Monday, July 29, 2013

Who Do We Please With Our Words?

Words hold great power.

Whether we are speaking the words or hearing them, words have the power to build us up or tear us down.

Words can express love. And they can express hate.

Words can comfort. And they can hurt.

Words can please God. Or they can please the enemy.

Encouraging words build us up and set us on a positive path. God speaks encouraging words of love and comfort.

Hurtful words tear us down and stay with us for a long time, longer than we probably realize. The devil speaks hurtful words of hate and hostility.

Our words either please God. Or they please the enemy.

Words can be apologized for. But they can’t be unsaid again. It takes only moments for the damage to be done, but can take a lifetime to recover from.

Encouraging words express value, respect, and worth to another. They take only moments to say, and can stay with us for a lifetime.

Our words either please God. Or they please the enemy.
The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking;the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words. Proverbs 15:28 NLT
When you think of the words you speak, who would be pleased?

In Christ,
Laura 

(This post, in its entirety, is running both here and at Gloria Dei.)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Embrace Grace Study - Week 5

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who voted for my story at CausePub this week! I greatly appreciate your support!

Have a great week!

In Christ,
Laura

Week 5 – July 28-Aug. 3

Monday/Tuesday – Read Chapter 5 “Embrace Sin…How could he love me after all I’ve done?” and answer the study questions.

Wednesday – Visit Liz’s blog for her study on this chapter.

Thursday – Visit Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Friday – We’re more than half way through the study, reflect back on key points you want to remember.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Armor of God

Welcome! This week we are in chapter 4 “Embrace Truth” of our study of Embrace Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs.

Every day, we battle the enemy and all he throws at us—temptation of all kinds, attacks on our faith, whispers that God doesn’t love us, questions of our own self-worth, disagreements with family and friends, evil in the world around us, and so much more.

On our own, we have no chance of defending ourselves.

But God doesn’t leave us here alone, and He never intended for us to fight the enemy without Him.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12

I like the imagery Paul uses comparing what a Roman soldier would have worn to fight and defend himself to the spiritual armor God provides.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. Ephesians 6:13-14

The belt of truth…God’s Word tells us the truth of Who God is, His saving grace, and who we are to Him.

While the enemy wants us to doubt everything, the truth is—the war has already been won through Christ’s death and resurrection.

God has chosen us as His children and nothing changes that. Nothing can separate us from God’s love for us. (Romans 8:38)

When the enemy tries to tell us his hateful lies, God’s Truth is unchanging.

It grounds us in Him, enabling us to stand firm against the enemy. Every. Single. Day.

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. Ephesians 6:15

The news of Jesus and the peace He brings is too good to keep to ourselves. We should be ready to share this Good News with others, telling of all Jesus has done in our lives and how His love has changed us.

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:16-17

Some days it feels like we’re battling the enemy’s arrows from every direction. Some take a little longer to injure, while other arrows feel like they’re already on fire, sparking instant anger, sadness, frustration, desperation, and despair.

To block the blows, we have God’s shield of faith—trust in Him and the truth of His Word to defend us.

Where the enemy tries to tear us down, God’s Word builds us up and reminds us Who we belong to.

And with God’s Word in our minds and our hearts, we are ready to face the day—armed and protected.

What Scripture verses do you use as your shield of faith?

In Christ,
Laura  


Monday, July 22, 2013

When Bling is About More Than the Sparkle

Photo credit: Kelsey Rath
I admired her bracelet from across the table…the shades of light blue and how the stones caught the light. I complimented its beauty.

“Oh, thank you,” she said smiling, “Courtesy of Wal-Mart.” I was captured by her humor and honesty.

I’d only just met her. Generations and states separated us. But as she shared personal stories of being a World War II war bride, moving from Britain to a small Midwest town, and raising a daughter and two sons, I was fascinated—drawn in by the history being shared.

My pre-teen daughter, Kelsey, listened politely. Having been that age once, I imagine she was wondering when we could leave. I think Eileen remembered being that age too.

She looked at Kelsey and said, “Honey, you look bored.”

We both froze. Kelsey because she probably thought she was busted, and me because a mom always feels her child’s behavior reflects back on her.

But in that split second, Eileen continued, “And I don’t blame you.”

Those five simple words put us both at ease and kept any tension from settling in the room.

We continued to listen and I couldn’t help but think of the history the American Girl dolls and books portray. Kelsey loved them, but as with anything, she’s growing up and moving on to other interests.

But history—she’s always loved history, and I thought this would be the connection.

We didn’t overstay our welcome and soon prepared to leave.

As we said our goodbyes, Eileen slipped the lovely blue bracelet from her wrist. Earlier, she’d given Kelsey a small hedgehog figurine as a keepsake, with a tidbit of history to go with it.

Now, she handed me her bracelet and said, “You should have a souvenir, too.”

I didn’t want to take it, but she insisted. “I can get another one,” she said. “And you need some bling.”

I laughed and told her my bling was sitting at home.

I thanked her and accepted her gift. And I think of Eileen every time I look at it.

Because sometimes bling isn’t about the sparkle—it’s about how someone touched your life.

And my daughter, who had looked bored?

She asked if we can see her again next time…before we even left town.

In Christ,
Laura 


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Embrace Grace Study - Week 4

Welcome! If you are reading Embrace Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs with us, what do you think so far? What from the first three chapters do you keep thinking about or revisiting?

For me, I love that Liz's book is easy to read, and yet impactful. There's always a little nugget I want to explore further and think about deeper, as I did last week.

But for as scattered as my thoughts were, my week ended with an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than my little world. God certainly works in very cool ways!

If you missed those two posts, you can find them here:
Growing Faith 
A Couch Rebels Opportunity

Have a blessed week!
In Christ,
Laura

Week 4 – July 21-27

Monday/Tuesday – Read Chapter 4 “Embrace Truth…I always felt like I was missing something.” and review the study questions.

Wednesday – Visit Liz’s blog for her study on this chapter.

Thursday – Visit Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Friday – Think about (and journal) what you’re learning from this study. Use today to catch up on the reading, if you need to.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Couch Rebels Opportunity

Sometimes an opportunity presents itself that you just can’t stop thinking about. That was the case when I heard through fellow God-sized Dream Team members that CausePub (short for Cause-Pub’lishing) was looking for personal stories for their upcoming book Couch Rebels.

The intent behind the Couch Rebels book project is to benefit Blood:Water Mission

Founded in 2005 by the multi-platinum GRAMMY Award-winning band, Jars of Clay, Blood:Water Mission empowers communities to work together against HIV/AIDS and the water crisis in Africa. (For more info, click here: CausePub – The Cause)

I continued to think about the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than my little world and decided to submit a personal story I posted on my blog last year—Trusting God…With Me.

I’m excited to say my story has made the first cut and is now posted on the CausePub Web site for the public to vote on. J

Whether you read my post last year, or this is your first time hearing about it, would you please consider visiting my page at CausePub to vote? (Voting is done through Facebook or Twitter, and is open through July 27.) Stories chosen to be included in the book will be based on the editors’ choices and the number of votes received.


Thank you for visiting me here and for your support and encouragement!

In Christ,
Laura 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Growing Faith

Welcome and thanks for visiting! If you are studying Embrace Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs with us, we are in Chapter 3 this week, “Embrace Faith…How do I find the faith to touch him?”

This week, my thoughts have been all over the place. I’ve spent time reading and studying Scripture verses on faith, and I keep going back to them, thinking about how faith in Christ is our firm foundation and how our faith grows.

As we trust Him and walk in faith, He enables us to grow stronger in our faith.

We trust Him and He does the work in us.

While I don’t have something written that ties this all together, I want to share the verses and what I’ve been thinking about with you.


**Fair warning…this post is as disjointed as my thoughts have been all week.**


Isaiah 7:9b (NLT)
Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.
(God speaking to Isaiah about whether rulers trust God or their enemies.)

Note from my NLT Study Bible (Tyndale): Firm trust in the Lord is utterly essential, especially for a leader of God’s people, and it must be firmly acted upon in order to demonstrate that it exists.
____

2 Chronicles 20:20 (NIV)
As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”

2 Chronicles 20:20b (NLT)
“Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.”
_______

Colossians 2:7 (NLT)
Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:7 (CEV)
Plant your roots in Christ and let him be the foundation for your life. Be strong in your faith, just as you were taught. And be grateful.
_______

Lastly, I keep thinking about Liz’s story of how she first came to faith. (Embrace Grace, pgs. 40-41, and also on her Web site.)

She tells of friends who didn’t look down on her and expect her to be “fixed” before they could take her to church. No, they started the same way God starts with us. They loved her as God loves us. They showed her their faith, not by preaching, but by being an example.

And I’m reminded of two Scripture verses.

1 John 4:19 (NIV)
We love because he first loved us.

Romans 5:8 (NIV)
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

God makes the first move and waits with open arms for us to respond. How have you responded?

How can we be better examples of God’s love as we walk in faith?

In Christ,
Laura


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Embrace Grace Study - Week 3

Have a great week!

In Christ,
Laura 

Week 3 – July 14-20

Monday/Tuesday – Read Chapter 3 “Embrace Faith…How do I find the faith to touch him?” and answer the study questions.

Wednesday – Visit Liz’s blog for her study on this chapter.

Thursday – Visit Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith for my post this week. Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Friday – Spend time in prayer. Is it time to revisit any reading of the first three chapters?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

For the Days You Feel Like Less

Some days I feel like less. Less special. Less valuable. Less than someone else.

Maybe you can relate—there are just those days, aren’t there?

Today, I’m over at 5 Minutes for Faith talking about this very thing…those days when we feel like less. Here’s the beginning of what you’ll find…

There are days I feel like less. Depending on the day, it might be less skilled, less useful, or less liked by others. And sometimes, I just feel like less. Just. Less.
It happens when I compare myself to others, leading to jealously, anger, and feeling like someone else is better than me.
Maybe you’ve been there too, feeling… 
…like less of a mom when you watch other moms who seem to have it all together. 
…less loved when you see other marriages. 
…less valuable to God when you can’t do what He calls someone else to do. 
…less talented when you read or view someone else’s work. 
…less fortunate when you can’t participate in opportunities others can. 
I’ve experienced all of these at one time or another. And some more often than others. 
So, what do we do?

I hope you’ll join me over at 5 Minutes for Faith today to read the rest of my post. And if you would, leave a comment. I’d love to know you stopped by for a visit!

What picks you up on those days you feel like less?

In Christ,
Laura  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When We Doubt God’s Love


Caryn and her sister sat silently at Caryn’s kitchen table. Caryn raised her coffee mug to her lips, but set it down again without taking a sip. She looked at her sister and said, “I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how God can be everything He’s supposed to be.” She looked down at her hands wrapped around her steaming mug and said quietly, “Or why He would love me.”

It does seem hard to believe sometimes, doesn’t it?

There are days I don’t even like being with myself…so why would God want to spend time with me?

Fortunately for us, God’s ways are not our ways, and He does not see us as we see ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, He knows us inside and out—the good, the bad, and the very ugly. But He also knows our hearts…and who we are in Him.

He has called us as His own.
But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1 NLT
And nothing can separate us from His love.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:28 NLT
It’s hard to understand. But we will never comprehend all that God is…all that He does…and the depth of His love. We just can’t.

God knows this. He knows we have questions, and often doubts. And those questions, and even the doubts can bring us closer to God when we bring them to Him.

Respectfully ask God your questions.

As we spend time with God in His word, we get to know Him. And as we’re ready, He shows us more of Himself and enables us to understand a little more of Who He is.

God gives us faith. And God grows that faith in us.

He works in us, opening our hearts and minds to understand more of His word and to mature in faith.

Listen for how He may be speaking to you.

Ask God to increase your faith.
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief! Mark 9:24 NLT
God loves us and calls us His own.

His love is not contingent on us understanding Him.

His love is unchanging.

…even when it is beyond our comprehension.

Thank you for joining me here today. If you are studying Embrace Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs with us, we are in Chapter 2, “Embrace Doubt…The whole thing seems a little hard to believe.”

Do you ever feel that God’s unchanging and unconditional love for you is just a little too hard to believe?

In Christ,
Laura  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Story – Esther

For the past few weeks, I’ve been running posts I wrote for Gloria Dei during a series on The Story, a chronological abridged version of the Bible.

This post on Esther is the sixth, and last, post in this series.

To read the first five posts:


Two Brave Queens
(First posted at Gloria Dei on February 6, 2013)

One king. Two queens.

God’s upper story. Two lower stories.

God isn’t mentioned in the Book of Esther, and yet, He’s there weaving the lower stories together for His purpose—to save His chosen people from annihilation.
And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? Esther 4:14 NIV
We don’t know much about Queen Vashti, but I wish we did.

What we do know is that she is queen when King Xerxes throws a 7 day banquet, following a full 180 days in which he displayed his vast wealth. 

King Xerxes likes to show off.

During the banquet, in which he has provided unlimited amounts of wine to all of his guests, he commands Queen Vashti to join them.

Scripture doesn’t say how long she’s been queen, but I imagine she knew what he was like—that He liked to drink and put what was his on display.

She also would have known that when the king issued a command, he wasn’t asking for an opinion. He wasn’t issuing an invitation and asking for a RSVP. A command was expected to be carried out, or there would be consequences.

Queen Vashti had to have known this, and yet, her answer was no.
But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger. Esther 1:12 NIV
Although I’m not-so-secretly cheering for Queen Vashti, I have to ask, Why now?

What made Queen Vashti take a stand and refuse the king’s command? It probably would’ve been easier to do what he “requested,” get it over with, and get back to the banquet she was giving at the time.

But she decided to not obey the king’s orders, and she was banished from the palace, with her royal title being stripped from her.

Queen Vashti’s lower story doesn’t make sense. But her piece fits into God’s upper story.

There is now an opening for a queen, and whether she likes it or not, Esther gets the role.
And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? Esther 4:14 NIV
Esther makes the best of the situation and everyone likes her, including the king.

Helping her situation is the fact that her uncle Mordecai overhears of an assignation plot, and Esther is able to warn the king.

When the plot is investigated and found to be true, both Esther and Mordecai gain credibility with the king. And credibility, along with having won the king’s favor, is what Esther needs to walk through the next part of her lower story.

Mordecai tells Esther of Haman’s plot to annihilate the Jews, and instructs her to go to the king and beg him to save her people.

Esther is not na├»ve. She knows what happens to someone who refuses the king’s command, as well as someone who goes to the king without being summoned. Queen Vashti proved that no one is exempt from the king’s temper.

Where Queen Vashti made her choice, Queen Esther doesn’t have much of a choice. If she goes to the king, she may be put to death. If she doesn’t go to the king, her people will be wiped out. What an enormous responsibility for a young Jewish orphan girl who was thrown into being queen!

Esther’s lower story on its own doesn’t make sense. But when we see the lower stories of Vashti and Esther woven together, we see God at work.

Our lower stories often don’t make sense, but who knows that maybe God brings us into situations as well—in His time, for His purpose.

Have you experienced a time when life didn't make much sense, but you knew God had a purpose for it?

In Christ,
Laura

Linking up with Sharing His Beauty and Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Embrace Grace Study - Week 2

Welcome! If you are reading Embrace Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs with us, what did you think of the first chapter?

For me, I love the comfort I feel in reading Liz’s words…which explains why I’ve read the chapter at least three times now. J

How about you? Is there a part that particularly resonated with you? Would you share about it by leaving a comment?

Have a great week!

In Christ,
Laura 

Week 2 – July 7-13

Monday/Tuesday – Read Chapter 2 “Embrace Doubt…The whole thing seems a little hard to believe.” and answer the study questions.

Wednesday – Visit Liz’s blog for her study on this chapter.

Thursday – Visit Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith for this week’s post. Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Friday – Spend time in prayer and reflect back on the reading.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Isolation is a Tool of the Enemy

Caryn ignored her sister’s text asking where she’d been last night. She knew last night had been a mistake. Another one in a string of bad choices she didn’t want her family to know about. Full of guilt and shame, she turned her phone off and refused to answer her emails. Wanting to stay away from everyone who cared about her, she went to bed and cried until she fell asleep.

Susan didn’t want her friends to know about her son’s behavior, especially this last round of trouble he’d gotten himself into. She was embarrassed and ashamed. Her family was falling apart, and she felt helpless to stop it. She placed her Bible and journal back on the bookshelf and decided to skip her Bible study. Again. She’d claimed she wasn’t feeling well for the past two weeks…better to let them think she was sick, rather than falling apart. Maybe today she wouldn’t offer an excuse. She would just not show up. Eventually, her friends would stop expecting her to be there.

Isolation is a tool of the enemy.

In her book Embrace Grace, Liz Curtis Higgs says, “…remorse and shame insulate us. And isolate us.”

Isn’t that the truth? We worry about what others will think of us, so we back away, from both, established and new relationships. We decide that we won’t be accepted, so we keep to ourselves, not letting anyone close.

We isolate ourselves from others.

And even from God.

Isolation is a tool of the enemy.

It keeps us detached and alone in the darkness—where the enemy thrives…and we die.

But God never intended for us to live in darkness. His plan is not for us to be isolated from Him, or from others.

Sometimes I need to be reminded.

Maybe you do too.

The enemy has already been defeated—for you and for me.      

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30 (NIV)

When Jesus rose from the grave, He conquered sin and death— once and for all.

Satan whispers lies, telling us we can’t escape the darkness. But he has no hold over us because…

Jesus speaks truth.

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:36 (NLT)

Free from the enemy’s darkness.

Free from guilt, shame, and remorse.

Free from isolation.

Caryn awoke at the sound of banging on her door. She peeked out the window and saw her sister’s car parked out front. She wanted to pretend she wasn’t home, but knew she wouldn’t get away with it. And she already felt lonely. Realizing how relieved she was that her sister had showed up, Caryn opened the door.

Susan sat at the table with her coffee, feeling very alone. First, her family, and now, she was losing her friends. She glanced over at the bookshelf where her Bible sat, and realized she hadn’t lost her friends. She was the one detaching herself from them…and from God. Susan knew where she needed to be right now. She grabbed her Bible and journal, and headed out the door.

Thank you for joining me here today. If you are studying Embrace Grace by Liz Curtis Higgs with us, we are in Chapter 1 “An Open Door…I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.”

Has there been a time in your life when you isolated yourself from others? Feel free to share your experience by leaving a comment.

In Christ,
Laura 


Photo credit: Walking on the Sidewalk---Image by (c) Royalty-Free/Corbis

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Story – Samuel

Welcome! For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing posts which were written for a series on The Story, and first posted on the Gloria Dei blog.

Today is the fifth of the six posts, written about young Samuel and the first time the Lord called him. Samuel had unquestioning faith that God was indeed calling him.

Do we have that kind of faith to know when God is trying to get our attention?

To read the first four posts:


The Faith of a Child
(First posted at Gloria Dei on November 20, 2012)
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 1 Samuel 3:8b-9
Did you catch that?

Samuel went back to bed. He didn’t question Eli on why God would be talking to him—a child. Perhaps that is why I’ve always liked the story of young Samuel. It’s not long, but as I read it, I see his innocence, his obedience, and his unquestioning acceptance that God may indeed be trying to get his attention.

Three times God calls Samuel and each time Samuel runs to Eli, thinking it was Eli who called him. After the third time, Eli catches on to what is happening—God is calling out to the boy.

At that time, God wasn’t often speaking through visions or in messages through prophets and priests. So, while Samuel was assisting Eli and serving the Lord, he had not actually heard from the Lord. I wonder if Eli, as Israel’s chief priest, had ever heard directly from God.

But Samuel had found favor with the Lord, and it is Samuel God chooses to speak to. So, although Samuel didn’t yet know the sound of God’s voice, God begins to get Samuel’s attention.

And Samuel never questioned that it was really God speaking to Him.

Is God trying to get your attention?

Maybe He’s led you to a specific Bible verse or maybe your conscience is nagging at you.

God will sometimes lead me to the same message in different ways…through Scripture, through something a friend says, through a devotion’s perfect timing in my e-mail inbox. And when they all happen in a short period of time, I know God is trying to get my attention and I’d better get focused.

Are you open to hearing from Him?

As a society, we often attribute things to coincidence, but Jesus said…
I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15 NIV
What if we opened our hearts to have the faith of a child…innocent and unassuming, believing that God does look to get our attention?

How He does that may be different for you than for me. But until we get to know Him through His Word and by spending time with Him, how will we know when He’s speaking to us?

In Christ,
Laura