Tag Archives | truth

A Thankful Heart Is a Protected Heart

Last week my little one and I met my husband for lunch. As we settled down at our table, I glanced up and noticed the gigantic Christmas ornaments flanking the entrance to the outdoor space. A week before Thanksgiving. I chuckled and commented how the push to skip Thanksgiving seems to grow year by year. We moved on to another conversation, but the nagging in my heart lingers today.

Christmas decorating isn’t the problem. We will pull out red, green, and glittery gold ornaments to decorate our home while the kids are out of school. Probably before Thanksgiving. The issue isn’t our decor; the issue lies in our hearts.

We rush through Thanksgiving to get to Christmas just so we can turn it into a holiday that celebrates us. There’s a good reason this is the one of the most painful seasons for many of us. We just might be making ourselves sick… with too much of ourselves. I scribble a question in the margin of my journal and silently ask God to answer.

How do we cultivate gratitude in a self-ridden culture?

Most mornings my daughter comes downstairs and shares a verse she’s read earlier in her room that either stood out to her or one she doesn’t quite understand. We talk about it over breakfast, then she draws a picture in her journal of what it means to her. Before she hops out of the car at school, we pray God’s Word back to Him. It’s a simple practice we’re trying to turn into a habit.

This morning she shares Psalm 8:2 with me. Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger. (NKJV) Out of the mouth of babes. I silently acknowledge the irony.

My daughter’s NIRV translation puts it this way: You have made sure that children and infants praise you. Their praise is a wall that stops the talk of your enemies. She’s drawn a wall that reaches halfway up her page.

God reminds me right here on the couch next to my girl that thanksgiving is powerful. My own words of thanksgiving to Him are a sweet praise offering, and they act as a shield around my heart. I’m beginning to understand why self is such an attractive tool in the unseen spiritual realm. I can see why the enemy feels threatened by the simple habit of giving thanks.

Thanksgiving protects our hearts by silencing the enemy.

A thankful heart is a protected heart

When Jesus cleared the temple courts of those influenced by greed and hatred, the little children sang out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The religious leaders asked Jesus if He could hear what they were saying. (Insert indignant disdain here.)

And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing babies you have perfected praise’?” (see Matthew 21:15-16 NKJV)

Jesus used this same proclamation of truth to silence His own enemies, the ones dedicated to destroying Him and stealing His glory for personal gain. One of the most beautiful mysteries of the kingdom of God is strength made perfect in weakness.

When praise erupts from our weakest, most vulnerable places, the enemy is silenced. Hearts full of thanks literally push back the darkness. When we thank God for who He is and what He’s done, a wall of protection shields us from the enemy’s harmful lies.

Truth destroys the lies meant to destroy us.

When we worship God in spirit and truth, we believe in our hearts and proclaim with our mouths the very essence of His character. We can offer up thanksgiving in the bleakest of circumstances, not because we are strong, but because He is the One from whom all blessings flow. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

May this Thanksgiving be a time to remember God’s faithfulness yesterday, to acknowledge His goodness today, and to trust Him to carry us through whatever tomorrow holds.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Shrug off Shame for Good

When I was much younger in my faith and less sure of who I was in Christ, I listened to a man break down Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians, and when I say break down, I literally mean it was a broken attempt to handle the passage in biblical context. His words did not line up with truth, so I dismissed the lies as best I knew how. Shame, however, hung around to bully my soul.

Shame choked my identity and called my ability to serve in the body of Christ into question. I’d feel shame’s hot, prickly breath on the back of my neck anytime I spoke up with conviction. Our enemy’s favorite tactic is to convince us there is something innately wrong with the way God made us.

Shame keeps us from the truth.

I decided early on that using my voice brought pain, so I vowed to keep my mouth shut. For many, many years, I kept this vow until God said, “Enough.” It cost me a great deal more to stay silent than speak up. A recent trip to the dentist with my seven-year-old gave me a whole new perspective on what it really takes to shrug off shame for good.

By the time our youngest daughter came along, my older girl had started brushing her teeth all by herself. When one of her permanent teeth pushed its way up, there wasn’t much room in her tiny mouth. She struggled to reach it with her toothbrush. When I noticed the yellowish-brown color of that same tooth, I encouraged her do a better job brushing.

I felt responsible for the neglected tooth. No amount of brushing could restore the brightness of her tooth. On her last cleaning visit, the dentist used a big long doctor word to explain the discoloration. Apparently, this happened when the tooth was still in the tooth bed. A couple of factors might be responsible, including a high fever or antibiotics. Poor brushing did not cause the discoloration.

As soon as we stepped into the hallway, I told my girl how sorry I was, how wrong I was to blame her for the condition of her tooth. As she dropped her head, I recognized that classic look of shame. I lifted her chin up so her eyes met mine. “Momma made a mistake. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”

She cracked a grin and broke the silence with, “Of course, Mom! Everybody makes mistakes.” And just like that, we both let it go. It doesn’t always happen quite like that, but God spoke through this situation like a megaphone to my heart.

Freedom from shame comes through forgiveness.

Freedom from shame is found through forgiveness.

The shame I allowed to silence me all those years ago originated from something false, something contrary to the Word of God. Just as my daughter’s shame about her tooth came from a misconception from someone she looked up to—her own mother.

Sometimes the people we look up to most—teachers, leaders, even parents—get it wrong. But no one is outside the reach of grace. When I told my girl that I was sorry, the truth exposed her shame, and forgiveness set her heart free.

Shame has no place in our lives as believers. Freedom isn’t found in walking out our callings or calling out our shame, though both are necessary and crucial as we defend our faith. We experience the freedom Jesus purchased for us when we forgive the very ones who heaped on shame intentionally or unintentionally.

When I first noticed my daughter’s tooth, I felt ashamed for the limits that caring for a newborn had put on me. I felt shame that I did not help my oldest do a better job brushing her teeth. In his memoir All is Grace, Brennan Manning says that shame that isn’t transformed is transferred.

Shame passes on shame.

As I apply this to my own story and my own wounds, I now understand that the shame I felt years ago could have been a result of my shamers’ own shame. And I have everything I need to shrug shame off at the feet of Jesus.

When we bring our shame to the foot of the cross, we discover the only place true forgiveness is possible.  Forgiveness breaks the shackles of shame, and apologies are never prerequisites. Jesus longs to transform our shame into radiant beauty. He’s the only One who is both willing and able.

If you’ve felt the weight of shame, you’re not alone. We’ve all been shamed, and we’ve all shamed someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. We’ve been wronged, and we all get it wrong from time to time. But as we take our wounds to Jesus, may we remember that we’ve been scandalously forgiven, so we really can forgive and shrug off shame for good.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

Jesus shamed shame on the cross so that our hearts could live in glorious freedom.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Love and the Power of Prayer

I hope God is speaking to you in powerful ways through this collection of voices; I know He’s speaking to me. Today Leigha Balchus is leading us into Part II of the Contenders of the Faith series: Jude’s instructions to pray in the Spirit. Leigha is fluent in the language of prayer, because prayer has been foundational in her personal story. Her words invite us to notice this hidden yet significant element of our faith.

If you missed any of the previous posts, you can read from the beginning of the series, right here.

Part 2

Love and the Power of Prayer by Leigha Balchus

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 1:20)

As I sat in the prayer circle waiting my turn, I could feel my heart racing, my palms getting sweaty. I desperately tried to gather my thoughts.  What would I say? Everyone else’s prayers sounded so eloquent, so perfect.  I didn’t know any scripture to quote.  What if I froze and couldn’t find any words at all?  I’d look like a fool.  I felt like a total fraud.  Everything in me wanted to run away and hide.  I loved Jesus with all my heart, but what kind of Christian was I if I didn’t know how to pray out loud?  I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Have you ever been there?  If so, you are not alone.

We are often intimidated by prayer, both corporate and private, because it requires vulnerability and the world tells us that to be vulnerable is to be weak.  However, author and researcher, Brené Brown, has discovered through her research that the opposite is true.  Being vulnerable actually takes great courage, and with great risk comes great reward.  In her book Daring Greatly, she shares that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.  It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.  If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

If we want to grow spiritually and strengthen our prayer life, we must be willing to be vulnerable, not just with our peers but with God, and even ourselves.  When we are vulnerable before God, it makes our hearts open to receive his love, and when we receive his love, our faith grows.  There are no magic words and no script to follow when we pray. He simply wants us to come to him, hearts wide open.

He already knows our burdens, but the free will he offers us means that he allows us the choice of whether to bring them to him or not.  God isn’t so much interested in our words TO him as he is in our hearts TOWARD him.  I love how R.K. Hughes puts it in Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ, “Prayer is not so much the articulation of words as the posture of heart.”

Praying in the Spirit

When we are filled up with the love of God, when we are rooted and grounded in his love and when we believe that we are indeed the apple of his eye (Zechariah 2:8), the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed in us.  In fact, in the book of Ephesians, just a few chapters before Paul talks about putting on the full armor of God, he prays these words over the Ephesians.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Paul prayed these words because he understood that when we grasp how much God loves us, our eyes are opened to the power that dwells within us as believers in Christ, thus enabling us to pray in the Holy Spirit.  It was important for the Ephesians to know this because it is through the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer that we unlock the power of all the other pieces of our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-17).

In her bible study, The Armor of God, Priscilla Shirer says this about it, “Prayer is the mechanism that brings down the power of heaven into your experience.  It is the divinely authorized method that activates your spiritual armor and makes it effective.” Therefore, it is prayer that is our most effective weapon on the spiritual battlefield, so we must never believe the lie that our prayers are not good enough or that they won’t make a difference.  They make a huge difference!

We all go through times in our lives when we struggle to have faith and to believe in God’s love for us, but it’s in those times that, just as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, we too, can ask God to open our eyes to the power of the Holy Spirit within us and give us the strength to grasp the depth of his love for us.

If prayer is an area in which you’d like to grow stronger in your spiritual walk, I encourage you to begin each day praying Ephesians 3:16-19 over yourself and your loved ones, and watch God move in mighty ways!  The more we practice the discipline of prayer and the more we fill ourselves with God’s Word, the more comfortable praying becomes.  Yes, even when it’s our turn in the prayer circle!

Here’s an example of the verses from Ephesians turned into a personal prayer:

Dear God, I pray that out of your glorious riches you may strengthen me with power through your Spirit in my inner being, so that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith.  And I pray that I may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that I may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

May you go forth and be blessed and always remember that “greater is HE who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

About Leigha

About LeighaLeigha Balchus is a wife of 18 years and mom to two amazing kids.  She is head-over-heels for Jesus and, for the past decade, has followed Him on a great adventure filled with many joys and much sorrow.  It is through this journey, when so many times God was all she had to cling to, that she has become so passionate about prayer and the power of His Word.

Leigha is a teacher turned stay-at-home mom who recently decided to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur as a Distributor for SeneGence International.

In her spare time, she loves to cook, read and, most recently, play with make-up because, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”

Final thoughts…

What is God confirming or clearing up for you in regards to prayer? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. This Wednesday (over on my Facebook page), I want to talk about how understanding the Spirit’s role in our lives can recharge our prayer lives as we contend of the faith.

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

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. [GIVEAWAY CLOSED]

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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Lost & Found: A Story of Identity

We are kicking off this Contenders of the Faith series by talking about our identity in Christ. God’s love is the source of our identity, which is why God calls His children by the name Beloved. My first guest, Bethany, is sharing with us her journey to discover this amazing truth.

If you missed the very first post in this series, you can catch up right here.

Contenders of the Faith (new series)

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity by Bethany Dufilho

I was one of those kids who never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I liked singing so I was always in a choir at church or school. It was something I never really worked at but I experienced some success and enjoyed the sense of identity and belonging it gave me. I was a big-ish fish in a few small-ish ponds.  As I got older, the ponds got bigger.  I played into a comparison game full of my own perfectionism and pride and eventually, my tender ego was deflated.  Add to that a neurological issue diagnosed in my 30s causing tremors in my voice and I gave up singing for a while. It was a painful stripping of an identity I hadn’t realized I had clung to so fiercely.

After I was married, still not really knowing what I wanted to do, I enrolled in graduate school. Holding some identity also in “being smart,” I had always known higher education would be in my future. I was training to become a school psychologist. I also very much wanted to become a mother. I knew these two could coexist, but seeing things as very “all or nothing,” I struggled with the pieces of understanding how I could be good; rather, perfect at both. My identity felt at odds with itself.

When I had our first child, my outward achieving stopped for a while. I developed the slower pace of stay at home motherhood. Here I threw my perfectionist tendencies into overdrive, pouring my anxieties onto my tiny babe.  Was I doing this the “right” way?  If not, oh God, I’m screwing him up!  The struggle to identify myself as what I thought a mother should be was frightening and real.

After emerging from the fog of new parenthood, I then developed a hobby for pure enjoyment: painting and rearranging my house.  Friends and family took notice and I prized the recognition of a new identity forming: decorator. I ran with it, eventually creating a small business.  Was this now my identity? I decided to go all in: taking classes, ordering business cards, even making a website. I took comfort, dare I say, pride, in finding my thing.

After a while, I took on too much.  The work, impinging on my introverted self, also became a burden on my desire to still be a stay at home mother to my now three children. I felt resentful when I couldn’t be my version of perfect for both my family and my clients. The stress was hard on both my home and marriage. I was disappointed in myself but also relieved in admitting my need to pull back.

So here I am now. I still decorate, though in a smaller way than I once imagined. I’m still a wife and mother of course.  I’m even singing again- every Sunday morning along with my husband, for a group of eager and antsy first and second graders.  I have no labels or job descriptions to succinctly tell you who I am or what I can do.  Looking back though I can now see the thread running through every turn in my life.  It’s always been the same, because it has always been me.  I still bear the same sin struggles, the same personality, the same weaknesses and strengths.  I am the same soul.  Whether I have been singing, mothering, in school, decorating, it has always been me.  And at times I found myself wondering… is it enough?  Am I enough?

I’ve been studying the enneagram lately.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but it’s really just a tool, similar to anything else that can help you know yourself better, like seeing a therapist or reading a book on personal growth.  It teaches the importance of knowing yourself fully– the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It’s an uncomfortable act of faith- to bring into light the sins you bear, but also (at times equally uncomfortable) to develop compassion and grace for yourself, seeing and loving yourself as God does.

So how would my life change if I could fully and daily embrace that truth- that God loves me entirely, imperfect as I am?  So much so that Christ died for me while I was (am) still a sinner (Romans 5:8)? How much more would I be able to love others when, freed from the trap of perfectionism, I could set aside my own needs for approval and acknowledgement?  I could lay down comparisons, defensiveness, and pride.  How healing this is- this embracing of the gospel message in my own identity: as a beloved child of God.

This very struggle is what I think it means to contend for my faith; to work out my salvation with both fear and trembling (Phillippians 2:12).  Sometimes I want contending to look more like a sword fight- a big battle fought and won, once and for all.  But I think it is more quiet and small, done in hidden and daily stillness before the Lord.  Seeking His wisdom; His love.

I cannot do this on my own, because truthfully many days I find myself unable, un-remembering to even cry out from the very outset of the morning. I start to again believe the lie that it would be easier to have a job title or task to hide behind:  “I’ll serve you in this way, Lord!”

And this is why I need Him. Oh, I need Him.  Every hour I need Him.  He has entrusted to us the gospel, this good news of love and redemption through Christ.  This message is not only to be received once and then shared, but also to be remembered over and over in our own lives- we are loved. May we seek Him and may we cry out to Him, for our healing and for His glory.

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity

About Bethany

Bethany Dufilho has been married to Paul for 13 years and they have three children ages 9, 7, and 4. They live in Katy, TX where she is a stay at home mom and part time interior decorator. She is a lover of beauty and a seeker of Truth and occasionally blogs over at thehouseoffigs.com. There you can read about her adventures in decorating and hear the heart behind her beauty with a purpose philosophy.

About Bethany

Final thoughts…

We’ve been given gospel identities, rooted deeply in perfect Love. May Bethany’s story remind us all that Love is greater than our doubts, fears, and insecurities. I love how she describes contending as a quiet, hidden wrestling of soul. As God transforms us into the image of His Son, may we remember that our faith is a precious gift to nurture, protect, and defend.

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

Follow me on Facebook and tune in for live videos every Wednesday at noon (Central Time).  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. You can watch this week’s video here.

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What Can Outweigh All the Suffering in the World?

A quick trip to Colorado this summer uncovered a beautiful aspect of God’s creation. Stunned by layers on top of layers of solid, unmoving rock, I began to wonder how my understanding of God as my Rock would become crucial in the next season of change.

I really had no idea what was ahead. In mid-August, I braced myself for a million minor changes like a new school for the kids and other small beginnings; by the end of the month, Harvey had changed my community forever.

Every attempt to capture on camera what moved my heart in those Colorado mountains only led to frustration. Even when I tried to express on paper what had inspired awe in me, I couldn’t come up with the words. I found my struggle to articulate the beauty before me extremely uncomfortable.

God gave me a phrase to sink into: Rock of Ages.

Rock of Ages seemed too massive and weighty when I tried to grasp its deepest meaning. The further I prodded, the less sure of myself I became. Maybe that’s right where God wanted me.

Rock of Ages

Months later, now surrounded by images of devastation and the very opposite of beauty, I recognize that same frustration and discomfort. During the last few weeks, when I scroll through my social media newsfeed, the most common caption is this: “No words.” And there aren’t any that can describe, explain, alleviate what remains after disaster. Words cannot possibly convey the heavy, heavy heartbreak of extensive homelessness and upheaval.

Devastation has crept up to my doorstep forcing me to notice, yet suffering lies in every nook and cranny of this groaning world. Fires, floods, earthquakes, persecution, hatred, violence… all hover beneath that banner of indescribable suffering.

In the absence of adequate words, we face our own vulnerability.

Vulnerability not only feels uncomfortable, it well acquaints us with frustration and confusion. We can’t control suffering or catalogue it; we can’t box it in or fix it. No formula or bulleted list will help.

Moses led a people more comfortable with another rock. Though I wish this idea was foreign, I completely get it. Humanity craves clarity, definition, control. We’ll take a tidy checklist over an inconceivable glory just to avoid facing our own vulnerability. We don’t naturally move towards discomfort or dependence.

But when we take this collective picture of indescribable suffering—whether death or divorce or disaster—and hold it up to the Rock who has remained constant throughout all of time, the need for understanding is washed away by mercy. And rich, rich love. The most grace-filled words in all of Jesus’ ministry were these: “Come to me.”

Our indescribable Rock is the only One who knows just what to do with indescribable pain.

I’m tempted to boil it down to a simple equation: unfathomable pain meets inconceivable glory, as if they are two equal and opposite poles. This is entirely false. If we wanted to compare, to sort out the difference, we’d have to examine the extent of each.

In every layer of rock, I saw the depth of God’s character. His love, mercy, goodness, faithfulness like bands of strength, visible and solid, trusted and true.

Hold up suffering to the Rock Eternal, and we find a vast difference in weight.

When Paul wrote about suffering and glory, he used a word to examine this difference. He assigned our seen suffering and God’s unseen glory with the terms, transient and eternal.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)

Nothing about the suffering here on earth feels light, but Paul was making a case for comparison here. The word that translates in English as “beyond all comparison” is the Greek word hyperbolḗ. We use hyperbole to illustrate extravagance; we rarely take these figures of speech literally. They amplify, enhance, and exaggerate the truth.

Hyperbolḗ means beyond all measure.

Most hyperboles sound incredible, but they just aren’t true. This weight of glory beyond all comparison is every bit true as it is awesome.

Suffering has a definite beginning and a definite end. Pain and loss entered the world at the fall; we find every detail recorded on the pages of Genesis. In Revelation, we read that all suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns. He is the beginning and the end, the One who was and is and is to come.

We don’t need formulas, descriptions, or human attempts to alleviate suffering. We need faith in Jesus and constant, daily reminders that we will one day see Him face to face.  And on that day, our only response will be indescribable praise.

When we embrace our own vulnerability, we find ourselves embraced by Christ, the living Stone.

Scripture References

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. Deuteronomy 32:18 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. Isaiah 26:4 (NIV)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 (NIV)

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We Are One

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  Ephesians 2:19-21

Hurricane Harvey left devastating loss in its wake. Yet according to Paul, individual loss does not exist. Every loss is collective loss because we are one. To those who’ve lost everything: Your loss is our loss; your grief is our grief.

We are together in the tragedy and recovery.

As the Church, we are not members of a country club or social club; we are members of God’s household, each with specific roles moving forward from this storm. Paul calls us fellow citizens with rights and privileges because Jesus has given the Church the keys to His kingdom.

We Are One

Ephesus was the hub for worship of the fertility goddess, Artemis. The temple of Artemis was about one mile from the city of Ephesus and eventually became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In a class of its own, made entirely of marble, it boasted more than 100 columns over 55 feet high and a platform area that covered over two acres. Paul holds up this well-known icon of elegance to a greater temple, one unlike anything they’ve ever imagined.

Made of living stones, the Church is a holy temple that lives and breathes and acts as one.

Ephesus was a wealthy city no different than many cities here in the United States. The people learned to build on lots of different foundations other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s original audience was extremely familiar with ritualistic worship; their decision to follow Jesus had only recently removed them from its grip.

To counteract the prevalent influence of Artemis, Paul repeats himself over and over throughout his letter. Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek. Our English translations divide it up into 12 verses to make it more readable. Ten times in one breath Paul repeats the phrase in Him or in Christ.

In Christ is everything, and apart from Him is nothing.

More than ever, we need the God who grieves with us in our heartbreak; we need to hear the stories of those who have lost everything yet still have it all. In the wake of this devastating disaster where what many thought would secure them has failed, the Church tells this story.

In Paul’s day, the cornerstone—that perfectly shaped stone—acted as a modern blueprint. It served as a model for every other stone in the structure. Stones, whose edges didn’t quite align, had their rough edges smoothed so that they became one seamless whole.

Paul uses the phrase “grows into” (or in another translation, “rises to become”) to stress that together we are stronger. This is the Greek word auxano. We get our English word augment from this word, meaning to enlarge in size, number, strength, or extent.

God joins us to strengthen us.

This is happening in our community. Denomination lines blur and agendas lose their value. Nothing matters more than moving forward together. God is using tragedy and suffering to smooth out our jagged edges so that the Church can act as one to meet needs, love our neighbors, and reflect Jesus.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24-25

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

If you are in need of help or if you are looking for a way to get involved in the local recovery effort, please click here for some excellent resources.

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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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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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The Most Effective Defense Against Comparison

The enemy is after our relationships. He knows his method, though quiet and subtle, can bring us to a paralyzing halt. He comes after beauty with every evil intention to kill, steal, and destroy.

As a woman called to serve women, he’s come after every friendship, every sister relationships, every good and perfect gift God’s ever given me in another woman.  Because he hates beauty, and he is scared out of his mind.

The Most Effective Weapon Against Comparison

Cathy, a friend I admire and respect, shared with me her strategy against the comparison attack. Her beautiful wisdom has made such a difference in my life. She didn’t hide her struggle with comparing herself to other women; but she also hasn’t let the enemy gain any ground. Her advice was profoundly refreshing.

“Do the most with what God has given you. Do your thing, and do your thing well. Don’t be jealous of others; instead, learn from them. Be motivated by them. Give God thanks for the beauty you see in others who are using their gifts.”

Give thanks for the beauty you see in her.

Giving thanks takes our attention off ourselves and back onto God, the Giver of good gifts. When we start to hold ourselves up to another, we can ask God to show us the beauty He sees, and then thank Him for it.

One of my sisters throws parties unlike anyone else I know. Birthday parties, showers, weekend get-togethers, holidays—you name it. Not only does she throw unique, one-of-a-kind parties, she loves every second of it. I’ve watched her. She doesn’t get stressed out. She is a beautiful host.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

My other sister is a vibrant athlete. After having three kids. She is energetic and always, always, always on the move. It suits her and her family. She thrives in action, and she exhibits spontaneity and excitement. She’s taught me that you’re never too old to play with your kids (or against them.) She is a beautiful mom in her own unique way.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have a friend who makes anything look good. She has a way of putting things together, whether it’s pairing a fun summer outfit with a bright shade of lipstick, or a room full of eclectic furniture with a one-of-a-kind piece of art. Comfortable in her own skin and confident in her own style, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind or laugh too loud.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have another friend who is a natural connector. She knows everybody’s name and important bits of their stories. I always find myself right at home no matter what we’re discussing. She is such a good listener, because she listens for all the right reasons.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have a friend with a magnetic personality. People are drawn to her because she is funny, truthful, and a blast to be around. But when she talks about Jesus, there’s something that draws you in further, makes you want to know Jesus the way she knows Him.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

My other friend is a prayer warrior. When she bows her head and opens her mouth, the most eloquent, powerful Spirit-led prayers emerge. She approaches the throne of grace with boldness and awe. She shows up and offers her gift willingly and confidently.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I could go on and on about the beauty I see in the women all around me, but I picked these few because I am so very different than each of them. And it is ok. God really did plan it that way!

Gratitude can turn any threat into encouragement.

I don’t throw big elaborate parties, because I’ve had to let go of the Pinterest perfection that doesn’t exist in the first place. Big parties stress me out, and I always end up yelling at my kids on their birthdays. One on one conversations with my people is where I excel.

I am not an athlete, but my mind is always working, processing, noticing. Pale shades and neutrals hang in my closet and cover my home. They calm my soul and remind my prone-to-striving heart to rest instead.

I don’t know everybody’s name or everyone’s story. I have a few close friendships, because my close friendships are for life. God made me a quiet introvert, but He gave me a voice, too.

God has gifted me with ways to serve, and He has given me a unique purpose within the body of Christ. The same is true of you. Whoever you are and wherever you are. You are needed and you are valuable to the kingdom of God.

There are women in your life, too, I imagine, that are so very different from you. Friends. Sisters. Maybe you view them as competition, or maybe you believe that noticing their beauty means you need to become more like them.

The only One we’re called to be like is Jesus. No one else.

Beauty begins with you being you.

At one point, I hit a wall with comparison in my life. I asked God how to stop comparing myself to other women, because I knew my thoughts about myself were not honoring Him. Do you know what He said to me?

Quit.

That’s it. Just one little word. Four letters. Q.U.I.T. I kept listening, waiting for more. I wanted a detailed action plan that better fit this monumental struggle in my life, but that was all He said.

If you want to stop comparing yourself, then quit. Just stop. 

God asked me to leave a way of thinking. He revealed how unhealthy this habit was. God encouraged me to give up trying to be someone I’m not. He led me away from a false view of myself, so I could discover who He created me to be.

God invited me to just be me.

I struggled at first to admit that comparison was my hidden addiction, destructive for me and harmful for my relationships. Some days I still wrestle with how to be me, the real me.

I know I’m not alone in this fight, because my relationships aren’t the only ones that threaten the kingdom of darkness. My only defense against comparison for so many years was striving. Try harder, do better, be someone else. Striving only left me wounded.

Gratitude is a much more effective defense against comparison. Give God thanks for the beauty you see today.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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