Trusting in Sparks

I’m beginning the third week of this journey toward bravery today. It’s been interesting to see writing become a habit in my life. It’s  been even more interesting to see the stories God is giving me to write about and how they are related to the devotions. I wasn’t sure that the ideas would come as easily as they have, but the words have flowed, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Today’s devotion is about the mind. We all have a lot on our minds. From work to family, to spouse, to friends, it seems never-ending. Then, there are all the things the world says we should care about. No wonder a good majority of us suffer from information overload. We don’t know what to do with everything that is being thrown at us.

God has an answer (You probably suspected I would say that. 🙂 ) Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” God wants us to put Him first and not anyone else. He wants us to live in this world like we’re passing through it and not like we are taking up residence to stay forever like many of us do. How many of us can truly say that we have let God transform our minds to consider Him and others first before we consider ourselves? A hard question, to be sure,  and one that, for me, is a continual work in progress.

Another thing the mind can give us is ideas, or sparks like in today’s title. Each of my writing ideas has come from a spark, a spark which has hopefully blessed you. It has taken me years to call myself a writer in public, but I finally decided that this ability is what God has blessed me with, and that the least I can do is be honest about my gift with the people I come in contact with. If it is meant for me to be published, God will make it happen. My job right now is to write, write, and write some more.

At the beginning of this post, I promised you a story about sparks. Yesterday, I was at church when a man came up front to speak before the offering. He talked about the mission our church supports in another country. Planning is underway for this summer’s trip. (A group usually goes every summer to do things like construction, Vacation Bible School, and anything else that might be needed.) Anyway, when this man said we wouldn’t be bringing Jesus to this mission, that we would meet Jesus there, I heard a voice in my head. ‘You need to sign up.’

I responded (in my head, of course). ‘What! God, you know I can’t. You know what my checking account looks like. My sons aren’t done with college yet. There’s no extra money floating around.’

It was quiet for a moment. Then, I heard the voice again. ‘Do you think I don’t know that, dear daughter? I know all of it, and I still want you to go. It will answer a lot of your questions about what comes next.’

I had more comments to make during this inward conversation, mostly superfluous. But, then God said something that stopped me in my tracks. ‘Do you trust me?’ I haven’t done the best job of showing that recently. I’ve been overwhelmed by a number of circumstances which have made me lose my joy and my bravery. (which is why I started this series of blog posts) By this time, the service was almost over. I had a choice, really, it was only one choice. ‘Yes, God, I trust you, and I will show you I trust you without a safety net.’ I made my way over to the gentleman who coordinated this effort and told him of my interest. I felt a releasing of the tightness of fear from my chest when I said the words. Stepping out in faith, I said to myself. Stepping out in faith.

And this is why I entitled today’s post “Trusting in Sparks.” God is teaching me to be brave so I can be free of guilt and shame. He wants to change the world through me and through the sparks (ideas) he gives me. Praying for continued trust in our Lord and Savior!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

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Not Everyone Has a Family

I look at this title and think of my own background. From the time I became a Christian in my teens, I didn’t have a family in church that cared about my spiritual development. Everything I did to grow, imperfect that it was, was all on me. My prayer life, my Scripture reading, my serving. I learned about my Lord and Savior through the example of others in the church. Not from the people who talked about family and how important it was though it was important. No, I learned about my Lord and Savior through the people who picked me up for church, through the youth minister who talked to me after church and didn’t run off with his own family. I learned about my Lord and Savior through a family who opened their doors to me in college and made me a part of their own family. I learned about my Lord and Savior through people who I lived life with not necessarily through what was said in the pulpit.

I think about all these people who have formed and shaped me over the years, and it brings me to today’s devotion topic–our feet. Your feet and my feet. Jesus had a lot to say about feet. His feet were how He got to the people He served. There were no cars; there were no buses. Jesus and His disciples walked everywhere they went as did the people who heard and believed in His message. That’s why people would have understood this verse from I John 2. Verse 6 says, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” Other translations of this verse say, “live in the way he lived,” but I like walked better because it implies action. It implies that we are doing something. The word lived should imply this too, but people take multiple meanings of this word into consideration, and sometimes action doesn’t happen. The word walked doesn’t have this problem.

The people who I mentioned at the beginning didn’t have a problem with walking either. They were present for a teenager wanting to grow, and they were present for a college student who needed a second family. I know it was hard just like walking with Jesus is hard today, but all I remember was the love and never feeling like I was a burden.

I know people today who are naturals at walking with Jesus. I think especially of a lady I know who leads a ministry in Oregon. She and her team walk into dark places in their city to share Jesus’ light and love. She walks how Jesus walked, and even though we’ve never met in person, is an example to me. She ministers to the people who are alone and don’t have a clue what a “traditional Christian family” looks like. I resonate with that because it is how I started my own walk of faith.

I realize I haven’t been perfect at this, but through these words I’ve written, I want to do better, to be better in my walk. God wants us to use our feet in our walk with Him. He wants us to notice all in our midst who need to hear of Jesus’ love, and He especially wants us to notice those who are alone. May God give us courage as we walk down His path today!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

A Heart Response

For the longest time, I’ve been trying to figure out where my gifts from God fit into His plan for me. My gift is not one of the common ones. I’m not talented in teaching children or working in the kitchen or singing so it’s been hard for me to figure out how I fit in with people wanting to share their gifts from God. In fact, sometimes I don’t feel like I fit in. But, in this journey towards bravery, I’m learning that it doesn’t matter what others think of me or my gifts. It matters what God thinks of me and how I use my gifts for His glory.

I find it appropriate that today, less than a week until Valentine’s Day, the devotional topic is about my heart, about all our hearts. I especially liked the Bible verse that was used. Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. What that means is that God is slow to get angry and has more love than we could know what to do with. Yes, that’s what abounding means. Very plentiful and abundant. And that is how much He loves you and me. There’s no way He could love us anymore than He does because His love goes on forever. He chose me to love, and He chose you to love. We don’t deserve it, but it flows over and over us with no end in sight. It is amazing to think of what my Lord and Savior has done for me and how much He loves me since I have no way to pay Him back.

God doesn’t want us to pay Him back though. His overwhelming love and His grace are the point of this faith we follow. We have done nothing to deserve it and will do nothing to deserve it until the day we die.

So, if we can’t do things to deserve God’s love, how do we respond to this extravagant, abounding love He has given us? I liked what the devotion had to say because it also helps me to honor the gifts He has given me. We can make life choices that honor God in response to His love. I call this a heart response. Our passions are a part of who we are, and God wants us to use them for Him. I had never thought of it that way before. When I am writing a blog post or a story or a book, I am pouring out my love for my Lord and Savior with my words. It doesn’t matter that I don’t fit in with my Christian brothers and sisters. It matters that I am loving God with the gifts He has given me. What a comfort! What a joy! My gift isn’t something I have to hide, and it’s something I can use to show God how much I love Him! Thank you, God, for loving and choosing me, and please help me have the courage to use my gift of writing for you!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

We Aren’t Mistakes

The Scripture that goes with today’s devotion from 100 Days to Brave has been a favorite of mine for a while. Actually, the whole of Psalm 139 is a favorite. It’s my go-to place when I think I can’t possibly be worth anything to God–that I’m not doing enough for His Kingdom, that I’m not wealthy enough, pretty enough, brave enough, slim enough–whatever “enough” that we humans use to compare ourselves to each other. God doesn’t want us doing that. He wants us to get our value from Him and Him alone.

It’s taken me a long time to separate making mistakes from thinking I am a mistake. I grew up thinking they were synonymous. Whenever I did something wrong, a label would be placed on me–either I would place the label, or someone else would place the label. And since we all make mistakes, it was easy to think I was a mistake. I carried those thoughts into my first years of faith and further. I thought I had to be “good enough” for God to count for anything in His Kingdom, and I managed that for a while. Legalism had taken up residence in my heart and mind. But, there was no way it could last. How could it? All of us make mistakes. Every single one of us. Anyway, I was rejected, and I left the church. I’ve shared some of that story with you all.

Today’s devotion separates the two. It talks about how God created us and how valuable we are to Him. This is the reason Psalm 139 is so meaningful to me. Verses 13-16 say, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” We are not mistakes! It says it right there. We are not mistakes! 

How is my previous statement related to the devotion and to bravery? This is where you can see the separation. The author says it better than anyone else so I’m going to quote her. I might even add this to the things I need to memorize. “I believe in the me God made and in the me God can make. I believe He made me on purpose and didn’t make any mistakes when it came to my creation. That makes me feel brave. And that is the place where I find my courage–knowing that while I am making mistakes, I am not a mistake. That is where you can find your courage too.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F, Downs) I know there are many more pages of this devotional to go, but if that is not a hallmark statement of bravery in how my God sees me, I don’t know what is. We are all valuable to Him no matter what our families say, what our friends say, what people in the church say, and what the world says. My prayer is that we all can see our value to God, and in turn, show that value to someone else!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

A Choice I Need to Make

Today’s devotion was uncomfortable, can be uncomfortable. It talks about truth, and for those of us who fudge on the truth or outright like, it can make us very uncomfortable. This truth shouldn’t though. It is the truth that sets us free. The truth of this faith we say we follow.

Before I go any further let me define this word I’m talking about today. According to the dictionary, truth means, “a fact or belief that is accepted as true.” Wikipedia uses a similar definition. “Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard.”

So, truth is a fact or belief that is true. Isn’t that what we believe when we accept the truth of John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is the hallmark verse of our faith, and one of the first ones many of us memorize, me included.

The question I want to ask today is why do people accept this verse as true, but not the verses that Jesus and God tell us about ourselves–the truths we should hold onto every second of every day.

There’s an easy answer to this question, especially if you read my post from yesterday.  https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/the-lies-we-believe/  We listen to Satan’s lies. We let Satan inundate us with every bad thing we’ve ever done. I’m as guilty of it as you are. Pain can overwhelm me when I am trying to do something for Jesus, and I let go of the good thing to hold onto the bad thing. I don’t want to hold onto the bad thing, and I’m sure you don’t either. But, we do. It’s part of being human.

I want to do better. I want to strive towards those other verses that tell us how Jesus wants us to live and what He wants us to believe about ourselves. This means I need to be reading and studying my Bible to see what nuggets of truth God wants to share with me. And there are so many nuggets. From verses in Psalms that explain how God wanted us to be born despite the circumstances we were born into to verses in Jeremiah that tell us God’s plan for us to verses in the New Testament that tell us about our true identity in Christ to verses in Matthew when Jesus confronts Satan in the wilderness, there is so much we need to commit to our hearts and minds.

There is one very big but (as my pastor likes to say  🙂 ) that we need to keep in mind though. We can read as much of the Bible as we want, but if we don’t make the choice to believe all of its words, all of its truths, every day, we will be stuck at the beginning and not receive the true abundance God wants for us. God doesn’t leave us alone while we are making this choice, and that is what we need to hold onto. I end with this prayer from the devotional we can all use as we are making the choice God wants us to make. “God, tell me the truth of who I am. I’m listening. I want to be free from the lies–do that for me. Rescue me. Bring truth like a waterfall.”

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

The Lies We Believe

Here we are at Week 2 of my 100 Days to Brave series with quite the provocative title. The Lies We Believe. I don’t know about you, but there are many lies I believe about myself. I do know they come from Satan before anyone feels compelled to comment on that truth, but, for me, it’s a little more complicated than that. Because, I get confused when I think about how to combat these lies. Between the biochemical imbalance in my brain and thinking that I always need to pretend everything is okay if I’m going to be seen as a “good Christian”, I’m not sure how to claim God’s victory over what Satan is trying to make me believe. I do my best though, and that’s what I want to focus on today–how God provides a way through Satan’s lies for me.

 

The first way is through music. I listen to Christian music each morning between when my husband leaves for work and my son and I begin our home school. There is a lot of good music out there which inundates my mind with God’s truths and begins my day on a positive note. I play one song, in particular, several times a day. It is a song called “Wedding Day” by Casting Crowns. The first time I listened to the lyrics, I could hardly believe it. It was exactly how I felt about myself. Here are the lyrics so you can see for yourself.

 

“There’s a stirring in the throne room
And all creation holds it’s breath
Waiting now to see the bride groom
Wondering how the bride will dress
And she wears white
And she knows that she’s undeserving
She bears the shame of history
But this worn and weary maiden
Is not the bride that he sees
And she wears white, head to toe
But only he could make it so

 

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

 

She has danced in golden castles
And she has crawled through beggar’s dust
But today she stands before him
And she wears his righteousness
And she will be who he adores
And this is what he made her for

 

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

 

When the hand that bears the only scars
And heaven touch her face
And the last tears she’ll ever cry
Are finally wiped away
And the clouds roll back as he takes her hand
And walks her through the gates
Forever we will reign

 

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day”

 

This song tells me Jesus considers me worth it even though I know I don’t deserve it, even though I’m ashamed of what I’ve done and what I’ve been through, and even though I know I’m not beautiful. And I don’t say those last words to garner any kind of attention. I know I’m not beautiful and not worth it. At least, this world considers me not beautiful. But Jesus does, and that’s what makes this life worth it! When I listen to “Wedding Day” and other songs like it, it’s easier to believe the truths of God and not believe the lies of Satan.

The second thing I do is read Scripture and pray. There are so many Bible verses that reflect my feelings of the moment. I’m grateful I can read each one and claim victory over whatever’s going on knowing that even though the situation might not be fixed, my God hears and understands what I face even if no one else does. I also pray. There’s nothing that beats talking directly to my Lord and Savior. I talk to Him and listen to His guidance. Even if I don’t have the specific words for my prayer, He can still hear my heart which settles my heart when nothing else does.
Finally, I spend time with children when I need to see and hear God’s truths. There’s something about the honesty of a child and playing with a child that takes me straight to Jesus. I had that experience last night with two little girls at my church, and it was wonderful! During the event, we played school, walked around the auditorium, colored pictures, galloped like horses, and ate dinner. (There was a football game on the big screen? 😉 ) I also pushed the younger girl on a riding toy. There was no pressure to achieve, no pressure to fit in, no pressure period. I was able to experience a truer sense of myself than I usually do and was able to just breathe. God gave me that, and I am so very grateful!
As I wrap this up, I want to issue a warning to those who are trying to navigate their way through Satan’s lies and to those who want to try to help them. I say this because some Christian adults can be the hardest to talk to about the head and the heart. They think victory can be claimed by a prayer and a statement that whatever’s going on is a lie of Satan. And while this can be true, a lot of people have the tendency to claim a victory and move on to the next person who needs their “help” leaving the person suffering from depression and hearing Satan’s lies alone once more. No, time must be invested and a relationship must exist before trying to help someone combat Satan’s lies and the person wanting to help must be willing to open their heart as well. We are all broken, and God wants us to show our authentic, broken selves as we live together in community. I pray that God will give us all the courage to be authentic with each other.
God’s blessings on you all today!

Starting the Journey

When I starting writing these blog posts about bravery this week, I started my journey towards understanding myself better so I could understand my relationship with God and others better. I could read all the books about bravery I wanted, but if I didn’t put my thoughts and feelings into words, I would never figure out that being brave was something I could actually do.

It’s the same way with writing. Several years ago, I heard whispers telling me that I really needed to try this thing called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those of you who don’t know, this happens during the month of November when writers attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel before the end of the month. I had not tried to write anything for many years, and the thought of a blank page or a blank computer screen was daunting. I didn’t know how I would start it or even if I could finish it so I put off deciding whether I was going to participate or not. Finally, the whispers of a long, dormant dream were too much. Because I had written many stories when I was younger, and I knew I still had stories within me. I signed up to participate, and by the end of November, I had written over 50,000 words. They were rough words, but the story that had been in my head was now stored on my computer. I had succeeded at something that part of my brain tried to tell me I couldn’t do. It only took starting to make the words come out.

That’s the point the author is trying to make in today’s devotional. Our journey is not supposed to be a journey to courage though many of us treat it as such. We think we will find courage if only we could take the next step or make the next turn. Life doesn’t happen that way so we give up on the dream never to take it up again. No, courage is already in us and grows with every step we take. I liked what the author had to say about this. “The moment you take that first step, little seeds of courage begin to sprout in your heart.” “Little seeds of courage.” That reminds me of the mustard seed Jesus talked about. Matthew 17:20 says, “He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'”

I read that and think having bravery or courage should be an easy thing. Why not? It’s right there in Scripture. We should have enough faith to move mountains. We should be able to be brave or courageous at the snap of a finger. But, as we all know, it doesn’t happen that way. People struggle with trying new things, meeting new people, and having new experiences. Or at least I struggle. I don’t know about the rest of you. 🙂

Sometimes, I think that step of courage is easier when your dream doesn’t involve people. When you are trying something for the first time, and there are no witnesses. There is no one around to make fun of you or to say mean things to you when you fail. It’s just you and your dream waiting in the wings, waiting for you to pick it up and run with it. There is none of the messiness of relationships, no worries of being judged by other people.

As much as I might want to live in a world like that though, God wants me to be brave in my relationships with other people too. He wants me and wants all of us to take the first steps in our relationships so that courage will grow in our hearts, and that is the hardest thing of all. We risk rejection; we risk judgment; and we risk our hearts when we enter into the messiness of life within our communities. But, God is not asking us to risk more than He did. After all, He sent Jesus, His only Son, to die on the cross for us.

Starting the journey to bravery and courage in my dreams and relationships is one of the hardest things I have ever done and will ever do in this life, but every time I’ve been able to, I’ve grown into God’s plan for me and have been tremendously blessed. Praying that we all will be able to take the first steps towards bravery and courage!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!