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Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. 2 Cor. 9:7 (MSG)

 

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Against all odds, thousands of nut-colored seeds unfolded beneath ground and thrust their heads bravely through the hard crust of the last Montana snow. Each tiny sprig of green represented survival—a seasons-long battle spent dormant tucked below the inhospitable prairie soil.

They also represented the Farmer’s hard work.

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Before the sun cast its morning glow across the cliffs and beyond the creek, the Farmer sat astride the John Deere tractor with his favorite hat—the one my grandma hated—perched on his head. Nearly every day of every season; year after year, the Farmer worked the land.

In the summer, burnished stalks of wheat swayed in the wind until the heads bent low and heavy from the weight of their burden. By the time the prairie grasses stood bronzed by the sun, crops had been stripped and were left bare but for the craggy stubble alternating with the brown of the earth. Just before the cold held the land firmly in its grasp, the Farmer tilled the soil—turning and breaking the sandstone that ruptured the surface with a hatchet—and then carefully poured seed into neatly made furrows. If the seed was healthy and conditions were right then the Farmer and his wife—the one who taught me to make my first pie—might have something to show for their hard work.

What would have happened, though, if the Farmer failed to buy good seed? Or, if he had only planted every other field? Would the results have been abundant if the Farmer was unmotivated or shrugged his shoulders? God has a plan—I don’t really need to do anything.

The scenario seems foolish, I know. But, don’t we sometimes take the “hands-off” approach to sharing ourselves with others? I do—more often than I’d like to confess. Honestly, it is just hard to share Christ with others! I’ve mentioned before that I am a people pleaser—maybe we all are to an extent. But, I REALLY want others to like me. To respect me. And honestly?   I even want a few people to think I am special. Can anyone out there relate?

But this week, I read Hebrews 13:15-16.

“So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus’ name. Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others.” MSG

I have a problem—a problem with holing up in my spiritual tower like an old, miserly Scrooge hiding away in his chamber and unwilling to share with others. Instead of coins, though, I have received the abundant and eternal treasure of the one and only Savior! If I fail to share the truth of Christ with a world struggling to survive the seasons and trials of life then I am not doing my work. I will be like a Farmer failing to plant the seed and work the ground.

Friend, my heart aches to take as many people as I can to heaven with me—by God’s grace and the work of the Spirit. Today, then, my prayer is that I would set aside the burden of self for the burden of people who need to hear about Jesus and the hope that He offers. Lord, give me a heart to join you outside—despite the conditions of rejection, derision, or animosity. Teach me to cast off my grudging, reluctant participation for an active,   hands-in-the-dirt approach to sharing holy love and true Life with others. Amen.

 

 

 

 

It was a simple gesture, but my heart found comfort in the encouraging words written across the face of the paper. With my husband deployed on the other side of the world, two tiny boys needing mothering and fathering, and a rogue mouse loose somewhere in the 1,900 square feet that encapsulated our home I was often overwhelmed, under-socialized, and in need of an uninterrupted bathroom break.

 

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One sunny Virginia morning, I unlocked the community mailbox and discovered a treasure—reassuring words of encouragement from an anonymous “sister in Christ”. This dear woman promised she had been praying for me and, because of her kindness, I was a little less alone in the challenges common to military wives.

The cards and notes continued—one for each week of a six-month deployment. Now, years later, I remember the kind way an unknown friend made such an impact in my life—with ink, paper, and prayer. Thank you, dear lady, for seeing my need!

They are everywhere–behind false smiles and polite responses.  I’m fine. They are stay-at-home mothers and working mothers.  Single women and married women.  Christian women and women who haven’t met Jesus yet.  There are women who ache to be seen, who need to know someone cares, who pray God will send them just one person to come alongside. And, friends, I am convinced Christ calls us to serve these dear ones!

Scripture tells us that we “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” and exhorts, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.” (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:9-13)

Did you notice the implications?  God created us–each a unique display of his creative design–for doing good works!  We are given the privilege of joining Christ in serving others and fulfilling our individual job assignments.  Assignments that build up other women and point them to the Servant-King!

Would you join me?  Will you look for her–that woman in need?  Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you in how you can come alongside the one He impresses on your heart–whether for the moment or over a longer period of time. Like little children, lets imitate our Father and love others large today.

Scripture for Reflection

1 Peter 4:10 (MSG) Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.

Romans 12:1  (MSG) So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.

Hebrews 6:10 (NIV) God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

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Wrestling with God

Giving God me was a moment in time—a five year old with cropped hair and knobby knees raising her hand in Sunday school. It was one of the rare Sundays my family attended church, but I met Jesus there and took him home in my heart.

That sweet encounter put me on the road to my forever home. I was as good as signed, sealed, and delivered to heaven’s doorstep.   But, that day was also the beginning of a relationship—one marked by trial, misunderstanding, faithlessness, and inexplicable, beautiful love.

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I’ve discovered that giving God me was more than the promise of Life. It’s a decision I choose to make—or not–each day and moment-by-moment. Some days I succeed. I loosen my grasp on my expectations…my fears…my hurts…my vulnerable places.

But there are times the struggle is painfully hard and I hold stubbornly to my life—unwilling to give up control of thoughts…circumstances…relationships. It’s a spirit fight—like Joshua and the angel—waged in weakness when needing God’s strength; borne out of mistrust while having experienced God’s goodness.

Three years ago, I engaged in the battle of my life. It rocked my family to the core and sent me to a place of such pain and confusion that life lost all promise and hope. I wasn’t sure I would survive the anger…the loss…the heartache.

And I wrestled with God—unwilling to give all of myself to Him. I didn’t always realize He was there with me in the filth, the dirt—holding onto me while I pushed Him away. I refused to look at Him…certain I didn’t deserve the love engraved on His palms. I shouted…I wept…I doubted my Savior. Still—He remained.

In the moment I finally gave all of myself? I realized complete freedom for the first time. Giving all of me to God was the exchange of chains for freedom,  self-condemnation for Christ’s acceptance, and the brokenness of the past for transformation in His mercy.

Friend, are you wrestling with God right now? Can I gently remind you that He guards you…protects you…loves you—even when the journey seems dark and lonely. Despite how you may feel, you are not alone. Why fight against God when He will do battle on your behalf? We know Christ intercedes for us in heavenly places—the victory has been won! Let’s give all of ourselves to Him today!

 

Scripture for Reflection

Gen. 22-23 But during the night he got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven children and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He got them safely across the brook along with all his possessions.

24-25 But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.

26 The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”

Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”

27 The man said, “What’s your name?”

He answered, “Jacob.”

28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”

29 Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?”

The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him.

30 Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!” (MSG)

 

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I’m an idealist. I believe in the Biblical standard, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

I don’t care if your skin is black, brown, white—or a funky “Sunset Orange” from the tanning booth. Pigment does not make the person; God does—and each one is created to be unique and beautiful.

You might vote as a registered Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian in November. And, gasp, in a season like this, you may decide no vote is better than any vote. I won’t allow differences of political conviction to sever relationships–even if we strongly disagree with each other

Are you a Buddhist? A Muslim? An atheist? Well…I’m a Christian and I’m going to love you enough to tell you about my Jesus….to raise your name up to heaven before the One who I know is the Way—because I care about where you spend the life after this one. What sort of friend would I be if I refused to live my faith out loud because of my own fear of rejection?

In this splintered, broken world people murder each other in cold blood because of prejudice…hatred…and unbridled, misdirected emotion absent of rational thought.

In a world of people crying out for peace, rogue policemen steal the breath of innocent men because they are draped in the beautiful, bronzed skin God gave them. An embittered man destroys five heroic souls who proudly wear the color blue–an emblem signifying a willingness to stand in the gap for those they serve.

Terrorists fill our streets with the blood of their hatred and the world shrinks back in fear—uncertain of the future and dreading the next brutal attack.

It seems the world has gone mad. It’s been ripped off its axis and sent spinning into a black hole of war and anarchy.

I want to remind my heart and yours…God is not pacing in His throne room.

He knows the beginning from the end. The evil and suffering in the world do not go unnoticed and soon—perhaps much sooner than we think—the Lion of Judah will return for His people.

Until then, we who already know Jesus must love others. How else can a groaning earth and aching people have any hope? Any chance of experiencing Christ? Any promise of eternal life unless we who know the Truth follow His example and just…love…others.

Scripture for Reflection

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Cor. 13:13 MSG)

 

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:35 MSG)

 

I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. (2 Timothy 4:2 MSG)

 

 

 

psalm 73

 

All of my self-created, self-proclaimed, self-protective vows could fill a book. You know, the ones whispered under my breath when I’ve been near bursting with anger…fear…judgment…hurt. Those silent promises and I-will-nevers intended to set a personal standard or to protect my own heart or the hearts of those I love. They’ve often proven impossible to uphold and are usually a hindrance to personal, relational, or spiritual growth.

You know what I mean, don’t you? We all have our nevers.

The divorced woman who has vowed to never marry another man—but lives as someone’s common-law wife. The woman who swore she would never smoke cigarettes after watching a loved one die of lung disease now burns through at least one pack a day. The grown man who was determined he would never treat his child that way—and hears the same ugly words of his father or mother erupting from his own mouth.

We all have our nevers. Read Peter’s words—his never—spoken boldly to Christ just prior to being turned over to the authorities.

31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” (Matthew 6:31-34).

Did Peter intend to live up to his words? Yes.

Was his motive wrong? Of course not!

Then what is the matter with Peter’s I-will-never? Is there something wrong with our nevers?

The problem begins with the words I will. Peter’s driving force—his strength—was centered on self; not on the sustaining power of God the Almighty. And self can only carry a given distance. Peter’s personal best? He made it as far as the walls of the court before betraying both Christ and his fervent I will never!

Let’s look to Jesus as he seeks solace in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his arrest.

And going a little farther he (Jesus) fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Did you notice it, Friend? Jesus—who knew of the beatings he would endure and understood the shame of the cross—said, “Not as I will, but as you will.”

Isn’t that remarkable? Christ didn’t choose self. Self-protection. Self-interest. Self-will. Instead, he chose the will of the Father. And the best of Christ joined to the will of the Father resulted in unimaginably beautiful forever-life at the intersection of nail and flesh.

The next time a personal I will never thrusts itself into my thoughts, my hope and prayer is that I would it turn it over to God.

Lord, what is Your will in this situation?  In this moment?   In this hurt?

 And even more—would that I could bravely whisper, “…but as You will.”

 

Scripture for Reflection

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Ephesians 6:10)

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.         (Isaiah 40:29)

But he said to me, “My grace is 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)

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Linky-Party-1

The familiar ping of the phone alerted me to a new message. A hurting friend and I had been sharing our thoughts and discussing the razor-edged struggles of the hard in her life. A loved one had said things….done things. She wanted to know–could the relationship recover?

I paused before responding. I don’t see the way. I don’t know how the hurt can be redeemed. I don’t have any great wisdom to offer. The words I chose? With God all things are possible. And you are worth it!

Tears blurred my miniature screen when this dear one answered —I feel worthless.

I understood. These words? I owned them for years. And I wonder…how many of us have been in that place? How many of us have felt the thrust of the enemy’s arrow digging into the tender flesh of our hearts with messages that seem more real than the love letters written so many years ago through the hands of those empowered by God himself.

Maybe you’ve believed the lies, too. The messages burning in your heart may have been lodged there since childhood—the result of words spoken by a parent, a teacher, or peers. Perhaps you were burdened with the weight of worthlessness when a marriage begun with promise ended in betrayal. Is it even possible that your own past—the sins you can’t seem to forget—prove you are worthless?

But Jesus wants to affirm you. He’s not offering a positive mantra for personal repetition or a feel-good, I-believe-in-you word of false praise. He wants to give you so much more!

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Listen… do you hear his voice? Just as He did with the disciples, Jesus is calling you to follow him. He shouts out your name–a personal invitation to leave your nets behind–those things that entangle and threaten to drag you into dark waters. Leave them in the sand, Friend. Like refuse scattered along the water’s edge after a storm, you can shed your hurts…cast off the lies…release your burdens.

I’m not suggesting Jesus is an easy answer. The world is still a place of broken people. Suffering continues. Tears still flow. Certainly, Jesus didn’t mince words when he said, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

So what does Jesus offer? He gives Himself! The God who gave you life reassures you of His love.

“Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? Even if that were possible, I would never forget you! See, I have engraved your name on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NLT).

The God of the universe and creator of all things loves you so passionately that when He spread His arms wide on the cross He was thinking of you! You are that valuable. What a beautiful, amazing affirmation!

Friend, in all of our difficulty and doubts let’s respond to Jesus. Will you follow after Him? Because one beautiful day we’ll celebrate a heavenly homecoming and Jesus will have been our destination.

 

Encouraging Bible Verses

 (Exodus 33:17 NKJV) So the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”

(Psalm 100:3 NKJV) Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

(Isaiah 43:1-3 NKJV) But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. {2} When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. {3} For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

(John 10:3 NKJV) “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he callshis own sheep by name and leads them out.”

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

Squat, aluminum spaces enclosed by unwelcoming barbed wire or steel gates are located randomly around the city. Marked by such signs as Storage-R-Us and The Space Place, people like you and I gather “stuff”—undesirable items and maybe-we’ll-use-them-someday-things—and pay hundreds of dollars every year just to have a video camera supervise our favorite junk.

While storage units can effectively meet a short-lived need, they were never designed to store clutter for months or years at a time. Yet, 50% of all units are filled with unwanted castoffs—furniture, old toys, and unused clothing—secret places clogged by material surplus.

Clutter

 

Like a personal storage unit, my mind is often full of spiritual clutter. The uneccesary…the unneeded…. even the unwelcome. Misguided self-perceptions, worry, unkind words spoken by another, past sins I hold onto out of guilt. Like a jumbled collection of debris tucked away in a rented lot, my self-created storage space grows crowded. Sometimes I’ll dig through the mess and rediscover a memory.

You’re worthless.

The carefully guarded words reemerge from the past—taunting me.
What was I thinking? I can’t believe God could forgive me for that.

Self-accusation robs my joy and disregards the mercy of the cross.

The accumulated rubbish stands testimony to my inability to let go—to give the One my faults…my hurt…my self-accusation. Then, he gently reminds me. Stop holding onto this debris! It does nothing but fill empty space when I promise to fill your heart.

Let me take it—all of it– for you, Child. Let me have your spiritual clutter and I’ll give you freedom.

 And when I set aside the unwanted castoffs? I no longer pay the price of keeping a tight hold on the stuff of the past.

Instead?  I’m rid of the spiritual clutter.  Friend, let’s remember to give Jesus our mess!

Scripture for Reflection

he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 

(Titus 3:5)

 

 

 

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

 

 

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