Be Strong in the Grace

Strength. We associate it with being tough. Being hard. Being physically fit. We typically don’t associate it with grace; but in 2 Timothy, that is what Paul asks Timothy to do: “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The first time I read it, I wasn’t sure what it meant. But then God worked to show me the meaning behind His Word in a way I would never expect.

Not too long ago, my friend made a mistake– a big mistake that could have cost a life. It could have been anyone. Moms, think about little mishaps that happen each day that make us stop and thank God for His protection. Teenagers and former teenagers, think about stupid choices you made that didn’t result in the consequences they could have. Anyone in the medical field is faced with life altering calculations and decisions each day of work. If we want to be honest, each time we sit behind the wheel of a car, we are entrusting our lives to others and have the potential to make deadly mistakes. Accidents happen. Mistakes happen. But sometimes it leaves us feeling like we have rocks in our stomachs. Sometimes the thought of “what if” can be paralyzing.

My friend struggled to forgive herself. She felt like a failure and was struggling to move on. The fact of the matter is that Satan wants this in our lives. If we are choosing to follow God’s calling on our lives, if we are making a difference for the Kingdom, Satan will try to thwart our efforts. If a nurse stopped practicing because of a near miss, if a financial advisor quit his job because of a miscalculation, or if a musician stopped playing because he played a wrong chord, no one would be in practice very long. Our mistakes truly do help us grow and see more clearly the next time.

In one of my favorite movies, “Elizabethtown”, the main character is a shoe designer who makes a design mistake, causing his shoe to be recalled, resulting in an overwhelming loss for his company, and the loss of his job. He finally confesses this faux pas to a girl he’s seeing, expecting her to join in his enormous pity party. Her reaction? “So you failed. Alright you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You think I care about that? I do understand. You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.”

Here’s what I would like to add: Admit failure, but then admit forgiveness. It can be hard to accept that God has offered forgiveness, but when we fail to forgive ourselves, we place our opinion over God’s. If God has deemed us worthy of forgiveness, we are worthy. End of story. Being strong in grace is hard. It’s choosing to stand back up and try again. It’s living like we have been forgiven. It’s sharing what happened to us with others to encourage them and potentially save them some heartache later down the road. Being strong in grace means being strong enough to identify the devil’s schemes.

We are, by no means, perfect. We have made mistakes, and we will continue to make them until our last days on earth. Ask for forgiveness when your mistake was due to sin (ignorance is a sin); praise God when your mistake doesn’t end in devastation; apologize when necessary, and by all means, get back up.

Just like with the muscles in your body, strength doesn’t happen overnight. Being strong in grace requires practice. It requires an ongoing relationship with God. We can’t just decide to be strong in grace if we don’t have solid foundations of understanding grace. Daily prayer and communication with God and a firm understanding of Scripture is how we become strong; admitting weakness and our need for a Savior is how we become strong (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). Less of us, more of Him equals strength (see John 3:30).

Strength and grace may seem like opposites, but grace can be hard, not only to accept, but to give as well. Grace is not a sign of weakness, by any means. Accepting grace is working against the devil’s agenda, and that is no easy task. If you trust God, accept His grace, live in His grace, and overflow with His grace.

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

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Feet Down

“He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.”- Psalm 62:2 (NKJV)

Last weekend our family made an impromptu visit to the beach. Just to let you know how often we go to the beach, I’ll just tell you, I hadn’t donned a swimsuit in two years. I know, it’s sad, but true. So it was kind of a big deal, and we had the best day. It wasn’t too hot, my sunburn wasn’t too bad, and the breeze was perfect. I’m still amazed by God’s handiwork every time I watch the waves. The Bible talks about the water a lot, and God definitely used the waves to teach me a thing or two during our visit.

Harrison was barely one year old the last time we visited the beach as a family, so he was basically experiencing it for the first time. He was ready to go as far out as we would let him. He was prepared with his life jacket, and I had a firm grip on his little hand. He was safe. We waded out in to the water, about knee deep for me, and tummy deep for him. A small wave came, and he giggled in his chipmunk voice. A few more, and he was hooked. I noticed a bigger wave coming and told him to get ready. It splashed over his face, and his feet went up. “Mommy, I got fish water in my mouth”, he spit as I lifted him back to an upright position. I reminded him that when the waves come, we keep our feet planted. We played for a few more small waves, but another big one came, and he lifted his feet again. Same scenario, more fish water. It really knocked him down a few times. I was grateful for his life jacket and Daniel’s arms to trade out with. No matter how we explained it, Harrison couldn’t grasp the concept of keeping his feet down.

It was then that I realized the symbolism: When our feet are not planted in God’s word, we fall again and again.

As children, we sang the song about the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The rains came down, the floods came up, and ultimately, the house in the sand washed away. A faulty foundation leads to big trouble. No matter how “good” we are, or faithful we are, or how smart or wealthy we are, we will be faced with trials. James 2:2 is very specific when it says to count it all joy WHEN we fall in to various trials, not if. Isaiah 43:2 says, “WHEN you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (NKJV). The waves don’t stop. They may be predictable in rhythm, but they certainly vary in size and strength. Harrison could hold his own (with a little help) during the small waves, but the second they got some oomph behind them, he was wiped out. When we try to hold our own during trials, we may be okay for the speed bumps, but if our feet are not secure in God for the major roadblocks, we will be wiped out, too.

Having a firm foundation means we know His word. We have Scripture hidden in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). We have a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). We know that all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). We know that many have faced trials in weakness, but they become strong through God, and God alone (2 Corinthians 12:9). How do we know these things? We read our Bibles. We go to church. We fellowship with other Christians who not only make really good casseroles- they hold us accountable for our actions. We pray to God like He is our Heavenly Father and not a genie in a bottle, and often.

If Harrison would have planted his little feet in the sand, he would have remained upright. He would have swallowed a lot less “fish water”, and my arms would have been a lot less sore! Relying on his own faulty instincts left him waterlogged.

By the end of the day, he had it figured out. He bent his knees and braced himself for each crashing wave. He needed us to keep reminding him, but even grown-ups need reminders of our own vulnerability sometimes. Here’s to hoping we have an opportunity sooner than later to help him practice again.

 

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45 Days

“If you don’t know the Lord, we’ve been praying for you for 45 days.”

A few weeks ago, I posted that our church was observing Lent this season as a way to pray for the lost. I have been eagerly awaiting this post to tell you just how much of an impact it had.

So often, our hard work includes a lot of sowing but less reaping. We may plant seeds in God’s name, and have to trust that He has a plan for fruition. Other times, beauty grows right before our eyes. Our pastor stood with tears in his eyes last Easter Sunday morning as he told us of two men in the lives of our members who made decisions to follow Christ. Men in their sixties and seventies who have skirted the edges of relationship with God. Men who have been around Godly examples–immersed even, yet they did not take the plunge. In these 45 days, they said yes.

I had the privilege of seeing one of these men baptized this morning. His excitement brought him across the country to be with us today. It didn’t take a major life event, just lots of prayers and fasting of the faithful. Our sacrifice of soft drinks, candy, peanut butter, fast food, etc. were not in vain. Although with the eternal significance of their omission, they sound so trivial.

One man does appear to have a more urgent need to call Jesus His Savior. Just like we prayed for his salvation, we now pray for healing and comfort.

Our church is a body of praying people. If you have ever been the recipient of these prayers, you know this well. It was amazing to see how God answered us when we kicked it up a notch. My prayer life will be forever changed, and I will always practice fasting during Lent. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” As for the other countless people, named and unnamed, they have been prayed over for forty-five days by a whole congregation of believers. I fully believe we have only seen the beginning of the fruit.

Our baptisms are concluded with the words, “Many have come, and yet the pool is still not full”. We have a lot of work to do! Matthew 17:20 talks about moving mountains with our faith. Many of our family members and friends who do not know Christ can seem like mountains. They may have placed their faith in something else, or they may be missing the mark by a mile. These “mountains” can certainly be moved. God is still in the business of performing miracles. Commit yourself to praying for these people. Pray Scripture over them. Fast for them. We serve a faithful God who wants every last one of us to come to Him. Our prayers will not be in vain.

We praise God for His faithfulness, for answered prayers, and for our new brothers in Christ.

If you don’t know Christ, you’ve been prayed over for 45 days. And we aren’t stopping now.

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29 Before 30

I’m closing out a decade of life. I’m turning thirty tomorrow, and I’m okay with it. I have a feeling thirty will be good. As Jenna Rink says, “thirty, flirty, and thriving”.

So many of us are scared to get a year older. We panic when our children start growing up or we grow a year closer to the senior citizen’s discount at Applebee’s. But I’m so thankful that I’m not who I was ten or fifteen years ago. I’m grateful for the lessons, even the hard ones, that have molded me into who I am today. So here are twenty-nine things I have learned before I turned thirty.

  1. It really doesn’t matter what people think. In the words of my friend, Maddie, “You do you, boo”. You want to be a vegetarian? Awesome! You want to get a tattoo? Cool. Breastfeed? Bottle feed? Have pets? Take medicine? Go on vacation? Do it. What you decide is best for you and your family is what’s best for you and your family. Everyone has an opinion, especially behind the veil of a computer screen, but their opinions are just that. Pray about your decisions, discuss them with a trusted friend who can hold you accountable, and live your life. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
  2. Be careful when ordering online. Still waiting on a dress from Hong Kong, circa 2010. Check the reviews. This applies to hotels too. I’m looking at you, Jo Ann and Polly. (My bad.)
  3. Go see live music. Something about hearing a band play live is good for the soul. If you love listening to a band, find out where they are playing, and go. Support their efforts. Traveling to see them adds another layer of adventure. I highly recommend it. And get good seats.
  4. Go to the theater. We need some culture in our lives! Get dressed up, feel fancy, and see a play on stage. You can find one for just about anyone. I took Hudson to see Dancing with the Stars at the Saenger in New Orleans a few months ago, and I’m so glad I did. He and I put on our Sunday best, and Daniel taught him to hold the door for me and pay for our snacks. It was a perfect lesson in being a gentleman, and we loved every minute of it.
  5. Dance! This goes back to not caring about what people think, but I’ve had to learn to let go. Some of my favorite nights are when our family turns up the music and lets loose. Is it something I would want on YouTube? No! But we enjoy ourselves without embarrassment. We laugh until our sides hurt, and it helps let go of the stress of the day.
  6. Don’t text and drive.
  7. Life isn’t easy, but it’s good. Thirty years of living has brought its fair share of heartache, but there have been lessons learned in each step of of the way. Some of the darker moments I would never ask to repeat, but I’m grateful to a God who makes beauty from our ashes (see Isaiah 61:3).
  8. Call your grandma. You don’t have forever. There are innumerable words of wisdom from this generation. Collect them now.
  9. What you eat is important. We only get one body; take care of it. Moderation is key, so enjoy the foods you eat without obsessing over calories. But make your meals count, and pay attention to labels. Grow your own produce when possible, or buy locally.
  10. Find a job you love. It may not be what you went to college for, but find that job that makes you happy to come to work each day. Being miserable is no way to live. If finances are the issue, make a goal, and do what you need to do to accomplish it.
  11. Don’t rely on credit. Remember when you were a kid, and you had to actually save money to buy something? It was such a cool feeling to finally have enough money to buy what you wanted. It also showed us what we really wanted and what was fleeting. We should do that more, too.
  12. Set goals and work to meet them. Our busy lives tend to push us toward instant gratification. We want likes right away. We want food right away. We want results right away. But good things take time. Just ask April the giraffe. If you want to accomplish something, discipline yourself to make it happen. Run a 5K or a half marathon, learn how to play piano, lose twenty pounds, learn a language, publish a book. We can’t do these things overnight, and I think we need more of that. Philippians 3:14 tells us, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Above all, make glorifying God your highest goal.
  13. Say thank you.
  14. Read the Bible to understand it, not to check it off a list. Truly study the Bible. Pray over scripture, memorize it, ask God for understanding, and do it consistently. Not once a week, not on holidays, every day. We serve a mighty God, who has allowed us to communicate with Him whenever we want. Take advantage of that! His Word provides help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1) and lights the way to go (Psalm 119:105).
  15. Seek purity over boundaries. We focus a lot on the rules rather than the heart. Pure hearts are shaped by what we look at, what we hear, and what we do. God’s commands aren’t to keep us from having fun, it’s to guard our hearts and mold us into Christ’s image. Check your heart before the rulebook.
  16. Apologize and forgive. Don’t hold onto bitterness and don’t be the reason someone harbors resentment. (see Ephesians 4:26, Colossians 3:13.)
  17. Spend time outside. We really need to appreciate what God created a lot more often. Fluorescent lights are depressing. But wear sunscreen.
  18. You have a voice. If you need to speak, speak up. If you have something to add, if you can advocate for someone, if you can share Jesus with someone, say it loud and proud. Don’t hide in embarrassment or shame. Use your God-given voice.
  19. It never hurts to ask. You already have a no.
  20. Pay attention to people. Let someone know you noticed her haircut. Compliment your friend’s new shirt. If your coworker lost ten pounds, tell her the hard work has paid off! Follow up with someone if he or she expressed a hardship going on-it’s not only about us.
  21. Always acknowledge when someone enters the room. I read this advice before I got married as a suggestion for a happy marriage. Even if it’s a smile with eye contact, recognize the other person’s presence. Say good morning to your coworkers when you get the office. Be a good human.
  22. Share. We have too much. If someone needs a baby crib and you’re not having children, let someone else use it. Let your neighbors share your lawn mower. Bring meals to the hungry. Let your friends borrow your tools and books. Let’s go back to community.
  23. A tattoo won’t ruin your life. I don’t have one, but I love people who do.
  24. If you want to know what’s going on in the lives of people at church, ask for prayer requests in children’s church.
  25. There is always something to be grateful for.
  26. It’s okay to cry. (I’m still working on this.)
  27. People may not remember your name, but they will remember how you treated them. For the longest time, a similar quote hung in the break room at work. And it’s true. When you genuinely care for someone, that’s hard to forget. Make an impact with your words and actions, not your name tag.
  28. Don’t be too serious all the time. Play, create, laugh, smile. It’s okay and encouraged to have fun.
  29. Do your best. No matter what happens, as long as you give it your all, that’s all you can do. You cannot give 110%.

Age is just a number, right?

A great way to say Happy Birthday!

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Love Lives Here

I love books. I love the feel, the smell, the creativity, the emotions, and the way they continue to make your brain tick for days, even weeks after reading them. If you know me at all, this is not new information. I love to read, and a bookstore gift card makes me insanely excited. (And a little nervous, because how do I choose?)

That being said, I have read a lot. So when a book comes along that really jumps out at me, I can’t help but share its message, especially if that message leads people to Jesus. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Love Lives Here launch team, and this was one I could really get behind. I read Love Does by Bob Goff two years ago, and it was such an encouragement to love others as Jesus did. To say YES! when it’s scary and to take chances for the Kingdom. He spoke so highly of his wife, “Sweet Maria”, that I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of lady she was. What kind of life did she lead to be deemed “Sweet Maria”? And then she wrote a book.

Maria Goff’s Love Lives Here is another book that makes me want to be more adventurous and live my life in a way that more closely reflects Jesus’ time on earth. She addresses fear and letting go of past mistakes, encouraging the reader to fall in love with Jesus on a deeper level. As she writes, “We don’t need a plan to be us, and we don’t need permission either; we just need to begin”. God has already called us to go in Matthew 28:19-20, otherwise known as the Great Commission. We already have permission. For someone like me, who relates more with Martha than Mary (responsibilities, check off lists, rule-following, etc.), I am hesitant and feel my heels digging in a little when I hear “adventure”, but I love Maria’s reassurance in her words. “I grew up seeing adventure and responsibility as two ideas in disagreement with each other; but I’ve come to realize they don’t just coexist, they actually complement each other.” Maria’s husband, Bob, enjoys a life with boats, jeeps, world travel, and a lot of YES!, so I can only imagine she’s learned to adapt, and along the way, experienced life as a Christian in another light.

In, Love Lives Here, Maria Goff recounts family trips to war-torn countries and the fear she felt for her life and her family. She speaks a lot on fear and allowing God to help us overcome it. “Fear delights in our attempts to avoid or ignore it. The antidote that gives us the buoyancy to rise above our fear is found in love and hope and the kind of peace we don’t try to manufacture but experience in courageous gratitude”. (I told you- it’s good stuff!) Just like the Bible tells us in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”(NKJV).

In loving others, she reminds us not to “settle for having an opinion when you can be an example”. She encourages the reader to love your neighbors by actually getting to know them. The Goff family has a whole lot of love, and if we can emulate it in the slightest, this world will see a noticeable difference.

I highly recommend this one. And when you buy it, let a friend borrow it after you read it. Read it with a Bible in hand. She speaks truth, but don’t just take her word for it. Go to the Word and see the same ideas reflected in the book. By the time you get to the last page, I hope you can say with confidence that love lives where you are. Happy reading.

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What Are You Giving Up?

I have been a Baptist my whole life, starting nine months before I was born, if you ask my mom. I say this only to explain that I have not been expected nor taught to participate in Lent by giving up something. I made the choice to give up soft drinks one time in high school because so many friends were. While it helped me kick the habit for good, with only a very rare Dr. Pepper or root beer every now and then, I can’t say it changed my relationship with the Lord, and I didn’t view it as a fast at the time.

The idea of fasting from all food has always sounded scary and not doable for me, but fasting from a particular thing is a practice I’ve done when I’ve been wholly focused on something in prayer. This isn’t to say God would not give me strength to fast, but it is not something I have felt led to do at this point in my life.

But last Sunday, my pastor encouraged us to fast from something we like or consume a lot of, and instead of eating or drinking that thing, pray for the lost, for those who do not know Jesus. I have a pretty big sweet tooth, as evidenced by my dental bills, and I knew candy would be something that would send me to prayer quite often. I grew up with a dad who took me to the gas station every day after school for a sweet treat, and I typically have candy every day at some point. There’s always a candy jar or a vending machine readily available at work. We even have a sort of reward system that allows us to get “Spirit Chips” that can be traded in for candy in the gift shop. My intern and I ate an embarrassing amount of sour gummy worms during her semester with me, and I usually have some sort of chocolate nearby. I’m not saying this is good, but while I’m branching out of my Baptist box, I should throw in confession too, right?

So, I’ve given up candy. And I’m okay. But instead of making this about the habit this time, I’m making it about an opportunity to pray for something important. Giving up something for Lent is not about sharing in Christ’s suffering. Not drinking a diet coke and dying on the cross are not the same. At all. Fasting is about replacing something we value with prayer, to the point that prayer becomes the thing we value. We should hurt for the lost as much as we hurt without caffeine. We should be going to God for boldness to preach His Word. We should be sharing Christ with those around us and speaking love over hate. We should be acting like Jesus instead of shunning those who believe something we don’t. If giving up candy is how I can start this change in my own life, then bring it on.

David shows us an example of fasting in the Bible, when his son with Bathsheba was ill. In 2 Samuel 12:16-17, it says, “David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. So the elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them.” He was so focused in his prayer that he fasted as he came to God in intercession. He didn’t do it to make everyone think he was religious or super spiritual. He did it because he knew he needed God more than anything else in that moment.

The moments I tell myself I need candy will now be the moments I bring my cares to God. 1 Peter 5:7 says to “cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (NKJV). Food or drinks can’t fix my problems, but God can. He welcomes our problems because He knows He can solve them.

As we prepare to remember the death and resurrection of our Lord this season, do things that make you walk more closely with Him. You don’t have to give up anything to become a Christian. But you will want to leave behind the ways of this world when you realize just how much God can fill in those gaps. Join me in praying for the lost. Name those in your life who need Jesus. Pray for boldness to share God’s good news. If you’re reading this and you don’t know God, I just might be praying for you too.

 

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I’m Here Again, God.

I’ve heard it said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I can see where this is true, except when following Christ.

Last weekend, Daniel and I attended our second Linger Conference in Frisco, Texas. It was a wonderful weekend to worship without the pressure of leading others, learn without quietly correcting a five year old, and dive deep into the Word. When my friend asked which speaker was my favorite, I honestly couldn’t choose. I felt like pieces of each sermon stuck out in different ways. One phrase that has been playing in my head, though, is “I’m here again, God.”

JR Vassar spoke on slothfulness. He pointed out things about the sluggard, described in the book Proverbs. The sluggard is bored, and rejects God on the grounds of being uninteresting. The sluggard refuses to work on relationships with people or with God. He is full of consumption without contentment. JR noted the time we spend on YouTube or Netflix, versus reading the Bible. Ouch.

You see, there is danger beyond just being lazy. When we look for satisfaction the “easy way”, we fill up on meaningless rubbish.

The things we hold most dear are typically the things we have worked for the most. We are invested. If we don’t spend much time developing our relationships with our spouses or friends or God, we aren’t all that devastated when the relationships crumble. But we can say we have seen every episode of New Girl or The Office, so we’ve got that going for us, right?

JR suggested we “stay under the yoke”. Keep trying. Stay connected. Don’t let go. Wake up every morning and say, “I’m here again, God“. Just keep showing up. Will there be days that roll by without a hitch? Yes. Will there be days when it’s all you can do to make it to bedtime? Of course. Will there be days of celebration? Absolutely. Will you have an epiphany every single day? No. Will you develop a deeper understanding of Jesus and the Bible? YES! Will that enhance your relationship with God? Always.

Being a Christian means following Christ. Following Him through the rain, under the stars, in the spring, in the winter, through deep waters, over dry ground, and around some scary bends. But following Him, nonetheless. Saying each morning, “I’m here again, God”.

Another perk of Linger is the fantastic worship leaders. Bethany Barnard is a singer/songwriter I’ve listened to and admired for about ten years now. She led worship at Linger and released her latest album last Friday; it has remained in my CD player since. Two songs, back to back, have been in my mind: Awaken Me and Awake My Soul and Sing. These songs remind me of showing up every day. I have prayed “Awaken me, God. Let me see Your goodness today. Keep bringing me back, whether that is to rest in Your presence or peel back the layers of Your Word.” Ephesians 5:14 says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”(ESV). It also happens to be a really great Needtobreathe song! We sing this song after each baptism at Oak Grove Baptist Church. It is a fantastic reminder that without Christ, we are dead. We are sleeping through life. We only find true life in God when we allow Him to shine through us. When we awake to God, we start each day submitting to Him. We become more like Him each day, and live the life He designed for us. We don’t quit when the going gets hard. When our husbands or wives loads the dishes the wrong way. When our worship team plays a song we don’t like. When we are tired of our workloads. We stay under the yoke and become better for it. As JR said, “We become the people we are by what we choose to do again”. I choose to seek Christ.

I’m here again, God.

 

 

JR’s sermon can be found here: Sloth and Its Cure

Bethany’s album can be found here: A Better Word

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