Archive | spiritual growth

The Gift of Waiting

My next guest is a girl I’ve known since I was ten years old. God has wound our journeys inextricably together and revealed His character to me through her life of obedience. He has taught me so much through our friendship. Today, Julie shares with us all God is teaching her about waiting. I love the gentle way Julie encourages us not to resent the wait but to accept it as a gift straight from the God who calls us His beloved.

(If you’ve missed the other posts in this series, get caught up by starting here.)

Contenders of the Faith Part 3

The Gift of Waiting by Julie Cassol

The kitchen was a mess.  Between my husband and I we had managed to use just about every dish, pan, pot, and cooking utensil we owned.  In the midst of the mess, as we waited on various dishes to cook, I decided to whip up a posset.  Pinterest had just recently introduced me to the posset, a simple, three ingredient, tangy English dessert whose roots run centuries back and I was excited to try it. I followed the simple directions and within fifteen minutes I was pouring the sweet, creamy mixture into little glass dessert dishes so they could cool and set in the refrigerator.  I was already licking my lips thinking about enjoying this lemony treat after dinner.  That’s when I noticed the directions said to, “chill in the refrigeration for at least three hours or overnight.”  What?!  Three hours?!  Overnight?!  How could anything take that long?  Surely this posset would be ready before then.  But with each anxious check into the refrigerator I grew more and more dismayed.  The hands on the clock were telling me it was bedtime and the stubborn posset still wasn’t set.  I felt cheated.  I didn’t want to enjoy it tomorrow, I wanted to enjoy it tonight.  My heart was set on it now.  In the middle of this childish rant of disappointment it all clicked. I’m always trying to avoid the wait.

My mind flooded with memories from my past: all the Christmases I stealthily peeked under shiny wrapping paper before December 25th; the time I did a little joy ride in my sister’s car before I was legally allowed to operate it; giving my heart away before I could fully understand the consequences; and all the seasons of my life I spent trying to rush into the next one before fully experiencing being right where I was.

I’m currently in the middle of a season of waiting.  I don’t like it.  It’s uncomfortable.  It feels unproductive.  I feel exposed and small.  Sadly, I’ve spent most of this season praying for God to make it be over.  That posset helped me see I’m living for the finish line and trying to skip all the work that it takes to get there.  I’m rushing to get to the end to simply check this off my list, and I’m missing the point of why God ever put me in the race to begin with.  Isn’t the whole point of this for me to know Him and be changed by Him into something new?  Recently I’ve changed the focus of my prayers.  I’m asking God to teach me contentment and joy in the middle of the wait.

As I’ve shifted my focus from the finish line to Jesus, I’ve noticed how frequently God uses the wait to teach us. Isaac and his wife Rebekah waited twenty years for Rebekah to finally conceive.  Joseph saw two dreams at the age of seventeen and he waited over twenty years before he saw them fulfilled.  David was anointed by Samuel to be king as a young man and waited until he was thirty years old before he finally sat on the throne.  Esther and Ruth both waited until exactly the right moment to present a life-altering request to a man for help. Paul was blind for three days after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus before Ananias showed up to heal him.  Every account in the bible has waiting woven through it.  The waiting is where the truth of our hearts is exposed. The wait is a gift, an invitation to know God in new and deeper ways.

You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do.

As I’ve asked God for more understanding and wisdom in waiting He lead me to Psalm 40:1, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”  In the lonely, dark space of the wait we are able to see the truth of our faith.  The ugly truth was my heart was in no way waiting patiently.  I had been rushing around in vain, anxiously trying to make things happen on my own instead of resting in the promises of God and trusting Him to do what He has said. I kept believing the lie that the wait was because I wasn’t doing enough.  Now I’m seeing that the wait is the place where God does the most work in me. The wait is where I learn to surrender.  To let God transform the ugly parts of my heart into His beauty.

In the waiting I can embrace that I am weak and learn to live, move, and breathe in God’s strength.  The wait allows me to find Jesus as my hope and joy.  My trust is deepened and my faith grows as I learn to patiently wait.  Waiting is a gift worth receiving.  When God offers you the gift of the wait, how will you respond?

About Julie

About Julie

After living a life pursuing perfection while being stuck in empty religion, finding a real relationship with Jesus wrecked my life.  I’m a normal girl, living a normal life pursuing Jesus. Some days that’s easier than others.

I’m thankful for the people God has in my life that encourage and challenge me to keep chasing Truth and sharing my gifts.  I live with my husband of fourteen years and am learning how to spot the beauty of Jesus in all areas of life, especially the mundane.

You can share this journey with Julie at SpeakingBeauty.blog.

 

Final thoughts…

Whether you’re in a waiting season or not, we all wait for Jesus. May we shrug off doubt and the pressure to perform and simply surrender today. May we trust the transformative power of God’s love and allow gratitude to change our entire perspective this week.

There is still time to enter my giveaway to win a copy of Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. To enter, subscribe to carried by love and leave a comment on any of the posts written by my guest bloggers. I’ll announce the winner at the end of the series.

Download your print of Jude1:20-21 here.

Follow me on Facebook and tune in for live videos every Wednesday at noon.  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. Click here to watch the first three videos:

INTRO: FAITH

Part I: IDENTITY

Part II: SPIRIT

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Jesus Friends

I cannot wait to introduce you to Jackie Hooks, the girl with a Texas-sized heart for God. She makes me laugh but she also invites me to think deeply about what it really means to follow Jesus. Most of all, she inspires me to trust Him for big, bold things. Today, Jackie is talking about what happens when some ordinary women decide to follow Jesus together.

(If you’ve missed the other posts in this series, get caught up by starting here.)

Contenders of the Faith Part 1

Jesus Friends by Jackie Hooks

“The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others.  These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” Luke 8:1-3

We are “Some Women”…
Following Jesus Together.

I walked into the Women’s Bible Study at the age of 30.  I had smoked almost an entire pack of cigarettes on the way…it was such a long drive and I got lost like 8 times.  I was angry and annoyed and cussing up a storm as I drove my Honda civic to some girl’s house.  The Sunday School teacher had “encouraged” me to go.  She said the girls were nice.  She said it was a great way to “plug in”.  And I was just lonely enough to give it a shot. Just desperate enough to make the drive with printed out directions (no iPhone y’all).  Just daring enough to give it one shot.  And forever I will have an enormous place in my heart for girls who drive alone to Bible Studies in women’s homes they have never met before.  It is overwhelming to say the very very least.

And I walked into a room with a circle of women in it.  They all knew each other.  They were all so cute. They were all girls from our Sunday School class (the Nearly/Newly Married Class…Except we weren’t nearly or newly anything…my husband and I were two super sinners climbing out of a ditch).  And I may have instantly hated them all.  And I may have wanted to set myself on fire.  And I may have tried to smile a time or two through gritted teeth.  And I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying over the pounding of my heart and the panic attack I was certain I was having.

And Jesus Just Showed Up.
Like He Does.
When Folks Get Together for Him.

And they listened when I told them I didn’t really want to be there.  And they listened when I had a million and four questions.  And they listened as I fell apart again and again in their living rooms over the next several years.  Y’all.  These girls became my Jesus Friends.  I looked up from my messy life, and to the right and left of me were some girls following Jesus.  And so, we became friends.  Because Jesus placed us right next to each other. We became Jesus Friends.

Jesus Friends are the friendships only Jesus could place in your life.  They are the friendships only Jesus could orchestrate.  They may have no rhyme and no reason at all.  But they are pictures of what Jesus can accomplish when we trust Him with our friendships.

And that y’all, is really the beginning and end of it for me. It was the beginning of Jesus creating my community. It was the end of me searching high and low for the perfect “bestie”.  It was unbelievably freeing knowing Jesus is BIG enough to pick the right gals at the right time to walk right next to you. Because He loves us y’all. He really really does.

Jesus Friends

So, this verse…this obscure little Luke 8:1-3…It is everything to me.  It is some women who were not necessarily best friends…not necessarily anything like each other…not necessarily having one dang thing in common…except the following Jesus part.  And really, y’all, it’s all we need.  When we look to the right and left of us and see another Christ Follower or two or ten getting dusty in the footsteps of Jesus…these are our Jesus Friends.  We love them because they are all following Jesus next to us.  And that is the BIG part.  That is the part that makes us Jesus Friends.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  The love of Jesus lived out in our lives.  No matching t-shirts necessary.  Just Jesus. It’s that simple. You love them because Jesus placed them in your life, and hold on tight y’all, you let them love you too.

And really, this is my prayer for all of us…I pray we are willing to stop hoping for matching personalities or perfect age/kid/spouse/pet dynamics.  Maybe we could quit looking for the person who completely gets us, and we start noticing the gal who completely gets Him.  And y’all, this is when life gets good.  When the folks Jesus placed next to us become the folks we make a place for…We meet our handpicked travelling buddies.  And the road sure gets a lot less lonely.  I promise.  He does too.

About Jackie

I am an everyday ordinary gal who started following Jesus just a little over a decade ago, and has fallen madly in love with the Carpenter King who saved my life and my marriage.  Corey and I are raising four holy moly messes (Jake 13, Jude 12, Grace 10 and Joshua 4).  I am technically a stay at home mom, but rarely do I find myself at home, and the soap opera and bon bon life hasn’t found its way into my living room just yet.  I do occasionally allow for a small celebration when all the laundry is clean AND folded at the SAME TIME on the SAME  DAY…and that is typically twice a decade.

And I write. And I speak.  Words have been the tool Jesus gave me from the very beginning of my life to navigate every road I have walked.  My hope is that my words inspire and encourage you to see Jesus in your everyday too.  He is right here waiting for each of us, in the daily mess, hoping we see He wants so much more from us and for us than we could ever imagine.  I pray my words will lead you to Him.

Connect with Jackie on Facebook, Instagram or subscribe to her blog at jackiehooks.com.

About Jackie

Final thoughts…

Who has God handpicked for your journey? Which ordinary women has He placed in your path for this season?  May Jackie’s words encourage us all to link arms with those sisters and love them well as we walk the narrow road together. And may the visible community we share draw our hearts to the unshakable, unseen kingdom of God, the kingdom in our midst.

Be sure and enter my giveaway to win a copy of Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. To enter, subscribe to carried by love and leave a comment on any of the posts written by my guest bloggers. I’ll announce the winner at the end of the series.

Grab your free download of Jude1:20-21 here.

Follow me on Facebook and tune in for live videos every Wednesday at noon.  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. If you missed any of the videos from this series, you can tune in here:

[New Series] Intro: FAITH

Part I: IDENTITY

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A Faith That Grows

A contender gains strength when he or she understands the power of the weapon in his or her hand. My next guest in the Contenders of the Faith series possesses a bold and vibrant faith because she clings to the Word of God as her source of strength.  Join me as Misty Keith shares what it means to build ourselves up in our most holy faith.

You can read from the beginning of the series, right here.

Contenders of the Faith Part 1

A Faith That Grows by Misty Keith

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21(ESV)

Every living and healthy thing is expected to grow and at some point, reach maturity. If it becomes stagnant, it’s either dead, dull or slack. Healthy living things need nutrients to grow and develop. Without a constant supply of nutrients, there is no sustainability. A person’s faith is known to be synonymous with their spiritual health and maturity. In Jude 1:20-21, we see in that he is addressing Christ followers to essentially have a faith that grows and matures, so that when Jesus Christ returns for His Church, the believer will be ready to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

When we think of the word maturity, we think of something that is growing or becoming fully developed. For example, the sunflower is a healthy, vibrant and beautiful flower. It is recognized worldwide for its color, nutrients, sustainability, strength and most of all, it is valued for its growth. We see that some types of sunflowers grow thick in size and can reach between eight and twelve feet tall. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but sunflowers are known to be a symbol of faith. They are one of the fastest growing plants and rumor has it that sunflowers like to face and follow the sun throughout the day as it rises and sets. They are named “sunflower” because they are a flower that resembles the sun in appearance. You can especially see the resemblance in the larger, healthier plants.

Our personal faith in Jesus is a lot like the sunflower.

A Faith That Grows

In order to be healthy, vibrant, and beautiful, we need our faith to mature and grow. As we face Jesus (the Son) each new day and let His Word build us up, our faith becomes most holy (sacred and consecrated), growing and maturing into a strong belief which is ultimately geared and used to sustain us until Jesus returns for His church.

How does one build up their faith? There are three steps we can take as believers to grow our faith.

Step One: Read the Word.

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17 (NKJV)

If I never picked up the Bible and read God’s Word for myself, I would be clueless about my faith and the need to have my own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Reading or hearing God’s Word is like planting flowers. If you want to grow a bushel of sunflowers, you must first plant the sunflower seeds. God’s Word is the “seed” that grows our faith. Personally knowing Jesus, His promises, what He and the Father says about you, about your life, and Their plan for your eternal life won’t be known to you if you don’t take the time to read what they have already said. Get comfortable with the Bible, it will give you the basis for growing and increasing your faith.

***Christians are tempted to read what everyone else says about the Bible rather than going directly to the Bible itself. Which then brings up the argument for primary verses secondary sources. If you had an opportunity to meet the person who created something or the one who copied the original and duplicated it, who would you rather meet? Chances are, you would rather meet the author or original creator over the one who was the impersonator. This argument applies to reading God’s Word. Read what He says, over what others say about what He already said.***

Step Two: Attend the Word.

But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves for if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was… James 1:22-24 (NKJV)

Not only do we have to read God’s Word but we have to attend to His Word by doing what it says. Going back to the example of our sunflower, there is no possible way that the flower is going to grow if it does not receive personal attention and care. It has to receive water regularly and be rooted in nutrient rich soil in order grow. As the gardener plants, waters and attends to the sunflower, it matures and grows into a healthy bushel. It doesn’t forget to grow or all of a sudden stop maturing if it is being properly attended to. If we fail to heed what the Bible says and ignore what God is telling us, then our faith grows stagnant, dead, dull or slack. It took faith in Jesus Christ to become a child of God in the first place. Therefore, in order to grow and increase in faith, we need to use and attend to the “measure” of faith God gives to everyone in order to build it up.

Step Three: Test the Word.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

As we read and follow the Word, we are called to be critical and see the Bible through the lens of exegesis. Exegesis is the discipline of having textual criticism. We are not being “critical or judgmental” of God and what His Word says, but we are thinking in terms of dissecting, examining, picking apart, analyzing, interpreting and explaining the merits and faults of the scriptures. This critical approach is needed in order to comprehend and define the meaning of what the scriptures say. You see, taking an exegesis approach to the Word helps build our faith. It truly does mature us. We become complete and ready to do exactly what the LORD has called us to do.

Going back to our example of the sunflower, how does the gardener know that he has a beautiful bushel of flowers before him? He sees a fully grown, bright and vibrant stalk of sunflowers and he knows full well that they have been planted, watered, and have reached maturity. They are ready to shine in all their glory. The same goes for our faith. How does our faith become a built up and holy faith? By reading the Bible, doing what it says and allowing it to mature us so that we are equipped and ready for the return of our Savior. In the meantime, we who have faith get to shine like the sunflower at noonday. The sunflower is glorious! Those who see it, know full well that it is beautiful. It is a testament to the Creator and Sustainer of all life. The sunflower makes the gardener proud of the story behind growing it, especially when it reaches maturity.

About Misty

Misty KeithHello, my name is Misty. I am a daughter of the King of all Kings, wife to Richard, mom to Reagan (13 years), Kylee (10 years), and Karis Delaney (8 years).  I am a teacher by trade, an encourager and up-lifter by calling and a writer by practice. I enjoy being a friend to those who will have me. I currently live out in the country in Salado, Texas. My husband and I have the privilege of homeschooling all three of our children. I also teach Reading for a private college in the Master’s/Credentialing program. I like to stay busy and enjoy the hobbies of Reading, Writing, Scrap-booking and Running. As a family, we attend First Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas. We enjoy traveling and taking “family fieldtrips” often. All of life is an adventure and we are thankful for every life lesson that the Lord teaches us in the process.

I would love for you to join me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, goodreads and my personal blog.

Final thoughts…

Read the Word, attend the Word, and test the Word. A great place to start applying these steps on your own or with a group is Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. Be sure and enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy. To enter, subscribe to carried by love and leave a comment on any of the posts written by my guest bloggers. I’ll announce the winner at the end of the series.

Join me on Facebook for live videos every Wednesday at noon.  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. Don’t forget to download your free print of Jude1:20-21 here.

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What I’m Learning: Summer 2017

What I'm Learning: Summer Edition

I like the quiet habit of sitting down each season and looking back to remember. It remedies my rushed soul and invites me to recognize the lessons I tend to unintentionally discard.

I scribble out this causal list, determined to make it to number ten. At seven, I put down my pen. I’m learning that God’s ways are perfect, and since seven is synonymous with completion, I choose to accept that this list of seven things I’m learning is also complete… for now. For this season.

I’ll end with three tiny dots, a sure sign I’m still learning. The walk continues, the pursuit continues, growth continues, and love continues to carry me on into the next season ahead.

Seven things I’m learning this summer…

  1. Gratitude can turn any threat into encouragement.

My only defense against comparison for so many years was striving. Try harder, do better, be someone else. Striving only left me wounded. But then a friend’s precious wisdom helped me see a more effective defense when tempted to compare.

She challenged me to redirect my focus back onto God by thanking Him for the beauty I see in others. I’ve practiced this summer, (and when I say practice, I do mean it’s a work in progress) but I’ve noticed a faint trace of peace in my heart. I love the notion of imperfect progress, and this is where God has me.

  1. You’re never too old to try something new.

My picky eater tried ice cream for the first time this year. He’s seven. (I know.) Our family outings to the ice cream shop end with cups of ice cream for all but one. He’s always been content with his bowl full of toppings. Until he tried the delicious stuff at school towards the end of his Kindergarten year.

This summer my girl suggested we grab some ice cream cones on a weekly grocery run. That night after dinner, we all piled heaps of ice cream onto perfectly shaped sugar waffle cones—Homemade Vanilla for the boys and Southern Blackberry Cobbler for the girls, thank you very much Blue Bell!

You're never too old to try something new.

Watching my boy at age seven attack an ice cream cone for the very first time was a little bit like witnessing pure joy. When I start to tell myself I’m too old to try new things, I want to remember the grin on my boy’s face!

  1. The recipe for righteousness has always been and will always just Jesus.

Words like faith and abide fill my Christian vernacular, yet so often my understanding of their true meaning is lacking at best. I’m learning how to embrace the simple side of faith and how to let go of striving in my own strength.

Who knew an anniversary trip to Napa Valley with my man could have such drastic effects on my relationship with Christ? I’m thankful for the travel time, but even more thankful for the way Jesus is never ever finished with me.

  1.  God’s story cannot be silenced.

Our enemy is power hungry, but since He cannot steal the power of God within us, He comes after something else: our voices. I’m learning that God’s story cannot be silenced. Since my story tells His story, I cannot be silenced either.  

The stunning book of Daniel has captivated my heart this summer. God is teaching me that He is sovereign, unchangeable, and the ultimate pursuer of hearts.

  1. Only God can turn shame into beauty.

I don’t see my friend Julie very often, but when she visited a few months ago, I had the precious privilege of hearing her storyThough we grew up together, so much of what she shared was new to my ears. Her story gave me new eyes to view my own story.

I’m learning that my wounds and scars and battle stories reveal that I’ve been redeemed. The cross, the utmost symbol of shame, is a beacon of beauty and a representation of perfect love for all who trust in Jesus.

  1. One of the hardest, most costly aspects of discipleship is a willingness to let our hearts break.

I have struggled my heart out over this one this summer. Jesus washed the feet of His own betrayer and willingly gave Himself though many would never choose Him. My heart does not have the capacity to love like this, but Christ in me does.

This summer Love is leading me through rejection, hurt, and loss. I’m learning that love is always worth it in the end.

  1. Water balloons and sunshine are overrated. Bring on the rain!

We had big plans for our first day of summer with our box of 350+ water balloons and plastic water guns. When the rain came and stayed for a while, we exchanged our water war plans for puddle jumping instead.

When we finally got our day of water fun, the big kids and I raced to fill water balloons before their baby sister launched them into the grass, making a neon mess. The fun lasted minutes; the cleanup, however, lingered on and on.

The next day, as we wiped away the Texas sweat, the kids begged to pull on their rain boots and twirl their umbrellas. The impromptu shade made a hot summer day a little more beautiful!

Water balloons and sunshine are overrated.

I pray your summer was sweet and refreshing and full of learning adventures! I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Sharing what we’re learning connects our hearts in such a simple yet beautiful way.

Until next season…

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The War of Awe

A theme of conflict pulses through the book of Daniel. War, opposition, power struggle. Kingdom against kingdom. I notice the spiritual battle that surrounds me, and with God’s help, I begin to recognize the war within me.

My heart is the battle ground where flesh opposes Spirit. All I want to do is look away, look away because it’s too personal, too much. Spiritual growth is spiritual warfare, and the is struggle intense.

In his book, Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do, Paul David Tripp says that sin has made us not only lawbreakers, but awe breakers as well.

“Sin captures and redirects the motivational system of our hearts. Sin changes how our hearts operate… We exchange awe of Creator for awe of created… most fundamentally awe of self.”

War of Awe

Daniel 10 is a lead-in to the final vision of what’s to come for the people of God and for the end of time. 

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. Daniel 10:1

It takes several reads to recognize Daniel’s name assigned to him by his captors, Belteshazzar. I think it’s intended to remind us that he is not free. Daniel is still in exile, in bondage; he has yet to be delivered.

God uses exile as a means to restoration.

God has given us hearts to know Him; He restores our hearts in this ongoing struggle between awe of self and awe of God. Tripp says, “Spiritual growth is about recapturing your awe.”

Reading through the book of Daniel this summer, I’ve seen the physical conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. The turmoil in Daniel’s visions mirrors the nightly news feed and reminds me of the ongoing unseen battle.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:16-17

In Christ, the flesh no longer controls us; the Spirit leads us instead. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Daily. We die to self daily. Though our eternal rescue is complete, we look to Jesus to daily rescue us from ourselves.

What God begins, He finishes.

My flesh longs to worship self; the Spirit knows my heart needs to worship God alone. It’s a power struggle called sanctification. It’s an all-out war between the kingdom of me and the Kingdom of God, and I want this war to end.

Jesus Christ has personally carried me from victim to victor. He has made a way—the only way—for this enemy of God to become a child of God. And in the very end, He will win this war of awe.

God recaptures our awe through an ongoing, grace-filled, intimate relationship with us. He created us to live utterly and completely enthralled by Him, and the Spirit gives us everything we need to intimately know Him.

A friend asked me recently to pray that God would light a fire in her to live for Him alone. I told her it would be my absolute honor to pray with her. This prayer reveals humility and an understanding that all we have to do is ask God to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

None of us can spark our own fires.

I can’t. You can’t. The Spirit is our fire, our sanctifier. The realization that sin has hijacked our awe can overwhelm, especially if you’re like me, and you’re just waiting for Jesus to give up on you, because you would’ve given up on you ages ago. This beautiful prayer invites us to turn to God instead and ask Him to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

Spark a fire in me. Keep the fire going. Kindle the flame when it starts to fade.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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What Does Love Cost?

How do you really describe the trauma your heart endures when you pour so much of yourself—the very best part—into another soul only to find there must have been a hole somewhere or a hairline crack just deep enough that all your love ran right through?

Used up, gone, vanished into the thin air you’ll absorb as your own next breath.

If we knew the ending, would our own self-protection deny vulnerability?

Would we really have invested precious time, or would we have held back? God’s word tells me that every word spoken, every prayer whispered in faith, every bit of love poured out matters.

Even in the ending that I never wanted. Even when my heart tells me a different story.

Jesus laid out what it means to become His disciple in Mark 1:17. “Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Discipleship is relational. First to Christ, then to others. Following Jesus means a life anchored in Love.

Willing hearts distinguished twelve flawed men as followers of Christ. Their imperfect steps remind me that they were recipients of grace, just like me. Their questions, their failures, and their relational struggles remind me that God cares most about the heart.

Jesus’ disciples recognized that the results weren’t up to them; they were dependent upon Jesus every step of the way. These men had no idea what the outcomes would be, but they went where Jesus sent them because they learned to trust Him.

These twelve relied on Jesus’ compassion when they lacked love, and they depended on His provision when they had nothing left to give. Discipleship is marked by a willingness to learn and go and serve. Disciples of Jesus also willingly face rejection.

The book of Mark poses two types of people: opponents of Jesus or followers of Jesus. The choice was simply reject Jesus, or be rejected because of Jesus. The disciples, over time, would identify with Christ—with His rejection, His suffering, and ultimately, His death.

One of the hardest, most costly aspects of discipleship is a willingness to let our hearts break.

I’m struggling with this one today, because it seems too difficult, too much. Jesus knew He’d be rejected, but He loved the world anyway. He washed the feet of His own betrayer and willingly gave Himself though many would never choose Him.

My heart does not have the capacity to love like this, but Christ in me does.

That used up sensation throbs when there isn’t a relationship where one should have been or could have been, or where one used to be, and isn’t any more. Relationships can be messy, but we are tethered to the One who is relationally perfect.

Jesus will never lie or leave or exploit.

Anything God leads us into can be used for our good, because He is with us in it—even in that ending we wish we could rewrite. All the love God asks us to pour out is overflow from His unending love supply.

Love is never wasted; pain isn’t either. God uses it to mold us and transform us, to shape us into the likeness of His Son. Discipleship includes a willingness to trust beyond understanding, a willingness to go and give and live beyond comfort, and a willingness to love regardless of outcome.

What does love cost? Everything. It cost everything. It is no wonder Jesus said, “Come take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Simple Side of Faith

My man and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary back in May by taking a kid-free trip to Napa Valley. The gorgeous scenery and fine wine were just the backdrop. The quiet was everything I knew it would be and more. Getting away reminded me just how much I love hanging out with this guy.

Napa Valley

At each vineyard we visited, I caught myself considering Jesus’ words from John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” I don’t often think of farming when I pour a glass of cabernet, but I learned that wine-making is a complex process.

The intricate relationship between the vine and the branches drew my heart to the sovereignty of the One who oversees the growth in my own heart.

The care with which the vine is tended, the way the fruit matures, and the process that manifests itself in a beautiful bottle of wine is anything but simple. Such extensive labor and creativity goes into making wine that we heard it called art.

We are the Father’s work of art, ever changing and growing, becoming more beautiful with time.

Later in the week, I grabbed my bible and read more of Jesus’ words in John 15, certain that He wanted to speak to me though this intriguing illustration. In just ten verses, He repeats the word remain eleven times. Abide, another interchangeable term, means to continue to be present, to be held or kept.

In my everyday moments, this looks like resting in God’s thoughts about me; it looks like claiming my identity in Christ, the true vine. When I take every thought captive and line it up with the truth in God’s word, I realize my part really is breathtakingly simple.

Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The times I’m most defeated, discouraged, and doubtful are the times I’m trying so hard to bear fruit on my own. Jesus says it’s not possible.

Apart from His love, nothing will grow.

I am the vine; you are the branches.

His love is the only love that’s pure and perfect and able to produce good in us.

Jesus continues, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9, 16-17)

After Jesus describes His own extravagant love, He gives the command, Love one another.

It’s beautifully straightforward yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

It’s beautifully straightforward, yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

Jordan Feliz has a song called Simple. These lyrics resonate particularly well with my soul: “In my dirt you call me worth it…” Sometimes, it’s so hard to receive perfect, unconditional love.

This occasional struggle in my soul plays out when I look to another love to sustain and carry me, when I’m anything but present to the whisper of the Spirit, or when I all-out reject my God-given identity, because accepting God’s love means I have nothing to prove and my selfish ambition becomes just a hair skeptical of this lavish love Jesus offers.

Receiving God’s love doesn’t have to be complex.

God does all the work. All we do is trust Him, believe Him, and let His love carry us. Then we watch how it changes the way we love others.

God is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking. This part is hard, complex. The produce at the end of harvest holds endless possibilities and combinations. Every minute detail gets adjusted to achieve the desired outcome.

The farmer—that’s God—is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking.

Harsh frost, direct sunlight, and changing seasons pose all kinds of threats to the fruit growing on the vine. Farmers use windmills to move cool mountain air along down the valley so frost cannot damage the grapes. They even consider the angle of the sunlight onto the fruit in the planting process.

The branches are not responsible for these challenges; they are the Vinedresser’s responsibility, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. The fruit He produces lasts for eternity.

Jesus, the true vine and true way back to the Father’s love, took care of the complicated part for us.

The vine produces fruit; the branches bear the fruit. This part is natural and straightforward and overwhelmingly… simple. But our part also requires a response: obey. “Do what He tells you,” wise words straight from the mother of the One who changed water into wine.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Fruit takes time. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit we can count on when we’re united with Christ: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

This isn’t a list of rules, but a list of character traits, evidence of how deeply our character is altered when we put on the righteousness of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a remedy for our sin; it’s evidence of Christ in us.

Christ is the only remedy we need.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Simple yet so complex. Profound in every way. Let’s leave the complicated part to Him and rest in the simplicity of reckless love.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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God at Work Within the Unchangeable

If you are faithful, expect enemies. The sixth chapter of Daniel opens with this in-your-face truth. If you’re a child of the King, you are a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Daniel’s enemies were accusers, and so is ours.

We’ve been studying the book of Daniel at church all summer long. Week after week, every story narrated, every vision revealed, every dream interpreted points to the rising conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This tension will reach a fever pitch at Christ’s first coming, and again at His second coming.

We live in the space between. 

King Darius, desiring power and position, made a rule that all must bow and worship him for thirty days. Daniel continued praying, worshipping, believing and trusting the living God. Daniel did what he’d always done, and the story reaches its climax as he stands accused and gets tossed into a den full of hungry lions.

I tend to read through this story and forget it really happened. These were real lions, real hungry lions that had their mouths shut by God. Scripture doesn’t say God filled their stomachs and satisfied their appetites. It only says He shut their mouths. These weren’t sweet cats purring all night long. They were angry and frustrated and confused. And still very, very hungry.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

Daniel, prompted by prayer, exhibited gratitude in the middle of a horrible life-or-death situation. King Darius, stressed out and anxiety-ridden, decided in his own strength to try and rescue Daniel himself.

Before you get all tender-hearted for this hero-wanna-be, I’m pretty sure Darius’ rescue mission had to do with losing his best man, a key figure in his administration. The chapter opens with his great plans to promote Daniel to an even higher position. So, this had nothing to do with Daniel; this was about Darius and all he stood to lose if Daniel became dinner for some lions.

Darius could not deliver Daniel. In the meantime, Darius began spinning out of control. He was not only sleepless and peaceless, he was flat-out hopeless.

Daniel exhibited hope and peace. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We do not grieve as those without hope.” We still grieve, but we have living hope. Faith helps us recognize the character of God when the all the world can see are the circumstances.

Our response is evidence of our faith.

When Daniel received bad news, he gave thanks. Daniel wasn’t thanking God for the bad news; he just knew there were plenty of reasons to give thanks based on God’s character rather than his circumstances. Gratitude prompted peace in his heart.

But if we walk away only hearing a try-harder, have-more-faith pep talk, we’ve missed the point entirely. These things—hope, peace, gratitude, faithfulness—aren’t ingredients for the perfect recipe for righteousness or a remedy for sin.

The recipe for righteousness and the remedy for sin has always been and will always be Jesus. Just Jesus.

These characteristics represent the visible fruit that comes from an invisible but thriving faith in a God who is greater than our circumstances. They depict how deeply our character changes when we put on the righteousness of Christ. Hope and peace and joy point to Christ within us.

It’s not about the size or the quality of our faith; it’s about the object of our faith. Mustard seed faith is all we need, Jesus says, as long as that faith is fixed on Him. As long as long He is the object of our faith.

As a young man Daniel relied on God not his circumstances. He is an old man at this point in his life, and this chapter reminds my heart that fruit takes time. Transformation is a gradual process.

Faith in God may not change every set of circumstances, but our faith in Christ over time changes us.

I remember when we got pregnant for the first time. We had tried for over three years at that point to conceive and infertility had left battle wounds all over my heart. My faith felt shaky, but we celebrated our hearts out, clueless that more heartbreak was right around the corner. We told everyone our news.

And then I miscarried.

Sitting in our living room, surrounded by devastation, my husband and I discussed how we would un-tell all these people. I remember so vividly this conversation with my husband, because God used him to speak truth into my life. I asked him, “What are we going to tell people?”

He looked right at me and said, “We’ll tell them God is good.”

My husband’s words to me were evidence of God at work within his heart, at work within our heart-breaking circumstances. His response was evidence of his faith. What will we tell them? We will tell them that God is good, because He is.

Even when circumstances aren’t good, God is still good. God’s goodness does not fluctuate because He does not change; He cannot change. God is constant.

Daruis’ signature on the decree meant Daniel’s situation could not be altered. Irrevocable. The stone at the mouth of the lion’s den and the king’s seal also indicated an unchangeable situation.

Daniel recognized His unchangeable God in the middle of his unchangeable circumstances.

Daniel knew nothing could change God. Nothing.  Not persecution or slander or oppression or rejection or accusation or life in a hostile culture. Not even a den full of lions. This incredible story highlights three aspects of God’s character that will never change.

God’s plan to rescue and redeem and restore cannot be altered.

King Darius was a powerful king, but he was powerless to change Daniel’s situation. The king’s plan involved keeping Daniel from the lion’s den altogether, but God’s rescue mission involved entering the lion’s den Himself.

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

God’s love fuels His plan. We are pursued and lavishly loved by God. Love prompted Jesus to willingly enter the dark, sin-infested pit of this world to suffer and serve and confront the lion. It was for love—so that we might live with God in an ongoing relationship forever and ever. Moved by a love that’s unchanging, God paid the price that we never could.

The power of the Holy Spirit within us cannot be revoked.

God promises the gift of His Spirit to all who believes in Jesus as an irrevocable deposit. His Spirit within us is proof of His promise. No matter how hard life gets, no matter how far we fall, God has promised He will never remove His Spirit.  This same Spirit was strong enough to shut the mouths of hungry lions and raise Jesus from the dead.  That’s the power at work within us!

God didn’t remove the threat from Daniel’s life; He rendered the threat powerless over Daniels’ life. The lions remained a part of Daniel’s story, but the lions could never overpower God.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den. 1 Peter 5:8 says that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Our enemy will try to scare us into compromise, or get us to settle, back down, or stay in bondage, but he can’t touch our souls. He cannot harm us.

The lion is part of our story, but God has revealed how the story will end.

The conclusion of Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den mirrors Paul’s description of the very, very end for all who have claimed their salvation in Christ:

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23 (emphasis mine)

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Jesus will return, and when He does, we will be lifted out of the lion’s den. Until then, God’s unchanging plan, pursuit, and power remind us that He is with present, working all things together for our good and His glory.

May we embrace the promises of a God who never changes even as we are dealt heartbreaking disappointments. Let us give thanks, in all circumstances, especially the unfavorable ones.

May we cling to the One who holds in His hand the whole mess of our lives and every broken way we take, the only One able to rescue and deliver us. May we rest in the companionship of Jesus, knowing that no matter what unfolds in the here and now, His love will usher us into eternity blameless and unscathed.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Destined for Hard Times

Nothing prepared me for this. I mean nothing. I had seen flat, two-dimensional pictures, sure. My mind held a handful of facts, all amazing, but some things in life must be experienced in person for a deeper meaning to take root. My trip with my husband to Muir Woods this spring was one of them.

Muir Woods

It was only our first day of vacation, so we were still easing into that slow, unrushed pace. Distraction had not yet been fully chased away by rest. The fresh California air was helping, though.

My husband chuckled at my choice of shoes, playfully grabbed my hand, and assured me that we would take a leisure Sunday stroll rather than an intense off-the-path hike through the park. As we walked, we tipped our heads way back to peak at the towering redwoods whose branches jutted up into the clouds.

Muir Woods

“You know that the seeds of these things are tiny, right?” he said.

I hadn’t given it much thought. I mean, I know about the mustard seed, how size often has little to do with presence. We walked and talked, took selfies and shook our heads at the possibility of such gigantic trees. We snapped a picture of a cone that was the size of my thumb. Just one cone will shed anywhere between 30-100 seeds.

redwood cone actual size

As I absorbed these facts, something remarkable stood out to me: For seeds to germinate and grow into these gigantic trees, they must fall on fresh mineral soil that has somehow been exposed, either by fire, flood, or the downfall of an established tree.

A fire, flood, or fall helps a tree mature.

That same morning, I read Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica. Timothy’s role was to encourage believers that the presence of suffering shouldn’t leave them unsettled. Though trials themselves are always a genuine struggle, Paul urged them to not be shaken in their faith. His words apply to our hearts as well.

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

We are destined for hard times.

Floods may convince us we’re drowning and alone, fires often hint that God failed us, and every fall can feel final somehow, yet these things help us grow.

We look forward to an eternal paradise, but we are destined for trials here on earth. Appointed is another way to put it. When God anointed David as king, He appointed him as Saul’s main enemy. David was destined for this, because He was an integral part of the story God was telling. If you’re in Christ, you are an integral part of the story, too.

Paul shared his deep concerns about the church’s faith: In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:4-5

Paul feared trials would cause them to abandon their faith.

Timothy reported back to Paul that their faith remained intact and was strengthened, just as Paul had hoped and prayed. Paul’s response makes me think of the redwoods that grow tall and strong from small, vulnerable seeds buried in some unshaken ground.

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:8

redwoods

Suffering considered purposeless is suffering wasted.

Trials, persecution, suffering. All things we pray away and do our best to avoid. Sometimes, we forget to look for God in our heartache. Through every flood, fire, and fall, God prepares our hearts for something truly amazing.

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What I’m Reading: Summer 2017

When I share What I’m Reading every few months, I pay closer attention to which titles I’m drawn to, which genres I typically gravitate toward, which authors I admire.

I’ve discovered that I haven’t always been a very balanced reader. So in an attempt to bring a little harmony to my bookshelves, today I’m sharing 3 Memoir, 3 Fiction, 3 Christian Living, and one BIG book for the entire family this summer.

three M E M O I R

On Writing, by Stephen King

This memoir offered a faint glimpse into the life of an American icon. After a serious accident that left him wheelchair bound for weeks, King wrote the section titled “On Writing.” I lifted some of the finest writing advice off these pages.

Space at the Table, by Brad and Drew Harper

Authored by an evangelical theologian and his gay son, this tender yet heart-breaking memoir is full of unconditional love and the deepest kind of hope. What a brave book! The conversation Drew and his dad began has followed me long after I read the last page.

Undone, by Michele Cushatt

In this highly relatable memoir, Michele Cushatt tells a beautiful tale of embracing unfinished progress, accepting the undone-ness of real life, and learning to see beauty in upside-down places.

 

three F I C T I O N

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

I could not put this book down. Chris Cleave is a master at demonstrating the strength and resilience of the human spirit. You will fall I love with these characters, especially Little Bee. My favorite quote in the entire book: “Our stories are the tellers of us.” (Little Bee)

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

In this historical fiction, Cleave juxtaposes the uncertainty of love with the cruelty of war, then demonstrates with poignancy that, in the end, love is stronger than war. The Author’s Note at the end brought tears to my eyes; the novel was inspired by Cleave’s grandfather who died during the writing of the book. Though he never read a word of it, it is a beautiful tribute to the way love restores all that war steals.

The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict

Marie Benedict answers, through fiction, the questions in the life of Albert Eistein’s wife, Mileva Maric. The enchanting story reveals the humanity of one of the greatest physicists who ever lived and the brilliant mind that was hidden in the shadow of his pride and fame.

 

three C H R I S T I A N   L I V I N G

The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It, by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel

This was such an important book for me. Goggin and Strobel gave me a better understanding of what power is and what it is not. This is an important book for all believers, I think.

Introverts in the Church, by Adam S. McHugh

Introverts in the Church celebrates the introverted way, especially in an extroverted culture. McHugh reveals the quiet yet uniquely profound mark every introvert leaves on this world. If you are an introvert or you love an introvert, this is a must read!

Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely, by Lysa TerKerust

This is such an intelligent and profound book on the topic of rejection. Lysa introduced me to the concept of “living loved.” And what I love about Lysa is that she doesn’t just tell us why living loved is so vital, she shows us how… on every single page.

 

one for the whole F A M I L Y

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden, by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark

I love this book for all ages because it tells the gospel plainly through story. One big story from Genesis to Revelation, one big story of love. You’ll love the gorgeous, modern illustrations, and you’ll walk away with a fresh understanding of the gospel message.

 

Thanks to all who shared your favorite Memoir last month! Be sure to check out my Good Reads page for more of my favorites.

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