Christmas Blessing Giveaway!!

So, what’s this Christmas Blessing Giveaway all about? Hosted by the lovely ladies at Woman to Woman Ministries and joined by thirty-two bloggers who are offering up their sweetest encouragement on how to keep His peace in this happy, but easily stressed-out season. In addition, we are GIVING AWAY a blessing of $320 in PayPal cash!! See entry details directly below this post… 

–I’m moving cross country and unpacking this week, so I’ve blown the dust off of one of my favorite posts about the busyness of Christmas and our True focus… praying it blesses your heart!

As fast as you can say “Thanksgiving” it’s completely over.

The very next day all things orange, red and brown fade wearily into the background of the world. And the ever popular Christmas dances on in to the lime-light making its sparkling, dazzling long awaited return.

Soft, glowing lights of every color seem to magically string from house to house reminding us of the upcoming event. Windows joyfully frame some variety of a beautifully decorated fir tree that soon becomes the center of unforgettable precious family memories.

We can barely help but lose ourselves in lists and shopping and baking and celebrating. Every.  Single.  Day.  Until the most eagerly anticipated day of the year arrives: Christmas.

I fondly recall the complete and utter excitement of Christmas Eve as a child. The quiet restfulness of my bed overtaken by insomnia induced hopes for Christmas morning. Santa Claus. Overflowing stockings. Piles of gifts. All mysterious and unknown, but full with the promise of smiles and squeals and sweet splendor. And now as an adult I can hardly fight the urge to introduce my children each year to all of this marvelous wonder and delight.

But, in the midst of it all I remember what Christmas is really about for those of us who believe. And the picture of what I hope for at this time of year instantly transforms into something very different.

Something that is hardly radiant to the eyes of the world, but strikingly magnificent to those whose eyes stay fixed upon Jesus.

Indeed the worldly traditions of Christmas surround us, smothering us at every turn, yet we do not ever forget that HE is our true reason for this season.

His birth and the hope that it brought us.

His life and the living example He is for us.

His death and the covering for our sin.

His promises and our eternity with Him in heaven.

It causes me to reflect on this consuming, hungry expectation of traditional Christmas that the world woos us into and the energy we pour into the handful of days leading up to it. And I nearly burn up with conviction as I realize that we should reserve this awesome eager anticipation for only one single day ever. His Word defines all of our hopes not just for Christmas, but for life

 “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” Philippians 3:20

“For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.” Galatians 5:5

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23

We have overwhelming Truth that gives us a real reason to exhibit such eager anticipation and it by far out weighs any impulsive passion we have for a mere annual and worldly holiday. That’s worth our excitement.

It’s THE gift of our lifetime!

So, my hopes for Christmas are… that in the coming days I would not lose this most important godly perspective. And in however many days we have left on this earth that our passion would unleash wildly for Christ in a way that forcibly moves us to stand unyielding up onto our tippy-toes with arms anxiously outstretched to His heavens in joyful, never-seen-before eager anticipation as we await the coming of our Savior and our promised life with Him in eternity.

And… I pray it’s JUST like that for you too!

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Kelli, Erin and I are so excited to offer you this opportunity for an amazing Christmas Blessing Giveaway hosted by Woman to Woman Ministries!

The Prize: $320 in PayPal Cash!

The Rules: No purchase necessary.  Must be 18 to enter.  Void where prohibited by law.  This giveaway is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or associated by Facebook.  By entering this giveaway, you agree to release Facebook, Woman to Woman Ministries and all participating blogs of all liability.  Contest ends at 12:01am EST on Tuesday, December 11, 2012.  Winner is randomly chosen by Rafflecopter and will be emailed on December 11, 2012, then funds will be transferred to winner’s PayPal account.

How to Enter: Complete all of the tasks in the Rafflecopter below…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Pain and Pleasure of Being Pruned

 

My sweet dad sent me this picture last week in a text, saying it was the last rose in bloom in his backyard garden.  It made me smile, because just a day before my sweet husband was pruning the roses out in front.  It is one of favorite things to do.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that his name, Garth, means “God’s gardener”.

What was this summer the most beautiful bounty of blooming roses now was an ugly cut down stump of what used to remain.  Garth has proven to me in the 4 years of pruning roses that he knows what he is doing because every spring and summer they bloom more beautiful than the past year.  The first year he pruned them he followed strict instructions from a pruning book we bought because he had no idea how to keep roses alive and thriving.  When he basically pruned off all of the branches I was terrified there would be no flowers next season to enjoy.

The same fear has been present in my Christian walk.  In my early years of being saved, I feared and disliked the pruning.  And I notice that I had not yet learned how to listen to the Holy Spirit to learn what fruit God was trying to produce in me by the painful but necessary pruning.  In fact, I didn’t even recognize it as helpful-I only recognized it as painful.

Disobedience –“Ouch!”

Self-will run riot –“Snip snip!”

Pride and fear — “Oh that hurt!”

Materialistic idolatry — “Owieee!”

We all have areas in our lives and aspects of our character that need serious pruning. Mine may be different from yours, but without some Godly redirection, we would wither away and would not bear the fruits of being grafted into our Savior and having our will attached to His will, as a branch is attached to its vine.

I encourage you to have the pain in your life direct you to ask yourself, “What is bring pruned?”  Pain means we are being loved by God enough that He is pruning us to bear fruit.

“Live in me, and I will live in you.  A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself.  It has to stay attached to the vine.  In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me.”  John 15:4

Glorifying God with you,

Erin 

Thanksgiving and Contentment

We live in a comfort driven society. So much so that wants and needs become blurred. Discerning between what we need and what we want is a great obstacle for the content heart. When we take our want and make it a need, we drive our discontentment. 

Every time we flip the channel or thumb through a magazine, the message is the same. It’s all about pleasure and fun and great skin. Advertisements convince us that without these things we’ll never be happy. Then when the party is over, discontentment sets in like a dense fog on a rainy day. 

It’s hard not to get caught up in this. Don’t you think?

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that,”

(1 Timothy 6:6-8). 

Paul says if we have food and covering, we should be content. But are we really content with simple things such as food in the pantry, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs? Can you imagine the Cultural Revolution that would take place if we actually began to see everything beyond basic necessities as blessings instead of entitlements? 

What are your basic necessities? How much of what you have do you feel entitled to have? How much of what you have, do you complain about? 

These are all questions I ask myself. How do we as believers have a heart of thankfulness and contentment? The answer is found in Hebrews 13:5-6,

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” 

According to the Scriptures, the secret to contentment is in knowing ~

God is our helper;

He will never desert us; and

He will never forsake us. 

One thing to remember this Thanksgiving is that Christian contentment is a conviction that Christ’s power, purpose, and provision are sufficient for any and all circumstances. Contentment is saying out loud in your heart and soul: “I have Christ and that is enough,” (see 2 Cor. 12:9).

Praying you and your family have a wonderful Turkey Day!

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God Is On The Throne

The chill in the air reminds me of my weakness. The darkness reminds me how much I crave His light. The damp air fills my lungs and I breathe Him in. Gut heaving sobs howl from within over these children, neglected, abandoned, alone. The weight of what has transpired hasn’t hit them yet.  But it’s hit me. Hard. And I am scared.

I am just like Joshua. Joshua was scared too.  God had to remind him several times to be strong and courageous. God reminds me that like Joshua, I am designed to be put in situations where I am scared. Suddenly, the Shepherd speaks to my lamb-like heart, “You can be comfortable without me. But when you set your eyes on my Gospel and follow my commands, you will need me.”

That’s where I want to be.

In places that can’t be explained without the presence of the Holy Spirit. So I soak up courage that comes from following the will of God like a sponge. And courage he gave, in just the right amount, at just the right time.

My husband returns tomorrow so I call my friend. I need her help to care for the “least of these.” My sweet friend meets us at home. I unload my children, their children, her children and we ask for miracles. There is a total count of two mamas and nine of God’s children bunking in my house.

Bath water runs,

Washing machine runs,

And so do we.

We begin cleaning, bathing, brushing…whatever needs to be done. We sing to Jesus as we go and it calms. “Jesus loves me this I know,” rises through my ceiling into the heavenly realms. We don’t sing as good as the angels but I am sure they are singing in beautiful harmony with us.

So many hearts to tend.

Unsuspecting hearts that don’t realize they’re broken.

There are four children who need to know they aren’t alone in their hurt. Little ones to Him belong that need someone to listen. They need God to pour his strength into their meek.

I mentally erase my to-do-list and will myself to be available, to be present. Around midnight and four loads of laundry later I begin to wonder. Who is God on the night unspeakable truth comes to light? Who is God on a day when love isn’t enough?

I know who God is and I know where God is and it brings me comfort. The book of Revelation tells me that God is seated on the throne. All the angels and all elders and all the saints are gathered at His feet. And they can’t stop worshiping Him. Forever.

And so this week of life is crippling and hard and crazy. Because I love so many, and I want them to know Him, and I want Him to heal them. I wake up wondering when the hurt will end. Maybe not today, but someday I know it will. And in the meantime I just beg God to mold me into the kind of woman that will never stop worshiping the Lamb who is worthy. That amidst the rock and hard places I will cling to the hope that He’s already won and my only response would be adoration and praise.

I am kneeling at his feet, wetting them with my tears, pouring the perfume of my adoration over them. Because when my love isn’t enough His was, His is, and praise Jesus there’s still more to come!

*For my sweet, wonderful, godly friend Jennifer:)

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One of His Favorites

One of His Favorites…

It’s 7:00 p.m. and I lay on quilted bedding with my girls. We speak about what God is doing in the lives of our friends who are both physically and spiritually poor. Excitement sprinkles over my words like candy on cupcakes as I describe God’s activity in our downtown ministry. My youngest perks up. She uses her fingers to make air quotes around the words, “You’re one of God’s favorites, mama!” We knee-slap a giggle but somehow it sticks. God knew I needed reminding, especially tonight.

Reminded I am…

One of HIS favorites;

Lavished with HIS love;

Soaked with HIS Spirit.

But isn’t this what He wants all of his children to feel all of the time? Each one cherished, each one knowing they are, “one of his favorites.” How would life change for us if we believed this? What if we treated each person that approached us as one of God’s favorites? How might our actions change?

I carry it with me.

The phone rings. An emergency I am not prepared to hear. There are children left alone, homeless, and no place to go. They are children of a family we minister to. I think of them as God’s favorite and I say, “Yes I’ll be there.”

I plead and cry and hope, God, in His sovereign kindness will graciously meet everyone’s needs tonight (especially since my husband is out of town).

We hop in the car and enter pitch black. God speaks as we go. He says ~ I know how you hurt for these children. I hurt for them more. In the world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world (see John 16:33). Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. Continue to care for the orphan and extend hospitality to the needy and I promise to take care of the rest (see Rom. 12:11-13).

We pull in next to sirens, police cars, and child protective services. My car busts at the seams as I load them up. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I don’t think I can do this, but my trust is in HIM so I keep going. I feel like Jehoshaphat on the battlefield when he cried out, “God I don’t know what’s going to happen, but my eyes are on you.”

And my eyes are… on Him.

I might not know what’s going to happen but I know what I’m going to do ~ take care of those God has placed in front of me. I will bathe them, clothe them, nurse them back to health. I will live day by day, one moment at a time because this moment is all I am promised.

As I look back over the night, I realize something. There is such purpose in the pain, even when lines are still blurry. Our extravagant Father didn’t just want to provide for these children, He wanted to provide for the parents to. He didn’t just want the children to come to know Him, He wanted the entire family to come to know Him too.

Because this family, they are one of His favorites.

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Family Thanksgiving Activity (sharing from Ann Voskamp)

Hi friends,

Ann Voskamp from A Holy Experience has created a fantastic family activity that’s just too good not to share!

She’s included all the pretty printables and made it really easy to create this beautiful thanks GIVING TREE with your children…

Praying your heart is filled with His joy and multitudes of thanks-giving, not just during this season, but always!

 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100

Love,

Kelli, Heidi and Erin

Dealing with Distractions

 

The other day my son asks to download a new game on my phone. I cringe a bit, because it is my phone and they are always asking to play on it. But, I give in.

Delighted, he downloads a new game called, Tiny Monsters, and runs off to play.

But, the tiny monster that he becomes over the next few days surprises me. 

A cycle of obsession erupts out of nowhere that distracts my son beyond what I think he even expects.

The very next morning, I awaken to… tap, tap, tap… “mom, can I check something on your phone?”

After breakfast… “mom, can I check something on your phone?”

In the middle of math… “mom, can I check something on your phone?”

And it continues on and on throughout the day and starts all over again the very next.

But, this time by breakfast I am done.

By math time, he is so out of sorts and distracted, but before he gets a chance to ask I ground him from the game for the rest of the day.

And the tears burst forth. And the desperate pleas begin.

I explain to him that when something in his life distracts him from what is most important, like his education, than it is not a good thing. If this game is all you can think about and nothing else than it has become an unhealthy obsession… perhaps an idol.

We discuss our bible lesson, from just the week before, about the Israelites and their idols. I remind him that idols today are very different. They come in many forms, many distractions and if they take the place of what God says is most important in our lives than we are actually in sin.

With that, my son, bursts into tears again and says… “mom, delete the game, it’s all I can think about and I can’t control it, so just get rid of it now!”

He surprises me again.

And there I sit… in awe at the way he flees from the wrong and how he hugs me with such force, clinging tightly to the right.

My own obsessions and distractions come quickly to mind… how hard it is to flee immediately from the wrong and cling so desperately to the right.

Oh, how I do desire to be so fully consumed by God that nothing else dares to penetrate. That obsessions and idols would come dawning red warning flags with the clear sign to run and run now!

Father, thank you that my son is learning so early the lesson of self-control and how to turn-away from sin. Thank you that you so wisely use my children to teach me lessons that I so desperately need myself. Give me wisdom and strength to run from the distractions in my own life and hide in the safety of your presence and love.  

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,  training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Titus 2:11-13

Linking up with Tracy for Winsome Wednesday


 

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Balance

    

Balance.

I have been acutely aware of this concept lately, as I watch my 1-year-old son, Zachary, learn to walk.  He often has every intention of reaching his goal, but somehow, somewhere along the way, that little body of his fails him and he ends up on the ground, stunned at what just happened to him!  I often wonder if he wonders to himself, “Why won’t my body move like those big people?  Why do I always fall and they walk and run with ease!”

But what does it mean to be in spiritual balance?  And what makes me stumble?

In pondering this, I wonder if the equation for attaining spiritual balance is different from the typical, most often-cited ideas of balance.  In the world of accounting, balance is defined as “to be equal or proportionate to” and “to settle what remains by paying what is due on an account”.

Just as my little toddler Zachary stumbles as he learns to walk, I sometimes stumble as I learn to walk with the Lord in my spiritual walk.  And it hurts to fall down.  And I wonder, why do I stumble?

I wonder if I stumble because I try, in my humanness, to tip the scales to be equal parts me and equal parts God.

And I wonder if therein lies the problem!  A balanced spiritual walk with God really requires God being closer to 100% and me being closer to 0%.

Jesus has told us, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.  I stumble when my focus is anything less than 100% on my Savior and His will for my life.  God is never the stumbling block! It is always me!  “Great peace have those who love your law, nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165).

I am learning I can’t have 50% of my focus on things of this world and 50% of my focus on Godly things and be in balance.  It is more all-or-nothing in terms of whether I stand or whether I stumble.  God doesn’t require 100% obedience for His outpouring of love and mercy and grace, but I need to be clear that stumbling is caused by my lack of focus, not God’s lack of power!

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end.  Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.  Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.  Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!  Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119: 33-37)

 

Live Sent

 

A couple of days ago my friend Bobbie Sue, a woman who struggles to feed her four children, to keep a roof over their head came to me desperate. They were evicted from their home, because for the fourth time in four months she had been unable to pay their rent. As I looked at the children all under the age of seven, wild eyes, filthy clothes, and hungry stomachs I will admit I judged her. The dead bolt squeezed the knob as if to say, “Don’t come back!” and I judged her. We’ve been providing the family with food, clothing, and money for a while now. Why were they still wallowing in this place?

But as she breathed the words, “If you hadn’t come; if I didn’t know Jesus, I would really be a mess right now,” my judgment turned to sorrow.

I am reminded of one thing.

Jesus meets us right where we are, right there in parking lots filled with noise and trash. He meets us in between dead bolt locks, starving bellies, and eviction notices and asks us to touch his nail scarred hands. Like with Thomas dulled by doubt, Jesus takes our hand and traces it over pierced places, so we know it’s really Him. He reassures me and her that it’s okay if we have scars too because they will always draw us back to Him.

I can speak from a mess of my own. I am no stranger to crawling from the dump, the mud, and mire into the arms of a Savior. I’m a woman who falls to her knees grabbing for His feet, reaching for a touch of His cloak, and thankful for the wash of His cleansing flood.

I don’t always understand eviction notices and hungry children. If it were up to me there would be no such things. But I’m not God, and I don’t hold everyone’s individual plans in my hands. What I do understand is that I can crawl into the Master’s lap, myopic views and all, for as long as it takes ~ until the understanding comes.

Suddenly fog lifts.

I look over black top and see only redemption. I see Jesus making wine out of water. I see Him making thorn bushes into juniper trees (see Is. 55:13). I see Him filling cracks and fissures with His blood. I see traumatized people that struggle but have unexplainable peace. I see once-spiritually-starved people growing in a merciful, healing Father. I see lives changed and eternities re-written. I see His abundance in souls that lack.

I don’t know why He chose me to witness all of this. Maybe it’s so I’ll know Him as the lifter of my head and the satisfier of my soul~ so earth never becomes everything I need.

My Father’s voice is almost audible, “I have entrusted you with much and I have demanded of you much. But only with me will your life bear much.

So keep living sent…

Just like a letter…

Penned by my hand…

Soaked with my message and…

Stamped “saved” by my grace.”

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever,” (Isaiah 55:12-13).

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Bent Low

Today my soul is full, not lacking for anything. I feel blessedly alive, my affection pouring out like unbroken worship. God has called my two girls on a new path to sing for Him unashamed, out loud and in harmony with His voice. “I surrender to Jesus and want to be baptized,” they say. And so they were, today.

I stand on shaky legs. I rub clammy palms against my dress. I watch as they fold into the water, as they intentionally hand the reigns over to God. What will He do with them? How will He use them? The questions flood my mind.

Suddenly, they hop from the waters with new, shiny hope. Then they scurry into the dressing room drenched. As they change, I bend to clean the pools of water. I bend twirling a towel over tile to absorb the damp.

Suddenly, God breezes into the moment with a message.

I think to myself, “I usually live bent low.” Like this.

I bend to pick up cheerios the kids threw like confetti; I bend to tie unruly shoelaces; I bend to pull a finger out of a nose; I bend over math books and history quizzes. And at the end of the day, I bend next to my bed with a small request ~ that I could bend more, bend lower tomorrow. Because I serve a Savior who came to be a servant, to bend low for the sake of others. And bent down here is where I see His face, rely on His strength, and trust in His Word.

He being clean bent down for the dirty.

Jesus bent low to wipe away the mess, the tears, and the sin with His robe. He absorbed it all, becoming messy himself. Which am I? Clean? Dirty? Have my hands and heart been selfish? Will I bend low myself on behalf of those in front of me?

The truth is … my heart is only clean when I’m near to Jesus Christ. My heart feels cleanest when I climb into the ditch with people the world has labeled dirty. I find myself face to face with Jesus in the dirt and the more I bend the harder and better and fuller life gets.

And sure all this bending wears a mama out, but the joy is unmatched when the day is done and those who didn’t believe now do. Because bent down low is where we find people thirsty for Jesus. And in this place is where we find life, life to the fullest… right where God wants us to be.

My prayer is that my girls will bend for those God puts in front of them, today and every day. I pray they will be reassured that even though bending low isn’t always easy, they’ll be in good company ~  because He will always meet them there.

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