“Honey, this is the faith tree.”

Seeds for my love of gardening were planted at age 10 when I first read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic, The Secret Garden.  I had the measles that summer, and was confined to bed for what seemed like ages.  Mom would darken the blinds each afternoon and read aloud as I closed my eyes and visualized the vine-covered walls of this extraordinary hideaway.

In this delightful book, a neglected garden is rejuvenated through careful tending, creating the backdrop for a neglected father/son relationship to be restored and new friendships fostered. I remember later reenacting scenes from the book in my grandmother’s backyard as I tended her daisies, black-eyed Susans, and honeysuckle. 

Actually, every garden tells its gardener’s story.  My grownup garden began in 1997 with the planting of a single tree.  No house existed on the lot we had purchased to build on because our country home was not selling despite several contracts which all fell through.  For many long months, I drove by our vacant lot, sadly praying God would make things happen faster so we could begin building our dream home.

One particular afternoon when my spirits were at their lowest, I drove by our lot and discovered a tree had been planted.  My farmer husband, as a surprise, had placed paper plates where the pillars of the house would stand, and had planted an oak tree right smack dab in the middle of our non-existent backyard!  Here’s what he told me, “Honey, this is the faith tree.  Someday soon we WILL build on this lot.  And someday our grandchildren will play under the overhanging branches of the faith we are planting right now.”  And you know what, 20 years later, he is right!!  Five grandchildren play under the shade of the tree in Noni and Papa’s backyard.  We are living in the promise fulfilled! 

And guess what?  We are the Lord’s garden!  And our lives tell His story! 

Isaiah 58:11 says:  

“The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry, And restoring your strength.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring!”

We would like to thank Susan Hurt for contributing this post.

Wild Men

wild-men-1Even after being raised as the only girl among brothers, this little lady had some eye-opening learning curves to scale as a young wife to a real-live, flesh-and-blood man and a mother of two rough-and-tumble sons. Oh, I should have been used to the constant wrestling, the competing, the bleeding…the frequent stitches, athletic events, and sheetrock repairs. However, when I found myself yoked together with the love of my life and responsible for managing our active household of little lads whom I absolutely adored, I’m afraid my uber-responsible, controlling side rared up and rather ruled the day.

You probably know the feeling. That twitching, worried, hyper-protective maternal instinct kicks in, and we believe with all our hearts that Momma Knows Best in All Things! And what Momma wants is to keep all her babies close and safe and free from trouble, preferably surrounded by bubble wrap.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that I had an instantaneous transformation, laid down all my control issues at the altar, and have walked 100% free all the days thenceforth. What I can say is that my Father God gave me moments of insight and revelation into the masculine heart and soul—and that led me to come into agreement with Him and how He wired these guys we all love.

wild-at-heartReading the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge was so impactful in that season of my life. I accepted how my husband and sons were designed by God to be aggressive warriors, adventurers, and leaders. For example, they desire to be respected and trusted as they do hard things, carry heavy responsibility, face danger, rise up to meet challenges, and overcome adversity without being rescued or micromanaged by me.

Truthfully, God used all of this revelation to start healing deep places in my own feminine soul as well, inviting me to get in touch with beauty, softness, nurture, comfort, and the freedom of submission in a way I had never experienced until then. I made crazy-wild choices to actually trust my husband’s decisions for our family instead of resisting, learning to lean into his leadership and trusting the Father’s voice in and through him, to me and to our children.

Over seasons of walking with the Lord as a wife and mother, I continue to relinquish my fears to Him when they arise. Basically, I have come to such a solid and peaceful place of faith in the fact that God’s will is for there to be order in our home. I invite you to join me in that place of faith for your home. That order and peace is totally worth fighting for!

What a generous gift that the masculine and feminine hearts are absolutely being restored and healed in our generation, as we continually surrender to the ways of our Father’s kingdom.

This post was written by Jill Brown. To read more about her, click here. 

Welcome Home {A Book Review}

welcome-homeHospitality…what a beautiful and frightening word. It invokes feelings of all kinds. All of us can think of someone immediately who makes us feel warmly welcomed in their home, or even just in their presence. The act of hospitality brings safety to our hearts and is an expression of love…it truly is a gift to those who are the recipients of it.

As a young 20 year old, I remember, having left my mother’s house, realizing now I was responsible to “show hospitality.”  The pressure was on, and I felt unequipped and confused.  At the time I was stuck in the all too familiar “comparison trap.” My house didn’t look like hers, I hated cooking, my resources were limited, and I was truly a selfish young adult.

Somewhere along the way, I came across a beautiful book by Emilie Barnes called Welcome Home.  This book inspired me to just be “me.” It gave me permission to dream and enjoy the gift that I bring to my home: the gift of myself.  Within this book, Emilie shares her story about how she makes her home a place of beauty and love for her family and her guests. Everything from play spaces for children to office spaces for adults and guest rooms for visitors. She inspires women to be their own unique, creative self who loves God by loving others.

If you struggle with expressing hospitality, I suggest you pick up Welcome Home by Emilie Barnes.  Through the pages of this book you will discover the joy and fulfillment that comes from making your home a place where others find love and security.

**Note from the editor: This book in its new, revised form goes under the name Home Warming.

This post was written by Julie Snellgrove. To read more about her, click here. 

Recommended Reading: Experiencing the Spirit

Experiencing the SpiritThis month we’ve been focusing on spending time with the Lord, and for our book review, I’d like to recommend Experiencing the Spirit by Robert Heidler.

If you’re new to the Holy Spirit or if you have questions about who the Holy Spirit is, Heidler’s book is a great resource full of straightforward explanations, grounded in Scripture for understanding the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit.

I was Spirit-filled many years ago, and even if you’re a seasoned Holy Spirit veteran, this book is still for you. I found it refreshing and inspiring.

Akin to Bill Johnson’s When Heaven Invades Earth, the power in this text is the testimonies he offers. Everyday people—like you and me—who experience God’s healing, His miracles, His gift of prophecy and words of knowledge, His manifest presence, etc.

Those testimonies build my faith and remind me that when I feel defeated the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me.

And more than that, He’s asked me to minister to others, to advance His kingdom here on earth.

It’s not about me; it’s about Him. And His power demonstrates His love for others.

My constant prayer while reading this book has been, “Holy Spirit, come. Empower me to do your work.”

I want to have a deepened relationship with the Holy Spirit, to sense when He is moving, to hear what He is saying, to see how He is manifesting Himself. I want to encourage others, to see them set free and healed and filled with the power to overcome anything.

Don’t you?

I highly recommend this text! Read it and sign up for the Holy Spirit class November 13. Both will be a blessing! J

This post was written by Laura Brandenburg. To read more about her, click here.

The Circle Maker {A Book Review}

the circle makerEvery month, we feature a book review based on our blog theme for that month. For more great book suggestions, check out our Bookshelf tab here. (And for you non-readers, check out the audio book options!)

For May, we’ve been blogging about the power of prayer, and while there are a lot of great books on prayer, I wanted to review The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.

When I first started reading this book, I only read through maybe a third of it—and then I got discouraged. We were praying for miracles in our life, and Mark shared testimony after testimony of God’s answered prayer for his life and for his church.

I suddenly felt a bit forgotten and alone.

And, to be honest, I sort of developed a bad attitude toward the book. I would say stuff like, “Oh, he’s just all about ‘name it and claim it.’ That’s not how God operates.”

Let me tell you, friends, when I did actually come back to finish it—a year or so later—I realized it’s so very far from being heretical.

Mark gives insight into the heart of God for prayer: that we would believe, that we would risk in what we ask for because only then are we exercising faith, and that we would be persistent even when we don’t see anything changing.

He’s very quotatble, so I’ll try to be sparse, but here are a few of my favorites:

“His command better be your wish. If it’s not, you won’t be drawing circles; you’ll end up walking in circles” (p. 16).

“God does not answer vague prayers” (p. 27).

“No doesn’t always mean no; sometimes it means not yet. We’re too quick to give up on God when He doesn’t answer our prayers how or when we want. Maybe your deadline doesn’t fit God’s timeline… Maybe it’s a divine delay” (p. 64).

“If you want God to surprise you, you have to give up control” (p. 66).

“I don’t want easy answers or quick answers because I have a tendency to mishandle the blessings that come too easily or too quickly. I take the credit or take them for granted. Now I pray that it will take long enough and be hard enough for God to receive all the glory. I’m not looking for the path of least resistance; I’m looking for the path of greatest glory… Maybe we need to change our prayer approach from as soon as possible to as long as it takes (p. 196).

Whether you’re a seasoned prayer warrior or are looking for an approach to be more disciplined with your prayer life, you’ll be encouraged by this book!

God desires to give us good gifts, and his heart rejoices when we ask Him! Remember Brad’s sermon about middle voice? (5 Smooth Stones—Part 4: Faith) He said,

Pray in middle voice—taking action but depending on God to complete the action.

Let’s exercise our faith through prayer!

This post was written by Laura Brandenburg. To read more about her, click here. 

Culture of Honor {A Book Review}

book review- HonorEvery month, we feature a book review based on our blog theme for that month. For more great book suggestions, check out our Bookshelf tab here. (And for you non-readers, check out the audio book options!)

The blog focus this month has been honor, and when I was asked to do a review of a book on that topic, I choose Culture of Honor by Danny Silk.

Like most of Danny Silk’s books, he has a single, foundational idea that we must first learn. In Keeping Your Love On, he says it like this: “The only person I can control, on a good day, is myself.”

Creating a culture of honor can only occur when we lay down our need to control others.

Related to this, creating a culture of honor is about leading people to unleash “their true capacity for self-control and responsibility,” so they can experience “the freedom God desires for each of his sons and daughters” (p. 45).

In order for these two things to happen—first, our ability to self-control and not “other-control” and second, our ability to lead others to also self-control—we must firmly know our identity in Christ.

We control out of insecurity, self-protection, fear, etc.; however, our status as daughters in the kingdom releases us from the need to control other people’s behavior.

Once we understand our status, we can help others walk in the freedom of their status: as sons and daughters, we are unpunishable (p. 80). Jesus already took on our punishment.

So we have to first believe this about ourselves, and then we can create a culture of honor toward others because we believe it about them too.

Everything is fine with honor until someone messes up, right? And we get to see how we feel about sin (and punishment) based on our response to other people’s mistakes:

“If we don’t know how to deal with sin, then we don’t know how to deal with people. We inevitably create a culture of law in order to keep people from sinning. The message of that culture is this: ‘Contain your sin within yourself. Don’t show it to me; I can’t handle it.’” (p. 168).

But the new covenant is an internal covenant—we are free, and God intends us to exercise our freedom through self-control. He doesn’t put external controls on us.

But when people mess up, we freak out, and we need a system of external controls. We need to modify, or correct, or punish their behavior because we don’t know how to deal with people’s mistakes.

Two false ideas must be broken: the first is that love is control—“that which we love, we try to control” (p. 78)—and the second is that love is fear:

“What offense does to you is it justifies you from withholding your love. I get to withhold my love from you when you have broken the rules because people who fail are unworthy of love, and they deserve to be punished. In fact, what punishment looks like most often is withholding love. And when I withhold love, anxiety fills the void, and a spirit of fear directs my behavior toward the offender” (p. 93).

Wow.

Danny’s message is that honor empowers people. When I’m no longer concerned with controlling you or punishing you, I learn to ask the right questions: “What is the problem? What are you going to do about it?”

I put the responsibility on the individual to self-control and take ownership.

And because I don’t need to control, I can empower and call forth the real identity of the person—who he or she is in Christ.

The book is geared toward church leaders for a culture of honor on staff, but I found it widely applicable to my marriage, my friendships, and my students!

Here’s to self-control, not “other-control”! 🙂

This post was written by Laura Brandenburg. To read more about her, click here

The Best Yes {A Book Review}

 

the best yesAn exciting addition to our blog is that, each month, we will be featuring a book review based on our blog theme for that month. This book covers February’s theme of “Balance.” For more great book suggestions, check out our Bookshelf tab here. (And for you non-readers, check out the audio book options!)

Three years ago, I found myself sitting amongst a crowd of people at a leadership conference, not knowing that I was about to hear a very powerful and life-giving teaching from a woman named Lysa Terkeurst. At the time, I had very little knowledge of who this woman was, but that day, as I listened to her teach and preach and pour out wisdom through honesty and vulnerability, it left me wanting to hear more.

It turns out, Lysa has written several incredible books, one of my favorites being, “The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands.” When I began reading this book, I assumed it was another book about making your yes a ‘yes’ and your no a ‘no,’ but it reveals so much more than that. Lysa goes even further than yes and describes what she calls a “Best Yes” by saying, “Best Yes answers are much more likely to happen when we are in the habit of seeking wisdom. We have to put our hearts and minds in places where wisdom gathers, not scatters. Wisdom makes decisions today that will still be good tomorrow.”

I absolutely loved this book. There is a wealth of truth within its pages I could unpack for you, but there were three key truths that seemed to stand out while I was reading.

Our decisions aren’t just isolated choices. Our decisions point our lives in the direction we’re about to head. Show me a decision and I’ll show you a direction.
It’s easy to believe this for the big decisions we are faced with, but what about the small decisions we make every day? What happens when I choose to give my husband the silent treatment because I am upset with him? Lysa talks about the importance of “chasing down” our decisions. If I choose the silent treatment today, what happens tomorrow? Being quiet today could start a pattern of behavior that I could repeat over and over when things are tense between Bryan and me. This could lead to shutting down the communication in my marriage and would eventually drive a wedge between us. Chasing down this decision helps me to make the “Best Yes” choice of being open and honest with Bryan about how I feel in the very moment that I am upset. This “Best Yes” may seem small but when looking at the big picture of my marriage, it’s crucial.

While my heart wants to say yes, the reality of my time makes this a no.
This is an example of what Lysa calls a “small no.” A small no pushes through our fears of disappointing someone and convinces us it’s better to say no early on instead of letting things progress until the no becomes much harder to give. This book helped me to see that waiting longer than I should to say no to someone builds their hopes that the answer will be a yes, it prevents them from making other plans, and it makes an eventual no much harder to receive. Somehow, we have believed that saying no is not kind or even “Christian,” but we must learn to believe that saying no now means that we are positioning ourselves to be given a God-opportunity to give a “Best Yes.”

A woman who lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule will often ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul.
Does your heart sink when you read this? If so dear friend, please read this book. I love how Lysa said, “An underwhelmed soul is one who knows there is more God made her to do.” I especially loved this chapter because she takes the time to explain how we can get back to that one thing, that one passion that we wake up in the middle of the night thinking about. That one thing that makes our heart flutter when we dare let ourselves dream a little. I loved reading this morsel of truth, “Never is a woman so fulfilled as when she chooses to underwhelm her schedule so she can let God overwhelm her soul.” Isn’t that so good?!

There were four statements written on the cover of this book, two of which convinced me to read it.
I hope there’s more to life than my to-do list.
I’m a little overwhelmed and a lot worn out.
I dread saying yes but feel powerless to say no.
I’m drowning in the regrets of too many commitments.

If any of these statements jump out and speak to your heart, then this book is definitely for you. It is an easy read, packed full of wisdom, truth, God’s Word, and insight from a woman who’s not afraid to be vulnerable and share the lessons life has taught her. I will leave you with some of the last statements written in this book in hopes that you will choose to read it and let it minister to your heart as it did mine.

Let’s use the two most powerful words, yes and no, with resounding assurance, graceful clarity, and guided power. All so people may see Jesus when they see us. Hear Jesus when they hear us. And know Jesus when they know us.

This post was written by Amber Curry. To read more about her, click here.