Growing In 2019

“Don’t ever change!” – This phrase is written in yearbooks and place of nostalgia through the ages. Then someone said it to me a few days ago. I’ve never cared for the phrase, though I understand the thought and heart behind it. Something about it just irks me. We all change, there’s no stopping it. We are meant to change. God on the other does not; He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

As created man and woman, we are meant to grow and change our entire lives. The young people in our household are in a stage of life where they are growing by leaps and bounds. Their pant legs and shoes remind me on a regular basis. It’s exciting to watch them grow! I’ll be turning another decade soon, and I’m excited! I want to keep growing – not in size like my children but in maturity of heart, mind, and spirit.

While I stand behind the fact that God’s character is unchanged and unchangeable, I fully believe He is a God of growth. God’s word encourages growth, therefore change. Take a look at God’s words through Paul to the churches in Philippi and Colossae.

“And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment.” Philippians 1:9

“We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growth in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:12

As we turn the corner of 2018 and begin 2019, would you take a moment and join me in reflecting on how we’ve grown and changed this year? How have you grown in Christ? In connection with God’s Word? Within your family and relationships? Professionally?

Where would you like to grow this coming year? How can you be intentional about it? (And not just the first two weeks of January.)

God never changes. We on the other hand are in a constant state of change, whether we recognize it or not. Let us grow in a positive direction. As the gospel grows and bears fruit, we are to do the same. Would you join me in this challenge to start 2019?

What area is God guiding your heart to grow in?

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“And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment.” Philippians 1:9  {Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson on Unsplash}

 

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Open Wide

The other day, my to-do-list seemed to grow faster than I could keep up with. Overwhelmed, I had placed another helping of ‘Yes, I can do that!” on my plate. Unfortunately, when my commitments get bigger and a little out of control, my quiet time with Jesus suffers and I neglect to sit and read Scripture, journal, or pray.

Psalm 81 is a call to obedience. Perhaps the people of Israel also struggled with prioritizing God over ll other tasks. I know I had a hard time this particular day, and began to let that to-do-list encroach upon my time with Him.

God declares, in Psalm 81:10, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” In that quick and unfocused quiet time, I did not open my mouth wide. Instead, I barely parted my lips; I opened myself up to just a smidge of what God had prepared. The temptation of getting started on my tasks  for the day was greater than my desire to be filled with God’s Word. I opened my mouth to be filled with something else rather than what I genuinely need to feast on each day – time with Jesus.

In Psalm 81:10, God speaks of provision and release from bondage. Jesus has delivered us out of slavery and into freedom. And He who is faithful to deliver us from sin, shame, addiction, or that to-do-list is also faithful to provide for our every need. God declared, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” That, dear sister, is a promise.

Later that morning while I was working on our farm, conviction whispered to my heart. I stopped, dropped my tools and looked up to heaven. With a repentant heart, I closed my eyes, opened my mouth wide, and asked God to fill me up. He did. My day no longer seemed daunting;  instead it became a chance to offer each item up to the Lord and ask for His strength and wisdom. I was no longer tackling things in my own strength, but God’s. I wasn’t tempted to shut God out, and instead partnered with Him. Be encouraged! Take him up on that promise, open yourself wide and be filled.

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This devotional first appeared in Journey, April 2018, LifeWay Press.

Give Thanks In Everything

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The last couple weeks we’ve taken a brief look at verse 16,  “Rejoice always,” and then verse 17, “Pray Constantly”.  Today we peer in to our third and final directive found in verse 18, “give thanks in everything”. It seems a bit cliché to write about thankfulness during the week of Thanksgiving, but it fits. This series on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is all about posturing our heart towards the Savior, and I know no better way than a heart full of gratitude.

The concept of gratitude is everywhere, signs adorn the walls of our homes and journals have been specially crafted in order to focus on the idea. Along with tangible reminders surrounding us, hundreds of studies have been done on thankfulness and gratitude. According to one article, thankfulness has the ability to improve our physical and psychological health, reduce aggression, enhance empathy, improve our sleep and self-esteem.[i] These are just a few of the benefits a heart of thankfulness can offer.

It turns out these studies have uncovered what I believe to be part of God’s original design for our heart, soul, mind, and strength – thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us that it is God’s will for us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks – at all times. While these three directives do not exhaust the will of God, they impact our obedience in fulfilling other aspects of God’s will. If a heart is not postured with thanks 365 days a year, I fear it will be incrementally more challenging to fulfill the individual details of God’s will as they are presented.

The story of Jonah comes to mind. He didn’t exactly tell God “thanks” for sending him to Nineveh. Rather than taking a posture of ‘thank you for using me’ he initially goes the opposite direction. This is a complex story in the Old Testament involving pride and hypocrisy, there is much more than a lack of gratitude involved. Yet I believe it may also serve as an example to us in the context we’re focusing on today. God’s will for the Ninevites to repent came to pass, yet Jonah’s experience in joining God in that will was nothing short of a challenge for him.

Giving thanks for everything cultivates an active and growing spiritual life, while fostering relationship with our Creator and others. Gratitude invites abundance. Through aggravations of this earth, impossible situations, and deep heartache, thankfulness has a way of lifting our eyes to the One who is higher and completely sovereign. Practicing gratitude provides contentedness, it holds an element of humility, ushers in peace, and provides space to experience God’s victory!

I’m not going to provide a list of various ideas to practice more gratitude, because it starts with simply and authentically stating, “thank you”. Tell God! Tell your spouse, parents, kids, pastor, friends, grocery clerk – everyone. Can I challenge you to make it personal, direct, and specific? Reflect back to God what your thankful for throughout the day.

Would you mind sharing your experiences here? Leave a comment! Let’s encourage and inspire one another with how God is using this in your life right now!

It’s my prayer these verses, along with our verse in 1 Thessalonians 5, would be used to posture our hearts this season by giving thanks and rejoicing in and for our Savior.

I’m so thankful to God for you,

Amy

 

A psalm of thanksgiving.

“Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to God!

Serve the LORD with gladness;

Come before him with joyful songs.

Acknowledge that the LORD is God.

He made us, and we are his –

His people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and bless his name.

For the LORD is good, and his faithful love endures forever;

his faithfulness, through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (CSB)

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“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. 
Give thanks to him and bless his name.” Psalm 100:4 Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#2c2fdcc0183c

 

Favorite Sides

We’re doing a double portion on the blog this week. The regular Thursday post is coming your way, but I couldn’t resist sharing one of our family’s favorite side dishes. It came out of a magazine when I was a girl, and has become a staple on the table when the leaves turn every fall. So, as you plan your meal for Thursday (or another day this week) consider adding this to the menu. We think it’s spot on!

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Shameless plug for our farm and honey…which we are out of until next season.

Butternut Squash with Cranberries

  • 1/4 cup honey (I used less)
  • 1/4 cup frozen apple or OJ concentrate (I used juice or whatever is on hand)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup cranberries (fresh)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup apples or pears (I use a whole fruit, whatever you have)
  • 1 whole butternut squash, peeled and cubed

Mix ingredients together, bake uncovered for about an hour at 350*, until tender.

Honestly, it’s hard to mess it up. I never measure anything when making this dish – dump and bake. FYI, the leftovers are even better!

Have a wonderful celebration this week, wherever you find yourself, full and thanks and God’s never ending love.

With gratitude,

Amy

Pray Constantly

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Last week we took a brief look at verse 16, “Rejoice always”.  Today we peer in to that second directive found in verse 17, “pray constantly”. It’s my prayer these verses would be used to posture our hearts for this season of giving thanks and rejoicing in and for our Savior.

I’ve heard it said that scripture tells us to fear not 365 times, enough for each day of the year. And while I’ve never counted those instances for myself, I did inquire and count how many times the holy scriptures speak about prayer. Looking up any form of the word pray, I discovered that it is used at least 545 times. That’s way more than one prayer per day. That’s relationship with a constant line of open communication.

In looking up some of those 545 verses a pattern began to emerge, one of remaining alert and persistence. We can see this pattern exhibited in the Old Testament story of Elijah and a rain cloud in 1 Kings 18:41-45. Elijah had been attuned to the Lord, communicating with Him. As the story unfolds, Elijah goes up to the summit of Carmel, bends down to the ground, face between his knees, and prays.

We see the pattern of remaining alert and persistence unfold as Elijah prays and then looks for the answer to his prayers seven times. Seven. Elijah repeatedly asked his servant to, “Go up and look toward the sea.” He was expectant, alert, and vigilant for those prayers to be answered. He persisted until there was an answer, a small cloud the size of a man’s fist. As Elijah prayed, I believe He was earnestly pressing in and standing on the promise God had made to him. “I will send rain on the surface of the land.” (1 Kings 18:1)

While we may not have physical promises of rain, this pattern can be established in our walk with God. Pray constantly, persistently, and be vigilantly expectant.

The word being used in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, pray, is prŏsĕuchŏmai. It’s a two-part Greek word, which means to pray to God and holds the connotation of going before God in prayer and worship.[i]

Prayer is a lot of things. Some of which is humbly going before God, not someone else or ourselves, in faith. It’s an opportunity to ask Him your questions, present your petitions, and worship. It’s relationship and communication in our quietness, words, and action. It is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus to pray constantly – His desire. He desires that constant communication with us, omitting nothing. He wants that with you and I, because we are His children.

Last week we focused on experiencing God through rejoicing always. Would you join me this week in really focusing on praying constantly? We have an open invitation to commune with our Father at all times. Let us be persistent and alert for those answers to prayer. He hears you.

With Gratitude, Amy

“May my prayer be set before you as incense, the raising of my hands as the evening offering.” Psalm 141:2

“Devote yourself to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2

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The table is set, all we need to do is show up – and pray. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

[i] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 61). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

 

Rejoice Always

It seems fitting that the season outside my window reflects the season in my heart. As the leaves turn color and trees go dormant, the rest until spring begins. The world rests, and waits. It’s an active rest, roots still take up moisture and move nutrients. Slowly. I too find myself in a season of active rest and waiting. Life would seem so much easier if I just knew what the next step looked like. But I don’t. No matter how hard we desire skip winter and move in to spring, it’s necessary. And rather than push ahead, we can choose to enjoy the season, and wait.

Waiting is hard. It’s uncomfortable.

Oh, I could take a step. But would it be in-line with the direction where God is working, where he wants me to join him? Would it be God’s will? Who knows. But I do know, if your lost it’s best to not go wandering off. That’s a good time to stop, get your bearings, and perhaps wait for help to arrive.

When I stumbled upon 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 last week, it felt like receiving actionable steps for the waiting. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (CSB)

When the specific will of God seems to be foggy, this much is clear – rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Always, constantly, and in everything.

For me, it’s hard to picture what always rejoicing might look like, especially if your personality tends to be calm and quiet. Now some of my friends – they walk around with outward rejoicing all the time! Me, it just comes out different. Typically, I imagine rejoicing to be boisterous, outward exultation with a lot of seen emotion attached. But how can I possibly rejoice always? The truth is, rejoicing comes out differently in all of us, and in various situations.

Rejoice always – chairō pantŏtĕ in Greek. I so appreciate the Greek definition because it seems feasible to me. Rejoice, chairō, is to be calmly happy; be well, be glad, rejoice.[i] I also appreciate Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message translation, “Be cheerful no matter what.”[ii] Joy and cheer always, in all circumstances. It’s not a joy that goes where the winds blow, it’s eternal.

As a way to posture our hearts and attune our spiritual focus, let’s work on always rejoicing these next few days. And if the “calmly” thing isn’t your style, by all means let that exultation bubble over! Maybe you’ll splash that rejoicing on me or the person next to you. Wouldn’t that be fun?!

Next week we’ll look at the second part of those three directives in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – pray constantly.

Would you mind sharing your experience of rejoicing always here? I’d love to know how you are experiencing God through rejoicing.

With love and gratitude,

Amy

 

Rejoice always

 

[i] A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 77). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[ii]  Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Th 5:16). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Light On Your Path

Last week we talked about being Light Focused, asking for eyes to see and then walking in the light so that we can see. Today I wanted to share an insight I learned while participating in our final session of The Quest, Beth Moore’s latest study. (It’s great!) During that last teaching session Ms. Beth spoke about Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” It’s one of those verses everyone seems to know and shake their heads in agreement when it’s mentioned. But what Ms. Beth said made me stop and think. She utilized the idea of holding a lamp in front of you, and that with a lamp you’re only able to see what is arms-length away. We don’t get the entire view of the path ahead, just what the lamp in your hand is able to illuminate.

According to this verse in Psalm 119 God’s word is a lamp, not a city illuminating stadium light. As someone who has made several trips around the sun, by now you’ve figured out that even though you may want to know what the path ahead looks like, it’s not likely to happen. We only get to see the path as we’re walking it. We get one lamp’s length at a time.

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We don’t know who penned Psalm 119, but I wonder what lamp they may have used.  My curious mind and a quick search came up with what archaeologists have discovered. Simple clay bowls with a pinched spout to support a wick, which was generally made with twisted flax.[i] They probably used olive oil, a common lamp fuel and precious resource. The psalmist’s lamp, and the light it cast, would have been dramatically different from our versions today.

Could you imagine carrying this lamp, having it’s dim light to guide your steps? This lamp had to be held intentionally, and so close that it’s warmth could be felt from the flame. I imagine the psalmists relationship with God and His Word to have been an intimate one, present and intentional.

God’s word illuminates each step, not the entire path like we may want. I love the CSB version of Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” (emphasis mine) God’s word can be on the path with you, leading the way and showing where to place your foot next. We get just enough light to know where to step, and perhaps what we’re putting our foot on. It sets us up for relationship with the Father and His Word, and to be present with the Holy Spirit and others.

I’m curious, how do you use God’s word as a precious resource guiding the way? And, how does this idea effect your walk with the Lord and your relationship with His Word?

I’m so grateful for you.

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“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” Psalm 119:105 CSB (Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash)

[i] R. Dennis Cole. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, pg. 1009; Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

Light Focused

Where is your focus today? Is it on circumstances? Someone else’s perfect Instagram post? Perhaps your focus is held captive to worry? This question has been on repeat, continuing to surface in seemingly random places. What am I focusing on?

Our focus and our thoughts are connected, much like driving, and our thoughts produce actions. Wherever my eyes focus, that’s where the car tends to go. If I focus left I’m inching over into the lane next to me; looking right, and I’m hitting rumble strips.

During some time in scripture today, Psalm 36:11, became my focus. “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (ESV)

So often I ask God for eyes to see. But after that prayer, if I’m focused on the dark (those circumstances, unattainable social media posts, worry, etc.) even opened eyes wouldn’t be able to see in their surroundings. It is in His light, where we see light. This may sound a bit silly to you. Obviously, we can’t see clearly in the dark. Have you ever been deep inside a cave when they purposefully turn the lights off? It’s black. Eyes wide open and you can’t see your own hand in front of your face!

In His light, we see light. So today, can I challenge you (along with myself) to ask for eyes to see and a focus on heavenly things? Pay attention, where is your focus? Let’s allow a purposed focus towards light to direct our actions.

Praying for you, friend! God is so good, and in Him there is no darkness.

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“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 5:5-7, ESV Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courageous Faith

It occurred to me that I never announced the arrival of my “book baby”…over a month ago! September 1st to be exact. I guess thats what happens when you’re taking care of a new born.

The outpouring of love and support have been amazing. I’m so grateful and honored to have been on this journey with the Lord in writing Courageous Faith. The process continually stretched my thoughts and beliefs, yet with each challenging step I was met with God’s grace and loving kindness. Countless times I experienced His perfect timing and guidance.

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Get your copy here! And if you would be so kind to leave a review, I would be ever so grateful. XO – Amy

This study continues to challenge me. You may know the Bible story of the walls of Jericho tumbling down, but Joshua’s journey with the Israelites is so much deeper. Faith is an action word, and Joshua’s life is filled with deep faith and courageous obedience as he lived out the promises of God. Each step of this journey has allowed my faith to take root deep into my heart, resulting in a close walk with the Lord and claimed ground. I’m praying that result for all who participate in this study.

Courageous Faith is now available on Amazon. So – grab a girlfriend, your women’s Bible study group, or challenge yourself to dig in to God’s Word with Courageous Faith. May God be glorified in your deeper relationship with Him.

 

 

Let’s Bake Cookies!

We sat in a booth at Panera, catching up, sharing life and what our kids were up to. My sweet friend had been to an amazing workshop, both of us a women’s event. Conversation circled around what we had been learning and what God was up to in our lives. As we talked about the excitement of studying God’s Word, my friend made a statement in reference to her time with God being like, “Let’s bake cookies!” That statement struck me. It spoke to the anticipation and inclusion we have getting to help mom or dad in the kitchen. We’re given the opportunity to get in to the ingredients, see what they do, how they fit together, and discover how they taste and feel. She spoke about digging into God’s Word being an event to look forward to, “God, let’s bake cookies!” .

It’s not often I stop to watch videos on social media but recently one particular video caught my eye. (Watch it here) I was intrigued with this sweet two-year-old girl’s cooking show as she baked a cake with her momma. I watched this video in context of that conversation with my friend and her comment, “God, let’s bake cookies!”  Two things came to mind. One, her mother has the patience of a saint. Two, what a joy it must be for the Father, our Creator, to bake and create “cookies” (or cake) with His children.

The little baker’s sweet disposition was evident in her kind words and gestures as she dumped ingredients together. She was excited and took pride in her work. She wasn’t concerned with perfection but rather in being present, engaged and giving her all to the task at hand. This young lady wasn’t afraid to ask for help, or make a mess. Her attitude and heart were so precious.

It’s all in the journey, the experience, the relationship – not the product or end result. As a teacher, I get to ‘bake cookies with God’ and then share the batch, a Sunday school lesson, with my class. It’s never perfect, and much like my cooking, lessons rarely ‘taste’ the same. I’ve made some messes too.

One of the sweetest parts of this young bakers’ video came when she enjoyed it. She took a bite of that cake, piled with sprinkles, and truly marveled at the end result. It wasn’t perfect by some standards, but she thought it was. Some days we may not “bake cookies with God,” but rather sit and enjoy them. Soak in His goodness and revel in His complexities, savoring every bite of His word.

How do you approach your day with God? Your quiet time? Is it a box to be checked, something you have to do? Or is it based on relationship with God, something you get to do? Are you holding back in regards to what He may be asking of you for fear of making messes or coming short of perfection?

What would it be like to approach Him with a willing heart, faith like a child, and step into the “kitchen” each morning and expectantly request, “God, let’s bake cookies!” I have a feeling He would look at our floured faces, vanilla dripping forearms, globs of batter strewn about, and with a smile say, “It’s perfect.”

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Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash