Contentment

Contentment is something I long for in my relationship with God. At times I feel like I have it; at others, I feel I’m holding on for dear life. This past year, filled with grief, obstacles, and new challenges left me holding onto the promise of this scripture.

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created  you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; (Isaiah 43:1-3a NIV).

All the while, I longed for contentment. Contentment is joyfully, yes joyfully, living within my current circumstance. I wanted a peace within that trusted the promises of Isaiah. Let’s face it, I’m not good at being content. I am always wanting more and looking to what is next in life, and strategizing my way out of anything difficult. Contentment in relationships is harder. It takes intention. I have to be intentional in my marriage, with my children and in friendships to reach and maintain contentment. I long for it all aspects of my life, but it starts with God.

So, how do I find that with God? Then I heard this scripture as a part of a Willow Creek Church message and a bit of a lightbulb went off.

But godliness with contentment is great gain (1Timothy 6:6 NIV).

Pastor Carter took this verse and turned it into an equation: Godliness + Contentment = Great Gain. Godliness is choosing to conform to God’s ideals. That, plus joyfully living within my circumstance will bring great gain. The context of this scripture is around financial gain and the want of money being the root of evil. The equation is about so much more than the pursuit of money. Focusing on the growing in Christlikeness, trusting in the promises of God and living in peace produces a life where I am left wanting nothing more. This sounds awesome to me.

I need to rest in the promises of Isaiah and strive for contentment, joyfully living within my circumstance. My life will be richer for it, and as always I have work to do.

How about you? Are you content? How have you learned to have joy in your circumstance? Share your story here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

 

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Justice

We all want justice. We want the person who wronged us to face consequences. We expect the law to protect us. When justice fails us, we are left wondering where is God.

Recently, two different families I know and love has had justice fail them. They were fighting for the rights and protection of children. We expect the law to make sense and be in favor of the victims. However, it seems that justice can’t be counted on. Laws have loop holes, and accountability is hard to come by.

The level of frustration was palpable through the phone when I heard, “We have to trust God.” I thought, “Wow.” I was impressed by her level of trust while I was dumbfounded wondering what to do next. She was right. God is at work in this, and just can’t see it, yet.

Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” (Luke 18:6-8 MSG).

She and this scripture reminded me that my sight is limited. I can’t see all the things that God is doing in these situations to change hearts, move mountains, save lives and bring grace and mercy to those in need. I only see what my heart wants. I can’t see 10, 20 or 50 years from now. I don’t know the testimonies He’s cultivating. I don’t see the  justice He is bringing.

I can wave my fist and stomp my feet all the injustice in this world and so close to home, but God calls me to listen carefully and pray fervently. There may be a time for me to act, to move, to participate in His justice. I need to be ready to do what I can when He declares the time is right. In the current situations, my hands are tied, but there may be a time in the future serve His justice. In the meantime, I trust He is in control, His love is more powerful, and He will not drag His feet even if I never see the outcome.

How have you learned to trust in God’s justice? How has he challenged you in this? Share your story here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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Self Less

I like to think about me. I admit it. I focus on my career, my family, my needs, my wants. Is that unusual? The world tells us to focus on ourselves. Media tells us to be thinner, prettier, younger. Social media tell us to focus on having a more exciting life than all of our friends.  Then be sure to keep track of how many people “like” or “love” your posts. It encourages us to keep checking our status to see who is noticing us. With all of this encouragement, why should I try to focus on the self less?

This doesn’t even begin to cover all the influences to focus on self. Think of all the selfies we take and then the apps to give yourself a model look. You can soften skin, erase wrinkles, whiten teeth, adjust skin tone. I am the first to admit that I only want pictures of myself posted in which I think I look good. I need to think of myself less.

Recently, I read this statement in my devotional, “To enjoy my presence more fully, you need to think less about yourself. This is not an arbitrary demand; it’s the secret to living more abundantly” (from Jesus Always by Sarah Young).  This really struck hard. I have been chewing on it for a few days now, and asking if I’m holding onto God for dear life?

“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!” (Psalm 91:14-16 MSG).

This is a harsh reality for me. I know how to hold on to God for dear life when life is hard. I need to be holding on like that all day everyday. I need to honor God with my time and focus. It takes discipline. I may need to put up some post it notes to keep on track, and develop a solid discipline of focusing on God and the self less. I want to live into the promises of this scripture.

God forgive my selfishness, my ability to focus on me and what the world tells me is important. You offer different eyes to see with, and that’s what I want. Help me redirect myself toward you.

How about you? What do you do to stay focused on God and not the self? Share your story here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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The Race

A few years ago, I was asked if I would run a race, a 5k. My first thought was maybe. I’m not really a runner. Then I looked at the course for this race. It was on the hills of a ski resort with obstacles to hurl myself over. It was called the Warrior Dash.

I was ready to challenge myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t too old for such things. Just as I had been recruited, I recruited some friends and family to join the insanity, and then began training. It was time to kick the workouts up a notch. It was time to start running. I didn’t have any lofty time goals. I just wanted to finish. Finish, I did. Several months of training paid off. I could run the 3.2 miles. I could handle most of the obstacles, and I didn’t die running straight up the side of a ski slope.

I knew what the goal was. I knew how to prepare, and I knew when I had accomplished the task. God sets us on a journey. One that is specific for each of us. One to form us into His likeness. One to carry out the race marked for us.

You’re blessed when you stay on course,
walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You’re blessed when you follow his directions,
doing your best to find him.
That’s right—you don’t go off on your own;
you walk straight along the road he set.
You, God, prescribed the right way to live;
now you expect us to live it.
Oh, that my steps might be steady,
keeping to the course you set;
Then I’d never have any regrets
in comparing my life with your counsel. (Psalm 119: 1-7 MSG).

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (Hebrews 12:1 NIV).

The race God has set for us is for the long haul. It requires perseverance. It requires continued close relationship with Him. It requires a willingness to do hard things. The race set before us centers around our hearts being molded and restored. The race called us into compassion, grace and mercy towards others. The race calls us to face our fears and trust Him in all things. When we do, we are blessed.

The path He has set before me has challenged me to face fears. Fears bigger than a 5k like 5 years of weekly blogging :0) Deciding to stay on the path with him, having difficult conversations, admitting I’m wrong, taking leaps of faith, has brought me many blessings. It has strengthened relationships, built intimacy, and opened my heart to others. Sometimes I don’t want to stay on the path because it’s hard. I have learned to trust. He has never steered me wrong, and that is what I lean on when it’s hard.

Choosing to stay on the path with God and living without regrets is hard. The love that comes from sticking it out is beyond measure. Are you willing to run the race set before you, face the difficult growth areas and have your life fuller than you ever imagined? Ask God to show you the way. I know he will.

How have you learned to run the race? Share here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

(Yes, this blog is now five years old-over 250 posts. It’s a crazy ride this journey with God. I never would have expected this and I wouldn’t change any of it.)

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Excuses

I often think of excuses when I don’t want to exercise, or clean the house. My children are experts at excuses for every chore I put on their list. Some excuses are benign while some carry significant consequences.

Healing a broken relationship, pursuing a new job, letting go of bad habits, letting go in general are all areas of life where I can rattle off excuses for allowing life to stay the same. I make excuses when the change seems too hard. I make excuses when I think I’ll fail. I make excuses when I’m afraid I’ll get hurt emotionally.

Fear can put me in gridlock. I stay stuck. I want my circumstances to change, but I can’t move. Fear wins. Fear of greater emotional pain keeps me from seeking the freedom promised in Christ.

The truth is sometimes there is greater emotional pain to walk through to get to freedom. Freedom, however, allows all the fear to wash away. The pain disappears, and I am left wondering why I fought it so long.

God promises us freedom. He shows us a new way free of excuses and free of fear. The hard part for me is I want to see what is on the other side of the wilderness before I walk through it. That’s the fear; that’s the excuse that keeps me from freedom.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
the jackals  and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21 the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.(Isaiah 43:18-21 NIV).

I’d like to say that I’m done with excuses, however I know better. I do know that I am learning to trust that God has more for me. I trust that He is renewing and transforming me every time he walks me into the place where I start making excuses. I’m learning to pause, reflect, pray and listen in those places to see what the fear really is. I know it is going to be hard and I know the freedom on the other side is so worth it.

Lord, I pray you transform my excuses into a new freedom that allows me to grow in your likeness. Change my heart, and show me your way through the wilderness.

How are excuses holding you back? Is God showing you a new way? Share your story here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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Sage Advise

I am the first to admit that I don’t like to be told what to do. I can get rather defensive and crabby in response to someone’s sage advise that I didn’t want to hear. My first reaction is usually fear followed by feeling insecure. It is easy to see others advise as my own inadequacy. I have to remind myself that is not the intent. I know they are looking out for my best interest. I know they are trying to help me be a better person.

I may have children who are much the same way, and I have noticed this a lot with my son lately. His tone is terse as soon as I try to say anything to him. I don’t know anything. He doesn’t see all the growing he still has to do, but I do. I see that he is smart and compassionate. I also see some youthful ignorance. I see his potential. As his mom, I will do everything I can to help him reach that potential.

I think God sees me the same way. He sees that I am smart and compassionate, and my less than youthful ignorance. He is doing everything He can to help me reach my potential. The question is am I listening to the sage advise of the Master Teacher?

Listen carefully to my wisdom;
take to heart what I can teach you.
You’ll treasure its sweetness deep within;
you’ll give it bold expression in your speech.
To make sure your foundation is trust in God,
I’m laying it all out right now just for you.
I’m giving you thirty sterling principles—
tested guidelines to live by.
Believe me—these are truths that work,
and will keep you accountable
to those who sent you. (Proverbs 22:17-21 MSG).

God desires to guide and mold me into the best possible version of His creation. He does so with incredible patience, wisdom, and care. Yet, there are times when I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to be more emotionally strong, or care that deeply for someone else’s hurts. God never backs away. He never stops molding and guiding. He patiently waits for my eyes to be opened and my heart to grow.

The trials of parenting has taught me a lot about God’s love and desires for me. It has also taught me to be more patient with children who don’t want my sage advise.

As the year begins how are you doing at listening to sage advise? Are you willing to hear the tough wisdom of others and the tough wisdom of God?  Share your experience hear and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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Hope

 

 

 

Guest blogger Melanie Land Graves shares this beautiful writing on hope.

Hope…to have it, is life-giving; to be without it, is a slow death.

I remember vividly so many seasons in my life when I felt there was no hope…in the future, in love, in relationship, in acceptance of who I was, in believing life could be difference, in believing I was worth more than an object of someone’s power and control: that night’s would be peaceful, sleep would be restful, safety was assured; that a day would go by and not be filled with flashbacks or memories; no hope. A very slow death…heart and mind.

As I write that very short paragraph, it is as though a movie screen is flashing 100s of photos in my mind of time gone by. Hard times. Desperate times. Hope was elusive…and mostly covered by alcohol and drugs. What wasn’t covered by alcohol and drugs, a very thick mask took care of…so I thought.

This is a season of a lot of things for a lot of people, many of whom I suspect are struggling to get through the day, just to put one foot in front of the other. Oh sure, there are many that have “all they need” and keep on going, but this is the minority. There are many today who are grieving, battling life threatening disease, battling life threatening addiction, traumas and events of all kinds. Do they have hope? for tomorrow? for a future? that “things” will change? will life always be this way? why me? where is God? and the list goes on. This is a difficult season for so many. My heart is burdened for a few families that I know that grieve the loss of their child. Where is their hope? I cannot imagine the heartache. The list goes on…

But God…

But God stepped in and redeemed all that was broke in me; He delivered me from a mountain of shame and guilt; He showed himself to me in a mighty way so that I would minister to others and share the Good News! He gave me hope when I did not think there was any! I cried out to him, literally, and he heard my cry! He restored to me the joy of His salvation! It was done! No more shame!

There is one who is able to do more than we ever hope or imagine! There is one who is able to comfort us in our darkest hour. There is one who knows the pain of loss; who knows the pain of desperation; who knows physical pain; who has cried tears of heartache; who has grieved; who understands rejection; who understands “why me?”; one who has faced death; one who has overcome!

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground, he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:2-5).

Jesus gives a grace greater than anything we can ever imagine and covers all our sin; He has an unconditional love that exceeds all boundaries of man and fulfills our deepest longings; He has a mighty power that heals, redeems, restores, reconciles, revives, rebirths, transforms, ignites, battles, and does the miraculous! He is the one we have hope in. He is the one we wait on, day in and day out. He is the one who will answer all those questions and give us life. A rich, joyous, sustaining life. He is the one who will make beauty for ashes and joy for sorrow. He is the one we find hope in…

“For unto us a child is born, to us a child is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

Pray for His sustaining love and presence. Ask Him to give you what you need. Reach to Him. Hold on to hope in him. Receive the gift He has for you in grace, in eternal life, in love, and eternal hope. That is all you have to do. Ask…and receive Hope.

How have you received hope? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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Spiritual Resolutions

It is that time of year for setting resolutions. I am always extra motivated at the start of the year to work on my health. Those are the easiest resolutions for me to set. Yes, some of them have failed rather quickly, but some of them have lasted. I have even tried my hand at business or work goals, but I have never made a spiritual resolution.

This past year relationships have taken the forefront in life. I’m working hard on putting family and friends first. This year is different. I’ve been reminded that I need God to be my first relationship, and then the rest will fall into place. God won’t let me forget about family and friends.

My spiritual practices over the last year have not been up to my personal standards. I have found myself feeling a little blah and disconnected from God at various times. This scripture reminds me of the value of those practices. I have gotten a little flabby, and now it’s time to get fit.

6-10 You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers. (1 Timothy 4:6-10 MSG).

This year I am setting some spiritual resolutions. One is reading the verse of the day on my Bible app. This is a short simple and very achievable goal. I have already been doing it for a few months. The app is actually tracking my streak. It has been an easy way to focus my days. Devotions and journaling need to get back on track. I know they make a difference for me.

Here is the key in setting spiritual resolutions do what works for you everyday. If you love worship music, crank up the tunes. If quiet reflection and meditation is your thing, make time everyday. If you don’t know what feeds your relationship with God, try a variety of spiritual disciplines throughout the year. Whatever you choose to do, I highly encourage you to do it daily. This is a relationship that needs daily nurture, and it’s not God who needs it; it’s me.

Will you join me in setting spiritual  goal for the coming year? What has worked well for you, so far? What are you interested in trying new this year? Share your experiences here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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Merry Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas. I pray this day is one of celebration and remembrance of the incredible gift of Christ.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:4-20 NIV).

Blessings to you and your family.

 

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Prepared

 

 

Tree is decorated. Cards are in the mail. Presents are purchased, wrapped and under the tree. I am prepared for Christmas to happen. The hustle and bustle hasn’t caught me off guard. I wonder if Mary felt the same way. Her engagement was set. She was marrying her love. She was prepared. She knew what her life was going to be and then an angel appeared.

26-28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:

Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
29-33 She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. (Luke 1:26-33 MSG).

I like to be prepared. I like to have a plan. I like to know where my life is going. “She was thoroughly shaken,” is a phrase I can relate to in many ways. There have been times in my life when being prepared hasn’t mattered because God had a different plan. Resigning my job at the church to care for my husband’s grandfather, writing a book, anytime I have had to “promote” myself, are a few times that God left me thoroughly shaken. I had thought my life was going in one direction and He had me change or alter course.

He does this in smaller ways throughout the week. He asks me to give up time for a friend or family member. He nudges me to make an uncomfortable phone call. He encourages me to offer kindness to someone else.

Being prepared has it’s place and benefits, but if I’m not listening to the nudges that God sends my way, I’m missing out on moments of joy and peace that come when we follow Him. Mary willing followed shaken and all. She felt unprepared for what was ahead of her, yet she set fear aside and followed.

When I’m struggling to follow God’s desires for me, I think of Mary. If she could follow in that moment, surely I can, too. How about you? Are you always prepared? Are you willing to change course when God asks? Share your story here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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