Saturday, February 13, 2016

Gift Wrapped

I recently conducted a Professional Development session on the concept of Productive Struggle. Within education, it is the practice of allowing students to struggle through appropriately leveled problems so that they learn to problem solve, learn to persevere, learn to think for themselves and become independent. 

While these are all necessary and valued life skills, our culture often undermines them. We celebrate “the naturals”, when things come easy, and how great it is to get it right first try! This transforms into an attitude of entitlement, a negative perspective toward struggle, and lack of perseverance and self-responsibility.

I see this within the community of faith as well. Life should be easy, problem free, and all about my comfort. But that’s not reality in this fallen world. Life is hard. Trials wreck us. Death, disease and brokenness blindside us.

Yet when I look at nature I see God’s plan.

The butterfly must fight its way out of the chrysalis to gain the strength to fly.



The sprout must push through the soil, gaining the strength needed to support the bloom.



Our muscles will atrophy without the challenge of exercise to keep them healthy, growing and strong.



Why do we look at challenges as negative things?
What if we viewed trials as gift-wrapped presents from God?

Sure the gift wrap isn’t pretty! Cancer is ugly. Grief is brutal. Broken relationships hurt.

But if we realized that wrapped within that cancer, that grief, that pain comes the opportunity to experience God like never before, then we are not overcome by the challenge. Rather, it is overcome by us!

We can move into and through the trial with hope, expectancy, and trust.

For the God who overcame death, who displayed His power in raising Jesus from the dead, is in control of the challenge we face. His power works on our behalf. His power empowers us to keep the faith, to keep perspective, to extend grace, to forgive, to maintain intimacy in God’s presence despite the surroundings.

I know so many as of late who have been handed ugly wrapped gifts they don’t want to receive. But I can testify, that God will truly use it as a gift as we press into Him. You will be strengthened as a sprout, able to support the bloom of His glory in your life.

May the words of the song encourage…

“No fear catches Him by surprise… Find rest, My Soul. Put your hope in God.”


Know I’m praying for you!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. James 1:2

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory ad honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7

Monday, February 8, 2016

Oops!

Realized I forgot to notify...

I was privileged to attend the IF GATHERING 2016 conference this weekend in an IF LOCAL event. I'll be back next weekend!

Thanks for the grace...
Juli

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Whiter than Snow




I love God-incidences… those moments you know God orchestrated but some people might call a coincidence. This past week everything I saw when I looked out the window was white! We received almost 2 feet of snow compliments of Winter Storm Jonas. A record for Maryland.  Schools have been closed all week and most of us were housebound for 3-4 days.



In the midst of this week, my reading through Psalms brought me to Psalm 51. How appropriate to read about God’s cleansing of my sin, creating a clean heart in me, of washing me so that I am whiter than snow!

So as I looked out over the whiteness of my world this week, I’ve had that verse swirling in my thoughts. I’ve reflected on many key words and verses within Psalm 51. 

One thing stood out right at the beginning:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! vs. 1-2

I noticed how transgressions is plural but iniquity and sin are not.

So often people thing of sin as sins, a collection of wrong behaviors. But that would be our transgressions. Plural. Sin is singular because it’s a single state.

I love how I heard it recently explained.
Sin is simply a turning away from God.

Sin is the turning. That’s why it’s singular. No matter what the behavior is, every transgression involves that one simple act… turning from God. Turning to money, turning to food, turning to self-reliance, turning to power, turning to another person, to pleasure, to worry and doubt.

Sin is the act of turning to something other than God.

Later, in verse 10, Psalm 51 states:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Renewing a right spirit is a turning back. A right spirit is turning to God. Relying on Him for our source, for our direction, for our way to handle things.

When we sin, we turn from God because we fail to believe He is Who He says He is… all good, only good. We turn because we don’t trust Him. We think we know better. We think something else will be better. We turn away.

When we have a right spirit, we believe. We trust. We recognize the lies of doubt and selfishness. We choose to stay turned to God, for whatever we need… strength to handle a situation, direction for how to proceed, security and provision, whatever it is we need.

The beauty of snow right after a storm is amazing. It’s unblemished by foot prints, human or animal. There’s no dirt, no tinting, no staining by dogs J, perfectly pure. 






This is the beauty Christ brings to my life as I trust Him and believe Him. All staining, blemishes, scars, and ugliness from my transgressions, from my sin, is washed away. 
It’s totally removed and I’m left with this beautifully smooth and pure landscape of white within my life.

This is how God sees me – even now.
White. Pure. Holy. Clean.

All because of Jesus. The gift of His redemption purchased through His death on the cross. Secured for eternity as evidenced by His resurrection.

Do you see turning in your life?

Turn to God instead of away. Trust Him. Believe He is who He says. Receive His gift. 

Allow Him to wash you whiter than snow.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lightbulb Moments

Every once in a while a realization sinks in and you just know it’s really important. It’s gonna’ stick!

As I was reading about trust during my devotions, I recognized a stronger confidence than normal as I faced some potential unknowns. And I realized that the trust I am practicing daily in my new job is starting to carry over into other areas in my life.

Suddenly I knew that was the reason for my job change.

Yes, God cares about my career and my work. He gifted me with my talents and abilities and expects me to steward them well. But God’s priority is not building my career. His focus was not my next step on the ladder of success. It’s about me His child transforming into His likeness.

In my new job I’m learning more than ever how to live dependent and take one day at a time. No day is like another which has always been unsettling for me because I don’t know what to expect and I don’t feel like I have control. God is lessening my need for control as I learn to relax and trust. Each day I’m witness to God’s provision. I’m continually surprised by the exact timing of resources and people and guidance I need as I work to care for my staff and students. There’s much success these past 6 months, but it’s due to God, not me! He’s enabling the success and I’m learning to rest – to trust. And, finally, I’m learning to apply that to other areas in my life – friendships, my health, activities in which I participate, everything!

So often I approach it all backwards. I think the job, the circumstances, the present reality is what’s important. But God can and does use anything and everything in my life if I let Him.

God’s focus isn’t the here and now – it’s my heart.
He just uses the here and now to shape it.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Kick Start 2016!

This year I’ve been having so much fun during my quiet time. Through a friend, I stumbled on a growing trend of Bible Journaling. I recently heard it called Art Worship as well. And that title, I really like!

It starts with a Journaling Bible. That’s a special type of Bible that has 2 inch lined margins on the outer side of each page. You can use the lined parts simply to write notes, but Art Worship uses the space to doodle and draw about whatever speaks to you that day.

Here are a few pictures from my doodles this month….






Hope that at least gives you an idea.

The fun thing about this is there is no right way to do things. You simply doodle, draw, write, worship however works for you about whatever speaks to you. It’s not about skill, artistic insights, or anything technical. It’s simply an offering of creativity to the Creator!

There are lots of ideas on Pinterest if you need more inspiration or more creative mediums and ideas.

If you are looking for something different to help inspire your Bible study this year, maybe Bible Journaling might be something to try.


Regardless, thanks for letting me share!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Failure Blooms

I’ve always been so scared to fail.

I learned early that when I made mistakes, bad things happened. People got upset. Relationships became strained until I somehow earned my way back into good graces.

As a child, I was too young to understand the fallacies in this understanding. And without someone countering and teaching me otherwise, that became my perspective through life.

I avoided anything that might not be successful. My risk taking muscles shriveled. I eventually gave up things too that required perseverance to continue to grow once certain levels of success were attained. Piano, track…. All forsaken out of fear that I couldn’t maintain the level of success achieved. My world got smaller and smaller.

It’s taken 40 years but I’m finally learning truth. I’m finally understanding my responsibilities (more on that soon) and how one should look at failures.

God knows we are weak. He created us to be dependent people. There is a measure of strength within as we are His image bearers. But that strength shines strongest when connected to Him.

As Sarah Young states, “those who are successful in their own strength tend to go their own way, forgetting [about God.] It’s through problems and failure, weakness and neediness, that you learn to rely on Him.”  She continues “This journey of reliance on {God} is a faith-walk, taken one step at a time…This is not a path of continual success but of multiple failures. However, each failure is followed by a growth spurt, nourished by increased reliance.”

As I reflected on her words, I stared out over my garden, now brown and fairly barren as winter has begun. However, at the top edge of the waterfall, there is a burst of yellow blooms. The warm temperatures over Christmas caused my Winter Jasmine to bloom two months early.



And I realized that failures are actually seeds…the seeds of growth. For when we fail, we learn. We learn what doesn’t work. That’s it. We get one step closer to figuring out what does work! And unless we are particularly stubborn or a little stupid, we change what we did, learn from it, and move on.

Failure is not something to fear. And taking risks in the safety and security of God, surrendered to his guidance and direction, is necessary.

I know not everyone has these same issues in their lives.  But for those of us who need this truth, this is huge! It touches our very core and perception of ourselves and others. For those who don’t struggle in this way, maybe it will give you insight into other people you know who do.

So let’s stand strong my friends! Let’s try new things, let’s reach out, let’s not beat ourselves up when things go wrong in this new year. Instead let’s learn and let’s get ready for that coming bloom!

***


ps- Just a note to explain that for 2016 I will be posting on the blog only once a week. So expect a “chat” every weekend this year. J

Friday, January 1, 2016

Only good...


Happy 2016!

The start of the New Year is often a time for contemplation and reflection, a looking back in an effort to look ahead. We set resolutions, stir our hopes, and voice our dreams.

But some struggle to look into this new year with hope. Doctor appointments lie ahead, or bills mount that can’t be paid, or broken relationships cause pain.  The lens of fear extinguishes any hope that flickers within.

And the temptation when life is less than we desire is to question God. Where are you? Why me? Why this? I thought I could trust you….

So I’d like to pose a challenge for 2016.
What if, instead of looking at God through the lens of our experiences, we looked at our experiences through the lens of God?

Depending on your religious circle, you’ve probably heard this exchange before:

Speaker 1: “God is good!”
Speaker 2: “All the time!”
Speaker 1: “All the time!”
Speaker 2: “God is good!”

And that is true. God IS good!

But I’d like to add a word to that…. the word “only.”

See the real truth, is not just that God is good, but that God is ONLY good!

So often we picture God like people… He’s good – most of the time.  But we fear there is a part of him that allows or even prefers the bad things of life. This is the thought process that causes us to doubt and question when life gets tough.  We struggle to reconcile the goodness of God with a life of struggle.

1 John 1:5 confirms that God is ONLY good:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

God is ONLY good!
Do you believe that?

When you look ahead into those worrisome unknowns, you have a choice. Will you use them to judge God or will you judge them through God?

This is where faith comes in. The truth that God is only good, means you can face the unknowns in confidence that somehow God will not only get you through, but He will redeem the situations and use them for good in your life. This is what He does. He uses the brokenness to reveal His goodness, to somehow weave everything together into the story He’s writing for mankind.

When we face what’s ahead in the truth of His goodness, fear fades.
Hope ignites. 

We don’t know what.
We don’t know how.
But we do know Who!

And because God is ONLY good, we can trust Him.
We can have hope.
We can believe.

Father God, help us to really know this truth. Let it move beyond our heads to our hearts. Let it change the way we live, the way we think, who we are. Thank you for being trustworthy. You are good. You are only good. We can rest in that truth.  May this truth make my new year different. May this truth become the lens through which I view everything. 

You know what 2016 holds. You have it already planned out. Nothing in this new year will catch you by surprise. I choose to believe. I choose to trust. I know You have good things planned and will guide me through step by step as I walk with You. 

I will not let my circumstances dictate my belief. I will look at life through the truth of your goodness. This is reality. This is truth. On this, I stand. In Jesus Name, Amen.