An Extra Seat At The Table

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I crack open my bible to the book of Matthew this morning and in reading chapter 21, I read about Jesus’ triumphal entry on a donkey. Prophecy is being fulfilled, he’s revealing himself as more than a prophet, he’s a King! It’s purely awesome. Being “just” Thanksgiving today this story hits me – Where is Jesus today?  Christmas is flashy with the lights, trees, nativity scenes and stockings hung by the chimney with care. Easter gets the bunny and eggs and pastel decor and the remembrance of the cross and crown of thorns, but thanksgiving is nothing religious per se; it’s just a day of food and family and a lot of it. Granted, we do – and should – pause and give thanks by counting our blessings. I, for one, actually do an mental inventory of all that I am thankful for, but where is Jesus?

Of course he’s here. He’s always here, but do we make a place for him at the table? Do we invite him to fellowship with us and make this day Jesus centered?  We should! Yes I am thankful for a roof over my head, good health, a closet full of clothes, running water, beautiful children and adorable dogs, but all of this pails in comparison to what Jesus did on the cross for you and me. My sins have been abolished, I am given the assurance that I will spend eternity in heaven with him AND above all, He died for me.  My sin caused separation from a perfect and Holy God, He took it all onto himself and died. I’m so undeserving and today of all days I cannot take that for granted.

So I pledge, as I sit at the table today, I will pull up an extra chair to honor Him and to make Him a part of my Thanksgiving day. Today is an important and significant day to say thank you to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 107

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
    from east and west, from north and south.

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
    and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
    they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
16 for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron.

17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
18 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings
    and tell of his works with songs of joy.

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
    they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
    his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
    that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
    in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
    they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea[b] were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
    and praise him in the council of the elders.

33 He turned rivers into a desert,
    flowing springs into thirsty ground,
34 and fruitful land into a salt waste,
    because of the wickedness of those who lived there.
35 He turned the desert into pools of water
    and the parched ground into flowing springs;
36 there he brought the hungry to live,
    and they founded a city where they could settle.
37 They sowed fields and planted vineyards
    that yielded a fruitful harvest;
38 he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,
    and he did not let their herds diminish.

39 Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled
    by oppression, calamity and sorrow;
40 he who pours contempt on nobles
    made them wander in a trackless waste.
41 But he lifted the needy out of their affliction
    and increased their families like flocks.
42 The upright see and rejoice,
    but all the wicked shut their mouths.

43 Let the one who is wise heed these things
    and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

 

 

 

5 Ways You Are Growing Spiritually

Woman hand in jail

Upon finishing an hour of women’s bible study at the local county jail, I got in my car, rested my forehead on my steering wheel and reminded myself to breathe. My heart was heavy as my mind replayed all of the conversations from the past hour and each woman’s face returned to my mind. With a huge sigh I silently prayed, “Lord, let them have ears to hear what You needed them to hear.”

Then my thoughts shift to, “Did I say the right thing?”, “I should have told them…”, and “Oh no! I completely forgot to say…”.

“STOP! What am I doing?” I then realized that I am pridefully limiting God. It’s like I have a Doctor Jekyll – Mr. Hyde conversation quarreling in my head. Regardless of what I should have, could have and might have said, God can use it; I have a confident faith that he will use it, but Satan certainly wants me to feel defeated and stop this jail ministry non-sense, trying to convince me that it’s a fruitless waste of time.

It’s a battle of the mind and I consciously have to take my thoughts captive and cancel out negativity, redirecting my critical heart to prayer, “Lord, I know you were there and whatever I did right use it for your glory, whatever I inadvertently excluded, give them a hunger and a thirst for your truth.”

Why is this a big deal? To be transparent, my love language is affirmation. If there is one place on this earth that you won’t get a pat on the back or an “Atta girl” for doing a good job – it’s jail. As I drove away, continuing to mentally duke it out, I felt a peace come over me; a peace in the confidence that God’s word spoken in that hour were seeds that God can use to grow. Claiming victory in this head conversation made me realize that I have grown Spiritually and I thought I would share this and other observable spiritual growth examples with you.

  1. God Fills The Gaps

This is progress for me. For so many years I gave myself a report card on my performance (for everything) and I inevitably came up short every time. Sure it earned me an impressive resume, some level of popularity and a cocky confidence that all of my combined achievements would somehow impress God because I was diligently using all the talents that He gave me and achieved certain levels of success. I now know that it was unimpressive to God. God created me a workman for His good works (Ephesians 2:10), not the other way around. When I was in achievement, advancement and self-improvement mode, what I was really doing was idolizing the world; chasing after false gods and ultimately building a pedestal that only esteemed me, not God. Oh how I used all of this ambition and missed the whole point. Yet, he used these things (success, achievement, accolades and rewards) as a way to show me that my way only reaps discontentment, burn-out and defeat. There is a gap between my ability and His and I now recognize that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

2. It’s Not About Me

Any control freaks out there? I’m a recovering control freak thanks to Christ. I have come to realize that not only can’t I control everything, but when I do try I am just getting in God’s way. God gave us His Word with instructions on how to live. If I try to create an outcome or impose what I think is best for the situation, that now sends me a red flag. If I force my kids to play a certain sport, instrument or take certain classes because I think it will help them get better grades, earn scholarships or help them get admitted to a better college – I’m causing interference in God’s plan. He knows what is best for them and if I trust Him (like I tell Him and others that I do), then I need to pray for my kids, but I shouldn’t tell God what “I think” is best for them. In the end, I don’t know God’s big and mighty and sovereign plan for their lives and chances are whatever He’s up to is going to be 10x better than I could ever ask for or imagine.

3. God uses ordinary people

If we collected the resumes of the twelve disciples we would realize they didn’t “qualify” to be in Jesus’ inner circle. Truth is, neither are we. That is what is so beautiful. If we bring Him our whole heart and let Him do the work; on us, in us and through us. What has truly baffled me lately is how many people and situations God has placed me in now that I surrender my will. I see ways to serve people EVERYWHERE. At the grocery store, at church, at work, on the streets and in my neighborhood. I just have to make myself available for Him to do His work. John MacArthur, in his 6/26/2017 sermon titled, “The Necessary Components of Saving Faith”, he says, “The longer I’ve been a Christian the more I realize that I don’t do anything for the Lord. I not only don’t do anything for the Lord, but I can’t do anything for the Lord and the wonder of wonders is that the Lord can do what he does through ME!” Me! That statement completely turns my idea of service for God upside down, or should I say right side up?

4. Stop the Stinkin’ Thinkin’

God’s plans are not our plans (Isaiah 55:8) and sometimes I find myself feeling a bit defeated when outcomes don’t happen the way I expect them to or (maybe worst) has fast as I expect them to happen. I am a happy person by nature, but I have to admit, if you could spend even an hour in my head you would be shocked at the negativity. It’s grumbling mostly. Thoughts of hating my clothes, wishing the kids would put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher, or questions like, “Why can’t they… [fill in the blank].” Because of scripture, I can re-think these thoughts and put them into a healthier, more positive, perspective. Thoughts of blessings for the roof over my head, clothes in my closet and a wash machine to keep them clean. Instead of wishing for my kids to be responsible enough to clean up after themselves, praising God for good health, the ability to serve them and knowing I’m honoring God by not nagging and complaining about it. Then the question elimination. If I find myself asking why questions for things that are not done, are inconvenient for me or causes me to search for answers that only God really knows, I just submit and accept that the why comes back to why I would want it or expect it to be another way. If they don’t want a clean house, but I do, guess who can take the steps to keep a clean house? Me! So if it’s important to me, I can just do it and feel like it’s my act of service, demonstrating my love for them.

5. I’m Not a Prisoner to Satan

He made me perfect. What artist shows up to an easel an plans to do a mediocre job? Not one. Artists show up to create a masterpiece and that is exactly what God did when he created us, but Satan doesn’t want us to believe that. He fills our minds with self-doubt and plants lies. Those ladies in the jail that I minister to may be behind bars, but the devil entraps us in a prison cell of our own. Bondage to never having enough, being enough, making enough or anything enough. BUT WE ARE! God says that he knows every hair on our head and in Ephesians 1:11-12 Paul writes, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

It doesn’t get any better than that my friends. It doesn’t get any better than that.

His truth produces growth, transformation of character, renewing of our minds and strength to overcome. So read, grow and see that the more you love Jesus, the more clear and content you will be.

To The God Girls In My Life

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Sing it with me, “We are family, I got all my sisters with me.” I’ll spare you the rest because I have no intentions of making this about Sister Sledge or worse, getting this catchy lyric stuck in your head. However, I do wish to recognize that today was a day that I particularly appreciated having my sister’s in Christ alongside of me and for those of you reading this, I want to remind you of what a beautiful gift God has given to us in our godly girlfriends; read on…

The best part about a life surrendered to Christ is that God gives us this amazing peace and if we keep our eyes on Christ, it is truly amazing how it can seem as if our world is falling apart, but there is still the assurance that God is sovereign over it all.

I say “if we keep your eyes on Christ” because it is so easy to take our eyes off of Christ as the apostle Peter shows us in Matthew 14, Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Are you getting this? The dude was walking on water, but when his eyes started to look around at his circumstances, he sank!

In truth, that was me this morning. I was having one of those heart-to-heart’s with God on my morning commute. I started out pretty well, but instead of telling God all the things that I am thankful for and focusing on all the blessings that are so overwhelmingly evident in my life, I adopted the “wandering in the desert like an complaining Israelite” attitude instead, and starting whining about “stuff.” By the time I got to my first meeting, my attitude changed from gratitude and joy, to discontentment and discouragement. Of course I walked into my meeting imposing all of my woe’s onto the first set of ears that could hear. “Oh wretched man that I am”, to quote the apostle Paul in Romans 7:24.

Fortunately, my meeting was a group of strong, God-loving women and they could tell I was metaphorically drowning and guest what they did? They prayed! Not only did they pray, but they prayed in a way that helped me get re-centered on truth and put my head back on straight. It is so beautiful to have that kind of acceptance, support, love, encouragement and concern without judgement and rejection.

Solid, Godly, Christian friends are like medicine to the soul. Thank you Sonia, Trish and Heidi for being there and putting my eyes back on God where they needed to be.

 

 

 

Perspective

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Over the past year my life has been taken a detour. I started the year with a great job, in a great company and thought I had a promising future. As I begin the new year I am filled with hope of finding a new job and am wrestling with that mid-life question, “What am I going to be when I grow up?”

I thought I had it figured out, but HA! God obviously has a better idea. He just hasn’t clued me in on what that is yet.

If you are a student of God’s Word you know about detours. One of my favorite characters and stories, is Joseph’s. The poor guy was sold to be a slave by his brothers, was falsely accused of raping Potiphar’s wife, was then thrown in prison, then forgotten (for two years) and when he was finally remembered, he was summoned because Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dream and FINALLY he is  promoted and put in charge of Egypt. Talk about the most ironic turn of events and most unexpected outcome…  that’s not even the end of the story. Unbelievable!

There are many stories in the bible that prove that life is unpredictable and the best part is… they bring us hope in our circumstances. God also gives us confidence that He will make all things work for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

But here’s the thing, detours take us down roads we otherwise would not travel. Especially in our fast-paced world when our google maps (career, relationships, fast-food etc…) take us on the fastest route from point A to point B; we miss out on so much.

A couple weeks ago, my daughter and I found ourselves on a literal detour. We had the opportunity to see things we never would have otherwise seen. We also learned that it may have taken us longer to get to our destination, but we got to enjoy more time in the car enjoying conversation.

I’m not sure where this journey will take me and I’m not sure how long it will take before I see God’s plan revealed, but I am so grateful to have been given this time. Time with my family and the dedicated time needed to train a new puppy in our home. With each passing week I am getting the opportunity to catch up with people that I miss and friends I have not been able to stay in touch with. Not to mention, the pleasure of having quality time in my bible and uninterrupted, focused prayer time. I get to sit and read books, schedule middle of the day work-outs and increase opportunities to volunteer in my community and church. I see blessings everywhere and every day. With that great job that I had a year ago, I was missing out. Missing out on some pretty neat things.

So if you are on a detour – be encouraged, not discouraged. God allows detours, He has a plan for it, He is in it  and He will most certainly be on the other side of it. It will not last forever and while your waiting, seek Him with all of your heart. It brings you peace that surpasses all understanding and is a gift to be embraced.

Holiday Havoc

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If you are ridden with anxiety as Christmas events begin, I want to point you to a convicting story and remind you (and me) of those heart cutting words of Jesus in Luke 10:42, “but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

In this scene Martha, Mary’s sister, is frantically stressing out over the preparations and there’s little Mary, distracted and sitting around at Jesus’ feet. Martha pipes up, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Allow me recite the voices in my head… [Insert whiny voice]… “How come you guys are sitting around watching that dumb football game when I’m stuck with all the cooking, cleaning, serving and garbage removal. How come for the past month I’m the one doing all the shopping, gift wrapping, tree decorating and cookie making?”

Yep, that’s me. Embarrassing isn’t it? I imagine God sitting on His mighty throne shaking His head. “Oh Sarah, when are you going to learn?”

So, just as God is God, he shows up in scripture at just the right time to remind me about what is important and how He wants me to conduct myself today and every day.  Which one of these verses speaks to you?

Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Jeremiah 4:18 ““Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!”

Galatians 6:4 “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,”

1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

Titus 1:16 “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”

So if you needed to hear this, as I did today, I hope that you and I will remember that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, God’s son. God did not send His son to increase our stress, turn us into nagging, selfish, crabby wives and mothers. On the contrary, He wants us to mimic the thoughts, words, actions and deeds of Jesus so we can bring glory to him today and be a blessing. Let’s pass this chaotic Christmas finish-line with joy in our hearts, love in our actions and kindness on our lips.

Where’s That Christian?

Blend in the crowd

Today’s Devotion: Numbers 31

This world is not our home. It’s our station; our station for Christ. We are here for a short time to do the work of the LORD. As believers, with lives that are completely surrendered to God, He has a purpose for our lives and we are here to fulfill that purpose. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone says to me, “You deserve to be happy.”

My response, “No, I don’t.” God deserves the glory and my happiness will never be fully attained on this side of heaven. It’s impossible; we’re greedy, selfish, prideful, gluttonous sinners. If we are truly happy, it’s from our ability to have fulfillment in this world and that, at best, is temporary. Ray Stedman says in his blog, Authentic Christianity, “Happiness is liking the present moment because it pleases us.”

Even King Solomon in all of his splendor was granted everything a human could ever possess and he declares it all meaningless. (Ecclesiates 1:2) His ask of God was for wisdom, something money can’t buy. Why? It was the best gift he could possess and gave him answers to some of life’s tough questions. As a result, through his wisdom realized this world is temporary, unfulfilling and exhausting.

Numbers 31:15-16 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them.They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the LORD in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people.”

There was a great problem with the children of Israel. God had taken them out of Egypt in one night. But it took God forty years to get Egypt out of them. And even now, after they had been tricked into idolatry through the advice of Balaam to the Midianites, they still bring the Midianite women into their camp. That is the problem with worldliness. It is not wrong for us to be in the world—that is where God has placed us—the great issue is whether the world is in us, in our hearts and lives.

This is a call-out for us this morning. A chance to realize whether or not we are truly of God or of the world. Does the world see us differently or just “another one of the guys?” Do we stand out in a crowd? Do people look for us like “Where’s Waldo” because they know we’re there somewhere?

We are set apart to be God’s people and today is our day to look, act, and live like we are His own.

Christian Yoga Is An Oxymoron

550px-Sunset-Yoga

1 Corinthians 6:12

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

I have been struggling with the practice of doing Yoga as a Christian. As of today I have completed 8 consecutive days of Yoga and I’m already seeing some benefits; namely more energy, restful sleep, and the elimination of a few unwanted pounds. (BONUS!) I don’t think I will attribute these things exclusively to Yoga, but all things considered, there is no doubt that Yoga has fitness benefits. If there were a Christian alternative, I would unquestionably prefer it because I’m torn as to whether or not Yoga is really OK for anyone who professes to follow Christ? Could my unrest be the Holy Spirit prompting me to “STAY AWAY” or warning me to “TAKE CAUTION?” Whichever it is, I’m not comfortable and need a deeper understanding.

There is no question that this is a controversial subject. I have asked around my Christian circles in seeking wise council (Proverbs 15:22) and I have read numerous articles, blogs, and web resources; which have only added to the confusion. Some say it’s fine as long as I keep my focus on Christ and that I already know. Since my first class I have always been intentional about that by changing  the words. For example: When they say, “Namaste,” I say, “In Jesus Name.” When they lay quietly to meditate, I pray!  Most often for my fellow classmates – especially the instructor. But who am I kidding? I don’t go to Yoga for prayer, meditation OR a more grounded sense of who I am. I go to exercise…. that’s it… to work-out, sweat, stretch, increase mobility, toning, and to stay or be fit! Because of the creepy Ohm’s, sun salutations, terminology, and hyper-smiley Buddha statue, my mind is purposefully redirected toward prayer, Christ, and God.

I’ve found some peace in believing that I am truly living out 2 Corinthians 10:5b stating, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” My thoughts are most certainly centered on Christ throughout the duration of each class. Maybe that’s a good thing? Considering other work-out venues of a more club-like nature, I get a clear picture of just how lost, sinful, broken, and deprived this world really is. Between the most vulgar music lyrics, heightened egos, uncensored language, and tempers firing  – it’s much more tolerable to go through the motions of poses, bows, and binds.

But then there’s another side of the story. My greatest struggle and question is, “What example am I setting for those who know me as a follower of Christ that see me participating in something that is rooted in the traditions of Hinduism?” This can be easily misconstrued as something that I endorse as being permissible for Christians and that is not what I believe at all. If I’m confused, but my actions imply otherwise, I could be causing a brother (or sister) in Christ to stumble (1 John 2:10). In addition, Philippians 4:8-9 says, “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.” If this was my Yoga litmus test, I believe it would fail the test.

So if God’s Word is the authority and scripture has evidence to support that we [Christians] should NOT participate, then it’s a no brainier, right? In 1 Timothy 6:11-12, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

To offer a counterpoint in favor of Yoga, how about 1 Corinthians 6:19? “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own”. If I have God in me and I am His… how can this be a threat? I have always tried to exercise with the awareness that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but this whole spiritual regime takes “temple of the Holy Spirit” to a whole new level for me. It’s practically literal in a way.

Those who vehemently oppose Christians participating in Yoga say that Yoga is so deeply embedded into the spiritual realm that it is impossible to separate Christianity from the cult practice that it is. If this is true, that would mean that Yoga would be similar to playing with a Ouija board in denial that ‘it’ would or could do harm. So to this example I have to agree that we should NOT be messing with it.

So the question remains, “To DO or NOT do Yoga?” Whatever the ‘right’ answer is, I trust that God knows my heart. He knows I’m not trying to make an idol out of it, nor am I seeking some alternative realm to fulfill my unconscious needs. For now I’m going to continue my study into God’s Word and seek the answer that God ultimately teaches me.

For the readers of this blog, I would value your insights on this. Ideally with a scriptural reference that will help us all learn together. Trust me, there are plenty of opinions to be found through Google, but being guided by God’s Word is more reliable. In the meantime, I will be discerning and continue to make my Yoga practice be representative of my faith. Never know… God might use this to make a Kingdom impact for His glory.