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.

Bible Epiphany

GGBlog

Do you ever read God’s Word and literally hug it? I do! About 6 years ago I gave myself permission to take the rest of my life to learn the Word of God. I’m not a bible scholar and as far as I can tell God is not calling me into full-time ministry, so I thought, whether I have a couple of days or another 70 years, why not go deep into God’s Word? Rather than rush through it or follow some plan that would put pressure on me to finish it – I would just take it one chapter, one day, at a time.

So here I am, 6 years (almost to the day) later that I started this blog and I started reading my bible at Genesis 1:1. I invited you on my journey back then, but after a short time, I felt convicted that I was making bible reading and blogging another box to be checked off of my daily to-do list. God clearly doesn’t want to be a “task”, He wants a relationship, so He showed me the opposite, “Remain in me and I will remain in you”. (John 15:4)

Confession: I have missed days and I have deviated from scripture to attend a bible study or five, but this is my marathon, not my sprint.

To date, I just finished up the book of Daniel and am well on my way into the depressing pages of Hosea. I think I may be on pace to be in the Genis Book of World Records for longest time taken to ever read the bible cover to cover. I googled it actually and there are some pretty hysterical records, and to be honest, I’m convinced that even the best bible scholar of today would still admit they have more to learn and it’s a book you can never put down. Here’s the bottom line, it’s not about how fast you read, it’s about knowing who God is. When you read the bible and spend focused time with God, un-rushed, and you can really absorb, even a mere glimpse of who God is, you hug Him, or at least the closest thing to Him, His written word.

My latest ah-ha is how much I wish I would have paid attention in history class. All of the historical significance that validates the accuracy of scripture is mind-blowing. Then, I always was under the belief that the bible was written in a timeline and in some sequential order; like the editions of encyclopedias. Oh – No – No! They are, in fact, written in perfect intertwined chronology. This makes it even more mind-blowing that the same facts that were witnessed and reported, where almost always written by complete strangers – who were not even related. *Poof goes my brain*.  For example. Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived at the same time, but never knew each other, yet what they write is 100% accurate from two completely different geographical locations and vantages points. God used them and their books are spot on – verified and validated by the other. I scratch my head, “How many times and how many ways can people be warned about their sin and idols and still neglect to acknowledge the one and only true God.” It hits a little too close to home, doesn’t it?

I pray that if you’ve read this far, that you adopt the same philosophy of committing your lifetime to knowing God and giving His Word a squeeze every now and then, in awe of who He is.

What Really Happens At Family Christian Stores?

GGBlog

If you’ve been following my blog you would know that I have been in a job search for almost 8 months. Until God reveals what he has planned for the next chapter of my career life,  I decided to take some of the financial burden off of my husband and get a part-time job. Not only to get out of the house, but to have a little income to buy gas, groceries and this year’s supply of girl scout cookies. Who can turn those little peddlers down?

I decided to apply for a part-time position my local Family Christian Store in Appleton, WI. They hired me despite the disclaimer that I was an active job seeker and was unsure if this would be a two week or two year commitment. They were also willing to uphold my uncompromising rule that I would NOT work Sundays. As a compromise, I agreed to help during the holiday season; “If” I was still there next year.

Much to my surprise, this store is so much more than a retail store; it’s a mission field, which is the exact reason why I want to write about my brief 3 month employment before the store closes in April 2017 and petition for the body of Christ to rally and invest to save your local Christian Gift Stores across the country. Please read on…

There has not been a day on the job that I haven’t cried. My first day, first DAY, a homeless man named Mark walked in our doors. Mark was shivering from the cold January air and humbly asked, “May I just sit here [on the folding chair that we had next to our imprint station] to warm my hands and toes?” He continues, “I missed the bus twice, it never even stopped and I need to get to the warming shelter before 5:00 PM ‘cuz if I don’t they will close the doors and I have nowhere to go tonight.” I tried to explain to Mark that he was close, really close, and if he would just go out our back door and take the street located behind us and he would be there – it would be a shortcut. He started to cry, “Ma’am, I’m not from here, I’m not sure where it is exactly.” Honestly, neither did I and I didn’t even know if the route I was recommending would actually take him there. A 4:15PM I called a cab. After paying the fee for the short 4 block delivery I realized that more than half of my earnings from my four hour shift would not only afford him a hot meal and a warm bed, but I could sleep that night knowing he would be okay (at least that night.) As if that wasn’t enough, while we waited for the cab to arrive, my associate gave him a bible (which I assume she paid for out of her pocket) and then she proceeded to pray with him. As I watched with amazement, I observed this dirty, scruffy, humble man sobbing and through his tears proclaiming, “I love Jesus, I love Jesus! Thank you!”

With each passing week more stories gripped my heart. Me, the unemployed corporate professional finds herself deleting job notifications, anxiously anticipating my next opportunity to serve the next broken heart that God would bring through those doors. A gambling addicted woman, a mom searching for the perfect gift to bring encouragement to her daughter who just delivered a stillborn baby. A father who tearfully searches for a book to encourage his wayward son, the mom who is seeking comfort from just learning her daughter has been sexually assaulted by her husband, she pleads, “I need her to be OK, she shutdown, I need to give her something that can help her.” A former convicted felon who found Jesus during his incarceration eagerly seeking a Christian CD by Zach Williams, “Chain Breaker” to play for the inmates he teaches in the local Jail Ministry. I will never listen to that song without thinking of him.

I prayed with women, emphasis WOMEN, with cancer and widows in their loneliness. I hugged veterans and prayed with numerous broken soldiers who suffering from PTSD and countless patrons who have been physically disabled from war, car accidents and workplace incidents. I fielded countless inquires in search of help for a prodigal son/daughter, a suicidal teenager, a rebellious teenager and an unfaithful spouse. People seeking how to face the hurt of an unequally yoked marriage, an emotionally abusive relationship and pornographic, alcoholic, drug addicted and eating disorder strongholds.

So here is my request:

Church – Wake up! I know you are a hospital for the broken, but your local Christian Store is the emergency room. Some of you have outreach ministries in food pantries, coffee shops and thrift stores, but seriously… when you have people who don’t even know what versions of the bible are and yet come to buy a bible because they want to start reading it is not your ordinary day in ministry!

Pastors – STOP COMPETING! I’m sure you have some statistics to measure your success whether it’s weekly attendance, percentage of giving or hearts surrendered to Christ, but we are the body! In the words of Casting Crowns,Why is His love not showing them there is a way?” Churches don’t have an open sign that welcomes people in. I know you welcome people on Sunday’s and I have referred many people and have coached them to muster up the courage to walk through your doors. We can be partners, we can be friends.

Christ Followers – Some of you really get it. You stop in for your greeting cards with scripture printed in it, buy those great theological reference materials, you buy the Jesus paraphernalia and home decor; you are an amazing witness to God’s redeeming power. But even Matthew 25: 40 says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Please consider what you can do if you fund, start up or contribute to your local bookstore? It’s missionary giving and if you are all up on current events you would know that there is no greater mission field than the United States of America today.

This world does not have a shortage of pain, nor does it have shortage of aggressive online competition, but if there is one brick and mortar store that I think we need to fight for it’s the local Christian store. At a minimum, please pray and if someone finds the passion to open a store or keep one open, will you please respond? This is an urgent request and I have a feeling that Appleton, Wisconsin isn’t the only store that has witnessed the great need.

I thought about creating a Go Fund Me Page because I hope that you will be so moved, but that feels self-serving to me. Instead, if you are in a community where a local Family Christian is closing, will you please unite. Your community, your churches and successful business leaders can do it! There is a local manager and employees that would be honored to serve you. We don’t do it for the money, Lord knows Family Christian significantly underpaid. We do it for the people, the lost, the broken, confused and hurting!

The last thing I can say is fight. The employees are going to be without jobs or already are. The Family Christian chain has already sold out to a liquidation store and the days are numbered. The time to act is now.

My favorite scene from watching Little House on the Prairie was when the whole church got up and marched singing,

“Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Christ, the royal master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle
See his banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.

Like a mighty army
Moves the Church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
Where the saints have trod.
We are not divided,
All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.”

 

Perspective

ggblog

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

ggblog

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.

No Strings Attached

puppeteer

Today’s Devotion: Leviticus 8

Simon says, “Hop on one foot.” Simon says, “Touch your toes.” – Close your eyes! (Gotcha!)

Do you remember the game? It gets me every time. When I first came into a relationship with Christ at age 32, this is what I felt like my relationship with God looked like. Gods says, “Do not lie.” God says, “Do not steal.” God says, “Honor your Mother and Father.” God says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” – Read your bible every day! (Oops!) The worst part – as a sinner – I blew them all.

Rule bound; as if the human race is a bunch of puppets on a string. I couldn’t understand free will because I didn’t feel like I had any. I had this new found comprehension of what a horrible, sin-filled, undeserving human that I was/am and was clinging to the rules to protect me.

In Leviticus, God gave them very specific instructions and they had to obey every word. Why? They weren’t covered by the blood of Jesus. During Aaron’s ordination, they were not be worthy of being called a Priest until they were fully consecrated. Consecration isn’t a promise to go out as a missionary or to do something else for the Lord. Consecration means to come to the Lord with empty hands and ask, “Lord, what will You have me to do?” He does the filling! That is consecration.

As we now know, the rules won’t get us into heaven. It takes something much more intangible… belief and faith. I shared with my 9th graders in Sunday School on Sunday, the longest distance to heaven is the twelve inches between your head and your heart. The head represents rules. Rules that we learn, follow, practice and sweat over. Your heart is about belief, humility, confession, forgiveness (of yourself and others) and faith that God literally sent His one and only son and belief in Him so we can have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

The day I figured this out, I was a tear-filled blubbering mess. My whole life I lived under the rules and rituals of religion, but finally understood what it mean to be a Christian; a true believer. In turn, we receive a writ of passage into heaven. Aaron was appointed by God to be the one who could approach God and be given the ability to bless the Iraelities and present offerings to God.

I’m so glad that we can go directly to God and have a relationship with him with no strings attached. No priests, intercessors, animal sacrifices, rules, turbans, robes, and alters. What freedom we are given through Christ and because of this we live our lives in obedience, not because of the rules that He gave us to follow, but because of our hearts desire to honor Him with our lives for the sacrifice He made for us.

Servant… In A Good Way!

Faith

In Genesis 24 we read that Abraham is getting up there in age and decides to send his servant to find a bride for Isaac. I see so many wishful parallels between my life as God’s servant and Abraham and his servant.

Abraham does not want to get a bride among the Canaanites where the people are given to idolatry and paganism, and so he sent his servant to his people, back in the land of Haran. I am impressed with the way the servant handles himself. First of all, it is evident that he does not want to disappoint Abraham. Abraham covers all basis, he even gives him a contingency plan in verse 8, “If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.”  Isn’t this like Jesus says in John 15:10, If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.?” He’s not saying, “If it doesn’t work out, abort my plan and do whatever you want.” God wants us to do his will and if we are unsuccessful, we need to go back to him, not try to force our own agenda.

Next, Abraham equipped his servant . He even went so far as to give the servant everything that he needed to improve his chances at a successful journey. I’m not sure how much camels cost back in that day, but this servant took ten of them. That’s giving this servant a significant advantage. God doesn’t send us on a journey that He doesn’t provide us with the proper tools we need to succeed. Hebrews 13:21, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

And then before the servant has a chance to speak to any potential candidates for Isaac’s bride he prays. Verse 12 he asks God, Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.” How many times do I get into a situation that I realize that the outcomes are bigger than I am. On several occasions I have had to stop, pause, and pray. It’s a beautiful picture of surrendering our will and motives to God’s will and His outcomes.

Next, I am humored by the fact that the servant prays an elaborate prayer, asking God that things will happen a specific way and then he doubts it. Have you ever done that? You pray for something, it happens just as you requested, and then you doubt? It’s as if “that was too easy” or “too good to be true,” so you go back to prayer and ask for further clarity? Admittedly, I have done that on more than one occasion. Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” 

Lastly, I love that Rebekah’s family recognizes that the servant is a man of God. I love that they can see that the servant is not just an average guy. This shows that his actions speak for themselves and his presence commands respect of a higher power. They didn’t see him pray before he spoke to Rebekah, nor did they hear the purpose of his journey until he was invited in for his foot washing and meal. There must have been something special about him that set him apart.

We all know people like this. There is something different about them. Sometimes we can’t put our finger on it, but we can just tell. Not only am I inspired by Rebekah and the servant, but I’m encouraged by the incredible God that we serve and how He is in every detail in this story. Just as he is found in every detail of ours. I think today’s message is a great reminder that he has a plan, He provides for our needs as we live to execute on that plan, and He will be revealed in us to those we interact with. It’s a beautiful story, and so is ours.