Maybe it’s time

This weekend I had the privilege of attending a local event called the IF Gathering.  Presenters and speakers included Jenny Allen (founder and organizer), Lysa Terkeurst, Jackie Hill Perry, Francis Chan, and David Platt, just to name a few of my favorites!  It was truly a wonderful weekend that challenged me spiritually, encouraged my heart, and provided some much-needed connection to women in a group setting, with a focus on the word of God. I’d go again next weekend if I could!

It was a refreshing time after such a long, dry, desert year of isolation, disconnect, distancing, and struggle.  Let’s be honest, 2020 took more from us than we realize.  And for me, a few of the things that I lost are only becoming clear now that some things are returning to normal.  Connecting corporately with my sisters in Christ is one of them.  There was power and encouragement this weekend in the large group setting, as we sang worship to God, we prayed together, and we all sat under the same teaching and were inspired toward spiritual growth.    

Because I was able to experience that kind of setting again, I realized then how much I had missed it!  And it got me to thinking about how much all of us have missed it too. 

Except for a brief time when my church stopped meeting in person, I didn’t stop going to church weekly during the pandemic.  But I know some of you did, and let me say, I understand.  I get it.  There was a lot of uncertainty about the safety of gathering, and there were procedures put into place that made church attendance a less positive experience. But it was difficult not being together.  Thankfully, there was the convenience of being able to have church at home through, online streaming. Online church is surely better than no church at all!

But can I dig deep, go low, and be super honest with you?  It’s not the same.

It is a temporary fix to a short-term problem. Church at home was never intended to be the “norm” for the long term.  I want to encourage you right now, to go back to church!  Staying only online is staying disconnected in many ways. Maybe for you, it’s just time to go back for the first time in a long time. Maybe the reason you’re not in church has nothing to do with Covid or 2020. But perhaps you have felt the call of God on your heart during the pandemic, to dig into His word again. If you’ve done that, you are probably feeling closer to God and ready for more.  God has always been about relationship and He will use His word to draw us to Himself in that way.  He will also draw us to other believers in that same way. There is strength in numbers, we need to be together.

What does scripture have to say about church attendance and fellowship with believers?  A great deal actually.

In the book of Acts, we see the Gentile believers gathering for teaching and encouragement.  There is a clear example for us there of the believer’s strength in being together with one focus and intent.  They gathered to support each other in tough times, and they gathered to hear the word taught to them.  In Hebrews 10:25, Paul gives us some instructions.  He says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”  What God is telling us through the Apostle Paul, is that we need to be together as followers of Jesus. He’s telling us that it is important!

Now I can read your thoughts already….” Shelli, I still read my bible!” or “I watch church online…” or even “I worship when I’m in nature.”  But I want to tell you that as good as those things are (and they are good things), they simply aren’t enough.  I know, I know. I’m up in your business now……hang in there with me!

Several things happen when we gather for worship and teaching. 

The first thing is that we are able to encourage each other.  Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”  This verse immediately proceeds verse 25 which talks about about continuing to meet together.  I think the reason is because being together is encouraging.  When we are together, it is natural that we will encourage each other toward love and good works. And when we are not together, that becomes harder.  I don’t know about you, but left alone, I am selfish.  I become “me focused” instead of “others focused”.  I typically can’t see past my own issues, and I begin to feel like I am alone in my struggles.  When I am active in church (which is a family) I realize that others struggle too, that I am not alone in my brokenness.  And that I have a support system around me when things get tough.  They encourage me!

Another thing that happens when we gather is that the Holy Spirit shows up.  We see this in the early days of the church.  Jesus gives some important teaching in Matthew chapter 18. In that teaching He reminds us in verse 20, that, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  He is referring to the Holy Spirit!  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come after He was crucified. The Holy Spirit shows up when we are together!  I have been in church during a time of powerful worship and truly felt the Spirit in the room.  I treasure those times. Knowing that He is with you and me now, 2000 years later, is tremendously encouraging!

When we gather, we build community.  Together we can accomplish more for His kingdom.  Together we are unified and empowered.  When we grow together, we become the Body of Christ.  Romans 12:4-8 says this, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”  The idea here is that we need each other, living in community, to be complete.  You and I have a purpose in church, and it isn’t only to sit and take notes.  It is to connect and encourage.  It is to be a part of The Body and to be there for each other.  When you aren’t there, something is missing.  It’s missing from your life, and it is missing from the life of the person you are not connecting with, in your absence.

We are less vulnerable to the enemy when we gather.  1 Peter 5:8 is a powerful image. It Reminds us that the enemy is real and determined.  “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  When we gather to connect, worship, and learn, we are harder for the enemy to harass, because we are not on our own. 

I imagine that you’ve seen enough nature shows in your life to understand this next concept.  Try to envision a pack of Hyena’s scavenging along, searching for food. Those ugly, vicious, scraggly looking predators!  Now insert a herd of zebras.  Those hyena’s, like the enemy, are surveying that herd, looking for the one zebra that will be easy prey.  Typically, that’s the one at the back of the group, traveling slower, and alone.  The hyenas will swoop in and attack when that lone zebra is far from the group, when the group is unable to come to its rescue.  He becomes easy prey.

Sister, you and I are more easily overtaken by the enemy when we are not connected.

Many of us have gotten away from our habit of going to church in the last year.  Many of us have “wandered from the herd” in 2020.  Now it’s 2021, and we’re still wandering. Sister, I understand, and I see the valid reasons why it happened. I don’t fault you for those decisions. But my plea to you is this. 

Go back.

It’s time for the church to rise up.  It’s time for us to be united in our faith.  It’s time for us to be connected again, and to grow together.  It’s time for us to sing together, to pray together, to study the word together.  It’s time for us to rejoin the body and encourage one another in the faith, and it’s time to gather again. Let’s be together in church, in God’s house, as a group.

I felt it this weekend, I felt that connection I was missing.  I hadn’t realized just how badly I was missing it until I had it again.  So, if you’re reading this now and you’re thinking “Yeah, but I’m ok.  I haven’t been to church in a while, but I feel ok.  I still read my bible, I still pray, I still sing…”  my encouragement to you is, to just do it.  Just go.  Make a commitment right now to get in your car next Sunday morning and go back to church!  Your soul needs it, and the body of believers in your home church need you there!

Do what you need to do to get there but get there!  You will be both encouraged AND an encouragement to others!

Grab your shovel

I bet you’re like me sometimes.  

I wish things in my life were different.  I wish I was different.  I wish change was easier.  I wish situations improved quicker. 

Matthew 17:20 says “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “move from here to there,” and it would be done.  Nothing would be impossible.” 

Do you have a “mountain” in your life?  I think we all do.  My mountain is likely very different than yours, but I imagine that we each have a mountain of some kind. 

Granite Mountain, near home

This past summer, my daughter and her hubby wanted to change the landscape of their back yard.  They had moved into their new home a couple of years before, and the backyard did not come landscaped.  Having two small children, a dog, and yard full of goat heads was not a great combination.  As time went by, they pulled together some money and ordered rock (rock is just what you do in Arizona!).  They ordered a lot of rock.  20 tons to be exact. 

I wish you could have seen this giant pile of rock!  It was delivered and unloaded into a colossal pile in the street in front of their home.  This pile of rock needed to be moved into the back yard, through a narrow side gate.  There were some tools to help, like a small tractor with a small trailer, and shovels.  But that giant pile of rock had to be moved from the mountain of rock, into the small trailer, one shovelful at a time.  It was hot, strenuous work.  (not that I helped…. yard work is a spectator sport for me!)  

It took several adults, two full days to move the rock, and spread it out evenly in the back yard.   

Now their yard is a wonderful place where the kids and the dog can play and run!  The feeling of relief and accomplishment when the last shovelful of rock went into the yard was tremendous!  Finally, they could all rest. 

Often, there is no other way to move a mountain, but one shovelful at a time.  The blessings are not only enjoyed when the work is finished, but they are realized in the process too. 

The mountain in Matthew 17:20 is a proverbial illustration.  It is not a literal possibility, if it were, people of faith would be reconstructing the landscape of this earth on a regular basis.  Furthermore, if you and I had the ability to boss mountains around, that “power” could easily and quickly be used for our own devices, and not as a display of God’s ultimate power and glory. 

Rather, it is in scripture to teach us a lesson.  Faith is most often developed one “shovelful” at a time. 

Exer-walking with my tribe this summer!

When you and I allow God to work on our hearts and lives through change, we “exercise” our faith.  Exercising our muscles makes our muscles strong, and exercising our faith makes our faith strong.   

Let’s pretend for a moment that we asked God to move a mountain, to change something in our life.  And He did it in a flash, a blink.  (Think Star Trek “beam me up, Scotty”).  We could arrive on the other side of our trial instantly and without struggle! (This is something that we spend a lot of time in life wishing were the case).  But, if that really did happen, we would miss so much.  We would miss the opportunity to grow our faith muscle.  We would miss the process of diligently, shovel by shovel, building trust as we watched the mountain be moved.   

Because God is almighty, He could choose to move our mountain anyway He chooses.  But there is a lesson for us when He chooses not to move it instantly.  God certainly does not need our help to move any mountain, but because He is always at work for our best, He often hands us the shovel.  Therefore, giving you and I the opportunity to grow! 

So, what’s your mountain?  What situation in your life seems insurmountable?  What situation seems so big that you can’t believe that it even could change?    Maybe it’s so big that you don’t really pray about it, you have just accepted it as fact.  But we serve a big God!  Our God can move mountains!  Both figuratively and literally.   

Maybe it’s time to talk to Him about it, whatever it is.  Maybe it’s time to pick up the shovel, and bit by bit, one shovelful at a time, allow Him to work.  Do you feel a call on your heart toward change?  Maybe it’s a personal change (like a goal).  Maybe it’s a relational change (like improving or starting one).  Maybe it’s a ministry change (are you feeling pulled to join one?). Or even a job or location change. 

There are also mountains in the lives of those we care about.  Situations in our loved ones’ lives that are not right, that cause us worry and heartache.  These mountains can often feel even larger than our own personal mountains, because there is so little we can do ourselves to change them.  But trust me when I say that I have seen the biggest mountains EVER, be completely thrown into the sea.   

Whatever your mountain is, Proverbs 3:5-6 speaks directly to it.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. (NLT) 

He will move the mountain when the time is right. We must reject the thought that He isn’t working when He doesn’t change everything quickly. He will almost always hand us a shovel, and give us a chance to grow.   

~~These Cana Lilies grow in my back yard~~My hubby is the gardener~~I just watch!

All wrapped up

Its that time of year again!  It’s Christmastime!

There are so many special things about Christmas that I look forward to each year!  Things that truly only happen at Christmas.  Things like attending the courthouse lighting in Prescott.  Driving through light displays, and neighborhoods to see Christmas decorations, having a Baking Day with my adult daughters, and wearing fancy clothes to church on Christmas eve. 

I love the glow coming from the lights on my Christmas tree early in the morning.  And I love Christmas music!

But mostly I love how Christmastime is special and different from every other month of the year!

And though the world does not always recognize the true meaning of Christmas, those of us that know Jesus do, and it is a beautiful time to reflect and celebrate The Savior!

This year though, this year is certainly different than all the years prior.  This year we could easily get lost in how different things are for us.  We could dwell on the fact that the usual celebrations we enjoy may not be happening.  We could focus on how even our family gatherings are different.  Or we may become lost in the hustle and bustle of preparations.  But the choice is ours.

How we celebrate this Christmas may look and even feel different, but “different” is how Christmas got started in the first place isn’t it?

Mary and Joseph certainly did not plan for the circumstances that God chose for them.  Their lives were vastly different than what they had imagined. 

An angel announced to Mary that she would bear a child as a virgin.  Different.

The shepherds saw a host of angels fill the sky and proclaim to them that the Savior, the One they had been waiting for, had been born in Bethlehem.  Different.

The Kings from the East followed a star on a journey that led them to the Christ child.  Different.

When things are different and new, it awakens our senses and even our souls, to a fresh perspective.  Otherwise we may just go through the motions of life without fresh joy and excitement!

So, while Christmas 2020 looks and feels quite different, we can rest in the fact that God never changes.  His plans and purposes cannot be upset.  He is still at work and He will never leave us.  In fact, it is when things are different, that God comes to meet us.  He uses times of “different” to challenge us and make us more aware of His presence.

Just like with Mary and Joseph. 

After the baby was born, and the shepherds came in from the fields, scripture says in Luke 2:19 says that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  That sounds like the wonder of Christmas to me.

Maybe this year we let “different” be a catalyst of change for us. Maybe we revisit what Christmas is truly about in the first place.  Maybe this shift in our normal practices at Christmas can turn out to be a beautiful time of remembering why we do what we do.

We need to remember that different brings change for us, and change brought Jesus, and Jesus is the true reason for Christmas! And different can be beautiful too!

And because that first Christmas was so different, you and I can have a relationship with Jesus, the savior of the world. 

The Wonderful Counselor.

The Mighty God.

The Prince of Peace.

The Everlasting One.

Emmanuel.

Mary wrapped her newborn baby in swaddling cloths because of the gift He was.  We wrap up the items we purchase at Christmas in pretty paper because they too are gifts.  And as we wrap up 2020, and consider all the different and challenging things the year held, maybe it has been a gift too.

Gifts under the tree are fun, as they are given and received from a place of love.  But the best gift isn’t the one under your tree.  It’s the one right under your nose.

 It’s Jesus!

Ephesians 2:8  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God!”

Hard things that were, and good things that are

Sometimes life is good.  Sometimes it’s easier than it is at other times. But I think it becomes easier to recognize the good times because we have gone through the rough times.  I am currently in a season of relatively good health, mentally, physically, and spiritually.  But as we all know, that can change without warning. 

In some recent emails with a friend, we have exchanged thoughts about good things for that day.  We have practiced being thankful for things like hot cups of tea, smiling grandchildren, unplanned coffee dates with friends and so on.  I have really been enjoying this practice, because it has forced me to think intentionally every day about the good things of life.

Because of this practice, I have been reminded about the recent times in my life that have been extremely difficult.  Times when my faith felt a bit fragile and trusting in God’s good plan was something I had to work at.  I felt trapped on a merry go round of events that would not stop spinning, and I was literally growing ill from the constant motion of it all. 

In Romans 8:28 we read “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  That’s you and I, sister!  If we know Jesus as our redeemer, then this scripture is for us.  This verse is a feel-good verse, at least it is for me.  It is all wrapped up in hope.  Because, when I read this verse, I know that God sees the whole picture, and that He is working through my difficulty with an end result in mind.  That result is my good, my best interest.

But when we slow it down, and only look at the first half of the verse, it changes just a little bit.  “In all things, God works.”  This implies that there are “things”, difficulties, and hardships in this life.  And I see there that being a Christ Follower does not make me immune to challenges and struggles in life.  I will experience “things” that will cause me to pause and know that, on my own, I am unable to understand it all.  But that God is working.

In the book of Acts, in chapter 9, we read an account of a woman named Dorcas.

Dorcas lived in Joppa, near Jerusalem.  Her brief but powerful life story, is told in just 11 verses.

Joppa was a seacoast town, and the women who lived there were typically married to seafaring men who made their living from the sea.  They were often fisherman.  The sea took the lives of many men in accidents out on the waters. Consequently, Joppa had many widows.  But the women there had a friend in Dorcas.  She was a Christ Follower, as well as the first (and only) woman in the New Testament, to be called a disciple. She loved and cared for the women there, when their husbands (and their support system) were no longer there to do it for them.  She sewed the women garments and undoubtedly put her arms around them in comfort as they mourned their losses.  She put her faith into action.

And then, scripture says, that she got sick and died.  Just like that, with no warning, their situation changed, and Dorcas is gone.

How the women in Joppa must have wept and mourned the loss of their friend.  She had done so much, loved so fiercely, and given so generously.  They were in a difficult time.  The widows of Joppa surely would have doubted God’s good plan for them. Perhaps they struggled to trust God, and maybe felt they were trapped on a merry go round of emotions.  Hard things.

But the apostle Peter was called to come, and God gave him the power to raise Dorcas back to life!  Imagine the great joy and praise happening in Joppa! The women felt joy and hope once again!  God had certainly seen into their difficult situation and chosen to revive Dorcas to prove that He was able to care for them.  Good things.

When the situation changed for the women, they reflected, and realize that there had been hard times before, but that they were experiencing good times right now.  They experienced a time of relief and relative peace in their still somewhat difficult existence as a widow in Joppa.  And many came to know God because of all that happened there.

That can be you and I, too.

The hard things that were, become the good things that are, in time. 

“In all things God works.” 

If you are in a heartbreaking time, I want to encourage you to exercise your faith and not get stuck where you are.  I’ve been there, and I will most likely be there again at some point.  That’s just how life is.  But God is always working.  And He’s working for my good.

He’s working for your good too. 

If right now, you are in a time of hard things, hold tight.  Nothing lasts forever.  We are not without hope when we purpose to let God work.  He will always bring about good in our lives. 

But remember, Dorcas’ story doesn’t end with her death, Paul didn’t stay shipwrecked, Ruth didn’t remain a widow, and Jesus didn’t stay on the cross.

In time, with God’s good plan for you, this too shall pass.  He will work it into something good. 

One day, your hard thing will be in the past, and you will be rejoicing in the good things that are. 

Trust in Him to take you there. Only He can make sense of the spinning, and turn your doubt into trust. God always has a plan, a good plan, and when we trust Him even when we can’t see it, we understand better what Jesus meant when He said “you do not understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” John 13:7.

Father, when I am in a rough time, and life is hard, draw me to yourself.  Show me in your word where those who love you are comforted and learn to trust you again because you are always good.  When my faith is fragile, wrap your love around my heart and remind me that your presence is always with me.  I want to choose to trust you even when I am still in the darkness.

Thrive!

This past Friday I had the joy and absolute privilege of witnessing the fulfillment of a dream!

You’ll recall that life changed drastically for most of us in the early spring of this year. Covid took the world by storm, and not at all in a good way. Most of what we consider “normal life” came to a screeching halt.

I work at a school, and since that was shut down like so many things, I found myself with more free time and quiet than I normally like. At first I enjoyed being in my beautiful craft room as much as I wanted, walking and hiking every day, and painting furniture! But after a while, I started to wonder if I spent my time, (even before covid) in a lasting and meaningful way. Basically, was my life good the way it was, or was there something else I should be doing?

I remember waking up one morning with a heaviness in my heart. Not sadness, or stress, but unrest. I started to really feel that God was calling me to something important.

The trouble was, I had no idea what that important thing was!

I spent months talking with my hubby, my closest and dearest friends, my pastor, and the Lord. And in time, I understood what I was feeling to be a calling from Him to host a faith based event for women, filled with connections, worship and a message.

Now, that may seem pretty basic to you, but I knew that that message was to come from my own lips! And I was honored and terrified at the same time!

I had never given so much as a “talk” at a church event, let alone prepared a message. Microphones don’t scare me, being in front of a group doesn’t scare me, but sharing my heart and a message that I felt was from the Lord? That was completely different!

But honestly, once I had some clear direction, the support of my husband, the encouragement of my closest friends in life, and the backing of my pastor, there was no stopping me!

A team came together, filled with the most wonderful women to help fulfill this dream, this event. And I could not have chosen a better group to work with! We planned a night full of worship, gorgeous decorations, a beautiful dessert bar, a coffee bar, wonderful gifts to take home, and a thousand other details!

And when that Friday came, and we saw all those women start to arrive for the first ever Thrive event, there was strong emotion flowing through our veins! The night we had been preparing for, for months, had finally arrived!

And what a night it was! It was so fun and so exciting to see God move!

One thing I do know; I cannot do justice to the pride and joy I feel over Thrive in this blog post. God used me, a sometimes mess of a woman, searching for meaning and purpose in her life, to bring together women and encourage them in the Lord!

That face!

The key verse from Thrive is John 10:10b “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” We talked about relationship and connection to the women in our lives who God uses to encourage and support us. And we talked about being connected in relationship to God. How these two relationships are vital to enjoying a full life.

Naturally, the enemy of our souls tried to steal the day. During all the months of preparing for Thrive, I had relied heavily on the counsel and encouragement of my husband. He’s always been a solid steady voice in my head and heart. And I took for granted that he would be there to cheer me on, to run the sound board and lights, and basically to fix anything and everything that went wrong that night. So when he (very unexpectedly) had to leave the church early in the day on Friday, and couldn’t return, I felt my foundation shake.

He would not be there to finish the day with me, would not be there to witness the event that we both been praying over and working toward for so many months. And I felt my stomach drop, like when you lean to far back in a chair…..

But in that time of struggle, God had already provided a “Titus” for me! 2 Corinthians 7:6 says “God who comforts the down cast, comforted is by the coming of Titus.” My Titus that day was the friend that I had asked to stand by me through Thrive. For some time, neither of us was exactly sure what her true purpose was for the event, but we pressed on knowing the Lord would show us. And He certainly did!

When my ground became uneven and shaky, she came along side of me, held up my arms, prayed with and for me, and together we purposed not to let the enemy win that day! She reminded me that God was all that we needed, and we pressed forward. And you know what, God showed up at Thrive big time! He was there ensuring that the lights and sound and details all came together. It was nearly flawless!

Thrive was a dream come true! I am blessed down to my socks, that God used me for something long lasting! That He allowed me to be part of something meaningful for His kingdom!

Today I have a full heart, and a more full life because of Thrive. The purpose of Thrive is to deepen the connections between women with each other, and to deepen the connection between those women and the Lord.

My own connections with the women who partnered with me for Thrive grew deeper than I anticipated. And as I relied on God to fulfill what I felt was His purpose for me through Thrive, I experienced a full life! A deeper connection to Him.

Now, prepare to be photo blasted!

Spring Thrive is on the calendar for April 30, 2021❤ I already can’t wait to see what He’ll do!

Marching Orders

I’m about to make you uncomfortable. 

In Joshua chapter 6, we see an incredible event take place.  The people of Israel had just crossed over the Jordan River and into the land of Canaan.  This land was the land flowing with milk and honey that God had promised to give them possession of some 500 years prior.

Imagine their excitement!  They had heard stories from their ancestors for as long as they could remember of how God would finally deliver them and give them their own land, a place to be, a wonderful place full of everything they could ever want or need!  They had just spent 40 miserable, exhausting years aimlessly wandering the same plot of desert.  They had children, and those children had children, and all the while they had told them the story of the land flowing with milk and honey.

And now they were here!

And they were prepared for battle. 

They had rallied the troops, so to speak.  They needed to be ready, because the walls of Jericho were thick, impenetrable walls.  These walls were roughly 11 feet high and 14 feet thick.  These walls would not go down easily.  It was going to take a battering ram, a lot of muscle, and most likely there would be a substantial loss of life to win this battle and take possession of the city.  Winning this kind of battle would have taken months of planning, and weeks of consistent fighting.  The walls of Jericho wouldn’t come down without a fight!

Or would they?

The people were prepared for a battle to be certain.  Imagine their surprise when Joshua gave them the word from the Lord.  They were to march in silence around the city, something that would have taken roughly an hour.  The priests were to blow their horns, but no battle cries, no shouting, just marching.  I can imagine that this was most difficult for the fighting men.  I imagine that they were amped up and ready for battle, so the idea of marching in silence must have seemed odd.  Even foolish. 

They did this for six days.  Each day they rose and marched around the city in silence.  All the while, some were probably questioning the odd battle plan that the Lord had given Joshua.  Possibly even doubting that it could work.  Maybe even feeling foolish as the inhabitants of the city jeered and mocked them and their God. 

But they did it.  Faithfully.  Obediently.

There’s that word.  Obedience. It makes us uncomfortable. It’s not a popular word in today’s society is it?  In a society where some like to give children freedom to make their own decisions.   In a society full of social unrest.  Obedience has an overtone that we just don’t really care for or like to talk about.

But God told the Israelites to be obedient to His instructions, and to simply march.  So they marched.

Close to home

And what happens next is absolutely incredible!  On the seventh day, they were told to march around the city seven times.  Seven hours.  Seven hot, tiring, hours.  Seven hours on the seventh day of absolutely NOTHING happening.  The people inside the city walls must have had more confidence on this day than ever, that the God of the Israelites was not powerful enough to do anything, much less defeat the impenetrable walls of their fortified city.

But after that seventh time around, Joshua commanded the people “Shout!  For the Lord has given you the city!” Joshua 6:20 tells us what happened next, as a result of their obedience.  “When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.” Can you say CRAZY?

I strongly encourage you to read the full story of this incredible battle. You’ll find it in Joshua chapter 6.

But don’t miss the lesson.  It was not the swords, the fighting men, the battle plan, the strong force of weaponry or a genus military strategy that brought the victory.  It was obedience.  Plain and simple.  Obedience.

I think too often, we try to “do more” for God when what He really desires is that we trust and obey His word.  1 Samuel 15:22 says “But Samuel replied, ‘What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice.’”  The word obedience can make us uncomfortable.  But there is freedom in obeying God.  If you imagine obedience as chains, holding you back, shift your focus. 

Obedience is peace. 

Obedience is victory.

Obedience is protection.

If God can bring down the mighty walls of a fortified city with first marching and then a mighty shout, think what He can do for us when we follow more closely and listen to Him more faithfully.

What situation in your life do you need God to handle?  What battle are you fighting on your own? Do you need to hand it over to Him? Are you fighting, or marching?  Are you charging or waiting? Sometimes we need to “march around the city” so to speak.  God will knock down the walls, in His time, when we obey. Then we will have victory!

Dear Lord, my humanity often struggles with the concept of obedience.  Since The Fall, we have wrestled with doing life our own way.  Remind me often of the story of Joshua and the Jericho walls.  Remind me of the power I can have over difficulties in my life and heart when I surrender to you and allow you to lead the battle.  Show me where I need to trust and submit to you more.  I know you want what is best for me always.  Your love for me is greater than I can imagine.  Help me to honor you in my heart first, because I need my heart to be right with you to allow you to work out your plans for me.  


Try reading Psalm 51

Fragile emotions~Strong faith

Can we possess both simultaneously?

Sometimes in Christian circles, we are told that if our emotions are fragile and our heart is troubled, that our faith is not strong.  That we “just need to trust more” as if it were a light switch to flip on.

Can we all just take a step back, and admit that sometimes, life just sucks.  That it is hard.  That it feels like more than we can take somedays. 

Now breathe that out.  There. You said it.  You love Jesus, but today, life stinks.

Do you think God is shocked?  Do you think He is disappointed in you now that you admitted it?  Do you think He is shaking His eternal head and looking at you with dismay now?

He’s not.

Jesus, being fully man and fully God, experienced anger (at the religious leaders), rejection (by His disciples),  sorrow(when Lazarus died), physical pain that was real(on the cross), and wished for a way out of His circumstances(in the Garden).  Jesus gets you and me.  He understands our fragile emotions because He experienced them too.

Hebrews 4:15a “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.”

near home

I have some friends who are going through some exceptionally difficult circumstances today.  They are experiencing cancer, they are experiencing financial issues due to needing a job (or a better job), they are wrestling through real trials in their marriages, their hearts are breaking over their adult children, and their parents are aging and fading away before their eyes.

These. 

Things. 

Hurt.

But sister, you and I are not called to be fake spiritual giants.  We are not expected to be someone we are still growing into.  What we really need is to be honest about our fragile emotions so that we can develop a stronger faith.

Jesus does not expect us to pretend (for the benefit of anyone else or for ourselves) that we are unaffected by the hardship we are experiencing.  Fake faith hurts and can’t help.

He does expect that we will lean into Him so that He can meet the deepest needs in our hearts during that time.  He meets those needs with peace. 

We can possess fragile emotions and strong faith.  In fact, that’s the goal.

When we are experiencing difficulties, the most mature and honest thing we can do is to admit our weaknesses and hurts, but also acknowledge God’s provision and the peace that He brings. 

Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.  We wouldn’t need this verse, or verses like it, if we were supposed to just smile and pretend our hurt wasn’t real.

This world is not the way God designed it.  Remember that.

When God created this world, He created it without pain, struggles, death, suffering, cancer, marital strife, and broken relationships. 

But then sin entered in.  And everything changed.

near home

Scripture is full of warnings of hardship.  John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” 

You can’t fool God.  He already knows how you think and feel.  He knows that you worry sometimes…a lot of times.  He knows that you want to trust His plan but that you struggle since you can’t see how it is good.  He knows that you want to honor your spouse, but that you’re not sure they deserve it.  He knows that you are afraid of the pain of death.  He knows that you’re concerned about having enough for your family.  He knows that you don’t sleep at night because your children have wandered from the faith.  He knows it all. 

And He says in Matthew 11:28-29 “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Rest for our soul sounds so good doesn’t it?  It sounds like peace.   It sounds like trust. It sounds like provision.

Can I confess something to you?  I don’t always do it right either.  I fear, I worry, I lose sleep.

Here’s what Jesus says to us in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

When we recognize our fragile emotions, we can then draw near to God and pray. We can honestly admit to Him that we don’t like what is happening.  And in that moment of confession, we start the process of building trust in Him.  He always has our best on His heart.  Even when it doesn’t feel that way, it’s true.

But until we are honest about our fragile condition, and we are honest with others about it, He can’t work.  When we are busy trying to be something we’re not, He is waiting for us to invite Him in. That’s when He can truly work.  That’s when our eyes are drawn toward Him and off of our struggles.  Peace is ours when we admit our frailty and seek the Lord.  And in return, we receive rest for our souls.

peace

I want to encourage your heart today.  This life is hard. It takes intentional living to avoid getting pulled into despair.  But this life is not all there is.  One day we will join Jesus in Eternity.  And when that happens, there will be great joy!  There will be praising!  There will be laughter and love!  There will be no pain, or sorrow! 

But until that day comes, love each other deeply.  Let your hope be in Him.  And when your fragile emotions threaten to make you a prisoner of fear and doubt, remember that God has a deep and abiding love for you.  Psalm 34:14 “Seek peace and pursue it”.

And though your circumstances may not change, search for rest for your souls.  Don’t stop searching until your fragile emotions develop into a strong faith!

Gifted

What makes you special? 

That sort of seems like an elementary school question, doesn’t it?  Like back when you were 9 and a teacher asked you to introduce yourself to the class and talk about yourself.  I remember feeling awkward and shy (it’s hard to believe now, that I was ever shy though right?).  It feels uncomfortable to talk about yourself in a positive way.  It feels like bragging.  It feels selfish and pious.

But what if it comes from a place of grace and humility? 

1 Peter 4:11 tells us something important that we need to give thought and consideration to.  “God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts.  Use them well to serve one another.”

Talking about what makes you special can seem selfish and pious WHEN it is meant for your own purposes only.  But here in scripture, we are reminded that the qualities about you and I that are special and unique, come to us from God.  They are a gift.

I have received some really great birthday and Christmas gifts in my life.  Some of them have brought me a lot of pleasure and happiness!  When I have gotten a gift like that, I am often giddy with excitement!  I tell everyone about the wonderful gift I have been given!  “Look at this!  I can’t wait to use it!” 

But a gift is just that, a gift.  I did not create or fashion this gift.  I was only the fortunate recipient of it.  Our spiritual gifts are like that too.  They are nothing we did ourselves, they have been given to us by God.  They are a true gift.

If you’re not sure what your spiritual gift is. I encourage you to find out.  Years ago, I took a “a spiritual gifts test” and it shifted the course of my life.  I came to understand that the things about me that came easily and that I did out of a sense of passion, are the same (or similar) things that the Lord had gifted me with.

When you and I come to understand that the passions and talents we have, are actually part of a bigger purpose, we find freedom there! 

Now I can get excited about the things that I am good at; now I can be confident in my abilities because I know they came from God.  They are surely a gift!  So, when I am excited about them, and feeling good about using them, I am not bragging about myself, but rather I am opening the gift that He gave me!

My Grand Girl

The second part of verse 10 reminds us WHY we have been given these gifts.  “Use them well to serve one another.” 

The most wonderful parts of us, are not given so that we can feel more important than others, make money, be idolized, or get lots of “followers” on social media.  They are given to be of service to each other.  They are gifts to be shared, not used solely for our own glorification.

We should also realize that our natural human tendency is to look around at other’s gifts, and feel like their gifts are better, or more important than our own.  We can very easily play the comparison game. 

This is a danger especially for women. God has blessed and entrusted us with talents, influence, and spiritual gifts to glorify Him and to bring about His kingdom.  But we have all been guilty of looking around our workplace, neighborhoods or churches and feeling like what we have is less important than what others have.  This line of thought could lead to jealousy and envy.

There are so many wonderful and inspiring women all around!  We are naturally drawn to people who possess character qualities that we do not have.  When we are at work or church, and we see women that we admire, it is usually because their gift is different than ours.  The reason that we admire them is because there is something wonderful about them, that we don’t necessarily see in ourselves.

While it is true that we can learn so much from people that are different than we are, we also need to remember not to play the comparison game.  The one where we assume that others are happier or more fulfilled than we are, because they are good at something that we are not.  Your gift is not her gift, my gift is not your gift.  Joy comes when we first know that our gift is from God and we use it for His glory.  Then we can develop and use it purposefully to serve others! 

Over the years I have found great joy and purpose in realizing my own gift!  It has brought intention to my life, whereas before, I only saw my short comings.  I saw other women seeming so fulfilled, and I incorrectly guessed that if I did what they did, exactly the way they did it, that I would be happy like they seemed to be.  

But the truth is, I can only be fulfilled when I am working within the abilities and purposes (or gifts) that God gave to ME.

Don’t waste your gift by comparing it to other’s.  Find out what your specific gift is and pursue that with all your heart!  There you will find joy and completeness, because then you will be utilizing your natural strengths and God given abilities!

Try it, you’ll see!

My garden

Without Reserve

When my children were small, I loved them with my whole heart.  

I loved them when they were sleeping, and when they were awake throwing a temper tantrum.  I loved them when they were playing quietly in their room, and when they were coloring on the walls.  I loved them when they were joyfully sharing toys with each other, and when they were running through the house screaming because the other one wouldn’t give back a toy.  

I loved them no matter what.  

And while it might have been easier to be in their presence when they weren’t screaming or destroying the house, I loved them anyway.  Nothing could have changed that.  I still would have jumped in front of a train to save them, even if those crayons were still in their pudgy little hands.

Recent rock art

That’s what real love is. It’s unconditional.

You’ve heard that about God’s love before, too haven’t you? That it’s unconditional?   But if you’re honest, you immediately dismiss the thought as “for other people” or you think, “that’s true, but I still need to do better”.

Today I feel compelled to drive this point home to you.  God’s love for you is unconditional.  Truly, completely, and wholeheartedly unconditional.  

When Christ gave His life for you and me, willingly and painfully, on the cross at Calvary, He did it with out respect for persons.  John 3:16 says “for God so loved the world (that’s all of us imperfect, flawed, unforgiven people) that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. Notice here that scripture does not say that He gave His life for those that already knew Him, loved Him, did what was right, or didn’t do what was wrong. He gave His life SO THAT we would believe in Him, not because we already did.

Then there’s Ephesians 2:8. “For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. Did you catch that?  It is NOT from yourselves; it is a gift.   Love is a gift, not a payment.  

Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness”.  God loves us first, and then He draws us with kindness.  Isn’t that how we parent?  My love for my children is based solely on the fact that my kids are my kids.  And because they are my kids, I do my best to teach them, and to develop them into better humans as they grow. But I do that BECAUSE I love them. I don’t love them BECAUSE they already ARE better humans.

Are you getting this?

God loves you unconditionally.  He loves you whether you are sitting on the couch right now in your jammies with messy hair, or dressed and ready for the day. He loves you whether you crossed all the things off your to do list yesterday, or you simply changed the date on the top.  He loves you whether you let loose when you were angry about something, or you managed to keep it under wraps.  He loves you whether your house is spotless, or if you aren’t even sure where the vacuum is.  He loves you whether you read your bible this week, or if you didn’t.  

He loves you.

Two of my grandsons

God is our father.  He is a parent, like a lot of us.  

And He is the perfect parent.  

That’s why He is able to separate unconditional love from performance-based love.

If you can do that for your own children, then it stands to reason that God can do that for His children.  

1 John 3:1 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!  For that is what we are!”

That’s you and I sister!  The children of God!  He has lavished His love on us!  And He did that before we knew Him.  Before we even understood that we should.

He gave His love to us without reserve, and THEN He drew us with His unfailing kindness.  

There are times when I may have been disappointed in my children’s behavior, but those times did not change my love for them one ounce.  Not then and not now.  It is a faithful love that never ceases.  That kind love is independent of shortcomings. That kind of love is not based on perfection either.  

I want you to really dwell on this. There is joy and completeness in fully realizing that God’s love is 100% unconditional.

I will leave you with Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  If His love for us was so completely unconditional that it did not stop Him from giving His life for us on the cross, then I think it’s safe to say that nothing will.

He loves you no matter what.

Always.

Forever.

Unconditionally.

Sedona