Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: The Center of God's Kindness

Last week I was listening to a podcast episode when one line stopped me in my tracks. Annie F. Downs was in the middle of a conversation with Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke, and they had begun to talk about contentment in different seasons of life. When I heard Annie say these words, I had to pause, listen again, and write them down:

“Just remember you’re in the center of God’s kindness for you.”

She’d had a friend give her that encouragement one evening, and she wrote the words on her mirror to keep reminding herself as well. But they gave me pause. I want to believe that. I need to remember it. But is it really true? In my everyday life, in every circumstance, am I in the center of God’s kindness for me?

What about you? What does that phrase stir up inside you? Does it seem too good to be true? Does it negate or water down His justice and righteousness?

As I’ve processed those words with the Lord over the last several days, it’s remarkable how many references He has brought to my mind on how He’s spoken the truths of His love and kindness to me time and again over so many years, yet I somehow still need to hear them once more. I know in my head God always loves me, but I often forget the tenderness, compassion, and kindness wrapped up in His covenant love. Yet He is gracious to remind me…

I think back to Beth Moore’s Breaking Free study, how in the lessons from week 5, we focused on the portion of Isaiah 61:1 that declares, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (NIV84).

After expanding on the meaning of the Scripture by digging into the original Hebrew definitions and cross-referencing other passages, Beth encourages us to think of a particular moment in our lives where we felt our heart had been completely broken. Once we have one in mind, she poses this question:

“Did you have any idea at the time that God cared so much He aimed His Son straight toward your heart?”

Take that in with me for a bit. At the moment a loved one dies, when a friendship shatters, or when a dream crashes down at your feet, God sets His target like a bullseye as these tender words prove true:

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
       and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

            ~ Psalm 34:18 (NIV84) 

Beth points out, “God only had one arrow in His quiver,” His one and only Son, and He gave Him up for us all. He sent Him “to preach good news to the poor… to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives,” (Isaiah 61:1, NIV84) and so much more. I am eternally grateful.

But as touching as it is to be reminded how we are at the center of God’s kindness when we are brokenhearted, what about in times of discipline? 

Hebrews 12:6 responds with the truth that “the Lord disciplines the one He loves” (ESV, emphasis mine).

In his study When Life Is Hard: Turning Your Trials to Gold, James MacDonald continues this answer by saying, “God disciplines you because He loves you. Far from folding His arms, God rolls up His sleeves to get ready to do something good in your life. Far from abandoning you when you go through difficult trials, God moves toward you… In fact, trials are proofs of love.”

It seems crazy to think trials and discipline can be proof of love and kindness, but MacDonald reminds us God always has the goal of “restoration to a deeper sense of His love” and that “He is going for change in you at the deepest and most lasting level.” It may be painful in the moment, but it is kindness indeed.

It is even God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4). We were dead in our sins and enslaved by the passions and pleasures of this world. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” (Titus 3:4-5a, NIV84)

Oh, how grateful I am for God's mercy, love, and kindness! All we have to do is come to Jesus to accept these free gifts. If you haven't already, I pray you will come to know His kindness and love for you personally as well.

So today I will rejoice afresh in being in the center of God’s kindness to me. (I might have a classic Chris Tomlin song running through my head, too!) And I will ask the Lord to keep reminding me of truth in moments when it feels too good to be true. My prayer echoes that of David,

“Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
     hide me in the shadow of Your wings.”  

        ~ Psalm 17:8 (NIV84)

P.S. Be sure to check out the entire episode of Annie’s That Sounds Fun Podcast with Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke. While the quote I shared was from right in the middle of the conversation, there was so much other great stuff as well. I loved hearing their thoughts on Sabbath practices toward the end of the episode, too.

And Annie shares a lot more about her wrestling with the truth of God’s kindness in her latest book, Remember God. (It’s the one that inspired my Christmas cards!)

I’d love to hear from you as well! How has God been showing His kindness to you lately? Or do you struggle to believe He is truly kind?

Are there any treasures you’ve been finding that you’d like to share? Always feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Counting Days and Making Them Count

If you know me very well, you might be able to guess that one of my favorite treasures from this past week was the gorgeous weather we had on Sunday. Just a few days removed from the bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills that led schools in the area to close, the warm weekend was quite a welcome respite. I definitely had to make the most of it! After worship services that morning, I headed to the lake to go for a walk without even needing a jacket. Then I chose a picnic table overlooking the water to read, journal, and pray, trying to soak up as much of the beauty as possible. Somehow views like this always bring a little extra peace to my soul.

I knew the glimpse of spring wouldn’t last long, so even though the teaser made me want to count down to the real change of seasons, I mostly wanted to be sure to take advantage of the short time of sunshine and warmth I had in the moment.

The urgency to make the most of a beautiful day is good for my spirit, but it’s reminding me of a much more essential and needed awareness. Our church is in the middle of a sermon series right now called “One Month to Live,” inspired by a book of the same title by Kerry and Chris Shook. It is challenging me in so many ways, and I keep coming back to our theme verse of Psalm 90:12. The New Revised Standard Version articulates it this way:

“So teach us to count our days 
that we may gain a wise heart.”

Life is short. We are wise to remember this fact, yet we so often lose sight of its truth in the midst of our busy lives. What if we lived every day with full awareness of the brevity of our time on earth? How would it change our priorities, our actions, and our relationships? How would I go about my life today if I knew I had only one month left to live? What do I need to do differently in appreciating that my life is “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”? (See James 4:14, NIV84.)

As I’m longing to make each day count, I’m reminded of a song by Chris Rice on this theme as well. (And I have to admit, the nostalgia of looking up his entire “Short Term Memories” album that I hadn’t listened to in years was a bit of a treasure, too, even if it dates me!)

"Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
Somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much..."

I don’t want my soul to forget. Life is short, so let’s make it count. And as Galatians 5:6 reminds us,

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (NIV84)

How are you making the days count? What is one thing you would do differently if you had just one month to live? Is there someone you would you reach out to in love? What action can you take in that direction today?

I pray the treasures of giving and receiving love will overflow your heart this week!

Bonus Treasure: The following blog post definitely resonated with me in my current stage of life, but I think it’s worth reading no matter what your age. We can all use the extra reminders to live life to the full wherever we are, making the most of the time we’ve been given.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. I’d love to hear about any treasures you are discovering from day to day as well!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: At Every Turn

My favorite thing about writing these Treasure Hunt Tuesday posts is how the intentionality brings to mind so many blessings I might have forgotten about too quickly otherwise. However, the difficulty that comes with recounting the multitude of gifts is trying to narrow down what to actually write for you!

This week I can’t help but share a treasure from the Bible study I’m doing with a special group of “chicks.”

We are delving into the book of 2 Corinthians with Kelly Minter’s study All Things New. It’s actually one I went through on my own two years ago and felt God had perfectly timed for me in that season. I had written so many extra notes and prayers in the margins of my book that I decided I needed a fresh copy to have plenty of room to write this time through as well. Even just two days into the “homework,” I’m already grateful for that decision!

So much in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians has been dear to my heart for many years, but it hit me afresh this time, too. In verse 5, the apostle Paul gives us this encouragement:

“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (NIV84)

To expand on this concept in the study, Kelly gives an illustration of two rivers in Brazil that meet to form the start of the Amazon River. They are vastly different in appearances, make-up, and flow, but they come together as one powerful force. In a similar way, she noted that Christ’s sufferings and comfort don’t seem to mesh from our point of view, yet “you will never find one without the other--the sufferings of Christ and His comfort flow together.”

Kelly then encourages us to look back on what we have suffered in our own lives and asks “how has Christ’s comfort met you at every turn?”

As soon as I read those words, my entire spirit shifted, and I scribbled out the overflow of my heart in the margin of the page. I knew the space provided under the question itself would definitely not suffice!

“Lord, truly You have met me at every turn. How quickly I forget. Please forgive me. Thank You for…”

And I continued by listing one difficult season after another and loss upon loss over the years, but my focus was on how God has shown Himself to me in each one. And here’s what gets me the most: one by one God brought to my mind the names of so many people who helped me through each devastating stretch. My eyes start to fill with tears as my heart floods with gratitude. Once I started naming them, more and more would come to the front of my thoughts. And even though some of the people I listed have since died and others have left, this I know:

God has met me at every turn.

He keeps providing just what I need right when I need it, even if it sometimes takes me a while to see it. So when my vision is clouded by discouragement or loneliness, I can look back and remember the faithfulness of God. He has shown Himself faithful throughout Scripture and throughout my own life. And He will show Himself faithful to the end.

I’m reminded of an exchange someone shared on Twitter recently from Josh Howerton:
“An older Christian in my life had more peace than me about a hard situation today.
 I said, ‘You have more faith than me.’
 He responded, ‘No, I have more experience with a faithful God.’
 I’ll never forget that.”
Wow, what a great example of how remembering God’s faithfulness to us can uplift and strengthen those around us, too.

So how can we best respond to the overflowing compassion, care, and comfort God so faithfully provides? We give Him praise, and we share His comfort with others.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV84)

I’d love to hear from you as well! How has God shown you His compassion and comfort in difficulty or suffering? How have you shared His comfort with those around you in their troubles? What other treasures have you been finding lately? Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Winter, Writing, and Worship

Happy Treasure Hunt Tuesday! I’m sharing a few blessings and treasures each week that I hope can be encouraging to you, and I pray they can spur you on to pause, notice, and give thanks for the treasures in your own daily life, too.

This week has been another cold and dreary one weather-wise, but I am always grateful for glimpses of beauty like this sunrise from Sunday morning.

As much as I personally would love to skip winter altogether and fast forward to summer, or at least to Daylight Savings Time (March 10th if anyone’s counting down with me), I’ve also been reminded not to rush this season. While winter is important for the earth and part of God’s design for creation, I keep coming back to the truth that winter seasons are good and purposeful for my soul as well. God is always working something beautiful even in what feels dormant, cold, and unseen.

In the meantime, I’m encouraged by J.P. Pokluda’s exhortation in his recent interview with Annie F. Downs to leverage whatever season you’re in for kingdom purposes rather than rushing on to the next one. His prayer when he first felt called to ministry sticks with me from that conversation as well: “Lord, put me where You want me, and help me find contentment there.”


A Few Writing-Related Treasures

It seems this week has also been filled with some great encouragement for writers (or wanna-be writers), so I wanted to share a few of the goodies with you…

This episode is actually a fantastic listen even if you don’t think you want to write a book. The interview was from a conference with a Q & A at the end, and one of the attendees said he didn’t raise his hand at the beginning of the session as someone who wanted to eventually write a book, but by the end he had changed his mind. Maybe you will, too! At the very least you can get some ideas for different ways to share and repurpose content to help and encourage more people and leave a legacy for future generations.

If you do think you might like to write a book or are curious about the process, author and speaker Jon Acuff shared his book-writing approach on Instagram stories last week and saved it as a highlight called “Write a Book.” It’s a short overview but always interesting to get a sneak peek into how an experienced writer tackles such a daunting task, and he shows real examples from his current book-in-progress.

My personal draw to writing is something that, ironically enough, I have a hard time putting into words. It just seems that over and over again, God nudges my heart back to this method of processing but doesn’t let me be content keeping it to myself. I’m reminded time after time how sharing our stories and what God is teaching us matters in the world even if we don’t always see the impact first-hand.

I love how a hope*writer friend articulated her thoughts that convey how I feel in writing, too: “I write for my own sanity, but I share with hope that I can help yours.” (Read the full post by Jodi Arndt here.)

When I take the time and effort to put actual words on a page or screen to express what I’m processing or learning, the treasures somehow find a deeper way to my heart, and it’s always my prayer that the ones I share will resonate with you, too.

Many times when I feel words failing, I’ve found such relief when I’ve been able to read something that supplies the words I’m lacking to give voice to my thoughts or emotions. Whether it’s a Psalm or another Scripture, or even a line or two from a blog post or a book, I feel an instant connection and a lifting of my burden when the words fit and the unknown becomes known. Naming that unnamed stirring can help us feel seen, understood, and not alone--a treasure indeed.

One more bonus for writers: I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that Hope*Writers is open for new memberships January 22-25 only. You can find more information here if you’re interested in joining this community and gaining access to their valuable resources. You can also check out the free replay of Emily P. Freeman's hope*writer masterclass on how to be a wholehearted, creative, authentic working writer without selling your soul or self-promoting--but it's only available through Friday!

A Closing Song of Worship and Prayer

I love when a worship song, whether old, new, or somewhere in-between like this one, gets stuck in my head and leads me back to prayer over and over. What a blessing to get to play and sing it Sunday, too…

Truly when the Holy Spirit takes over, He changes what we see and what we seek. Let it be, Lord. “We only want to hear Your voice. We’re hanging on every Word.”

As always, I'd love to hear some of your recent treasures, too! Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message. May God’s grace and blessings surprise you in this season, maybe like the unexpected gift of getting to pet a wild animal on someone’s porch! (Some treasures aren't the kind to elaborate on here, but I still want to remember...) 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Treasure Hunt Tuesday: Blankets of Rest

It’s another Treasure Hunt Tuesday, and I’m glad to have you reading along as we look for the treasures God keeps providing day by day. I’m loving how taking time to recount our blessings seems to make them multiply, and I hope this post will help you think of and share your own as well.

Here are a few treasures from this past week…

A Snow Day of Rest and Respite

Last week you may remember I was excited for a warm weekend to soak up the enjoyment of spending leisurely time outside, but all that seems like a distant memory now as this past weekend was filled with snow and cold instead of the cheerful sunshine.

But even though winter weather is not my favorite in the least, I’m grateful it still has brought many blessings. First of all, a blanket of snow really is beautiful, especially if you don’t have to be outside for long:

The white covering makes everything feel fresh and clean, even if only for a short while.

But beyond its external beauty, the snow day also brought a welcome respite from the typical posts we see on social media. I have loved catching glimpses of children beaming with laughter and delight in the snow, whether sledding, making snow angels, or posing proudly next to a snowman or inside a snow fort. And there were some pretty impressive snow creations made by adults, too! So I’m grateful for everyone who shared pictures to bring a little joy to the internet world like a warm blanket in the cold.

And an excuse to stay inside and rest was a pretty nice blessing also!

So many timely podcast episodes!

I promise I’ve tried to narrow these down, but it seems like every podcast I listened to this past week is worth sharing. Here are some top choices:

(The link above lets you listen and/or download the full transcript to read.)

Full disclosure-- I may have been in the middle of a frustrated rant in my mind when I heard Emily speak these words: “Dallas Willard says whenever we become angry it’s because we believe our kingdom has been invaded.”

Ouch. Maybe I need to work at this “taking off my crown” thing more than I thought.

But I loved these truths she shared from James Bryan Smith, and I need to repeat to myself often:

“I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in the strong and unshakeable kingdom of God. The kingdom is not in trouble and neither am I.”

What peace in knowing and remembering Who is really in charge.

This conversation covers a lot of current topics in the church, with much emphasis on the “culture war” in America and how we’re often looking at it all wrong. Ed’s encouragement is for Christians to “speak more as missionaries and less as guards of the culture” because “you can’t war at a people and reach a people at the same time.”

To me, the entire discussion felt like a little sanity in a world that often seems anything but sane, and it is refreshingly hopeful if we take it all in.

** That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs is starting off the New Year focusing on the next generation, and Annie’s conversations with Amy Byrd and Drew Hill that aired this past week were both fantastic. They fired up my passion for student ministry even more (if that is possible), and they have great insight for youth leaders, parents, or anyone who wants to better love and encourage a teenager in your life.

This is the first in what will be a series of seven messages on Sabbath at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. It caught my eye when John Mark Comer posted about it on Twitter, saying, “Sabbath is more than just a day (though, not less); it’s a way of being, a way of living in restful connection to the Father’s love all week long.”

I’ve shared before that Sabbath is something it seems God keeps pressing on my heart to practice more fully, so I definitely wanted to check out that message, and I’m glad I did. It’s so easy to get caught up in the desires and restlessness of our consumeristic culture, but John Mark exhorts us that “rest is a weapon” against the schemes of the enemy who tries to keep us stuck in busyness, hurry, striving, and discontent.

As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Speaking of John Mark Comer…

Another quote of his showed up in my Facebook memories from a year ago. It could not have been more timely encouragement then, but it seems so fitting to remember and share now, too. He articulated this insight on Twitter:
“I’m starting to notice a pattern in Scripture and my own life…
God rarely gives a map for the future.
Instead, he gives an identity (this is who you are), and a next step (go do this).
The longer I follow Jesus, the more that’s enough.” 
- John Mark Comer

Looking back to a year ago, I had no idea where my next step would take me. But I am so grateful for how God has led me in His infinite grace.

And looking toward the future, I have no idea where the steps ahead will lead. But this I know: God is faithful. So I will keep following Him one step at a time. And as our minister Josh reminded us in his sermon on Sunday, God has an answer for our fears:

“I will be with you.” (See Exodus 3:12, Joshua 1:5, Judges 6:16, Matthew 28:20, and more.)

What peace and rest that promise brings even as we go wherever God leads us. Such a treasure!

I’d love for you to share some of the treasures you’ve been finding lately, too! Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!