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.
Do you ever go through seasons, when God seems weave a theme into your circumstances? A certain topic or idea continues to present itself, in multiple arenas and seemingly unrelated places. Lately, that theme for me has been ‘posture’.
Body language speaks loudly. It lets us know when someone is anxious, closed off, wide open and ready, uncomfortable. When my daughter’s arms are crossed in defiance, I know where her heart and thoughts are – and it’s not in agreement with me.
We should pay extra attention to those themes. As “posture” kept making an appearance in my day-to-day life, my spirit perked up and got curious, anticipating that God was doing a work in me. What is my posture before the Lord? What is being reflected in my heart that needs some refining?
That curiosity was stirred even more as I walked away from a meeting recently. I had walked in full of excitement and anticipation, in a posture of confidence. But I walked out, feeling deflated and defeated. Why?
After some quietness, prayer, and a visit with a dear sister in Christ, it started to become clear. Perhaps all this posture-before-God business is related to surrender. So often as a mom, professional, or leader it’s easy to slip into a posture of control. I walked into that meeting with the expectation of getting what I wanted done so that I could be in control of what I was responsible for. There was part of my heart that had not postured myself surrendered to God and what He wanted done. I had picked up my own, self-made cross of control as I marched into that building, and when my expectations weren’t met, I crumbled.
How often is our posture one of defiance? When we’re rigid, we aren’t able to be open and pliable in His hands, carrying the cross He’s called us to bear. I want to urge you to be open to the themes God is making clear to you in this season of your life and to reflect on your posture before the Lord. Is your heart postured to be in control, defiant, rigid? Or is your heart inclined and soft, surrendered and open to where God is taking you?
This devotional first appeared in Journey, March 2018, LifeWay Press.
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.”
Last week I wrote about our scraggly oak tree in the backyard. It is once again the inspiration for today’s writing, and you’ll find a picture below. It’s good to put a face with a name.
About a year ago, I snapped a photo of my daughter as she doodled and sang up in the branches of our now handsome oak tree. The scene immediately reminded me of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, in Luke 19. Zacchaeus climbed up the branches of a tree so that he might just catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed through Jericho. Those 10 verses in Luke 19 provide a glimpse into both the situation and Zacchaeus’ heart. Take a look at the first portion of verse three; I find the ESV translation intriguing.
“And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not…” (emphasis mine)
“Seeking to see”. Can we do a quick lesson on a couple of Greek words being used?
The Greek word being translated to ‘seeking’ is zēteō, it means to seek, to worship, endeavor, seek after.[i]
And our Greek word being translated ‘see’ is eidō, which means to see, behold, look (on), understand, perceive.[ii]
Zacchaeus was endeavoring or seeking after Jesus, so that he might behold and understand him. I feel there is so much richness in this story, but I dare not go there today for fear of going down a rabbit trail. Rather, I ask that you would take some time to go there yourself over the coming days.
For the sake of staying on target, let’s look at another story in scripture that I read just this morning. It’s the story in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Take a look at Genesis 3:8.
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees in the garden.” (CSB)
Adam and Eve may have not gone tree climbing, but they were hiding among them. In these portions of scripture among the trees in Luke 19 and Genesis 3, we have two stark approaches to our relationship with the Lord.
Are you hiding in the trees, or climbing up branches and seeking to see?
In both stories our tree hiders and seeker are called out. Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5, ESV) And the LORD God calls in Genesis 3:9, “Where are you?” (CSB).
Both stories are full-bodied examples of Jesus’ promise-filled words in John 10:3. “The sheep hear my voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out.” (ESV)
Oh, how my heart breaks as Adam and Eve were led out of the garden. But that heartache pales to the joy of knowing that God faithfully seeks us out; always has and always will. Not only does He seek you out, but calls you by name, and should you be willing to follow, He will lead you.
So, are you hiding or are you seeking?
Are you endeavoring to worship and really know Jesus? I’m pointing these questions back at myself too – let’s be brave and honest in our answering.
There are several trees in our yard, some we planted and some inherited with the house. One particular tree was inherited – a scraggly little oak. It was pitiful. The deer had used it as a buck rub for multiple seasons, several branches mangled and torn. It wouldn’t seem to grow, staying the same size for six or seven years. At one point, I seriously considered taking my little hand saw to it; put it out of its misery.
Then one year, it started to grow.
This little, scraggly oak tree has grown to become one of the nicest trees in our yard. It’s gotten rather large, and now holds a lovely shape. Gabe and I frequently stand in awe of its growth and maturity, in what seems like such a short period of time. Grateful that I never took that saw to its trunk, it serves as a reminder of possibility and the importance of a sure foundation.
For years, I didn’t see any growth; but it was there. Hidden deep in the earth, this awkward little oak had been growing what was necessary to sustain outward fruit and vegetation. The fruit is pretty great, and well worth the wait. We don’t get juicy peaches from its branches but acorns for critters, strong limbs for climbing kiddos, and cool shade for picnics. Now, this oak easily withstands heavy winds and rain because it is deeply rooted with a sure foundation.
For me, this tree has displayed what is necessary for each of us – to grow first in the secret. Our roots in faith are there to anchor and hold, creating that firm foundation so that we aren’t driven and tossed about by the wind. Those faith roots are vital for taking up the necessary nutrients for spiritual growth, maturity, and fruit production.
It is known that for most trees, what you can visually see in size and mass above ground is mimicked below ground in the root system. In our fast-paced and immediacy driven society, we often want to produce fruit immediately. That can easily be a desire of our flesh. The sweetest fruit often takes time, God’s time. God’s timing is not our own; His can happen in the blink of an eye or take decades in our human understanding. We desire that fruit of the Spirit, which is a good and noble desire. In that desire, we must first also desire and be willing to allow our roots to go deep in Christ, taking the necessary time.
It’s easy to accept Jesus in faith, and stop there. But I firmly believe our Creator is one of growth and expansion. We are not meant to sit stagnant and unchanged, like the homely oak tree in our backyard seemed to have done for so many years.
Take a look at Paul’s words in Colossians. “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.” Colossians 2:6-7 (CSB)
Those deep roots are developed in the secret with Christ through the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. It’s imperative that we not settle for stagnant. Even when I don’t feel closeness and growth with the Lord, I can know He is near and always active. And that knowing only comes from spending time in the secret with my Creator, in His Word. It’s where we grow our roots down deep in the truth of Jesus. For that, I am grateful.
How are you continuing to be rooted and built up in the faith of Christ Jesus? Fruit will come – that’s a promise.
It’s nearly here, and I feel like this has been the longest gestation for a baby…EVER! Super excited to finally be able to share the first peak at my new Bible study : Courageous Faith, Claiming Your Promised Land Through the Book of Joshua.
Two years ago I would have never called myself a writer – God has been transforming me. Through wrestling, tears, joy, and countless light-bulb moments, it’s God’s grace that has made this study possible. I pray that it would be a blessing and equip you with tools to grow your faith and claim God-given ground.
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. Join me as we explore the Book of Joshua in this seven week study. Each step of the journey will allow your faith to take root deep into your heart, resulting in a close walk with the Lord and claimed ground.
Anyhoo – Can’t wait to share my new “baby” with you. I’ll let you know details as to how you can get your hands on a copy as the time gets closer. And can I add that it’s way past time to get back to a regular blog schedule?!
Our family’s berry farm has been in full swing over the past month (or more). Long, hot days equal extra laundry, a messy house, frequent power naps to keep going, BLT’s, and sweet corn. This season can be exhausting, but it’s what we prepare for all year. One season leads to another, which prepares you for the next. The season of hard work we put in throughout the year is reflected in the fruit we both give and receive during another.
So often we want all the fruit. It’s easy to get focused on and desire the fruit, in a very romantic way. It seems dreamy and fulfilling from the outside. Yet, how often are we willing to put in the hard work and prepare for it, on the inside?
You may have guessed that I’m interchanging physical fruit, like blueberries, with spiritual fruit. It’s all relatable though. How we prune and fertilize our blackberries now, helps to determine how much fruit we get next year. One season always prepare us for the next. What we are willing to cut out and pour into life today, will be reflected in our relationships tomorrow and years to come. A lot of our hard work in the field is never seen, it’s messy and laborious, but there is evidence. Likewise, hard heart-work is rarely fun, it requires us to be vulnerable and honest. But the results are visible over time.
It’s the hidden and secret places where we must be willing to persist and dig deep, because they always manifest fruit of some kind. The roots of our blueberries are unseen, but we have an accurate picture of soil and root health based on what we see above ground in foliage, flower, and fruit. Not being well rooted is certain death. It took time for our blueberry bushes to get rooted and established, that didn’t happen haphazardly. Intentionally cultivating the soil and being mindful of each addition both in preparation and along the way has been key to producing sweet fruit. This and lots of prayer.
It would be fun to have fresh blueberries year-round, but they are only meant for a season. That’s partly what makes them so sweet. We don’t experience fruit year-round, and that’s ok. Therefore, we shall be all the more grateful and joyous when we do.
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)
Can 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.
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?
Scripture for feeding the five thousand :: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15
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. 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.