Fighting for slow

Some mornings the day seems to begin without me. I’m not ready to keep up with the pace it demands. My body and spirit are a little sluggish and sleepy-eyed on those days. Like the time I tried a Zumba class with disastrous results- I fall behind in the steps and can’t keep rhythm. Some days feel like that leaving me frustrated, packing up 15 minutes into the class as I awkwardly dance toward the exit.

We weren’t meant to keep a fast paced life 24/7. Sometimes for the sake of our spirit it is necessary to take a breath and turn off the noise.  Step away and bench ourselves to the sidelines, just for a while.

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I recently took a break from Instagram this past winter to reset. I wanted to make sure my priorities were in order. Was social media serving me or was I serving social media? Saints will need to fight for fellowship with God even more as busyness and distractions invade our calendars.

These devices aren’t wrong when used in the right way. But they can easily become idols as they fill a desire in us to be worshipped or noticed. I’m afraid we will forget how to be still without something entertaining us. For believers this is a serious danger because God only carries us deeper with Him once the white noise is gone.

 

We risk a shallow existence with the Lord when the culture dictates our free time. My former pastor often said we need to “go hard after God”. I’ve mulled over that phrase, trying to see how that is practically done. I think part of what it means to “go hard after God” is to fight for time with Him. The world is already against God’s ways so our culture could care less whether you have quiet time with Him or not. It’s irrelevant to the unbeliever. But it is life for those who believe. To keep our souls fed, to direct our thoughts, and whisper prayers only for His ears, we need to get quiet and alone.

 

If you still have doubts just look to Jesus as your example. He was busy after His ministry became public with thousands of people wanting His time and attention. Yet He still made it a priority to slip away and pray to His Father. It was His lifeline. And it is ours too.

Cultivating a deep-seated relationship with the Lord isn’t an option but a necessity if we want to stand firm.  And maybe your unbelieving friend, neighbor or co-worker will notice how you set boundaries for your free time, how you don’t subscribe to the fast-moving life the rest of society does. FOMO is not something that bothers you.

Stop, look and listen right where you are. You might be surprised to discover things you never noticed before. God’s wonder and message of redemption is all around us when we take time to see. Spend time nestled in Scripture and wrestle with a passage. Seek God and ask Him questions. Let’s not waste the valuable time we have here.

To quote the teenage guru Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Those seem like good words to adopt.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

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Stormy Seas

As I sit on the balcony this morning at the beach a storm is about to come through. The winds have picked up and waves crash down hard as if to revolt against the inevitable weather conditions.

Last week at my church we had Vacation Bible School and I got to help lead a group around to their different stations. We learned about the miracles of Jesus and right now I can’t help but think of when Jesus calmed the storm.

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He and His disciples were in a boat when all of a sudden a violent squall overtook the sea. As the waters rose into the boat smacking against each wave, the disciples cried out “Lord! Save us! Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

Jesus answered their fear with a question about faith. He tells the terrified men that their faith is small and then proceeds to do the unthinkable- to do only what God can. The Lord controls nature by rebuking the winds and waves until all is quiet like it never happened.

The disciples were stunned with amazement at the miracle they just witnessed still not fully understanding Who it was they were following. Only after Jesus’ resurrection would the pieces of the puzzle start to make sense. Jesus was much more than the political Messiah they had hoped for; He was God in the flesh!

Why did Jesus choose to display His power this way? Right before He raised Lazarus from the dead Jesus said, “Father, I thank you that You have heard me. I knew that You always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent me.” (John 11:41-42).  All of Jesus’ miracles are for the Father’s glory, and for the people to see His power at work, even us thousands of years later. This is why we can still trust Him, even with the storms of our lives.

We may cry out like the disciples, “Lord, help me! Don’t you care that I’m drowning?!” And Jesus lovingly responds with the same answer. More than the surface external circumstances, the Lord points to my small faith amid big fears. He addresses the storms in my heart first exposing my lack of trust in Him.

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That day in the boat with His disciples, Jesus demonstrated how to fear less and pray for faith to grow in its place. Jesus knew the storm raged in the sea, tossing the helpless men among the merciless water. But He had complete trust in His Father and therefore was at rest spiritually and even physically sleeping.

We also can rest spiritually when our trials overwhelm us. It’s part of the human existence to experience pain, disappointment, and hardship. You can’t get away from it even when we attempt to numb our feelings temporarily. The only answer is found in God. His Presence never leaves His own. We possess a spirit not of fear but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7) because of the Holy Spirit at work in us through Jesus Christ.

And even though we know God holds the stars in the sky,

sets rainbows in the heavens,

fills the ocean with salt water and living sea creatures,

grows trees and flowers and food,

raises the sun each morning to our side of the world and lowers the moon into night,

we still respond with awe and wonder like His first disciples did after witnessing the miracle of the stormy sea.

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I read this quote in my Devotional Psalter the other day, thinking it was very helpful and applicable:

“When life overwhelms us, when the bottom is falling out, this is where Scripture takes us: to God.

We do not achieve internal calm by securing external calm. We find internal calm by looking to God.”

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Go Deeper: Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:36-41; Luke 8:22-25

Enough

I remember those awkward middle school days trying to get the right clothes and have the right hair to avoid ridicule by the other 13 year-old girl judges. Then fast forward a little over a decade and I was trying to figure how out to be a wife and then a mother, afraid I would mess it all up somehow. My thoughts revealed my deepest fears during those times: Am I enough?

Maybe you’ve been there too, wondering if what you do or who you are is enough. Satan often drops lies throughout our days to run us off course. The problem is when we start to believe them. Fears, doubts, insecurities, past sins start to plague us until we feel like complete hypocrites- who am I to share God’s message of grace and forgiveness?

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Can I share a secret with you? That is exactly where the king of lies would have you and me- as paralyzed Christians. The spiritual battles we face everyday are real, assaulting us when we least expect it. They occur when we’re getting ready for church as tensions run high and patience wears thin; during the church service thoughts zoom in and out becoming louder than the pastor’s own voice; in private prayer our minds drift toward the to-do list for the day and not on conversing with the God of the Universe.

So how do we fight back against an unseen enemy? There are two things every Christian needs to remember.

First, seeking the Lord in His Word is necessary for feeding our souls but also for equipping our minds. Satan’s battlefield starts with our thoughts. The truth we put in, letting Scripture fall fresh on us is the answer for healing wounds, rescue, and engaging the enemy. We recite Scripture out loud, not as some incantation or magical formula but to turn our thoughts heavenward, back to Christ (Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:1-2). Use God’s own words and pray them back to Him. He hears us when we pray and His Presence is always with His Beloved. God can never leave or forsake those He has redeemed (Hebrews 13:5-6).

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We also fight against the lies of inadequacy through rest. We rest in God’s character, His past and present faithfulness, and His future promises. Jesus is the Good Shepherd carrying us through this life, held safely in His strong arms (Psalm 28).

Jesus is adequate. 

His work on the cross is more than enough. He covers all of my shortcomings and failures because He is sufficient. I can never measure up to my own distorted standard of perfection. His perfection and sinlessness stands in the place of my imperfection and sin.

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I never feel enough because I can never be enough- I wasn’t meant to. But the greatest news is that Jesus is enough and He is my confident hope. It isn’t a superficial, arrogant confidence stemmed from human pride but a peaceful assurance, knowing Jesus covers believers in His own righteousness so that we can stand before Him. We look to Christ because He is enough for us both now and forevermore.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Springtime Discoveries

  1. Spring in Alabama = allergies, allergies, allergies

I did not understand people with allergies when I was younger, simply because I was ignorant. Oh boy, has that changed! With each year I get allergy symptoms that grow worse and worse. Sneezing uncontrollably- check; watery, itchy eyes- check; tissue within arm’s length 24/7- check.

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I think we really can’t understand certain things (like allergies even) until we have experienced it for ourselves. Only then can we empathize with someone and pass a Kleenex.

 

  1. Bangs will be brave

Age will bring things like well, gray hairs and thinning and kind of looking tired. Okay, maybe that last part is just me, but the hair issues I did not love so I came up with a solution: highlights + BANGS!

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I hadn’t had bangs since middle school so feeling a bit nervous was an understatement. Pinterest is a great tool before making any monumental life decision, so naturally I researched it. It sounds ridiculous but you wear your hair everyday so it should take a little thought.

Anyway, I like it (although I laughed after the hairdresser cut them because it looks so different). And it took a little courage, practicing the “not caring what people think” mantra. But sometimes change happens only when we are brave enough to step outside the box, even in baby steps.

3. Wainscoting vs. wainscoting

Jason and I are in the middle of building a home. There are 3 billion home decorating options to think about (at least it feels that way). One of the choices is whether or not we want wainscoting in the living room. I noticed I pronounced this word differently than the interior designer so I never actually said the word out loud during our meeting with her because I thought I was probably saying it wrong.

It turns out, even the dictionary people can’t agree on the correct pronunciation, so either way you say it will work just fine.

Merriam-Webster pronunciation

Macmillan Dictionary pronunciation

 4. Studying the Bible with help

Did you know Matthew Henry wrote commentary on the WHOLE BIBLE? It’s comprehensive and exhaustive in a good way. I recommend checking it out just because the sources we use to navigate the treasures in God’s Word need to be Biblically sound. Even believers have to be discerning with false teachings often found in poor commentaries, sermons, blogs, articles, etc.

You can find his commentary and other great resources at www.biblestudytools.com

 

5. The sound of music

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For those who follow this blog, you know that my son is on the Autism Spectrum. I recently enrolled him in music classes and piano lessons. It has been astounding to see his response.

I already knew the importance of music for all of us, but especially for someone like my son. When he was a baby I tried the ‘Baby Einstein’ DVDs. But the classes in-studio and through virtual lessons are interactive, which has become a regular part of our daily routine. He will specifically ask to watch the music lessons online, or listen to a certain song on the CD his teacher created for her students.

It is a faith-based company so we incorporate songs about Noah’s Ark, ‘This Little Light of Mine’, and ‘Jesus Loves Me’. Jesse sang for the first time ‘Jesus Loves Me’ all the way through just a few weeks ago. And more recently, he said, “I love you” unprompted and clearly to my husband. We both heard it and I got emotional. What a blessing music has been to us in just a short amount of time!

There is a reason the Lord tells us to sing His praises and make music!!

 

6. Creativity is in all of us

In the past I have enjoyed taking still life pictures, particularly of nature. It was relaxing and I developed a curiosity of God’s work all around, even in simple things like the fascinating spider web that shines each morning in a corner of the garage.

 

 

Being creative sparks wonder and uniqueness in how God fashioned you. This is a good article that speaks to our God designed creativity:

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/10-ways-creating-connects-people-to-god.html

Creativity comes in many forms too. Let’s broaden our scope of that word to include things like gardening, writing, cooking, software programming, designing architecture, fashion, interior design, and even coffee art.

 

The point is, be creative because God is and you are His image bearer.

Grace upon grace to you today, and as you head into glorious summer.

 

 

Strangely Glorious

The more I press into God the more I realize how little I know of Him. You think it would be reverse. Yet He is so vast, so rich and inconceivable to the human mind and heart. The Lord reveals to us as much as we can stand, to behold His Glory.

Just like my sin, if I really understood the horror and magnitude of it all, it would crush me. So God graciously puts believers under the knife of life-long sanctification. Some incisions cut deeper than others, but all are necessary to shed the dragon layers that keep us from complete intimacy with Him.

As when Moses’ face shone with the glory of being in God’s Presence, God knows His Shekinah Glory is more than mortals can bear (Exodus 33:12-23; 34:29-35). Instead, He mercifully shines His reflection in the face of Jesus- and there we behold Him. It is through the loveliness of Christ we see who we really are.

I am covered by His blood and can say I am His daughter. Simple though I am, He is patient to teach me for eternity (Isaiah 54:13).

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Outrageous Gospel

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” –1 Corinthians 1:18

 

Speaking with a neighbor recently about Jesus as the Son of God, the Gospel and eternal life, it sounded awkward as the words came out of my mouth.

These are truths I firmly believe in and stake my life on, but answering spiritual questions from a curious non-Christian, bubbled over as foolish. I was a little baffled and stunned and very convicted. The truth I’ve cut my teeth on since infancy- from Bible stories on felt boards to youth group summer camps, to Bible studies and beyond- sounded outrageous. Why?

Because God did indeed design it that way. The Gospel is offense, foolish, and outrageous; yet it is also lovely, crafted in God’s divine wisdom to the believer.

Here are other reasons that speaking God’s message of salvation doesn’t come naturally for us:

  1. Christians don’t practice evangelism enough.

This one stung as that realization came to mind in the middle of the conversation with my neighbor. My words aren’t natural because I don’t use my mouth enough to proclaim God’s amazing mercy. Christians cannot be silent and use the cop out: They will know us by our actions.

Yes, we will be known by our fruits of the Spirit (Matthew 7:20), but also by verbalizing the hope we have which all people need. (Isaiah 63:7; Psalm 71:15-18)

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2. The Gospel message doesn’t fit our Western culture mindset.

Our idea of fairness, democracy, and justice isn’t necessarily what God outlines in Scripture. Yet it didn’t make sense in Biblical times either. Our biggest mistake is assuming God thinks and acts like us. The Bible is clear that He doesn’t (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 9:14-18).

He cannot be figured out like a code to be cracked. This is actually a good thing. God is so other than, so incomprehensible, that He transcends our limited understanding and us. It shouldn’t stifle our pursuit of Him, but enrich it. As Paul taught the Roman Christians about the nature of human depravity and God’s intervention through salvation he could only exclaim:

“Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

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3. The Gospel doesn’t make sense to our finite minds.

Why would an infinite, Sovereign, perfect God who lacks nothing decide to condescend as a human (fully man and fully God) and live among us? Why would He permit His own humiliation, suffering, dishonor, and death to rescue a rebellious, hateful people? Questions like this confound the “wise” of the world because God ordained it that way.

When Jesus came during His first advent He spent a lot of time re-teaching the disciples what they thought they knew about the Messiah. They anticipated a political earthly kingdom to begin immediately for the nation of Israel. But the Lord had a deeper purpose in mind- He first had to transform their hearts.

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 Jesus works from the inside out through the Holy Spirit. You and I can’t achieve righteousness apart from Christ.  His atoning work bought us freedom from sin, eternal life, and fellowship with God. It takes courage and a love for our fellow man to speak this out loud, but it’s the message our lost co-workers, neighbors, friends and family need to hear. It’s the truth we all need to hear everyday.

4.  Return to your first love.

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The difference between a Christian and an unbeliever is whether this “foolishness” is something you reject or follow no matter the cost. The truth is, as we live here on earth we still work out these truths in practice that we profess.

If I say the Lord is my first love, my most treasured possession, wouldn’t I talk about Him more? Not out of a sense of duty, but delight?

Jesus died so that outrageous grace erases outrageous depravity. That is the best news there is and worth bearing the mark of a Christian even when it seems like foolishness to a dying world.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Books to read: 2017 list

Some of the books I read last year I wanted to share with you. Hopefully you find one in here you might like to pick up for yourself. It’s a mix of fiction, non-fiction and biographies/auto-biographies. A little something for everyone 🙂

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

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This is a delightful read I couldn’t put down while at the beach last summer. There is plenty of Chip’s charisma to keep you entertained and to see how their story unfolded into what it is today is inspiring.

 

The Paper Magician Series by Charlie Holmberg

This series was the author’s first in a line of other imaginative fiction stories. A young apprentice finds herself assigned to the most boring of all magical elements- paper. But she is in for a surprise as she quickly learns her new trade is more than she bargained for as she sets off to rescue her teacher in the most unusual circumstances.

I liked this because it was original and fun, without a lot of filth most fiction writers seem compelled to put in their books. Appropriate for young adults and up.

 

The Fifth Doll by Charlie Holmberg

This one is a mystery with a Russian theme containing a surprise twist at the end. We learn who is in control and who is not- think puppets and the puppeteer.

Another amusing read that will keep you thinking about the subject matter days after you’ve finished reading it. Appropriate for young adults and up.

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Spurgeon: A Biography by Arnold A. Dallimore

A book not only good to read but inspires on a deep spiritual level is one I will recommend any day. It is so evident the Lord blessed this specific time in history under Spurgeon’s preaching. An extraordinary revival took place over his lifetime that could only be explained as the supernatural work of God. Add this to your library.

“Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour.”

“Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your souls.”

 

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. The storyline is a nod to the myth of the Greek god Cupid and Pysche. (I learned all this from the back cover of the book). It is still original even though Lewis was inspired from this legend. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Lewis’ work. It’s fiction for adults.

 

Letters to an American Lady

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This was amazing to read simply because it de-mystified the man we know as C.S. Lewis. Not in a bad way, just more human. I think sometimes we as Christians can make demi-gods out of “super” Christians that have impacted us.

This book is a compilation of letters he wrote to an American woman named Mary that he never met in real life. Lewis was faithful to respond to anyone who would write him, but this particular correspondence lasted his entire life. The friendship was mutual and they often encouraged one another in their trials, particularly health issues. Recommended to C.S. Lewis fans.

 

Made for More by Hannah Anderson

 

I highlighted and dog-eared this book so much. I actually want to go back and re-read it very soon. Anderson is a pastor’s wife in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She and her husband serve in a rural area, and she brings a lot of that life knowledge to this gem. Hannah shares her stories through gardening and small town living.

“The deeper magic is that while God has the power to do whatever He pleases, it pleases Him to exercise His power on behalf of His children. While our good is found in seeking His glory, it is His glory to bring about our ultimate good.” (p. 141)

 

Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson

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I have a habit of finding an author I like and then reading whatever else they have written. This is a wonderful book on humility. (Another one to re-read!) Anderson takes the natural world around her and incorporates those lessons into faith analogies.

In a social media obsessed world, Hannah invites us as a sister in Christ to find our rest and satisfaction in Jesus alone. We strive too much and the end result is often a weary, burned out spirit or one puffed up in pride. Either way the remedy is found not in likes on Instagram, but in the Gospel.

“So what does it mean to trust Jesus for rest? How does seeking His kingdom free us from anxiety and stress? He frees us from our burdens in the most unexpected way: He frees us by calling us to rely less on ourselves and more on Him. He frees us by calling us to humility.” (p. 32)

 

Honey for a Woman’s Heart by Gladys Hunt

Christian author and avid reader Gladys Hunt encourages other Christians to expand their reading lives. Not only does she have recommended lists for every genre you can imagine, Hunt argues her position on why reading is so important.

A friend loaned me her copy of this and I liked it so much I bought one for myself. As a believer, I try to choose books carefully. As with movies, TV, and music, books can be a form of the “trash in, trash out” cycle. This book is helpful because the author is addressing Christian readers looking for great book suggestions.

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Different by Sally Clarkson/ Nathan Clarkson

I try to read one or two books each year about children with special needs or parenting. This book hits both of those categories. Sally and Nathan Clarkson are a mother and son team who co-authored this book. Nathan grew up hyper active with anxiety and OCD. Sally and her husband learned to parent Nathan differently compared to the three other children they have.

Sally’s faith anchored her in the difficult seasons of parenting four small children. She also demonstrated her relationship with the Lord in front of her children, teaching them not only about the Bible, but how to live out their faith. This impacted Nathan greatly as he grew older, and helped him through his personal battles. I would recommend this as an encouragement for all parents.

 

“Book love. It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live.”

-Anthony Trollope

Happy reading to you!

Grace upon grace,

April