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  • Always Singing A New Song

    My hands are roughly the size of a nine-year-old boy’s, and because I bite my nails (I know, I know) and rarely treat myself to a Mani Pedi, they don’t look a whole lot different than a nine-year-old boy’s hands either. My big brother, Michael, has gigantic hands—I’m talking Shaquille O’Neal gigantic hands. Perfect for impressing all my grade school friends with his ability to palm a basketball, and for dominating everyone in the game of Mercy.

    Remember Mercy? It was a classic inside-recess or back-of-the-school-bus game; one I’m sure has (thankfully) died out because now kids never have to experience a second of boredom—hello, smart phones. To compete in Mercy, you would grab hands with someone, interlocking your fingers with theirs, and then try to bend that person’s fingers back in a way that inflicts so much pain that they have to surrender by crying out, “MERCY!” If you get your opponent to shout mercy first, it’s game over. You let go of their hand, and you win.

    My brother, with his oversized mitts, could be “Mercy Champion of The World” if he wanted to pursue the illustrious title, but he’s still looking for some sponsors. Maybe John Stamos would be interested. Track with me here for a second. When you see John Stamos, you immediately think, Uncle Jesse, and when you see Uncle Jesse, you immediately think, “Have MERCY!” Boom. I think I’m on to something.

    MERCY is a word that I’ve heard all my life: on the playground, while watching Full House, and of course, in church services. It’s a word that washed over me in a very uneventful way when I heard it or read it. It’s a word I’d grown too familiar with.

    About a year and a half ago, my husband and I planted a church called New Song in Oklahoma City. My eight-year-old son asked me a funny question the other morning, as we were walking out the door to head to church. “Mom, when New Song is like a hundred years old, will we change the name to Old Song?” I for real LOL’d and then quickly answered, “No buddy, it will always be New Song, because God’s mercies are NEW every morning.” I then tried to explain what mercies were and found myself bumbling around like an idiot.

    Why couldn’t I define a word I knew so well in a way that my kids would understand it? Perhaps it was because I didn’t know it as well as I thought I did. Time to dig in.

    I probably quote Lamentations 3:23 at least once a week while I’m worshipping God in my quiet time, “Thank you Lord, that your mercies are new every morning!” but what does that mean? What does mercy mean to you?

    Maybe when you think of God’s mercy, you think about a God who has a bigger hand than you do, yet chooses not to crush your life because He’s full of mercy. While God does hold the world in His hands, His mercy is so much more than allowing us to not be crushed.

    The word mercy is a rich word, a weighty word, a word that should stir our hearts to worship every time we come into contact with it. God’s mercy defined is His goodness, kindness, faithfulness, beauty, zeal, and favor directed at you and me—you and me who, quite frankly, do not deserve any of those things.

    Now that we have a more amplified understanding of the word mercy, I want you to look at some words that are used to describe God’s mercy in scripture. This is quite a list of adjectives that you should totally write down somewhere:

    Great + Rich + Unfailing + Plenteous + Abundant + Sure + Everlasting + Tender + Fresh + Higher Than The Sky + All Over The Earth.

    Don’t miss this! HIS MERCY, which encompasses His goodness, kindness, faithfulness, beauty, zeal, and favor toward us, IS, according to His Word, great, rich, unfailing, sure, everlasting, tender, fresh, higher than the sky, yet all over the earth!

    Insert praise hands emoji here!

    Mercy is not only the absence of punishment we have earned, but the presence of the emblems that personify God’s loving nature. God doesn’t just give mercy, He is mercy, and because God is an everlasting Father, His mercy toward us will never run out. There’s nothing you can do to bend His fingers back or twist His arm enough to make Him let go of your hand, and on the flip side, He’s not torturing you to get you to call for mercy.

    God’s mercy is Him pouring His life into our lives even though we aren’t worthy! And He does that on a daily basis if we’ll open up and receive.

    Understanding the fresh mercies that await us every morning will cause our hearts to burst forth with a fresh expression of praise every morning.

    Psalm 96:1 says, “Sing to the Lord a new song.”

    It’s not necessarily talking about a song no one has ever heard—let’s face it: we don’t all have the songwriting skills of Joel Houston—but rather a song that’s fresh from your heart. You may have sung “10,000 Reasons” close to 10,000 times, but it can still be a new song if you sing it from a heart that has a new revelation of the new mercies God has graced you with yet again!

    Discoveries of God’s goodness, kindness, faithfulness, beauty, zeal, and favor await you today and tomorrow and the next day. Find them and you’ll always be singing a NEW SONG.

  • Desiring The Gifts Of The Spirit

    “The walls of the heart are elastic, and desire expands them.”

    That gets my vote for the most eye-opening sentence I’ve read this year.

    A few weeks ago, I was on my back on my bedroom floor, trying to catch my breath after a dreaded cardio workout, and trying to hear from God.  I knew I only had a few minutes until my kid’s internal roosters cock-a-doodle-do’d and sent them down the long hall way from their bedrooms to mine.  I held my phone in the air above my face while I read through a familiar chapter in Romans.  A certain verse seemed to stand out from the rest.  I swiped over to a commentary and that’s when I read those eye-opening words, “The walls of the heart are elastic, and desire expands them.”  That got me off my back.  I sat up, and the Holy Spirit started to unpack mountains of truth in the blink of an eye.  His message was loud and clear:

    Expand Your heart, daughter.  Desire more.

    The Holy Spirit is an extravagant gift giver.  The focus of I Corinthians 12 is all about spiritual gifts.  The word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, the gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.

    Each of these gifts has a two-fold purpose–one: to glorify Jesus, and two: to strengthen and encourage other people.

    We are told more than once in scripture to earnestly desire these gifts.  In the words of Dwight K. Schrute, “Question…” How are you doing with that?  Be completely honest with yourself.  When was the last time you were craving, desiring, or aching to unwrap one of those gifts?

    Some do not desire the gifts of the Spirit because they simply don’t understand them or have never heard that they should desire them.  Maybe you’ve assumed these gifts are reserved for special people on a ministry staff.  Others don’t desire the gifts because of selfishness.  Most Christians spend more time working on a better “me” instead of looking to build others up.

    Think about the purpose of the gifts again: to glorify Jesus and to strengthen and encourage other people.  These gifts have little to do with the one who is told to desire them and much to do with others.  I wonder if we would crave spiritual gifts in a greater way if they were for our personal gain.  #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmm

    The call of this devotional is to expand the walls of our hearts with a desire for spiritual gifts, because when we make room in our elastic-lined hearts for the gifts of the Spirit, we will begin to operate in them.  Our actions will begin to glorify Jesus and encourage others.

    Let’s quickly look at each of the gifts mentioned in I Corinthians 12 in order to create a deeper hunger in ourselves for them.

    ● Gift of Wisdom:  The Holy Spirit working through us so we can hear and speak wise counsel, especially in an important situation.

    ● Gift of Knowledge:  The unique ability to share knowledge that could only be revealed supernaturally and to know what is true.

    ● Gift of Faith:  The ability to fully trust God in any situation.

    ● Gift of Healing: The Spirit working through us to pray for the sick and see them healed.

    ● Miraculous Powers:  The Holy Spirit working through us to “override” the laws of nature and divinely intervene in situations.

    ● Gift of Prophecy:  The Holy Spirit working through us to build up, encourage, comfort, and strengthen others in a naturally supernatural way.

    ● Distinguishing Between the Spirits:  The Holy Spirit working through us to recognize what is influencing people and to decipher what is of the Spirit and what is not.

    ● Gift of Tongues:  A personal language of prayer given by God, so a believer can communicate with Him beyond the limits of their own knowledge and understanding.

    ● Gift of Interpretation: Allows tongues to benefit those, other than the one speaking in tongues, by interpreting the heavenly language into an earthly language.

    Now, some of you may already be wondering which gifts you have or you’re trying to decide which gifts you want.  I know they are in list form, but don’t look at this list like a sandwich bag at Which Wich where you get to decide which gifts sound good to you.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s call.  More important than knowing the name of the gift that’s at work through you, or choosing the one which suits you best, is the desire to be used by God however He sees fit. 

    Make your prayer be, “Lord I want to bring glory to Jesus today, and I want to strengthen and encourage others.”  Let your desire for the gifts grow and expand the walls of your heart, and as you do that, you can expect that God will give you the desires of your heart.  He will begin to use you, and you’ll begin to discover, pinpoint, and appreciate the gifts in operation in your life. 

    One gift we are told to especially desire is the gift of prophecy (I Corinthians 14:1). Let’s make that our focus this month.

    Prophecy is simply allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us to build up, encourage, comfort, and strengthen others in a naturally supernatural way. 

    That’s one of my favorite phrases ever: naturally supernatural. 

    We often see the Holy Spirit as spooky, but He’s not.  He wants to work supernaturally through what’s natural to you. 

    If it’s natural for you to text a friend, the Holy Spirit can supernaturally work through a text message.  I get supernatural texts quite often.  This morning a friend texted me to let me know she was praying for me and that God wanted me to know I was covered and loved.  I had no idea, and my friend had no idea, that my afternoon would bring some very stressful things my way.  The words in that text came back to my heart and comforted me.  The Holy Spirit prophesied to me, through her, via text.

    Ladies, let’s desire the gifts.  Let’s desire to glorify Jesus and encourage and strengthen others: our spouses, children, friends, our small group, co-workers, people we serve with at church, whoever the Lord brings to our attention. Let’s not make this a “part” of our everyday lives, segregated and compartmentalized, rather, let this be who we are: glorying Jesus and encouraging others.

    For a free small group study guide to go along with this article click here.

  • Pressed: A Good Friday Piece

    On Sunday, we’ll celebrate Easter and the fact that our Savior conquered the grave, is alive and seated in Heaven, bridging the gap between our Father and us. But there’s no Easter if there’s no Good Friday, and I suppose that’s why such a dark day can be called good.

    On the original Good Friday, Jesus shared a very vulnerable moment with His closest friends in the Garden of Gethsemane. He told them His soul was crushed with grief to the point of death and asked them to keep watch as He went a little deeper into the garden to get on His knees and seek His Father’s face.

    The amount of pressure Jesus was facing that night is something we can’t fully wrap our minds around. The cross was near. He knew that very soon He would have to submit Himself to the punishment of sin. He would have to taste death for all mankind. The loneliness of the grave and the horror of hell surrounded Him and pressed Him on every side. It was not well with His soul. His soul was crushed with grief, His heart ready to break.

    Luke’s gospel tells us that as Jesus was in agony, and earnestly praying, His sweat turned into great drops of blood falling upon the ground. I’m sure as the weight of the world quite literally pressed in on Him, it was even hard to breathe.

    Gethsemane, the garden where Jesus experienced this tremendous pressing, means the place where olive oil is pressed. Olive oil was a hot commodity, used primarily for keeping lamps fueled. If I need some olive oil, I just head to Target, rarely, if ever, stopping to think about the process of how the oil came to be, but there is a process. It’s changed since Jesus walked the earth. In His day, olives were gathered in rough sacks and stacked on top of one another. A beam was lowered onto the stack and increasing weight was added to the end of the beam to press oil from the olives. The more pressure, the more oil would drip.

    Gethsemane had seen pressing before. It had seen olives burst under pressure and drip, but it had never seen a man pressed like this, pressed to the point of dripping blood, sweat, and tears.

    There’s a beautiful picture in all of this I want you to see. Hebrews 1:9 tells us God anointed Jesus with the oil of gladness or the everlasting joy of the Holy Spirit. That night in the garden, as Jesus was pressed like an olive, the oil of gladness dripped from His brow. The more pressure, the more oil–and Jesus was under the greatest amount of pressure in the history of the world. His drip would turn into a pour. On the cross He would pour out His blood to wash away our sins and then He would pour out His Spirit, the oil that we need to keep our lamps burning until He returns or calls us home.

    God has called you to be the light of the world. A lamp lighting the way for your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone else God brings across your path, but without that pure pressed oil of gladness, you can’t fulfill your purpose. You will not only lose your way, but you won’t be able to help anyone else find his or her way.

    Proverbs 31:18 says of the virtuous woman, her lamp goes not out, but it burns on continually through the night. It burns on through trouble, privation, and sorrow.

    If we are going to burn bright without burning out, we have to get a revelation of how much we need that oil of gladness, how much we need the Holy Spirit whom Jesus poured out for us.

    Romans 12:11 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.

    Notice the verse says, keep yourselves fueled and aflame. I can’t keep your lamp burning for you, and you can’t keep mine burning for me. So how do we keep ourselves running on the Oil of Gladness? We simply invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill our lives Every. Single. Day. We head to the garden, and we receive what has already been pressed out for us.

    When you are tired of fighting, when you feel as though the demands placed on you exceed the resources available to you, when trouble, privation, and sorrow come your way, if your lamp is fueled by the oil of gladness, your lamp will not go out.

    This weekend as we celebrate Easter and remember Good Friday, know that Jesus was pressed for you, and because He was full of The Spirit and anointed with Gladness that is what poured out of Him. As you receive that same anointing by grace through faith, as you fuel yourself with the Holy Spirit, when you find yourself pressed, realize the same will pour out of you.

  • Letting Go Of The Good

    One of the most majestic creatures in North America is the bald eagle–so majestic in fact that the species is not only the national bird, but also the national animal of the United States of America. I’ve never seen an eagle in all its glory, soaring through the sky: that striking white head, angry yellow eyes, and those impressive seven-and-a-half foot long wings spread against a bright blue sky. Animal Planet though. I love shows about animals because oftentimes the Holy Spirit will reveal things to me as I listen to the pleasant-voiced narrator talk about creatures that my creator created!

    Something I was surprised to find out about eagles is that drowning is a common cause of death for them. We’ve all seen footage of the mighty birds swooping down from the sky and snatching a shiny salmon from the water with its talons. Sometimes, though, the salmon is too heavy, and if the eagle is stubborn enough, he won’t let go of his dinner. The fish will actually pull the bird down into the water and drown him. To prevent a watery grave and live to soar another day, all the eagle has to do is let go, but we all know it’s hard to let go of a good thing. 

    In Genesis 22 we read about God asking Isaac to let go of his son, to sacrifice and kill his son, his son who was most definitely a good thing! Isaac was not just a child, he was a promise. God told Abraham that it was through Isaac that the covenant descendants who outnumbered the grains of sand promised to him would be born.

    Since Isaac did not have any children, God was asking Abraham to let go of a promise that had yet to be fulfilled. He had to learn the difference between trusting the promise and trusting the Promiser. I think sometimes we feel it’s up to us to bring God’s promises to pass, even if we have to step out of God’s will to do so. We try to lean on our own understanding instead of fully leaning into God.

    When God asks us to let go of something good– a job, a home, finances, a relationship, a promotion, a promise– can we trust Him?

    There was no hesitation in Abraham. None of this made a lick of sense to his natural mind, but he didn’t wait until it did to obey. The Bible tells us that he rose EARLY to head to the place where he would sacrifice his promise. Even though the scriptures never mention how he feels, you know he had to have been feeling so unbelievably scared, hurt, and confused, but he was a faith man so he wasn’t going to be led by his feelings.   

    You all know the end of the story. Because Abraham chose to let go, God provided a ram for the sacrifice, Isaac lived, and the promise was fulfilled.

    Three summers ago God asked me to let go of a good job. I had been working for a really great family ministry going on ten years. It was the perfect job for me. I had the best boss ever, I could work from home, and use my God-given gifts to build the kingdom. Plus, it provided a nice flow of extra income for our family. It was a good thing for so many reasons, but I knew I had to obey. It didn’t make sense to me and it didn’t make sense to my husband, but I knew it was what I had to do.

    Five months later we moved to Oklahoma City to pioneer New Song Church. Shortly after we moved, I understood why God asked me to let go of that job. He knew what was coming before I did. He knew I would not be able to stay afloat working for the family ministry and caring for my own family while helping my husband with the huge task of planting a church. I would have been trying to hold on to too many good things and I would have drowned.

    Hear this today friends: God created us to soar high on wings like eagles. Do you feel as if you are soaring through life, or are you drowning? When you look at the sum of your weeks, are more days spent gasping for air or breathing in God’s life?

    I’ll be honest, this week has been more of a drowning than soaring week for me so I’m asking the Lord to show me what I need to let go of. I can’t decide without Him. Everything I’m holding onto is good, but I’m holding onto more good than I can handle at the moment.

    Being a Christian means daily surrendering our lives to Christ–all of us, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes I think surrendering the good is even more of a challenge than surrendering the bad or the ugly, but all means all. Can He really have it all? Will you let go of the good when God asks you to?

    Be warned, you may feel like you are letting others down in the process of letting go of something good. I felt like I was letting my family down sacrificing that paycheck. I felt like I was letting my boss down by resigning my position. I’m sure Abraham felt like he was letting his wife Sarah down as he was taking their promised son up the mountain to sacrifice him. But again, he wasn’t moved by his feelings. We need to be like Abraham, unmoved by the feelings derived from the fear of disappointing people. We can’t let our emotions dictate whether or not we are going to let go when God says let go.

    It’s not God’s plan for us to feel overwhelmed. Matthew 11 says that the burden, the call that He has placed on our lives, is light. It’s a call that we can carry while still soaring. When I start to sink, it’s time to re-evaluate. It’s time to invite the Holy Spirit in and allow Him to speak into my schedule and show me what I need to let go of.

    Maybe for you it’s letting go of one of your children’s five different extra-curricular activities or resigning your role as PTA president. Maybe it’s letting go of some of the money in your savings account to take your family on a much-needed vacation or passing up that promotion. Maybe it’s letting go of training for that marathon or pushing pause on that business idea. Maybe it’s being okay with a messy house for the weekend or letting go of your kids a few hours every week so you can spend one-on-one time with your spouse. Maybe like Abraham, it’s letting go of a promise.

    Know that whenever God asks you to let go of the good, if you are faithful to obey, He is faithful to carry out His perfect and pleasing will for your life. After all if it’s not God, it’s not really good.

    For a free small group study guide to go along with this article click here. 

  • Bubble Kids : The Downside To Overprotecting Our Children

    I am the mom who cries when her babies get shots at the doctor’s office, and yeah, I’m also the mom who gets her kids vaccinated. (Insert shocked emoji face here!) I hope we can still be friends.

    When my oldest son Gus was three, I took him to the dentist for a checkup and found out he had eight cavities. Yep, eight. I promise, I take good care of my children, I just had no idea that a preschooler was not ready to wield a toothbrush on his own. #FirstKidProbs. He took the brunt of all our first-time parenting faux pas, but by the grace of God he’s turning out just fine. And you’ll be happy to know my second and third child are filling free. When Gus went back to get his mouth filled with silver, I asked my husband to take off work for the appointment so I didn’t have to see my little buddy all gassed up for dental surgery. I would have been a blubbering mess.

    I love the scene in the movie Storks where the little pink-haired baby starts to cry while Tulip, the woman in charge of delivering the pink-haired baby, tries to ignore her. The film cuts to a sequence of caring mommas throughout history protecting their babies all while REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You” plays in the background. It cuts back to Tulip whose maternal instincts kick in and she can’t take it anymore. She MUST comfort the crying pink-haired baby!

    Mothers do not like to see their children in pain, physically or emotionally. It’s part of our genetic makeup! God could not watch as Jesus hung on the cross. He had to turn His face away.

    Like the women in the Storks sequence who were literally shielding their babies, we do our best to shield our kids from anything that might cause their hearts to ache.

    Last October I got a fun little surprise in the form of two pink lines. I was pregnant! We had just packed away the crib and decided to wait another three or four years for the final installment of Blount children, so I was shocked, but thrilled at the same time. I love being pregnant, and I love newborns, and I knew our kid’s excitement would be through the roof when we shared our news with them.   I took two blood tests to confirm and the doctor said my levels looked great and that he would see me in nine weeks. I was already showing, and I knew I couldn’t wait nine more weeks to tell our friends and family, so about two weeks after we found out, I planned a big scavenger hunt that ended with a little video where we told the kids a new baby would be joining our family in June!

    I have NEVER seen joy hit my kids like that before, and you should know they are very happy kids who have had a very happy, Disneyland-filled life. But this was something they had been asking for and praying for and thinking about for a while. Our oldest cried genuine tears of joy. Our middle jumped up and down and squealed for a good five minutes straight. And our youngest just kept hugging everyone because she knew we were all so happy. It’s a moment I’ll never forget even though I totally blew it and did not hit the record button on my phone to capture it all on video.

    The new baby was all my kids could talk about. The papers they brought home from school had drawings and notes on the back of them about their new brother, since they had already decided it was going to be a boy. They had to say good morning and good night to my puffy tummy. And they prayed sincere prayers, asking God to help the baby grow big and strong and healthy.

    Three days of celebrating came to an abrupt halt after I miscarried. As shocked as I was to find out I was pregnant, I was even more shocked to miscarry. My third pregnancy ended when I had to deliver our son stillborn, and after that I prayed and believed and trusted God that I would never lose another baby again. And I was convinced I wouldn’t. But I did.

    Of course I was heartbroken over the loss of life, but the thing that hurt the most was knowing that I was going to have to tell my kids. There was no way around this. I would have to watch their hearts break.

    I was so mad at myself. Why? Why didn’t I follow the pregnancy announcement protocol? Why didn’t I wait longer to tell the kids? I could have saved them. I could have shielded them. I could have kept them in their bubble.

    I’ll never forget sitting in my kitchen the afternoon of the miscarriage, sorting out Bingo cards for a Halloween party at my kid’s school that I was in charge of hosting later that day, my eyes blurry from all the tears. I knew that in just a few short hours, after school was over, we were going to have to sit the kids down and let them know that life isn’t perfect. As I punched out Charlie Brown bingo markers and beat myself up for seemingly jumping the gun with the pregnancy announcement, the Holy Spirit came and does what the Holy Spirit was sent to do. He comforted me with these words, “You can’t always shield your kids from heartache, but you can show them how to overcome.”

    In other words, what’s done is done. You can’t protect them from this one, but you can use this situation to help them see that the greater One lives in them, and because of that, they can find victory in the midst of a terrible loss.

    After I painfully smiled my way through the class party and got the kid’s home from school, we sat them down in the living room and broke the news. They wept and moaned and cried for what felt like an eternity. Josh and I cried with them and held them and let them cry until they were ready to talk. They were so confused. How could this happen? Why did this happen? I didn’t feel equipped to answer those questions, because honestly I didn’t know how and why it happened, and I still don’t. It still doesn’t make sense. But in that moment we told them what we DID know: God is faithful, no matter what. God never leaves us nor forsakes us. God will heal our broken hearts. God will turn this sad story into a happy one.

    We stayed in our living room for hours that night and talked about heaven and the hope we have in Jesus, and what I thought would be one of the worst nights of my life ended up being one of the best, because that night I got to see that my children’s faith in God was immovable, even in the midst of a storm. Their eight and five-year-old hearts held tightly to the promises of God. The Jesus they have always sung about and read about and talked about became even more real to them that October night.

    John 16:33 says, “Here on earth we (me, you, my kids, your kids) will have many trials and sorrows.” But then it encourages us with this, “take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world.”

    When our kids are faced with real-life challenges, our tendency is to shield them from as much pain as possible. We don’t want them to ever have to experience hurt feelings, rejection, not making a sports team, the death of someone they love, disappointment, or anything else that would cause their little hearts to hurt, but sometimes we shield them from too much and they grow up never getting a chance to fully lean on God.

    Psalm 103 tells us to lean not on our own understanding, but to trust in the Lord with all our hearts. You can’t expect to ever stop leaning on your own understanding if you live in a world where everything makes sense, and I fear that’s the kind of world we try to create for our children.

    But what if we let them face some challenges? What if we stop trying to shield them from every single thing and start giving them opportunities to put their trust in the Lord? I think we would raise the fiercest generation of sons and daughters the world has ever seen. A generation who knows how to get back up when they get knocked down. A generation whose faith in God is real, tested, and unshakable. A generation who knows where to turn when the wind and waves come. A generation full of sure-footed, steady-handed, battle-worthy conquerors.

    The last thing my eight-year-old said to me that night as I tucked him into bed was, “Mom, this has been the saddest day of my life…but I will never stop trusting God.”

    If there are no rough roads to walk, no mountains to climb, and no battles to fight, our children miss out on the God of John chapter 16, the God who has overcome the world.

    Mommas, love, protect, and defend your children, but when the Spirit leads you to, lower that heavy shield so God can display His glory in the lives of your children.

  • Welcome To The Restoration Business

    I know I’m not the only one who would love to share a best friends necklace with Joanna Gaines–you know the type where each friend wears a half? She could wear the BE FRIE part, and I would wear the ST NDS part. We could feed goats and shop at Anthropologie together. It would be great.

    I admire the Fixer Upper star’s passion, her joy, her hair, the crush she still has on Chip, her simplicity, her testimony, and her amazing success as a #girlboss. I mean she turned Waco (yeah, Waco!) into a tourist destination, and a love for shiplap into a million dollar brand! She’s killin’ it.

    From her best-selling book to the darling Magnolia Market, her claim to fame was birthed out of an ability to restore an awful house into a dream home.

    Restore: To put in order, bring back to former condition, to mend, to strengthen, perfect, complete, make one what he or she ought to be.

    A restored car, a piece of furniture, or in Joanna’s case, a restored home, are all something to see, but nothing can compare to the sight of a restored life.

    Galatians 6:1 Brethren (or Sistren!), if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also.

    Welcome to the restoration business, sweethearts! I’ve heard the saying, “God is in the restoration business,” many times, and God IS in the restoration business, but God always, always, always works through people, and when it comes to restoring individuals, those in sin or overtaken by wrong thinking, He’s put that responsibility on Spirit-led believers.

    I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t like confrontation, and in an effort to avoid awkward conversations with the people we do life with, we bow out of the command to RESTORE and give in to the world’s ways, which are to IGNORE or CLOSE THE DOOR.

    When we see someone going down the wrong path, not living according to the Word, being too hard on themselves, working too hard and not honoring God’s command to rest, letting fear dictate their decisions, hurting others feelings, not honoring their spouse, comparing themselves to everyone else, grumbling and complaining constantly, letting their emotions rule their lives, seeing their kids as burdens and treating them that way, in an unhealthy dating relationship, making poor financial decisions, overtaken in misconduct or sin of any kind, the scripture does not say we are to butt out, make excuses for them, or cut them off; it says we are to RESTORE them.

    Restore: To put in order, bring back to former condition, to mend, to strengthen, perfect, complete, make one what he or she ought to be.

    To be the voice in this community that God has called us to be, we are going to have to purpose to be women who have mastered the art of restoration. We are going to have to turn off our default “ignore” settings. We are going to have to realize that making excuses for people doesn’t help them, it hurts them. And we are going to have to offer grace on top of grace on top of some more grace.

    Now, along with the command to restore, in the same verse, we get three VERY important guidelines for how to enter into a situation where someone needs mending to take place in their life.

    1. Without any sense of superiority. When the Spirit leads you to restore someone, the goal is not to show them how awesome you are and how off the mark they are. The goal is for them to see you bow low and humble yourself. Be vulnerable. The restoration process will be cut short if we are concerned about presenting our ideal self to the person we want to see strengthened because as Jess Connoly says, “Our ideal self is not our most influential self.” Lay down your pride. It’s okay to let the person you are mending know that you aren’t perfect either. We all fall short of the glory of God. Set aside any desire for people to see you as their superior and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they let their guard down. A great way to demonstrate you aren’t on a power trip is to ask the person for permission to speak into an area of their life which you are concerned about.
    2. With all gentleness. Not some gentleness and some sassiness, but ALL gentleness. Gentleness is closely tied to humbleness. It comes from an awareness of our own weaknesses and proclivity for mistakes. Proverbs 15:11 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, a harsh word stirs up anger.” Watch your tone, your body language, and your facial expressions. An angry person who feels they are being attacked or put down is not going to walk away restored, but probably more off track than before you brought up the issue.
    3. Keeping an attentive eye on yourself. Before having conversations that are restorative in nature, take a good look at your intentions. Check your heart and make sure your concern for this person is coming from a place of love and concern, because if your motive is not pure, they will see right through you, hindering your chances of having any kind of influence in their life.

    We all have blind spots, and I’m learning to appreciate people who care enough about me to gently point out things in my life that are broken and need to be reset.

    Not too long ago a close friend, through tears, told me she missed the way things used to be between us. I was so caught up with work and kids and figuring out how to pastor a church and lead well that I was overlooking a relationship that I valued and that breathed life into me. I’m so thankful my sister in Christ did not ignore what was happening, or get angry with me and shut me out, but instead she made a way for restoration to take place in my life and in our friendship.

    Part of our call as HIS heart, hands, and daughters is to, “Love from the center of who we are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle” (Romans 12:9-1).

    Good friends who love deeply from the center of who they are in Christ see beauty in restoration. When the Spirit asks, “Do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?” we respond with joy and excitement because it’s our delight to be a doer of the Word. It fills us with great purpose to know that God wants to use us to take broken things and make them beautiful. We don’t shy away, we don’t push away, we lead the way. Like Joanna, make restoration your claim to fame.

    For a free small group study guide to go along with this article click here.

  • Love Responds

    “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

    We’ve all heard those four words before, either while watching reruns of COPS or on the other end of the phone after you’ve dialed for help.  I’ve never had to dial those three numbers, but I’ve known them by heart as long as I can remember, and I’ve made it a point to make sure my kids know them, too.

    But the National Emergency Number Association hasn’t always existed.  In fact, there were ninety-two long years between the first ever phone call made by Alexander Graham Bell and the first ever phone call made to 9-1-1.  Prior to 1968, if you wanted to report an emergency, you had to dial your local precinct.

    Everything changed after 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was murdered while she was on her way to her New York City apartment after a late-night bartending shift.  A few weeks after Kitty’s tragic and senseless death, The New York Times reported that 38 witnesses heard Kitty’s screams for help, screams that went on for 30 minutes, yet help never arrived. The number of bystanders has since been disputed, but the fact that several people failed to respond remains.

    Where was the breakdown?  Why didn’t Kitty’s neighbors get out of bed and pick up the phone to call the police upon hearing her horrific screams?   Some claim they did.  Some reported they didn’t want to get involved.  Some figured someone else would make the call.  Some took cues from the other neighbors they observed doing nothing and decided to do nothing as well. 

    Kitty’s complacent neighbors showcased the need for a central response center, which brought about the 9-1-1 emergency call system we know today. 

    When I heard Kitty’s story my heart was filled with conviction.  I found myself recalling moments when I had acted like her New York City neighbors: hearing cries for help, either through a friend’s Facebook post or a barista’s sad disposition, but ignoring the cries because I didn’t have time to get involved, or I was counting on the fact that someone else would step in. Thinking thoughts like, “Well someday I can respond, but right now I don’t have the programs or infrastructure in place, so it’s just not the right time.”

    I repented and asked the Lord to help me change my casual bystander mindset, and He led me to a very familiar passage of scripture and helped me read it with a fresh pair of eyes.  Aren’t you thankful for a gracious God who sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and for the Word that is always transforming us into a more accurate image of Christ? 

    In Luke 10, a religious scholar asks Jesus what to do to receive eternal life.   He wasn’t asking how to become immortal.  Everyone is born an eternal being; after leaving the earth we either live forever in heaven or forever in hell.  What this man is asking is how to receive life that comes from God, an above-and-beyond kind of life that you can live in right now!

    Jesus answers the scholar with a question, “How do you interpret the law?”  His response became one of the most well-known scriptures in the entire Bible.

    Luke 10:27 “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

    What did Jesus think of this answer?  Let’s keep reading.

    “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  Looking for a loophole, he [the scholar] asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

    Jesus then shared the story of the good Samaritan. 

    A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.  He was attacked by robbers and left for dead.  Luckily, witnesses would roll up on the scene: a priest and a Levite.  These men would surely help, right?  Nope.

    It’s so strikingly similar to the story of Kitty Genovese.  Only this story has a happy ending.

    Luke 10:33 A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.”

    The Samaritan felt compassion for the bloody and beaten man.  The scripture says his heart went out to him.  How many times do we encounter people on our paths and send our hearts out to them, but stop there?  We feel compassion, empathy, sadness, anger, disgust, pity, “all the feels,” if you will, while forgetting that all the feels in the world, without a sacrificial response, don’t amount to anything.

    We have to take care of the people God places in our lives in the same way we take care of ourselves.  We sacrifice to make sure dinner is on the table for our families.  We sacrifice to make sure our kids have incredible birthday parties. We sacrifice to make sure we have a roof over our heads and clothes on our back.  But what are we sacrificing for our neighbor?

    I know sometimes the world seems hopeless, and it’s easier to keep your head down and just make sure that you and yours are happy and healthy, but Jesus says if we want to step into eternal living right now, we have to move from bystanders to first responders. 

    Let’s not wait for someone else to make the call.  Let’s not roll over and hope someone else steps in.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears.  Ask Him for a genuine concern for the ones in plain sight—a concern for both their social and spiritual needs—and then be ready to respond.  It could be a phone call, providing a warm coat to someone who is cold, an offer to babysit for a friend, bringing flowers to the gal who does your nails, a home-cooked meal for someone going through a hard time, asking someone if you can pray for them, a hand-written note, spending time at a nursing home or a homeless shelter, or buying lunch for the man carrying the card-board sign on the corner.  God’s not asking you to start a global ministry; He’s simply asking you to love Him and love people.  Don’t overcomplicate it; see a need and fill the need.

    Love wins, but only when we respond.

  • You Are a Visionary

    A visionary is someone with a strong vision of the future. It seems like a title reserved for a select few: people like Walt Disney, George Lucas, Brian Houston, Steve Jobs, or Nelson Mandela. But I believe every born again believer can live in such a way that “visionary” will come up at some point during their eulogy.

    God was a visionary. He envisioned the sky with its clouds, moon, stars, and sun. He envisioned the sea with its white waves, jellyfish, and coral. He envisioned the giraffe with its giant spots, extra-long eyelashes and black tongue. And He envisioned you.

    Psalm 139:15-16
    Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.

    Before you took your first breath, God had a strong vision for your future. He is a visionary, and because His very Spirit lives in you, you are a visionary.

    Don’t scoff. Quit inwardly rolling your eyes. I know you may not feel like a visionary, but if that’s the case, it’s only because you’ve never identified with that part of your spiritual DNA. You were created to have a strong vision of your future, the good hope-filled future that God has prepared for you.

    Last October Josh and I were headed to Birmingham, Alabama for a very anticipated ministry conference and three days with no kids (Hallelujah! Can I get an amen?). When we arrived at the airport we found that our flight had been cancelled. Insert devastated emoji face here. We couldn’t get a flight out until the next day, which just wouldn’t have worked. It was drive 10 hours, or don’t go at all. We decided to drive it. We rented the cheapest car we could find and took off. A few minutes into the trip Josh discovered the car did not have a cruise control feature. He was a good sport about it, but I know driving 10 hours without being able to set the cruise control and just…you know…cruise, made the trip more work for him.

    Cruise control on a 10-hour road trip is a good, good thing. It’s so easy to pick a speed, pick a lane, get comfortable, and set off to your destination, but visionaries understand that if you want the future to look different, you have to do something different.

    If you want 2017 to be more fulfilling than 2016, than you’ll have to turn cruise control off. You’ll have to be okay with uncomfortable. You’ll have to desire different. If you keep on keeping on like you kept on last year, you’ll repeat the same year.

    What would 2017 look like if you spent time seeking God and asking Him to reveal His vision for you to you? Remember, He said every stage of our lives was laid out in front of Him before our “birth” days!

    He has envisioned what your relationship with Him looks like this year. He has envisioned your marriage. He has envisioned your career, your savings account, your friendships, your family life, your influence, your health, your mornings, your lunch breaks, your world. He’s envisioned it all, now it’s your turn. It’s your turn to kick into visionary mode. It’s your turn to dream about what God has planned for you this year.

    Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”

    I believe God is calling you to “run with it,” but before you can run with it, you must take time to understand what “it” is. Sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and let God start to reveal His vision for you to you. Make it plain, easy to understand, create a timeline, think through practical steps that will make the vision become a reality. Write those steps down, and then read what you wrote and read it often. Keep it in front of your eyes, and then you can run with it and live out the life God has envisioned for you.

    You are a visionary.

  • Auto Correct

    I’ll just come right out and say it. I’m not a fan of talking on the phone. I used to like it. I liked it so much that when I lived at my parent’s house they got me my own phone line so I wasn’t always tying up theirs or making it impossible for the dial-up modem to connect to the Internet.  But that was before I owned a cell phone. More importantly that was before I owned an iPhone.

    My dislike for talking on the phone came when I got one of those bad boys.  It was just so much simpler to text than it was to talk; especially with a 2-year-old running around. Now, I have three children at home and I rarely answer my phone. I’ll answer a text pretty quickly, but if you call me, you’ll have to wait until the baby goes down for a nap and the big kids are being entertained by a monkey and the man with the yellow hat before I call you back. 

    Since I communicate so much via text messaging I’ve come to appreciate Auto Correct.  This is a handy software feature that automatically replaces a word or suggests an alternate word, if the word you type does not appear in the built-in dictionary on your phone. 

    For instance, if I had too much soy sauce with my sushi, and my extra-puffy fingers accidentally text, “I kovr sushi,” Auto Correct knows that kovr is not a word and what I meant was, “I Iove sushi,” and automatically changes kovr to love—so smart!

    Your phone will also train itself to recognize certain words that are not in its dictionary, if you text them often enough. When I first had my daughter, Beau, her name was not in my dictionary, and Auto Correct was always trying to change it to something else. But after I declined the word replacement suggestion enough times it learned that Beau was what I was actually wanting to text. It even learned to automatically capitalize it. 

    I was texting my husband the other day and watching all the words I mistyped transform into the words I meant to type and I thought to myself, we need Auto Correct on more than just our phones, we need it in our minds. 

    Wouldn’t it be nice if every time you started to have a wrong thought, your mind would auto correct and replace that thought with a right one?  Imagine what kind of effect that could have on your life. If you are thinking right, you are talking right, making right decisions, producing the right kind of fruit, attracting the right kind of relationships. All would be right in your world if you could only program your mind with an Auto Correct feature.

    I’ve got good news. You can. You don’t have to hire a computer programmer or a brain surgeon. You don’t have to pay a fortune. You don’t have to take special vitamins or eat a certain diet or be a part of Mensa. All you need is a Bible. 

    II Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

    The Word of God, when mediated upon, has the power to auto correct your thoughts.  When you study and memorize scripture you are downloading information into your mind and spirit that will override and correct any wrong information you’ve been programmed with, so you can be equipped to do all that God put you on this planet to do.

    You may have programmed yourself to think that stress is a normal part of life and something that you just have to deal with. You may even start certain days proclaiming, “This is going to be a stressful day!” But if you study the Word you’ll see that that way of thinking is wrong. The Bible says not to worry about anything. The Bible says Jesus came to make our burdens light. The Bible says Jesus is the Prince Of Peace. If you make those truths a part of your life, they will auto correct your thoughts when you begin to feel stressed or overwhelmed. They will change your proclamation from, “This is going to be a stressful day,” into “This is the day the Lord has made. He’s going to carry my burdens! He’s going to command peace over my day.  He’s going to lead me beside still waters.  He’s going to calm my storms.” 

    You may have programmed yourself to think that your dream is too big. You find yourself doubting the call God has placed on your life or trying to figure out how you can make it happen in your own strength. But if you study God’s Word, and the lives of men like Noah and David, you’ll reprogram yourself to correct those thoughts with things like, “My God is faithful!  He who started a good work will finish it.  He makes all things work together for my good.  His ways are better than my ways!”

    We all live in the same fallen world and we have all been programmed with thoughts that do not line up with the Word of God, but we can train our minds to replace those thoughts—to correct those thoughts—by filling our inner dictionary with promises and principles from God’s Word. 

    It may not happen overnight.  Just like it took several times of me declining whatever word my phone suggested, when I typed Beau’s name.  It may take you several times of declining whatever wrong thoughts pop into your mind first, but eventually if you keep putting the Word of God in your spirit, it will stick.  God’s Word will be the first suggestion that pops up in every area of your life.  Truth will override everything else and all will be right with you.

    Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (II Tim 3:17, MSG)

  • Shooting Your Arrow By Faith

    Christian Kids In Public Schools

    I love this time of year. Giant pencils hanging from the ceiling at Target, directing me toward the school supplies. Tax-free shopping for new shoes and skinny jeans, for my pride and joys. The anticipation of getting back into a routine.   

    On Thursday, my firstborn will have his first day of first grade. This time last year I was gearing up to send my little guy to kindergarten at—dun, dun dun—public school! I was kind of a wreck.

    I grew up in public school.  A big, 6-A public school. I was a Union Redskin from kindergarten until graduation day. I loved it and I turned out okay, right? So why was the thought of sending my son to public school so hard to wrap my mind around.

    Maybe it’s because in 1990, when I started kindergarten, things were different. There were no 5-year-olds with their own iPads.  Christmas break was called Christmas break instead of “winter” break. I could walk to school with my older brother and play in the front yard when I got home, even though my mom wasn’t home from work yet. School shootings were unheard of.  No one knew what the Internet was and my teachers just stuck to the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. There was no need to discuss same-sex marriage and gender-identity curriculum didn’t exist yet.

    Don’t get me wrong, I was exposed to all kinds of things in public school, but times have really changed over the last 25 years and there’s no denying that Jesus isn’t welcome at public schools anymore. So how could I send my little boy into a place where Jesus wasn’t welcome? Well, I had no choice.  Christian school, where we lived, was too expensive, and I didn’t feel like I was called to home school.

    I really needed peace about this, so I brought it to the Lord, and He delivered. 

    In the second chapter of Exodus you can read about the birth of one of the greatest heroes in the Bible, Moses—and his amazing momma, Jochebed.

    A few verses before we read about Moses being born, we read about Pharaoh ordering every newborn boy be thrown into the Nile River. Pharaoh was inexplicably evil, willing to murder precious baby boys so that the Israelites would not grow to outnumber his people. 

    Can you imagine the horror Jochebed felt when she delivered Moses and her midwife whispered in her ear, “It’s a boy.” You know for nine months as she carried him she hoped and prayed that she would have a girl, for a girl she could keep. But God gave her a son, now what was she going to do with him? 

    The Bible said she saw Moses was special. She could see God’s hand on this baby boy’s life, so she kept him hidden for three months. I have three children and let me tell you it would be very, very difficult to keep an infant hidden for three months. I’m guessing she never let him “cry it out” to get him sleep-trained. She probably couldn’t let him cry at all. She was probably with him every waking minute, and I’m sure her bond with him grew stronger each passing day, but the time had come when she realized she couldn’t hide him any longer. She made a basket for him, lined it with his favorite blankie, put him in it, and left the basket near the river in some tall grass.  She had to be terrified, right?  Wrong!    

    Hebrews 11:23 (NKJV) By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.

    This verse tells us she was not afraid. Moses’ parents hid him not out of fear but out of faith! When Jochebed left her baby in the basket that day, she was showing God she trusted Him to take care of her son. She stepped out in faith and God followed with favor. God not only took care of her son, but He made a way for Jochebed to continue to mother her beautiful baby boy.

    As a Christian mom sending my child to public school, I felt a little like I was putting him in a basket in the Nile River. I had to choose: fear or faith?

    After reading about Jochebed, it was easy to choose faith. 

    Jochebed sent Moses into a land where God was not welcome and just think about how mightily the Lord used him! God had a plan for Moses; He has one for my kids, and your kids, too! 

    When I dropped my son off last year, I didn’t shed a tear. I wasn’t sad or fearful, but full of faith. I believed that like Psalm 127 says, he is an arrow, an arrow we had spent the last five years sharpening, an arrow that would go out and fulfill His purpose. I believed that the Holy Spirit would guide him and lead him when choosing friends. I believed that he would be a light and a leader. I believed he would have favor with his teachers. I believed God would protect him physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually and that no evil could befall him or come near him. I believed that God would use him mightily! Glory to God, he had a great school year! As we gear up for first grade, I am believing the same things.

    Jochebed, a wife and a mother to three children, made a decision to have faith instead of fear, and her faith changed the course of history. Whatever your plan is for school this year—home school, Christian, private, or public—don’t be afraid. Launch your kids into their best year yet, full of faith in our great God!