deuteronomy, and was struck by Moses’ confrontation of the children of Israel.  They are preparing to enter the promised land.  Moses has been reminding the people of where they came and of the laws that God has given to them.  Moses says in Deuteronomy 9:4,6:

Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, “It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,” whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. . . . Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

Have you ever thought to yourself that God is giving you good things in life because you are living a good life?  I have.  In fact, many times I’ve been taught that if I am good (righteous), then God will bless me with good things.  The reality is Isaiah 64:6:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

I think I’m every bit as stubborn as Israel when I get my eyes off of who God is and what He has done for me.  I may think I am living a righteous life, but if I am holding on to my idea of how life should be instead of surrendering myself to God, I am not really living for Him.  Instead of thinking I have it all together, I need to remember 2Corinthians 5:21

For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Anything good in my life comes from God – so why am I so stubbornly attached to having my own way?  I think it has to do with lack of faith.  If I really believed that God had my best interests at heart, I wouldn’t resist what He is trying to accomplish in and through my life.  Our rebellion to the ways of God just accents how good He is to us.  Nehemiah 9:17-18:

They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that You performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.  But You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

Praise the Lord!  He does not give up on us.  Lets strive to keep our focus on God.  He is wonderful!  Nothing else can compare with Him.  Lord, Please help us to believe You so that we will live in a way that honors You, without the stubborn rebellion that has characterized so much of our lives.  Thank You for Your grace, mercy, love and faithfulness!

All We Have is Now

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I was recently in a class for people who have questions about life and faith.  It was a new experience for me as I have grown up in Church.  Most of the teaching I sat under was to tell us all the “answers” – not so much to give us a chance to ask big questions.  It was so neat to talk with people from all different walks of life.  One lady in particular was very easy to connect with as she was the mother of 3 young children.  As we talked, I could just sense that her life was very much as unruly as mine at times.  She was so nice and encouraging to me!  I was surprised to later find out that she is an Atheist.  I have always thought that atheists were hostile people, standing up against the lifestyle and tradition that I hold dear.  She did not seem to fit this profile at all.

One of the things I learned that night is that there is really only one difference between the life of a lost person and my life.  That difference is Jesus!  A person can live a good life and be a citizen that contributes to the good in our world, but none of that matters if they don’t have faith in Jesus.  Have you noticed that some unbelievers live a life that is morally outstanding when compared to some Christians?  It is sobering to me.  And then I remember that being morally good doesn’t make me a good Christian . . . living a life of faith in God and dependence on Him is what sets me apart from other good people.

I learned that Atheists do not believe in life after death.  Many of them have the philosophy of life that “You only get one chance at life, so be kind!”  I was thinking about this later and was struck by the truth that we Christians also only have one chance at life.  Yes, we get to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus, but our life here on earth doesn’t have a “do over” button.  It is so important for us to walk with Jesus in a way that others will see Him in us.  John 13:34-35 says:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

I have been challenged by an Atheist to be kind because I don’t get another go at life.  May we all learn to show the love of Christ in all our conversations.  No hate filled talk!  Let others see Jesus in you so that they can experience the love of Christ and come to Him for salvation.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.

-Hebrews 9:27-28

Heavenly Father, please help us to live lives of humility and love.  Remembering that we are not better than those who believe differently than us, we are only sinners who have been rescued from eternal punishment.  Please place people in our paths that we can share Jesus with so that they too can experience His loving forgiveness and redemption.  Amen!

When God’s Plan Seems Delayed

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Do you ever find yourself wanting to rush to the next season of your life?  It is hard to rest and be content in the place that we find ourselves.  The world tells us if only we had different weather, life would be better. So they sell lots of vacations to beaches or to ski resorts depending on what type of weather a person is trying to escape.  Often times we rush around moving on to the next thing without slowing down to soak in the moment that we are experiencing.  I definitely relate to this.  With six children, life is busy!  I seem to always be rushing to get things done – rushing through life trying to get to the next thing.  I rush my day along: “Lets get done with breakfast so we can start school.” and then: “Hurry up and finish what you’re working on so we can have lunch!” “You need to finish lunch so we can finish school!””Go play so I can get supper done.” Then we rush through supper so that we can have some family time and then rush off to bed!!!  I want to hurry up and finish the school year so we can enjoy leisurly summer days . . . but then in the summer I’m sure that I will want to rush through that too because there will be an empty promise that getting to the next season will make life better!

As Christians, we do the same thing.  We come to Christ, asking Him what He wants us to do.  When He shows us something, we try to make it happen as fast as we can.   Kevin and I moved up to Chicago following the plan that God set before us.  It took much longer to get the family moved up than we had anticipated.  I believe that it was just what we needed in order to grow and fulfill the purpose God has in our lives.  Our goal is for Kevin to get his PhD in Old Testament Hebrew, and we thought we should get busy accomplishing that so we could move forward with doing God’s will.  What we are finding is that God’s timetable is different than ours.  Kevin has been out of school for more than six years.  That coupled with the reality that Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is much more thorough in their languages studies than the program Kevin studied in previously has shown us that getting into the program is going to take longer than we had originally thought.  Kevin has been accepted to the school, but he was unable to pass the Hebrew proficiency exam.  He will have to take some classes to learn the Hebrew more thoroughly before he can begin studying toward his degree.  Understanding all of this has been disappointing.  Our limited perspective causes us to think we have messed up or at the least, we are falling behind. We think we should have already accomplished so much.  That is the world’s thinking creeping into our lives.  God still has a plan.

I’ve been reading through Genesis again, and it has been just what I needed for this time in my life.  There are so many instances in the Bible where people heard from God and began to follow Him only to find that things aren’t going to happen on the timetable that they thought.  Genesis 12:1-3 says:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Abram obeyed right away!  I’m sure that he thought God was going to give him many children, and he probably thought he and Sarai would begin having them right away.  They were up in years already, so they didn’t have time to loose!  Ten years passed, and still Abram and Sarai had no son.  Sarai became impatient, and in Genesis 16:2 we see her solution to the problem.

And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children.  Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”  And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

Abram and Sarai took matters into their own hands and had a son through Hagar.  This was not God’s plan, and it caused lots of heartache for Sarai and Abram.  But, they thought they had obtained a son to fulfill God’s promise.  Then, 13 years later, God appeared to Abram again.  In Genesis 17:15-21 God shows Abram His plan.

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her.  I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”  Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?  Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”  God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.  As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.  But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

Abraham was shocked to learn that Ishmael was not the son who would fulfill the promise that God had made.  God unfolded His plan at just the right time.  Nothing Abraham or Sarah did could speed it up or change it.  Think of their delight and faith in God when they saw the promise fulfilled at Isaac’s birth (Genesis 21)!  God uses unlikely circumstances to show us that He is the One doing the work.  We cannot take credit for His work.  It is impossible for us to do His will without His hand working through us.

After reading all of this and pondering it’s application to me today, I cannot give up because God’s plan hasn’t unfolded the way I thought it would.  I cannot rush the plan either.  I just have to rest in Him and remain obedient to what He has put before me to do today.  God’s plan for my family and I will unfold at the right time.  He alone knows what the future holds.  Until then, I pray that God will strengthen our faith and help us to be faithful to Him.

May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

-Romans 15:13

Book Suggestion: Street God

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I love to read!  I haven’t had much time for leisure reading for myself lately.  Most of my reading is done for an audience of children who are full of questions. I did get to read a really good book this week though!  It was a great way to start out the new year.  Kevin got the book Street God by: Dimas Salaberrios after hearing him speak at Church one Sunday.  Kevin doesn’t go on and on about books very often, but he couldn’t help but tell me things about this one.  I thought he might as well just read it aloud to me.  He didn’t, so as soon as he finished reading it, I read it.

Dimas tells of his life on the streets, and his determination to become a drug boss.  I had never read anything like this before.  It opened my eyes to the realities that so many children face every day.  As I was reading this book, I was especially aware of  the things we saw in New Orleans while living there. At the time, I had no idea how things worked on the streets.

Jesus delivered Dimas from a terrible life and gave him a new determination.  It was a joy to read of his deliverance from drugs and crime.  I am amazed how God can take a person who has so much against them and transform them into a light that shows His love to the world.

Reading this book confirmed in my heart the importance of our prayers for the lost around us, and the importance of obeying when God prompts us to do something.  God is not done working in our midst.  Don’t be fooled by the statistics on declining Church attendance and the reports of Churches across the country closing their doors – God is still moving in hearts of people today.  He is working miracles.  I would venture to say that if we are not experiencing God in this way, it is because our prayers are half-hearted and our obedience is lacking.  I am challenged to devote myself to praying for others more and to seeking God with renewed faith that believes in the impossible!

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

-Ephesians 3:20-21

Christmas Lull

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We put so much planning and preparation into each Christmas season.  2016 was no exception.  I worked for weeks trying to get everything ready.  The anticipation in our house caused an undercurrent of excitement that made every day full of questions.  I didn’t get started on the homemade gifts soon enough, so my kids are still anticipating more gifts, but the Christmas lull has set in just the same.  The excitement that comes along with the mystery of a pile of gifts has spent itself.  All the children are busy playing and fighting over each others’ toys.  In the meantime, I am trying to figure out how to reorganize everything so that the new toys aren’t scattered all over the house to become broken or lost.  I am leaving the Christmas decorations up a little longer because they are so pretty, plus, it seems wrong to take them down and cause Christmas to end so abruptly.   Continue reading