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!

Fearfully Made? Who, Me?

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”                      Psalm 139:14

At my women’s Bible study last night, we talked about how creative God is, and that He made us to be creative, too. When I asked the group to write down a couple of their gifts though, some seemed hesitant. They said it seemed like boasting to talk about their own gifts.

Do you ever feel that way? I can relate.

It’s definitely easier for me to notice another person’s gifts and talents than it is to focus on mine. It is much more comfortable for me to recognize others than to get noticed myself. Why? Well, I think the concern about boasting is one reason. There’s a second, less noble reason – I’ve had trouble accepting the gifts I’ve been given.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often compared myself to others. The habit started early on the elementary school playground, and over the years got rooted in my spirit. I used comparison as a way to measure myself: Gail can jump rope really well, so I should be able to.

The tragedy of thinking that way is not only how much pressure we put on ourselves, but how we discount our own abilities in the process. I was so intent on copying someone else that I lost track of my own unique set of talents and gifts. Though I didn’t have the athletic skills to jump rope like Gail, I could write and perform little skits for our class that she enjoyed, for example.

In Psalm 139, David gives us “inner comparers” a healthier way of looking at ourselves. His words seemed very bold to me at first, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” As if that weren’t enough to challenge us, David goes on to say that God’s “works are wonderful.” He means each of us!

Naming our gifts doesn’t have to lead to big ego trips. And it doesn’t mean settling for less than what someone else has. I’ve come to believe that God intended me and you to accept, celebrate, and use our own unique set of talents. I don’t want to insult the One who created me by dismissing how He made me. How about you?

 

Cold Thoughts

1447861572286-677988780“… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  Phil 4:11

I’ve been having a bit of a rough morning – achy joints with a side of fatigue. That’s my Rheumatoid Arthritis experience in a nutshell. During this summer and even early fall, a combination of medications and more exercise has really helped me deal with it effectively. But now the temperatures are sliding, and I literally feel it in my bones.

I’ve occasionally wondered how this winter will be for me. And while the weather has stayed warm I’ve pulled that question out, only to tuck it away for later. Well, later has arrived. As I pushed through today’s morning routine, all sorts of twinges and throbs surprised me. Taking the dog out and making a sandwich, which last week had been pretty easy, were suddenly full of pain triggers.

By the time I sat down with my husband for breakfast, my mind was flashing back to last year, when wrist braces, ice packs and a steady stream of Advil were barely enough to take the edge off. It wasn’t long before fear was creeping around inside me: Is this winter going to be as bad for me?

The honest answer is, I don’t know. That thought didn’t cheer me up this morning. In fact, I could feel the stirrings of another question rising up – Why do I still have to deal with this? Actually, the answer to that is the same.

By God’s grace, I had the wisdom to ask my husband for prayer. And as he spoke, I could almost hear a voice whisper in my ear. It went something like this: Whatever the situation is right now, accept it and deal with it. That is where your strength will be.

Paul’s words in Philippians came pretty quickly to mind. He could have let the difficult, sometimes life-threatening circumstances he faced become reasons for fear and resentment. Instead, he chose to put his trust in God, and to let go of his anxiety. That decision brought him peace, and a continued strength to handle everything.

I know this winter will eventually pass into Spring. And I want to look back over the season with a sense of victory, knowing I took each day as it came, making the most of it no matter how I felt. A tall order! But Paul also said, “I can do all things through Christ.

 

Idols

Idols have been on my mind lately, especially in relation to worship. I’ve written before about all the idols I’ve had in my life, starting when I was very young. When I thought about things I wanted, such as career success, or money, or a beautiful face and body, I felt intense excitement about getting them, along with a gritty determination – I could not fail to capture them, or my life was worthless. That sounds extreme, and it was. I truly believed that without those things, there wasn’t much reason to get up in the morning. I literally worshipped the daydreams I spun about what I would do and be.

But here’s a truth I’ve learned about idols: they are illusions. Each of the items on my “To Do” list held a promise for me – a complete and exciting life full of people who loved and appreciated me for the amazing person I’d become.

Do you see the faulty thinking there?

I assumed that getting the perfect job or losing 20 pounds would suddenly make me a person who was worthy of notice. The person I already was didn’t deserve to be loved, so improving myself in all these areas was the way to earn happiness. For me, idol worship came out of insecurity. I simply didn’t like myself, and so I bought into the illusion that there was another me out there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered. But what I needed was healing, not a self-improvement regimen. Through God’s Word and some good teaching, I’ve learned that I have always been worthy of love. God actually designed the me I am – my eye color and my temperament, my shoe size and my talents. And He has always loved, accepted and respected me.

The bottom line is, I started concentrating on myself and what I should do, and more onto God and what He could do. I began to align my will to His, and to seek to please Him rather than people. I accepted Him is the source of my significance. The more I worshipped God the less of a hold the old idols had on me. They will always try to lure me away, but I won’t be following them anymore.