New Blog….Renovatedfaith.com

God has told me (over and over) that He wants me to start writing again.  That includes a new blog entitled Renovated Faith.  It will combine my passion for writing and my love for all things DIY.  Most importantly, I home it can be something for God to use bless, challenge and encourage each one of us!  Before this blog soon expires, I wanted to invite you to join me at http://www.renovatedfaith.com.  I should be up and running in a week or two.  Thank you for keeping up with my little corner of the interweb!

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When God Messes With Your Plan

A couple weeks ago, I had to drop off a birthday gift to Morgan’s friend.  Her mom Sara had given me the address and I told her I would just leave it on the porch and when.  I drove over to her neighborhood and left it at what I thought was 1203 Sycamore.  I noticed a cute sign on the porch that clearly said “1203” in big letters and put the Frozen gift bag right by it.  As I drove off, I noticed the street sign said “Boxwood”, not Sycamore and confidently drove off telling myself, “That’s weird, that sign must have been turned around.”  Of course when I asked Sara if she got the gift, she said it wasn’t on the porch.  After several visits to Google Maps, to look at pictures of houses to figure out where I left the present, I finally realized I left it on the adjacent street.  My sweet friend Sara made arrangements to pick it up because she happened to know the homeowner, who I’m sure wondered who left them a pair of Frozen pj’s and pink jewelry box on their doorstep.

I’m still a little amazed at my stubborn ignorance in mentally insisting that I was at the right house, even when signs were plainly telling me I was heading the wrong direction.  God showed me that night that I often have the same presuppositions about my future and that “my” future is actually His future.

Unfortunately, our assumptions about the future often get in the way of what God really has for us and the danger is that we may miss out on a blessing that God has in store for us.  1 Corinthians 2:9 states that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has for us.”  Therefore, God’s plans for us will always be better than the plans that we imagine on our own.  By insisting to follow, our plans, we could easily miss out on blessings He has already laid along on path.  I have noticed far too often, that instead of enjoying and appreciating the path God has laid before me, my mind often desires the adjacent path that He never designed me to travel.  Often, the path that I admire is easier and the fruits are more tangible, but they can never replace the blessings God has laid on the path  before me –  even if it means going through some hard times to finally reach those blessings.

Often the path laid before us is fraught with hardships we feel are too difficult to endure.  However, that is the point.   A.W. Tozer once said, “It is doubtful that God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”  This quote sounds horrible and unfair.  However, I think God at times has to allow us to go through life’s difficulties.  There are things He can only accomplish in our lives through these times of testing where we are forced to cling to Him.  It is in those precious moments that we come to realize we are most in tune with God’s blessings – that His loving arms were around us all along.

Some friends of ours went to Disneyland this past summer.  They stayed at the hotel the night before and swam in the huge pool that had a water slide.  The kids were so enamored by the pool that they told their parents they just wanted to stay at the pool the rest of the vacation instead of going to Disney.  I believe it’s the same way with our plans verses God’s plans for us.  Sometimes we can get so fixated on what we feel is right that we forget that Disney is right down the street because God’s plans will trump ours every time.

Sarah Young in her devotional Jesus Calling states, “Secret things belong to the Lord, and future things are secret things.  When you try to figure out the future, you are grasping at things that are His.  This like all forms of worry is an act of rebellion.”  Worrying about the future is like trying to mentally walk through a hall when we haven’t even walked in the doorway.  It’s futile and we aren’t designed to know the future.  God only wants us to trust Him to show us the next step.  When we try to plan ahead, we set ourselves up to miss out on blessings that God wants to reveal to us because we are so worried that our plan isn’t working out like we thought.  As Proverbs 16:9 states, “The mind of man plans His way but the Lord directs His steps.”  How blessed we are that God does not leave us to make our own plans.

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Your Best is Good Enough

About 6 months after Morgan was born, I went through a weird phase where I decided it would be a good idea to start a hair bow business.  It lasted about a year and after some tired fingers and a few nights of staying up until 3am making reindeer bows, I decided I would be best to leave the hair bow business in the hands of the professionals…in China.  Needless to say, I still have lots of supplies leftover including an organizer with every size and color of rhinestone you can imagine.  Morgan discovered my collection and has since adopted it as her own.

A few days ago, Morgan told me she had a surprise for me.  She opened her little hands and revealed three of the biggest rhinestones in the box.  “They are for you Mommy!” she exclaimed as she held them up to me.  I put them in my jewelry box and gushed over them as if they were real gemstones.  She then proceeded to get some more for me to put in my jewelry box.  I soon realized that to Morgan these gems were not just acrylic rhinestones that cost less than a dollar at any craft store….to her, they were her most priceless possession and she was giving them to me…

The parable of the talents is a passage I have heard since I was young, however, I missed an important aspect.  In Matthew 25:14-30, a man entrusts talents to 3 different servant.  “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”  Therefore, talents and abilities are not exactly the same and the passage says that God gives us opportunities to use our talents to serve Christ.   While we are born with various abilities, God gives us opportunities to use those abilities. What is most important is to be faithful with the opportunities He gives us.

The first two servants were both faithful and doubled their talents, so they both received the very same reward (vv. 21, 23). What is interesting is that the Christian who is faithful in his or her sphere of service, though it be small, will get the same reward as the person who seems to have a great ministry. Often times as a stay at home mom, I feel like my influence in God’s kingdom is pretty benign.  I have come to realize that while I deeply desire to make a BIG influence in God kingdom, I often use the world’s definition of “big”.  What He has been showing me is that He will define how He wants to use the talents He has given me.  When I make plans on how I want to use my talents to serve Him, I am merely cutting Him out and building mini “towers of Babel” that He will have to topple over in order to use me.  It is so easy to visualize what we THINK God has planned for our lives only to see that God might want to use us in a completely different way.

The apostle Paul is a perfect example.  He was raised to be a Hebrew among Hebrews and studied under the famous pharisee Gamaliel.  He was one of the most prestigious Pharisees of his day.  After his conversion, I can see how Paul might have thought his ministry would be to the Jews because of His background.  However, that is not what God had in mind.  God gave Him the opportunity to minister to the Gentiles, and Paul was faithful to follow, writing 14 books of the New Testament (if you include Hebrews).

There are days that my opportunities to honor God are “just“ through housework or parenting.  However, it is not about what you are doing but the fact that you are faithful and using the opportunities He gives you.  Colossians 3:23 states, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”  If I am scrubbing a toilet and doing my housework to honor Him, this has more weight than gold in His spiritual economy.   God is not as concerned with our sphere of influence but us being faithful with the opportunities He gives us.  He wants us to give Him our best- whatever that may be.  My pastor’s opportunity on a Sunday is to preach to a congregation but my opportunity on a Sunday might be to be a Godly example to my daughter as we get ready for church.  Our audiences are different but what is important is being faithful with the role God gives us.  We have to trust the opportunities God gives us in His spiritual economy and know that His ways are not our Ways.

In Matthew 26, a woman breaks open an alabaster flask of precious perfume to rub on Jesus’ feet.  This perfume that could only be broken open on one occasion was highly expensive in her time.   It was more than likely her most valued possession.  She gave Him her best in the same way Morgan gave me her best “jewels”.   It’s not about the perceived value of what we give Him, but taking the opportunities He gives us to be faithful to Him.  One day, God will reward our works in heaven with precious jewels that we will be able to throw at our Savior’s feet.

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Mommy Guilt – Distinguishing Between True and False Guilt

Babycenter.com identifies the top 7 ways that moms feel guilt as the following:

1. Feeding your baby formula

2. Using TV as a babysitter

3. Being environmentally unfriendly

4. Feeding your kids junk food

5. Leaving your child with another caregiver

6. Yelling at your kids

7. Not being able to afford all the extras

The article cited that 94% of women surveyed feel some type of “Mommy Guilt.”  As I read through the list, I realized I felt four of these in the last hour. It occurred to me that this probably didn’t honor God that so much of my mental guilt was occupied with guilt.  I then began to wonder if what I was feeling was true guilt leading to conviction or if it was false guilt leading to condemnations. I think it’s important to first define terms.

Gordon Smith points out in his book, The Voice of Jesus, that the true conviction from the Holy Spirit has two major criteria. First, he argues that true guilt rests on the foundation that we are loved. Jesus does not convict us of sin just to make us feel bad about ourselves. He convicts us because he recognizes the destructive nature of sin and seeks to protect us from it. Smith writes that this feeling of guilt “is a gift much as is the pain we experience when we touch a hot stove. It is certainly painful, but it keeps us from self-destruction.” Jesus convicts us of sin because he cares about us. He recognizes that sin enslaves us (Romans 6:16) and leads to death (Romans 6:23).

A second sign that the conviction we experience is from the Holy Spirit is that it is not burdensome but liberating. Paul makes a distinction in 1 Corinthians 7:9-10 between a godly grief, which leads to repentance and spiritual growth, and a worldly grief, which leads to death. A true sorrow for sin does not leave us feeling oppressed and burdened but it calls us to experience the life of fullness that is offered in Christ. Paul emphasizes this to the church in Galatia when he writes, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Smith points out three sources of false guilt. The first form of false guilt is from the evil one. The evil one in scripture is literally called the “accuser.” The devil draws us in to sin and then is right there to point an accusative finger. So if we are beating ourselves up over our mistakes or if we are experience an oppressive feeling of condemnation, this is not rooted in the conviction of the Spirit. In response to this we ought to proclaim the wonderful truth that “there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

The second source of false guilt is the unrealistic expectations and emotional manipulation of others. This could take place in the family context when there is an implied message that if you do not live up to expectations you are not good enough or lovable. It could be around other mothers where there is an unspoken standard of what is right or wrong parenting – For example- natural birth vs. epidural, home school vs. public school, “cry it out” vs. “no cry”, working vs. staying at home….You get the idea.  It also takes place in religious settings where people add to the law and impose an unscriptural legalism on others. It is important to see what Scripture says verses what people are trying to put on our shoulders.  Issues related to parenting can be challenging because there is not just one Godly way to parent.  However, God is always faithful to illuminate His Word and give direction to His children when they seek Him.

Lastly, false guilt can be caused by not living up to our personal expectations and aspirations. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. In fact researchers suggest that up to 77% of our self-talk is negative (Parrot, Love Talk, 148). Sometimes we are so hard on ourselves that we drown out the voice of God. Smith reminds us that “this is not true sorrow for sin, but rather another expression of pride.” To counter this we need to humble ourselves enough to receive the grace of God!

Be mindful that there is a distinction between true and false guilt.  Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers (and sisters), 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.”  It is difficult to abide by that verse when so many of our thoughts are consumed with false guilt.  Be intentional enough to take your thoughts captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  Remember that Romans 8:1 states that “there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ” and only God can define the type of mother you should be.

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Refrigerator Friends

Growing up, my family attended a little church in Beaumont, TX called Highland Avenue Baptist Church.  It was there that my grandfather preached at times, my parents got married and I was baptized at the age of eight.  I went to preschool there, played hide-n-seek in the baptistery and always invited my church friends to my birthday parties.  Our church wasn’t just a place that we went on Sundays, but “church” permeated our everyday lives– not because we were there often but because the relationships at church spilled over into our home life.  This is what the church today refers to as “biblical community”- it’s a modern term, but an ancient concept.   

In Creating Community by Andy Stanley, he defines biblical community as “the body of Christ expressing the life and message of Christ to build up one another and redeem the world for God’s glory.”  He explains that often times the only connection people have is saying “hello” to someone on a Sunday morning.  He states most people have friends at church but never experience true biblical community.  The greatest example of biblical community can be seen in Acts 2:

“And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”         ~ Acts 2:44-47

Therefore, biblical community describes a kind of involvement and sharing with others that caught the eye of unbelievers and appealed to them.  Sir Francis Schaeffer once said, “Our relationships with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether or message is truthful – Christian community is the final apologetic.”  The passage shows that biblical community is not simply the product of a church campaign to “get involved in community” but it shows that it was prompted by the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31b) and should be considered our norm for today. 

We live in a culture craving relationship. George Gallup once stated, “Americans are among the loneliest people in the world.”  In the midst of busy lives, over committed schedules, and congested cities, we feel alone.  Although we drive on overcrowded freeways to catch overbooked flights and sit in jam-packed airplanes, we live in isolation.  In the midst of our crowded existence, many of us are living lonely lives.  We live and work in a sea of humanity, but we end up missing out on the benefits of regular, meaningful relationships.

Humans are fundamentally wired to be in community with others.  Researchers found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relationships.   Even ones with bad health habits (such as smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, alcohol use) but strong social ties lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated.  In other words, it is better to eat Twinkies with good friends, than to eat broccoli alone. 

At our very core we are relational beings.  The soul cannot prosper without being connected to others.  Sustained growth takes place where people are personally challenged and encouraged in their relationship with God and others.  Although Highland Avenue Baptist no longer exists, the relationships still flourish, the funny stories are still shared and the spiritual growth is further refined.

Glenn Sparks and Will Miller wrote a book entitled “Refrigerator Rights: Our Crucial Need for Close Connection.”  The premise is that the friends that you are in “community” with are the type of friends who wouldn’t mind opening your frig without asking. Now, you might be opening their frig to put in a casserole when they are sick or you could be opening it to eat their leftover pizza while you watch the game – the premise is still the same.  There is a certain level of connectedness, transparency and trust with those in our biblical community.  Or there should be…

Who are your “Refrigerator Friends”?  What friends can be can be fully transparent around?  What friends do you know will give you wise counsel in accordance with Scripture?  And finally, if you find yourself in a place where, “Refrigerator Friends” are sparse, what obstacle is in your way from experiencing true biblical community? 

 

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The Little Things Matter

 

I hardly slept at all last night.  Normally, my sleep deprivation is due to my two year old daughter, but this time the source of my unrest was much smaller.  Somehow a mosquito got into our bedroom and he was set on making me into a midnight snack.  As I pulled the sheet completely over my head, I wondered how something so small could make such a big impact in my night, and the next day for that matter.

Often times being a stay-at-home mom is full of a lot of “little things” – “little things” that no one sees or probably wouldn’t even care about if they did see.  However, the world’s view of success and grandeur often skews our perception of how God sees our actions.  It can be hard to feel you are making an impact in this big world when your title is “stay AT HOME mom.”  

However, we are limited by time and perspective, but God sees the big picture.  God is the big picture. Our Father not only notices the little things we do for Him but he deeply treasures them.  He lovingly looks upon us as daughters in Christ and loves us even more than we love our own children.  Being that I am a very detailed, conscientious personality type, I love the fact that God is into the details.  God STILL knows the number of hairs on our heads (Psalm 139) although children may have caused us to lose more than a few. 

1 Corinthian 3:12-15 states the importance of our motives in relation to our works.  “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Proverbs 16:2 states, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit(of a man)”  God is concerned with our motives and if we are doing things ultimately to honor Him.  Neither reference mentions the “size” of the act, how glamorous it is, how many people saw it or even if a Master’s degree was needed to perform it.  The works we do with pure motives will withstand the fire and will become gold, silver and precious stones.  Therefore, even if certain actions seem very small in our eyes, if they are done with pure motives,  these works will be “gold, silver and precious stones” that we can throw at the feet of our Savior in Heaven.   No matter if you win a Nobel prize or find yourself cleaning poop off the kitchen floor, what matters is your ultimate desire to honor the Father.  Fortunately(and sometimes unfortunately for us), our Heavenly Father doesn’t miss a thing.

The inverse is also true.  While our “small things” are often big things to God, I believe that our idea of how God can use us should be much bigger.  I love this quote from Lysa Terkeurst: “Our thoughts about how God wants to use us are much too small. That is why we hesitate to leave our old ways behind. If we could taste the delights that await us in the promised land, we’d leave everything behind without hesitation…and yet God doesn’t work that way. We must choose to leave first. We must see by faith the rewards ahead and then move toward them.”  She speaks from her former struggle of seeking satisfaction from food instead of God.  When she was at the apex of her struggle, God told her to study what Scripture says about man’s relationship with food.  Lysa was obedient and her faithfulness eventually culminated in writing Made to Crave and a prosperous ministry to women around the world.  Often our obedience in the little things leads to God’s abundantly large blessings.  We all have struggles that weigh us down but if we could see the big picture we would realize why God is pushing us forward or allowing us to go through a difficult trial.  “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving fur us an eternal glory that far outweigh them all.” – 2 Cor. 4:16-17

Recently, a friend told me about her family’s first trip to Disney World.  They had a very long drive from College Station to Orlando.  Her two boys were SO excited to get to the hotel that afternoon.  After getting settled in, they went swimming in the hotel pool.  The kids had a blast!  After swimming for a while, Becky told them it was time to get back to the room so they could get ready for their first day at Disney World the next day.  To her amazement her son Jake said, “But mom, I want to come back to the pool tomorrow instead!”  …… How many times do we settle for the hotel pool when God wants us to set our eyes on the massive theme park?  How many times do we settle in our own walks when God wants to bestow on us His tremendous blessings?  Our obedience in the little things opens doors for God’s bigger plans.  Luke 16:10 states, “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in much.” 

When you feel like your role in this world is insignificant, remember that your heavenly Father has a completely different tape measure than this spiritually impoverished world.  Know that what you do matters.  He sees it all and delights when His children faithfully serve Him, especially in the things no one else sees.  When you feel like you are too small to make a difference, think of the tiny mosquito that buzzes around your bedroom at night.

 

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Parental Guidance Required

I’ve never been a morning person so when Morgan started waking up at 6am a couple weeks ago, it really put a wrench in my “morning quiet time plan”.  My routine had been to get up at 6am and sit at my makeup table by my bed to spend time with God while Morgan usually slept until 7am.    

However, Morgan had a different plan for our mornings…and so did God.  When she started waking up earlier, I had a hard time getting out of bed beforehand.  So, I would sit in the recliner and read my Bible while she played or watched Elmo after breakfast.  What I didn’t realize was that she wasn’t only watching TV; she was also watching me.

One morning last week while I was doing my best to focus on reading my Bible, Morgan suddenly dropped her toy and ran into her room.  She quickly came out with her little Bible and climbed on the couch and started reading.  She turned the pages and would look up at me periodically to give me a huge grin.  Then, she would continue with her in-depth exegesis of the written Word.  At times, Morgan would flip through all the pages and close the little Bible to then say, “The End!”  Then, she would start reading again.  In fact, Morgan is only two and a half and has already read the Bible dozens of times.  😉 

Although, I was frustrated by our changes of plans, I realized that she learned by seeing my behavior and immolating it.  I was reminded that my foremost role as her parent is to teach her Godly principles by walking them out.   No parenting conference, Bible study or book can make me a Godly parent, unless I am first living out the principles I want her to learn.  I often get overwhelmed at the massive responsibility as a parent, as I’m new at this parenting gig and am far from perfect myself.  However, God gave me a great deal of reassurance when He reminded me that I cannot be a Godly parent on my own.  It is only by allowing Him to use me and by abiding in Him that she can see Christ in me.   God has chosen us as parents and pours His Light into us so we can be a beacon to our children.  There is no room for pride as a parent or even fear.  We are simply to follow God on our own and then reflect His glory. 

Deuteronomy 6:4-8 gives us amazing parenting advice.  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  God’s Word should be part of our daily routines, in and outside of our homes. 

The gives the imperative that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind.  We have a job as parents to foster our own spiritual relationship with Him before we can effectively parent our children.  In John 21:14, Christ says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, He is the one who loves me.  Whoever loves me will be loved by My Father and I will show Myself to him.”  Our foremost role as a parent is to know God’s Word, and we need to spend time with Him regularly to do that.  How can we expect our children to grow spiritually if we aren’t?

In the book Sticky Faith, Kara Powell and Chap Clark cite a study which followed hundreds of committed Christ followers from high school all the way through college. They found that about 60% of students will walk away from their faith and many of them will not return.  However, there are certain factors that contributed to the 40% remaining in church.  The students raised by parents who emphasized a relationship with Christ instead of the need to follow an empty set of rules learned to walk with God in a more relational manner.  As parents, it is important to evaluate our own walk to ensure we aren’t just adhering to a pattern of Do’s and Don’ts, but that we are obeying out of a desire to obey the Lord as part of an interactive relationship with Him.   Also, these students benefited by being surrounded by other mature believers in Christ.  Parents should be in community with other believers so children can understand that others share and embrace a growing relationship with the Lord also – not just their parents.  Finally, the most important factor is that parents are willing and available to walk with children through their faith journey.  This means that it is not the church’s role to “fix” children so they grow up as responsible, mature Christians.  Parents are the primary spiritual developers of children.  While parents can shape the faith of their children and equip them, the role of the church is to come alongside the family to support what children are already being taught.

God has blessed me with some rich tools from those who know what they are doing when it comes to parenting.  My favorite parenting series is by Jeff and Jen Wilkin.  You can listen to it here.  In the series, they challenge parents to measure their parenting methods and choices to God’s Truth alone.  Whether you choose “Cry it out”, “No Cry”, cloth diapers, disposable diapers, public school or to homeschool, they reassure listeners that there is not just ONE type of Godly parenting.  Also, my mother-in-law Kathy Peters created the following information here in an effort to prepare parent’s for her church’s Parent Dedication.  I know I am partial, but she put together an amazing source of activities and information to get parents started on the right track.  Both resources are an investment of your time you will not regret.  

We each must seek God’s direction for our children as they are first His children, therefore, He knows what is best for them.  I write this post, not on my 2.5 years of “vast” parenting knowledge, but on the faithful direction God has given me in this short time.  I know many other mothers surpass me in the “mommy department”, but I’m thankful that I don’t have to worry about being Super Mom.  I can trust the Lord and know that He will faithfully provide me all the parental guidance I need.  

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I would love to hear from you.  What ways do you strive to pass on your faith to your children?