When I was growing up I practiced two things seriously - gymnastics/cheerleading and piano. In high school, I stopped practicing piano because I lost interest and in college, after taking a gymnastics class that humbled me to my core, I stopped practicing that too. Today I can play a couple of songs on the piano and I might be able to do a cartwheel if I stretched REALLY well first... other than that, there is nothing about me or my life now that suggests that I spent hundreds of hours of my life PRACTICING these two disciplines. Why is that? Because I stopped practicing those things and started practicing other things.
I was thinking about that this week when I read several verses in the Bible that talk about practice. It made me want to know more about what the Bible says is worthy of our life-long practice, not just a few years of devotion, but a lifetime! This is what I learned.
FIVE THINGS TO PRACTICE AND ONE WARNING:
1. We are to practice FEARING GOD. Why? Because that is where true wisdom and understanding begins.
Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
2. We are to practice TRUTH, HONOR, JUSTICE, PURITY, LOVE, and EXCELLENCE. Why? Because the God of Peace will be with us in those endeavors.
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
3. We are to practice USING OUR UNIQUE GIFTS. Why? So we can be a blessing to others.
1 Timothy 4:13-15 Paul tells Timothy, "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress."
4. We are to practice DISCERNING GOOD FROM EVIL. Why? Because this demonstrates our maturity and enables us to teach others.
Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
5. We are to practice FAITH, VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE, SELF-CONTROL, STEADFASTNESS, GODLINESS, BROTHERLY AFFECTION, and LOVE. Why? Because these things keep us from being ineffective.
2 Peter 1:5-10 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
What would happen if we added these 5 areas to our "to do" list each week?
What would happen if we put our time and energy into practicing the things that God says are worthy of our effort and stopped putting so much time and energy to the things that are not?
1 WARNING: Avoid preaching without practicing. Why? You become a hypocrite and you set others up for failure.
Matthew 23:2-4, Jesus says: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat,so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."
Time to practice.
A Psalm of Life
Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solenm main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A friend recently posted this audio recording from one of Moody Bible Institute's chapel services. The speaker is Rosalie de Rosset and her message is timely and simultaneously convicting and refreshing.
After listening to it, I immediately purchased her book of essays entitled, "Unseduced and Unshaken - The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman's Choices
A couple of my favorite quotes from the book so far include:
"Dignity is a strong, chosen, deliberate way of life, the result of the totality of a person's choices and worldview
"If your faith matters, your mind matters. If your mind matters, it is important what you do with it, theologically and intellectually. You cannot separate your spiritual life from the life of the mind. You can't be fully human without using wisely all the faculties God has given you. They are intertwined; one will not thrive without the other. In neglecting one or the other, you will live a small, shriveled existence
I also appreciated her reflection on the character of Bilbo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, "Gandalf tells the reluctant and unlikely hero, 'There is more to you than you know,' more in this instance than doing what he has always done. The wise magician knows that Bilbo has become addicted to that cozy rabbit hole; he likes eating and drinking well, he likes being comfortable. But Gandalf knows that Bilbo has two sides to his nature, that 'within the hobbit's veins coursed the blood not only from the sedentary Baggins side of the family but also from the swashbuckling Took side.' Bilbo has gotten used to the sedentary side, and after all, he's not doing anything wrong; he's just a nice, even generous, placid hobbit who knows how to have a good time, who fits into his community. But, something transcendent is calling to Bilbo - telling him there is more to life than this, that there are adventures to be had on a heroic scale, that there is good and evil in this world, and he has to be part of fighting the wrongs
I have met and been inspired by many young women who also feel that something transcendent is calling them
, that there is more to life than having the most friends on Facebook, than knowing everything that happened on Glee last week, more than having a comfortable, popular life. They are right. They can
be a part of fighting the wrongs in this world, and they can do so while maintaining dignity and spiritual fervor, growing in wisdom and faith along the way. And, thanks be to God, So can I
. But none of us will get there without being ready to sacrifice along the way - giving up our "addiction to our cozy rabbit hole". I am thankful to writers and teachers like Rosalie de Rossert for cheering on this generation of young people and affirming their sense of calling to something deeper, richer, and more rewarding than the status quo. Romans 12:11-12 NIV
, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."1 Timothy 4:12 NASB, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe."
"Your consistency makes us feel safe around you."
As part of my job as an executive assistant, I was asked to read this book and take the online strengths assessment that goes along with it. At the end of the process you end up with two areas of your greatest strength, a report that helps you understand how to use those strengths better at work, and a phrase that describes you. The phrase at the top of this post is mine. I've been batting it around in my head ever since. Is it true? I hope so. I want people to feel safe with me. I have seen this play out in a variety of ways throughout my life - being able to befriend people fairly easily when we have moved so many times, welcoming foster children into our home and helping them to quickly feel safe and at ease, gaining the trust of those who employ me. I guess I've always taken for granted these simple things, but I've never viewed them as what makes me different or unique.
The book describes your strengths as "those things that make you feel strongest", NOT as "what you are good at." The author makes a distinction by stating that just because you are good at something doesn't mean you gain strength from doing it. There are countless novels and movies based around this very idea... you can picture them now. The parent who pressures the child to excel in a sport or theatrical or musical endeavor because it is obvious the child is good at it, only to have the child rebel when she is old enough to say no because, while she is an amazing ballet dancer, she does not derive strength and joy from dancing... what she really gets jazzed about is Paleontology, or Nursing, or "fill in the blank." The Wall Street executive who walks away from a lucrative career to become a chef or appear on American Idol. We eat these stories up! Perhaps because we can relate on some level.
Do you ever feel like you've made choices in life that have led you to the place you are now because you've always just done what you've been good at, regardless of whether or not it played to your true inner strengths? That is the question this book asks and it is a good one to consider.
An even better question to ask? Have you submitted everything you are to the God who made you that way to be used for His glory in the world? It is one thing to know how you are wired; it is another to know the One who wired you that way and pursue that which He gives you to do on a daily basis.
I submit to you that while "playing to your strengths" may make you feel strong and energized, that will only last as long as you are playing to an "audience of One." God is the one who can renew our strength day-by-day even when all strength is gone. I'm so thankful to know that this is true and to have experienced that truth in my life. No matter where I am or what I am doing, my strength can be renewed and I can "feel strong," if I am following God and relying on Him.
1 Chronicles 16:11 NASB - "Seek the Lord and His strength. Seek His face continually."
Philippians 4:13 NLT - "For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength"
Well they say it's your birthday! Well it's my birthday too!
We are getting ready to head out on a hike to Cedar Falls in a little while, but I wanted to write down some thoughts that are on my mind before we head out and I get busy with the plans of the day. I hope these reflections will be a blessing to you as they have been to me today.
In church this morning, we read a portion of the account of the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Here are the notes I wrote as I listened and pondered God's goodness in the life of Joseph even as things around him were less than idyllic:
The applause of men can be enticing, especially when we are feeling low or needy, but accepting it is dishonest and settling for it is foolish when the God of the universe deserves the credit and the God of the universe is the true lifter of your head. Psalm 3:3 (NLT) "But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high." On my birthday today, I praise the One who knit me together in my mother's womb and who, in His great mercy, has saved my soul and given me a life filled with meaning and purpose! He has repeatedly lifted my head in due time and been my source of greatest joy and greatest satisfaction in life. May I serve him well with as many more days/weeks/years as He gives me!
- In Chapter 40, verse 13 of Genesis, Joseph is in prison and interprets a dream for the Pharaoh's cup-bearer (a fellow prisoner) in which he tells him that the Pharaoh will "lift up his head" and restore him to his position. I find it interesting (and heart-wrenching) that Joseph ends up being the bearer of this good news. How Joseph must have longed for his God to lift HIS head and restore HIM to HIS position, and yet it was not time. The cup-bearer had only been in prison a short period of time, while Joseph had been behind bars for years at this point. He deserved to be set free, but God gave him the task of proclaiming another's freedom. How ironic. How humbling. How difficult! Still, Joseph was faithful.
- In Chapter 41, verse 16, Joseph points Pharaoh to the One True God even though the Pharaoh, who was considered as a god in his culture, was willing to give the credit to Joseph. It becomes obvious that honesty reigns supreme in Joseph's value system here. This makes me think, Do I trust God enough to give Him the glory when others (even "important others") are willing to give the credit and glory to ME and exalt ME - especially at those times when emotionally and spiritually, I really feel like I could use a little "lifting of my head?" Or do I honestly believe that in due time God will exalt me and that His opinion is the only one that matters and that all other exaltation is inferior to His?
Qualifier: I am not currently particularly hormonal... let me just say that up front. I just finished watching episode 9 of season 3 of Fox's cooking competition, MasterChef and I can honestly say I teared up at the end like I was watching a Hallmark tear-jerker. "Seriously?" You might say. "You cried watching a Gordon Ramsay show?" Yes. Yes I did.
This episode was the last episode before the finale and in it the three finalists would be narrowed down to the final two who would compete for the title. Becky, who had been a major front-runner throughout the competition ended up falling short (having to cook frog's legs, no less). She was completely devastated. That in and of itself might have made someone get misty-eyed, but that is not what made me cry. Once the final two were announced and Becky was left as the odd man out, Gordon Ramsay asked her what would come next for her. Feebly she answered that she would go home and see if she could find a restaurant kitchen to sneak into and work for awhile. Here is how he responded:
"I've got a few restaurants. Trust me, each one of those doors are open, whether it is in the center of Europe, Paris, New York, I don't care; the door is open. Any time you wish. You have a gift."
Okay. That's where I lost it. So did she. Gordon Ramsay has worked very hard over many years to get to a place where he can now, not just give others a leg up or a helping hand, but catapult them into the stuff dreams are made of. He put in the blood, sweat and tears to realize the dream and now he can "open the doors" of that realized dream for others to enjoy and benefit from. That is a beautiful picture to me. That is why I strive to do things with excellence and why I am disappointed in myself when I fall short, because it isn't just about me! The more I learn and grow, the more I have to offer the world around me.
When my friend Katie and I started a children's drama and choir troupe in a church in a small town in rural California many years ago, it wasn't to make a name for ourselves... that is laughable to even consider. We wanted to serve our church. We could have just gotten kids together and sung a few songs and taught them about music and it would have served a purpose, but instead, we both felt compelled to offer the children and the church the very best we could, with God's blessing and strength and grace along the way. In the end, I look back on those years with such joy. Because of that commitment and God's favor, we were able to offer the church, the children and parents, and the community an experience they wouldn't have had otherwise, one that the children in particular (who are all grown-up now) will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives. We did full fledged musicals with 2nd through 6th graders! There were dance routines, competitive auditions, full sets, choreographic elements, costumes, and high expectations for memorization and performance. We taught them that "they had a gift" and then we gave them a chance to put that gift to use in a wonderful way.
Do you know who was most blessed during that MasterChef episode? Gordon Ramsay. No matter how blessed Becky felt, her joy couldn't have possibly paralleled Gordon's. Do you know who was most blessed at the end of each and every children's musical? Katie and I, no doubt about it.
What a privilege it is to work hard and in gratitude offer up what God has allowed us to attain to the building up of others. What are you working hard for right now? What possible ways can you imagine that God could use the fruit of your labors to bless others?
Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think."
As my husband has made the transition from life as a teacher to life as a minister these past several years, I have been going through a transition as well. I can look back over the years and identify seasons of my life where I have known very clearly what God was asking of me (the year he asked me to learn submission was a doozy). In this current season, the lesson is about NOT HOLDING BACK. One by one, God has been peeling back layers of my own selfishness and showing me how I have been choosing to withhold good things from those around me. It isn't pretty. Some of the things are small, but could have great impact - a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement; other things are more involved - my time, my energy, my vulnerability, my love.
As we made the drive recently from PA to OH, Timmy and Jason were in the moving truck and I was in our car by myself with time to think. I realized that God was indeed asking me to consider what life, what ministry, would be like if I stopped holding back and gave all, trusting Him to replenish me and use my efforts as He sees fit - refusing to make judgement calls about whether something or someone was "worth" my offering or whether or not "my offering" was worthy of the someone or something. Immediately, the lyrics to this song (by Ray Boltz) came into my head for the first time in many years:
He heard the preacher say
A single dime can feed
A hungry boy or girl
With nothing to eat
So he pulled a dollar
From the pocket of his jeans
And he asked his mama
How many will this feed?
She just smiled
And when she told him ten
He reached back again
What if I give all I have?
What will that gift do?
My child, a gift like that
Could change the world
It could feed a multitude
He didn't close his eyes
Or turn away
I can see him standing tall
He saw the need
And I can hear him say
What if I give all
The song goes on to recount the stories of both the young boy in the Bible who gave his lunch (fish and bread) to Jesus who used it to feed THOUSANDS, and to Jesus himself who gave everything He had to save the world from sin.
What if I gave all? What if I stopped acting like I belong to myself and started acting like my God was big enough to meet my physical, spiritual and emotional needs in such an overwhelming way that I was freed up to give liberally of myself, KNOWING I wouldn't be left depleted for long? What would that gift do? It is time to find out. This move to Ohio may not have turned out the way I expected it to, but it doesn't give me an excuse to withdraw and hold tightly to what is "mine." If anything it compels me to submit to the only One who is never taken by surprise, the only One who holds the future. The God of the Universe whose resources are without end and whose love is unfailing.
2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NASB - "Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God."
Romans 12:1 NASB - "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."
"Some of us have turned over more new leaves than Central Park! David called on God instead, to create something entirely new within him
." - Fresh Faith
, by Jim Cymbala
The beginning of a new school year feels a lot like January 1st to me. The calendar year may not roll over and the ball in Times Square may not drop, but there is definitely a sense of freshness and new possibilities. I remember, as a college student, setting goals for the school year that mainly involved dropping the bad habits I'd picked up in the previous semester... I committed to more studying, more time in the Bible, more phone calls home, less skipping classes, less Ben & Jerry's, and less procrastination. Somehow, just like New Year's resolutions, those commitments didn't last long.
I love this quote from Jim Cymbala in his book, Fresh Faith
. It is a great reminder that God is willing and able to recreate us, not just repackage us.
So, my prayer for all of us, especially those returning to school in the days ahead is the same as David's "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me
." Psalm 51:10 NIV.
Here's to a great school year marked by the kind of changes that only God can create!
Our church has a group that meets regularly called Women's Missionary Fellowship. This week, I was privileged to attend and hear from Rachel Chambers who is preparing to return with her husband to Zambia and the work and people she loves and is called to.
Rachel shared from her heart, comparing our training in righteousness as Christians to an Olympic athlete's training to win the gold medal. Here are the four qualities she described as being needed by both in order to train well:1. Discipline (2 Timothy 2:3-5, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)2. Courage (Matthew 25:14-28)3. An Unwillingness to Quit (Hebrews 12:1-3)4. Clarity (Philippians 3:13-14)
Our prize is not a gold medal, nor is our training about beating the competition like the Olympian's is, (Rachel was quick to point this out) but the qualities needed are very similar:Discipline to reject that which weighs us down, misdirects us, derails us, and in any way keeps us from doing what it takes to continue becoming all that God has intended us to be.
Courage to take risks as needed, in faith.Unwillingness to quit when things are hard, uncomfortable, painful, or difficult to understand, maintaining long-haul commitment through it all, problem-solving and trusting instead of throwing in the towel.
Clarity of purpose. A clear view of the reason we are training in the first place. The glory that is to come - HIS.
True victory, as a Christian, is about standing before Christ one day, hearing "Well done," and receiving a reward (Crowns/Jewels) that we can turn around and lay at his feet, getting the greatest joy from finally having something of worth to give back to Him to honor Him for all that He is, and all that He has done.
Thank you, Rachel! *If you want to read more about Rachel's story and be inspired by all God has taught this dear sister, you can get her book, The Summons To Become through Amazon at this link.
I just finished the first week of a training program that is supposed to get me off the couch and running a 5K (3.1 miles) in nine short weeks. The first week involves a 25 minute workout that alternates 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking, three times per week. As the program progresses, walking time will decrease and jogging time will increase. Yikes!
In the spirit of not taking myself or this very minor accomplishment too seriously, here are the top five things I learned prior to 7am today during my 25 minutes of jog/walking:
1. Ants, apparently, get up earlier than I do and are tougher than I am. As I was stretching at the track before my workout, I noticed little bits of "stuff" moving slowly on the ground beneath my feet. I realized they were hundreds of tiny ants carrying food-stuffs many times their body weight to an unknown location. They reminded me that I have a hard enough time carrying my own body weight. Show offs.
2. An idea of blogging about a Taylor Swift song and relating it to a deep spiritual truth, is probably the runner's high talking. Mid-way through my jog/walk, I actually had this "brilliant" idea to somehow relate Taylor's single "Our Song" to my relationship with God. Those endorphins can create CRAZY TALK in your brain, I tell ya. Beware!
3. The only place it is acceptable for me to wear spandex shorts is at the track at 6:00am when no one else is around. I think I burned more calories constantly adjusting those crazy shorts to keep them from sliding down or riding up than I did while actually jogging/walking. Thank God for long, baggy t-shirts.
4. Getting spiritual while exercising is for the advanced, not the amateur. Toward the end of my workout, as I finally realized this was going to end (eventually) and wasn't, in fact, going to kill me, I had the bright idea to pray for my friends and family during each of the 90 seconds of walking (praying for myself was all I could manage during the 60 seconds of jogging... more specifically, praying that I'd suck it up and not be a wuss and quit). Sounds reasonable enough, right, except that when I would pray while I walked I would lose track of time and the 90 seconds of blessed walking would go by too fast or I'd feel gipped somehow or I'd go longer than 90 seconds and mess up the rules of the workout plan (I'm nothing if not a rule follower). Bah! #AmateurProblems
5. Having something poking you in your shoe while jogging can make you look insane. If you were hiding behind a tree or sitting in a car somewhere, or were flying overhead in an airplane, or had concealed yourself in some other way this morning, and you had the misfortune of watching my workout while I thought I was all alone - I apologize and I feel I must explain. I HAD SOMETHING IN MY SHOE! All those crazy moves, random kicks and shakes, and the stomping, and toe tapping all while trying to continue moving in a forward direction without falling down, must have made me look a bit off my rocker. Perhaps I am...
Starting on Friday, I will be jogging for 90 seconds and walking for 2 minutes for a total of 25 minutes a day, three times per week. Heaven help me! I'll keep ya posted on the hilarity that ensues and the poignant lessons learned. I know you're on the edge of your seat.
PS - I love the little girl in the picture above. I don't know her, but I love her. I found her on Pinterest. I am not making fun of her, I am making fun of myself... she is, quite obviously, trying to dodge the bubbles that are about to land on her head and that is serious business indeed.