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(This is a talk I gave at the Highland Business Women’s Club on April 14, 2014. While targeted to women, I am sure that men can learn from this as well.)

Picture this. My dining room table, filled with a collection of cups, glasses, and mugs, each with varying amounts of liquid: some three-quarters full of water, some nearly empty of milk from breakfast, some with the dried remains of the morning’s hot chocolate.

This is not a fictional picture I have drawn for you. This is my life. My two children would use so many cups in one day, and never quite finish what was in them, and never put them in the sink, much less the dishwasher, I literally had to assign cups to them and tell them they are only allowed one drinking glass and one hot drink holder. And if theirs is dirty, they have to wash it. Such is the life with a ten and thirteen year old.

The application of this to our lives as women is easy: we don’t get multiple cups to fill up; we just get one. And if you are like me, that one often runs on empty.

As women, we are constantly in pouring-out mode. We are trying to be good wives. We are parenting children and running around for them. We are working, whether at home or away from home. We are trying to be there for our extended families. We are attempting to cultivate friendships and care for those in need. If we are grandparents, we are trying to help our children and grandchildren as much as we can. Our “ought to” list is long, and our “want to” and “need to” lists get put on hold. Indefinitely.

The problem is, with the busyness of our lives, we have forgotten how to refill, how to rest, how to be rejuvenated. And because of that we tend to refill in unhealthy ways or in ways that may themselves be neutral, but turn unhealthy because we do them in excess. We may gorge ourselves on food, electronics, shopping, television, alcohol, Facebook, more commitments, staying busy and more. And when we try to refill with these things, instead of filling our cups, we are simply depleting them even more.

And what happens when we are running on empty

It is never good. One of the most prevalent consequences of running on empty is depression. That is obviously not the only reason that people suffer from depression, but I think it is a big player in our culture today.

I recently finished a book entitled Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons and in it she says:

“Depression and anxiety have many faces. Happy one moment, sobbing the next. Refined, then frayed. More than 57.7 million American adults suffer from some form of mental illness, including 18.1 million who have been diagnosed with depression. The epidemic continues to spiral as we try to somehow manage the stress of modern life with its constant demands…if you’ve ever been close to it—really close…—you know it’s real. Scary real.

“Even more shocking is the number of women suffering depression…we as women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression. One in four women will suffer some form of depression in her lifetime. From anxiety attacks…to mood disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and so on, women are under siege. And the majority of women who are wrestling with depression fit nicely into the twenty-five to forty-year-old age bracket.

“We aren’t depressed because we are getting old. We are depressed in the prime of our lives.

“During the years when we ought to be making some of our greatest contributions to others and to the world, we are stuck. Caught in a quagmire of confusion, hardly able to put one foot in front of the other.”

These are frightening statistics. And I fall squarely into this category. After years and years of giving and giving, I finally broke. It wasn’t all at once; it was a slow decline. What started as what I would have called a seasonal issue, turned into a constant one. I was turning into the angry and yelling parent I didn’t want to be. I was picking fights with my husband. I was unhappy and burnt out in my work. I would cry in my bed for hours at a time. I had finally hit the bottom of my glass.

In addition to depression and as a result of depression, other consequences of running on empty include physical health issues, and relationships that suffer – from our spouses, to our kids, to our friends.

You don’t have to raise your hand, but can any of you see yourselves either here or headed here? Or have you been here before?

It’s not a pretty place to be. In fact, it is a scary place to be. Scary because we haven’t been here before. Scary because we have. Scary because we don’t really know how we got here and scary because we don’t know how to get out.

For those of you there now, there is hope. For those of you who are headed in that direction, there is hope. For those of you who may find yourself there in the future, there is hope. Our cups can be refilled. We can reverse the damage of running on empty.

There comes a moment when we have a decision to make. A decision not to allow our cups to be emptied any further. A decision to purposefully refill our cups.

For us as women, it is not an easy decision, but it is a necessary one. It isn’t easy because it means that we have to say no to something or many things so we can say yes to what is needed and necessary.

The decision is this one. To rest.

Since creation, there has been a rhythm that was established by God: a rhythm of work and rest. According to Genesis after six days of work, God rested on the seventh day. In Exodus and other books of the Bible, He commanded the Israelites to work six days and rest on the seventh. He said that the fields should be worked for six years and then left to rest in the seventh year. This rhythm of life is necessary in order to continue on the path that we are on.

But rest doesn’t come easy for us, as women. Our lists are long. We fear we will drop the ball on something. We have errands to run. Kids to care for. Families to feed.

But the truth of the matter is this, if we don’t stop to rest, none of the things on our to-do list will be done well. Remember what they tell you on a plane? If you are traveling with those who need assistance and the need for oxygen masks arises, you are to put yours on first, and then place them on those in need. You know why? Because we are no good to anyone when we have passed out from lack of oxygen. In the same way, we are no good to anyone when we are running on empty.

For me, this looks different on different days. Some days rest is sitting on my porch swing with music. Some days rest is sitting on my porch swing surrounded by friends. Some days rest is taking a nap on my couch. Some days rest is taking my kids to the zoo. Some days rest is vegging in my bed with an episode of Lost or Castle. Some days rest is reading a book. Some days rest is dinner with my husband or a friend. Some days rest is getting drinks with some friends. Most days rest is exercising and eating well. Every night before bed rest is reading my devotionals, my Bible, and journaling.

Rest doesn’t have to look the same every time. But it does have to be something that fills your cup. And it does have to be scheduled.

One thing I have learned is to look at my calendar each week and figure out when I can schedule some down-time. Some of you may have to actually write it in on the calendar. And you may not even know exactly what that rest time will look like until the time comes, but you have to create it. It won’t just magically appear. I know that I have to go upstairs at a certain time each evening so I have time to sit with my Bible and my journal. I know I have to go to bed at a certain time so that I can get up and exercise. I have learned these things about myself and about what I need in order to make sure I am not running on empty. This is hard for me. I am by nature a night owl and would love to fall asleep to the TV playing Friends re-runs every night. But when I let myself fall into that kind of rut, I start fading again.

I have been reading a book with my Bible study group recently that is written by Jen Hatmaker entitled 7. Each week for the last seven weeks, we have been fasting from something: food, clothing, possessions, waste, spending and this week we are fasting from stress.

Impossible, right? But what that looks like for me is six alarms set on my phone. Six a.m., nine a.m., noon, three p.m., six p.m., and nine p.m. These alarms remind me to stop and take a moment to whisper a prayer. To rest for a moment. To read a scripture. To take a break from the “urgent” things I am working on.

I am bad at this. But I think it is a good rhythm for me. One that may just continue past this week. Because it is an alarm on my phone, which I always have with me, and may just be the cause of some of the stress and emptiness of my cup, it forces me to listen and be attentive to the call to rest.

Rest is imperative for us if we want to keep our cups full. But, there is also a second thing that is necessary for keeping our cups full. God fills us up when we rest but not so we can stay full. He fills us so that we can give more of ourselves. “Jesus is the source of a spring of living water that is always bubbling up, an unfailing source, ever fresh.” The well of Christ never runs dry – we will always have what we need when we receive His filling. And as a result of that, if we are filling ourselves up with Christ and the rest that we have been called to, the more we give away, the more we will get.

“In John 7:38, Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Again and again Jesus invites us to come to Him because He is the fountain of life. He knows that life is difficult and [He] offers us strength. Not only does He delight in filling our cup with His everlasting love and perfect peace, He will fill it to the fullest measure. The best part is that it will actually overflow onto all that we meet. And no one is more pleasant to be around than someone who has had her cup filled with the living God…This will free her up to love others unconditionally…” (Quoted from this blog.)

When we take the time to rest, to fill our cups, we will actually be able to complete those to-do lists better, with more energy, with more love, with more compassion, with more hope, than we ever could have when our cups were empty.

When the depression hit me hard, I had to seek help from medical professionals, and it is good that I did, but I also had to reorient my life and allow time for rest and rejuvenation. And I don’t do a great job of this all the time. In fact, it took God removing me from a job I had for over 13 years and placing me in a different area of ministry to really reinforce some of these principles of rest. But I always know when I stop planning for rest: my pace becomes hectic, I begin feeling burnt out, the depression ramps up, and I crash. When that happens, I have to stop; I have to choose to re-commit and make time for rest in my schedule, because I want to be able to give of myself to my family, to my friends, and to my God.

I encourage you to go home and open your calendars tonight, while this message is fresh, and start scheduling time for rest, so you, too, can be filled to overflowing and give of yourselves in new and fresh ways.

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Tidbits

I have been reading a book called Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans, a story of her “journey from certainty to faith,” and I can’t put it down. I have been reading Rachel’s blog for quite some time, and resonate with much of what she writes, so when she made an appearance at Greenville College recently, I was quick to make sure my schedule allowed me to go and hear her speak. There have been so many tidbits of great insight and information that I have encountered, I thought I would share a few of my favorites with you.

  • Faith isn’t faith if you are certain. There has to be an element of doubt for faith to truly be faith.
  • Fake it ’til you make it – keep choosing to believe even when you don’t feel it and doubt is threatening to speak louder than faith.
  • We could be wrong. God may need to change our minds, so we need to make sure we hold on to our belief with an open hand rather than a tightly closed fist.
  • “This is why I try to keep an open mind about the monkeys, and it’s why I consider myself an evolutionist–not necessarily of the scientific variety but of the faith variety. Just as living organisms are said to evolve over  time, so faith evolves, on both a personal and a collective level. Spiritual evolution explains why Christianity has thrived while other ancient religions have perished. It explains why our brothers and sisters in rural Zimbabwe and those in the Greek Orthodox Church can worship the same God but in much different ways. Christianity never could have survived the ebb and flow of time, much less its own worldwide expansion, had God not created it with the innate ability to adapt to changing environments. The same versatility that allowed Paul to become all things to all people applies to the church collectively. The ability of the body of Christ to change–to grow fins when it needs to swim and wings when it needs to fly–has preserved it for over two thousand years, despite countless predictions of its imminent demise.”
  • “Evolution means letting go of our false fundamentals so that God can get into those shadowy places we’re not sure we want him to be. It means being okay with being wrong, okay with not having all the answers, okay with never being finished.”
  • “…I was taught that the Bible served as a guidebook for Christian dating and marriage, but no one ever suggested that my father had the right to sell me to the highest bidder or to take multiple wives, like Abraham. Homosexuality was preached against incessantly, but little was said of gluttony or greed. We decried the death of each aborted baby as a violation of the sanctity of human life, but shrugged off the deaths of Iraqi children as expected collateral damage in a war against evil. We celebrated archeological finds that supported the historical claims of the Bible yet discounted massive amounts of scientific evidence in support of an old earth.”
  • “…Jesus rarely framed discipleship in terms of intellectual assent to a set of propositional statements. he didn’t walk new converts down the Romans Road or ask Peter to draft a doctrinal statement before giving him the keys to the kingdom. His method of evangelism varied from person to person and generally involved a dramatic change of lifestyle rather than a simple change of mind. To Jesus, “by faith alone” did not mean “by belief alone.” To Jesus, faith was invariably linked to obedience.”
  • “Being a Christian, it seemed, isn’t about agreeing to a certain way; it is about embodying a certain way. It is about living as an incarnation of Jesus, as Jesus lived as an incarnation of God. It is about being Jesus…in tennis shoes.”
  • “Some Christians are more offended by the idea of everyone going to heaven than by the idea of everyone going to hell.”
  • “Dan always says that as soon as you think you’ve got God figured out, you can bet on the fact that you’re wrong.”
  • “‘We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ,’ [C.S. Lewis] wrote in Mere Christianity. ‘We do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him.'”
  • “We are not saved by information. We are saved by restored relationship with God, which might look a little different from person to person, culture to culture, time to time.”
  • “When we require that all people must say the same words or subscribe to the same creeds in order to experience God, we underestimate the scope and power of God’s activity in the world…From the first covenant with Abraham to the vision of John at Patmos, salvation has always been described in terms of a blessing for the entire world, not just and exclusive privilege for a select group of people. The “election,” first of Israel and then of the church, is not a spiritual condition but a vocational calling, a calling to serve the rest of the world, inviting others to join the kingdom of God.”
  • “All I know is that if the God of the Bible is true, he loves his creation and will do whatever it takes to restore it.”
  • “We’ve got our way of dealing fairly with our enemies, and God has his. Our way involves retaliation and punishment; his way involves forgiveness. Our way involves equal justice; his way involves disproportionate grace. our way is to make someone pay with blood; his way is to bleed. Even when Jesus hung on the cross, when God had been insulted to the highest degree imaginable, left naked, humiliated, beaten and bruised, he said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'”
  • “God’s ways are higher than our ways not because he is less compassionate than we are but because he is more compassionate than we can ever imagine.”
  • “In India, I was introduced to the kingdom of heaven–not as it exists in some future state but as it exists in the here and now, where the hungry are fed with both physical and spiritual bread, where the sick are saved from both their diseases and their sins, where an illiterate widow taught me more about faith than any theologian ever could, and where children from the slums sing with God. In India, I learned that the gospel is still special. Jesus still matters and can make a difference in people’s lives. I guess that’s close enough to spiritual awakening.”
  • “I’m afraid that just as wealth and privilege can be a stumbling block on the path to the gospel, theological expertise and piety can also get in the way of the kingdom.”
  • “When we cling to our beliefs as children cling to their favorite toys, it is hard for Jesus to take us by the hand and lead us somewhere new.”
  • “Jesus drank wine with sexual deviants. He committed major social taboos. he spent a lot of time among contagious people, crazy people, uneducated people, and smelly people. His famous cousin wore camel-hair and ate locusts and honey. Those most familiar with Scripture called his views heretical, and his own family questioned his sanity. Jesus introduced new teachings not found in the Scriptures and claimed his authority came directly from God. he asked his disciples to sell all their “blessings” and follow him, when doing so could get them excommunicated from the faith or even killed. He was too liberal, too radical, and too demanding. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure that I would have followed the guy, and that really scares me sometimes.”
  • “In India, I learned that among Hindus, the goal of reincarnation is to be reborn into nobler circumstances. And in India, I learned that in the kingdom of God, the goal is to reborn into humbler ones.”
  • “‘God’s kingdom in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’…heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life–God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever.’ According to [N.T.] Wright, participants in the early church understood that the ultimate goal wasn’t to die, leave their bodies behind, and float around like ghosts in heaven forever but rather to embody, anticipate, and work toward a new kingdom.”
  • “Perhaps being a Christian isn’t about experiencing the kingdom of heaven someday but about experiencing the kingdom of heaven every day.”
  • “Sometimes when I want to put myself in [my gay and Christian friend] Adele’s shoes, I imagine an alternate universe in which Christians have chosen a different biblical condemnation upon which to fixate, such as women uncovering their heads or people getting tattoos. I imagine TV preachers claiming that 9/11 happened as a result of God’s wrath on the gossipers and the greedy, and churches raising funds to support an amendment to the constitution making remarriage illegal for people who are divorced. I imagine people carrying signs that say ‘God Hates Gluttons’ or ‘Stone Disobedient Children,’ and I think to myself, Boy, I’m glad we didn’t pick ‘lifestyle sins’ like materialism or judgmentalism to obsess about, because if we had, I’d totally be screwed.”

I am not quite finished with the book, but as you can see, it is having a profound impact on my way of thinking. I hope you won’t just read my quotes and forget about it, but that you will really think about these things, pick up the book, pick up your Bible, and search out what it means to really follow Jesus in the way that He intended.

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Beyond

Ephesians 3:20 says this:

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (The Message)

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, (NIV)

Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; (CEB)

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, (KJV)

(Italics Mine)

I am sitting here today in awe of this God I serve who continues to do beyond all I could ask or imagine.

From hearing my dreams and desires, to providing for our needs, from comforting us in times of sorrow, to fulfilling his promises, God is good.

Sometimes while we are waiting for God’s purposes to be revealed and fulfilled, things look bleak. But in those moments we have a choice, rely on Him and His promises, or rely on ourselves. But the thing is, between the two options, God is the only one with a proven track record.

Once again in our lives God has proven Himself faithful. He has not only brought about a change that we could never have anticipated, He has brought it about in a way that addresses multiple desires that He has placed in my heart.

Beyond all that I could have asked or imagined.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t still work for Him to do, because there is, but I can’t and won’t be anxious about it because I have seen, yet again, how He loves us and gives us what is best for us at the exact right time.

If you are waiting for God to fulfill His promises to you, to give you the desires that He has placed in your heart, don’t give up. Don’t try to take things into your own hands. Just remember these verses, He can and will do beyond all you can ask or imagine. Keep believing.

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Over the last two months, much of my time has been spent in scripture, particularly the Psalms. In the Psalms I find not only words of comfort, but also words that describe frustration, hurt, and the questions that come when life doesn’t play out the way you think it should.

The most recent Psalm that I have been ruminating on is this:

Psalm 33

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

4 For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.
(Italics Mine)

This Psalm reminds me that I can wait in hope for THE LORD, not for a job, not for a direction, but for THE LORD. My heart rejoices in HIM and HIM ALONE. Not in circumstances, not in financial security, not in whether or not things are falling into place the way I think they should, but in HIM ALONE is my joy, trust, and hope. Because HIS UNFAILING LOVE is always with me. His UNFAILING LOVE is enough.

I don’t know what life looks like for you these days, but remember that your hope is in THE LORD and HIS UNFAILING LOVE for you. Hold on to that. Rest in that. It is enough.

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Ever have those days where you feel like nothing is going right? Or those weeks? Or those months? And in the midst of the trials you wonder if God is there, if God is real, if God has forsaken you?

Consider King David, hand-picked by the man of God to be king and yet he spent much of the next part of his life running and hiding in fear of being killed by King Saul.

This man after God’s own heart felt abandoned by God. He talks about this in Psalm 13:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

What I want you to notice about this Psalm is this, after questioning God in the first four verses, he comes to this place of peace in the last two and makes a decision to trust, rejoice, and sing of the Lord’s goodness. Even when he doesn’t feel like God is being good; even when he doesn’t feel like God is present; even when he feels like God isn’t listening; he knows the truth – God’s love is unfailing and He is present. He is able to look back and see how the Lord has been good, and trust that is still true and God is still good.

We have choices to make every day. Today, in the midst of whatever is happening in your life, I challenge you to choose to believe that God’s love is unfailing and He is good – no matter what you may feel.

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A week ago today I had surgery. I expected I would be back at work by today. But I am not. Instead I find myself waiting impatiently for the time to pass so I can take another pain pill.

It sure seems like for me, illness and surgery are kind of like home plumbing projects – they never quite turn out the way you think they will at the start and there are detours along the way.

I didn’t anticipate that recovery would take longer than the weekend, much less longer than a week. I didn’t anticipate the emotional toll of spending a week in my recliner. I didn’t anticipate fighting depression as well as fighting to recover from surgery.

So as I sit here this morning, I am meditating on these words:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (from Isaiah 40, Italics Mine)

I am holding on to these words today. He will give me strength in my weakness. He will renew my strength as I put my hope and trust in Him.

And that is all I need today.

That, and another pain pill. 🙂

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Reminders

photo(6)

This is a picture of my computer monitor at work.

Taped to it and just below it are some reminders.

  • My calling is sure. (A reminder to me when I start to feel discouraged. God has called me to pastoral ministry, and He will bring it about in His timing.)
  • He is not expecting me to be perfect – He is expecting me to be available. (From a Leading and Loving it online conference a couple of years ago. Helps with my perfectionism and over scheduling.)
  • Change me. (A prayer I am praying this year, because I want to be changed into the person that God wants me to be.)
  • Love is a deep desire to promote the well-being of others. Dan J. (My favorite definition of love.)
  • Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4-5 (A verse I pray often as I learn to follow Christ more and more.)
  • God-centered living is characterized by: Confidence in God; Dependence on God and His ability and provision; Life focused on God and His activity; Humbleness before God; Denying self; Seeking God’s perspective in every circumstance; Holy and Godly living. Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God. (Reminders to me of what it means to follow God wholeheartedly.)
  • 5 Statement Pledge of Faith: 1. God is who He says He is; 2. God can do what He says He can do; 3. I am who God says I am; 4. I can do all things through Christ; 5. God’s word is alive and active in me. I’M BELIEVING GOD! Beth Moore, Believing God (A reminder to me why I can and do choose to believe God.)

When I was growing up, I remember my mom having index cards in various places around the house with scripture on them. I guess this is my version of that. I think it is important to keep the important things in front of us, and for me, that means putting them down on paper and literally keeping it in front of me. I spend a huge portion of my day sitting at my desk looking at my computer screen. By putting these important reminders right there in front of me, it almost guarantees that I will see and read them at least once a day.

Are the notes pretty? Not necessarily. Three of them are ripped pieces of paper. Four of them are my scribbles. I have had to add tape to the back of the sticky-notes to keep them sticking to the monitor. But that isn’t the point. The point is to remind me of the things that the Lord has taught and continues to teach me.

These are the ones that are most important to my life right now. There have been others in the past and I am sure that there will be more in the future, but these are the reminders for now.

How do you keep the things you are learning in front of you?

 

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What is Love?

I John 3:16-18, 4:7-12; 16-23

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

I am sure that you have heard that there are many types of love and that love means different things to different people. I took a very unscientific survey last week and asked my Facebook friends “When you hear the word, “love,” what other words come to your mind? What does “love” mean to you? “ here are some of the answers I got:

  •  “Love is the affirmation of being.”
  • Special
  • Unconditional
  • a choice, a sacrifice, tender,
  • God’s Grace & Family!
  • A choice…the perfect gift…always appropriate…God…healing…feels good.
  • Peace, acceptance, security, comfort
  • Someone/something special/meaningful in your heart
  • Action
  • Care, thoughtfulness, understanding. The look in Derek’s eyes when he looks at me.
  • romantic, forever, not fickle, self-sacrificing not self-serving, about others, not about “self,” more than a feeling.

In the above scripture we also learn that love is of God, a sign of knowing God, and it actually IS God.

But my favorite description of Christ like love comes from one of my college professors with whom I attend church now, who once told me that “Love is a deep desire to promote the well-being of others.” I liked that so much that I wrote it down on a piece of paper and have had it taped to the monitor of my computer for years.

This kind of love is like Christ’s love manifested on the cross. This is love that does something amazing for others.

Love isn’t just a feeling or an emotion, love is action. Something comes from it. It says that we will be known as God-followers as we show the love of God. And how do we show the love of God? Through our actions.

In the Bible, Jesus commands us to love God and love others, and if we are known as the children of God by obeying His commands, then our lives should be showing evidence of our love in action.

  • If you tell your spouse every day that you love them, but all you do is yell at them, or ignore them, you are not loving them.
  • If you tell your children before bed each night that you love them, but you never speak to them kindly, never listen to their stories, never choose to spend time with them, you are not loving them.
  • If you say that you love your friends, but you aren’t doing anything to help them find Jesus, you are not loving them.
  • If you say you love the orphans, widows, homeless, and hungry, but you stay in your warm home, eating your comfort food, holding on to your “stuff,” you are not loving them.

In other words, unless we are doing something active to show love, even to the point of laying down our lives for one another the way that Christ laid down His life for us, we are not loving one another in the way that we have been called to do.

This kind of love loves the unlovable, doesn’t expect anything in return, does self-sacrificing deeds that don’t make sense to the rest of the world.

So much of our culture tells us that if someone loves us we should get what we need from them, when in reality, if we are truly showing the love of Christ, we should be only concerned with what we are giving to those we love. And those we love should be all people of all faiths, of all classes, of all ethnicities, of all orientations. Everyone. Even those Christians that we don’t see eye to eye with.

You don’t have to agree with someone to love them. You don’t have to approve of their choices to love them. But you do have to love them. And show that you love them through your actions.

How evident is your love for Christ? Is it being shown in your actions? In your choices?

When people see you, is it like the song says, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love?”

When I ask these questions of myself, I truly hope that the answer is yes.

I hope that the cheerleaders that I spend hours upon hours coaching are learning something about cheerleading, but I pray that they are also feeling the love of Christ. A love that sacrifices a huge portion of my time between July and October.

I pray that each time our sponsor child has food to eat and goes to school he feels God’s love being shown to him.

I don’t say these things to brag on myself, but I share them as examples of ways that the Lord has shown me how I am effectively showing His love in action. But there are other ways that He shows me that I could be doing more.

I challenge you to ask the Lord today how you are doing in the area of active love and how you could be doing more. Really take the time to pray and listen to His leading.

Because don’t you want to be known as a truly loving Christian? One who follows Christ so closely and emulates Him so well that He is seen in all that you do? Don’t you want to be known as a person who truly shows that their love is a deep desire to promote the well-being of others, just like Christ’s love?

I know I do.

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I know I have been talking quite a bit lately about this book I am reading, Sifted, but it is just so good! There are so many nuggets to grab hold of and chew on. This morning as I was standing in the shower, I had a thought cross my mind about fear and risk and whether or not I am holding back on following the Lord’s call because of being afraid to step out and take a risk. And then I read this next section of the book.

The soil was three parts shale and one part loam, so in order to plant a garden, we rigged up a four-by-eight sifting frame with a wire screen to sift dirt. We positioned the frame at an angle and threw shovelful after shovelful of dirt through the screen. The topsoil fell through the mesh, and the larger rocks and unusable clods of dirt stayed on top of the mesh to be discarded…

…the topsoil that it separated was a deep, beautiful brown, and the garden vegetables planted in this new soil grew to giant sizes…growth happens best in sifted soil.

Do you want your patience to grow? That area of your life will be sifted. Want your finances to grow? That area of your life will be sifted. How about your people skills? That area of your life will be sifted. But what about your marriage, your family relationships? Do you want those to grow? Remember, nothing grows well until the soil has been sifted.

Often our unstated, default goal in life is our leisure, but God’s clear goal is likeness. He wants us to become like Christ. When we slumber, God shakes us to awaken our dozing faith. He has no trouble disturbing our comfortable equilibrium when we make stability our aim rather than growth…

We grow because we are willing to change — to risk what we have — rather than settling for the status quo. In life, we won’t get what we desire. We will receive what we settle for. So what have you settled for in your marriage? What have you settled for in your family? Have you settled for a marriage that is average? Have you assented to one that is acceptable rather than exceptional?

Yikes! What things have I gotten in life because of settling instead of risking? That is a tough question to ask, and even tougher to truthfully answer.

When we choose the easy route, it isn’t necessarily the best one. When we just let things happen instead of going after what we have been called to go after, we are settling for less than God’s best for us.

What blessings have we missed out on by sticking with the status quo?

What growth has been stunted by avoiding the needed sifting?

These are not questions that are answered in a moment, but rather questions that are asked and answered while in prayer and conversation with the Lord, which takes time and a listening heart.

I’m listening, Lord.

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Waiting

Waiting. I seem to be getting good at that. But there are good things that happen when we are waiting on the Lord. He uses those times of waiting to help us grow and mature, and even to bring clarity and focus to our path.

When I read this last week, it was exactly what I needed to read at the time. I love how the Lord does that.

Waiting

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14
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