Praise Project, Week 8

When I decided to do the Praise Project this year, I knew there would be weeks that would be more difficult which is specifically why I wanted to tackle it for a whole year and put it out there in the blogosphere. It would force me to concentrate on what God has done for me. It’s been a long week, and I will admit that I actually told my 15-year old that I had nothing to be thankful for. She was appalled, to say the least, and rattled off a list of things God had done for me in the last week that had been swept away in a cloud of exhaustion and self-pity. So, without further ado, this week I’m praising God:

1). That what I thought would turn out to be some over-the-top plumbing expense turned out to be nothing more than a piece of pipe needing replaced. Whew!

2). That I am made in God’s image and not the other way around. More on that in an upcoming blog post.

3). For the chance to share our space with a couple of great college students for the next few weeks.

4). For getting through my speaking gig over the weekend.

5). For the glimmer of hope that my writing dream is not dead.

6). That the birds are back and starting to build their summer home outside my door.

7). That God is intimately involved in EVERY aspect of my life!

Praise Project, Week 7

This week I’m praising God for:

1). Snowblowers. Need I say more?

2). Answered prayer.

3). Watching my kids gleefully pass down their most valued toys to others rather than opting to sell them and make a quick buck.

4). My cat. I have to say it. His fuzzy goodness is almost too much sometimes.

5). Beth Moore’s study of James. Crazy insight!

6). Encouraging words from people I hardly know.

7). The opportunity to be a listening hear to people I hardly know.

Enough Already

There’s a trend out there right now that has totally piqued my interest. Minimalism is sweeping the blogosphere with a rapidity rivaling that of a disease sweeping through a village. Simplicity is the new way of life. Less is more. Less debt equals more financial freedom. Less junk food equals more health. Less time tending to stuff equals more time experiencing life.

As a recovering over-the-top spender and collector of debt and all things material, I totally buy into all of this. I’ve written about my laser sharp focus that snaps into action when I go after the cluttered rooms around my house. Like a tornado I purge and pitch with wild abandonment to the utter horror of the rest of my family. I’ve mentioned in the past how I would give anything to pair down my stuff to only that which fits in a backpack. And with the loyalty of a disciple, I follow the small house movement in silent envy of those who pack their lives into homemade houses of 300 square feet or less. Yes, I know I’m weird.

The blogosphere is pregnant with promises of grocery bills being slashed in half through the magic of couponing, price comparing and tailoring a menu based on sales in the weekly flyers. Having spent hours culling the wisdom of these blogging superheroes I have been able to whittle down my grocery bill to an impressive $92 a week for a family of four. This includes a teenage boy who would eat paint off a wall if he were hungry enough. I’ve also read the testimonials of those who’ve taken the challenge posed by Project 333. The freedom that comes with pairing down your wardrobe to 33 items that you wear over and over for 3 months has intrigued me to the point of attempting this challenge myself. No more agonizing over what to wear every morning.

I say all of this because it occurred to me that besides chasing simplicity for the sake of order in my life, a pattern has emerged. That is, that when life feels out of control I immediately go after my stuff, my budget and my space. On one hand it makes complete sense. Despite my utter disdain for clutter, be it financial or otherwise, it’s there at every turn. It is the antithesis to calm and order, and despite my best efforts it reproduces itself overnight. So I go after it with a vengeance knowing that I may not be able to control the people or circumstances around me, but I sure can control my immediate physical space and my spending habits all in an effort to obtain the often-elusive calm I am seeking.

But then when I stop, admire my work and wonder why I’m still all jammed up inside, it hits me that organizing and decluttering physical space is great, but to stop there is shortsighted. If it’s inner calm I’m seeking, all the outward efforts toward it will never accomplish what a good inner purging can.

Spiritual clutter does more to derail us than any amount of clutter lying around our house. When our hearts and minds are cluttered with things like fear, anxiety, discontentment and worry, that’s what we listen to, and that’s what gets our attention. It’s a lot harder to hear the still small voice of God when the other stuff is screaming at us.

A mind concentrating on God at all times and in all circumstances is a mind at peace. This is a tough one for me.  In fact, I’ve often thought if I weren’t a believer, I would be an easy target for the New Age gurus out there with their seductive promises of empty minds and calm inner selves. I’d spend an entire weekend on some retreat seeking empty-mindedness through meditation and chanting. Anything to quiet the noise in my head.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3,4 NIV).

In his commentary, Matthew Henry writes,

“Good principles fixed in the head will produce good resolutions in the heart and good practices in the life.”

Just like a professional organizer gives steps and tools to creating a calm space the Bible gives us steps and tools to achieve this same outcome in our heads.

Good principles such as “seek first the kingdom of God,” “guard your heart for it is the well-spring of life,” value others above yourselves,” “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,” all of them contribute to mental peace in one form or another. How different would I look if I replaced anger, anxiety, frustration and self-pity with these things? How would my life change if I let God untether my brain from the strongholds of worry and fear?

A spiritual cleaning would go a long way in ushering in mental peace. To spend time purging the junk in my soul with the same amount of ferocity used in purging my house would benefit not just me but everyone around me. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so quick to throw out the physical treasures, and my kids could keep some of their stuff!

So I have to ask, is your brain cluttered with the unnecessary junk of the world? Would you give anything to trade in the circus in your head for something more akin to this?

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

Jesus is peace.

Praise Project, Week 6

This week I’m praising God for:

1). Friends with listening ears and honest words.

2). A Bible study teacher who doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not. I love your vulnerability Tammie!

3). The rumor I heard that next week’s temps might hit 50 degrees! I’ll have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

4). For good health insurance. I only $60 on a $2,000 bill.

5). The fact that Jesus is freedom.

6). The reminder that Jesus does the heavy lifting in life. All He asks of me is obedience-words that continually swirl around in my brain.

7). Getting to spend 20 Valentine’s Days with my husband.

Know Your Advocate

The other day I listened as Sam Brown gave a radio interview about his life as a wounded vet and his current run for State Representative in Texas. His story of survival, having been left to burn to death after his Humvee was hit by an IED, is inspiring to say the least. However, it was his answer to a question posed by the interviewer regarding his current political aspirations that grabbed my attention. Despite being politically conservative and claiming his need for God, the interviewer wanted to know how he  would avoid losing his soul in the cesspool of American politics. His answer: being prepared, knowing what you’re getting into.

It is this idea of preparedness and knowing what we’re getting into that I want to run with over the next several weeks. We spend copious amounts of time learning who our enemy is. We know that Satan is a liar, deceiver, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, one who masquerades as an angel of light, and the list goes on. We know that our battle is not against flesh and blood but is completely spiritual in nature. I imagine that if the spiritual blinders were removed what we would see would cause us to faint in complete fear.

We also spend time in personal Bible study learning who we are as believers, that is: redeemed, loved, called, heirs with Christ, protected, more than conquerors, and again an endless list. We know that God’s great love for us is the center of the story of human history and that each one of us has a role in telling the story.

Knowing who our enemy is and who we are in Christ are important, but there is one final piece to the equation necessary in rounding out the ultimate trifecta of hope and that is knowing our Advocate. We know that He is Jesus, but who is Jesus? What do we know about Him? Besides the all-important answers-Son of God, fully human and yet fully divine, sinless, Redeemer, Creator, etc.- how would you answer someone who asked you who He is?

In our church we have started a series entitled “Jesus is” that will continue through Easter. This is such a big deal that we have erected a sign at the top of one of our buildings that lights up the sky with “Jesus is.” No matter how you come into the city you will see this sign. The phrase runs through my head like a banner chasing a plane across the sky. Jesus is. Who is this Person I claim to follow?

This week I have been struck with a simple yet profound truth: Jesus is the last word. Chills run up and down my arms as I write these words. Do we even have any idea what that means? If Jesus is the last word, then nothing has dominion over us. It means He has the last word over our disease, sickness, fears, circumstances, broken relationships, worries, confusion, hopes and dreams. It means He has the last word over godless leaders imposing corrupt laws over us. It means that every person will bow whether they want to or not. It means we win.

When my husband and I have an animated discussion over something, the one thing we are both fighting for is the last word. It’s a toss-up to see who will have it and thereby win the argument. Having the last word is the ultimate victory because it silences the opposition and empowers the winner. Though completely sinful in the context of human relationships, this drive for the last word, to silence the opposition and win the fight, is exactly what we will experience some day because of who Jesus is.

“He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life’” (Revelation 21:6, NIV).

No battle in history ever started with the ending known. No matter which side a soldier was on, no matter what weapons he had at his disposal, every warrior involved went in blindly with the hopes of coming out on top but never being sure until the end when the winner was declared.

We fight our battle with the knowledge that the winner has been declared. There’s no hoping we’ve chosen the right side. It doesn’t matter how weak we are or inadequate of a fighter. We win because of who Jesus is and because Jesus is the last word. He said it, and so it is. End of story.

Praise Project, Week 5

This week I’m praising God:

1). For friends who text prayers to me over things I’m struggling with.

2). That Jesus is the last word-more on that in my next post.

3). For God-given strength to go to work and plow through despite feeling sick.

4). For a husband who diligently keeps our driveway shoveled. I love to shovel about as much as I love to cook, pay bills and drive!

5). For kids who still publicly display their affection for me.

6). For the pleasure of taking someone else’s burden to Jesus when they just can’t at that moment. Is there a greater honor than that?

7). For music