Happy Thanksgiving

TOM 2

Meet Tom. Tom is our little friend who reminds us to be grateful. Each day in November we try to write something we are thankful for on his feather. I was reading them last night and most of them were what you would expect: family, friends, Moses (our dog), church, our house, and a couple of great ones from my 5-year-old like rental cars (?) and sea creatures.  When I came to the one where I had written “Jesus” I stopped. If I am being honest, the day I wrote that, I jotted down His name to check the box. The Name above all Names was just another item on the list. I am forever thankful for Him, but already as the holiday season starts to speed up He is getting lost in the shuffle.

Thinking about that now, I feel a deep sense of conviction. Because the only reason I have all of those other things is because of the Lord. James 1:17 says,

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…

Without His grace in my life and the salvation made possible through His Son, who knows where I would be?  But often I go through the motions, thanking Him because it’s the “right” thing to do, and I know I should write his name down on that feather.

As we approach this holiday season, let’s be different. Let’s ask God to help us stop pushing Him aside. Let’s ask him to soften our hearts so that we remember that everything we have, even our very lives, are from Him.  Let’s remember that the whole point of this season is because God himself came down as a man to save us when we were dead in our sins. That’s something to be thankful about.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Natalie

Not Ashamed

not ashamed

Sunday our sweet daughter Ellie was baptized. If you asked her why, she will tell you in her precious 7-year-old voice that she loves Jesus, and He lives in her, and she wanted the whole world to know. Our church gave everyone who was baptized a shirt that said “Not ashamed.” Precious Ellie doesn’t understand that there would be a reason to be ashamed of professing that Christ is her Savior. But in the world we live in, there is.

Back in the days of the early church, the apostles faced severe persecution. They were scorned, mocked, beaten, even killed for preaching the Gospel and proudly proclaiming they were followers of Christ. I came across this verse earlier this week, and it stopped me in my tracks. In Acts 5, the apostles have just left the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jewish people, the scary bullies for lack of a better word who held all the religious power and authority. They were not happy Jesus’ name was being preached. Even more so they were FURIOUS that it was spreading like wild fire. After they arrested the apostles and ordered them not to speak anymore about Jesus, they were ready to kill them all. But the apostles were let off with a flogging. You would think maybe they would be a little down trodden, beaten down, ashamed. No… Acts 5:41-42 (NIV) says,

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

They were not ashamed of Jesus; in fact they counted it worth to suffer for Him and rejoice. What’s up with that? They had eternal perspective. When we look at the world through the lens of advancing the Kingdom, any persecution or hardship in the name of Jesus is worth it. In fact, it is an honor to suffer dishonor for Christ.

Right this very moment, there are those who are suffering as these apostles did, who are even giving their lives for Christ. For those of us not facing this kind of persecution, there may be times when it gets a little uncomfortable to live out our faith, a tad bit embarrassing to stand up for what we believe as Christians in this western culture, maybe even among our friends, family members, or co-workers. Will we be ashamed? Or will we remember that it is a privilege and walk away rejoicing because we bore His Name unashamed?

Natalie

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes… Romans 1:16

 

 

The Depressed Soul

My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Psalm 6:3 (NIV).

It spreads like a cancer, robbing us of our health, lying to us, until we feel like all is hopeless. The light turns to darkness, as this thief in the night sneaks into our minds. Suddenly, we look into the mirror and don’t recognize who we have become. Depression is serious, deadly; but it is nothing new.

It is no respecter of persons; the greatest human king in Israel’s history, the man after God’s own heart, suffered from severe depression and wrote about it. Flip through the Psalms, and you can read David’s prayers to the Lord while he was struggling. Psalms 6, 22, 31, 38, 69, 109, 142, and 143 will get you started.

I remember after my son was born, I was so desperate to feel hope. I asked the Lord why He was allowing this to happen to me. What had I done to deserve it? Why couldn’t I be happy like everyone else. But I heard nothing from Him. I didn’t find the answer from Scripture. The Bible I used from that time is so worn that the binding has broken off. The Psalms are marked with highlighter and underlines and dates from when I couldn’t function. Psalm 40 is one I can almost recite from memory. Over and over, as months turned to years, I asked God, “How long? When will you come? When will I be lifted out of this pit? Will I ever be able to sing a new song? In fact, I don’t want a new song, Lord give me the old song!!!  Let me be like I was before.”

Psalm 40

I waited patiently on the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry, He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. Psalm 40:1-3 (NIV)

But that’s not what the Lord does. He gives us a new song. I am not the same. I don’t recognize the girl I was before my depression. She hummed a song to the Lord, maybe said some words here or there. She loved Him, but she didn’t realize she needed Him to breathe. Now I sing and shout about His grace and mercy in my life.  My song is new, because He delivered me from the deepest pit, out of a darkness I did not know existed. When you have been knocked down so low, you can’t help but marvel when He lifts you back up and allows you to stand on Him.

For those in the pit, right now, He is there! David wrote in Psalm 34, “the Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He is near to you and will save you, even if you cannot believe it now. It’s true because His Word tells us. Cling to Him in whatever way you can and as you patiently wait on Him you will know Him in a way like never before. And when all is said and done, He will give you the most beautiful new song to sing. When He has lifted you up, many will look at you and say, “Wow… what happened to her? How in the world is she still standing?” And you can tell them it’s because of the Lord your God. Wait for Him. His mercies are new every morning.

Natalie

Psalm 30:11-12

 

The Sad Spoon :(

Lately my sweet little 5-year-old James is having a problem telling the truth. We discovered it when he received a red mark in class from his Class Dojo app. (Technology these days!!) When we asked him about it, he straight up lied. I was shocked. Surely my little lamb was not lying! Not James! Not my little munchkin man!

Oh yes… and since then we have noticed that he likes to stretch the truth or “conveniently” forget things. The problem is that most of the time he flies under the radar. He usually doesn’t give us problems, so we haven’t had to discipline him often. So last week, when he lied about eating the twentieth piece of candy corn, my husband had to lay the hammer down… the dreaded sad spoon. I was shocked Andy even knew where it was. Well you can just imagine the scene. Andy took James into his room and you have never heard such wailing and gnashing of teeth. And then James made the mistake of saying, “That didn’t hurt!” So, Andy had to give it a second try. And I think that one did the trick.

sad spoon

While this was going on, I was in my room alternating between laughing and crying. At first, I was laughing, because hello, it’s the sad spoon!! But as soon as James started to cry for real, my heart started to break. I love that little man so much, and it hurt me to hear him cry. But if we did not discipline him and allowed that behavior to continue, what type of parents would we be? And what type of child would we be raising? The sad spoon spanking was for his own good.

I couldn’t help but think how this parallels to our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Look at Hebrews 12:5-6.

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastens everyone he accepts as his son (NIV).

Yes, God disciplines us. Sometimes when we go through painful things here on earth, they are part of the Lord’s discipline. Why? Because He sees some things in us that need to be corrected.  Just as Andy and I don’t want our son to continue to lie, God does not want his children to continue in sin. Not all of our hard seasons in life result from discipline from the Lord, but Scripture clearly teaches that some do. And even though discipline is painful, isn’t it encouraging that God corrects those He loves? If He didn’t care, He wouldn’t bother, and would let us continue in disobedience which would ultimately destroy our lives.

I wish I had time and space to go through the rest of Hebrews 12 but that would be a super long blog post, so I’ll leave you with verse 11:

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (NIV).

James couldn’t understand why he had to go through the pain of the spanking, but Andy and I knew that it was necessary. And our prayer is that he will remember the pain the next time he is tempted to stretch the truth. As humans, we can’t see the big picture or understand all the ways of the LORD,  but we know that He works all things out for our good. We can take heart that He has our best interests in mind. And that any discipline will ultimately produce righteousness and peace if we will only submit to Him.

Natalie

 

Dry and Desperate

Do you ever feel tired, worn out, dry spiritually? I do. To be honest, I’m feeling a little dry as I type this. There’s nothing dramatic going on; in fact, life is good and full. And yet, I realized this week, that I am kind of drained, and I have started to drift, ever so slowly. You probably wouldn’t notice a thing, but for me, I can already tell a difference. I can hear Him calling my name, beckoning me to spend time with Him, amidst all the noise and chaos of this busy time of year.

desert-990570_960_720

The longer we walk with the Lord, the more ups and downs we experience. Some will be caused by external circumstances, such as tragedy or disappointments, but other times, we find ourselves just drifting away from our Father. It doesn’t have to be a sin issue, although sin definitely puts up barriers in our relationship. Sometimes it can be as simple as busyness, taking our eyes off Him, or trying to do things in our flesh, instead of depending on Him.

Last week, I shared how our loneliness and heartaches can lead to such an intimacy with Him. Sometimes in seasons of blessings it becomes harder to keep that same level of intimacy. Isn’t it ironic? But, once we have tasted a closeness with the LORD God Almighty, nothing else will compare. And after a short time without that intimacy, we will experience an ache in our hearts that only He can fill.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture comes from Exodus 33:12-23. Right before this in Exodus 32, the Israelites messed up big time. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God, the Israelites were down at the camp worshipping a golden calf. If you’ve read the story, you know there were serious consequences. At the beginning of chapter 33, the LORD tells Moses to leave Mt. Sinai and take the people up to the Promised Land. But there’s a catch. The LORD would not go with them. Basically, God was going to follow through with His promise and give them this great land of milk and honey, but He wouldn’t be there. I just love how Moses responds to the LORD in verse 15 (NIV),

If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.

Do you see that? Moses didn’t care about the promise if He didn’t have the LORD with Him. He would rather stay with God in the wilderness than go to the promised land without Him. Can the same be said for us? Would we rather stay in an uncomfortable place with the LORD than go to a land of blessing without Him?

And what’s so cool is that we as New Testament believers HAVE the presence of the living God inside of us through His Holy Spirit. He is with us wherever we go, but we still must choose to nurture the relationship with Him.

Oh, that we would be a people who desire the Lord and not just his blessings. May our hearts break when we realize that we have drifted from Him. May we refuse to move forward when He is not leading us. Perhaps the secret to an intimate relationship with God is being desperate for Him above all else, being willing to sit still at His feet when He calls. And when we humble ourselves and seek Him above all else, even above the good things, we better get ready. The rain’s coming.

Natalie

Beauty in the Loneliness

At the end of this post, I asked what we should do if we don’t have encouragers around us. But since then, I realized I left out something so important. What should we do when people AREN’T encouraging? When people are flat out DISCOURAGING? When those who should be supporting us aren’t, when we feel left out in the middle of nowhere to sink or swim? When people we respect tell us we cant or shouldn’t follow through with what the LORD has called us to do?

No matter how many wonderful people are around us doing cartwheels and cheering us on, at some point we will face naysayers and others who fall away when we need them most. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, people will let us down. They are human after all. And so are we for that matter! I know I have let people down plenty of times. If we rely solely on the encouragement and support of others to keep us going, we won’t be going far.

The apostle Paul experienced  a lack of support in the worst way. In 2 Timothy 4:16, he says,

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me… (NIV).

There may come a point where we are stripped down, left alone with no one by our sides. Yet we still have the only encouragement that matters, from the one who made us and called us in the first place. Look what Paul says in verse 17 of that same passage

But the LORD stood at my side and gave me strength… (NIV).

Sometimes God takes away people we depend on to force us to rely on Him, to show us that He alone is the source of our strength.

Maybe you won’t get to the point of Paul where you are writing from a prison cell, deserted by many in your time of need, but I would bet that at some point most of us will be let down by others, possibly abandoned when we need them most. I can’t think of anything more discouraging. It may be heartbreaking to get to that place, but there is such beauty in the intimacy, just you and the LORD, pressing on together, whatever the circumstances.

And then, when you do the thing He has called you to do, when you stick it out, wherever He has placed you, no one else will get glory but Him. And you will look back with sweet tears in your eyes and say WOW, look how my God came through when everyone else had left me. Look how He carried me when I was all alone. Look what He did when others said it couldn’t be done. And your heart will about burst with your love for Him. The loneliest times in your life will become some of the most beautiful.

I’d say that is worth the discouragement, the heartache, the waiting, the anxiety, every last ounce of disappointment.

Hang in there. He won’t let you down.

Natalie

Speak Life

Last year, I read the cutest book to Ellie’s first grade class, Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker. It was about a little girl who had a problem with, you guessed it, talking. As I read to those kiddos, I asked if any of them talked too much. They all started talking about how they liked to talk, and their sweet teacher just died laughing. Then I leaned forward and asked if I could tell them a secret. That got their attention. As I looked at those sweet faces, I confessed, “Ms. Natalie talks too much too. Just ask Ellie’s daddy. But I am working on it.” I think I gained some lifelong friends that day. 😊

Lacey-walker-nonstop-talker

I do love to talk! It’s how God made me. But sometimes it gets me into trouble. And more than I would like to admit, my words cause me to sin. A wise friend shared this verse with me, and it’s so true.

When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.  (Proverbs 10:19, HCSB.)

I have really thought about tattooing this verse on my forehead!! There have been so many times when I have said things out of emotion or kept talking when I should have just zipped it. I cringe when I think back on certain conversations, and I wish I could have a “do-over.” I walked away feeling convicted, knowing that I had said things that were not God-honoring. Thankfully, we can repent when we mess up, ask for forgiveness and move forward in God’s grace. And maybe duct tape our mouths shut. (Kidding!!!)

Our words have so much power. Proverbs 18:21 in the New Living Translation puts it this way.

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap its consequences.

The phrase “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me” really isn’t true according to Scripture or from my personal experience. What we say affects people. BUT we have the power to speak life and truth. We can ENCOURAGE one another. What if we used our words to cheer each other on in the LORD, to lift each other up when we fall down, to celebrate one another’s gifts and talents? Can you imagine?

The LORD has been unbelievably gracious in bringing people into my life who have used their words to speak life. Some may not even realize how much their friendships mean to me. Their sweet texts, notes, and encouraging words have often come at the exact time when I have needed it most. Most of these precious friendships were birthed out of community from church. It may sound cliché but it is so true. And they are some of my greatest treasures.

If you don’t have anyone in your life who encourages you, what should you do? Remember Matthew 7:9-11? Just Ask. God did not create us to live this life on our own, and He will bring people to come alongside us, especially when we put ourselves out there within a community of believers. In the meantime (really all the time) start encouraging others in your life!

And for those of us who have those sweet friends who hold us up along the way, maybe we should reach out and let them know how thankful we are for them. You never know how much they may need some encouragement right about now.

Praying that we become a generation of encouragers! And that I learn when to zip it. 😊

Natalie