Clean Up First

A couple nights ago I was preparing dinner as my children played outside. My husband came in and said, “FYI, the kids are covered in mud.”

“Like, they need to wash their hands, covered? Or like they need to shower, covered?”

“Covered!”

`Great,’ I thought as I pulled dinner out of the oven.

And they were covered in mud… clothes, shoes, in their hair, in their ears, everywhere!!! One by one I called each child in to shower, change, and come to the table for dinner. Luckily, dinner was not cold by the time all five of them were clean.

My kids were dirty. They needed to get cleaned up before coming to the table. Once they were clean, we could enjoy a family dinner together.

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I think many of us can relate to this feeling. We’re dirty (sinful). We must clean up before we can come to the table (God).

I’ve sinned… greatly… now I have to get my act together before God will allow me to experience Him…

Why would God accept an apology again for that same trap I keep falling into?

I’m too far gone. I have to straighten up a little bit before I can go back to church.

Oh, dear sinner, I wish you could see how wrong you are!

God knows that your life is messy. He knows your past, your present, and your future. And guess what? He still wants a relationship with you.

You don’t have to hide like Adam and Eve… wonder like the Israelites in the desert… Or run like Jonah.

Repent like David!

Seriously, David is known as “A Man after God’s Heart” but David messed up big time. He coveted a married man’s wife. He acted on that sinful desire. Then he tried to cover it up. When he was unsuccessful in covering it up, David had her husband killed and married her.

How can a man who was an adulterous murderer be known for his love for God?

Because he repented.

David still had to deal with the consequences of his actions. But he did it with God by his side.

Walking with God does not erase your past. It does not free you from the realities that come with the consequence of poor choices. Walking with God gives you peace, comfort, and purpose.

We have a war going on. A war between our spirit and our flesh. Even the most famous Bible characters struggled with this war. But God used them despite their sin for His glory!

Nothing you can do, say, or think surprises God. All you have to do is turn back to him.

Yes, you may be dirty. But that doesn’t mean you have to clean yourself up. Turn to Him. Ask Him for help. Let Him show you how to clean up and avoid that mess in the future.

Do you think Paul allowed the dirt to cover him and prevent him from walking with Christ? No! He recognized where he messed up, repented, and allowed God to use his transformation as a witness to the Risen Savior!

He didn’t need to hide. He didn’t need to apologize over and over again. Jesus already died. Jesus’ blood already covered his sins.

I get it…you sinned today. How about this- instead of allowing shame to separate you from God, take your shame to God so that He can clean you up. I have been there before too. I have sinned, began to pray, but quickly shut it down as if I felt like there was some type of waiting period before I could go back before my Father. That sound so crazy!

Do you have a situation where you feel unworthy… where you keep apologizing for the same thing… Let me say this- Jesus died for you. His blood covers all your sins… once and for all! You do not need to keep nailing Him back on the cross. Accept that free gift! Forgive yourself. Accept the forgiveness. Let God use you.

So many times, we think Christians are the perfect people sitting in church pews. That is not it at all. Christians are broken people (sinners) in need of a Savior (Jesus.) Don’t continue this misconception.

Share what God is doing in you and through you. Maybe God intervened in a marriage falling apart. Share that story. It matters. Someone needs to hear that story and that hope!

Maybe you’re struggling with an addiction- food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gaming…  I promise you another Christian is also struggling here and needs to hear what God is doing in your life.

Maybe you struggled with _______ (you fill in the blank here. For me, its drama and gossip). Share how the Holy Spirit is showing you how to overcome it, make better choices, and glorify God.

Seriously- Share that! Someone else is also struggling there and they need help. Sometimes just knowing that you are not alone is what another person needs to hear.

If you are struggling in your sin, you are not alone! Trying to do it on your own is not the answer… it’s prideful! All you have to do is turn back to God. Don’t try to clean up by yourself. Let Him walk with you. Let Him lead you. Let Him show you the way.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

Romans 3:23

Offended

Well, on Good Friday I found myself in need of a shopping trip to Target. It was a for-real need. The baby only had a handful of diapers left. (And Target’s Up and Up diapers are the best value.)

So, my six children and I walked into a busy Target. I was able to bypass most of the Easter crazy candies and such, get what we needed, and get in line rather quickly.

While standing in line, one of my children said, “I think I will save my money to buy some gum.”

And me? I said, “Honey you don’t need gum. Save your money.”

Then one of my lovelies saw what the lady in front of us was putting on the counter. “Mom! Why is she buying all that junk?” he said in a not-so-quiet voice.

Well, he was right. She was buying a lot of junk. Two hundred dollars’ worth of Easter candy.

But… me… I’m like, “Son… shhhh…” as I lipped the words, “I’m sorry,” to the woman who clearly just heard my son.

This really got me thinking… why, if I agreed with my son, did I try to hush him?

Why am I afraid to let the truth be the truth?

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The answer- I am afraid of offending someone. I’m so afraid of offending, that I tell my child to hush instead of saying, “Well son, some people have different values than we do.”

But it’s even deeper than that. In America, we are so worried about offending others that we just keep our thoughts and convictions to ourselves… well in the general public when we are not surrounded by like-minded people anyways.

Our social media feeds are filled with people standing on one side of the line “yelling” at those on the other side of the line. Democratic/Republican, Pro-life/Pro-choice, Ani-Vax/Must Vaccinate… We are so divided on so many issues… I wonder how people shouting the loudest can be proud to be part of the United States- we are so divided.

So, here we are screaming our stances on our sides of the line but in public we are afraid of offending others… We back down from our convictions… Or we tell ourselves that those are my convictions not theirs.  Which in all honestly, has some truth… the Holy Spirit works in each believer differently… But that’s just an excuse…not the whole truth.

Jesus told his disciples to go make disciples of all nations… and not just on Sundays after church… always. Be a living testament to the power of the Risen Savior! Tell the world about all He has done for you!

But how can we possibly share this good news while we are so afraid to offend someone?

So, here’s the deal- We all sin. We all fall short. Daily! We all offend God every day with our sins, but because he loves us so much- He sent His one and only Son to die for us… To take our place… And now when He sees us- full of sin, He doesn’t see that sin. He sees the blood of His son that covers us.

This is not a message we need to be worried about offending others with. We must share it.

What is the worst thing that can happen? I’ll get a dirty look, eye roll, or the like…  The person will say something ignorant in retaliation… Someone will get their feelings hurt…

Jesus didn’t call us to be passive, “nice,” and only share fluffy feelings of white puffy heavenly clouds. He called us to tell His truth. The whole truth. He told his followers that there would be a price to pay to follow me. That they must be willing to give up everything.

In Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.…” Jesus is saying we must love Him above all else- even our family.

We must take up our cross-daily! That cross may look different for each person. But I am willing to bet, most of us struggle with taking up the cross of our reputation. We want to be looked at positively. We don’t want others to think poorly of us. Therefore, we walk that line in order to not offend others.

So be willing to give up your reputation. Be willing to take a stance and lead a sister or brother to Christ. At the end of the day, it’s their salvation at steak.  I don’t want anyone spending eternity separated from God, so I must do all I can to point them to God now while they have the chance.

If that means I have to accept harsh words, their persecution, slander, or negative thoughts, then so be it. I will accept that and move on with my life acting like Peter and John, praising God that I was counted worthy of persecution for the name of Jesus Christ.

We want to share this Gospel, but how? But here’s where it gets tricky.

We can’t just cram in down people’s throat. We can’t just force people to read the Bible, a blog, some books, or Christian articles. And we can’t just force them to attend church.

We are dealing with people who have free will. But we are also dealing with their salvation. What do these people need? They need a change of heart. They need to see that they need a change of heart.

People in America seem to be living the American dream. Making their own money. Buying their own things. Providing.  Enjoying. Loving. But they keep chasing. There is something they are longing for and they can feel it in their hearts. But they will never know that until they see it.

The only way to fix a heart issue is to offer the solution- love. Show love. Offer love. No one will come to Christ by force. We must help them recognize their heart issue and help them overcome it. We must show them love! Help them learn what true love is.

No- it’s not a romantic feeling! It’s the love of a Creator. A Creator that desires a relationship with us. A Creator who would not force us to love him back. A Creator who we offend daily but will forgive us if we just accept that free gift that has already paid our ransom by the blood of his One and Only Son. He already saved you from yourself, you just have to accept it.

So, the truth, we will offend someone. But I would much prefer to offend a person by planting a seed. With the help of the Holy Spirit, this offended person may see their errors and possibly turn to Christ. This is a much better scenario than continuing to offend the God who loves, pursues, redeemed, and saved me. If I have to choose, I will always choose to offend man over God.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

Trusting

My husband picked up a pretty cool hobby while I was pregnant with one of our more recent babies. Tree climbing… but not like when we were kids jumping from branch to branch… more like climbing a rope to the top of a tree. As he was doing all the research and beginning to do it, I was a little envious. My growing belly would not allow me to partake in this new found hobby.

This may surprise you- we’ve been married almost 10 years. We have six kids. This means I have pretty much been pregnant half our marriage. I just accepted that a lot of these activities I will not be able to do for a while. So, I don’t even have a list of things I want to do when I no longer have a baby growing in my belly.

Well, recently my husband pulled out the climbing gear to do a project, realized I hadn’t climbed a tree yet, and said, “Wanna climb a tree?”

Heck yeah, I did! I put on the harness and listened as he explained what each little gadget was and how to use it. Then it was time to go up the tree. As I was climbing, I actually considered not going all the way to the top branch.

My husband told me, “Just trust the equipment.”

If I am being honest, I have no problem with heights. (I can be a little bit of an adrenalin junkie. I’ve gone sky-diving three times.)

I also had no problem trusting the equipment. I had just seen it support him all the way up and down the tree.

I didn’t trust myself to properly use the equipment.

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I am definitely in that spot in my walk with Christ. I trust Him fully (well that’s what I say anyways…) I know he can do all things. I’ve witnessed Him change me, give me peace, give me a new purpose, work in the lives of those around me.

But in some areas of my life, I trust myself first, and turn to God as a back-up plan…

I’m a parent. I love my kids with all my heart. I truly want what’s best for them… but sometimes I wish it were a little easier.

I’m quick to say I trust God with my kids. I know God has a plan for my kids. I’m excited to have a front row seat and witness that. However, that also means I have to do the not-so-fun parts of parenting- training, guiding, disciplining, instilling positive characteristic.

Let me just say, this is not something that comes naturally to me. I am a peacekeeper by nature. I want to just overlook issues and help everyone get along. That does not work with rearing children.

They have to be taught right from wrong. When they make a poor decision, we have to correct it and teach them why it is wrong.

A few days ago, my boys got caught watching something they were not given permission to watch on YouTube. So, I grounded them from the tablets. (They were already grounded from the television.) Seemed like a fair punishment (and even my boys agreed…)

But that didn’t stop them from telling me how much they didn’t like me, how unfair it was, and so on.

What did I do? I would love to tell you I stopped, prayed, and asked God for direction.

But I didn’t. I tried to talk to my boys.

Yep, that was a mistake. I ended up getting my feelings hurt by their words that were really just a reaction to a feeling.

I called my husband. Let me just tell you, God blessed me with an amazing husband.

When he got home from work, he had a conversation with my boys. I listened from the other room, and honestly, I was in awe over the direction of the conversation.

He started off asking them who taught them to tie their shoes. (mom) Who taught them to ride their bikes? (dad and mom) Who taught them to lie?

Wait no one…

Who taught you to be disrespectful?

No one…

“No one had to teach you that, son. It’s part of the fall of man.” He then went on to get out a Bible, read the fall from Genesis, and explain to the boys that sin is part of our nature. And that is was our job, as parents, to teach you right from wrong, to help you overcome the temptation to sin. But we all sin. We all fall short. We are going to mess up. But when we mess up, we have to make it right. (Seriously it was good. So good, there may be an early chapter book in the making.)

Parenting win, because of my husband.

Me? I went to bed defeated. Somedays I feel like I’m a rock-star of a mom! Somedays I wonder how I will survive another 18 years…

As I went to bed, I had an honest talk with God. I let him know I was defeated. I let him know I didn’t know what to do. And I got this conviction- Do you trust me with your kids?

Of course, God.

No, Renee. Do you trust me with your kids? You have to lean into me. Every second of everyday. Stop trying to do it on your own.

You see… I do trust God… but only in some areas… in most areas, I trust myself. I look to my own knowledge, my own understanding, my own abilities. It’s like I get in the car with God, but I want to be holding the steering wheel. I have to take my hands off that wheel and trust.

Do you think Moses had any idea what God could do when he came to the Red Sea with the Egyptian Army not far behind? If he had tried to do things his way, they would have all died. If he had asked God to only do things the way he wanted them, they may have survived (and returned to slavery I’m sure.) They definitely would have missed walking through the Red Sea on dry ground.

When Jesus’ disciples needed to feed the crowd of thousands, how do you think they would have solved that problem. Me, I would have sent them away. Or I would have prayed that someone would have enough money to support a large, large pizza delivery. But Jesus, multiplied what they did have.

We have to have faith to fully trust God, or we will miss out on what He is doing around us! Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways submit to Him!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Learning to Lose

My kids have started learning how to play Chess at the library. They’ve gotten pretty good at playing too. It’s almost hard to believe that 3 months ago they didn’t know how to play.

Their Chess teacher sent them home with a board and pieces about a month ago. My older three play so much, that my younger children (who do not go to Chess) probably know how to play better than I do.

It’s fun to watch them play. It’s neat to see them develop strategy and get better.

But my kids are learning something else during all these friendly Chess matches between siblings. They are learning how to lose. Learning to lose well is quite a challenge for my kids. But let’s be real-it’s a challenge for everyone.

No one like to lose. Especially not my kids. It’s all fun and enjoyable until someone gets emotional. They get mad that they can’t break a rule. They get mad that the other person moved a certain way. They get mad that they never get to be white (because white always goes first in Chess.) Suddenly the game that brought them to the table with smiles is now horrible.

It’s hard to explain to an emotional child that when two people are playing a game, someone will win. This means that someone else will lose. Since no one wants to lose, whoever doesn’t win will not exactly like that. But we can lose well.

We can acknowledge that the other person made some good moves. We can say good game. And it’s ok to not be happy that we lost. However, it is NOT ok to act out of emotion and say or do things that make others feel bad.

So yes, I- mom- want them to lose. I want them to practice losing. And I want them to grow. I feel it’s important teach our kids it’s ok to lose, to lose well, and still celebrate the winner. I want them to experience disappointments but know how to control those emotions. I want to help build character. But I especially do not want them to be bad sports.

No one likes to lose. Not games. Not sporting events. Not bets. Not arguments.

But losing is part of life. We must learn to lose.

Sometimes you have to lose to win.

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But have you ever thought about losing to yourself…losing to your flesh… Let me explain. We are constantly at war with ourselves. Our flesh tells us to sin. “Go ahead tell that juicy story. Look at that man/women and wish you could be with them. No body is looking, so just take it you wont get caught.” BUT our Spirit is right there saying, “NO STOP!! THIS IS SIN AND AGAINST GOD!! DON’T DO IT!!”

This battle is a daily one, and it is necessary for us to grow to be more like Jesus. We call it the process of sanctification. We have to die to ourselves. We have to lose to our flesh so that our Spirit (which is what bears the image of God) can continue to get stronger and grow.

When I was younger, I listened to who the world said I was.

I was not the smartest kid in my class… I was just an average student.

I was not the prettiest girl in my school… I was just average.

I was creative, but not the best at art… I was crafty.

I was friendly but not necessarily popular… I was a good friend.

I was good at sports… I was an athlete.

I let my interest, talents, and relationships define who I was.

When I came to know Christ, I had built up MY identity. I chose who I was, how people perceived me, what I did for a living, who I hung out with, and who I let influence my identity.

As I started to grow in relationship with Christ, I slowly lost all of that. I had to die to myself so I could become who He intended for me to be.

I remember it as clear as day, the desire to quit working and stay at home with my kids. But it was more than just that. I now desired to have a large family and homeschool.

Guys, trust me when I say, I never wanted to be a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of six. But I am so glad this was God’s plan!!! I could not imagine it any other way.

I had to submit. I had to lose. I had to let go of the image, identity, that I let define me.

But in losing I really lost nothing. I gained. I gained peace. I gained comfort. I gained understanding. I gained a better relationship with the people in my life. I gained a new purpose.  I no longer put effort into things God did not call me to, but most importantly I gained a relationship with my Heavenly Father. I now realize just how much higher His ways are than mine and how much better His plans are than mine.

Our human instinct, desire, and our flesh wants to hold onto the things this world tells us should define us. But please hear me when I say lose to yourself.

You may be a teacher… but your job does not define you… you are a child of God.

You may be good at art…  but you are not just an artist… you are a child of God.

You may be a great at sports… but your hobbies do not define your worth… you are a child of God.

Lose to yourself. Lose to the world. Do not let your hobbies, job, interest, and talents tell you who you are. You are a child of God!

Practice losing because…YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD!!

 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

John 12:24-25

Buttered-Up

So, I have been making an effort to eat healthier. I looked into all those fad diets, but decided that ultimately, I needed to have a healthy relationship with food and eat a balanced diet.

Let me be honest, I have been a yo-yo dieter since I realized I could lose-weight. As a result, I have struggled with eating healthy. God created everything good- right? So why should my food taste horrible? I had to find a way to eat healthy foods and enjoy it.

I realized that as I have made this shift in my eating habits, my kids want to as well. They have started requesting salads and omelets for lunch and seem to always be asking for a bite of whatever I am eating.

However, I made broccoli to go with dinner a couple nights ago. Let’s just say, not one of my kids was happy to learn that broccoli was on the menu. But I put some butter and seasoning on the broccoli and all the sudden they were all asking for more.

I would like to think that’s because they learned broccoli wasn’t all that bad. But really, I buttered and spiced up the broccoli, so that they would like it.

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All too often, we, as Christians, try to appeal to non-believers with Christianity that is all buttered up. Accept Jesus as your Savior and you will be blessed. Come to church on Sunday, follow a few rules, and now you are going to Heaven.

We sell this religion… this way of life… but we are missing a key element. The Gospel!

Why do we need Christ?

Who is Jesus?

Why did He come to this world?

It’s foundational, but without this missing component of our need for a Savior, we are simply being good people. Anyone can make a choice to be a good person.

But Christians aren’t just good people. We are God’s people. We are imitating Christ! We love because he loved us first.

It has nothing to do with our works, and everything to do with His love for us.

We are sinners. We live in a world created by a loving Creator. But sin has destroyed our world. We need a Savior. God loved the world so much that He sent his only Son to die for us, to take on the punishment we deserve. Three days later He rose from the grave, defeating death and giving us the hope of eternal life.

The Gospel needs no butter. It is a perfect, beautiful gift on its own.

However, walking with Christ is not easy. This is where we add all the butter and spice and everything nice. We say things like, “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” (Which is not true. God will give you more than you can handle because he wants you to rely on His strength not you own.)

We tell people God is always with them, and they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength. When these people attend Church, they see people who appear happy and blessed honoring God. It seems to be all sun-shine and roses. But right now, the seed we are throwing is not reaching fertile soil.  We have only sold the life-style not a real and personal relationship with Christ.

While this is good-intentioned and may have some foundational truths, we need to equip new believers. We need to teach them to read their Bibles. We need to teach them to pray. We need to invite them to fellowship. When they are struggling, we need to be the hands and feet coming along side of them, so that they know they are not alone. We need to help that person realize it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

If we fail to do this, we are simply bringing another person to Church. We are not making disciples. We are making false claims to Christianity.

How can you be a Christian without looking like Christ?

I ask you, was Jesus’ life all sunshine and roses? (No.) Did he need to know and study the word so that it would be in his heart when the enemy came to tempt him? (Absolutely!) Did people oppose Jesus? (yes!) Was He misunderstood? (you bet!)

Did Jesus tell new believers, come to Church? No! He told them repent… Sin no more… your sins are forgiven.  He called them to change their ways.

Jesus is our model. We need to follow His example. Somehow, Christianity took on a religion and stopped mirroring Christ. When people were first called Christians, it wasn’t a good thing. It was meant as degrading, “Man you look a lot like that Christ guy…” or, “You Christians…”

Just like the cross, those things that were meant for bad, became symbols of triumph! However, let’s not forget where they came from.

If we are going to say we are Christians, we need to try to be like Christ. He is the example. We can never measure up, but we can grow and learn with the help of the Holy Spirit.

You cannot sell a butter-up version of the Gospel to nonbelievers. Jesus calls us to change our lives. But He doesn’t make us do it alone. He gives us the free gift of the Holy Spirit. He blesses us with other Christians to do life with! Take advantage of the fullness of the Gospel!

 “In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But he gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born to be a man and became like a servant.  And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself and was fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death — death on a cross.”
Philippians 2:5-8