Lifting My Eyes To The Hills

My recent reflections have been over Pastor Brad’s past sermons on the attributes of God:  God is love, God is good, God is our provider, God is faithful, and God can be trusted. Our life group question following these sermons was, “So, if God is good, why did he allow [fill in the blank]?” This has caused me to think about “mountain top” vs. “valley” experiences. What a joy to be on a mountain high! On top of the mountain, the air is fresh and invigorating. Looking back down at that valley, you recall a difficult path, an environment full of stress, pain, and insecurity. But now, having arrived to the top, you rejoice in God, for He guided your steps. 

Andy Andrews, Christian author of The Noticer, writes, “Everybody wants to be on the mountaintop, but if you’ll remember, mountaintops are rocky and cold. There is no growth on the top of a mountain. Sure, the view is great, but what’s a view for? A view just gives us a glimpse of our next destination – our next target. But to hit that target, we must come off the mountain, go through the valley, and begin to climb the next slope. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.” 

Together we journey this valley of “coronavirus insecurity” and individually we have other valleys we travel (health, financial, family, etc.). We all desire to get to the mountaintop. No one is excluded in these unsettling walks. Even as I share this blog, the enemy searches my walls for vulnerable places where I am unarmed. It is crucial for me to carry the shield of faith, fortify my walls with the armor of God by wearing His breastplate and helmet, carry the sword of the spirit (the Word), and pray always (Ephesians 6). 

God’s love, goodness, provision, and faithfulness are seen when our eyes are fixed on Jesus. As the body of Christ, God will lead us in an excellent way to serve our Christian family and community (1 Cor. 12:27; 31).   Look around and see God at work in His people; you don’t have to look too far. It might be a life group member offering services to help, an encouraging text or call, a shoulder to lean on, or knowing with confidence you are being lifted in prayer to the Almighty.

In this valley faith grows and the fruit of the Spirit is manifested through God’s people.   

Stop, look, and listen. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Spirit is at work; His fruit is bountiful (Galatians 5:22-23). I encourage you to share what God is doing during this walk of your life: what has He taught you, how is He directing your path, how is your faith growing, and how is He using you to further His Kingdom? Encourage and pray for one another as we walk through this valley, keeping our eyes on the hills from where our help comes. 

Psalm 121  

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help?  

My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.  

He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.  

Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.  

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand.  

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.  

The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in   

From this time forth, and even forevermore.

We would like to thank Darla Newland for writing this blog!

Setting Boundaries With Your Time

Editor’s Note: During the month of March, we will be focusing on setting boundaries in different areas of our lives. It’s our prayer that the posts we share this month will inspire you to set healthy boundaries that will help you live the abundant, blessed life that scripture promises, which glorifies the Lord and points those around us to Jesus. 

Time. It seems there is just never enough of it. Not enough hours in the day to do all I need to do, much less all I want to do. But God has been teaching me how to number my days that I might gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12) and to redeem—or make the most of—my time (Ephesians 5:16). He is showing me that my time should be spent on things of eternal significance. What does that mean? For me, it has meant three things.

First, I made a list of priorities, then took that list to God and allowed him to re-prioritize as needed so that he is the one establishing my steps (Proverbs 16:9). Our lists will be different depending on the season we are in, but God desires for all of us to commit each day to the pursuit of honoring and glorifying him. In each moment and season, it is our opportunity and responsibility to show Christ and make him known, but all too often I have allowed opportunities to slip right by because something insignificant was consuming my time. 

Second, I had to set personal boundaries to guard and protect those priorities. Like priorities, personal boundaries are just that—personal. No one but God can truly help you set them, but doing so will be for your good and his glory. The Oxford English Dictionary describes boundaries as “lines that mark the limits of an area, a dividing line.” When it comes to my time, I have learned that I must set dividing lines and limits to keep my heart, soul, and spirit healthy and my life fruitful. Setting boundaries includes learning to say no. As a recovering people-pleaser and yes-girl, saying no has been the hardest part for me. But, as John C. Maxwell said, you must “learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.

Not too long ago, I found myself once again saying yes to too many good things. Fear of letting others down and, worse yet, fear of what others might think about me if I said no caused me to step out of bounds, which led to bitterness and resentment. God, in his infinite grace, helped me through it all and I actually found joy at the end, but the journey there wasn’t pretty. On another recent occasion, I found myself saying no to a really good thing in order to stay true to my priorities. Great peace washed over me as I said no, but guilt, regret, and envy tried to take over later as I listened to others tell of the time they had.

Saying no is a choice and it is not always easy but God hears and sees.

When the desire of my heart is seeking and honoring him above all else, he rewards me with inner peace and joy that can never be robbed by my negative emotions.

Finally, I had to learn the importance of Sabbath rest. Honoring the Sabbath is the only one of the Ten Commandments we believe is optional. It’s not. God intends for us to set aside time each week to rest and be with him. It’s how he refreshes, renews and sustains us as we pursue all he designed us to accomplish. Sabbath is a gift from God and he expects us to honor it. 

Setting and staying within boundaries takes effort and intentionality. But I have found that when I do, I have more than enough time for all God desires for me to do. The result is a peaceful, joyful, fruitful life that glorifies God!

References:

Cloud, Dr. Henry and Dr. John Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take control of Your Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

Morris, Robert. Take the Day Off: Receiving God’s Gift of Rest. New York: FaithWords, 2019.

We would like to thank Melissa Hooks for writing this post!

Boundaries of the Mind and our Self-Talk

Editor’s Note: During the month of March, we will be focusing on setting boundaries in different areas of our lives. It’s our prayer that the posts we share this month will inspire you to set healthy boundaries that will help you live the abundant, blessed life that scripture promises, which glorifies the Lord and points those around us to Jesus. 

Let me set the stage: I teach 5th grade math. Yes, I know some of you just thought to yourselves, “Oh bless your heart,” but I’ve got a story for you that I pray will bless YOUR heart. 

I had just put a problem up on the board when I heard a collective sigh from my entire class and the moaning and groaning started. “This is too hard,” “I don’t get it,” “I’ll never be able to do this.” I stopped them and motioned to a poster in the back of my class that had been there all year but none of them had read. It said, “Don’t decide you can’t before you discover that you can.” One of my little girls looked at me and said, “Ms. Ludecke, why are you always so positive?” That got me thinking, and honestly, I’m positive because I spent so long allowing myself to be negative.

Self-talk is the inner monologue that directs every moment of every day. If we choose not to set up boundaries over our mind and the self-talk that flows through it, we make ourselves powerless against attack. A boundary is a wall that is built to protect our hearts and minds. Most people see boundaries as only being physical, whether that be in a relationship, a job, or with our time. All of these are important; however, if that is your only focus, it’s like putting a Band-Aid over a gushing wound. 

I recently read a quote that said, “Your brain is a supercomputer and your self-talk is the program it will run.”

The Bible says something similar in Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything with prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Our minds were created to be the thing by which all of our lives happen. If we allow the thoughts that stem from anxiety, depression, and insecurities to rule our lives, we will become the things that we have told ourselves we are. 

I’m reminded of a time not so long ago (lets be real—4 months to be exact) when I was struggling with a bout of depression. I allowed myself to go “there.” You know, the place in your mind where you wake up in a slump and find that you can’t do anything. I felt like I was failing as a woman and I was failing at my walk with Christ. I felt alone. But God never leaves us there. Sister, if that is you today, you are not alone in your fight! I love that God predicts how we are going to react to suffering before we ever do. He says, “Do not be anxious” because He knows this to be our tendency.

He also knows that the cure for anxiousness is our thankfulness and His peace. These two things together is what forms the ultimate weapon in guarding our minds, but let’s not forget: it takes an active stance to guard. 

So many of us just allow our minds to go unchecked. Another verse says it like this:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Ladies, this is a fight. Build up your boundary walls because if you don’t, you are giving the enemy free reign to come and destroy. Even worse, he doesn’t have to do a single thing because your self-talk is doing the work for him. 

When I was younger I told myself lie after lie that I wasn’t talented enough, outgoing enough, or spiritual enough to have life-giving friendships. I even ate in the bathroom all throughout high school because I felt inadequate (don’t worry; I don’t do that anymore). God gives us the key to stopping this spiral of negative self talk. He says in Philippians 4:8 to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent and worthy of praise.” 

So start by taking one negative thought captive and feed your mind the truth of scripture. You don’t have to tackle all of the negativity at once. Just start with one thought, then move on to the next. As this practice becomes a habit, God will completely change the way you think about yourself and give you peace. 

We would like to thank Savanna Ludecke for writing this post!

Dishing up Beauty

Editor’s Note: During the Month of February 2020, we will be posting blogs about the beauty that God instills in us. I hope these words bring to light what beauty truly means to these women of faith, and that the Lord speaks truth to you about the beauty in your life.

I enjoy making lasagna. But boy, does all that cheesy goodness stick to our pottery dinner plates! My husband loves peanut butter and honey. He takes a glass bowl, stirs the two together, and then smears the creamy, sweet mixture on top of each bite of a banana.  Again, this sticky substance remains stuck within the bowl, especially if he accidentally allows it to sit in the sink for a length of time without rinsing it off. These are just two examples of how beautiful dishes of glass, ceramic, or porcelain can be made seemingly disgusting and filthy by what is placed IN them, as well as what was allowed to REMAIN in them. If one does not take the extra effort to wash away the leftovers, the beautiful dish quickly becomes contaminated, impure, and unclean. It is quickly rendered unusable.

When my daughter was a pre-teen, I took her to a fancy-schmancy department store that had elaborate crystal and china displays. I had previously been collecting fine bone china luncheon plates of various patterns that appealed to me. This time, I turned to her and said, “Out of all these exquisite china patterns, which plate do you think is most beautiful?” She found this to be a difficult decision at first. They were all lovely in their own way. They all glistened in the well-lit displays. About a month later, I called her into my prayer closet and she sat cross-legged in my lap. I presented her with a beautifully wrapped gift.  You guessed it…it was a single, glistening bone china plate she had finally chosen as the most lovely of them all. I had taken a black sharpie, and on the back I had written:

2 Timothy 2:20-21 TLB “If you stay away from sin you will be like one of these dishes made of purest gold—the very best in the house—so that Christ himself can use you for His highest purposes.”

I must say, I was surprised by her reaction. She said nothing. But then, she burst into tears. She understood completely. An interesting side note, the china pattern she had chosen was a Vera Wang for Wedgewood pattern entitled Imperial Scroll. How appropriate! So befitting for a daughter of the King!

So how do we keep our plate (our heart) clean, presentable, and ready for His use?  Memorize and meditate on Psalm 139:23-24 NLT: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

Next time you wash dishes, ask yourself “Do I sparkle? Am I ready to be used by God?” True beauty comes when a person has spent time with Jesus, soaking in His Word, allowing Him to scrub off the impurities that we may have allowed to “dry” onto our heart. That’s when people sparkle from the inside out! That is what true beauty is to me. 

Proverbs 31:30 TPT “Charm can be misleading, and beauty is vain and so quickly fades, but this virtuous woman lives in the wonder, awe, and fear of the Lord. She will be praised throughout eternity.”

We would like to thank Cristie Harrell for writing this post!

Being a Mary in a Martha World

Do you wonder if you’ve ever entertained angels at some point in your life without even knowing it? I bet you have. The Word says in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

I grew up with one older sister and a very hard working single mother. She was gone to work before I woke up and would get home when the sun was down. She worked in the hot and dry heat of Yuma, AZ for a lettuce company. I remember when she would get home, I would take her muddy boots off while she took off what seemed like hundreds of bobby pins that held the bandanas up for covering her face. She would tell us about her day and we would tell her about ours.

My mother was and still is a beautiful example of what a heart of serving and hosting looks like. It’s a heart that says, “I’m so stinking tired from work, but these people are so important to me. I will be tired later and give them my attention and listen to what’s on their minds now.” She showed me that anytime someone comes to your house you offer them anything you have, even if it’s just a glass of water. Let people know that they are important and worth your attention.

Hospitality to me is when someone can feel at home in your presence. It’s us imitating what Jesus did in His life and in His death. His heart was always for others. The best hospitality focuses on the people you have invited—or even the ones you haven’t—who make their way into your home. It’s about making them feel welcomed, comfortable, and valuable. 

Take a look at Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42: 

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Mary had chosen to focus on Jesus. Martha maintained focus on the busy preparations, even after the company showed up. Yes, the meal still needed to be cooked and the house was not ready. But we need to change the way we think and start to truly believe that genuine hospitality maintains a focus on the people and not all the other stuff. I looked up the definition of hospitality: friendliness, hospitableness, welcome, warm reception, helpfulness, neighbourliness, warmth, warm-heartedness, kindness, kind-heartedness and so on. 

Sometimes as women, we’re too much like Martha and begin to believe lies: my house is not beautiful enough, I’m not a good enough cook, I have to “people” all day and don’t want to “people” anymore, what if they pull one of my daughter’s bras out of the couch (yeah, it happened). My friends, trust me when I say they are not there for the food or to see if you have been Chip and Joanna Gaines-ing your home. I can guarantee you that if you send an invitation to someone to come to your home, they are going to feel so loved just by the simple thought that you noticed them and are intentional enough to say, “Hey, come over and hang out with me!” Don’t shortchange yourself by believing the lies that keep you from enjoying the wonderful connections God has for you. 

I remember one day at church I heard someone say that Facebook is so misleading because it can make you feel like you’re already connected to people. That opened my eyes so much because yes, you do think you and all those people are tight already simply because you watched the video of their child in the ballet recital that they posted or know that this person changed jobs because they announced it or that they are on a keto diet and you know what they are eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because you saw their pictures and even know how many calories that was, so why do I need to hang out with them?

Let’s be intentional, friends. Let me challenge you by saying call someone up today. Yes I said it: CALL. Don’t text them, don’t marco polo them. Call them and say, “Hey, would you like to come over for some frozen Red Baron pizza?” Stuffed crust Digiorno if it’s close to payday :). I guarantee you that they will be so ecstatic that you called and thought of them. And when they do come, don’t be like Martha and tell them what all is wrong with your house. Be like Mary and sit at their feet and listen to them with all attentiveness as if it were Jesus himself. 

We would like to thank Christina Parker for writing this blog!

Ungrateful Vs. Grateful

Editor’s Note: This fall we will be doing a 10-part series on Flesh vs. Spirit. We hope these ladies’ testimonies will encourage and inspire you to keep pushing through, to keep battling, to keep believing in God’s truth that says you are an OVERCOMER. Though it sometimes feels like we are losing the battle, we have overwhelming victory though Christ and His blood shed on the cross. Be encouraged today!

For as long as I can remember, my mother has always taught me manners. Manners like, “yes ma’am,” “no ma’am,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” Since becoming a mother a little over 9 years ago, I have tried my absolute best to pass down the trait of manners. Now, the question is…do we really mean it? Are manners just us going through the motion because that is what we are taught? 

To be completely honest with you, I have not always been so grateful or had a heart of “manners” in certain circumstances. At times, I have acted in an ungrateful manner. I’m going to have to go out on a limb and say we all may have at some point in our lives.

But the fact of the matter is, it’s pleasing to the ear and heart to hear someone say, “Thank you!” with a pure and grateful heart. 

Growing up in a household of seven with a father who worked as a full-time minister, you learn to be grateful. My father gave everything he had to pursue the calling God had placed on his life. What did that mean 25+ years ago? It meant limited income. I was raised to be thankful for every meal placed in front of me and every piece of clothing that was placed on my back, which my mother worked so hard to perfect through her sewing. Through all things, God always provided time and time again.

We often forget to be grateful for the needs for which God has provided. Instead we are caught up in being ungrateful for the things we want but don’t or can’t have. 

It is discouraging when you see children and teens acting as if they’re owed something or deserve something. Unfortunately, as adults we, too, act like this. We often act like ungrateful, unappreciative children in our relationship with God. Can we just ponder on how that must make him feel? He is the God of grace, mercy, unconditional love, and forgiveness. But yet, we forget to give Him thanks and often times we take what he has given us for granted. We can catch ourselves feeling as though he has forsaken us when we are not at the place we want to be with our job, finances, physical ability, or our health. When we do not succeed in what we want, we get upset. 

As grandparents, parents, aunts, siblings, and people of influence and authority, we need to be an example and teach our loved ones to have a grateful heart. In scripture, God teaches and commands us to give thanks in all things. Evaluate your heart and ask God to change the ways of your heart and to forgive you for any thoughts or traits of feeling ungrateful. 

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
– Thessalonians 5:18

Dear Heavenly Father,

We come before you and ask that you renew our minds and our hearts. That in all things and in all circumstance you would give us a heart of overflowing gratitude, not for what we have or how much we have, but for what you have given us. Let us remember to always give thanks in the calm and through the storm, on the mountain and through the valley. It is in your mighty name we pray, Amen.

Have a great Thanksgiving.

We would like to thank Jerika Longoria for writing this post!

Drunkenness Vs. Sobriety

Editor’s Note: This fall we will be doing a 10-part series on Flesh vs. Spirit. We hope these ladies’ testimonies will encourage and inspire you to keep pushing through, to keep battling, to keep believing in God’s truth that says you are an OVERCOMER. Though it sometimes feels like we are losing the battle, we have overwhelming victory though Christ and His blood shed on the cross. Be encouraged today!

I have never met a person who doesn’t struggle with meeting his or her needs outside of Christ at some point and in some fashion. It is a battle we all face:  flesh vs. Spirit or life vs. death. 

We find ourselves feeling insecure, so we eat another cookie. 

We are struggling at work, so we spend more time on social media. 

We’ve been listening to negative self-talk, so we criticize and lash out at the ones we love the most. 

We feel stressed by the dishes in the sink, the toddler at our ankle or family dynamics that are less than perfect, so we reach for a glass of wine.

These ways of ‘coping’ are often the small foxes that keep us from living the abundant life Christ has promised us.

Many years ago, the Lord showed me a passage in the book of Proverbs that has stuck with me.

Proverbs 23:29-35

“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?”

So, let’s consider alcohol, and how often, in the flesh, we use it to meet our needs, or help us cope. My question to you is this:  Have you embraced the lie that alcohol will help…

You fill in the blank. 

Society has lulled us to sleep on this issue. They have called us “legalistic” for speaking up against the lies about alcohol. They have told us the Bible says not to be “drunk” with wine, not that we can’t “drink” wine. But I would say, I’d rather live a life that relies on the Spirit to meet my needs and comfort my pain, than believe the lie that alcohol is somehow able to do that.

I’ve lost count of how many families I know who have been destroyed by the effects of alcohol. How many church leaders have walked away from the faith and brought pain to the body of Christ because of alcohol.  How many teenagers have found themselves in compromising situations because of alcohol, their innocence stolen from them. How many husbands, or wives, have walked away from their families because of alcohol. 23 years in ministry puts you smack dab in the middle of people’s pain. And each time a person has been effected by the devastation of alcohol he/she will tell you, “In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.”

I’ve loved our recent blog series on walking in the flesh vs the Spirit. It has reminded me that we all struggle, but there is a real God who lives within each surrendered Christian heart, empowering him or her to deny the flesh.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

2 Corinthians 3:17

It is the Spirit that sets us free from the flesh.

It is the Spirit that empowers us to live in victory so that we are not attempting to meet our own needs, but leaning into Christ to have those needs met.

This reality is liberating. When we stop and realize we are living in a way that brings pain to ourselves and others we can repent, turning from our sin, and instead begin walking in the freedom Christ has for us. I would much rather be honest with my emotions, face my pain, and allow the Holy Spirit to bring me freedom, than live in the cycle of hurt that alcohol brings. 

I want to challenge you today. If you struggle with turning to alcohol to meet your needs, be brave and reach out to me. I want to help you find true healing that comes from a living God who knows you intimately and is always ready to meet your needs. 

With all my love, Julie Snellgrove