Thinking With My Heart

Do you ever wake up in a blue mood? I’ve been fighting one this morning myself. Why? Well, it’s Monday…and cloudy…the breeze has a late November chill to it…all the stuffing and pie has been eaten up… you get the idea.

The thing is, I can bring to mind lots of pretty decent reasons to be down without much effort. I’m sure you can, too. And one issue often leads to another if I’m not careful.

Yesterday I was wishing my husband and I could get more “fun” time together. Within a few hours, I was convinced he didn’t like being with me and that we had no romance in our relationship anymore. No wonder I woke up discouraged today!

Thankfully, this time I didn’t get too far down that road. And I’m sure it was the  Holy Spirit’s doing. I was sitting at the kitchen table on the verge of tears, when a scripture verse popped into my head:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?                                Jeremiah 17:9

The words brought my thoughts to a screeching halt. And it occurred to me to wonder if all those negative thoughts were from my brain or my heart. Because I have to admit that I’ve had a history of listening to my feelings first, using rational thought as a back-up. That habit has led to some bad decisions – words spoken and actions taken that were based on faulty beliefs.

So I dared to ask this morning:

  • What do I think is true right now?

My marriage is struggling – we’re falling out of love, etc…

  • Is that based on feelings or reality?

Well

I reminded myself that we’ve both been in a busy, demanding season, which is both a blessing and a challenge. There’s work, of course. And we’re trying to be available for our kids to help them navigate life as older teens. New opportunities have opened up for both of us in ministry. We’re tired and a bit stressed by life. But that doesn’t mean we’re in trouble – it means we need some sleep and a good date night!

For me, emotions can have a lot of power. So when they come on especially strong, I need to take a step back and do a reality check. It sure worked for me today – my outlook has improved a lot already.

Remodeling

We’ve done a lot of remodeling in our house over the years. Some of the projects were planned, and others sprang up unexpectedly. However they came about, each one has ultimately added to the value of our property.Whatever we had to go through was worth the end result.

I read a blog this morning about how God has a remodeling plan for each of us, too. And I couldn’t help but make the connection between the process we’ve experienced in our house and how God has been working in me since I accepted Christ.

  • Remodeling starts with tearing down.

Removing old or outdated materials is always the first step. In our bathroom, that meant yellowed tiles and a drippy faucet. In me, it’s pride, selfishness and other wrong attitudes that need to go. Gutting a room or a heart exposes the bare bones underneath, which can be painful. But doing that clears the way for a new, stronger foundation to be built.

  • Remodeling always takes more time than planned.

It seems like every HGTV project seems to run into a big snag: electrical problems, plumbing issues or maybe insulation concerns. That happened with us during our attic re-do, several times, actually. And even though we expected it, I still got impatient. I wanted the workmen to hurry up so that I could enjoy the results. I’ve done the same thing with God when He spotlights what needs changing in me. If I’m smart, though, I’ll get out of His (and the construction crew’s) way, trusting that His methods and timing are best.

  • Remodeling is never really finished.

It’s exciting to see a room get transformed, and to have a vision be reached. But it isn’t long before I start thinking about another space that could use some TLC. I know there’ll always be something that can be improved. The more I learn about God, the more I realize that is true about me as well. I won’t be finished until I’m in heaven. But in the meantime, I’m grateful that God is faithful to keep up His renewal project in me!

 

Testimonies Part 2

Earlier this week, I wrote about the power of testimonies. I thought it would be helpful to look at someone in Scripture who wasn’t afraid to tell others about how Jesus changed his life.

The Apostle Paul had quite a story to share – reading through the Book of Acts gives us a great overview of it. For now, let’s zero in on Chapter 22, one of the first times he relates the details of his dramatic conversion.

Remember when I mentioned three qualities that make a testimony compelling for me? Well, I found all of them in abundance in this passage.  Check out these excerpts:

Paul’s story was honest

He wasn’t afraid to confess his mistakes, his faults, his sin, which helps me relate to him.

“I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.” (v. 4-5)

Paul’s story was specific  

The descriptions he included help me feel like I’m there – I can almost experience the events with him as he remembers them.

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’  ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.”  (v.6-8)

Paul’s story was God-centered

A thread of praise runs through his whole tale, challenging me to acknowledge God’s authority and His Will for me.

“Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.”          (v. 14-15)

 

I hope Paul’s story can inspire you as you write your own!

God Is Good

I just read a blog by Valerie Young called “You Can’t Change Your Life Course Without Thanksgiving.” It made a great point about how we need to be thankful for what we have right now, even if we’re not exactly where we’d like to be.

That’s a tall order sometimes, isn’t it? I know it is for me. When I want a change, I want it to happen right away. And if it doesn’t, I can feel the frustration and discontentment start to stir up inside. The danger is that I’ll follow my feelings and try to make things happen myself. I can quickly end up out of God’s timing, and into a mess of my own making!

I know there’s a better way, and it involves me submitting my will to His. It’s a decision to believe that God’s plan is right for me, and to trust in His methods. And while I wait to move ahead, I need to have an attitude of gratitude about where I am.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good…            Psalm 136:1

No praise item is too small to mention. Sometimes I start with the most basic of gifts, like breathing. The mere act of lifting thanks up to God, whatever it’s for, is a blessing. I always end up feeling lighter and more at peace with my circumstances when I’m done.

Honestly, I pray for a lot of things to improve: physical healing for my RA symptoms, a healthier financial condition for our household, more clarity for my kids. And each of those are important to me. But instead of focusing totally on the future I hope for, I need to see what’s amazing about the present. To put it another way, God is good, all the time!

The Power of Testimonies

NOTE: New blogs will return on Friday. Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday!

Have you ever shared your testimony?

My church is holding it’s annual Testimony Slam tonight. It’s kind of an “open mic” night for anyone who wants to get up and share some of their story. it’s become a tradition, and only partly because of the pie social afterwards!

I’ve written before about how powerful that first Slam was for me. Why? Well, what I heard reassured me that I’m not alone on this journey of faith. Others are struggling and learning and worshipping right alongside me. I’m part of a community, and we’re all traveling the road toward Christ-likeness together.

I also came away with a bigger picture of God and how He’s working around me. Because if I’m not careful, I can get totally preoccupied with my own little daily world. Someone else telling their experiences helps me keep the right perspective. Plus, hearing their victories increases my joy in the Lord!

There’s something about personal stories that grabs our attention. The inspire and encourage us to “press on”, as Paul wrote. We must learn the foundational principles and doctrine of our faith. But testimonies show us the practical application. They can help us step over the bridge between knowing truths and living them out.

So what makes for a powerful testimony? I believe it’s less about actual  content – everyone’s story is unique, after all. It’s more about how we deliver what we say to make it relatable to others. The most impactful testimonies  I’ve heard had traits in common:

  • They were honest
  • They were specific
  • They were God-centered

What are the most powerful testimonies you’ve heard?

 

Martha & Mary

Do you know the story of Mary and Martha in the Book of Luke? The two women, dear friends of Jesus, host Him and His disciples at their home. The focus of the story is how differently the two women choose to spend the time that Jesus is with them. Mary sits at His feet, listening to His teaching. Martha, however, is busy and distracted preparing the meal.

I used to feel a lot of sympathy for Martha – she got saddled with the work while her sister got to relax. And then, when she pointed that out, Jesus gently scolded her and defended Mary – that didn’t seem fair at all! But I’ve come to understand both sisters a little more.

Both women cared deeply for Jesus. They each valued the friendship they shared with Him. And they were excited to invite Him into their home, welcoming Him and His disciples warmly. The difference between them is in how they showed their affection for Jesus.

Martha wanted to express her care through action. Providing a meal for visitors was part of the culture, an expected courtesy. And as a woman of the time, Mary naturally gravitated toward that task and was good at it. She probably assumed Mary would join her in the kitchen, so there was no need to discuss it.

In contrast, Mary decided to show her love by giving attention. She bucked tradition by settling at the feet of Jesus. She respected His teaching, and  wanted to soak in all He had to offer. Her focus was so fixed that it didn’t even occur to her that she needed to be anywhere else.

I think Jesus’ words to Martha, “you are worried and upset about many things,” were meant to calm her spirit. And when He said that Mary chose the better part, He wasn’t saying Martha’s situation didn’t matter. He was reminding her that relationships are more important than tasks. 

As I get ready to prepare another round of holiday dinners, I’m hoping to find just the right balance between ‘Mary’ and ‘Martha’ thinking. Then I might just take a break from stirring and chopping to treasure being with my guests, even before the meal!

 

The Answer To Self Condemnation

As a young Christian, I dealt with a lot of guilty feelings. Accepting Jesus when I was 30 years old meant I entered my new life having made a lot of mistakes and bad choices. And each one left a sense of remorse behind, like a layer of sticky residue.

I’d only been to church a few times over the years, and had never read the Bible. Once I got settled into a congregation, I began to be tutored and discipled. And that’s where my struggle with guilt really kicked in.

You see, up until then I’d “gotten away” with sinning. I might have felt bad about hurting someone, or regret that I’d gotten myself into a bad situation. But I’d find all sorts of ways to avoid and ignore facing my responsibility head-on. The result was temporary relief, followed by a lingering feeling of “wrongness”.

The more I started to learn about God, the worse I felt about me. All I could see was how far I’d fallen short of His commands. The memory of every faulty thing I’d done came to haunt me, each a reminder of how hopeless I was. But I wasn’t hopeless – I was being misled.

The truth is that guilt can serve a very useful purpose. God uses it as a tool to help me realize when I’ve sinned. But I always took “good guilt” to the next step, into self-condemnation. And that is a favorite tool the enemy uses to discourage us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”                          Romans 8:1

I think Paul understood the temptation to fall into self-condemnation. Earlier in Romans chapter 7, he lays out the ongoing battle we all face with our sinful nature. He ends up exclaiming “What a wretched man I am!” But Paul doesn’t stay there. He goes on to give us the way out – “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ…”

Do you ever feel weighed down by guilt? Go to God. When you confess your sins, He not only forgives them, but removes them from you. Because of what Jesus’ death on the cross, our sins are gone, separated from you forever. And when He’s done, you are clean – no sticky residue left behind!

Meeting More Of The Family

 

Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.”        Psalm 117:1

I just got home from a terrific concert. My church hosted the Baraka Church worship choir from Brooklyn, New York. 14 singers and a 3-piece band took the stage, and filled our sanctuary with sweet gospel-style praise. What a treat!

When they visited for the first time last year, this talented group of men and women shared their music, and some of their lives, with us. We got to hear some personal testimonies from the members. Then we learned about the history and ongoing mission of the church from Baraka’s Pastor. He gave us items to pray for and challenged us to join them on their next trip to Haiti.

In the body of Christ, church congregations are connected by the bond of belief we share. And it’s wonderful when we can take the time to really get to know each other in a more personal way. But it doesn’t just happen – someone has to reach out. In this case, one of our pastors spent time with the leadership of Baraka, which led to an invitation.

A few years ago, our missions team heard about a Children’s Choir from Africa that was coming to tour the U.S. Again, through reaching out, we were able to convince them to spend a weekend with us. By the time they left, we knew a lot more about their school and their lives. We also found out some practical ways to help them.

Both these visits touched our hearts and opened our eyes. We are more aware of needs in other parts of the world, and have become more willing to respond. And, maybe most importantly, we’ve gotten to share times of worship and gotten to know some of our extended family!

 

Cleaning House

We’re having guests over for Thanksgiving dinner. So you know what that means – SPEED CLEANING! I know – if I’d kept up with the daily chores all along, I’d only have to “spruce up.” I really do see the wisdom in that. But my housekeeping skills have not been very consistent, so now there will be frantic straightening  along with prepping for the meal.

I’ve made my share of attempts to form a regular cleaning routine, but none have taken root. The one-room-a-day system left me discouraged when I ventured out into the untamed rest of the house. I tried a variation, doing the same chore in every room in one day, and got tired from lugging the equipment all around the house.

Part of my issue with cleaning is that the job is never done – I’m caught in a continuous loop. Whatever surface I dust on Monday is covered again by Thursday, and the floor I sweep needs another run by the next morning.Plus, there’s this kind of performance pressure to make each room resemble a page from Better Homes & Gardens, which stresses me out.

I’ll admit it, I have a cleaning attitude problem. When I was single, I got away with doing next to nothing. As a new bride, I made a passionate vow to please my husband by keeping the house looking gorgeous, just like my mother-in-law did in hers. Later, kids and pets and busyness kicked in, and I grumped about how I couldn’t keep up.

In each season, I’ve found a way to be discontent. I’ve swung from laziness to perfectionism to martyrdom, always taking a negative view about the chores and myself. Well, it’s time to take a step back, take a breath and refocus.

Cleaning the house is not about impressing anyone, or proving how worthy I am. It’s simply about handling something God has gifted us with respect, and taking care of my family. Having rooms be picture-perfect doesn’t matter as much as making them comfortable and healthy.

If I can concentrate on keeping my home a blessing instead of a showcase from now on, then I might enjoy the cleaning of it a lot more. And having people over will only add to the fun of a holiday.

 

A Special Meal

I subbed yesterday at an elementary school here in town. It just so happened that they were holding their “Celebration of Family Day.” All the students had invited their parents to come and eat a Thanksgiving-style meal and do some arts and crafts with them. The kids were so excited!

While I sat for a bit in the Teacher’s lounge, I saw various staff and PTO members setting up. Each of them took their roles very seriously, whether it was manning the sign-in station or serving turkey.  it was fun to see the anticipation they felt, and the sense of joy they showed in their work.

It reminded me of the Veteran’s Dinner that was held at my church a couple of weeks ago. The menu was also Thanksgiving-themed, but instead of doing arts and crafts, the attenders swapped stories about military service. The spirit of cheer was as infectious at this meal as it was at the school, though.

At both these events, it was clear that the organizers wanted to make the the guests feel warmly welcomed. From the decorations to the dessert, all the details were carefully planned and carried out. And the main goal seemed to be to create a special time of fellowship that would be treasured long after it finished.

All that made me wonder – do I put as much thought into the atmosphere of a regular, “every weekday” kind of meal at home?  

I simply can’t make a roast and fixings every dinner. And my kids are too old for making paper hats. That’s fine – those things are only elements meant for certain occasions, anyway. I’m thinking that the most important way to make any meal special starts with having a genuine desire to honor the people coming to sit at the table, and letting them know how much I always value their company.