Is True Beauty Fleeting?

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4

What is your favorite physical attribute? Your smile? Eyelashes? Waistline? I’m quick to recognize what I don’t like about myself, but it’s important to consider what we do like and be grateful. Because it may not always be that way.

I didn’t realize how attached I was to my hair until it started falling out. I simply thought it would always be thick and healthy.

Like many other women, my hair stopped falling out while I was pregnant and then fell out by the handfuls after I delivered my children. But this time was different. I wasn’t with child nor had I recently delivered. My hair was simply falling out for no apparent reason. And I could see exposed scalp beneath thinning hair.

The thought of having permanent hair loss evoked unexpected devastation and worry. What if it never goes back to normal? I began to realize part of my self-confidence was anchored in my hair. I had allowed my perception of personal beauty to be defined by my appearance.

This is far from what God wants for us. In fact, I Peter 3:3 says, Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. God gently reminded me that my worth and beauty does not come from my outward appearance, rather, it should be that of my inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (I Peter 3:4)

As a society, we make judgements based on external appearances. But many of our physical features are inherited and out of our control.

Our attitude, however, it something we can control and that is what God loves – our heart and soul. A gentle and quiet spirit knows how much God loves them, believes He is her perfect creator, and finds confidence in Him alone.

Consider again your favorite attribute. Now, imagine if you woke one morning to find it dramatically altered. Would you view yourself differently? God wants us to focus less on ourselves and more on Him. I pray our inner beauty becomes more important than our outward appearance. Because inner beauty – true beauty – isn’t fleeting.

Is Kindness A Burden?

In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
1 John 5:3-4

Loving difficult people is grueling sometimes. Constructive conversations dissolve into arguments as their strong will pursues a personal agenda above all else. Perhaps you know someone who struggles to possess genuine empathy for others. It’s hard not to want to put them in their place and let them know how hard it is to get along with them. Showing them kindness feels more like a burden than a privilege.

Unfortunately, I was having similar thoughts not too long ago. My bible reading was in I John and I experienced heavy conviction as I came to chapter 5 verse 3, which says, The commandments are not burdensome. Reality hit me like a sudden slap across the face: I was allowing myself to be crushed by the weight of faithful responsibility. God has called me to demonstrate the fruit of the spirit because His spirit is in me. I was allowing His tree of life to wither with criticism and judgment. Grace had become foreign to me. I wanted the other person to know just how much I disapproved of their behavior.

But that’s not what God calls me to do. God has given two specific instructions: to love Him and to love my neighbor. Matthew 22:37-40 says, Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Those two commandments are the core values of our faith and without them, we are only a resounding gong or clanging symbol. (1 Corinthians 13:1) Love is the essence of who Jesus is and why He sacrificed Himself for us. Love conquers death. It shows grace to life-long criminals. Without love, there would be no kindness.

As a child of God, I have the responsibility to turn my heart towards Him. Doing so reminds me that my calling is not to put others in their place, but to point them to Jesus. Showing kindness isn’t a burden when I take myself out of the equation and allow God to love them through me. Because, who knows, we may be the only glimpse of Jesus they ever get to see.

Old Saint Nick Loves Jesus

Today’s post is one I wrote as a guest blogger for Devotional Diva a couple years ago. I hope you enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us once again. Costco is in full swing mode, every aisle filled with all you need for “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Yes, I am writing this the day after Halloween, but who’s paying attention to that? Although it is the most wonderful time of the year and I absolutely LOVE Christmas, there once was a time I dreaded it.

A few years back, while standing in the checkout line at a local grocery store, a kind woman asked my three-year-old sons, “What is Santa bringing you this year?” They simply stared at her, dumbfounded by her question. I scrabbled to bridge the awkward silence, “We haven’t really talked about that yet, have we, boys?” It was a true statement – we hadn’t talked about Santa yet.

Because we didn’t celebrate Santa. You see, I grew up understanding the meaning of Christmas to be all out Jesus. My siblings and I didn’t visit Santa at the mall or fill out wish lists to mail to Him at the north pole or set out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. And I’m okay with that; I enjoy celebrating Christmas for what it is – Jesus’ Birthday.

But, wanting to avoid future awkward grocery-store-checkout-line conversations, I began researching the history of Christmas and Santa. Why Do We Call It Christmas? by Phil Vischer beautifully explained how the Santa we know today evolved from Saint Nicholas, a Catholic Bishop who generously gave to his community in need.

Once, he tossed a money bag into the house window of a few poor girls and the coins landed in the stockings they had hung out to dry. Hence our tradition of stocking-stuffers. Saint Nick gave to others because of what God had given him – the gift of salvation through Jesus.

As I read the book to by sons, warm, fuzzy feelings filled my heart because nothing the world does to secularize Christmas will eliminate the root of it all – Jesus’ birth.

Now, we are prepared for the holiday season – my sons know who who Santa is and I don’t mind celebrating him – because doing so doesn’t take away from Jesus when we understand history. And God wouldn’t have it any other way!

I Know He Can, But Will He?

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:2

Trusting God feels like an impossible feat sometimes. I believe God can do anything, but I get stuck at will He. The Bible is full of convincing evidence of God’s ability to perform miracles, but what about those times when He doesn’t?

I wonder if Sarah felt that way when she learned God would grant Abraham a son. Did she think, “I know God can use me, but will He?” For many years, she was unable to conceive. Doubt prompted her to give her slave, Hagar, to Abraham and she bore him a son.

Perhaps you’ve been praying for a child but it hasn’t happened yet. You know God can perform a miracle in your womb, but will He? Does He need the assistance of IVF technology? Or maybe you’ve been longing for a husband with little prospects on the horizon. You believe God can bring Mr. Right at any moment, but will He? Maybe the date you went on with Mr. Average was better than no date at all?

Sometimes the desires of our hearts are so strong that we can’t believe they aren’t from God. Like Sarah, we step in, take control, and make things happen according to our plans rather than God’s. We walk a fine line between honoring God and playing god.

When we think, but will He?, what we’re really asking is, God, will you do what I’m asking you to do? Will you answer this prayer the way I think is best? But when we start to believe we know better than God, we are no longer trusting in Him.

Psalm 31:14 says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’” The Hebrew word for trust here is batach, which means secure and confident but also careless and complacent. When we trust in the Lord, we are assured that His plan is the best plan. We aren’t negligent in how we live, but rather release the reigns of control, sit back, and watch God meet our needs. Actively trusting God means passively depending on ourselves. We boldly put faith in Him to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (I John 5:14) God will always satisfy His will. In other words, God exists to fulfill His wishes and desires in your life and in the life of others. His will for Abraham was to have a son with Sarah. God’s will for Sarah was to be the mother of nations; for kings to come from her (Genesis 17:16). And that’s exactly what happened. At the ripe old age of 90, Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac. (Genesis 21:2)

It can be very challenging to trust God is in control when it feels like He isn’t. When I wonder if He will answer my prayers, I take a step back and remind myself that whatever He has planned is better than what I could put together. Whatever happens, I can trust that He is actively accomplishing His perfectly divine will for my life. Do you believe He is doing the same for you?

Childlike Forgiveness

Have you ever seen children peacefully playing together, sharing, and taking turns? Perhaps for a short time, but more commonly, they snatch, bicker, and frequently yell, “mine!” Sharing may not be a child’s strong suit, but they seem to do pretty well with forgiveness. They could be fighting and biting one minute, then hugging and holding hands as they trot back to the sand box as if nothing ever happened.

What makes it so difficult for adults to forgive in the same way? Often, our first instinct is to hold a grudge against someone who has offended us. We are quick to judge their motives and protect ourselves from being mistreated or embarrassed. We forget that just this morning we needed to ask forgiveness from someone else.

As we age, the experiences of life create wounds and as a result, we develop insecurities or push down unwanted negative emotions. We acquire sensitive areas representing these wounds in various stages of healing. When we are hurt by someone else’s words or actions, these sensitive areas are pressed and it doesn’t feel good. We react in defense rather than respond with forgiveness.

Children, however, haven’t accumulated a bank of negative experiences and live under the bliss of short term memory loss. They are wired to live in the moment, quickly moving between emotional responses. They have the ability to forgive and forget.

Childlike forgiveness is what God offers to us and how He desires we forgive others. In fact, it is such an integral part of our walk with Him that He included it in the Lord’s prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

The greek word used for forgive is aphiémi which means to send away, let go, release. Imagine our sins to be like a balloon filled with helium. As we confess them to God, we are letting go and He simply watches them float by. He does not snatch them up, adding them to the millions of balloons we’ve confessed over the years. No, He sends them away. He remembers them no more. (Hebrews 8:12)

So why, then, do we hold on to the sins of others against us? When we do, we position ourselves above God as judge, deeming it our responsibility to keep track of their balloons. Inevitably, our balloons mingle with theirs making it nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two. We cannot expect to openly receive forgiveness from God with our hands tightly gripping a bundle of balloon strings.

But who are the debtors we need to forgive? A debtor is someone who sins against us or withholds the love and respect owed to us. We often view forgiveness as a willingness to accept the sin itself. This is difficult because we want heinous offenses to be unforgivable. We want our pain validated.

Alternatively, what if we could shift our focus from the act of sin to the lack of respect or love we have received as a result? Choosing to forgive what we have been deprived of rather than the offense itself can revolutionize how we forgive. Because our ultimate need for love and respect comes from Christ and not from other humans, we experience the freedom to let go of what has been done to us and receive healing from God.

We are not responsible for how we are treated, but we are responsible for how we respond. We need the forgiveness of God as Matthew 6:14-15 says For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Forgiving frees us from the bondage of grudges and clears our slate with God.

Are you clinging to a handful of balloons? Whether they are your unconfessed sins or the sins of others against you, open your hands and release them all. Consider forgiveness through the lens of a child. To truly forgive means to truly forget, as if the offense never happened.

Just Keep Sowing

Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up,
the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.
Mark 4:27

Do you ever wonder if the good you’re trying to do really makes a difference? Take parenting, for instance. There are times when it seems my children will never learn to treat each other with kindness, or to patiently wait their turn, or to truly know how much God loves them. I can’t help but feel like a broken record playing among deaf ears.

We can get so caught up in how our children are responding to our direction that we gauge our success as a parent on their behavior. If our words and actions are producing fruit within them, then we must be doing the right thing. But what if it’s not? Or not within the timeline of what we expect?

One of my sons has a difficult time with emotional regulation and despite my best efforts to remain calm, I often loose my cool with him. I can’t help but think, if I could just manage him better, he would make progress.

Thankfully, God never intended us to be in control of another person’s behavior. While reading Mark 4 recently, I found an explanation of what He does intend for us:

“A man scatters seed on the ground… As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (v. 26,29)

Our job is to scatter the seed on prepared soil – to plant buds of faith in our children. To prepare their hearts to receive God’s love, and to spark an interest in knowing Him personally.

In verses 27-28, we learn that part of the harvesting process is out of our hands:

“Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, thought he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”


When we think of the life of a farmer, a great deal of work is done on the front end, but there is no way to predict the outcome. He does not control the amount of rain that falls or the amount of time the sun shines. He does not control the air temperature or the bugs and birds that attempt feast on his crop. He does the best he can to prepare the soil and plant the seeds; the rest is left to God.

Just like a farmer, we are responsible for preparing our children’s hearts and scattering seeds of faith. We can do this my reminding them daily that God loves them and that He created them just the way he wanted them to be. We can model the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. We can present the stories of the Bible as exciting and relevant to our lives today.

But how these seeds grow and develop is up to God. No amount of stress or worry will change the outcome – only prayer can do that. There will be seasons where our children make great strides and bear the fruit of growth. There will be seasons where no crops are evident. Seasons of rain, seasons of drought, seasons of warmth, and seasons of frigid blizzards. Through it all, if we just keep sowing God’s truth into our little ones, we can trust that He will be faithful to complete a good work in them.

Be encouraged today that your efforts for good are not in vain. They do make a difference, here on earth and in the heavenly realms. And as Dory might say, “Just keep sowing, just keep sowing.”

Keeping Score… In A Good Way

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

My mind raced as aggravation consumed me. In less than one minute I had tallied all the things I was doing and how little I was receiving in return. Thoughts like, I shouldn’t be treated this way and I deserve better, swirled me dizzy as I sunk deeper into a whirlpool of of negativity.

Has that ever happened to you? Perhaps you’ve been mistreated at a job, spoken to disrespectfully by a family member, or given the cold shoulder by a friend. It’s easy to dwell on all the things that person is doing wrong and everything we’re doing right.

This message hit home for me while listening to a podcast about relationship dynamics. The speaker challenged the listener to ask one important question – “What is it like being in a relationship with me?” In other words, am I easy to get along with?

I was hit with an embarrassing realization that I often keep score in a bad way. Focusing on the shortcomings of others builds my self-confidence and centering my attention on how I’m not doing those things allows me to feel better about myself. But only temporarily. And it’s exhausting to hold onto these offenses.

God never intended relationships to be that way. We can’t build each other up as we’re called to do in I Thessalonians 5:11 by tearing each other down and when we keep track of mistakes, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Philippians 4:8 gives examples of what our thought life ought to be like – whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – think on these things.

Choosing to think about what God wants us to think about changes our mood and outlook on our circumstances. Looking for the good helps us forgive the bad as we mentally tally the positive.

Now, when I find myself focusing on the negative, I take inventory of my thoughts by asking three questions:

  1. Are my thoughts true? There may be truth to the negative thoughts I’m having, but it’s likely I’m exaggerating the circumstances a bit. No, they down always speak with a rude tone. No, they’re not always on my case. We can release agitation by keeping the situation in proper perspective, thus being set free from a negative thought cycle (John 8:32).
  2. Are my intentions pure? If my intentions are to build myself up, I need to shift my heart from a position of defense to one of peace-keeping. I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” When I keep score of how others are offending me, I miss the opportunity to love them. It takes intentionality and mindfulness to extend grace when we’re being rubbed the wrong way. Keeping pure thoughts towards one another leads us to forgive.
  3. Does God admire my thoughts right now? This one is a real show-stopper for me. I’d like to believe that what stays inside my head is concealed, but Psalm 139:2 says God perceives my thoughts from afar. Nothing is hidden from Him. Imagine the prick of disappointment God experiences when we think harshly of His other children. Knowing how much Jesus loves me stirs a passion to please Him with my thoughts, words, and actions. It takes practice, but we can learn to redirect our hearts and minds to think on what God would deem admirable.

Taking inventory of my thoughts diverts them to a favorable pathway. I’m reminded that the person I am criticizing is loved by God just as much as I am. This shift in perspective leads me to consider their good qualities, tallying positive marks for them and releasing my bitterness and resentment in the process. And that, my friend, begins my method of keeping score in a good way. Ready to give it a try?

(more…)

The Only Valentine

He conspicuously ushered the young couple into the church. They loved each other and wished to be married.

After a discussion of the meaning of Christian marriage and God’s intent for them as husband and wife, he agreed to unite them through holy matrimony.

During this particular time in Rome, the Emperor had forbidden the marriage of young people. But, for St Valentine, serving the Lord was more important than serving the emperor. Therefore, he married couples quietly. He knew it was risky. He knew he could be thrown into jail. He knew he was doing the Lord’s work.

Unfortunately, St Valentine was caught and thrown into jail. Eventually, he was beheaded for disobedience to the Emperor. But his obedience to God lived on. His reputation grew into one of the greatest Saints martyred for love – the love of The One Valentine, Jesus Christ.

Although we consider Valentine’s Day a time to celebrate love between people, the meaning originates in God’s love. The flowers, chocolates, and cards we use to communicate our love for others, pales in comparison to the love Jesus has for us.

Whether you are single, dating, engaged, or married, Valentine’s Day can have significant impact. When Jesus is our One Valentine, we will never be let down by what we did or didn’t receive or experience. He will never leave us with unmet expectations. And with Him, every day can be Valentine’s Day. For He has loved us with an everlasting love; He draws us with unfailing kindness. (Jeremiah 31:3)

Consider what the Lord says in Hosea 2:

She will chase her lovers,
But not overtake them;
Yes, she will seek them, but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go and return to my first husband,
For then it was better for me than now.’ (v 7)

I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the Lord. (v 19-20)

May the Lord be your Valentine this year, for He is The Only One who loves us with an everlasting, never-ending, unrelenting affection far greater than what we could ever experience in human form. He considers you His bride. Will you consider Him to be your  husband?

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for being a lover of our soul. When we feel lonely and discontent with our relationship status, may we turn to You. Be to us The Only Valentine we need.
Amen

When You Aren’t Feeling Cherished

via Daily Prompt: Cherish

My grandfather is on Hospice Care and will likely go home to be with the Lord in the next few days. He will be the first of my four grandparents to pass. I’m sure it will be difficult on my family, especially my grandmother, as they have been partners in crime for over seventy years. When asked how she was doing recently, she responded, “We’ve had a good life together and we will be together again one day.” She cherished my grandfather and he cherished her.

I’m sincerely grateful for the example of faithfulness and commitment in my grandparents and parents. Staying married “’til death parts us” is a difficult feat in and of itself, but enjoying your spouse for a lifetime is a completely different ball of wax. One that is not without effort on both ends.

But what if that’s not your family tree? What if your mother wasn’t cherished by your father or vice versa? What if the history of your family is riddled with brokenness, abuse, or neglect? Witnessing love and affection between parents may be a foreign concept. To you, marriage is an unnecessary commitment guaranteeing pain and rejection.

Unfortunately, this is true for far too many people I know. Thankfully, many of them have begun to look to their Heavenly Father as an example of love rather than their earthly fathers and husbands. Because the reality is, each member of our family is a sinful, flawed human being, lacking the ability to be the perfect example of love. Because of that, we can expect to experience feelings of loneliness and rejection from time to time. We may long to be loved, cherished, and accepted.

But, not feeling cherished doesn’t change the fact that we are.

When you aren’t feeling cherished, consider this:

The Lord has loved you with an everlasting love. He draws to you with unfailing kindness. (Jeremiah 31:3)

God has engraved you on the palm of His hands. (Isaiah 49:16)

Jesus gathers us in His arms and carries us close to His heart. (Isaiah 40:11)

You are precious, honored, and loved by the Father. (Isaiah 43:4)

It’s easy to look to others to make us feel loved, valued, or cherished. And although the marriage covenant is ideally designed to meet our needs in that way, it doesn’t always work out like that. But when our Heavenly Father becomes our ultimate source of affection, we don’t need it from others. His love far surpasses anything we could experience through human interaction. Allow Him to lavish you with affection and adoration, for You are the prized treasure He has created you to be.

Lord,
Thank you for the everlasting love You have for me. You hold me dear to Your heart, You care for me, provide shelter and comfort. You are all I need when I’m not feeling cherished by those in my life. Help me to believe Your opinion of me higher than anyone else’s.
Amen

Old Saint Nick Loves Jesus

via Daily Prompt: Saintly

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us once again. Costco has been in full swing mode for the past month, every aisle filled with all you need for “the most wonderful time of the year”.

Although it is the most wonderful time of the year and I absolutely LOVE Christmas, there once was a time I dreaded it.

It started after an encounter while standing in the checkout line at a local grocery
store. A kind woman innocently asked my three-year-old sons, “What is Santa bringing you for Christmas?”

They simply stared at her, dumbfounded by the question.

I scrabbled to bridge the awkward silence, “We haven’t really talked about that yet, have we, boys?”

It was a true statement – we hadn’t talked about Santa yet. Because we didn’t celebrate Santa. You see, I grew up understanding the meaning of Christmas to be all out Jesus. My siblings and I didn’t visit Santa at the mall or fill out wish lists to mail to Him at the north pole or set out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve.

And I’m okay with that; I enjoy celebrating Christmas for what it is – Jesus’ Birthday.

But, wanting to avoid future awkward grocery-store-checkout-line conversations, I began
researching the history of Christmas and Santa. I found a children’s book, Why Do We Call It Christmas? by Phil Vischer. It beautifully explained how the Santa we know today evolved from Saint Nicholas, a Catholic Bishop who generously gave to his community in need. Once, he tossed a money bag into the house window of a few poor girls, the coins landing in the stockings they had hung out to dry. Hence, our tradition of stocking-stuffers.

Saint Nick gave to others out of love, just as John 13:34 commands: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Because of God’s great love for us, He gave the gift of salvation through his Son, Jesus.

As I read the book to by sons, warm, fuzzy feelings filled my heart because nothing the world does to secularize Christmas will eliminate the root of it all – Jesus’ birth.

Now, we are prepared for holiday season – my sons know who who Santa is and I don’t mind celebrating him – because doing so doesn’t take away from Jesus when we understand history.

And God wouldn’t have it any other way!