Saturday, July 28, 2012

Contentment: Not Just for Cows

There's an old adage which says that contented cows give better milk. Great. Let the cows be content. It seems all they do is stand around, chew on grass, and wait for someone to come milk them. Why wouldn't they be content? Cows don't have to worry about jobs, their health, finances, relationships, housework, their appearance.

It's not easy to be content with life when I'm juggling all kinds of worries and comparing my life to someone else's.



Wouldn't you know it. God has a way of pointing out these little issues in our lives. My guess is that if I asked for a show of hands right now, nearly everyone could raise their hand in affirmation that they deal with some sort of discontent in his or her life. I know that's been true for me. If you don't deal with this issue at all, do tell. What's your secret?!

I've been trying to write this post for weeks. I started doing a word study and research, then set it aside. I'd think about it again, but kept putting it off. Then I finally started to work seriously on this post but the writing process came to another screeching halt. It's like I kept hitting a brick wall. So, for some reason this post has been incredibly difficult to write and I don't know why.

This issue all started a few months ago after speaking with a friend about contentment. I confessed that I was struggling with contentment in the area of my singleness. I've been dealing with it my entire life. I've become used to it. For the most part I've been content with my single life. Then my life was turned upside down and... BAM!

So I started wrestling with this issue in recent months. I think I am now in a much better place of contentment. That place is...
  • recognizing God's authority in my life (even my love life),
  • understanding His sovereignty,
  • giving Him control,
  • realizing that God loves me so very much that He really does want the absolute best for me,
  • and knowing I need to wait for His timing and His best.
For me this discontentment started because of my wrestling. Once I stopped wrestling and put my trust in God, contentment started creeping back into my life.

One Scripture which is very familiar is that of Paul's profession of contentment in the book of Philippians:

"Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content  
with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing
or with everything. I have learned the secret of living
in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty,
with plenty or little. For I can do everything through 
Christ, who gives me strength." ~ Philippians 4:11-13

I love the following quote which seems to sum up the whole issue of contentment for me:

"Paul’s relationship with God superseded 
whatever he did or did not have. 
His contentment was not based on his circumstances, 
but on his relationship with Christ." 
~ Albert Lee in Our Daily Bread

Mr. Lee also reminds us that contentment is a learned behavior which does not happen overnight.

The strength it takes to be content does not come from our sheer willpower, but Christ provides what we need to persevere.

So, if contented cows give better milk, then do contented Christians produce better "fruit?" I would say that is probably true. 

Yet true godliness with contentment 
is itself great wealth. ~ 1 Timothy 6:6

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three on Thursday

  1. "Our insecurity, emotional vulnerability, and longing to be needed drive us to idolize another person instead of God." ~ from Break Through by Clinton & Springle.  God created us to need Him. It seems we're always trying to fill that void with other people or things. Until we recognize this and allow God to completely fill that empty place, we will continue to search--unsuccessfully--for something else to satisfy that need.
  2. "If you’ve ever doubted God’s personal pursuit of you, let this truth sink in, my friend: wherever you are, He wants to meet you there. He is waiting for you to stop, come up close, and turn your heart to listen to His. You don’t have to pretend things are fine when they aren’t. He knows what is going on in your thoughts. Nothing could keep Him from wanting to be with you." ~ from A Confident Heart by Renee Swope.  I can personally attest to this truth. God relentlessly pursued me but He waited for me to stop and turn to Him. He wants me to be close enough to Him to hear and to see what He wants me to know. He already knew what I was thinking, what I was holding back. Yet He still wanted me. To use a quote from an old hymn, that's "Amazing Love. How can it be?"
  3. "Regardless of how you may feel, God does see you. He knows your name, and He loves you— passionately and tenderly. He sees your needs, and He yearns to fill them. At any given moment, even when you feel most alone, He is working out a plan for your future. All you have to do is turn around. Trust Him. Wait for Him. Keep your eyes open. One way or another, one day soon, you will realize that you, too, have encountered El Roi.” ~ from The God Who Sees You by Tammy Maltby.  Once again, this is amazing love from our amazing, One True God. When we diligently seek God, He is willing to reveal who He is to us and teach us. God sees us and loves us. When you can't trust anyone in this world, you can trust God.

Friday, July 20, 2012

God's Promises of Protection

When times get rough--and we know they will--it's good to know God promises. He's there with us even when we have a hard time sensing His presence. God won't abandon us! Take courage and press in even closer to God when those times get tough.

I leave you today with just a few of the many promises from God and a video clip of a song that's been stuck in my head recently. It's a very catchy tune and I like what it says. Enjoy!

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
~ Isaiah 41:10

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. ~ John 14:27

So be strong and courageous,
    all you who put your hope in the Lord! ~ Psalm 31:24

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever. ~ Psalm 121:7-8  

But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you. ~ Exodus 23:22

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Love Notes From God

As I was preparing dinner one evening, I noticed a stain on my kitchen counter. I suppose it was left from my morning coffee and in my rush I didn't notice it until that evening. But what I saw was not a stain, it was a heart. It was a beautiful heart and another reminder of God's love for me.

How did I get all that from a stain on the counter? Because I have learned to wait expectantly for God to show me these little acts of love. Sometimes it comes through just the right song on the radio, or in the words from a friend, and sometimes it comes through a simple stain on the kitchen counter.

I have learned that God loves me so much that He is willing to go to great lengths to let me know. He loves me unfailingly, sacrificially, and unconditionally. He loves me enough to allow me to make mistakes and He will be there to pick me up when I stumble. He loves me enough to dry every single tear that I shed. He's there to cheer me on when I make the right choices.

And here's the really cool thing about this picture: When we are God's adopted children, He doesn't see a stained heart either. He only sees our beautiful, clean heart through the eyes of His son, Jesus.

I will leave you with just a few of the many, many verses about God's love for us.

Psalm 36:7
How precious is your unfailing love, O God! 
All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 52:8
But I am like an olive tree, thriving 
in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.

Psalm 136:2
Give thanks to the God of gods. 
His faithful love endures forever.

Proverbs 15:9
The LORD detests the way of the wicked,
 but he loves those who pursue godliness.

Romans 8:38
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. 
Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, 
neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow
—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Patience: I Want it Now!

The past week or so I've been studying the topic of patience in preparation for a group Bible study meeting. As usual, God has impeccable timing. For the past few months the Lord has placed many Bible verses about patience in front of me such as:

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. 
Remember the great reward it brings you! 
Patient endurance is what you need now, 
so that you will continue to do God’s will. 
Then you will receive all that he has promised. 
~ Hebrews 10:35-36

When my patient endurance began to wear thin and gradually turned into child-like impatience, God decided to get me into a word study about patience. It's probably the equivalent of writing on the blackboard 100 times that I will not chew gum in class! So, rather than enjoy this word study all by myself, I thought I'd share it with you.

Here's a definition from a secular online dictionary...

patience [ˈpeɪʃəns] n

1. tolerant and even-tempered perseverance
2. the capacity for calmly enduring pain, trying situations, etc.
[via Old French from Latin patientia endurance, from patī to suffer]

I like these definitions: 
  1. The ability to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay; quiet, steady perseverance, diligence. 
  2. Accepting the imperfections of others.
  3. True patience is anchored in hope.
  4. An eager desire for relief or change; intolerant of anything that delays.
  5. Impatience is the chief trait of self-centeredness (immaturity).
What does the Bible say about patience?
  • In the Old Testament scriptures, patience is often defined as longsuffering or slow to anger
  • In the New Testament the terms endurance and waiting are often used with patience. 
  • Longsuffering is generally used in association with people. 
  • The terms patient endurance or waiting are usually associated with our circumstances. 
  • The opposite of patience (impatience) in the Old Testament is usually referred by the word weary (Isaiah 7:13). I found that definition very intriguing. When I feel impatient, weariness is not the first thing I think of but the mind and soul does become weary.
  • Mercy, gentleness, and humility are often closely tied with patience in the Bible.
  • Just a few of the rewards of patience: You earn respect (Proverbs 19:11); Doubly blessed (Job 42:10); God is pleased (1 Peter 2:20); Others will speak well of us (2 Thess. 1:4); We will be complete (James 1:4); Hope and encouragement (Romans 15:4). Patience is a fruit of the Spirit!
I'll leave the rest of the word study up to you. Hey, I can't do all the work!

So, what have I learned about patience?

  • I get impatient with people sometimes, but I usually become more impatient with my circumstances.
  • It grows my faith beyond its current level (maturity) and absolutely requires me to trust God with my circumstances.
  • Building patience doesn't happen overnight and I falter a lot. 
  • At times I'm much more immature than I believed myself to be.
  • There is true peace that occurs in my life when a measure of patience is achieved. That peace only comes through trusting God.

And the consequences of impatience? 
  • pain and suffering
  • broken dreams
  • troubled relationships
  • compromised integrity
  • God's displeasure
  • untimely death

Wow. I don't like this list at all and this list is not exhaustive! The next time I begin to feel impatience coming on, I need to read this list.

I found this word study quite interesting. Some of this information I found in a free PDF booklet online: Discovery Series about patience.

Monday, July 9, 2012

God Speaking

Have you ever tried to get a child's attention when there are other things happening in the same room? The television, computer, telephone, a game, friends, snacks, all vie for their attention. You try to give the child instructions and if she acknowledges you at all, it may be half-hearted. Fifteen minutes later the child has already forgotten you came into the room to tell her anything. Yes, it's an age-old problem getting a child to listen.

Imagine how God feels when we act the same way. We're so busy with distractions in life that most of the time we don't even recognize His voice or that He's even present in the room with us. God doesn't need our attention, but He does want our attention. Sometimes He wants to give us instruction and other times God just wants us to be in His presence so that He can love on us.

I've been guilty of being that busy, distracted, and self-absorbed child. God swooped in and got my attention through a series of life-events and people. Since that time, I have learned to recognize my Father's voice and to carefully watch for Him. I'm not always successful, but I am still learning and God is a merciful Father--Praise the Lord.

I ran across this song by Mandisa called God Speaking. It's a very powerful song about the way God captures our attention. Give it a listen and then start listening for God to speak.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Facebook Faces

I'm not picking on Facebook, but I will use it as an example. For the most part, Facebook is full of the highlights of our lives. We share all the good and fun stuff that's going on. We put our best foot (or face) forward and we entertain each other. It's a proven fact that to even get noticed on Facebook these days you have to have good images with your posts and clever things to say. I enjoy looking at photos and hearing about all the good stuff going on in people's lives. Except...

just how real is that?

In some cases, the good stuff is only half-truths. There are struggles going on in everyone's lives that are often not shared. Some are small struggles that don't seem important in the scheme of life--especially when compared to someone's public life and death struggles. But they are important to you.

Nevertheless, we put on our Facebook Faces when we go out in public--to work, to church, to the store. "How are you?" "Oh, fine." Inside you're thinking, not fine; if you only knew.

What's really bothering you...

  • are the grocery and gas prices that keep going up and the economy keeps going down.
  • is concern about that family member or friend who is sick or near death. 
  • your adult child or grandchild who's walked away from the Lord.
  • the marriage that has hit a really tough spot.
  • the dreams and desires that never seem to pan out for your life.

The problem with always having our Facebook Faces on is how deceptive that is for others who see us. When life is always "rosy at our house," others see this and assume it to be true. Then they compare that with their own lives and believe there's something terribly wrong with their own lives.The following quote from A Confident Heart by Renee Swope sums up the problem:

"Comparison leaves us insecure, confused, and discontent. My friend Genia summed it up well when she told me, 'Every time I compare myself with someone else, I can never measure up because I am comparing my insides with their outsides.' ...God never intended for us to compete with each other; He wants us to complete one another, celebrating and encouraging each other’s strengths while discovering who He created us to be."

I really like that compete vs. complete comparison.

After I started writing this post I had to put it aside so I could finish later. During this time, I was reading some of my favorite blogs and found another reference to this very issue. Yesterday on Beth Moore's Living Proof Blog she touched on this very topic. Beth ran into a younger friend who was struggling under some very heavy burdens. This friend asked Beth whether she ever struggled with issues. Beth responded with an affirmative, "Yes, I've been there," and proceeded to encourage this younger believer.

Obviously, nobody wants to be around a Debbie Downer all the time. (No offense if your name is Debbie.) But, there is a time and place to be transparent with other believers, to use our own lives as examples, to encourage and say Yes, I've been there.

If you need encouragement, feel free to leave a message here or hop over to Beth's blog using the link I provided and read some of those messages others have left.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Inner Geek

Live Long and Prosper!

I've been keeping a secret from all those who know me. I am truly a geek at heart.

I try to look cool, act cool, say cool stuff. Sometimes I'm successful.

Mwah-ha-ha-ha! I've had you all fooled! 

I'm just a geek at heart. 

I'm a normal, run-of-the-mill person who enjoys Star Trek, The Three Stooges, Computers, Reading, Word Games, and probably a few other things that are considered "geeky."

But who cares? It's a lot of hard work trying to be cool. 

Probably many of us who grew up in the Happy Days era knew Fonzie was the epitome of cool. But even he had a softer, nerdier side that he only showed to those he loved.

Why are we hiding? 

Someone will laugh at us, call us names, put us down. Oh, I've had my share of those put-downs. It's not fun to be on the receiving end of name-calling.

The fact of the matter is, it doesn't matter what other people think. It only matters what God thinks. He created me exactly like I am. He knew before I was even born that I would enjoy geeky things, that I would laugh at puns, that I have this quirky chirppy sound that I make when I hiccup, I crack my knuckles, and I sometimes snort when I laugh super-hard.

So share your inner Geek with the world, because...

Psalm 139:13-16

You (God) made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s masterpiece. 
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

And God loves us so much that...

Isaiah 49:16a

 See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.

Luke 12:7

And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 
So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God
than a whole flock of sparrows.
 Confession time: What are your geeky traits? Do tell...  Please leave a comment and share.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Abiding in The Vine

I have a LOT of bushes in my yard. When I bought this home a decade ago, I admired the tiny little bushes in the front and back of the house. In the early days of home ownership, theses bushes required very little maintenance--or so it seemed.

Without regular attention the bushes continued to grow. And grow. And grow. A couple of bushes actually died off for some unknown reason. The remaining bushes tripled in size. I hadn't really noticed how large they had grown until I looked at some photos taken when I first purchased this home. Then one of my favorite bushes in front of the house--a burning bush--got some sort of pestilence. Slowly the leaves began to drop and that bush looked ever so pitiful. Obviously neglect was not an option if I wanted healthy bushes in my yard.

I got out my tools and gave all the bushes a healthy trim. I had to do a major pruning job on my burning bush if I wanted to keep it alive. For an entire season that burning bush was little more than an assortment of sticks coming out of the ground, just a few leaves here and there, and it wasn't pretty or healthy looking. However, as the next season rolled around, that burning bush began to grow and fill out. Two years later it is very healthy again.

Just like bushes and trees, sometimes our lives need pruning. Our lives get overgrown with good activities, work, family, friends, entertainment, things, etc. Neglect blinds us to the overgrowth and blight. We spread ourselves so thin that we barely have time for our quiet time with God. One day we "wake up" and notice how full our lives have gotten. We no longer have regular quiet times with God. Life starts getting out of hand and we wonder what happened.

John 15:1-8 is the passage in which Jesus compares himself as the True Vine, God as the Vinedresser, and believers in Christ are the branches.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; 
and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides
in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, 
he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch
and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish,
and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, 
that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

Branches (believers) must remain in the Vine (in Christ) in order to sustain life. Abiding in Christ means we need to maintain a constant connection to our Lifesource. This abiding is not a suggestion, it's an imperative and necessary. 

My own life has recently gone through a major pruning process. The Vinedresser has been selectively pruning the vines in my life that were not bearing fruit. This includes some really good stuff like people and hobbies. To be honest, at times the pruning process has been painful. It's not easy to say goodbye to so many people and things at once. But throughout the process, the Vinedresser has been tending to me and nurturing me with His love and care. The benefit to this abiding can be found in verses 7 and 8 of this passage: The Father is glorified, I bear much fruit as His follower, and He will bless me. I can now see the pruning has helped me focus more on Christ while the remaining areas of my life are beginning to bear healthy fruit. In time, my life will once again be full with leafy branches and I can't wait to see what the Vinedresser has in mind for this Branch.

"Apart from Me (the Vine) you (I) can do nothing."