Friday, March 24, 2017

The Cost of Your Excuses

Excuses. We all make them. We use them to justify things like why we can't lose weight, can't get out of debt, can't get that job we've always wanted and more. Robin Sharma said "excuses are just the lies your fears have sold you." Have you ever stopped to consider the reasons behind your excuses and what your life would look like if you stopped making them?

I want to share a parable with you that I hope will challenge the way you think about excuses.

A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, "Come, the banquet is ready." But they all began making excuses. One said, "I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me." Another said, "I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me." Another said, "I just got married, so I can’t come." The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, "Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame." After the servant had done this, he reported, "There is still room for more." So his master said, "Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet."
Luke 14:15-24
 I hope the last line of that parable shakes you up a little bit like it does me: "None of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet" Like the man who prepared the banquet, God has made incredible plans for each of us, but just like the banquet guests we tend to make excuse after excuse in our spiritual lives. We make excuses out of fear, laziness, lack of time, lack of resources, lack of confidence. The list goes on. But as we continue to make excuses, we continue to miss out on what God has for us.

For a long time I felt God calling me to be on my church's prayer team. I longed to stand at the altar and lift up people who were hurting and rejoice with those who were rejoicing, but I had more than a handful of excuses why I couldn't. Most of my excuses came from a place of fear. I argued that I wasn't qualified, I wouldn't know what to say, I was too young, no one would want to pray with me anyway. I justified my disobedience by believing that "someday" I would be spiritually mature enough. 

Despite my resistance, God continued to nudge me, despite his nudging I continued to make excuses, for over a year. Eventually I decided I would no longer ignore God's voice and I finally joined the prayer team. Throughout the first service my heart pounded, I couldn't relax, couldn't focus on the sermon. Even my sister who was sitting next to me commented on my nervousness. When it came time for the invitation, I stepped out of my seat and hesitantly headed to the altar and took my place next to people I considered much more qualified than myself. Immediately my fear was gone and I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. 

That's the thing about saying "yes" to God's plans for our lives, when we do, all of our excuses are made void. If it's time you don't think you have, He'll make it. If it's confidence you're lacking, He'll provide it. When you believe you're unqualified, He qualifies you. What I've found is that the things I excuse myself from are typically the things that God wants to use to stretch me, to develop me into the person He created me to be.

My questions for you today is what has God prepared for you that your excuses are getting in the way of?  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Reflections on "The Shack"

God's Character

If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, "The Shack" is a story of a man named Mack whose daughter is kidnapped and murdered in a shack in the woods. After the tragedy, Mack struggles to overcome his feelings of unforgiveness, guilt and resentment towards God. In the midst of "the great sadness," he is mysteriously invited by God himself to come to the shack and it is there that Mack finally receives the healing he desperately needs.

This story can teach us so much about God's character and His relationship with us. Here are the things that God reminded my heart.

God Desires to be in Close Community with Us

When Mack arrives at the shack, he meets God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus. Together, the four of them spend the weekend like friends, sharing meals and good conversation. As I was watching the movie I was thinking to myself how amazing it would be to have a similar experience, to spend a weekend with God, face-to-face. I can see us sitting on the porch sipping coffee, taking long walks, just resting, Him patiently answering my million questions as I attempt to soak up all His wisdom. Just as quickly as the thought came, the Holy Spirit countered it by reminding me that we have access to that closeness with God every minute of every day. 

The nearness of God, it's the encouraging text from a friend who doesn't even know your situation. It's the racing of your heart as He nudges you out of your comfort zone into His will. It's the scripture that you "accidentally" stumble upon when you need it most. It's a gorgeous sunset at the end of a bad day. 

The thing is, God won't send us a hand written invitation in our mailbox, but He tells us "Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends" -Revelation 3:20. There is nothing God desires more than intimacy with His children. All we have to do is open the door. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" -James 4:8.

God Knows Us

In the beginning of the movie, Mack explains to some new friends that "Papa" is his wife's name for God, but it's a little too intimate for him. Because of some pain from my past, I can so relate. The thought of God as a parent has always made me a little uncomfortable. Instead, I like to think of Him as a close friend. 

Understanding that Mack may feel the same in the midst of his self proclaimed failure as a father, "Papa" chooses to reveal Himself to Mack in the form of a woman. I love that! What a beautiful example of God's intimate knowledge of us. He created us therefore He knows us. 

"O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!"
Psalm 139:1-6

Life is Much Easier when We Accept God's Help

Just like Jesus tested Peter's faith by asking him to step out of the boat and walk on the water with Him, Jesus does the same with Mack. Later in the movie, Mack attempts to walk on the water by himself, but finds he can't. How often do we try to go at life on our own only to find ourselves sinking? 

From my experience, when I try to handle situations on my own, I find that my situations handle me. I get stressed out, easily offended, I lose my patience and I lose sight of the good around me. Mark 10:27 says "With man this is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." It's the days that I allow Jesus to take my hand and walk with me that I find strength when I thought I had none left, patience even when I'm spread thin and joy in the struggle. 

"Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loves us" -Romans 8:37. Jesus takes Mack's hand, reminds him that things are much easier when they do them together and they take off on the water with ease. 

God Doesn't Highlight the Evil

If you're like me, as Mack headed out to the shack, you were assuming he was going to find out the details of Missy's death, maybe even meet her killer face to face. You were thinking, what will God say to Mack about the murder of his own father? But, as I think back on the movie, I realize that highlighting the evil in Mack's life was never Papa's intention. He tells Mack "when all you see is your pain, you lose sight of me." When we dwell on our past, our failures, our disappointments and our mistakes, we rob ourselves of the blessings that our pain can produce. 

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 says "We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies."

When we experience suffering in the this life, we can rejoice because we know that through our suffering God draws us closer, redeems us and makes us more like Him. God didn't invite Mack to the shack so he could relive the pain and suffering of losing his daughter. He brought him to the shack so He could reveal His glory through the suffering. 

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this movie, but if you haven't seen it I highly recommend it. It may be just what you've been needing to set your relationship with God on fire again.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Exposing the Lies of Satan with God's Word

lies of the devil

"Just do it, God will forgive you," you're smart, you don't need anyone's help," "fighting this battle all alone will prove how strong you are," "drink one more, eat one more piece, you will feel so much better." 

These statements and others like them have two things in common: they sound good, encouraging even, but they are lies. You've probably heard some statements like these echoing in your mind at some point and wondered whose voice you were hearing. Is it God encouraging you or the devil deceiving you? Satan will often whisper things in your ear that sound so close to God's word that you can't distinguish who is speaking. 

In 2 Kings 18, we find Judah on the brink of an attack by Assyria. Urging them to surrender, the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, sends a message to Judah, he says:

"Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die.” (2 Kings 18:31-32)

What caught my attention about this passage was that the promises King Sennacherib makes to the people of Judah sound oddly similar to some of the promises of God. Here we see Judah's enemy tempting them with lies that are masked with the word of God. So if King Sennacherib was clever enough to use this tactic surely Satan, who the Bible calls the "deceiver of the world," knows this trick as well. 

So what do we do? How can we distinguish the lies of the enemy from the promises of God when they sometimes sound so similar? When Judah's king, Hezekiah, received the message the Bible says, he went into to the house of the Lord and spread the message before Him. I believe that to distinguish God's voice from the lies, we must do the same. We must collect all the messages our hearts are receiving and take them to God in prayer and measure them up against His word.

Let’s practice doing that and break down King Sennacherib’s message to uncover some common lies of our enemy and see what Jesus has to say about them.

Our Strength is Enough

“Each of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree.”

Satan tries to convince us that we are able to sustain ourselves in attempt to separate us from God. He'll distract you from praying and reading the Word, deeming it unnecessary. He will fill you with pride to prevent you from asking for help. 

But, Jesus tells us:
"Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” We weren’t created to go through this life alone, figuring things out for ourselves and relying on our own strength to get us through. We were created for constant connection to the vine, Jesus, whose strength is made perfect in our weakness.

We Can Satisfy Our Souls

“Each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern.”

The enemy will make us believe that the things of this world (alcohol, drugs, TV, social media, money, material possessions etc.) will fill the void in our lives. For a while, these things may help, but the problem with “drinking from our own cistern” is that eventually our cisterns will run dry and the things that once made us feel better will leave us feeling more empty than before.

But, there is hope, Jesus tells us:
“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

I believe that we are all created with a God-shaped void in our souls so it's only when we turn to Him to satisfy our deepest desires that we experience true and complete fulfillment. 

It’s okay to stay the way we are

King Sennacherib promises that he will take Judah away to a land that is “like their own land.” 

Similarly, Satan tricks us into thinking that it’s okay to stay the way we’ve always been. We say things like “I was born this way,” or “this is how I’ve always done it” and we accept that because we’ve bought into the lie that how we are is how we will always be.

Jesus tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

When we become followers of Jesus we become brand new. Through Him our thoughts, words, habits, desires, our actions and reactions all change to glorify God. God wants to do something new in you; don't settle for staying the same.

Submission to the enemy gives us life

“Make your peace with me....that you may live and not die.”

Sennacherib promises to spare the lives of the people of Judah in exchange for their surrender. In the same way, the devil tricks us into believing that submission to him leads to freedom while submission to God leads to bondage. He'll make us believe that if we give our lives to God, God will take away everything we love: our non-Christian friends, our hobbies, our money etc.

The Bible reminds us, 
"This is eternal life- that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3)

Close connection with God will never leave us feeling deprived, left out or lonely. He is our comforter, our joy, our peace and the giver of true everlasting life.

Satan lures us in with God's words because even he knows the power they hold. Do you know that power? Commit yourself to becoming so familiar with the promises of God that you cannot be deceived.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Reading the Bible Better

Bible reading tips

Studying the Bible is one of my favorite things to do. I don't just say that because that's how good Christian girls are supposed to feel, I mean it! Any given morning, you can find me curled under a blanket on my couch with a cup of coffee, my Bible and at least one journal. It hasn't always been that way though, reading the Bible used to be something I did because I felt like I was supposed to. I would read (sometimes fall asleep) and check it off of my list, but I wouldn't get anything out of it. I know I'm not alone in that. I hear people all of the time say things like "I just don't understand it," "reading isn't my thing," "the old testament isn't relevant to me," "I don't know where to start." Like I said, I get it. I've been there. BUT, the Bible is full of so much encouragement and wisdom I hate the thought of others missing out on it. So below I have listed my tips for making the most of your Bible study time so you can find the same joy I have found in reading God's word.

Before you even open your Bible, let God know that you are willing to learn, but you need His help. Pray that He would open your mind and your heart to receive whatever it is He has to teach you. Pray for focus and understanding. Pray for God to reveal to you what His word says about Him and how it applies to your life. 

"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." James 1:5 

Use a translation you understand 
 Look, it is not true that the King James Version is the only translation that is accurate. It may be the most literal translation, but if you don't understand a word of it, it won't do you any good. Go to a bookstore and compare different translations side-by-side until you find the one that you like. Having translation that makes sense to you will make a big difference. 

Use a commentary 
 When I started reading the Old Testament, I got frustrated. I knew that there were valuable lessons to be learned, but as I was drowning in genealogy lists and in-depth descriptions of Temple building materials, I couldn't decipher those lessons on my own. Enduringword is an amazing resource that I believe transformed my Bible reading time. It is a free commentary of the entire Bible. Commentaries are great for those times when you are reading and just think "HUH?" I encourage you to try to think for yourself before you look for the explanation in a commentary, but I think using a commentary will help you learn to think deeper as well.

    Read passages that you don't understand in multiple translations
Sometimes when I'm reading, I'll come across something that either doesn't make sense or doesn't speak to me like I think it should. In those situations, I like to re-read the same passage in a different translation. I've found, a lot of times, a verse that doesn't stick out to me in one translation, can speak volumes when I read it worded a different way. An easy way to do this is with a Bible app that lets you switch between translations.       

Don't try to read cover to cover  
This may work for some, but in my opinion, if you start in Genesis and try to read straight through to Revelation, you will never get there. The Old Testament can be tough to get through so I like to flip flop between the Old and New Testaments. For example, read Genesis then Matthew, Exodus then Mark. Find a reading plan or come up with your own. There's no right or wrong way to read it. One good piece of advice I've heard is to pick a reading plan and cross out the dates to take the pressure off yourself. Like a workout schedule, if you miss a day, often you will feel like you've failed and will quit altogether. So ignore the dates and read at your own pace.  

Don't be afraid to write in your Bible 
 The Bible will become so much more personal when you let go of the thinking that it is too sacred to write in. The Bible is God's gift to you and He wants you to enjoy it. Highlight or underline favorite verses, jot down your thoughts in the margins, mark life changing passages with the date you read them. When you write in your Bible, you leave yourself reminders of God's promises and a record of His work in your life. 

Make Bible reading a priority
The more time you spend in God's word the more you will understand it and the more you will want to read it so set aside time to spend in God's word and stick to it!

"Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." Joshua 1:8

   This is simply what has worked for me in my few short years of Bible study. I still have so much to learn! My hope is for you all to develop a deep love for God's word

If you have any tips of your own, I would love to hear them! 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Strength in My Weakness

I don't have a green thumb. It's not necessarily that everything I plant dies, but more that I lack the motivation to take care of my plants once they've been planted. Nonetheless, like most women, I like flowers and I want my yard to look like something out of Southern Living (currently, my grass hasn't been mowed in over 2 weeks and there are dead flowers on my porch...) so sometimes I get the urge to plant things. 

2 Corinthians 12:9

A couple of years ago, I planted four gardenias across the back of the house with the hope that my yard would be filled with their heavenly aroma all summer long. Well three out of four survived and I considered it a victory! Of the gardenias that survived, there is one that is significantly smaller than the others and it was planted a little too far over so it sort of gets in the way. I've considered just pulling it up because, honestly, it looks silly. But, this summer, God used that little bush to speak truth straight to my heart.

One day I discovered that my little runt had four beautiful blooms on it while the others had none. As I stood there admiring them, I was reminded that God isn't threatened by our weaknesses. In fact, His word says that it is through our weaknesses that His strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9). What I saw as a flimsy twig growing in the ground, begging me to mow it over, God saw as a strong plant, full of potential and worthy of all the beauty it was created to possess. I believe that's exactly how He sees each of us. When He places a calling on our lives, He equips us with everything we need. He fills in the gaps of our inadequacies with His perfect strength and creates something beautiful. If I had pulled that gardenia out of the ground, I would have robbed it of its purpose, never allowing its beauty to be revealed and I may have never learned this lesson. A lesson I so desperately need as I navigate God's plan for my life. 

2 Corinthians 12:9
The truth is sometimes I feel a lot like that gardenia, too small, too inadequate, too weak to make a difference. But, if I allow those thoughts to rule in my mind, I miss living out the purpose for which I was created and blessing others with my gifts. We can't let our weaknesses cripple us. Instead, we must turn to the one who's power is activated by our willingness not by our qualifications. God has a purpose and a plan for the smallest, the weakest and the most unlikely of us all. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, "God WILL make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful." 

But he said to me, “My grace i s sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

 2 Corinthians 12:9 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Easter Devotional: Lay Down Your Cloak

Matthew 16:24

Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11, Matthew 16:24
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!”
Matthew 21:8-9

We've all heard the old tale. Guy and girl are out on a date, walking down the street when they come up on a puddle. The gentleman takes his jacket off and lays it over the puddle so the lady can walk across without getting her feet wet. This seems silly, but when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, His people greeted him with the same gesture. Matthew 8 says "most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him." While I'm sure the streets of Jerusalem were dirty, I don't think Jesus's followers were concerned about him getting a little dirt on his feet. I believe that by laying down their garments, they were displaying their willingness to bring glory to their savior regardless of what it cost them.
 Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:24 that if we want to be His disciples, we must turn from our selfish ways and take up our crosses. Sometimes this means giving up our free time to minister to someone who's hurting. It may mean ditching habits that don't honor God's word or donating money to a worthy cause instead of buying something we don't need, but really want. It could mean risking your reputation to share your story and bring someone to salvation. Whatever it may be, Jesus doesn't call His disciples to stand clean and comfortable while He does all of the work. He calls us to join him in the trenches where souls are saved and Jesus is glorified. 

 Dear Lord, today I ask for your forgiveness for the times I have stood on the sidelines and left you to work alone. I pray that you would help me to fulfill your command to lay down my selfish desires so that I may bring glory to your name.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Easter Devotional: You Are Not Alone In Your Suffering

Easter Devotional
Scriptures: Isaiah 53:3-6, Hebrews 2:18

"He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down."
Isaiah 53:3-4 (NLT)

Have you ever been through a tough time and felt completely alone? Have you bought in to the lie that your situation is evidence that God doesn't love you? I think we can all agree that we've felt this way at some point in our lives. 
 I want you to take some time today to think about Jesus' life here on earth. I don't mean the people He healed, the miracles He performed or his perfect example of love. Instead, I want you to reflect on the pain he endured because that pain serves a beautiful purpose

 For the short time Jesus was here, he was despised, rejected, betrayed, beaten and sentenced to a brutal death, none of which He deserved. The purpose of His suffering is realized in Hebrews 2:18: "since He himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested." Jesus, the king of kings and lord of lords, took human form and endured human anguish so that He can better relate to us, so He can better guide us and minister to our hearts in times of hardship.

Whatever you may be going through today, know that you have a God in heaven who loves you so much He was willing to trade his place on the throne for a life of agony to become your wonderful counselor.

Dear Lord, thank you for your willingness to live a life you didn't deserve so that you could be my comforter and counselor in times of need. I thank you that I do not have to feel alone in my suffering because you go before me. Lord, I pray that you would help me to remember that the trials of this life do not separate me from you, but, instead, draw me closer.
In Jesus' name, Amen.