Cultivating the Soil of Your Heart ~ Part 6 “Rest”

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” ~Mark 6:31

True rest seems to be elusive for most Americans. Only one in seven adults (14 percent) set aside a day a week for rest. And on that one day a week, what do they do? Mostly, they work. Only one in five (19 percent) of this small group say they don’t do any work at all. Even fewer Americans commit to daily time alone (16 percent) or with God (21 percent) or to activities that recharge them (12 percent). Only 12 percent of American adults say that they intentionally set aside a time of day when they don’t use electronic devices.

According to an old Jewish story, once upon a time there was a four-year-old boy named Mortakai who refused to attend school and study Hebrew. Whenever his parents tried to immerse his mind in the Torah [or the Word of God], he would sneak away and play on the swing set. Every form of persuasion failed. Mortakai remained stubborn and defiant. The exasperated parents even brought him to a famous psychiatrist, but that also proved futile. Nothing changed the young boy’s heart, which seemed to grow more distant, lonely, and hardened every week.

Finally, in utter desperation, Mortakai’s parents brought him to the local rabbi, a warm and wise spiritual guide. As the parents explained their plight, pouring out their frustration and despair, the rabbi listened intently. Without saying a word, he gently picked up Mortakai, took him in his arms and held him close to his chest. The rabbi held Mortakai close enough and tight enough so the young boy could feel the safe, rhythmic beating of the rabbi’s heart. Then, still without a word, he gently handed the child back to his parents. From that point on, Mortakai listened to his parents, studied the Torah and, when it was appropriate, he also slipped away to play on the swing set.

Sabbath rest is just a way of being with God so we can hear his heartbeat. That is the only way to heal our stubborn, defiant, hardened souls.

Let’s face it…life can get crazy. As we race from one commitment to the next we grow weary. Schedule white space on your calendar. Over booked schedules keep us from enjoying our life, distracting us from the bigger purpose God has for our lives.

Cultivating the Soil of Your Heart – Part 5 “Journaling”

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” ~Psalm 77:11

One of my favorite Christian self care tips is journaling because it organizes your thought life. Whether your doing a gratitude, prayer or processing journal, putting thoughts into writing or words helps us remember process and heal. Research also shows that journaling 20 minutes a day several times a week improves emotional, physical and psychological well being.

Ali Enos (with Cru) writes this – “I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was a sophomore at LSU and it was a beautiful spring day. After class, I left my sorority house and took a walk around the lake that was right along sorority row. But I didn’t get far; I ended up sitting by a tree. It was there that I placed my faith in Christ.

After that big moment, I walked back to my sorority house and pulled out a yellow steno notepad. On it, I described what had just happened in a letter to God. For me, that moment instilled a life-long habit. This year, I celebrated my 19th “Jesus Birthday” on March 15 – the day when I surrendered my life to Christ and placed my faith in Him to rescue me from my sins.

One of my traditions each year is to write in a special journal that I only write in on that day. By having a book of “snapshots,” it allows me to look back over my walk with the Lord in a unique way. It helps me see the ways that God’s Spirit in me is producing growth over time.

Journaling has become one of the ways that I best connect with God. Journaling helps me to persevere in the journey I’m on with Christ and it also helps me to open up to God. It helps me to be more honest with God and with myself.

Here are a few benefits to journaling:

It helps me pay attention to God. Journaling helps me both to hear from and respond to God. It forces me to slow down and helps me to process what is going on inside my little analytical mind. I enjoy journaling with different color ink pens. Sometimes I journal in one color and then write what I sense God leading me to do or saying to me in a different color ink. That forces me to LISTEN! I also write in red ink when I’m mad or frustrated with God – that allows me to quickly look back through my journal and see either how ridiculous I was being or how God showed Himself to me in the midst of my frustrations and bringing them to Him.

Journaling helps put feelings to words, or words to feelings. Maybe you know you are feeling something but you don’t know why. As you begin to write to God, you often get to the why behind those feelings. Or maybe you are thinking something but if someone asked you how that makes you feel, you wouldn’t know how to answer. I’ve found that journaling helps my feelings to surface as I get my words out on the page. One personal example of this was after hosting an engagement party for my best friend my thoughts were all over the place. As I began to journal and write those out to God that night after the party, I realized that what I was feeling was sadness over the loss of my friend moving to another state and staff team. Knowing that is what I was feeling better allowed me to ask God to meet me in that sadness. Journaling can also help me to gain perspective and hope or combat the enemy.

Journaling records my growth in becoming more like Christ. Journaling can also be a written record of the things I’m learning from God’s Word. When I look back over my journal and see the prayers I’ve prayed and compare them to my current reality, I often thank God for the growth that He has produced in me! Seeing that keeps me wanting to bring things to God and ask Him to change me because I see the major ways He has done that in my past.

Here are a few tips when journaling:

Find a journal that you like! My personal favorites are journals with NO lines so that I’m free to write big or draw.

Just be yourself. When you journal, there is no reason to feel fear, or performance anxiety – you can be completely honest in your thoughts, questions and emotions. You don’t need to hold back from God – He already knows what’s in your heart and your head, and loves you passionately. He doesn’t care about pretty penmanship or grammar.

Feel free to draw. Drawing can help you to see emotions that are harder for you to get in touch with or communicate with words. It’s the process of journaling that is important. You may start in one direction and He shifts you to something else. Let God stir your heart as you pour it out to Him.

If you haven’t tried journaling, give it a try today. Maybe it will help your heart connect more deeply with the God who loves you far more than you realize. I certainly didn’t realize that spring day when I wrote my thoughts to God that writing to Him would be one of the ways my heart best connects with my Savior.”

Cultivating the Soil of Your Heart – Part 4 “Forgiveness”

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the LORD forgave you.” ~Colossians 3:13

Have you seen the quote (author unknown), “refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”? Unforgiveness will destroy your well-being. You stand to gain the most by forgiving others.

Forgive is a verb, and action. Dare I say, a choice. The dictionary defines it as “canceling a debt”. Debt cancellation is exactly what we received through Christ. We were released from the punishment of our sin. As a result, we are called to release others from their debt as well.

Often times our perspective of forgiveness leads us to stand our ground. We stubbornly fold our arms in adamant refusal. We demand our rights. Narrowing our focus to the offense keeps us from seeing the bigger picture in forgiveness. God does not call His people to anything that doesn’t ultimately get worked for our good (Romans 8:28), including forgiveness.

Forgiveness is for the offender and the offended. Nothing in God’s economy is wasted. When rightly faced, hurt drives us deeper into God’s loving arms. In His loving arms, we find comfort and healing.

Forgiveness is an intentional choice. None of the elements are dependent on our circumstances or other people. In other words – God’s Word or call on our lives never depends on our circumstances or the behavior of others. His Word stands regardless of the difficulties we face.

Forgiveness is a crucial skill set in this broken world. It is also a difficult calling on the life of a Christian. We must make the choice to obey the command to forgive. It is not contingent on other people, our circumstance or our feelings. God promises to bless us when we obediently choose to forgive. Who is God calling you to forgive?

Cultivating the Soil of Your Heart – Part 3 “Prayer”

“…pray continually,” ~1 Thessalonians 5:17

Peter Freeft in his book “Prayer for Beginners” writes – “Some say that prayer, and “the spiritual life”, or “the inner life”, or the soul’s private love affair with God, is an unaffordable luxury today, or an irresponsible withdrawal from the pressing public problems of our poor, hurting world. I say just the opposite: that nothing, nothing is more relevant and responsible; that nothing else can ever cure our sick world except saints, and saints are never made except by prayer.

Nothing but saints can save our world because the deepest root of all the world’s diseases is sin, and saints are the antibodies that fight sin. Nothing but prayer can make saints because nothing but God can make saints, and we meet God in prayer. Prayer is the hospital for souls where we meet Doctor God.”

Have you ever held tightly to something? Maybe a child’s hand while crossing a busy street or the lap bar on a roller coaster? Our whole body tenses as we hold tightly.

The same thing happens when I hold tightly to my desires or fears…I tense up.

When I pray, I’m releasing my grasp on my desires and fears and I’m entrusting it all to the One for Whom nothing is impossible. When we release our grip, we release the tension. Give it to God in prayer.

Cultivating the Soil of Your Heart – Part 2 “Time with God”

“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” ~Jeremiah 17:8

Time with God is one for the top Christian self care tips! Carve out time for the most important relationship. Make time with God a priority. He is the only one that can fill you up, enabling you to pour into others.

Jon Bloom writes: “Our longing for intimate communion with God is God-given. It’s a good thing to desire, ask for, and pursue. The Spirit does give us wonderful, occasional tastes. And this longing will be satisfied to overflowing some day (Psalm 16:11).

But God has other purposes for us in the discipline of daily Bible meditation and prayer. Here are a few: Soul Exercise (1 Corinthians 9:24; Romans 15:4): We exercise our bodies to increase strength and endurance, promote general health, and keep unnecessary weight off. Devotions are like exercise for our souls. They force our attention off of self-indulgent distractions and pursuits, and on to God’s purposes and promises. If we neglect this exercise, our souls will go to pot. “It’s okay if there was no special spark in your Bible reading today. In fact, ordinary devotions are a good thing; here’s why:

Soul Shaping (Romans 12:2): The body will generally take the shape of how we exercise it. Running shapes one way, weight training shapes another way. The same is true for the soul. It will conform to how we exercise (or don’t exercise) it. This is why changing your exercise routine can be helpful. Read through the Bible one year, camp in a book and memorize it another year, take a few months to meditate on and pray through texts related to an area of special concern, etc.

Bible Nourishment (Psalm 119:11; Psalm 119:97; Proverbs 23:12): A thorough, repeated soaking in the Bible over the course of years increases our overall biblical knowledge, providing fuel for the fire of worship and increasing our ability to draw from all parts of the Bible in applying God’s wisdom to life.

Fight Training (Ephesians 6:10–17): Marines undergo rigorous training in order to so ingrain their weapons knowledge that when suddenly faced with the chaos of combat they instinctively know how to handle their weapons. Similarly, daily handling and using the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) makes us more skilled spiritual warriors.

Sight Training (2 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 4:18): Jesus really does want us to see and savor him. Savoring comes through seeing. But only the eyes of faith see him. “Blind faith” is a contradiction, at least biblically. Faith is not blind. Unbelief is blind (John 9:38–41). Faith is seeing a reality that physical eyes can’t see and believing it (1 Peter 1:8). And “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). So if we’re going to savor Jesus, we must see him in the word he speaks. Faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). And like most of God’s gifts, they are intended to be cultivated. Daily devotions are an important way to train our faith-eyes to see the glory of Jesus in his word and to train our emotions to respond to what our faith-eyes see. Keep looking for glory. Jesus will give you Emmaus moments (Luke 24:31–32).

Delight Cultivation (Psalm 37:3–4; James 4:8; Psalm 130:5): When a couple falls in love, there are hormonal fireworks. But when married, they must cultivate delight in one another. It is the consistent, persistent, faithful, intentional, affectionate pursuit of one another during better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health that cultivates a capacity for delight in each other far deeper and richer than the fireworks phase. Similarly, devotions are one of the ways we cultivate delight in God. Many days it may seem mundane. But we will be surprised at the cumulative power they have to deepen our love for and awareness of him.

There are many more benefits. You could certainly add to this list. But the bottom line is this: Don’t give up on daily devotions. Don’t whip through them. Don’t let them get crowded out by other demands.  Brick upon brick a building is built. Lesson upon lesson a degree is earned. Stroke upon stroke a painting is created. Your devotions may have seemed ordinary today, but God is making something extraordinary through it. Press on. Don’t short-change the process.”

The benefits of meeting with God are endless. A few notable benefits include strengthening of faith, shifts focus vertically, puts my eyes on my powerful God who is greater than anything you or I face.”

Cultivating the Soil of Your Heart – Part 1 “Relationship & Community”

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” ~Hebrews 10:24-25

In her book (The Cultivated Life), author Susan S. Phillips writes about the importance of maintaining friendship, especially in old age: ‘Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware works with people who have chosen to die in their own homes. She has asked her patients whether they had regrets as they approached death. Letting friendships lapse was one of the top five regrets people mentioned at the ends of their lives.  Ware writes that many of her patients “had become so caught up in their own lives that they let golden relationships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”’

People regret the loss of friendship, yet our culture offers little instruction about maintaining friendships. Doing so is a spiritual discipline. Phillips presents a view of friendship as a discipline, and offers practical suggestions about cultivating it.

We are made for relationship, community and fellowship. Liking, commenting and hearting on social media can never replace face to face relationship. Make time in your busy schedule to connect with your people.

Don’t just take my word for it…research shows connections with others increases happiness, better health and a longer life. So, get your calendar out and schedule some time with the people you love.

Shaken Foundations

“That house … did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:25).  Western Oregon sees a lot of rain. As a result, some houses that are built near streams and rivers will slide down the muddy banks, collapsing into a heap of rubble.

Jesus uses this imagery to describe the tragedy of a life built on a poor foundation. The sandy foundation Jesus warns against is that of a life seeking placing our feet on the things of this world thinking they will remain stable.  I don’t want you to forget that as foundations are being shattered people will begin looking for solid footing…as believers we have that in the GOSPEL!!  May we offer that hope up to others.

1 Peter 2:4-6 tells us, Jesus himself is the true rock, the sure foundation. He lived the life of perfection that we cannot live, and he gave up his life so that we can live. Because he took on our punishment, we can build our lives on Jesus and be assured that we will never taste the shame of our guilt and failure before God.

Are you building your life on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ?  We might be living in a “new normal” but our mission hasn’t changed…we must stay together.  I pray you don’t get tired of hearing these words.  I will be touching on this often and asking you to pray for the unity of our church and the church at large!  We have a foundation the world desperately needs right now!

New Normal ~ Same Mission

Termites may be hard to love, but they’re easy to admire. Termite mounds can reach as high as thirty feet. Based on their tiny size, that’s the equivalent of humans building something twice as tall as the 2,722-foot Burj Khalifa, in Dubai. The interior of a termite mound is an intricate structure of interweaving tunnels and passageways, radiating chambers, galleries, archways, and spiral staircases.

To build a mound, termites move vast quantities of mud and water. In the course of a year, eleven pounds of termites can move about three hundred and sixty-four pounds of dirt and thirty-three hundred pounds of water. The point of all this construction is not to have a place to dwell—the colony lives in a nest six to seven feet below the mound—but to be able to breathe. The mound acts as a lung for the colony, managing the exchange of gases, leveraging small changes in wind speed to inhale and exhale.

Termites appear to do all this without any centralized planning: there are no architects, engineers, or blueprints. The termite mound isn’t just a building. It’s much more like a body, a self-regulating organic process that always reacts to its changing environment. Scientists claim that individual termites are not very intelligent. They lack memory and the ability to learn. Put a few termites into a Petri dish and they wander around aimlessly. But put enough termites together, in the right conditions, and they will build you a cathedral.

Church…we may be experiencing a “new normal” but our mission has not changed!  We are a royal priesthood…representatives for a mighty God!  We are to make disciples of all nations…tiny embassies of light!  Great things can be accomplished when God’s people, weak though we are individually, work together in unity.

I just want to remind you today in the midst of a very polarizing time…if we do not stay untied upon the foundation of Jesus the mission suffers.  Moving forward in this unprecedented time in history we (the church) have a profound opportunity to remain untied all to His glory.  Easy?  No.  Necessary.  No doubt.  So how do we continue to move forward in mission in such a divided time?  It will only be possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.  May we keep pour eyes fixed on Jesus and continue to ask Him to guide us along.

Only A Mom

There are the toddlers who color with permanent marker all over the wall or decide a sibling needs a haircut. Then, there is Leo Belnap, a two-year-old who knows how to work a paper shredder.

One Sunday, his parents, Ben and Jackee Belnap, noticed an important envelope containing $1,060 was mysteriously missing. For the past year, the die-hard University of Utah football fans had been saving money to pay back Ben’s parents for season tickets.

They started tearing the house apart searching for the cash. “I’m digging through the trash,” Ben Belnap said, “and Jackee hollers, ‘I found it.'” It was in the shredder. In a thousand tiny pieces. Immediately they knew Leo was the culprit. He had been helping her shred junk mail and documents. Apparently, he thought he was being helpful this time, too. First, his mother cried. Then, she laughed. She said, “As devastated and as sick as we were this was one of those moments where you just have to laugh.”

Hope may not be lost for the couple. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing offers a solution. In fact, the bureau has an entire “Mutilated Currency Division,” which is devoted to “redeeming” burned, rodent-chewed, or deteriorated money–a free service to the public. It handles approximately 30,000 claims per year, redeeming more than $30 million in mutilated cash. Ben Belnap contacted the Treasury Department and was told to send the remains of the money to Washington in Ziploc baggies.

In the meantime, Leo will not be using the shredder anymore. The silver lining: “Well, this will make a great wedding story one day.”  Only a mom would have the love and patience to step back and see a broader perspective in a situation like that!  A wise mother patiently endures and tenderly forgives the wrongs done by her children.  Proverbs 31:26 says of the virtuous woman, “When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.”

On behalf of people with mothers everywhere (which I guess would be all of us)…I want to say thanks to our moms for being patient, kind, and loving us through like only a mother could.  The value of a loving mom has no price tag.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Don’t Let the Sun Set

Ephesians 4:26 says – ”In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.

The Bible gives us permission to be angry. But it also suggests that anger can easily lead to sin…may we not let that happen. Anger must be kept on a short leash.

Some anger is appropriate. We might become angry if someone steals our car, hurts our child, or perverts justice. Like God himself, we grow angry at injustice, prejudice, and evil. But unlike God, our anger can quickly boil over and destroy relationships if we don’t deal with it appropriately and eliminate it promptly.

For one thing, anger can build barriers between me and someone else. When I’m angry with someone, it’s harder for me to be loving or fair or careful. So God counsels us to pay attention to the time limits he sets on anger and to deal with it by day’s end. That means I may not just become angry with you; I need to talk with the person I’m angry with and, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), try to work things through.

In addition, anger is not just about my relationship with someone else; it’s about me. When I allow anger to become my default response to irritation, when I hold a grudge or nurse resentment, when in my anger I push people away, then I need to examine myself in light of what God has said in his Word. Unchecked anger that turns to bitterness and an unforgiving spirit gets between God and me.

More than anything…anger does not produce the righteousness our God desires.  In James 1:19 it says – Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.