Monday Morning Meditation: It Takes Practice

I’ve been asked a few times by people, “How do you have peace/joy/hope in trials? How do you pray with faith with there’s no evidence to put your hope in? How do you keep smiling when things are difficult?”

The answer is simple but not easy.

Practice.

God, in His sovereign purpose, has given me plenty of opportunities to practice learning these truths. Or perhaps it’s just that I was crushed by my choices and my circumstances when I came to Christ that I couldn’t NOT practice these things.

It was do or die, literally. I had to cling to these promises of God as if my life depended on it – because it did.

After being asked about this again last week, this Scripture was read in church yesterday:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

I do not often hear these 2 verses quoted together. I don’t usually quote them together, but I should, because so often when I reference them, I’m sharing on our thought life. What I hear Paul saying is this: This isn’t easy and it won’t come naturally. It takes practice and hard work to fight against our old patterns of thinking and living.

Paul goes on to talk about how he has learned the secret to being content. God promises to teach us these things as we choose to walk in the truth of His Word, who He says He is, and what He has said He will do.

Why is this so hard for us? If we want to become skilled at something, we know it requires practice, whether it be cooking, knitting or running. If I want to run a race at a faster time than I previously have, I practice running at a certain pace, I do track work, and I cross-train. Why does it surprise us that this is also true for the Christian walk?

Stopwatch2

From WikiMedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stopwatch2.jpg

God has given me even more opportunities to practice these things with our recent move back to Massachusetts from Virginia. Moving all our stuff, my dad’s stuff, my children’s stuff, and our bodies (including my 6+ month pregnant self) is a major chore, and wow. So many things have gone wrong. It could make me question whether or not we made the right choice – but I’ve chosen not to do that. Given that I’m reading through the Old Testament right now, I can see parallels in the Israelites’ journey into the Promised Land. It wasn’t easy to begin with, and they made it much more difficult by complaining their way through. So I am trying to choose to pray and praise rather than complain and grumble. This is something I’ve practiced, and that practice is now coming in quite handy!

In today’s My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers discusses the Christian life being “gloriously difficult.”

God saves people by His sovereign grace through the atonement of Jesus, and “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). But we have to “work out” that salvation in our everyday, practical living (Philippians 2:12). If we will only start on the basis of His redemption to do what He commands, then we will find that we can do it. If we fail, it is because we have not yet put into practice what God has placed within us. But a crisis will reveal whether or not we have been putting it into practice. If we will obey the Spirit of God and practice in our physical life what God has placed within us by His Spirit, then when a crisis does come we will find that our own nature, as well as the grace of God, will stand by us.

This is quite similar to how I describe the freedom that is available in Christ. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but we need to learn to walk in that.

We need to put it into practice.

What discipline do you need to practice today? Is it joy? Contentment? Praying and praising no matter what?

Monday Morning Meditation: And All That is Within Me

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name. 103:1” Psalm

I have just finished 30 days of concentrated prayer, something that Mark Batterson suggests in The Circle Maker. I asked a few of my closest friends what they would like me to pray about for them, and prayed for those things most days. Somewhere in that process I was reminded of Psalm 103, and read that psalm out loud many of those days.

This psalm has special meaning to me. Long before I knew much about Jesus, I loved using the gifts He gave me. One gift He has given me is music. When I was a tormented high schooler, ostracized among my peers because of my sexuality, I auditioned for the musical, Godspell. I was given the part in the production that sang, “O Bless the Lord, My Soul,” a song based on Psalm 103.

During a time of turmoil, God gave me moments of peace among my musical peers and even my non-musical ones. We performed pieces of the musical in front of the whole school. From that moment on, I may not have been liked by some, but in my small town, they respected me because of my talent.

Godspell

Oh bless the Lord my soul!
His praise to thee proclaim!
And all that is within me join,
To bless His holy name!

God’s truth is still truth, no matter what its source or circumstance. Despite the fact that I didn’t know much about God, at this early age, God began to allow His truth to take root in my heart.

I auditioned again for another production of Godspell 5 years later at a theater company where my girlfriend worked. I was once again given the same role and sang the same song.

He will not always chide
He will with patience wait
His wrath is ever slow to rise
And ready to abate
Oh bless the Lord

Psalm 103 begins with self-directives. David sings (as psalms were sung) that he is to bless and praise the Lord with all that is within him.

As I have repeated this psalm many times in recent past, I recall the truth God began to weave into my soul decades ago. I am reminded of His faithfulness and sovereignty in a time when I did not recognize Him as Lord.

I also plainly see that there is much within me that does not bless Him at all: my complaining, my procrastination, my fear that paralyzes at times, my unloving and prideful attitude.

Oh bless the Lord my soul!
His mercies bear in mind!
Forget not all His benefits,
The Lord, to thee, is kind.

How would my life change if I were to choose to allow “all that is within me” to bless His holy name? No allowing the negative thoughts to take over my mind but instead, pressing my fears into God’s heart and choose to praise Him?

Take this thought with you for the week. Ask yourself: are my words, whether spoken or thought, allowing all that is within me to bless His holy name?

*Words in italics are from the song, O Bless The Lord My Soul, by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak.

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #6: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” by Mark Batterson

I finished my 6th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive when Opportunity Roars by Mark Batterson

This book was a little different because I actually listened to the audio version. Every month, Christianaudio.com has a free download. All you have to do is sign up for their email newsletter, and they will let you know what the free download of the month is. You go to the site, enter your email, and it downloads. This month, the free download is When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I’ve downloaded in the past The Hiding PlaceGod’s SmugglerGod is in the Manger, and quite a few others. You can’t beat free!

That said, I’m not sure I absorb as much from audio books as I do from actual hold-in-your-hands books. I also don’t absorb as much when I read on Kindle. Perhaps it’s because a hardcopy of a book is more conducive to taking notes and jotting things down in your journal.

The book was inspired by the following passage of Scripture:
2 Samuel 23:20 (NIV): “Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion.”

Notice he followed the lion into the pit.

The book addressed regret and risk-taking. Most people, at the end of their lives, do not regret the risks they took. They regret playing it safe. The book addresses risk-taking and overcoming some of the challenges that come along with it, such as adversity, doubt, and fear. It also discusses how to seize opportunities and overcome your concern with looking foolish.

One main thing I took away from this book is that most people never feel 100% sure that the risk they are about to take is the right choice. In a study Batterson quoted, most people only feel about 50% sure they are doing the right thing. That made me feel better!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! If the concept sounds intriguing, you can download the series of messages that the book is based on here.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #1: Learning to Walk in Freedom

I finished my first book for the #EmptyShelf challenge. It’s a fantastic book! You should really read it.

It’s called Learning to Walk in Freedom 🙂

LTWIF.front.cover

 

 

 

 

You can go ahead and laugh 🙂 I needed to read the proof that was mailed to me by the printer. This time, I wasn’t meticulously reading to find typos (hopefully, those have mostly been found!). I was reading to make sure everything looked good on the page.

I was reminded why I wrote this book and why I believe in it so strongly.

Here are some of my favorite moments. If you haven’t read it yet, now is the time to get yourself a copy!

I believe Scripture teaches that freedom is both a one-time gift and a process. The moment we come to Jesus Christ, He gives us freedom through the Holy Spirit, so that we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:17–18), but that freedom is something we need to learn to walk out in our lives.

 

If we expect a life free from temptation, then we expect to be more free than Jesus.

 

Free people do whatever it takes to become free and remain free. Whatever it takes. Jesus did whatever it took so we have the opportunity to learn to walk in freedom. He gave up everything as He hung from that cross, dying a criminal’s death, carrying the sin and the shame of the entire world on His back.

Monday Morning Meditation: Gratitude

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Choices conference in Hershey, PA with some ladies from my church.

Wow.

I was most excited to go to this because Sara Groves was going to be there.

From http://www.campforestsprings.org/blog/sara-groves-in-concert

She led worship at each session, and then she’d sing a couple of her songs after. It’s a surreal feeling to sit and listen to songs that you have memorized from listening to them in your room, in your car, on a run. Songs that have carried you through trials and victories, through post-partum depression and questions about whether God is really who He says He is. Songs that have walked with you through major marriage struggles, loved ones dying, songs that have run with you as you trample on child sex trafficking for 26.2 miles and all the training before.

Songs that have brought much healing to your life.

I sat through those songs at that conference, just grateful. My life with Jesus flashed before my tear-filled eyes, and I was once again amazed at all that He is and all that He has done.

Are you grateful today?

I’ve written a lot about gratitude here.  If this is something you struggle with, now is a good time to read some of those posts.

Lord, help us. Help us in the midst of grief and celebration to cultivate gratitude. Your Word implores us to rejoice always, and so help us to choose joy, to choose thankfulness. Keep our eyes open to all the things God has done and will continue to do. In the words of Sara Groves, “He’s always been faithful – He will be again.” Thank You, Jesus.

Pregnant with a Dream

A year ago yesterday, we started our lives in northern VA.

3 weeks later, my father passed away, and 2 weeks after that, we moved into a rented townhouse.

We still don’t have complete clarity as to why God brought us here, nor do we have steady employment. Despite that, I am still 100% convinced God is up to something amazing.

Sunset behind our home 2 days ago

How can I be so convinced?

Because I am pregnant. Not in the typical sense, though.

I am pregnant with a dream.

God has stirred something up in me, and I’m even more excited to see what our 2nd year here holds.

Above all else, I deeply trust Him.

I asked my 6 year-old son what he learned about in church today. He learned about the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the Promise Land. I asked him if they talked about the Jordan River being at flood stage, and what that meant for the Israelites – how scary that would be.

I blogged two and a half years ago about stepping into your Jordan. A year ago, we stepped into ours, trusting that the Promised Land was on the other side. We are still in the throes of labor, the flood stage, birthing this dream God has given us.

We are still waiting, still trusting. It’s been quite painful at times, but full of anticipation.

Thank You, Lord, for this adventure that is life with You!

What Jordan do you need to step into today? What frightening step do you need to take?

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Fitting Concentrated Study into a Busy Life

I have an occasional series in my blog entitled “Tools for the Journey.” Today, we’re talking about concentrated study.

Before I dive into this tool, I must mention how much God loves you. The God who spoke the universe into being loves you so much that He sent His Son down to earth as a man – to live as we live, to experience life as we have, and to even face the same temptations we face. That’s how important it was for this God to connect with you.

When I talk about studying or reading the Bible, often what we hear through our filter is, “I need to read the Bible to be a good Christian.” I hope today what you will hear instead is, “God loves me so much that He desires to connect with me all day, every day. One way I can connect with God is through His Word. There, I learn about His character, His promises and His heart for me.”

So, that said…..

I was recently listening to some teaching by Ian Green (he did some leadership training for Chi Alpha campus missionaries back around 2004, and then more recently at my church). He mentioned how, when he was younger, he took one night a week to spend concentrated time with God. He would read the Bible for 30 minutes, pray for 30 minutes, read a Christian book for 30 minutes, and then repeat.

I used to do something similar when I first became a Christian and wondered if I could somehow find a way to do this again. On a smaller scale 🙂

So for the last 2 weeks, I have been doing this in 10-minute increments. I read the Bible for 10 minutes, pray for 10 minutes, read a book for 10 minutes, and then repeat (if I have time). I set a timer on my phone for each increment, and keep my journal close by to jot down any thoughts. I use the prayer time to mostly pray for the needs of others. Sometimes, I send them a note of encouragement based on my prayers if I feel led to do so. This type of rotating study has been a welcome relief from the type of reading I normally do, which is much more academic.

You could also do this on a smaller scale. If you only have 10 minutes, you could do each segment for 3 minutes each. For your book reading, grab a devotional like My Utmost for His Highest, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (a favorite of mine, and only 99 cents for Kindle), or another I’ve been using lately, John Maxwell Daily Reader (a book my mentor Mike Olejarz gave me on the topic of personal and leadership development).

One of the warnings Ian Green gave is that when he began to set aside time for this purpose, all of a sudden, everyone wanted to visit him on that night. The phone would ring, and lots of things would cry out for his attention. He was living with his parents at the time, and simply told them to not interrupt him, no matter what.

It is easy to put our time with God as a secondary priority. There are other priorities that seem more immediate, more pressing (like little kids, dirty kitchens, incomplete work assignments). As we begin to be more purposeful about study and spending time with God, we need to guard that time. Block it off on your calendar. Ask for His grace and favor in getting that other stuff done as well. You will find the investment of time to be well worth it.

What methods do you use to make sure you get in your study time? 

Monday Morning Meditation: How Do You Start Your Day?

Good morning, Living Unveiled readers! I have a very important question for you.

How did you start your Monday?

Did it start it quietly soaking in God’s truth in prayer and Bible-reading?

Or did it begin with frantically grabbing something to eat as you ran out or pushed your kids out the door?

How your day begins sets the tone for hours to come.

I posted something on my Facebook page last week (have you “liked” my Facebook page yet?). I have been in the habit of almost-daily Bible reading for about a year now. This consistency is new for me. Recently, I thought I missed a few days due to work, etc. and had felt “off” as a result. I sat down to read that night, only to realize I had missed just one day. My heart is now so accustomed to the daily bread that every day missed impacts me.

I used to read the Bible regularly because that’s what good Christians do. I now recognize a difference in myself when I read the Bible, process it and pray through it, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

Have you consumed your daily bread today? 

Start your week with true humility. Dive into the Word and find out what your loving Father says about you. Read about all that Jesus died to give you. Soak in the Spirit’s presence. Ask God to fill you again.

For Freedom Friday this week, I’ll be sharing an exciting method I’ve been using to structure some of my study time. See you then!

Monday Morning Meditation: Every Day Can Be Easter

I’ve been reflecting this past weekend on the progression that occurred when Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected.

I really want to talk about that, but the focus of this post is:

Sunday came!

The tomb was empty!

No need to look for the living among the dead!

No more mourning! No more asking why!

A risen King! The fulfillment of prophecy!

These are all the things I thought this morning as I went for a short run, set out the Easter baskets, and drove to church.

Oh happy day! Jesus has risen!

Chains are broken
Shame has fallen
All my sins are gone!*

As I sat in church, I suddenly had the following thought:

Did you know that every day can be Easter day?

The good news of Jesus’ resurrection is good news every day.

Every day, we have access to the power that rose Christ from the dead (Eph 1:19-20).
Every day, we have new mercies available to us (Lam 3:22-23).
Every day, God is faithful, even when we are faithless (2 Tim 2:13).
Every day, God’s hope does not disappoint (Rom 5:5).

Every day, we have a choice to trust in God (Rom 15:13).

It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, or if you, like Peter, denied Christ 2 days ago. Even Jesus’ death, which on Saturday looked like the end of the story, did not define His future.

There is an opportunity in every day for resurrection, new life – for freedom.

Do you need a fresh start? Grab on to Jesus’ hand. Rest in Him. Trust in Him. Believe that He wants to lead you onto new paths (Prov 3:5-6) and into new places.

See, I am doing a new thing! 
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
I am making a way in the wilderness 
And streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19 (NIV) 

Do you think the tomb on Saturday looked like a wilderness and a wasteland? Well, guess what? Our God turns wastelands into streams and wildernesses into ways. He also turns Saturdays in the tomb into empty tombs on Easter.

Every day, we can go to the cross. It’s empty. Jesus is not there. But that cross represents power; there lies the hope of new life.

Every day, we have the opportunity to be resurrected (Rom 6:5). Seize it.

*”To the Cross” by Paul Baloche

Freedom Friday: Fourteen Years

It’s January 4th.

I saw the date several times today. I even wrote it on something and thought, That sounds important. 

I then took my littlest out with me to run errands. I just put a couple of CD’s in my car 2 days ago, the only 2 I could find (still nowhere near unpacked): Keith Green and Sara Groves.

Soon it came on:

There is nothing new
I could give to You
Just a life that’s torn
Waiting to be born

I Can’t Believe It.* The song I was listening to that week of January 4th 14 years ago when Jesus invaded my life.

Rivers overflow

Friends may come and go
But You’ve been by my side
With every tear I’ve cried
I don’t actually know the day Jesus grabbed ahold of my heart. It happened several times during the week of January 4th as I wrestled with the truth of who God says He is.
 
Oh, I can’t believe that You’d give everything for me
I can’t believe it, no, I can’t believe it, no, no
I know You never lied, and so it’s just my foolish pride

That I just won’t receive it,
It’s so hard to receive it in my heart 

And make the start with you

I just could not believe that someone would die for me. Who would do that? It doesn’t even make sense! But I desperately needed a fresh start. I was failing miserably at life, at relationships, at – well, most everything. I longed to believe that Jesus is who He says He is.

Help me, help me now
I just don’t know how
You know, I’ve been so alone
Please melt this heart of stone

There was no longer any question on that day in January of 1999 that I desperately needed Jesus.

I have a serious gap in pictures during that time, but here’s a gem from about 6 months later:

I still do need Him. There is nothing magical that happens at the moment of salvation (if you have a “moment,” yet it’s often a process) that makes us less reliant on God. If anything, I believe we become even more keenly aware, through the power of the Holy Spirit and our spiritual eyes being opened, that apart from Him, we really can do nothing.

Especially recently, I’m intimately and painfully aware of my weaknesses and failures and continual dependence on Him. I know the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:10, that when I am weak, I am strong in Him, but I don’t know if the power of that truth has been fully recognized in my soul, or embraced in my heart.

Yet when I shared with my dear husband why January 4th is significant, I got choked up. I know that I know that I know that Jesus has deeply transformed my heart and my life.  He continues to change me and set me free, one breath at a time.

And I continue to choose to trust Him. Trust that He is good, that He is my only hope. That He cares about me so deeply and passionately that His perfect will was for His only begotten Son to suffer, be crushed, punished, condemned, and to die so that I would not be punished or condemned, but may have peace and life till it overflows.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 (NLT)

Thank You, Jesus, for life. For breath. For a fresh start. For joy in my sadness, light in my darkness, truth in my confusion, peace in my anguish, sight in my blindness, hope in my desperation. For when I am weak, Your grace becomes sufficient, and then, I am strong.
 
Jesus, let’s go for at least 14 more!
*I much prefer this acoustic version of the song to the one that is typically played. It’s raw, it’s pure, it’s just Keith Green and his piano – how I like him best.