Day 1: The Gratefulness Challenge

I am challenging myself to write a short post each day of this Christmas season. You can read about my reasons why by clicking the link below:

https://seekingeverydayencounters.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/may-we-see-the-importance-of-time-with-you/

Day 1:

I was convicted and inspired in church this morning to be more grateful for the grace that God has poured out on me. I deserve nothing but death and hell, but by God’s unfathomable grace and mercy, He has given me eternal life in His Son, Jesus. Yet, all too often I choose to see what I don’t have instead of the eternal gifts that I do have. So, this Christmas season my family is embarking on a gratefulness challenge. For every complaint we make, we must then give a praise. For example, when if I complain about traffic; I would then turn that around and praise God for the car He has given us.

We want to praise Him often for the grace and life we have been given. During this Advent season, my hope is that we spend more time praising God for the priceless gift of Jesus, then we do anything else.

Anyone want to join us in our gratefulness challenge? And if you happen to hear me complain about something, please call me on it and remind me to give a praise 😉

May we SEE the importance of time with You

Time. There never seems to be enough of it. It often goes by way too fast, or sometimes it seems to stand still. So much of it is wasted on things that just don’t matter.

Time. Both my enemy and my friend. As my enemy, time passes too quickly, stealing moments that I will never get back: my baby’s chubby little legs toddling toward me to plant a open mouth kiss on my cheek, my twenty-year old in shape body, the newness and excitement of first falling in love. And yet, time is often my friend as it heals wounds, both physical and emotional; as I spend precious time with my family; and as I bask in the glow of my time with the God I love.

This Christmas season, I want to honor God with my time. I want to surrender “my” time for “His” time. Over this past Thanksgiving week, I found myself enjoying time off and time away from the normal routine, but unfortunately, I also found myself spending too much time away from God. My devotional time was sacrificed for a few extra hours of sleep, my quiet time with the Lord was spent searching for black Friday deals. He was always there, and I was aware of Him in the background, but shouldn’t the King of the Universe be in the foreground of my mind at all times?

As my vacation week comes to an end, I look back and see that I spent a lot of time relaxing away from the normal routine which is good, but I look back, with what feels like sadness, at the time I missed spending with God.

This Christmas I want be purposeful about keeping God in the forefront of my mind and my family. I don’t want to-do lists, shopping strategies, and menu planning to override my time with the One who made Christmas possible. I don’t want to tell my Savior that there is no room for Him in my Christmas season. I want this year to be all about Him.

I want all the usual activities and traditions, but I want to keep myself focused on the One who left the majesty of Heaven to be born in a smelly stable for the sole purpose of rescuing a people who would reject and crucify Him. I want to SEE Jesus in every moment of this Christmas season and always. I want Him to be more important than sleep, shopping, cooking, and making Christmas magic for my kids. I don’t want to sacrifice my time with Him for anything.

Time. I want my time to matter this year. Taking time off is a good thing; unless we are taking time off from our relationship with Jesus. I realized this week that “seeing” Jesus in the everyday moments takes work and it takes time. The more time I spend in His presence, the more I can recognize His presence. But when I allow things (even good things) to crowd Him out, my vision instantly begins to get cloudy.

As a way of holding myself accountable to keep my eyes fixed on Him this season, I am going to write a very short post everyday. It will be a quote from a book that I want to meditate on that day, or a song I am going to listen to. It might be a verse or a prayer. I want to use my blog this year to keep my heart open to receive my King, and my eyes fixed on Him so that I can SEE God in the big and small moments this season.

How do you keep your focus on Jesus during the busy Christmas season? I would love to hear your tips and ideas if you want to comment below! Thanks and is it too early to say: Merry Christmas??? 🙂

May we SEE You when You catch us

*In honor of my sweet little girl who has been sick with pneumonia for the past several days, and because my brain is somewhat fried from taking care of said sweet girl, I dove into my drafts to find one that focuses on her for today’s post. This happened over the summer, but was a good reminder for me, especially in light of the past 10 days of sickness. Thank you to those who prayed for my girl. I am sure I will soon be writing a post about seeing God through the precious prayers of others 😉

Deuteronomy 33:27a “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

“He caught me!” What precious words, spoken from a heart full of child-like faith. My seven year old daughter had just fallen off her scooter. I had been several feet behind her and watched in fear as she wobbled and then fell to the hard road below. I ran to her with one thought in my mind, “please don’t let there be blood”. I handed the dog’s leash to my son and scooped up my baby girl, preparing myself for a bloody knee and scraped up hands. As I took a steadying breath to make myself look, I found nothing. Not a scratch, not a poke…nothing. My daughter looked a little surprised too, but then she said, “He caught me”. The He she was referring to was Jesus. In her mind Jesus caught her, and maybe He did.

As we continued our walk, I wondered, “why, if you could catch her, didn’t you catch her brother when he fell off his bike and had to have 14 stitches?” But then I remembered that although we were four miles from our home with no cell phone when that happened, a stranger gave us a ride to the hospital. And the doctor was worried that my sweet boy broke his jaw but He hadn’t. So in a way, Jesus did catch him. With one hand He comforted and protected my son, and with the other hand, He provided for us in our need.

“OK”, I thought, “but why didn’t you catch my uncle when he was diagnosed with cancer?” My uncle was only 54. He had lived a hard life, but had recently given his life to the Lord, however, lung cancer ravished his body and ended his life far too soon. But again, a still small voice reminded me that my uncle had come to know Jesus as his Savior. He had made things right with his family, and was surrounded by those he loved most as he drew his last breath. The moment he was gone from this world he was in the arms of his newly found Savior. So Jesus definitely caught him.

I realized that what looks like falling to us, may really be us landing in the Savior’s arms. We, as Christians, will fall and get hurt. We will bleed, we will hurt, we will fail, and one day our bodies will die. But never will we fall from our Savior’s arms. The One who can use “all things for the good of those who serve Him”, can use our pain, our illness, our failures for His glory.

Sometimes falling is a good thing. May Jesus catch each one of us today.

“Lord, please open my eyes to see you in the hard times as well as the good. Please help me to trust You to catch me no matter how hard I fall.”

May we SEE You as our greatest reward

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

I often find myself longing for the end result of something: a home renovation being completed, a writing deadline met, my kids finally seeing the meaninglessness of screens and wanting to only play outside! (sorry, maybe that last one is just me;)

I find myself always longing for the end result; often at the expense of what I have in the moment: a home full of love and laughter and a husband who gives of his time to take on house projects, an amazing opportunity to dive in and write about God’s Word, and two great kids who have an unbelievable understanding of how anything with a screen works.

This “hurry and get to the end” mentality recently caused me to wonder about our presentation of the Gospel. As a children’s curriculum writer, Sunday school teacher, and Mom, I have a great concern over the huge percentage of kids who walk away from church once they leave home. It pains my heart to think of how many little ones will one day walk out of the church doors and never look back.

There are so many theories, books and dissertations written by people far more intelligent and researched than I am, and so I will not pretend to have all (or any) of the answers. But, one thought I do have is this: what if we are putting too much emphasis on the end result and not enough on the here and now? What if, in our honest and good desire to win as many kids to the Lord as possible, we are putting all of the emphasis on eternal life and escaping hell, but are neglecting to emphasize and teach the greatest reward of all: life with Jesus.

The term “fire insurance” comes to mind: the idea that by trusting Jesus you are escaping hell. Of course that is true (if the repentance and acceptance is genuine), but if the focus is simply on avoiding hell then what does that mean for our time on earth? If Jesus is simply an insurance policy or escape clause, then we miss the greatest reward of all time: daily life with our King.

Here’s an analogy I have been mulling over in my head for awhile (warning: as with all analogies, it has many theological holes, so forgive me for those ;):

Imagine you are at the beach and decide to float on a raft for awhile. The sun is warm, the water is cool and life is good. But then a rip tide pulls you out into deep water and a sudden storm appears. You are pulled far out to sea, miles from shore. The sky grows dark, your raft is gone, you are surrounded by sharks, and you cannot swim anymore. You know that you are going to die. But then you see the light of a ship, and hear a voice. You are lifted out of the water and placed on a hard surface. You are so grateful that you have been rescued. You stay in a small cabin, and can only think about the fact that you almost died, but were saved. You just want to get to dry land. You are so focused on getting to shore that you stay in your cabin, unaware of anything going on around you. The day finally comes when the ship docks and you are escorted from your cabin. You step off the ship and turn around. You can hardly believe your eyes when you discover that you were one board the most luxurious cruise ship ever built. While you were sitting in your cabin just waiting to reach land, you could have been dining on delicious food, enjoying the spa, swimming in a beautiful pool, and watching Broadway style shows. You missed out on the entire cruise ship experience because all you were focused on was getting to land.

So the analogy has some holes (especially if you hate cruising;), but the idea is there. We run the risk of missing out on the experience of living everyday with the King of the Universe, when all we focus on is being saved from hell.

Jesus offers us life with Him, lived in His power, and wrapped in His love. He offers us strength, comfort, wisdom, peace, joy, discernment and so many more things. Eternal life starts the moment we accept Him as our Savior. He wants us to begin walking with Him through this life, aware of His presence and learning to be more like Him. We will walk everyday with Him, and then as we take our last breath on this earth, we will simply continue our walk with Him in heaven.

As God continues to bring these thoughts to the forefront of my mind, I have been challenged to help my kids, and those kids I have the privilege of teaching, to see Jesus as the greatest reward. Eternal life and being saved from hell are amazing gifts, but those come from knowing Jesus. Jesus is the greatest treasure, and I think that until we teach our kids that, and pray for God to open their hearts to fully grasp that truth, that our kids will find it easy to walk away from church and from Him.

If they think they have no real reward until the day they die, what motivation is there to live now for Him? Presenting the Gospel along with the realities of hell are vitally important and necessary, but to do so without presenting Jesus as the greatest reward of all, will most likely lead to shallow faith and the absence of a full life lived in His Presence.

Jesus is love and life and He longs for our children to know Him in a real and powerful way. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.” God loved us so much that He gave us His Son, first. The verse could have read: For God so loved the world that He gave us everlasting life through His Son…But it says He gave us His Son and then as a result of His Son, we also have eternal life.

God gave us the gift of Jesus. May we SEE Him as our greatest treasure and most fulfilling reward.

This was a ridiculously long post and if you have made it to the end, I feel like I should give you some kind of prize!

“Jesus, you are the greatest treasure and reward. Thank You for giving us Yourself. May we SEE You as our greatest reward and may we share that truth with your children.”

(My 7 year old daughter just read my blog and suggested it would have been way better if I titled it: “May we SEE You as way better than even the Disney Cruise Ship”, and add pictures of her being a princess on our Disney Cruise. So for my girl, here you go 😉

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May we SEE Your scars

“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see…” Luke 24:38

Permanent scars. Those physical, and sometimes physiological, reminders of a past hurt. My 11 year old son wears his scars like badges of honor now. He will gladly tell you the story behind each and every scar: flying over his handlebars, drilling his finger, discovering that spiderman crawls up bookcases lead to staples in your head. But at the time of the injuries, he would have given anything to have avoided the pain that resulted in said scar.

As I am writing a lesson from Luke 24 where Jesus appears to His disciples following His resurrection, I can’t help but think about the permanent scars Jesus Himself has. Permanent scars on His hands, feet and side.

As the perfect Creator and Restorer, surely Jesus could have resurrected Himself without scars. How many of us long for the day when we will have fully restored bodies? However, Jesus rose from the dead, scars and all. A friend asked me recently why I thought the scars on Jesus’ hands, feet and side are the only ones mentioned in the Bible. Surely Jesus was covered in deep gashes and would have been virtually unrecognizable as He hung on the cross. He would have had scars on His head from the crown of thorns, and scars all over His back from the flogging He received, along with countless other scars. And yet, the only ones mentioned after His resurrection were the hands, feet and side.

The scars He received from the soldiers beatings and humiliation were temporary and short lived, but the scars He willingly received to pay the price for our sin, have left an eternal mark on our perfect Savior.

The scars remind us that although nails were driven in His hands and feet, it was not the nails that kept Jesus on the cross. Jesus had total power over the wind and sea, over demons and death, over sickness and disease. The One who could speak a word and stop a storm, had complete power over some nails and a cross of wood. Yet, He chose to stay on that cross to save us from sin and death.

The nails were not the true cause of the scars on Jesus’ hands. It was His unfathomable love for us that has left permanent scars on the precious hands and feet of our King.

The scar on His side where He was “pierced for our transgressions” reminds us that the Son of God from whom “blood and water followed” willingly chose to lay down His life to save ours.

Jesus allowed Himself to be eternally scarred because of His immeasurable love for us. As the nails pierced His hands, The Father engraved the names of each believer onto His Son’s palms. Those who have trusted in Jesus, are permanently etched into the Savior. We are His and He is ours.

Jesus paid the highest price for His children. He chose to endure unimaginable pain because He loved us so much. He chose to wear scars for eternity to remind us that we are precious to Him and  worth the price He paid for us.

I wonder: will we get to touch His scars in heaven? Does He reach out with His scarred hand and touch our scars, reassuring us  that He can heal and restore, while leaving the scar as a reminder of what He has done in our lives?

Jesus knows what it means to be scarred. He loves you more than you can imagine and He longs to heal the hurt that has scarred you. The scar may last forever, but with Jesus as your Savior, your scar will become a reminder of the beauty Jesus can bring from brokenness.

May we see our scars in light of Jesus’ love. And may we be permanently changed because of the scars that mar our Savior’s hands and feet.

May we SEE You as our shield

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” Psalm 28:7

The arrows were flying fast, and aimed right at my heart. Arrows not shot from a bow, but arrows in the form of lies, tailored made to hit at my insecurities and fears. These arrows were not fired from the outside, but launched from my own thoughts and the lying voice of the deceiver. “You are not good enough.” “How can you think you fit in with these people.” “You messed up again! How can you write about God’s truth when you blow it so much?”

I wish I could say this was an experience from my past that I have triumphantly overcome. But that would be a lie. This scenario happens everyday. My inner dialogue is full of these thoughts, and more. As a people-pleasing perfectionistic introvert, condemning thoughts and insecurities are my constant nemesis. They are my own Goliath. At times it is so hard to quiet those thoughts, that they might as well be nine feet tall in a full suit of armor. However, my God is bigger and stronger than my thoughts. I must constantly remind myself of that truth.

I have been teaching a class of two year olds about King David, in our weekly Bible study. Last week, we were talking about God as our shield. As I was holding up a toy shield to illustrate how a shield would protect a person from an arrow, God opened my eyes to my need for Him to be my shield. I need Him to protect me from satan’s lies and from my own insecurities.

When my insecurities say, “You’re not good enough”; God my shield deflects that lie with the truth: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

When I hear in my head, “You messed up again. How can you possibly lead others?”, God my shield deflects that arrow with the truth: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

An arrow of deceit claims that “You must please others”, but God my shield deflects that lie with the truth: “Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”

I may not carry a big shield around all day, but I carry something even better. I carry God’s word in my heart. What more reason could I have to memorize and meditate on His word? I need to know it, so I can use it. With arrows flying all around, what good would a shield be to a soldier if it was lying on the ground? A shield is only useful if it is being held. I need to hold God’s word in my heart so that the enemy’s arrows won’t be able to strike there.

I know that my battle with my insecurities will last my lifetime, but I am so thankful that my God is bigger than my fears. The battle keeps me picking up my shield daily, and keeps me in God’s word. Some days, I feel as if I allow my shield to drop and I lose the battle, but praise God, He has already won the war!

Today, may we all pick up our shield of truth and walk with confidence in Whose we are.

“Lord, help us to see You as our shield as we trust You with our insecurities and fears. Thank You for being far bigger and stronger than any arrow ever launched at us.”

May we SEE You in Your Creation

So that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:6

I was able to “see” God in a powerful way this past weekend as I witnessed a glorious sunrise in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The beach was deserted, and the weather was cold, but my soul was filled with God’s presence, and my heart was warmed by His love.

As I sat on the beach watching the sky turn from indigo blue to an illuminated explosion of color, my heart overflowed at the faithfulness and sovereignty of the Creator. I found such comfort watching God call forth the sun just as He has every day since He spoke it into existence. In that moment, I was reminded that God is still on His throne and forever will be.

God is sovereign, powerful and faithful and nothing can ever change that. There is no disease, disaster or diabolical plot that could ever overwhelm Him. He is not surprised by the chaos and brokenness in our world. In fact, He is the One who warned us that chaos and brokenness would result from people choosing their own way over His. Yet He graciously provides refuge and strength for those who trust in Him. While I may not know what the future holds, praise God I know the One who holds the future!

As the sun rose higher in the sky, I played my favorite worship songs and let myself fully experience the moment. For those few minutes, nothing else mattered. I was not afraid of the “what if’s” or “what is to come.” It was just me with my Sovereign and Powerful King. It was so easy to “see” Him in the colors and beauty before me. I pray that He will open my eyes more to those moments; those glimpses of Him as seen in His glorious creation.

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“Lord, may we SEE You in Your creation as we look to You instead of our fears.”

May we SEE Your invitation

“[Jesus] said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.’” Mark 3:3

I love when God allows us to “see” Him through His own words. After writing a curriculum lesson on Mark chapter three, where Jesus healed a man with a withered and deformed hand, I found myself thinking all week about the words Jesus spoke to the man. This man had most likely experienced nothing but painful rejection and isolation throughout his entire life. People would have walked away from him, avoided eye contact and treated him as if he were invisible, and yet Jesus beckoned the man to come to Him.

I wonder what the man must have felt as the eyes of the Messiah were lovingly turned toward him. What must that man have thought as the Son of God beckoned him to come? Did he feel a magnetic pull toward his Creator? Did his heart quicken with every step? As he stood by the Savior of the world when Jesus asked the crowd if it was “lawful to do good or harm, to save life or to kill on the Sabbath”, could he take his eyes off Jesus? What did the man do when Jesus became angry at the calloused, self-righteousness of the Pharisee’s lack of response? And then, as Jesus told the man to “stretch out your hand” and He healed his withered ineffective hand, did the man shout and leap for joy or was he completely incapable of speech at the total restoration and healing touch of the Savior?

“Come here.” Such precious words from our Lord.

I can hear our Savior’s gentle voice saying:

Broken child, come here.

Lost lamb, come here.

Hurting daughter, come here.

Striving son, come here.

Wounded spirit, come here.

Withered heart, come here.

Come to the only One who can truly heal and truly restore. Do not give into the the lie that you must strive to follow man made rules in order to find acceptance and value. Instead, “come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Let the love of Jesus heal what is withered and ineffective. Let the One who came to save, heal your heart and soul.

“Come here”

“Lord, may we see Your precious invitation to “come here” and may we trust You to heal our brokenness.”

May we SEE You as the Lifter of our heads

“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3

My son wouldn’t look at me. Frustrated, exhausted tears streamed down his eleven year old cheeks, and he didn’t want me to see him cry. He is in his first year of middle school and it is proving much harder than he thought it would be.  He has worked harder this week than any other in his life, and was upset over a test that did not go well.

My little boy is growing up and taking on more responsibility. He is learning time management, how to set priorities, self-motivation and natural consequences. But learning is hard, growing pains hurt, and as little boy fights with emerging teenager, the stress begins to take its toll. He is tired, frustrated, grumpy, excited, silly, sweet, opinionated, defeated, and triumphant all within a span of five minutes sometimes! 🙂

I was having my own internal war as I watched him cry. The mama bear in me wanted to scream at the teachers for giving him too much work, the perfectionist in me wanted to interrogate my son to see what he was doing wrong and fix it, the counselor in me wanted to work on coping strategies and self-talk. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit in me brought Psalm 3 to mind which silenced all the other voices in my head.

As I looked at my sweet boy hiding his face in the sofa cushions, I knelt down beside him and asked him to look at me. He sat up, but would not meet my eyes. I gently lifted his head and looked into his watery blue eyes. At that moment, I thought about all the times God has lifted my head: all the times I knew I had blown it, the trials that felt too hard, the times when shame kept me from running to Him, the times I had tried to do things my own way and messed everything up. During those times, I felt unlovable and unworthy and yet, my King gently took my head in His loving, powerful hands and lifted my eyes to meet His.

I told my son, through my own tears, that I loved him no matter what. I explained that my love does not depend on his performance or a number written on a test paper. I am proud of him for trying his best and for doing it without much complaining. I wanted him to see my face and my eyes as I told him I will always love him and we will figure this middle school thing out together.

My words were the same ones I have spoken before, but his reaction to them was different. He really seemed to believe me this time. He hugged me and walked away lighter. The defeated vibe was gone, replaced by hope. As I sat there pondering his reaction, I realized that he saw in my eyes I really meant what I was saying.

However, while I do mean those words, my love is not perfect and I will mess up. But God’s love is perfect and He never messes up. When God lifts our heads, He desires that we see Him for who He truly is: our perfect Creator, King and Redeemer. It is overwhelming to think that God loves me; just as I am in this very moment. I don’t have to perform well for God to love me. I don’t have to get myself together for God to love me. I don’t have to feel lovable for God to love me. He just does! God is love and He loves me. That is a mind blowing truth.

Today, if you are feeling unlovable and unworthy I urge you to ask God to lift up your head and lead you to His word, so you may SEE just how much He loves you.

“Lord, I thank you for being the lifter of my head. Please help me rest in the warmth and truth of Your love today.”

May we SEE You as the One who loves us

“Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord….” John 21:7

I used to read the disciple John’s description of himself, like the one in the verse above, and think that he was a little prideful.  Was he implying that Jesus loved him more than the other disciples, or that he was somehow better than they were? It wasn’t until I started studying the Gospel of John in order to write our curriculum lessons, that I saw John’s description for what it really was: his identity.

John could have chosen many different adjectives to describe himself; the young disciple, the brother of James, the handsome one, the fisherman etc…  However, John chose to describe himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

John’s identity was not wrapped up in his earthly attributes, his family connections or his profession. His identity was completely rooted in the person of Jesus, and in how beloved he was by Him. I now read the words, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, and see not a heart of pride, but a humble heart overwhelmed by the fact the King of the universe died for him. John seems awestruck with the truth that he was a sinner, and yet he was loved by his perfect Savior.

John’s entire world had been changed by Jesus. John left everything he had known to follow this simple man from Nazareth. As John watched Jesus day after day, studied Him, learned from Him, ate with Him, walked with Him, what must he have seen in His Savior’s eyes?  Can you imagine the depth of love and holiness that would have dwelled in Jesus’ eyes?

John seemed to realize that the only description of himself that truly mattered was that he was loved by Jesus. He was a sinner, whose sins had been forgiven and then was clothed in Jesus’ own righteousness. Nothing else in John’s life could compare with that truth.

If I was to write about myself in the third person, how would I describe myself to others? She’s a wife and mother, she’s a writer, she’s the quiet one, she’s the one who tries to be all things to all people…. Or, would I write, she’s the one whom Jesus loves!

Without Jesus, I have nothing and am nothing.  He has forgiven my sin, and saved me from a life of separation from God.  I am His and He is mine.  I pray that my identify, like John’s, will be completely rooted in Jesus.

Lord, may I SEE You as the One who loves me. May my identity be found in You. Thank You for knowing me and yet loving me for who I am. I love You, Jesus!