Mint & Stongholds

Mint. I have a love-hate relationship with it. Spearmint – I love the smell, taste, texture, and hardiness; and, I hate its aggressive hardiness. Thus, my conundrum.

I enjoy doing some personal gardening as a part-time job. Arriving on the job one morning, I began in the front yard. After pulling weeds, digging up unwanted iris, pruning and fertilizing, I moved around to the shaded cutting garden around back. My friend had added some new plants to the area, so I walked about checking things out before getting started. Roudning the last corner of the raised bed, my eyes bugged out. Mint. Without thinking, and without regard for the planter, I reacted and yanked the entire thing out. “Nooooooooo!”

A split second of regret popped into my heart; I had clearly undone what someone else had planted with care. My regret didn’t last long. You see, mint has a way of completely taking over a garden space. We had diligently been working to create a space for a cutting and vegetable garden. Mint would have taken over and undone all of our hard work over the past couple of years. Had the mint stayed and taken root, the only thing stopping it would be concrete or multiple applications of herbicide.

As my mind had the opportunity to process my feelings about this plant, yes I have feelings about plants, I began to equate mint to strongholds. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of stronghold describes a stronghold as a place dominated by a particular group or marked by a particular characteristic.[i] I tend to think of strongholds with a negative connotation, like an addiction or challenge in one’s life. A stronghold may be something I struggle with in life and find it hard to experience freedom from, such as unforgiveness, anger, insecurities, food, believing lies you tell yourself, a physical activity, etc.

Strongholds can be hard to root out. (Thus, our mint analogy.) Why don’t I react to personal strongholds the way I treated that mint, ripping it out without thought or question? Because it’s hard. It requires a deep, honest heart and mind work. It requires me to be really uncomfortable and intentionally practice self-control. Often, it’s hard to just acknowledge the stronghold, let alone root it out. Like the mint, we may have a love-hate relationship with it.

Personally, I feel that God has been revealing strongholds in my heart. They aren’t huge, obvious ones. But they are strongholds none-the-less. While taking complete responsibility, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians are a good reminder in the process of doing some hard work.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV)

MintCan I encourage you to join me in asking the Lord to reveal the strongholds in our hearts? Our strongholds may not be “big,” but they can make deep roots – they are still strongholds. To me, this can be a scary prayer. But with a willing heart, we can do all things through Christ because He strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13) Let’s suite up with the armor of God – we’ve got this.

How can I pray for you?

 

[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stronghold

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Roots

My daughter, Alex, received a bundle of flower and vegetable seeds for her birthday this past January. As spring arrived, we couldn’t seem to get ourselves together enough to start them early in the season, so Grandma (the gift-giver of said seeds) came over a few weeks ago to help out. Together, Alex and Grandma sowed hundreds of tiny seeds into pots. A few short days later, the fruit of their labor was evident as her birthday gift sprouted.

Watching these little seedlings has been fun. Growing plants is nothing new to me, but growing them with my daughter has brought a new element of joy. It’s caused me to step back, slow down, and really think about the what and why of growing plants – especially from seed. Answering questions and being patient when her interest wavers has offered ample opportunities to practice grace and enjoy a laugh or two.

As some of Alex’s seeds have grown, it came time to transplant a few into larger containers. We quickly figured out that she enjoyed filling the container with soil as I gingerly teased the seedlings apart. We quickly had nearly one hundred little pots filled with tiny new plants.

Sitting on the deck and untangling tiny roots, I found it fitting that the word ‘roots’ had been prevalent in recent weeks. Looking at those tiny, life-giving roots, it was amazing to me that these delicate things were so vital to their survival. In appearance, these roots weren’t pretty, they didn’t seem to have order, and it was hard to believe the significant role they held in each plant’s growth. Yet holding them in my hand, I was keenly aware that this was just the beginning. Treating these tiny treasures with care, we firmly pressed the soil of their new home around young and tender roots.

As our plants grow, the health of the roots, now hidden, will be evident through the foliage and fruit shown above. The hidden always manifests itself, somehow. Alex’s newly transplanted seedlings will bear purple flowers, given time. Roots anchoring them to the earth, they will take up water and nutrients, bearing new seeds for the next generation.

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“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (ESV)

What roots are you sending down? Where are you sending them down? I believe it’s important to be mindful of this. Sometimes we’re so focused on the outward, visible portion of our life that we forget to tend and care for that which keeps us anchored and fed. For me, it’s making time for prayer and God’s Word. I desire to bear fruit for the Lord, it will require deep roots that are planted firmly in Him.

We frequently want the fruit but are unwilling to take the time and energy towards developing a root system that provides what it takes. Growing deep roots takes time, and it’s dirty work. Its doesn’t look pretty and often the work goes unseen. Roots are delicate, but their quiet power has the ability to get through the toughest of soil and draw nutrients from places unseen.

What grows your roots deep?

 

 

 

 

 

Fed by Jesus

One of the most infamous stories of the New Testament is represented in all four of the gospels – when Jesus feeds five thousand. And that number, five thousand, was just accounting for the men. Think of all the women and children who would have joined in as well. Jesus knew how many were there that day. He knew the story within each heart sitting on the green grass with hungry bellies and parched souls.

I love how each gospel provides slightly different details of this story, but they have a common thread of Jesus feeding the people who are present. Recently, what stuck out to me is how Jesus fed the people. I love feeding my family, but sometimes it’s just a chore that needs to be done. It’s tempting to throw something together so they stop hounding me, so we can move on to the next thing, or so we can call it a day and all go to bed. Guilty. Based on Jesus’ response, I don’t believe this meal was a ‘chore’ for him.

Jesus wasn’t about shutting them up so he could move on to the next town. He didn’t miraculously make food appear on their laps so he could quickly withdraw to a peaceful place. Jesus saw the great crowd of people coming and knew the hunger in their souls and bellies. (Luke 6:1-5) When he saw them coming, He had compassion on them. (Matthew 14:14) Jesus saw they were like sheep without a shepherd, He knew they needed to be fed (Mark 6:34), and He welcomed them. (Luke 9:11)

The people were seen. And not only were they seen, but Jesus welcomed them with compassion. He welcomed those seeking Him with curiosity, faith and illness. Those who sought after Jesus were not turned away as he met both their physical and emotional needs. He healed the sick, and I’m sure He probably mended some broken hearts.

All of the people were accepted and brought into the fold, fed and cared for. And not just enough to get by, but abundantly. After each belly had been filled, there were enough fragments gathered to fill twelve baskets! Nothing went to waste, not the food or the journey of the five thousand. I imagine each person on the hill that day felt a personal connection to Jesus as they reached into the basket, and received provision.

When you seek Jesus, you will be compassionately welcomed. He knows the journey you’ve been on. He sees you, and knows you need a shepherd. He knows you need to be fed and rest on a soft patch of green for a while. Jesus knows, because he took on the form of man so that He could compassionately welcome you into His heavenly arms.

Can I encourage you to seek Jesus? And not just today, but each day. Jesus fed those who were present with Him. Seek Him honestly, and with faith. Can you trust Him to provide a soft place to fall, to rest and be fed?

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“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35 (ESV) // Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Scripture for feeding the five thousand :: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15

 

Dream Small

The theme of ‘small’ has been surrounding me for the past several months. This week I simply cannot escape it, so now you get to join in the contemplation. I was talking with a sister-in-Christ a few months back, how it’s often the small things that make big impact. It’s the tiny pieces of gravel that make up our driveway and the road home taking us to and fro. One piece of gravel doesn’t seem to make a big difference, but together they become a force to be reckoned with.

In 1888, a surveyor marked the headwaters for the fourth longest river in the world, the Missouri River.[1] It began at a spring in Montana. A spring. One small spring kept flowing, converging with small rivers along the way to create something that would have huge impact within the United States and our world. This river would become a boundary for states, a source for great discovery, and an avenue for commerce. That one small spring would ultimately lead to being a part of a much bigger picture, an ocean.

So often, the culture of today focuses on the big. It’s the latest trend going viral, big houses, big churches, big followings. And I’m not saying all of that is bad. However, we often lose sight and forget that so much of the big and amazing things are first made up, with the small. Some of the moments carrying the most impact, when dissected, began small.

Small can be little bits of love we show and share with others, through a smile or holding a door. The ten or fifteen minutes in the morning which partner us with Jesus, and a much bigger story. These are moments which join Him and pave the way for the love of Christ to flow through us throughout the day.

Small acts of love and mercy, for myself and others, over time make an impactful difference. Those small moments also help me to practice for the larger, more demanding opportunities for practicing grace. Each moment doesn’t feel as if it will ever make a difference, but after a while – you have a gravel driveway, and then a road connecting your house to mine. Then, we can actually get somewhere.

I’m all in for dreaming big, but God is moving my heart to focus on what is right in front of me in the present. Small pieces together, consistently practiced, create the dream, impact, and relationship. For me, living focused on the Big dream usually means living in the future, or the past. (As in it’s already happened, too late.) I’d rather live in the present, choosing to show-up and be connected. Being faithful with the small things, what I have in front of me, seems to be those pieces of gravel. The small bits often seem mundane, but they provide opportunity to practice being grateful in the present. And that is powerful.

I had a moment in church this past Sunday when my Pastor played Josh Wilson’s song, Dream Small, at the close of service. With all these frequently surfacing thoughts over the past few months, I became overwhelmed with all that the Holy Spirit has been whispering to my heart.

Along with myself, can I challenge you? Take a listen to Josh’s song, be encouraged, read Matthew 25:14-30, and really focus on some small things over the coming days? When you read that piece of scripture, it’s not about how much they start and end with, it’s being faithful with what is right in front of them. Small things, with a heart of gratitude.

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“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Matthew 25:23 (ESV)  Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missouri_River

Come and See

I’ve embarked on a journey through the gospels, reading them together chronologically. I’m just a few days in, and loving it. Scripture is packed with nuggets of truth and wisdom. Makes me think of Psalm 119:130, “The unfolding of your words give light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” Well, I can be pretty simple so this verse is an encouragement to me.

Today I was reading the story of Jesus’ first meeting of his disciple Philip in John 1:43-51. I’d read this passage of scripture before, but today it ‘unfolded’ before me in a new way. Philip, a true disciple at heart, immediately brings a man named Nathanael to meet Jesus. It’s like he can’t help it! And despite Philip’s enthusiasm, Nathanael’s first response was filled with judgment about this man from Nazareth, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46, ESV) Philip’s response? “Come and see.” (John 1:46, ESV)

Jesus greets Nathanael in a very personal way, going so far as to call out where he was at the time Philip came to him. Jesus knew Nathanael’s heart, and spoke directly to him in a personal way. Isn’t that how Jesus speaks to each one of our hearts, if we allow him to? If we would accept the invitation to ‘come and see’.

Sometimes our first response is filled with doubt and judgement, like Nathanael. But once confronted with Jesus, he wasted no time at claiming that Jesus was who he said he was. As one of the first to recognize Messiah, he exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49, ESV)

I wonder what Nathanael’s faith walk was like after this encounter. Were there ups and downs? Did he pursue Jesus faithfully every day, without doubt? I believe Nathanael walked closely with his Rabbi, and had a personal relationship with him. In John 21:2 as Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection, revealing himself to Nathanael. Wow. Don’t you wonder what that would have been like?!

Even if our first response to Jesus each day is not faith-filled, He still knows our heart and how to speak personally to us. The Lord knows us better than we do; we are His creation after all. To have that personal relationship with the Lord, we must ‘come and see’. Come to Him in worship, scripture and prayer. God will intimately speak to our hearts when we enter into relationship with Him. And with Nathanael’s response, we can exclaim who He is, give Him glory in worship and praise. “You are the Son of God!”

Can I encourage you to read John 1:43-51 today? Ask the Lord to unfold this encounter with Jesus’ in a new way. He is so faithful. You are seen by the living God, Creator of heaven and earth. He desires to have that personal relationship with you, His creation. Lean in close, letting your doubt become faith. Come to Him, and see.

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“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.!” Psalm 34:8 Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

 

Belonging

Growing up is hard. Heck, being an adult is hard! My daughter has wrestled her way from Kindergarten to third grade, navigating the social bits of being a young lady. Girls can be so mean. As a mom, it’s hard to coach from the sidelines – especially when it’s similar to what you experienced. My heart breaks, knowing it’s likely she may wrestle with these same struggles for years to come, if not a lifetime. Recently we’ve talked about how God makes us all unique, and it’s hard to fit in when we’re all meant to stand out, being uniquely accepted in love together.

We want so desperately to fit in, to belong. Yet with the ‘fitting in’ to one group, we’re excluded from another. This is something I’ve struggled with since I was old enough to have an awareness about it. I’m guessing you have too. It’s not been until my mid-thirties that things started to fit within me. Oh, there have been inklings all along, but it felt a bit fuzzy and incomplete. Some days, it still does.

This week I began reading Brené Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness. I love the work she’s doing. I’m not deep into the pages yet, but have already had so many ‘YES!’ moments. And one really big Ah-ha. One of those moments came when Brené brought attention to a quote from an interview with Maya Angelou done on public television with Bill Moyers, 1973.

“You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” – Maya Angelou

Yes. That quote may be hard to wrap your head around, but for me it spoke truth. Our daughter had been struggling with her enjoyment of space, friends thought she was weird for it and excluded her. But should she abandon that desire, based on reasons and opinions other than her own? That’s a high price. We are meant to hold tight to those dreams and desires placed within us upon our creation.

God has created each of us with a necessary and innate sense to belong to something more than ourselves, while being who He created us to be. It’s part of what causes us to seek Him. Yet, we sell out to the world around us in order to fit in and belong. We are each unique; therefore, we will never fit perfectly into anything other than the creation we are meant to be. We are meant to be unique and authentic, placed on the Creator’s timeline and fulfilling a unique purpose, designed specifically for each creation (you and me) – thus fitting perfectly. Denying who I am – who I BE – is denying the Creator of His creation. It’s living a life that’s not congruent or authentic to that which is within.

Being that which we are created for is imperative to ourselves, those around us, and to the Lord. He leads by example with His first direct revelation of himself in Exodus 3:14 as he appears to Moses in the burning bush, calling Moses forth to be his purpose. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.” That ‘I AM’ can be translated from the Hebrew, I BE who I BE.

I believe striving ceases when we rest in our real and authentic self, a true reflection of the Creator’s Creation. I’m not sure about you, but I want to be that – a true reflection. Striving tends to wear me out, gets me turned around, and unhappy. I’d rather be happy, and rest in my Creator. Exploring who I am as a reflection of the Creator will take a lifetime, and I’m okay with that process.

I am a complete and powerful woman, made of God’s love. How about you?

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Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash 

Resurrection Day!

It’s no coincidence that I’ve been editing Week 3, Day 4 of this Bible study on the book of Joshua. It’s all about Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits – which coincide with Resurrection Sunday (Easter).  I just love these days on our spiritual calendar.

I’ve been deep in the editing, and not writing, but wanted to leave you with a few verses as we take in the next few days. May we posture our hears and minds towards the King!

“But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (ESV)

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Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

 

Led & Pursued by God

I’ve known through scripture that God surrounds us. Psalm 139:5 states, “You have encircled me; you have placed your hand on me.” (CSB) I believe that. However, the other day while reading Psalm 23, I realized the similar sentiment of Psalm 139. In Psalm 23:2, we are being lead; therefore, He must be in front of me. Verse 6 says that only goodness and love will pursue me, as coming up behind me. Knowing that God is love, I’m going to take that as God pursuing me with his qualities of goodness and love.

It was a new understanding of how I am being encircled – lead to quiet waters and pursued with goodness and love. That is something I can really settle in to; it gives shape to those thoughts of being encircled by God. Not only will I be lead beside quiet waters, but on the right path! (vs. 3) Being led and pursued by the same person seems impossible, but not for God. Our Creator is omnipresent, at all places at all times.

When life feels up in the air, discombobulated and out of control, remembering that God will lead me on the right path and cover my rear with His goodness and love is comforting. It also carries with it the weight of relationship – to be led, I must be willing to listen, trust and follow Him.

Psalm 23 starts out with the proclamation that ‘The LORD is my shepherd’, not me. John 10 talks about the good shepherd being Jesus. “When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4)

We get to be sheep. And sheep listen to and know the voice of their shepherd, it’s how they are led. Jesus has gone ahead of us, clearing the path before us. We see where He is leading us at the end of Psalm 23 in verse 6, “and I will dwell in the house of the LORD as long as I live.” We are being led to the house of the Lord! There may still be danger, valleys, and enemies present but we can trust the Shepherd, walking in faith rather than fear.

I want to challenge you in reading Psalm 23 over the next few days, read it several times. Let it be more than recited phrases, but truth to your soul. Pray it! Proclaim it!

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“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:6 (ESV)    Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Tested Genuiness

I had the joy of sitting down to breakfast with a group of high school students for breakfast recently; it was a Wednesday morning prayer breakfast. This group of young people gather nearly every Wednesday morning before school for a devotional and to share a meal together. It’s truly amazing – teens who willingly get up early in order to spend time in fellowship and God’s word. Biscuits & gravy, eggs, hash browns and chocolate milk may have something to do with it…

After breakfast we visited about trials and testing, how it is a continual process where God uses everything. I was able to use the example of rendering beeswax and that when all the ick is filtered out, we are able to shine God’s love more brightly to others. We looked at 1 Peter 1:3-9 and the idea of our faith being a treasure to the Lord.

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

Trials come and go but when we’re going through it, it feels like forever. Time can stand still as we focus on “it” – whatever “it” happens to be at the present time. No matter what our circumstances are, scripture promises that “it” will only last a little while in the scope of eternity with the Lord. That testing is part of our faith, tested to be genuine to the Lord. That’s a hard one to swallow when your in the thick of it.

But take a look at that last little bit, the portion about praise, glory, and honor. Those three things have the power to change an atmosphere and an attitude. Giving God praise through the trial, is glorifying to Him. When I focus my attention on the One over the circumstances, there is a peace that passes all understanding. I’m also honoring Him with my thoughts, which is reflected in my actions and reactions.

I’m not going to sugar coat this, it’s hard. But we have the ability to offer up praises to Him as a sacrifice through the trials. I want to challenge you with this. In the hardship, instead of your normal response, try worshiping or praising God. In believing and trusting God, offer up praise, glory, and honor to Him through your trail. I believe a tested and genuine faith will be revealed. I’ve experienced it. How about you? Have you ever thought about your faith being a treasure to God, more precious than gold, refined in the Refiner’s fire?

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“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that yo may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 (ESV) Photo by Evaldas Daugintis on Unsplash

 

 

In The Morning

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog lately, but I’ve missed you! Any time for writing is being focused toward the study on Joshua. I’m so ready for it to be completed and be able to share it with you – it’s getting closer. Re-writing and edits!

For now, I’ll try and keep it short rather than quiet. That seems doable.

The verse God has me focused on and challenged with right now is Psalm 5:3, here are three different translations.

“Oh LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” (ESV)

“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.” (CSB)

“In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will prepare [a prayer and a sacrifice] for you and watch and wait [for You to speak to my heart]. (AMP)

In the morning. As in first thing – the Firstfruit of my day. In the morning, before I give my attention to anything else, flooding my mind with the waiting demands and welcomed distractions.  And why wouldn’t I want to give my heart and thoughts over to the One who hears my voice? The One who is expectantly waiting for me, in relationship.

What can I possibly offer as a sacrifice? Prayer? Worship? My thoughts? Glorifying Him, rather than myself or others? My heart? Gratitude?

I want to challenge you with this verse. What does it mean to you? What can you prepare as a sacrifice to the Lord? And then watch! Watch expectantly.

Love you ~ Amy

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash