Beloved Mess

I used to belong to a legalistic church. A myriad of rules were the gauge by which worthiness was measured. You can imagine that, while many of the congregation were sincere in pursing their faith, they were easily distracted by the need to measure up. Emphasis switched from grace to works. Judgement quickly followed. Appearances were deceiving because people felt pressured to appear a certain way on Sunday that didn’t necessarily reflect their true selves the rest of the week. That disconnect was profound and I honestly think we see it to some degree in all our churches. We have this need to be good so we will be loved because our finite human minds can’t conceive of the unconditional love our Savior extends.

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As I’ve said before, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but the title of this little book caught my attention: Beloved Mess : God’s Perfect Love For Your Imperfect Life. It’s quite the gem. Simply written. Powerfully direct. Kimm Crandall delivers a truth we all need to hear. “What we are seeking after most – to be loved completely and unconditionally – we already have!” (p 117) Bearing witness through personal story, Kim addresses all the messy stuff in life. Doubt. Guilt. Fear. There’s no pretending here. Her candid approach is appealing…and compelling. “The good news of the gospel gives us the courage to be honest about our doubts and our fears without being destroyed by them.” (p 110)

I love the way the material is presented. It’s easy to read with highlighted quotes on nearly every page. The kind of book you can read cover to cover or just pick up and easily browse. Great accessibility for every kind of reader. And there’s this great scripture appendix of messes (my term not the author’s) with headings like Gospel Truths for…when you’ve blown it…when your heart hurts…when you’re discouraged etc. A very approachable and refreshing look at the true meaning of grace.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. in exchange for my honest review.

The Ride

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” Colossians 1:10-12 NIV

As I read the above scripture, it reminded me of a big event that comes to the state of Iowa every year at the end of July. RAGBRAI will start this coming weekend and this year’s route takes bikers within three miles of our house. (For those of you who have never heard of it, RAGBRAI stands for the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride across Iowa.)

This is the 44th year for the ride and what started out as a couple of hundred riders has now grown to approximately 10,000 bicyclists. These brave souls don their riding gear and pedal their way across our great state. This year the course is just over 400 miles with various overnight stops planned in small towns along the way. Fairgrounds, city parks, and private lawns are filled with brightly colored tents the riders bring along in support vehicles.

These riders always amaze me with their athleticism. In my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine riding a bike that far. I can only guess at the months and months of training they put into this ride, building up their endurance so they can complete the ride. They seem to be prepared for anything—breakdowns, injuries, and inclement weather. Anybody who has ever been to Iowa in July knows this can mean just about anything—scorching heat, 90% humidity (or so it seems), rain, hail, tornadoes, and flooding. That in a nutshell is weather in Iowa in the summer.

As I hear about these bikers preparing for their ride, I can’t help but compare their training to the life I should lead when living out my Christian faith. How often am I prepared for the storms that come my way? Do I work on my faith endurance like these RAGBRAI riders do physically?

Every day on the news we hear about more and more tragedies and horror in our world, and it doesn’t look to me like it’s going to change any time soon. But then I think—we’ve had a pretty easy ride—at least I have since the days when I was a kid. Life in general went along pretty smoothly, except for the usual bumps in the road. The state of the world didn’t really concern me a whole lot, even as I got older, because the trouble was all…over there. But now it’s hitting closer to home more and more often.

I’ve often wondered if God is giving us a wake-up call to change our ways and get us back on track. I know I’ve let the ways of the world influence my thinking way too often. Is God knocking us out of our comfort zones to move us into action? I think so.

racial harmonyHe wants us to come together and decide what’s really important in this life. Is it financial security and material possessions? Or is it showing love for our neighbors and our enemies?

If we could heal our divisions and come together as one, we can endure this storm together…and what a beautiful ride that would be.

What’s Buried Under Your Tent?

“And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done.” Joshua 7:20.  Our recent study of the book of Joshua was not the most comfortable way to spend a Wednesday night.

We had enjoyed the familiar tale of the fall of Jericho. It took a lot of obedience on the part of the nation of Israel. After days of marching in silence, their trumpets and shouts brought the great walls down. They recognized that it was the power of God that had made this happen.

Feeling a little too confident, they moved on to Ai, a smaller city. This time, they sent only a small portion of their army, and they were defeated. Joshua asked why, and God told him that sin was hiding in their midst.

With Achan’s confession, the forbidden loot was discovered buried exactly where Achan had said it would be. A terrible sentence was carried out on Achan and his family, but the nation of Israel was ready to move on, having learned a hard lesson about obedience to God.

I left with a sense of sadness, but with the distinct feeling that Achan had died with a clear conscience. His confession was honest and without excuse. Since Jesus came, we now have eternal forgiveness, and a route to heaven. Only God and Achan know what happened to his soul. But, he had done all he could to clear things with God and man.

The next day, I pulled something out of my file cabinet at work that I had been very worried about. A report that seemed to be filed every year had not been done since I took over the job. How would this reflect on me and my employer? I had avoided bringing it up to my supervisor, afraid of her reaction. What would be the repercussions?

With Achan on my mind, I went to the office ready to face whatever was to come. No excuses, just the facts.  “Here is what I found, I have been delaying mentioning it, and I am very sorry.”

The result? The report I found was something that was no longer handled by our department. The files I found were outdated, and there was no reason for me to worry. I had agonized for months over something that was put behind me in a matter of minutes. It felt wonderful to have this burden gone.

Confession is truly good for the soul. Is there something you need to clear up? First, take it to God and ask for his forgiveness. Then, be prepared for the consequences of your actions. The penalty may not be comfortable, but having it behind you will enable you to move on. Don’t leave anything under your tent!

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Why Hasn’t God Healed Me?

One of the things I’ve missed most over the last six years is going to the movies. Deteriorating health, chronic pain and limited mobility has made is impossible to sit and watch a two hour movie, never mind getting to the theatre and back. So I was really excited to be given the opportunity to review Miracles From Heaven through the Nuts About Books (and movies) Canadian blogging program. Particularly because this story really resonates with my own struggles. I’m going to combine my review with some thoughts that have been on my heart for a while now.

First though, here’s a blurb about the movie so you’ll understand the connections I make:

Miracles From Heaven is based on the story of the Beam family. Jennifer Garner plays Christy Beam whose daughter Annabel suffers from a rare digestive disorder, but finds herself miraculously cured after surviving a terrible accident.

An emotionally gripping movie that had me glued to the screen. I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Garner since her Alias days and I was truly impressed by her performance. A solid cast brought the Beams’ story to life. It isn’t always a pretty story — and by that I mean the characters aren’t saccharine sweet or ‘perfect’ Christians. As Christy surmises: “Life isn’t perfect and our faith isn’t perfect and that’s okay.” That’s a huge life lesson takeaway right there.

WHY

One of the most poignant moments in the movie for me was when Annabel asks her mom, “Why do you think God hasn’t healed me?” I’m sure that question has been at the root of some uncomfortable debates over the kitchen table or across a Pastor’s desk. And because there is no easy answer, we humans have a tendency to try to place our own ill-advised logic onto it and then spew it as gospel truth.

Your faith isn’t strong enough. Translation: I’ve been praying for you and since you haven’t been healed it’s got to be your fault.

You have some deep rooted sin you haven’t let go of. Translation: I’ve been praying for you and since you haven’t been healed it’s got to be your fault.

You don’t want to get better. Translation: I’ve been praying for you and since you haven’t been healed it’s got to be your fault.

You aren’t really sick.  Translation: I’ve been praying for you and since you haven’t been healed it’s got to be your fault.

And yes, I’ve actually had individuals address every one of those points with me at some time or other. So I could totally relate to the scene in the movie where a few well-meaning parishioners confront Christy, suggesting that she and her husband (or even young Annabel) are at fault and until that sin has been addressed healing won’t take place. Argh! If I hadn’t experienced the same thing I would think that scene unrealistic and cheesy. Alas, it is all too real and Christy doesn’t take these ‘kind’ ladies’ suggestions very well. One of my favourite lines in the movie comes from her pastor: “Unfortunately we can’t issue spiritual IQ tests before allowing people into the church.”

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So why are some people healed while others aren’t?

I listened to a wonderful sermon a few months ago that addressed that question. The pastor explained that the key to understanding the gift of healing is to understand God’s will. Prayers for healing must be made IN His will so we must first ascertain what that will is. Because often, the kind of healing we are pleading for isn’t the kind of healing God will deliver. There’s no purpose in praying our will over someone.

This really hit me hard because, as much as others have prayed for my complete healing, I’ve never felt impressed to do so. I have prayed for guidance with treatment, for discernment when I see a specialist and courage to persevere. I have plead for peace. Comfort. Understanding. And you know what? God answered every one of those prayers. So why don’t I pray for complete healing? Because I’ve never been impressed to do so.

When I tried to explain that to someone they accused me of wanting to be ill. That bothered me for quite a while. What if what she said was true? What if I was the root cause of all my pain and suffering? Yes, it’s that easy to mess with someone’s head when they are ill or in pain. That’s why this pastor’s words convicted me. It shifted the emphasis off human will and back to where it belongs – God’s will.

And that’s what is at the heart of Miracles From Heaven. A mother’s faith is tested and stretched. An entire family is reborn. A child reaches out with divine understanding. And miracles abound in unexpected ways. God answers prayers through the people that surround the Beam family.  This movie doesn’t have all the answers but it does serve as a catalyst for discussion.

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You’re Already Amazing + Giveaway

I’m not a huge non-fiction reader but Holley Gerth caught my eye a few years ago when You’re Already Amazing was released. I devoured that little book as if it were fiction. I found her approach to be refreshing and engaging and easy to read. She tackles a multitude of issues with compassion and humour so I was excited to hear that the accompanying Life Growth Guide has just released.

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Holley Gerth is a gifted encourager and I have been so blessed by her inspired words at some of the most difficult times in my life.

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This workbook is an exciting extension to the original book, filled with thought provoking questions and life altering challenges. It felt like I was chatting with a really good friend. Exchanging ideas, problems, testimonies.

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Exploring who God is and what He wants me to become…and more importantly, how much He loves me just the way I am. Right now. Today. Without apology.

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Holley’s vibrant enthusiasm is evident in the videos she has created to accompany each session in the book. Six in all – seven if you count the intro. You can find them on her amazing website. Here’s a link. http://holleygerth.com/amazing/ Go take a peek and you’ll get a glimpse at this woman’s passion for the Lord and the women she ministers to.

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Here’s the book blurb and info on this giveaway opportunity:

Embrace who you are and become all God created you to be

With her bestselling book You’re Already Amazing, Holley Gerth dared and empowered women to discover who God made them to be and pursue his purpose for their lives. Now Holley helps you build on that foundation and experience even greater life transformation.

In this interactive LifeGrowth study, Holley will guide you through an engaging process that helps you apply heart-freeing truths to every aspect of your life, from relationships to work to how you pursue your dreams. God’s plans for your life are better than you can imagine, and you’ll see them unfold in new ways as Holley guides you to embrace this life-changing truth – that you are already amazing.

GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITY:

If you would like an opportunity to win a copy of  You’re Already Amazing : Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be (LifeGrowth Guide) just leave a comment below. You have until midnight of July 1 (EST) to enter. Draw will be held and winner announced on Saturday July 4 2016. Offer open to international readers. Good luck!

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. in exchange for my honest review.

Graphics used in this blog post are from Holley Gerth’s website: http://holleygerth.com/free-words/

 

I Dare You To…BEGIN

I DARE YOU

I’m going to be bringing you some steps you can take to bring spiritual abundance in your life. I’m not talking financial gain, although that could be a side effect of following these steps. What I’m talking about is bringing a quality to your spiritual life that you didn’t have, or think you could have, before.

Don’t be confused. These steps are simple, common-sensical actions you can take that will make a big impact on your life. And, yes, you’ve heard them all before. So, let’s begin with BEGIN.

  1. Begin

You have to start somewhere. Change your mind. Clean your closets. Organize your life. But start with one step.

In other words, tell yourself you will not think negatively about (insert whatever it is holding you back in life), but instead look for the positives in any given situation.  Countless movies have been blockbusters because they were feel good stories about people in dire situations making the most of their circumstances and overcoming. You can do it.

Then, take two things out of your closet and get rid of them. You know you haven’t used them in forever. Just do it. This gives you more space and allows you to move on with other things that do matter in life. Trust me. You’ll feel better when you’ve done it.

Last, make a plan for something in your life. Set a goal to do something you want to do, but that you’re afraid of doing, or you feel insecure with putting yourself out there for. It doesn’t even have to be big. I’ve done small things such as smile and tell someone they look nice today. For those of us who are introverts, this is a big step. But determine it in your mind to do it, and then do it.

So, have I practiced what I’m preaching here?

At the start of this year I determined I was going to put myself out there and send my manuscripts out to a list of at least a dozen agents/editors that were accepting the types of stories I had written. It took me awhile to organize it, but with the help of a blog that forwards information via email about new acquiring agents/editors, I quickly logged almost twenty names. I polished up my query, had a friend look it over to be sure it was clean, and following the guidelines on how to submit to each person, sent out a dozen queries.

 

I’ve received one rejection so far.Rejected

But the important thing is that I put myself out there, with something I’m insecure about (sending out my manuscripts) and I managed to cross off those manuscripts and “clean out my manuscript closet” by getting them out of the unused section of my life. It also gave me the boost I needed to move on to plotting my next novel.

What is the spiritual gain by doing these three easy steps? You will be using your God-given talents to further your light in the world. Don’t be the servant Jesus criticized that didn’t trust his Master enough to do something with the talents he was given (Matt: 25 14-30).

Just BEGIN.

If We’ve Ever Needed You …

With our nation’s heart still breaking over the events in Orlando this week, I am reminded that God is still in control, and that we still have hope in His amazing grace.

For me, music provides a great reminder that we need Him in our lives, through joy and through tragedy and through our everyday living. The song below is my prayer today …

“If We’ve Ever Needed You” by Casting Crowns

Train up a child. Proverbs 22:6

I saw a video on Facebook that demonstrated a familiar theme. A precocious boy was talking about having children some day, but he was adamant that he did not want to ever be married.  You could see the wheels turning in his little head, as the adult recording the video encouraged him to express his very strong feelings. Cute. Entertaining. But, it really made me think about how kids eventually come to decisions about what they believe.

Proverbs 22:6 advises us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” If the parents don’t actively try to influence and direct a child’s path, someone else will.

The three good looking young people pictured here were raised in church. Though by no means perfect, their parents tried very hard to model a happy marriage. They attended activities together, volunteered in their community, worked and played together.

So, while none of them would want to be called old, they are all grown, married and raising their own children. I know pride is a sin, and I struggle not to let my buttons pop off when I see how these kids have turned out.

The oldest and tallest, Chris, is very involved in his community. He volunteers with the rural fire department, helps to organize community activities, and is very involved with his local congregation. He has a reputation for being a motivator, with speeches, prayers, and devotionals edifying and encouraging so many people on a regular basis.

Our daughter, Carrie has always been the family’s organizer. She works from home, and loves nothing more than researching, scheduling and planning for every event. She has helped with Cub Scouts, little league baseball, and even formed a women’s group for the local ham radio club.

The second son, Jon, is working at the profession he chose very early in life. After completing a degree in broadcast journalism, he has held jobs with increasing responsibility, which led to his current job: Executive Producer at WESH in Orlando, FL. He is now coordinating his station’s coverage of the biggest story of his career. He is drawing on his faith, and every lesson he has learned at school, at church, at home.

Ephesians 6:13 says “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

We never want our children to face an evil day, but it is an amazing feeling to recognize that they are ready. Forgive me Lord, I am very proud.

 

Love Them Like Jesus

I was going to post something pithy and fun today but, like Dawn, I’m struggling with what happened in Orlando over the weekend and don’t feel the least bit lighthearted. I’m also struggling with the media coverage. It seems everyone has an agenda and it isn’t necessarily out of compassion for the victims and their families.

A song that has come to mean a lot to me over the past few years is Casting Crown’s “Love Them Like Jesus.” It’s a song about people grappling for answers in the face of personal tragedy. Of finding the right words to console those who are hurting. The refrain is beautiful.

Just love them like Jesus, carry them to Him,

His yoke is easy, His burden is light,

You don’t need the answers to all of life’s questions,

Just know that He loves them and stay by their side,

Love them like Jesus.

We need more love, less hate. More unity, less division. We need to remember that our Father in Heaven created us all, loves us all.

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment.

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12: 30,31

Prayers for Orlando

This past weekend was a violent one that ended with a staggering loss of life. No matter how the world views Christians and any beliefs Christ followers have on any given subject, hate is not one of God’s characteristics.

God is love.

So, in honor of those who lost their lives at the hand of a hateful individual, I ask for all of our Inksper readers to take a moment and pray. Pray for those who are touched by this horrific tragedy. Pray for our nation that seems to be divided more than it is unified. And at least in this we can come together in compassion and love.