Hold Tight to Your Balloon

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“Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.” ~1 Timothy 6:12 NLT

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Have you ever been to a restaurant on kids’ night? There are some places that go all out! There are costumed characters, face painting, crafts, special desserts, and all kinds of mayhem designed to give kids a great time. One of the most common things you’ll see at a kids’ night is those bright, colorful floating beauties – latex balloons! It’s the first thing kids see when they enter and every parent’s joy. I have a distinct dislike of latex balloons and I’ll tell you why. First of all, as the parent of a child with severe allergies, I know the panic of swelling lips and a throat that’s closing up. While my child is not allergic to latex, I know it is a very serious allergy and pulling out an Epi-pen at dinner is not something any parent desires. Secondly, my mother told me one of those parenting horror stories where a child bit a latex balloon and it popped and flew down his throat, blocking his airway and causing him to turn blue. This terrified me as a new mom years ago and I’ve avoided latex balloons as a result. So, walking into a restaurant on kids’ night always gave me anxiety because my kids are just as mesmerized by those colorful, bouncing balls of air as the next kid. Sometimes I wondered if the free kids’ meals ($3.99 each) were worth the sad puppy dog eyes at the end of the night. Those sad looks are nothing, though, compared to the face of a child who lost his grip on the ribbon of his balloon in the parking lot and is now watching it float away. Talk about a mental breakdown! That’s why you hear parents telling their kids as they exit the restaurant, “hold it tight or it will float away!” Most of those kids have a death grip on those ribbons. That’s the picture that pops into my head when reading Paul’s passionate instructions for Timothy – a kid with a death grip on a latex balloon walking to the car after kids’ night.

Just like that kid, it’s up to us to hold tight to the eternal life to which God has called us. We have the tendency to take our eyes off Jesus – take our minds off of Him, really – when we should be holding tight to His promises and teaching. We end up in messy situations that we’d never be in if we kept our minds focused on the truth of God instead of the pleasures and worries of this world.

Back up to the first sentence in the verse and focus in on Paul’s powerful urging of Timothy to “fight the good fight for the true faith!” We so often forget that there is an enemy working against us as we go about our daily lives. We have to be aware and alert, fighting for the faith that God has given. We have to hold tight to the eternal life to which God has called us! This is not a drill! This is is serious. People constantly let the worries of this life consume them. Their minds and hearts become focused on the pain or sadness or frustration instead of the victory offered by Jesus. Sometimes people let the pleasures and fun times of life take their eyes off Jesus. Believe me, your enemy is seeking to destroy you in whatever way he can, whether it’s through pleasure or pain. Make no mistake, this is a fight you’re in and you have to put your fists up and be ready to defend yourself against those attacks.

How do you do that? You’re not fighting against a physical enemy, but often against a mindset or deep desires. You can’t physically punch lust or greed or depression! But you can annihilate them through worship of God, fervent prayer, declaring the Word of God, and talking about it with others who can build you up and pray for you.

I urge you, when you’re facing those moments of doubt or when you want to give up or give in, tighten your grip on the promise of eternal life! Press into your prayers with determination and believe that God will rescue you. Just like that kid with a death grip on his balloon, don’t let the enemy pull your hope or faith from you. Hold on tight and fight the good fight!

P.S. – Just so you know, my kids have lived full and happy lives without knowing the joy of bringing home a latex balloon from kids’ night. They have had many happy moments with mylar balloons, which float for weeks or even months sometimes, by the way.

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Complete Hope in Jesus

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“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” ~Ephesians 3:19

Have you ever experienced something you couldn’t explain? When something happens that touches your heart so deeply, there are simply no words? That is what the love of Jesus is like. I cannot fathom His love, His sacrifice. He allowed Himself to be beaten, humiliated, and killed, but He did nothing to deserve it. He could have, at any time, called on the angels of Heaven to rescue Him. Or He could have simply “slipped away” as He had so many times before when people were trying to harm Him. But He didn’t. He went along with it and allowed men to abuse and degrade Him. God Himself did this! The most powerful man in existence allowed this to happen so that we could be free from sin. There are no words to explain how that makes me feel. I could write and write for days and months and years and it could not fully communicate my gratitude, my amazement, my sorrow, or my shame at the thought of what Jesus did on the cross. There never has been and never will be a greater act of love committed for me. It truly is too great to understand.

Although I can never fully understand this amazing love of Christ, I can experience it. I have experienced it. I do experience it daily. And because I have felt the love of Christ, I AM MADE COMPLETE. That statement makes me pause. I am made complete by Jesus Christ. I can experience “all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” That is the greatest gift anyone could ever give me. We spend our lives feeling incomplete. We feel like failures. We feel like we haven’t done enough, seen enough, been enough. But the Scripture tells us that is wrong! If we have experienced the love of Christ – if we understand that He died to pay for our sin and free us from it – we will be made complete! We don’t need anything else!

This place of experiencing the love of Christ is where meaninglessness turns to a search for giving God glory. I know that I have felt a sense of meaninglessness in my life many times. Sometimes it still grabs a hold of my mind and heart and tells me I’m not good enough. I haven’t done enough. I will never be enough. But this Scripture tells me just the opposite of those lies. I am full of life and power granted to me by my Creator, my Savior, my Lord! If there is a longing in my heart to do something, I will do it for Him, with Him, and through Him. I will take those feelings of failure and disappointment and turn them into a gift for my Lord.

I’ll be honest with you, I have experienced such deep feelings of meaninglessness and failure at times that it has plunged me into deep pits of depression. There are longings in my heart that have never been realized, and if I stop to think on them, it can send me spiraling down into those pits where I begin to lose hope. And without hope, you cannot survive. My pastor once said you can go 2 weeks without food, 2 days without water, and 2 minutes without air, but you can only go about 2 seconds without hope. This Scripture gives me the hope I need so desperately in those times. I HAVE experienced the love of Christ, so I AM being made complete with all the fullness of life that comes from God.

Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice. Thank you, Jesus, that you have given me the gift that no one else could. Thank you, Jesus, for loving me at my very worst – knowing every thought, every sin, every mistake, and STILL laying down your life for this sinner. I can never fully understand it, but I absolutely embrace and receive it. I am yours. I am free. I am new. I am loved by the most powerful man to ever walk this earth. His name is Jesus.

Food for the Soul

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Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.” “Did someone bring him food while we were gone?” the disciples asked each other. Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” ~John 4:31-34

People like to throw around the newly-coined word “hangry” these days. It means a person is so hungry, they are starting to get angry. It’s a funny word that we often use jokingly, but I think it really says something about who we are and what’s really important to us. There are television networks completely dedicated to food. I see countless recipe videos filling my Facebook newsfeed every day. We plan our celebrations around food. When we need comfort, many of us turn to food. Most nights, the first question my family asks me at home is, “What’s for dinner?” It seems, based on the text above, that times weren’t all that different in Jesus’ day.
 
There’s Jesus, spending time with a wayward woman, leading her toward Salvation. Based on the disciples’ urging, we can assume it was probably well past mealtime. They were worried about Jesus’ stomach, but He was more concerned with the soul of this woman. He was more interested in doing the work the Father had given Him than feeding Himself. Did he feel hungry? Very likely. Did He let that get in the way of doing the work God had set before Him? Not remotely.
 
Have you ever been working so diligently on something that was really important to you that you forgot to eat? Isn’t that an amazing occurrence? As people who are normally so focused on the next thing we are going to eat, it’s amazing to me that it’s even possible. Imagine being so focused on connecting with God and serving Him that food became secondary, or even unnecessary – at least for a time. What joy you would feel in realizing that God gives us the ability to set aside the physical nourishment of this world in favor of the nourishment that comes from doing the will of God? What new joy would come as a result of that kind of obedience?

I urge you, friends, to set your mind on Jesus’ example for the duration of your fast. Place all your thoughts on Him. Serve Him with joy in knowing that God loves us so much more than we love food. Lose yourself in serving Him so diligently that you tune out that hunger for those “missing foods” in favor of a closer, more meaningful friendship with Jesus.

Praying & Pondering the New Year

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As I sat and prayed this morning, I talked with God and pondered the New Year ahead. It’s the first day of 2016 and I am filled with anticipation for great things to come! This is what God placed upon my heart for me in this coming year:

Be present, not preoccupied.

I spend much of my time thinking about what is coming next. When engaging in one task, I’m almost always thinking of what I need to do next, and after that, and after that. I’m often thinking about two or three different things at once. Most of what I do does not get my full attention and so things don’t get done as excellently as I plan. It is my hope that I will do all things with excellence, in honor of God. That includes my relationships, work tasks, and everything else I do. If I’m going to do those things with excellence, I have to give my full attention to whatever it is I’m doing at the time.

Be prepared, not in a panic.

I like to think I’m usually pretty well prepared, but there are times I procrastinate and then end up in a panic that could have easily been avoided. I’m working on using a planner to help me with this. I really want to think out my schedule and plan for what’s coming so I don’t ever get to a place of panic over what needs to be done or what’s coming next. I confess, my nightmares almost always include me having forgotten an appointment or event and having to pick things up on the fly. Not my strong suit!

Be in prayer.

Prayer isn’t easy for me. As I said before, I’m often thinking of what’s coming next instead of focusing on the task at hand. This is especially true for me regarding prayer. I’m asking God to help me with truly being still and knowing that He is God. I am asking for a quietness in my spirit when I seek Him, so I can hear from Him and not be distracted by the rest of my life. I spend an awful lot of time talking to God, but very little time comparatively listening in prayer. I want to hear from Him. I need to hear from Him.

Be purposeful.

I can be a really good time-waster. I can seriously sit down and watch 4 hours of Food Network without batting an eye. I can scroll on facebook for an hour and not even realize how long it’s been. I can play games on my phone and get through 10 levels in one day, easy. Those are really not the best use of my time. Is there anything wrong with watching television, scrolling through facebook, or playing games? No, but I spend an inordinate amount of time doing those things. And I need to be better about it. I want to be purposeful with my time. It’s a gift from God and I need to use it more wisely.

Pursue your passions.

There are passions that live in my heart that have been continually put aside for various reasons. Sometimes it’s fear of failure that keeps me from moving forward. Sometimes it’s work or family. Sometimes it’s just the unwillingness to put forth the effort to make things happen. My pastor once told me a story that comes to mind regarding this. He was attending a writers’ conference where the speaker asked for people who felt their passion to write came from God to raise their hands. He then told them that if they were not pursuing that passion that they were disobeying God – actually sinning against God. That is a strong statement that has hit me between the eyes. There are things that I know I’m supposed to do that I haven’t done. I have to pursue these passions in honor of God.

So, that is basically what I feel God is sharing with me about what He wants from me in the coming year. I’ll be given 24 hours in each day and I’m accountable for what I do with it! I urge you to pray and ask God what He wants from you in 2016. Let me know what He speaks to your heart by commenting here.

Love > Knowledge

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I love to learn about the culture of biblical times. It helps so much when reading Scripture. We are so far removed from the culture of that time that we can’t fully grasp a lot of what is offered in the Bible if we don’t at least have some understanding of their culture. Sometimes I really like to blow people’s minds with things I’ve learned. These little facts and tidbits are so interesting to me that sometimes I wonder if I come off as a know-it-all as I speak of them.

When I read the second half of 1 Corinthians 8:1 in my morning devotion today, it hit me that sometimes people really don’t need to know anything about what the Bible says. They need to be hugged, fed, housed, clothed, and comforted. They need to feel the arms of Jesus surrounding them, not me telling them the significance of something someone did 2,000 years ago. There is a time for teaching people and there is a time for loving people. Honestly, the time for loving people is a lot longer than the time for teaching. No matter how much we may know – or think we know – that knowledge is no substitute for love.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Scripture and I love learning new things about it, memorizing it, and just knowing it as well as I possibly can. It’s important and I should be telling people about it. But if my knowledge surpasses my capacity to love people in Jesus’ name, then all that stuff I know about is worthless.

St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” I don’t know if he really said this, but it’s an awful good motto to follow. How will you love someone today? If all you can do is give a hug, please do it. If you can spare an hour to talk with someone who desperately needs an ear, please do that. If you can pray for someone quietly, without any recognition or praise over it, do it. Just think of all the little things you could do today without saying one wise word to anyone!

Hawaiian Meatballs and Rice

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This is such a quick, tasty meal!

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Ingredients:
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 cup sugar snap peas, cut up
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 tablespoons cold water, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large can pineapple chunks, reserve juice
12-16 meatballs
3 cups white rice, prepared

Heat oil on medium/high and saute onion and peas until tender. Add salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. Add juice from pineapple can and brown sugar, bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
Mix 1 tablespoon water with corn starch and add to sauce, stirring to incorporate. Lower burner to medium/low and add Worcestershire sauce.

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Add pineapple chunks and meatballs to cast iron skillet on medium high heat. Stir pineapples and meatballs to brown and heat through. Add 1 tablespoon water to pan to loosen any brown bits.

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Add meatballs and pineapples to sauce.

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Spoon over rice and enjoy!

Psalm 23 from My Heart

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“The lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the lord forever.” ~Psalm 23 (NLT)

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We have all heard the 23rd Psalm read aloud. It is a beautiful picture of God’s love for us. Not everyone can relate to seeing God as a shepherd because sheep herding is not something we are familiar with like the people of David’s time were. As I read it this morning, I thought of a rewriting of it in my mind. Here, I’ll share it with you. This isn’t me disrespecting or changing the Word, but just trying to put modern meaning to a beautiful passage in God’s Word. So, here it is:

God is my protector and my guide; He continually makes sure that I have everything I need. He brings me rest when I need it, refreshing my soul with His goodness when I am tired or overwhelmed. When I’m weak with the worries of this life, He fills me with new strength. God always shows me the right way to go, proving to me again and again that He is so good. Even during those times when I feel consumed by darkness and despair, I know I don’t have to be afraid because God is right there with me. He keeps me safe from people and situations that would harm me and guides me along in those times when I can’t see which way I should go. God blesses and takes care of me right in front people who are watching and hoping I will fail. I know that God is going to continue loving me with His amazing love for the rest of my life because He is so very good. I know that I have Heaven to look forward to where I will be with my amazing Father for all of eternity.

Again, I just want to be clear that I am not rewriting or taking anything away from God’s Word. It is beautiful just as it is. I just wrote down what my heart heard as I read Psalm 23.

There is deeper meaning in this passage if you know anything about herding sheep. If you want to know more about it, pick up a copy of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. It really brings a whole new perspective for those of us unfamiliar with shepherding.