Archives for February 2013

Lent: Rest for the Weary

When I was little my mom always said, “Be careful what you ask for, Sarah Beth.  You may just get it.”  I never understood that…really?  If I am asking for it, then I want it.  So I hope I get it.

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Seemed so simple to me.

At the beginning of Lent, I asked God for life transformation. When I asked, I wanted it with all my heart.  I wanted to draw closer to Him.  I wanted Him to reveal the junk in my heart, including wrong motives or misplaced efforts.

I wanted 40 days to focus intentionally on more Him and less me.  My heart was tired of the same old, same old.  My bible study felt routine.  My prayers felt rehearsed and repetitive.  I was still learning and growing in Christ, but I sensed that I’d moved.  I couldn’t hear Him as clearly in the busyness of my life.

I wanted my intimacy with Him back.

But, be careful what you ask for because if you’re asking according to the Scriptures – according to His will – he will answer. And probably not in the way you think he should or thought he would.  Yes, I am growing closer.  Yes, he’s revealed a truckload of junk in my heart.  But, the way he’s chosen to reveal all that?  Not how I would have revealed it to me.

It’s been hard.

I am not a fan of hard.  I bet you aren’t either.  I wanted a sweet time with Jesus at 5 am before my family awakened.  A time when he’d speak to my heart, I could journal and pray about it, then move on with a “Thank you, Jesus, for telling me.  I’ll take care of that right away.”

That’s not how it’s been.  He’s taught and transformed me through circumstances, people, and sleepless nights.  He’s revealed more to me than I ever wanted to know.

I am getting what I prayed for.  And, while hard, I am thankful.

Still, I feel weary. 

According to the dictionary, weary is exhausted in strength, endurance, vigor, or freshness; feeling or showing tiredness. 

Are you weary?  Tired.  Feeling weak, unable to endure much, lacking intensity in your actions, or feeling stale.

Thankfully, we serve an all-knowing, almighty God who knows you and sees you.  He sees the weariness and knows you’re running on empty.  Tired.  Weak.  Stale.

He desires to show up in the weariness – if only we will let Him.  This morning as I read Matthew with my husband we found ourselves in Matthew 11:  28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30

He is the giver of rest. 

I’d forgotten He gave rest in the midst of my weariness-inducing tug of war with Him. I am trying to keep some of my junk because I like it (sadly).   I am wrestling with Him at 3 am instead of giving it freely to Him, which leaves me tired.  My intensity is waning.  I want my relationship with Him and others to look a certain way, and he’s not answering how I think he should, so I continue to pull and He pulls me back.

Weary. 

Thankfully, in the midst of the weariness, I can surrender and stand on these promises from his Word:

In my weakness, weariness He is strong, and His grace is sufficient in the weariness – in anything:  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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

He desires for me to run with endurance – not weariness – the race he’s marked out for me:  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give upAfter all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. Hebrews 12: 1-4

If you’re weary today, I pray you surrender to Him, ending the tug of war.  Cling to these promises from His word.  He is strong in your weakness; His grace is sufficient for you; He asks you to focus on Him, running your race with endurance (not weariness).

We should not weary in doing good for His glory, for at God’s appointed time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  (Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13).

Lent: What You Can Learn from Diet Soda

Diet soda.

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Last week I shared that I gave up diet soda for Lent.  It seemed so simple.  Don’t drink diet soda.

Just don’t do it.

It was so simple last Wednesday.  Pretty simple on Thursday.  Even Friday was OK.  Then, Saturday I lost my willpower.  We were traveling to Virginia and stopped at a Sheetz.  The fountain diet Mountain Dew was calling my name.

I know.  This seems crazy.  It’s pop! There are 100 different things in this world to drink, and I was standing in a Sheetz obsessing over the drink machine.  My thought process went something like this…it’s only one diet Mountain Dew.  God doesn’t care what I drink.  What does this have to do with God, really?

I got nothing.  Flavored water and iced tea held no appeal.  I have to admit that I moped back to the car – frustrated because I wanted a diet MD and disgusted that I had tried to justify my lack of self-control to the Creator of the universe.

As we continued driving, I kept battling this in my mind.  Why can’t I follow the simple directive: “Just don’t do it”?  Yes, I know drinking diet soda is NOT a sin.  But, I (essentially) was choosing the diet soda over a promise I made to God.  Less than a week before, I had declared to God, I am giving up a few things for Lent in order to draw closer to you.  When I reach for a soda or sugary food, I will instead seek you through your Word or prayer.  My heart’s desire is to draw closer to you by emptying my life of things that often preoccupy me and focusing on you.  

I wanted more than anything to keep this promise to God, and I was so frustrated by my struggle to keep a simple promise. 

As I sat in the car berating myself, God gently reminded me of Paul’s words in Romans:

18 I know there is nothing good in my sinful nature. I want to do what is good, but I can’t. 19 I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do. 20 I do what I don’t want to do. But I am not really the one who is doing it. It is sin living in me.

21 Here is the law I find working in me. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 Deep inside me I find joy in God’s law. 23 But I see another law working in the parts of my body. It fights against the law of my mind. It makes me a prisoner of the law of sin. That law controls the parts of my body.

24 What a terrible failure I am! Who will save me from this sin that brings death to my body? 25 I give thanks to God. He will do it through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law. But in my sinful nature I am a slave to the law of sin. Romans 18-25

My heart echoed Paul’s words.  I don’t do what I want to do. I keep on doing the things I don’t want to do. But, who will save me from this sinful nature?  Jesus Christ our Lord.

I have to depend totally on Christ for ANY kind of heart or life transformation.  I cannot change me.  No amount of willpower will keep me from my diet Mountain Dew.  No amount of trying and striving will keep me from sin.  Sin lives in me.  Yes, I have been saved by grace through faith and I love God with all my heart, but there are still sinful desires within me.

My sinful nature exists and persists. 

I cannot fight sin in my own strength.  While I have always known this, I still keep trying to fly solo.  Instead, I must surrender – wholly – to Christ and His power within me.

And, that’s what God’s teaching me this Lenten season through some diet soda and sugar.  He’s teaching me to fully surrender my heart – all I am and all I do – to Him.

No amount of self-determination will keep me from sin.  I have to embrace God’s provision for me:  the Holy Spirit.  When I fall – because I will in my ugly, ole sinful nature – He will lovingly pick me up.  What an amazing promise!

Are you doing what you don’t want to do?  Is there something in your life that you know is NOT the you God created? Are you feeling powerless and frustrated?  I encourage you to SEEK HIM.  Surrender; ask for His help. He’ll answer…again and again.

Hats for Hope {from Hannah}

I am not crafty.  I can copy a thing or two from Pinterest, but that’s it.

In fact, I have no desire to be crafty.  I wish I did; I’ve scrapbooked on occasion but to sit and craft?  Nope.  Hand me a book or blank page and pen.

But, I gave birth to the craftiest gal around.  My daughter, Hannah, topped her Christmas list with a sewing machine, gift card to Hobby Lobby, and yarn.  It was easy shopping.

Next thing I know she shows me this:

Han first hat made

Look what I made, Mom.  Wow. Who knew?  I asked how she learned:  a video on YouTube.

Again, who knew?

Hannah kept making hats.  She made a set for my friend’s newborn twin girls…

Han twin hats

and she made one to match her Aunt Dawnna’s ski jacket.

Soon, the hats began piling up.  So, around Christmas, Hannah presented a plan to her dad and me:  I want to open a shop on Etsy.  I need to make money to buy more yarn to make more hats.

han 7 hats Han Navy hat w flower

Ok.  But, why do we need more hats?  (A natural question.)

I want to give them away to people at the homeless shelter, those who have lost hair because of cancer treatments, and others.  I plan to attach a verse of hope to the hat.  The more hats I sell, the more yarn I can buy, and the more hats I can make and give away. 

My first response?  You’re 12.  You can’t open an Etsy shop at age 12.  I didn’t exactly say this, but I hinted at it, (sadly) attempting to discourage her.  Then, my own words came back to me straight from my daughter’s mouth: Mom, you always say to dream God-sized dreams.  Not dreams we can accomplish on our own, but ones that God has to show up in and He gave me this idea.

Our family had just listened to this sermon from Perry Noble.  Perry talked about dreaming big according to His will as God has a reason and a plan for each of us.

And, Hannah is dreaming big. After six weeks of prayer and preparation, Hannah is ready to launch Hats for Hope.

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The hats she’s making now will go with me to Honduras in June.  She’s making them as chemo caps for those we will visit in the hospital.  This part of the plan came from my friend, Jen, who also gave Hannah her first yarn donation last night.

For now, Hannah’s not opening an Etsy shop.  She still plans to, and we’re working on it, but instead she’s asking for yarn for her 13th birthday.

In just a few weeks, Hannah will become a teenager, and in celebration she’d like to collect 1,300 skeins of yarn. Yes, 1,300.  She dreams big! I’ve not worked out where I’ll store the yarn yet, but it doesn’t matter.  God is working in my daughter’s heart, and she’s being obedient to His call. 

From Hannah:  I am excited to start Hats for Hope.  For my 13th birthday I hope to collect 1,300 skeins of yarn.  I want to make hats for the patients in Honduras and eventually those in local hospitals.  I still hope to have an Etsy shop some day, so I can make money to purchase my own yarn.  I love crocheting and sewing.  I am glad I can share my gift with others.  I am praying for the people who will get my hats.  I want to share hope with each person who gets a hat by sharing a Bible verse. If you’d like to donate yarn, please choose yarn that says soft or simply soft.  I want the hats to be comfortable and nice. Thank you!

If you’d like to join Hannah, please comment or email.  We’d be happy to share our address.  Hannah wants to start her own Hats for Hope blog too…but that’s another idea-slinging story for another day:)

The Greatest Love

Best gift ever?

val card

My husband wrote an acrostic poem in my Valentine’s Day Card!

A few of the letters…

V – Very.  I am very thankful for you and your unconditional love.

E – Engage. I like engaging in conversation with you.

I – Inspiration.  Your faith is an inspiration to me.

E – Excited.  Excited about where God is taking and going to take us!

I (obviously) left out a few letters.  You don’t really want to read that mushiness, do you?;)

I am thankful for my Valentine today as there have been a few “not-so-happy” Valentine’s Days in our 14 years of marriage.  Reading my husband’s card and listening to his heart, reminds me that our love is a gift from the one who is love.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8

And while the love Steve and I share is much less than perfect, God’s love for us is perfect…unconditional…forever.

His story is the greatest love story of all.

1 John 4:7-12  Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day today – and everyday – I pray you know He loves you.  He truly does.  I also pray you love one another for love is of God.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  (And if you’re curious why we celebrate this day, read about it here.  It’s interesting.)

Lent: Amazed and Altered

“Be amazed at who He is and be altered by what He commands.”

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I heard this on a podcast recently.  I stuck in my heart.

I asked myself, “Am I amazed at who He is?”  Yes! I can point to stories both in the bible and in my life that leave me speechless and amazed at all God has done, is doing, and promises to do.

“Am I altered by what He commands?”

My response was a hesitant “yes.”  I follow his commands. I pray and read His word.  I don’t steal, I love others, and I…

Did you notice all the I?  All that I do in regard to God’s commands?

God gently whispered to my heart you’ve got this all wrong.  I am not asking what you do or how you behave in response to my commands.  I am asking if you’re altered.

Do God’s commands alter me?  Not just my behavior, but my heart?  Am I being transformed from the inside out?  Or am I trying to transform from the outside in?

Tough questions, huh?

God kept bringing Romans 12 to mind…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conformto the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Verses 1-2)

Am I allowing God through His word, prayer, and Biblical teachers to renew my mind? The bottom line?  Am I truly relying on God or on self?  

I’ve relied on God completely in times of suffering, but as he healed me and circumstances changed, I began to take back the reins and rely on him less and less.  In a “typical” day, I spend more time in my own strength than his.

I’d continued to study his word – probably more than ever – I’d continued praying too. But somewhere along the way I slipped into my own efforts instead of His grace.

Thankfully this realization came in God’s perfect time: Just before the start of Lent.  I’ve never observed Lent.  I knew next to nothing about it, except “the season leading to Easter.”  Yet, as I read about Lent earlier this week, I knew God was leading me back to Him – to relying fully on and resting peacefully in Him.

Originally a preparation period for those desiring to be baptized, Lent eventually became embedded into Christian tradition as a season for the Church to symbolically follow Christ into the wilderness.  It is a time for fasting and self-denial, though not for denial itself.  It is  a period to empty ourselves of lesser things so that we might be filled with the greater things of the gospel…Celebrated each spring as the days begin to lengthen (the term Lent is from a Saxon word meaning “lengthen”), Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Sunday. from The Village Church

So, I am observing and engaging in Lent for the first time in my 37 years of life.  Starting today, I gave up diet soda, which may not seem like a big deal to you, but oh my word.  I drink at least a 2-liter a day.

That’s week one.  Each week, I plan to add another “fast” until Easter Sunday.  I am not sure what those will be, but I look forward to growing closer to God as I empty of self and worldly desires and fill with Him.

If you’d like to observe Lent, the Internet is full of helpful tools.  My husband and I are using a guide from the Village Church along with a YouVersion app.  (Search Lent, and you’ll have three options.)  We’re focusing on these biblical parallels:

  • The flood narrative in Genesis 6-8
  • The giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai in Exodus 24: 12-18
  • Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 19: 1-12
  • Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:9-12; and Luke 4: 1-13

If you’re giving up something for Lent with a desire to draw closer to God, I’d love for you to share.  If you’ve slipped away from relying on Him and into relying on self, let me know how I can pray for you.

Building a House

Do you remember the Sunday School song about the wise man and the foolish man?

The wise man built his house upon the rock, (repeat)

And the rains came tumbling down! 

 

The rains came down and the floods came up, (repeat)

And the house on the rock stood firm. 

 

The foolish man built his house upon the sand, (repeat)

And the rains came tumbling down! 

 

The rains came down and the floods came up, (repeat)

And the house on the sand went SPLAT! 

 

So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ, (repeat)

and the Blessings will come down. 

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I remember singing this with a group of kiddos.  They loved overemphasizing SPLAT!  (I did too!) And if the song’s stuck in your head now, sorry about that;)

I sang this song throughout my life, and I’ve always taken to heart “So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessings will come down.”

Jesus should be the foundation of all – your life, your family.  Build your house on Him and the blessings will come down.

But, recently, God’s been opening my eyes to the passage in Matthew 7 upon which this song is based:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7: 24-27

This passage comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount  – the longest sermon by Jesus in the Bible.  Before giving this illustration about house building, Jesus teaches about  murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, loving your enemies, being salt and light, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, treasures in heaven, loving others, worry, judging others, asking and seeking Him, and false prophets.

Whew!

So, in verse 24 when Jesus refers to “these words of mine,” he’s referring to the entire Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7 )

Everyone who hears Jesus’ teaching on these topics and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rains came down and the floods came up, the winds blew and beat against the house, yet it didn’t fall.   It’s foundation was rock solid.  It stood.

And then a warning from Jesus to those who hear his words but do NOT put them into practice:  He will be “like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”  The rain will come down, the floods will come up, the winds will blow, beating against the house, and the house will fall with a great crash.

You can build your life on Jesus, hearing and APPLYING his words or you can only hear and not apply.  The choice is yours.  But, be warned:  Storms will come, and when they do, the one built on Jesus will stand.  The one built on self will crash.

As I read this passage again and again, God also opened my eyes to some elements I’d never considered.

Storms, floods, and winds come upon on the wise and the foolish.  I don’t know how I missed this before.  In my mind, especially as a child, storms weren’t supposed to come to those who love Jesus.  After all, if I am hearing and applying all Jesus says about all those things…anger, worry, loving others…then I won’t be hit by storms.  The rains and beating winds won’t affect me. Wrong thinking.

Jesus says the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

The storms come to the wise and the foolish alike,  but those who build their foundation on Jesus – the rock – will stand firm in the storm, leaning on Jesus for help, and obeying his commands.

I also noticed that the wise and foolish “houses” might look similar on the outside.  When I pulled into my driveway today, I noticed I couldn’t see my home’s foundation. It’s buried below a beautiful brick exterior with a cute green front door.

There are five other houses in my neighborhood that look almost identical to mine.  They may have a different front door or driveway, but they mostly look the same.  Mine may be built on sand; another on rock.   We can’t know for sure which house is built on sand and which is on rock until the storms come.

So it is with us.  We hear sermon after sermon, read book after book, dressing ourselves up with biblical knowledge and memorized scripture.  We can attend church and lead groups.  Our “house” may certainly appear we have constructed it upon the rock.

But, we can’t construct our foundation on hearing and knowledge alone. While a great place to start, God’s word says…

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. James 1:22

Similar to the warning Jesus gives in Matthew 7:  26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

We must hear and practice his word, building our “houses” – our characters, our lives – upon Jesus.  We must seek Him always, knowing that a house that only “looks good” on the outside will not stand when the storms come.  It will crash and go SPLAT.

If you’ve constructed your “house” on sand or feel as if you’re moving away from the rock and to the sand, you can begin rebuilding today.  Then, when storms come – and they come for us all – you won’t crash.  You will stand firm in Him – the rock.

Celebrating My Husband’s Birthday

Today is my husband’s birthday.

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As I sat down to write him a letter for his birthday, my first inclination was to thank him for all he does.

He cares for our home and lawn.  He helps with laundry.  He cleans up after I cook.  He takes me on dates.  He is an amazing father to our children.  He supports our family, so I can stay at home and teach our children.

I could go on…

But then I realized…deep down, I am not as thankful for WHAT he does as I am thankful for WHO he is. 

I got home late last night after a weekend away with my daughter. I walked into a clean house with freshly-washed flannel sheets on our bed.  Am I thankful for that?  Yes!

But, as I began to compose the letter and reflected on who my husband is, I was more thankful for his heart than his acts of service.  

The heart that chose to love and serve me yesterday.

The heart that hugged his daughter, telling her he is proud of her for her accomplishments over the weekend.

The heart that took his son bowling and to a ping pong tournament while Hannah and I were away.

The heart that kissed me as I met him at the church for a Super Bowl party.

The heart that said I missed you.

The heart that prayed with me and read God’s word this morning over a big, birthday breakfast.

The heart that texted me this morning asking for prayer as he referees an impending divorce situation today.

The heart that prays with me, our daughter, and our son.

All of these actions reflect Steve’s heart – who he is and who Christ is growing him to be.  He loves, honors, and forgives.  He is humble and affectionate.  He seeks Christ and leads our family in seeking Christ.

I am thankful for WHO Steve is in Christ.  For most of our marriage, Steve didn’t know Christ.   He thought he did, but the moment Steve’s heart was truly awakened to Christ, Steve changed.  He felt he “knew” Christ.  His heart began transforming.

Our marriage has not been easy.  While some times were painful, today I celebrate the man Christ has transformed Steve into.  The marriage Christ has transformed by pouring grace and mercy on both of us.

And, I am reminded so it is with Christ.  He cares about our hearts. 

He cares about WHO we are much more than WHAT we do.  Christ wants a deep and loving relationship with us – like I want a deep and loving relationship with my husband.

Who does Christ want us to be?  People who love him and love others.

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22: 36-40

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4: 7-12

Simply, God loves us. It’s indescribable how deep and wide his love is for us. He loved us before we were born and sent His Son for our redemption.

And, when you love someone, you want his/her heart to be yours.  You want the other to love you as you love them.

God wants your heart to be His.

Then, acts of service will overflow out of that love, showing the love you have for the other.  Just as service shows faith in Christ and pours from our hearts to others because we love Him so much.

Today I celebrate my husband. Who he is in Christ, who he’s becoming, and what he does to demonstrate his love to Christ and to me.

Happy Birthday, Steve.