Praise Project, Week 25

This week has been mixed but wonderful. God is so good to spend time teaching us things that will draw us closer to Him and make us more effective workers for His kingdom. This week’s praises:

1). “Blessed are you , O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord?” Deut. 33:29. What a distinction! God is busy teaching me to understand and live by my distinction of who I am in Him.

2). I’ve always wanted to be an oversees missionary. I love other cultures. As I sat in on another English class for adults last night, I met and talked to people from Morocco, Peru, Columbia, Mexico, Pakistan, and Brazil. I fell in love, and I realized that with the privilege of teaching a group like this in fall, God has brought the mission field to me.

3). Despite my political leanings and penchant for following rules set up by our founders, I am a believer before I am an American. Why is this a praise? Because in looking at people with Jesus-eyes rather than American-eyes, I am free to love them unconditionally simply because they are people created by God.

4). God is teaching me what abundant life really looks like. Hint: it has nothing to do with external circumstances. While I realize this is a no-brainer for a Christian, some of us are a bit slow on the uptake. Look for a series on this topic I am working on for the fall.

5). My sweet son injured his elbow when he rolled on it going for a ball in centerfield last week. We are praising God it didn’t end up being more than a sprain.

6). My sweet husband injured himself taking out a toilet. He has three stitches. Again, we are praising God it’s not worse.

7). Finally, you may remember last summer I burned my feet with 22 cups of boiling water. This year it was hot grease on my arm but nothing like last year’s disaster. Praise God. As usual, my daughter is the only one who’s got it all together.

Praise Project, Week 24

Every morning when I open God’s autobiography, I specifically pray and ask Him to show me who He is in the pages of Scripture. This week I’ve been in Hosea. While every book in the Bible speaks to the character of God in some way, the word pictures in this one bring new meaning to His unfailing love for us. I specifically love the language of the 1984 version of the NIV. This week I’m praising God:

1). That He removes the names of the Baals from our lips, 2:17. Clinging too tightly to the things of this world? Ask Him to remove from your heart that which crowds Him out.

2). He pastures us like lambs in a meadow (4:16b) that is, when our stubbornness doesn’t get in the way.

3). “I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me” (14:8b). We’d do well to remember this.

4). A few days ago my sister-in-law’s hot water heater broke flooding part of her basement. She, like I, immediately saw dollar signs. Turns out, because God is AWESOME and because she hasn’t had it that long, she is eligible for a new one for free. Needless to say, there was much praising in the Nielson family.

5). Every summer I spend a lot of time in my old neighborhood sitting poolside and spending time with a good friend. The woman could live in a cave, and I wouldn’t care. It’s the hours-long conversations with her that draw me. Plus, she makes a killer cup of coffee!

6). That my kids have an amazing father. He’s at every one of Nick’s games, and he’s still taking Abby out for dates. Amazing.

7). Father’s Day makes me think of my mom. She was both a mom and dad to me all growing up, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without her involvement in my life. Thanks Mom!

Matters of the Heart

stream One morning several months ago I was in a particularly bad mood. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened. In fact, I had started my day the way I start every day: get up, turn on the coffeepot, feed the cat, wash my face, pour the coffee, turn on my laptop, turn on the TV and plop down in front of the news for about an hour. As I dropped my daughter off at school that morning, her parting words to me were this: “Mom, don’t turn on talk radio today. You aren’t in the frame of mind to handle it.” Hmmm. Sometimes I wonder who the parent is in this house.

A couple of Praise Projects ago I alluded to something that God has been working on me about. It’s been months that we’ve batted this thing back and forth He and I. In fact it’s become such a topic of discussion that every sermon I hear, every article I read and every conversation I have with people about spiritual things somehow comes around to this subject: where does God fit in my noisy life?

I wonder as I look back over the course of the last three years and what it has taken to get out and stay out of debt- that is, the changing of habits, the changing of loyalties and priorities, the important lesson of delayed gratification-if maybe all of that was just the testing grounds for something much bigger. After all, debt is nothing more than a symptom of something greater. It’s never the real issue.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV 1984). This verse has haunted me for weeks.

At first I thought I was dealing with a time management problem. I start my day with the news, clean houses to the rhythms of talk radio and finish the day online catching up on blogs, missed television shows, email and Facebook. And then I realize time isn’t the issue. Nothing in life is ever the bottom line issue: money, time, relationships, worries, fears, joy, wondering, frustration, life changes and the myriad things we encounter in a lifetime. It all comes down to the heart and guarding what goes into it.

I spent the summer of 1987 camping in the French Alps. Running down the side of the mountain was an icy cold stream. It was our only water source, and we used it for everything, cooking, bathing, drinking. It was also the only water source for everyone else living on the mountain. I know this because at one time the little old lady at the foot of the mountain complained to our hosts that she was finding bubbles in her drinking water. I don’t blame her for being upset. We were tainting her life source.

If we believe that out of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45) than protecting what goes into it must be of utmost importance. It is for this reason that I have decided to make some changes. Before I continue you must know a few things: 1). This is not a ploy at self-promotion; 2). This is not a judgment on anyone but me. These changes are because of what I have been working on with the Lord; 3). None of the things I am taking out of my life are evil nor do I intend to remove them forever; and 4). If you desire to join me in paring down your personal life and amping up your spiritual life, I’d love the company.

Change number one: When we think of tithing, it goes without saying that money is what we are referring to, giving to God the first fruits of our earnings. What if we looked at each new day the way we do an uncashed paycheck, unspent with limitless possibilities? Instead of giving the world the first hours of my day, I will give those moments to God and let Him set the tone for the rest of my waking hours.

Change number two: I am jumping off of Facebook for the summer. This media phenomenon is arguably the greatest invention this century. I’ve caught up with people I haven’t seen in years, followed medical conditions of friends, asked for prayer more than once, vented frustration at injustice and on and on. I’ve also spent countless hours reading feeds from others in an effort to avoid certain responsibilities. If you get to this blog from Facebook, you will still be able to do that, but that will be my only tie to Facebook. My blog will (hopefully) automatically post to it.

Change number three: If my disposition was a little different, I would probably run for public office. Obsessed with politics, I spend anywhere from two to five hours a day listening to talk radio. I can’t help myself. What that has gotten me is discouragement and tears of frustration. So I’ve traded in my radio for one that does not carry the stations I listen to and have replaced it with a couple of  hours of sermons from the likes of David Platt, James McDonald and Chip Ingram. The rest of the time is spent listening to praise music or simply silence.

Change number four: At the risk of being incredibly vulnerable I will tell you that pride in the form of self-doubt is something that I have always and probably will always wrestle with. My blog host, WordPress, keeps a tally of the number of visitors to my blog everyday. This can be incredibly distracting and debilitating. Because of some problems I’ve been having lately, I now log on differently which has inadvertently made it so that I can’t get to these stats. Oh the freedom!

I recently posted on Facebook that I believe success is measured by the motives of our heart. How successful I am at writing or anything else I do in life is not dependent on whether I receive a paycheck for that work or thousands of followers to my blog or words of acclamation. Success is measured by the obedience to the life of discipleship God has called each one of us to personally. No more talking. Do we want Jesus or not? Do we want Him living in every moment of our day or only when we really need Him or when it’s convenient for us? Discipleship simply demands choices. There’s really no way around it.

Luke 14:27 “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Praise Project, Week 23

This week I’m thankful for:

1). Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” This applies to our kids’ hearts too.

2).  I Timothy 6:6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” We have the choice to live a life of contentment, to decide when enough is enough, to take joy in simple things.

3). Friends who bring me flowers because I’ve had a bad day.

4). Romans 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

5). A good chiropractor and mega amounts of magnesium, both of which have helped my daughter’s headaches to subside.

6). The rare moments (too quick and rare to capture on camera) of sibling love between the two teenagers Bruce and I share space with.

7). In the words of my son, “Other religions are so complicated. Christianity is simple.”  I love the truth of this and the fact that my kid knows it and can articulate it.

Praise Project, Week 22

This week I’m praising God:

1). For the opportunity to teach English as a second language to adults this fall, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

2). Every summer my daughter spends a week or two with my mom. I’m thrilled that she still loves to do this, is having fun, and is enjoying it with a minimal amount of pain.

3). Most summers my husband works a part-time job. This summer he’s working full-time. I am married to the hardest working person on the planet, and I’m so grateful for his strong work ethic and commitment to knocking out some of our last remaining medical debts.

4). You may or may not know this, but dairy is not my friend. On the rare occasions that I indulge in it, I regret it. I am blessed beyond measure for my friend who has spent time and money experimenting in an effort to find me a suitable alternative. Thank you Carol!

5). I love watching my kids have success. Last night Nick hit a triple hopefully pulling him out of his hitting slump. As trivial as it may sound, I am praising God for this because it’s hard to watch him struggle.

6). For the reminder this week that the world is our mission field, not our enemy.

7). Also, for the reminder that though God’s holiness demands wickedness be punished, He does not delight in the death of the wicked. Ezekiel 18:23