If You Don’t Like What You See, Then Change What You Look For!

We Will Find What We Look For…Is What We’re Looking For Worth Finding?

Nothing seemed to be going well, and my attitude matched the glowering sky, darkened by clouds that threatened an imminent deluge.

One negative thought flowed seamlessly into another, and some remote corner of my brain was slightly surprised at how many things there were about which to be grumpy.  Fretting over dirty dishes left in various places by what I deemed thoughtless family members soon mushroomed unhealthily like an unsightly stinkweed into feeling unappreciated and taken for granted.  My eyes swept critically over the house, crossly finding places that needed repairs and repainting. A hovel! Soon my peacefully sleeping children became part of my lament, as I considered their various flaws and deficiencies.  All around me were problems and issues which I morosely projected into the next ten years. Before long, the future seemed as depressing as I had made the present moment.

I had found what I was looking for, but it didn’t turn out to be very good company once I had it.

“What in the world were you looking for?”, you might ask.

Reasons to be unhappy, it would appear.

If You Don't Like What You See, Then Change What You Look ForI didn’t exactly get up that morning with a conscious decision to think of every possible reason to complain I could, but I might as well have.  That is the choice I made when I allowed my thoughts to continue down that track.

As Martin Luther famously said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

My nest was about 6 feet wide and growing.

CHANGING FOCUS

Another day, I may wake up to cloudy, threatening skies but choose not to imbibe their depressing mien.  I may begin my day by thanking God for my wonderful husband who is out working hard to provide for his family; for my kids who are becoming more mature and thoughtful all the time; for my home – a cozy, safe place full of light and warmth and music and love.  When my eyes take in the scene around me, I see things for which to be grateful.  A pair of my husband’s socks left lying around? Three pairs?  I am not promised tomorrow with him – I will choose to be thankful for him and his socks today.  Necessary repairs waiting to be done?  A part of life, and potential for future family projects to tackle together.

What has changed?

Not the house, the people, or the socks and dishes scattered about.  None of those are any different.

Proverbs 11:27 (NIV) says:  “He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it.”

Aha!

What changed is my focus – looking for things to be grateful for, I found them.

We will find what we are looking for, so wisdom dictates that we decide beforehand what we would like that to be.

If when I leave in half an hour to go to the library book sale (I’m back – it was great!), if I decide to look for idiots driving on the roads, I will be quite sure to notice (with grim satisfaction) many such individuals.

Conversely, should I make a better choice and try to find people being kind and thoughtful, throughout the day I will be made aware of that very thing.

WHAT ARE YOU FOCUSED ON?

The Bible has many things to say on the subject, but I think my favorite is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church.  He knowingly instructs,

“…Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Phil 4:8, NIV)

What a wonderful plan!  If that is what we are mentally focused on, our eyes will constantly be looking for the true, the noble, the lovely, and the excellent as we go about our days.

Most assuredly, we will find them.  Oh, some days we may have to hunt for them…to search harder and longer than other days, but they are there to be found by the determined seeker.

Like I tell my kids, if Corrie and Betsie ten Boom could find reasons to be thankful in a Nazi concentration camp, we can find reasons to be thankful here today.  It’s just a matter of what we’re looking for.If You Don't Like What You See, Then Change What You Look For

I encourage you today to give yourself the gift of seeking out the lovely, noble, and excellent. Train your eyes to watch for the praiseworthy, and then enjoy the finding of what you seek.

It makes for a much better day than doing the opposite, I promise.

And with our hearts full of gratitude, we become the very thing we have sought, and bring a smile to the face of our Father.

With faith, hope, and love,

The Beautiful Journey

Do You Know How to Use Your Sword?

You Can’t Use a Sword That’s Not With You

One of my two sweet sisters-in-law gave me a bottle of pepper spray two weeks ago. She knows I have a crazy schedule that involves being out late a few nights each week. I was truly touched by her thoughtfulness and the love which inspired her to share her supply with me (Thanks, DeAnne!!). I felt safer just knowing I had it! A week later, at the end of a text, she mentioned that she hoped I was carrying my spray with me. Eek! There it sat, next to me, on the coffee table! I had learned the technique of unlocking and spraying it with the practice canister, had thought about using it, had even considered which key ring I should attach it to…but I forgot to actually do it. A canister of pepper spray in my cozy living room is not going to be much use to me in a parking lot across town in the middle of the night, is it?

Do You Know How to Use Your Sword?Having a weapon but not keeping it in good working order and ready at hand is in effect the same as not having a weapon at all. No matter how excellent or powerful the weapon, it is rendered useless.

This is true of tangible things like cans of pepper spray or guns, and it is equally true of the spiritual weapons we have been giving for the advance of God’s Kingdom and for our own defense.

Last week we talked about the shield of faith and how we must get in the habit of using it, every time we are assaulted so that we can achieve a level of proficiency. We must persevere through the awkward stage if we are to attain mastery. Having a shield and being proficient at using it is a wonderful, useful thing, but combining it with a powerful sword is exponentially better.

My children have had a year or two of fencing lessons, and I have seen them progress through the footwork, the sword drills, and the learning of terminology to being able to fend off an opponent and launch counterattacks. There is a very big difference in only having defensive skills and in also being proficient at offensive moves.

The same applies to our learning to wield the weapons we have at our disposal to fight off attacks of the enemy. I’m incredibly thankful for my shield, but I don’t want to spend my life hiding behind it. Who is going to be attacked for longer periods and more frequently – someone who never fights back but only cowers behind their shield, or someone who immediately and deftly launches an effective counterattack?

Good reason to learn to handle our swords too, isn’t it?

Using The Sword of the SpiritDo You Know How to Use Your Sword?

Yes, you have a sword! Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:17 that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. Awesome! If you are reading this, you have access to the Word of God.

Now what?

  • Step 1: Know Your Weapon. Know what isn’t your weapon. The Word of God is your weapon. You may have plenty else going for you – financial status, important career, good standing in the community, powerful friends, etc., but not one of those is your weapon. When it is time to draw our swords, we cannot rely on ANYTHING except the Word of God.
  • Step 2: Practice, practice, practice. Hint: we don’t use the Bible as a sword by clubbing the devil (or people) over the head with it. We have to know what’s inside it. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” This is sword practice. Make it part of every day. There is no shortcut.
  • Step 3: Use your weapon to counterattack, and use it with confidence and boldness.  It works, and we can be confident that if we use it, it will get the job done.  Our faith is not in ourselves, but in the Lord Almighty and His powerful Word!

I had to do it this morning. Assailed by doubts and wondering I am doing anything right in life or making a difference for eternity, I chose to use my sword instead of curling up in the corner with a piece of carrot cake, calling a friend, or worse – agreeing with the enemy that he’s right, and I should just quit everything.

I used my sword by speaking Isaiah 48:17 over myself: “This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.(NIV)”

If God is teaching and directing me, I can have faith that He is leading me correctly.

I used my sword by reminding myself that “…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6, NIV), and that “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:13, NIV).

I’m not there yet, but He is at work in my life, causing me to do what He desires, and He will continue His work in me!

Instead of feeling depressed and victimized, I was encouraged to keep on doing what God has given me to do because my obedience is what matters – the results of my life (and yours!) are in His hands.

This is using the Sword of the Spirit to counterattack, and my friends, it works. God didn’t give us toy swords that flimsily bend when any pressure is applied, but a powerful, sharp weapon that cuts right through the lies of the enemy – if we use it. The weapon is not faulty. The question is, will we use it?

Do You Know How to Use Your Sword?Too many Christians are hampered from living victoriously by a lack of basic knowledge of God’s Word and the skill to apply that knowledge. God’s Word is highly practical, but too often believers find a great disconnect between sitting in church on Sunday and then actually applying what they hear to the rest of their lives. This should not be the case.

2 Peter 1:3 tells us that God has already given us EVERYTHING we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him. Where do we get our knowledge of Him? Through His Word, as His heart and character are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. So as our knowledge of God grows, we have more access to what we need for victorious living. It is not a magic formula, reserved only for a special few hand-picked by God, or for seminary students and pastors. Victorious living is available to every single child of God who has access to His living, powerful Word.

Are you ready for some sword practice? Me too! Let’s encourage each other to know God’s precious Word – such a gift – and to apply it regularly and effectively to our lives.

With faith, hope, and love,

The Beautiful Journey

Are You Using the Shield of Faith?

Are You Using the Shield of Faith?

Having the Right Tool is good

Having the proper tool for a job is a wonderful thing. If one must chop down a tree, a pencil sharpener won’t be of much use. If one is baking bread (like I am now), an oven is more helpful than a chainsaw. Now, I have produced some loaves that could have been more easily sliced by a chainsaw, but that’s another story.

The correct tool for the job at hand can make or break the project, but simply having the necessary tool is not enough. One must understand its uses, and a certain level of adeptness at wielding the said tool is also nice.

Knowing How to Use It is even better

I once borrowed a very cool mandolin slicer from a friend and commenced to slice off the end of one finger while enthusiastically carving a sweet potato for fries. I had the right tool, but I should have practiced a little first and gotten used to handling that weapon before attacking the potato (and myself).

Are You Using the Shield of Faith?Ephesians 6, in the well-loved “Armor of God” passage, informs us of the weapons with which God has equipped us to succeed in the spiritual battle of living in enemy territory and working to take ground for the King.

I particularly love the assurance in verse 16:

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

It took long years for me to realize that activating my faith it the ONE factor that will change how much damage I sustain from the enemy. Not how many shots are fired at me, but how much havoc they can wreak.

The Shield of Faith

A shield is a useful thing when flaming arrows are being shot at you. Remember the ancient Romans and their testudo – the shield wall they would form when marching in formation into battle, making an impenetrable covering over their heads and all around their line? Very effective.

The shield of faith – your faith – can extinguish ALL the fiery darts of the evil one. That’s a Bible truth and stupendously wonderful news! If you were under the impression that you are simply living at the mercy of whatever the devil throws your way, be encouraged that God did not leave you defenseless and needing to impersonate a hedgehog at every attack.

However, a shield, like a mandolin slicer, is only as useful as its user is adept at handling it.

If I use my shield so rarely that I fumble to raise it, handle it awkwardly, and lack the strength to move it quickly into position, then I will be left open to lots of arrows, and some will undoubtedly find their mark.

In my ignorance, I used to think this was some unfortunate and inevitable mystery of being a Christian. I don’t know much more now, but I do know that when God says the shield He has given me can extinguish ALL the flaming arrows shot at me, I can take Him at His word, and I’d best learn to use my shield.

If I’m getting repeatedly wounded by the enemy, it’s not because of equipment failure. Yes, he’s nasty, and he fights dirty. Yes, he Are You Using the Shield of Faith?looks for wounding and weakness and is remorseless and cruel. But he is defeated, and he knows it.

Since there aren’t REALLY flaming arrows whizzing around us, what does the enemy use, metaphor aside?

The Flaming Darts of the Enemy

Fear. Doubt. Discouragement. Betrayal. Circumstances. Sickness.

That’s just a very small sampling of what can be his handiwork, but chances are you’ve experienced more than one of them this week alone. Rather than fighting on tangible fields of battle, the struggles we face are most often on the invisible battlefield between our ears. Such a small location, but the impact of the outcome of the battles fought there will affect every aspect of our lives.

Think about it – our actions are determined by our beliefs. What we really believe about God, His goodness, His faithfulness, and our own worth and value are prime pieces of territory the enemy would love to stake his flag on in that battlefield of the mind.

So if doubts, fears, etc. are the arrows, then HOW do we repel them? They are much more subtle than the purely physical variety, and making the transition from metaphor to reality can be a challenge.

We repel them by activating our faith against them.

How YOU Can Use the Shield of Faith

Example scenario: We hear the news of the recent Las Vegas tragedy and as a result, start feeling fearful of being in large crowds.

Fear-filled response: We dwell on everything terrible we have heard in the news lately. Instead of fighting it, we give in to this fear and allow it to grow, allowing our world to shrink down to a shade of the full and abundant life Christ has provided for us. We become controlled by the fear of something that may never happen, just by hearing about something that didn’t happen directly to us. We have given up territory to the enemy and put limitations on our existence that we were never meant to have.

Faith-filled response: We pray for those affected, understanding that we live in enemy territory but that God is not threatened in any way by the enemy. He has no equal, and there is no question about which is the winning side in this epic battle for the souls of humanity and the glory of God. We can remind ourselves of Isaiah 33:6, which says “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” We can also remind ourselves that He has promised to never leave us, and if He brings us to a season of hardship or suffering, He WILL see us through it. We can also remind ourselves that this life is just the prelude and training ground for the real one – a mere dress rehearsal for the wonders of eternity. Our job is simply to trust and obey God and honor Him in the moments He brings and to gratefully live the life He has granted us, trusting Him with the future, and remembering that He is already there. Not bound by time or space, He is already in our future, so we have nothing to fear. When we arrive, He is already there. His Word tells us that He has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Are You Using the Shield of Faith?If I am not accustomed to responding this way – to raising my shield and using it to fight off an attack – it may feel like so much whistling in the dark at first. It is very much the opposite. It is shutting down the enemy’s attempt at forcing us backward. The only way to get more comfortable doing it is by repetition. The fight is real, friends.

In both of the possible responses, we are moved in one direction or another. We have either retreated or advanced.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I don’t want to allow the enemy to push me into a corner by systematically giving up ground because I failed to use my shield.

Of course, there is much more in Ephesians 6, and we have a sword, too, as well as other pieces of armor. The sword and shield work together beautifully since our faith grows by hearing the Word of God, and the sword IS the Word of God. A synchronistic response of offense and defense – faith in God and speaking His Word over your circumstances.

Put IT Into Action

My challenge to you this week is to think about the most recent arrow the enemy has shot at you. What is he using? Doubts about your worth? Fear? Discouragement? Whatever it is, find a Scripture that applies, and memorize it. The next time those thoughts come, use your shield of faith! Enemy attacks don’t stop until the war is over, so be prepared to do it again, and then again.

If you need help finding a Scripture that fits, let me know.

This week, I’m praying for you. I’m praying that the victorious, soon-coming King will give you fresh strength for the fight at hand and that you will become even more adept at using the weapons He has put at your disposal. If you’re a bit out of practice and they feel clumsy and unnatural at first, don’t give up! He knows you can master them, and so do I.

With faith, hope, and love,

The Beautiful Journey

What In the World Is Happening? Questions About Natural Disasters Around the World

If you have been watching the news, you have probably been stunned by the plethora of natural disasters around the world. Floods, fires, and earthquakes seem to be slamming into our comfort zones with increasing regularity and intensity. So much widespread suffering and no part of the world appears able to claim to be exempt.

Those living near infrastructure allowing for almost immediate aid are the fortunate ones. Many aren’t as fortunate.

To whom, or what, do we attribute this mounting chaos? The small print on our airline ticket receipt speaks of “acts of God”. Some prefer to give the devil credit since destruction is his calling card. Others would inform us that climate change is the source of our current disasters…but who is the manager on duty over the climate, anyway?

What in the World is Happening?Your beliefs may offer yet another possible solution to the enigma.

The concept of temporary pain to achieve a greater good is one we are accepting of when we are on the dishing out end of the equation. We generally understand the value of disciplining our children so they don’t stick their little fingers in electrical outlets, run heedlessly out into the street after stray balls, or give free rein to their tempers and consequently never keep a job or long-term relationship.

We too can be brave and subject ourselves to such treatment by dieting, reducing our spending, or other plans involving temporary sacrifice to achieve the desired goal.

Can we further expand our thinking to consider that God is at work on a global scale, with purposes that eclipse our temporary comfort, and that will end in great good?  Please hear me – in absolutely no way do I mean to minimize anyone’s pain or loss, and my heart breaks for those whose lives have been ransacked by a disaster.  The destruction people have suffered is staggering, and my heart breaks for them.   I simply suggest that for a moment, we look beyond it.

Many followers of Jesus, and I among them, believe things are wrapping up down here – that it won’t be much longer before Christ returns and this world comes to an end.

But between our present chaotic reality and that much-anticipated event, there is something holding back the hand of God from giving the signal that the Time has finally come.

It could be you.

You see, the heart of God has been revealed to us through the life of His Son, Jesus, who at great personal cost came to seek and save those separated from Him by sin. He longs for every person to be reconciled to Himself through Jesus, and to that end, He labors.

C.s. Lewis famously said,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

If the whispered and the gently spoken messages are ignored, God will employ the megaphone and shout.

He is not shouting that individual pain doesn’t matter; He is shouting that there are worse things than losing our home and possessions, or even our health. Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”

Jesus once told a story to help people understand what God is like.  In it, He told of a shepherd who was willing to leave his 99 sheep safe together while he risked life and limb to climb down sharp rocks and steep mountainsides to hunt for one frightened, lost lamb. He is still willing to go to uncomfortable measures to find the one that is separated from Him. And then to do it again for the next one.

He is shouting that He exists to a world that has largely ignored Him. If we will admit He is there, we are in a position to take the next step and begin the conversation with Him that He is longing to start, the one that can end with our adoption into His family and our name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, giving us a home in Heaven forever.

Sometimes His methods may affect us in ways we don’t like, understand, or approve of. Can we be humble enough to accept that His efforts, motivated by love, will, in the end, be What in the World is Happening?worth whatever they cost?

My prayer is that individuals of every race and tribe the world over would respond to His whispers and join the epic love story that was written before time began. And for those who did not hear the whisper, that they would respond to the shouts.

The Bible says our lives here are a fleeting vapor. It’s ironic – what in reality is as ephemeral as a bit of passing mist FEELS like an eternity to those who live it moment by moment, and yet we have no real concept of eternity – it’s simply too vast for our brains to wrap around.

Our very temporal lives here feel eternal, yet at the next breath, you or I could step over into the real world that we have only seen hints of.

Friend, if you don’t know the God who pursues you every way He can, I urge you to change that today. He is waiting with arms wide open.

May the Lord bless you today with more of Himself. May He grant wisdom and insight to His people that we may know Him and effectively make Him known to a questioning world.

With faith, hope, and love,

The Beautiful Journey

The Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

The Aftermath

This has been one of the craziest weeks of my life.

I have had the extremely bittersweet privilege of walking alongside dear friends whose private preschool, Foundations Academy Cinco Ranch,  was flooded. Thanks to the cameras, they already knew from home that the school appeared to have some water in it, but nothing, not even wading through knee-high water to get to the building, could prepare us for the initial shock of opening the front door and seeing several inches of water in every single room.

The Aftermath of Hurricane HarveyAs this dear couple held each other and cried over the loss of the place they have poured their lives and resources into for years, I realized how completely lame my offer of “we’ll go up there with you and help you shop vac” really was. You need more than a shop vac for an entire submerged neighborhood that has boats going up and down the street all day and SUVs with water up to the tops of the windshield.

With a backdrop of people being rescued from nearby houses by air boat and helicopter, Chad and Misty, with a small army of supportive, amazing family members from far and near and dedicated friends, began the long process of recovering what could be saved and tearing out what couldn’t.

Even in the face of a staggering amount of work with the accompanying sense of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to even begin, there was gratitude.

Gratitude that it wasn’t worse. Gratitude that there was anything that could be salvaged. Gratitude that we all had dry houses to go home to after a long day of work – so many thousands of people lost theirs, and my heart and prayers are with them.

I met several people this week who had been evacuated and were trying to catch a ride on any passing canoe or motor boat to be taken to their house to see what amount of water damage they might be facing, and hoping upon hope that they might soon be able to go back home and leave the ranks of those displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

My hands have blisters, my feet have blisters, muscles ache in places I didn’t know that was a possibility, and I have become The Aftermath of Hurricane Harveyintimately acquainted with my husband’s crow bar and sheet rock saw. My feet never want to see the inside of my soggy water shoes again, ever. And while what I have done has made me tired (not a bad thing), what I have done is nothing. A molecule of the proverbial drop in the bucket.

And that’s the beauty of what I have seen this week.

The Beauty

The beauty of the hope, strength, and love of God shown through people.

People showing up with hot meals, and cases of bottled water.

People cheerfully working alongside others they have never met before and may never meet again.

People who know and love Chad and Misty, and people who don’t and were just looking for a place to help.

People coming from hours away just to be present during this crisis and lend another strong back and pair of hands to the effort.

One sweet young teacher came to help and broke down in tears when she saw the classroom she had just last week finished decorating for the fall, now a total soggy devastated mess. Soon she had worship music playing in her room as she set about the task at hand, taking a stand for others to follow.

People displaced from their own homes and sheltering at our church were willing to take care of workers’ children during the day (God bless them!) and have a hot meal waiting for us at the end of it.

People came in the morning, wading across a flooded field to even get to the school building, and left at the end of the day, battered, blistered, and bleeding, but still cheerful with the joy of pulling together to prove that in the end, Hurricane Harvey doesn’t win.

Love wins.

And by God’s grace, something even more beautiful than before will arise from these ashes – even when it’s too wet to give Him ashes to work with.

The Aftermath of Hurricane HarveyWhen looking too far ahead is paralyzing, and not looking ahead at all is depressing, God reminds us of the simplicity of looking to Him daily for the grace, strength, and wisdom for that day. Like manna, we must gather what we need for today, and then do it again tomorrow, and the next day. Jesus reminded us of that in the Lord’s Prayer when He taught us to ask, with humility and gratitude, for our daily bread.

In times of crisis, when that’s all you can do, it is enough.

Not because of the mechanics of asking or the length of our prayers, or because we were good and are somehow worthy,  but because of the loving Father who waits for us to come to Him so that He can fill us with His peace and presence.

The Source

Psalm 123:1-2 (NIV) says, “I lift up my eyes to You, to You whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.”

A slave receives all provision from his master. A maid receives all direction from her mistress. Likewise, we look daily to our gracious Father who provides us with the provision and direction we need.

Reuben Morgan’s Hillsong hit, “Still” has been running through my mind all week:

Hide me now
Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

CHORUS:The Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

When the oceans rise
And the thunders roar
I Will soar with You Above the storm
Father, You are King Over the flood
And I will be still
And know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

This is just one story out of thousands. If you too are suffering the effects of Harvey or some other disaster in another part of the world, my prayers are with you today. Better still – God’s grace, provision, and direction are available to you for the asking.

If you would like to give to the flood relief effort for Chad and Misty’s school (which is not covered by flood insurance), here is a link to the crowdfunding page that has been set up on their behalf.

With faith, hope, and love,

The Beautiful Journey