Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Life Changing Secret

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I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:11b-13

Have you ever been entirely out of your comfort zone?  I can think of several examples.  Most recently, I experienced the unique transition that comes with starting college.  I spent my senior year of high school sad about leaving friends, but also excited and completely convinced that I was going exactly where God wanted me to be.

However, the night before moving in, I found myself curled up on my mom’s bed sobbing.  I was terrified to start my first day.  I was worried about making friends, starting classes, and saying goodbye.  I also had no clue where to even find my school on a map and the realization that my family was going to be thirteen hours away made me feel vulnerable and alone.

The next morning, driving up to campus, I was short with my family, could feel the tears about to spill over, and yet was desperately trying to hold it all together for the moment I stepped out of the car and risked running into a future classmate.   I had stopped trusting that God had a plan in all of this and that I just needed to follow, and had started focusing in on everything that could possibly go wrong with a set of circumstances that were completely foreign to me.

Have you ever felt that way before?

I love the verse at the top of this post.  I love how it challenges and convicts me that there is still a lot of work to be done.  I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances.  And what are the circumstances?

  • In need
  • In plenty
  • In any and every situation
  • When well fed
  • When hungry
  • Living in plenty
  • Living in want

This year in my discipleship group, I read a book called Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow.  In each chapter, Linda addressed a different area of our lives that we need to learn to be content in.  She included one woman’s recipe for contentment to help us view each day differently.  It was so incredibly convicting to me that I want to share it with you…

  1. Never allow yourself to complain about anything—not even the weather.
  2. Never picture yourself in any other circumstances of someplace else.
  3. Never compare your lot with another’s.
  4. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
  5. Never dwell on tomorrow—remember that [tomorrow] is God’s, not ours.

(Calm My Anxious Heart page 13).

I remember the night we discussed this in discipleship group and I was overwhelmed with how much I needed a serious change in my attitude towards each day.  My leader challenged us to try to put one of the items on the list above into practice for the week.  As I left the room, I had already messed up on mine several times.

This first year of college has certainly been a journey for me.  I have been broken down and built back up.  I have learned that I have strengths and weaknesses that I did not even know existed.  I have tried new things and made new friendships.  I have written a lot more checks.  I have learned how to manage my time better, and how to do well in my classes.

All my circumstances have changed around me constantly.  Our circumstances will change around us every day.  But did you catch the end of the verse above?  The secret of being content whatever the circumstances is that we can do everything through Him who gives us strength.   

That’s the biggest thing that I have learned this year.  No matter what my circumstances are, I can overcome and flourish in them through Him, Jesus, who gives me strength.  I still mess up each and every day.  But I’m finding that I am a lot more content when I am tapping into the strength of my Savior rather than my own limited supply.

I smile when I think about how nervous I was on that first day of school this year.  In a lot of ways, I am not that same person.  God knew exactly what He was doing.  I just needed to trust that His plan was a lot bigger and better than mine.  And that He knew my circumstances and would bring me through them.

Today, I want to issue to you the same challenge that my discipleship group leader gave me at the beginning of the year.  Pick something on the list of contentment and try to put in into practice this week.  I think you’ll be surprised by the results.

Some Encouragement Today

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Today I just have a video for you by Beth Moore.  I encourage you to watch as much of it as you can. May it bring as much encouragement to you today to get out of the pits in your life as it did to me.

Live free!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZGeQpwG3kg

Slow Down and See

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The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the earth. –Psalm 19:1-4

I love when the seasons change.  I find myself anxiously awaiting the first snow, the buds on the trees, the intense heat of a summer sun, and the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows on fall leaves.  Sometimes I find myself staring out the window in awe at the beauty outside.

I also love that our God is the Master Creator and that evidence of Him can be seen all over His creation.  In fact, according to the verse above, His creation proclaims Him.  It transcends language and cultural boundaries and reveals a side of God that is playful and breathtakingly beautiful.

Many times when the stressors of this world are getting to me, I leave my room and go out and experience God in His creation.  For me, it usually starts as a run which progresses into a jog and then a walk as I burn off steam.  As my heart rate and stress level calm down, my eyes are opened to everything I had been missing when I was solely focused on me.  I am always amazed at just how much I didn’t see when I was running past it.

Creation is one of the greatest ways to experience God.  It is a tangible representation that He is at work in the world around us.  I’ve been trying to appreciate it more lately.  To stop in my tracks and think about the incredible God we serve who created all of it.  To look up at the night sky and realize just how small I really am.  To appreciate the beauty in little things that I never would have noticed.  To stop missing it.

Summer is just around the corner and I find myself anxiously awaiting all the special things that come with the season.  I have included some of my favorite things to do in creation during the summer below…

Going to the beach and digging my toes in the sand…

Boating…

Witnessing moments like this…

Fishing…well, I am not the biggest fan, but I like to try new things. Salmon fishing was amazing…

Beautiful sunsets…

Curling up on a bench in a park with a good book or my thoughts…this park is one of my favorites…

Fresh raspberries from my garden…

This post is a little shorter for a reason.  Take some time to experience God in His creation today.  Thank Him for the little things that you often pass by.  Slow down and see.

(Many of the above photos taken by my Mom in lovely Minnesota and Wisconsin)

Live in the Moment

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 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. –John 10:10

I want to share something today that I learned over this past Easter break, and that I am still learning how to put into practice each day.  I decided to stay back at school this year for Easter because I needed some time of renewal.  There had been a lot of things going on in my mind and my heart that I needed to work through.  I thought that maybe I could get ahead on finals.  And I wanted to push a reset button in my head to get me back on track to finish out the rest of the year strong

Before the break, I came across a book called Falling for God by Gary Moon.  The back of the book describes its message this way, “Falling in love is one of life’s greatest joys.  So imagine the endless joy of falling head over heels for God.”  I decided to check it out and over the break I began to read it.

One night, I came back to my dorm room and I opened up the first page and continued to read a few chapters.  What followed was a series of tears as I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of the love that God has for us.  It was exactly what I needed to set my heart and mind on as I thought about finishing out the end of this school year.

There was one quotation in the book that especially stuck out to me.  It states,

“Life is composed of a few billion present moments and nothing more. We are sharing one now as you read this sentence. But now it is gone. Fear not, another present moment is on the horizon. The thief and the robber wants to steal life. The easiest way for him to do that is to use thoughts to keep a person tied to the future or to the past. But life happens in the present. It is stolen if we are not available to the here and now.”

Think about that for a minute, friends.  That is powerful.  So often we allow ourselves to get so caught up in the past, things that went wrong or experiences we aren’t ready to give up that we miss out on everything that God is doing in our lives in the here and now.  Or we take the opposite approach.  We become so worried about the future that we cannot even enjoy, much less live in the present.  We miss out on the life he has to offer us because we aren’t really living.

Read the verse above.  Gary Moon referenced this verse in the quotation you read just a little bit earlier.  The thief and robber will only steal, kill and destroy.  But look at what Jesus offers.  He gives us life.  But it is not just a mundane existence.  It is a life that is meant to be lived in the here and now.  A life that is meant to be lived to the full.

So here’s my question to you today.  Questions that arose for me when I was reading this book over Easter.  Where are you living?  Are you living in the past, so caught up in memories or regret that you can’t even see what God is doing in you day by day?  Or are you so concerned or excited for the future, that here and now doesn’t even seem to matter?  We cannot experience life to the fullest if we are not really living in the first place.

There is another passage of scripture that I believe ties in with this beautifully.  It reads,

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  –Romans 8:38-39

When we allow the little things or the big things to get in the way of living in the here and now, we miss out on the life that God has to offer us.  A life that is offered to us because of the love that He has for us.

Read that verse above again.  What is keeping you from experiencing living life to the fullest?  What are you allowing to influence your heart and mind to try to separate you from knowing the love of Jesus?  Don’t let the little things of this world stop you from experiencing the incredible love of Jesus Christ day to day.

I hope that the words in that quotation are as powerful to you today as they were to me.

I encourage you to take whatever things your holding on to be they in the past or the future and let them go.

I think you’ll be surprised at how freeing it can really be.

Chasing Second Loves

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She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.’ Therefore I will block her path with thorn bushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.’ She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold—which they used for Baal.

Hosea 2:6-8 

For years and years people have been obsessed with fairy tales.  They can be found in various forms in different cultures all over the world.  We love fairy tales because they take us to a magical world where wishes come true, animals can talk, and something new and exciting is just around the corner.  We also love fairy tales because no matter how hard the evil villain tries, we have an expectation that it will all end happily ever after.

But what if fairy tales didn’t end that way?  Imagine if someone told you a story where the princess ended up with the evil villain instead of her prince. To make matters worse, what if the princess intentionally chose what the villain had to offer even though she already knew her prince was waiting for her and loved her.   Everything inside of us would scream that there was something wrong.  Chances are we would probably ask our storyteller if they had read the last page right.  There must be more!

Take a minute and read the verse above before we begin this next part.

Do you ever have those moments where you read or hear something and you are instantly convicted? That’s what this verse does to me.  This verse was said to the prophet Hosea by God and tells how Israel had turned away from God in pursuit of other things.

When I read this verse about a month ago, I was extremely convicted how often I do this in my own life.  It is so easy to get completely wrapped up in something or someone until it becomes the center of your world.  Have you been there?  Maybe it is a sport, a talent, a relationship, school ….  Regardless, whatever it is can become all consuming.

One of my professors described this as “a good thing which has become an ultimate thing.”  He offered us a simple test to determine if this had happened us.  He said, “if you want to know if a good thing has become an ultimate thing, ask yourself how you would feel if it was taken away.”  Friends, there is nothing wrong with pursuing a talent or having friends, but when they take the place of God in our lives and become everything that we live for, then we have a serious problem.

Look at what Israel was chasing after.  Food, water, wool, linen, oil, and drink.  Are any of these bad things to want to have?  No.  But they had become ultimate things.  Look also at what she attributed these blessings to.  The first mistake that Israel made was taking her eye of the One who had blessed her with these things and attributing these blessings to something else.   We see in the end of this passage that Israel even went so far as to offer them to a false god, Baal.

So what does God decide to do?  He does everything to try to keep her close to Him and find her way back to Him.  Look at the words He uses to describe this.  I will block her path with thorn bushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.  Look also at Israel’s response to this.  It reads she will chase after her lovers.  Stop there for a minute.  In spite of the obvious road blocks placed in her path, she runs after her second loves.  It’s easy to want to criticize Israel.  To look at her and say, “Don’t you see that huge thorn bush right in the middle of the road?  Can’t you see the high wall that has been built all around you?  Why won’t you give up and see that there is so much more than what you are pursuing?”  But before we get to tough on Israel, we need to look inside.

Israel had become so accustomed to chasing things other than God that she didn’t even have to think about running after them, in spite of everything that was placed in her path pointing her back towards God.  We see that she continues to look for them and try to catch them.

Take a moment and think about what you are running after right now.  Can you honestly say that you are running in complete pursuit of God?  Or are you deviating a little bit?  If you have been blessed with a special talent, are you offering it up to God?  Or are you so caught up in the praise that you are getting that you are forgetting who blessed you with it in the first place?  What about your relationships?  Is someone else getting more of your heart, time or energy than your Savior?

Are there any obvious thorn bushes in your path?  What about a high wall?  Are you ignoring them and running right into them, or have you taken the time to stop and see that something may be wrong?

Reading this for me was like being punched in the stomach.  I was overwhelmed with how much I had let one situation consume my thoughts, my heart, and how it had begun to influence my actions.  There have been other times in my life where an activity completely took over my time and energy.  Instead of attributing my success to God, I took all the credit.  Good things, blessings that I had been given by God, I had made ultimate things and put in the place of God.  And I was willing to run towards the thorn bushes and try to climb the walls not to lose them.

But reading this also gave me hope.  Because it showed me just how much God loves us and desires to be in a relationship with us.  Look at what happened to Israel.  When she finally ran out of steam and stopped chasing the things she had put in place of God she realized that she was better off  with her first love.

I challenge you today to think about what has become an ultimate thing in your life.  What has taken the place of God?  And what about it is making you hold onto it as tight as you can?

I also challenge you to let go.  Give it to God and tell Him that you want Him to be your first love.  Aren’t quite sure just how great His love for you is?  Read these verses below and be reminded.

Remember the fairy tales?  You have been given the gift of being able to experience the most powerful love of all.  Don’t pick the things that will never satisfy.  Chose a happy ending.  Follow God and make Him the King of your heart.

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. –Zephaniah 3:17

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down;  you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths,you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 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. How precious tome are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. –Psalm 139:1-18

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD. I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’ ; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ –Hosea 2:19-20,23

 

Where Are You Getting Your Strength?

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My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.

Psalm 62:1

One of my favorite things to do is make lists.  I make lists for everything.  They can be as simple as a packing list to a minute-by-minute schedule of my entire day.  The latter is the one I write out the most often.  Have you ever stopped to think about what every little minute of your day is going to look like before it even starts?  Or have you ever lain in bed at night and thought about every single thing you accomplished and how little it all seems to matter in the face of everything that you still have to do?

Thinking about the little details of each day can be incredibly overwhelming.  Whether you start the day with them or go to sleep with them on your mind, there is not often a moment of peace.  And it can be even worse when plans get changed, or a to do list just seems to get longer and longer.  Suddenly, the few precious moments that may have been scheduled for some much needed relaxation are swept away in an avalanche of work, friendship/relationship troubles, family problems, personal tragedies.  Even things that are meant to be fun like a surprise party or a spontaneous evening out with friends can seem like inconveniences when we rattle of our long lists of things to do in the back of our minds.

So what is our problem anyway?  Why are we so caught up in the little things that we can’t even see the big picture?  Why can’t we ever find rest?  As I sit here and type out these questions, I’m asking them to myself as well.  What is so attractive about the things of this world that I am so caught up in them that I have lost the ability to sit back and see the bigger picture?

I think the answer comes right down to where we are getting our strength.  My name, Breanna, means strong.  As a child, my parents told me frequently that they named me Breanna because they wanted me to be strong in my faith.  I thought that was exciting, but I took it to the extreme.  I decided that I was supposed to be strong in everything.  I was strong enough to handle my life.  I was strong enough to put aside my problems and put a brave face on for the rest of the world.  I decided that I would be known for my strength and ability to handle any situation.

Did you notice anything about that last paragraph?  Look at all the times the word “I” is used.  Unfortunately, my grand ideas of how strong I could be blew up in my face.  I can remember a night in high school that I just cried and cried.  I was tired and at the end of my strength.  I realized there was no possible way that I could do everything on my own.  My strength had a limit.  I could only get so far.  And because we are all humans, yours does too.

It is easy to get discouraged when we approach every day asking ourselves questions like, How am I ever going to get through this?  When will all of my problems be over?  Why can’t I figure out a solution?  There’s those words again: I and me.  They are some of the most dangerous words we can think of because we can become consumed with ourselves.  It is only when we look outside of ourselves and see our own weaknesses and limitations that we realize the great hope that we have in being followers of God.

Think about it.  We have a God who is totally in control.  Yet, we are so eager to take over the reins.  But clearly, we aren’t doing such a good job.  Becoming a Christian does not only mean repenting of sin, it requires a radical transformation of our inner selves.  It requires us to give all of us, every single part over.  With open hands we must surrender to the King of Kings complete control.  And while this seems like one of, if not the most scary, hard things to do, it is only when we surrender control and recognize our own strength limitations that we can find rest.

Look at the verse above.  My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.  It does not say My soul finds rest in ME alone; my salvation comes from ME.  How silly does that sound?  But how often is it true of our own thought processes?

Friends, when we trust in Christ we are called to trust Him in every aspect of our lives.  And while it is scary to relinquish control over every little detail and stop trying to accomplish everything in our own strength, we desperately need to.  It is only when we stop resting in our own strength and start resting in His perfect strength to get us through each and every situation, small and large, that we are truly able to rest.

Many times, the thought of losing control over our lives can be scary.  It is the biggest thing that we fear when we go over our schedules, the fear that something could go wrong.  But we serve an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God who is not limited by human weakness.  So today, I challenge you to really think about who it is that has complete control over your life today.  Have you trusted God with everything?  What are you still holding back?  Maybe for you it isn’t a trust issue.  But maybe you’re realizing your strength has a limit.  What’s stopping you from tapping into THE source of strength?

Take comfort in the knowledge that you serve a God who is in control.  Think about the verses below and the radical change that can happen in a life that rests in the knowledge that God is in control.

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.  Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.  I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my handsMy soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.  On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wingsMy soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.  –Psalm 63:1-8

What Causes You Grief?

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“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”

 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

Sometimes the best medicine is a heavy dose of reality.  That’s what this verse did to me tonight.  I found myself drowning in self-pity jealousy, anger, loneliness all being fueled by a continuous flow of lies.  What had been a wonderful day was quickly turning into a downward spiral of negativity and it was completely rooted in what I was allowing into my mind.

Have you ever been there?  Everything seems to be going great and then just like that, you’re in a bad mood and everything around you and inside you feels awful.  Many times this can be rooted in self-pity.  When we focus on everything that is seemingly wrong with our circumstances, we become consumed with them.  We are so attached to the things of this world and our own ideals of perfection that we literally grieve when just one little detail seems to be out of place.

Look at the verse above.  Worldly sorrow brings death.  Ouch.  Those little things that we desperately want to fit into place and get so worked up over, are so temporary.  They are of the world and, as a result, they will one day be gone.  So why are we so consumed by them?  Why do we listen to the constant lies thrown at us?

Tonight as I asked myself these questions, I realized that what was filling my mind was coming straight from the motivations of my heart.  I had allowed myself to be so filled up with what was seemingly wrong in my life that I had lost sight of the truth.  My heart was sorrowful over every worldly desire for things that I didn’t have.  I was feeling pain because I was seeking after the things of this world instead of running after a desire to know God more.  The world left me empty, dissatisfied, and alone.

The gravity of this hit me when I saw this verse and underwent a serious reality check.  Look closely at the verse again.  Especially this part.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Our hearts are supposed to literally grieve over the imperfections that we see, however, they are not the little details that don’t seem to be going right in our day.  Rather, they are deep, real, painful sins that separate us from God.

Instead of looking at everything that is going “wrong” with everybody else or with our circumstances, we need to take a good hard look at what is going on inside.  I think we are in for a serious surprise.  It is amazing how much our attitude can change from self-pity to one of extreme repentance when we realize that we are the driving force behind the ugliness we are seeing.  It’s not coming from circumstances outside our control.  It’s coming from what we have allowed to penetrate our hearts and minds.

So, how do we begin to tackle what is inside?  First, we must change what makes us grieve.  Rather than grieve over the things of this world that we don’t have, we must grieve over our sin.  When we grieve over our sin we are driven to repentance.  As a result of our repentance we are able to experience the incredible gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  And here’s the amazing part.  Did you see what that verse said?  A life blessed with salvation leaves no regret. Christ does not disappoint.  But it doesn’t stop with repentance.

According to this passage, a heart that seeks after God, and grieves over areas that don’t measure up with His standards produces an earnestness and an eagerness for change.  It isn’t enough to recognize the wrong.  A heart that grieves over the wrong inside of it takes steps to eradicate it.

A heart that grieves over its own sin not only desires change, but is also indignant, or appalled by the results of its own introspection.  Once it realizes what it has seen, it is alarmed.  This does not produce panic.  Rather, it produces a deep longing and concern to see that sin gone.  It recognizes its own depravity.  And it longs to be reunited with the truth which can only be found in God.  The end result is a readiness to see justice served in one’s own life.  A readiness to see a self-absorbed lifestyle for what it really is, pride, which is sin.

It’s time for a little dose of reality.  Where is your heart at today?  Are you even aware of the sin lurking inside your own heart, or are you content to blame it on the circumstances around you?  Take some time for some serious introspection today.  Examine your heart.  Grieve over the things that need to be changed.  Grieve in a way that motivates you towards action.  Don’t give into self-pity.  Don’t listen to lies.  Fill your heart with truth that will overflow into your mind and be revealed in your actions.

Give what comes in and comes out of your heart and mind the Philippians 4:8 test.  Finally, brothers, 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.

Remember, a life of salvation in Jesus leaves no room for regrets.  Rest in that truth today.