The Word for 2019

Every year, as December draws to a close, I ask God to give me a word for the coming year. It’s a little leap of faith, an exercise in expectation as I press in to hear His voice and fight to suppress my own.

I look for it everywhere, in songs, books and conversations. I listen for a consistent word bubbling to the surface through the swirling buzz of the world around me. I intentionally seek quiet and try to patiently trust Him to grant me this small thing.

But is it ever really a small thing when the Creator of the entire universe speaks to one of his children?

Last week it came softly. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, or if I was even really hearing God, so I sat on it an waited for more confirmation. There was another word running through my thoughts, as well, so I wanted to be certain before sitting down here to type them out. Over and over the word came, with the second one whispering just behind it, until today.

It hit me like a freight train as one of our pastors gave a much-needed but ouch-you-are-meddling-in-my-life sermon. As he spoke, the words I had been pondering came together as one thought, making sense as to what God is calling me to do and how He wants me to approach this next year.

As I reflect on 2018 I am so grateful. God asked me to seek Him, which I did. (You can read that post here) He blessed me with moments of clarity and joy in the midst of some of the hardest days of my life. He brought me to the end of myself and held me tight as I wept. He also gave me laughter and celebration and a reason to believe He is at work as much as ever, that I can trust Him even when I don’t understand what He is doing and that I can rest assured the ones I love the most on earth are safe in the palm of His hand, regardless of their choices in this world. I sought Him and He allowed me to find Him. That is a good, good year.

My writing has continued each week, as you know, with my focus always being on finding joy in the simple things and living forward into who we will be (because who we are in Christ is who we really ARE). That will not change, but I pray there will be more to it.

You see, I have read too many books and blogs that left me empty and wanting this year, and I do not want to be just another writer encouraging women. (You’ve got encouragement coming out your ears these days, friends.) I want to be a writer who challenges you to think deeply, to love Jesus when everyone else around you has turned their backs, and to pursue the heart of God because, sisters, THAT is where joy will only, truly, be found.

All of nature points to Jesus.  Every creature’s unique and often hilarious design points to Jesus.  The warmth of a child’s embrace points to Jesus. Doubt and suffering also point to Jesus.

As has been spoken to me in three different settings of late, “It is time to pursue the deep things of God.” If what I write makes you feel good but your SELF is still on the throne of your life then I have failed.  

If you walk away from the computer feeling happy and saying, “Jeanine is a really good writer,” well, that is nice but that is not why I am writing.

If what I write does not drive you to seek a more intimate relationship with the Lover of your Soul and turn away from anything that hinders that process, I am just another voice among many feel-good voices telling you to seek self-care when you feel stressed.

To put it bluntly, we don’t need self-care as much as we need an encounter with the Holy Spirit. We need to be fully given to the power of God. Treating the symptoms without getting to the root of the issue will not result in lasting joy. But seeking the deep things of Christ? Really committing to learn the ways of God and live a life of holiness? Training our spirit in the disciplines that will carry us when the storms of life threaten to tear apart everything we have worked so hard to build? THAT is deep and lasting satisfaction. THAT is joy. THAT is what I want to help you do.

So, here we go, 2019. The word for this year is LIGHT, accompanied by the word deep. The Scripture is Matthew 10:27 where Jesus prepares the apostles for the task He has set before them.

And you should proclaim in the bright light of day everything that I have whispered to you in the dark. Whatever whispers you hear—shout them from the rooftops of houses.  

Matthew 10:27 (The Voice Translation)

In the verses leading up to this one, Jesus lets them know, up front, that they will be persecuted for speaking the truth. They are surely going to face the darkest days of their lives. They are going to be driven to their knees in desperation for the strength of God to carry them through the darkness. But, as I have learned this year, God speaks to us in those dark days. We are forced to listen for His voice when we are left with nothing else. In the dark night of the soul, when we cry out for mercy and hope, our faithful Father draws near to us and teaches us the deep things of God. THIS is what He is calling me to this year…to proclaim in the light what I have heard in the darkness. And, friends, I can’t say it any better than what I heard Pastor Mike ask us to say out loud on Sunday morning:

“It’s not about me.”

Friends, it’s about Jesus. All of it. Every experience of my life is meant to bring me closer to the heart of God. He has me here on this earth for one reason and one reason alone…to proclaim to this world that there is only one way to the Father, and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ who lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died, then rose FROM THE DEAD in victory so that you and I can live forever with Him. Jesus is the LIGHT of the world, sweet friends. Not your favorite blogger or podcaster, not your mama, and not even your pastor. You will never find eternal joy and purpose apart from knowing Jesus. No massage, pedicure or “encouraging” Christian book will ever fulfill you or bring true and lasting satisfaction. Anything that encourages you to put your “self” first is a lie. We are to seek Jesus first. Period.

We have been too easily deceived in our culture as wave after wave of fluffy Christian writing has retrained our thinking and the result is a bunch of women who are all about themselves with a Jesus t-shirt on to make self-love look holy. We use God’s extravagant love for us, his daughters, as an excuse for escaping from the realities of the needs around us because we need “me time” or to recharge. But a spa day cannot fill me with unconditional love for my husband. A girls’ weekend away, pretending that we are single with no kids, will never make me a better and more courageous mother. I can only give out of the overflow of what God does in me. It’s the heart behind what we do that matters. It’s the reason “why” I need to escape that is the issue. What am I escaping from, my calling? My responsibilities? My God?

Taking care of ourselves physically is important, yes. Do not think I am against spa days!  That could not be further from the truth!  (I enjoy them! Really!) In fact, a spa day may not even be your thing. Maybe it’s exercise or reading that is your escape go-to. Maybe it’s a sport or Netflix or a hobby. I’m not against any of those things, but I am against anything that puts a shade over the light that Jesus is trying to shine in and through us. YES he blesses us. YES he wants us to rest. YES we all need a break sometimes.  But I am seeing post after post, book after book, pointing not to Christ as our source of blessing and rest but to self-care and self-love and, well, that is just a pretty, nail-polished form of idolatry with highlights.

We must let Christ shine his light into our hearts. We must choose to pursue the deep things of God first. Lean into Him, pray for Him to expose sin and rip it out of our lives. Be willing to do whatever it takes to walk in the Spirit and share Jesus with a lost and desperate world.

Because, my dear friends and sisters, that is why you and I exist.

I am learning with you on this journey.  It is not easy to keep Jesus the main thing, but I believe, with all that is within me, that it will certainly be worth it. We will stumble and fall, we will inadvertently (maybe even purposefully) dim His light at times, but remember this…

“All things were made through him, and without him was not anything that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  

John 1:3-5 (English Standard Version)

Jesus is the light.  In him is life!  And never forget…the light (Jesus) shines in the darkness and, no matter how much you or I struggle and fail, the darkness has not, nor will it ever, overcome it!

Speak in the light what you have learned in the darkness.  Shout it loud and clear and remember who you are and WHOSE you are!

Happy New Year, dear ones.  May His light shine bright through us as we pursue the deep things of God in 2019.  He is worthy!

On Being Followed

Our family spent Fall Break on the beach. (Can I get a hallelujah, Amen?) My oldest son (a legal adult, though I swear he was toddling around my house just a few minutes ago) followed me down so he could have his car to meet up with his buddies.

As we made the 7-hour-plus-many-stops drive to Florida (Helloooo Whataburger!) my son followed close behind. He has never made a cross-country drive alone so this was good practice for him. Except for a few logistical hiccups it was a relatively uneventful and mostly enjoyable drive.

And as we drove something struck me. I was much more aware than usual of my own driving habits. Not only my speed, but also my use of turn signals, passing techniques and courtesy shown to those around me. Because I was being followed.

By my son.

Whom I love more than life.

He has been driving for two years but I know he still has much to learn and I saw this as an opportunity to model good driving and intentional precautions to protect myself and those around me. It was a needed lesson for both of us.

So as I drove the Lord was so kind to reveal a truth to me.

You see, we are always being followed. I have five children watching me, but even if you do not have children I assure you someone is watching how you live, love and navigate this life. Our decisions almost always affect others, for better or for worse.

Jesus modeled the perfect life and, though I am far from perfect, I can examine my own life and ask if I am worthy of being followed.

On good days I can say, “Sure, I’m doing pretty good.” But there are too many days where, if I’m honest, I’m living under the “do as I say and not as I do” umbrella. I’m really adept at telling you what you should do but then going home and not necessarily following though with that advice in my own life. This is why we are counseled by the Lord to examine our hearts, to look ourselves honestly in the mirror and be willing to make the needed changes in order to more closely follow Jesus and more effectively lead others into a life of truth.

The book of James says this:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:22-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

From this passage I learn two vital lessons…

First, I MUST know the Word of God. I can’t do what I haven’t learned.

Second, I must allow the Word of God to affect the way I see myself, to change my perspective and affect the way I live even when no one is looking.

Lip service is useless. It’s cheap. But a transformed life, a woman who lives and speaks the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is worthy of being followed and will lead those looking up to her straight to the Throne of Grace.

Perspective.

She sat with my daughter, bent over the canvas with a brush hanging from her lips, peering critically at every detail of her work.  Wondering if it was good, or maybe even (dare she hope?) great.  My daughter and I looked at it from a few feet away…amazed at the depth and perspective in her painting.

“It makes me want to jump in and walk through it,” I said.  My friend grinned, encouraged by our enthusiasm.  We all looked again, loving how a little distance seemed to smooth out imperfections and bring the work to life.  The more she painted, the more layers and colors she added, the more alive the painting became.  To watch it happen was like getting a glimpse of what God must have felt as He created color and depth and beauty on this earth.  What a gift!

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Painted by my talented friend, Jenelle Schimpf

 

I retreated to my desk a little later, thinking over her work.  How like our Father to use art to teach truth.  How appropriate that the Father of Lights would reach my heart through the play of light on oils and canvas.

In a season of history where the world feels so jumbled and chaotic, when the news is rarely good and tragedy hits too close too often, it is all too easy to feel lost and confused and unable to see God at work in the midst of the struggle.  But He is.  He is so busy, painting the masterpiece of Creation, adding layers and color and depth to the form of Man and history…HIS story.  Carefully He adds light here, darkness there.  Intentionally He places every color exactly where it is needed in order to produce the end result that He has in His mind’s eye.  And we, you and me, get to be colors on the great brush He holds in His hand.  We get to be a part of the beauty and the glory that is God’s story.

That sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  I think so…until he plops me into an area of blackness, of darkness contrasting the light where I had hoped to land.  But if that is His will for me, in this season, to settle into a dark place…though it may be difficult…I have to make a choice.  Do I trust the Artist and allow Him to use me where He wants me or buck against Him, muddling the colors and marring the end result?  If I submit and let Him use me in the darkness, then I become part of His glory and beauty.  Maybe I am being used to define the light, to draw attention to the bright beauty of the painting’s center…Jesus.

It reminds me of a beautiful little chapel in Carthage, Missouri…the Precious Moments Chapel.  Many years ago, on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited this special place.  As you enter the chapel you are met with a beautiful mural…Hallelujah Square.  It is filled with images of children and families, of reunions and tears being wiped away, of crutches no longer needed and broken bodies healed.  But the most beautiful part, to me, is where Jesus stands in the Square. When Samuel Butcher painted this mural he did not realize, until he was finished, that he had placed Jesus Christ at the very center.

Isn’t that so like God?  All of the sadness and sickness and heartache that we go through, all of the longing and seemingly endless waiting point back to the One who is at the center of it all…Jesus.  As we walk through these days of the season of Advent, try to take a few steps back and ask God to give you His perspective on your role in His masterpiece.  See if, just knowing there is a center focus to it all, a reason for the dark color values as well as the bright ones, doesn’t help you lift up your face a little more and hold your head a little higher in hope.  Ask Him for faith to endure, for the ability to trust His hand as He works in and around you.  Remember all the ways He has been faithful in the past and choose to trust Him to be the same today and tomorrow as He was back then.

Because He is.

Filters

The struggle is real in my home.  With five kids, two of whom are well into their teens, we have every device imaginable at our fingertips.  Phones, computers, Kindles, and I-pads all compete for attention and, to tell you the truth, I could go Amish in a split-second and toss them all out the window.

Until I want to write a blog post.

Or watch Chip and Joanna.

Hence the struggle.

Filtering what my kids watch and listen to is like swimming up a waterfall with my ankles tied together.  Information rushes in so quickly these days and software updates constantly change the game.  I can’t keep up.

So how, in an age of information overload, do we protect our children?  In spite of internet filters and limits on what shows they can watch, too often they are still exposed to things that go against God and His desires for them.  Even if we successfully put up a concrete wall of internet safety, they are not in our home 24/7.  They have friends.  Their friends have TV’s and computers.  We cannot block it all, no matter how much we try.  There must be a better way to protect them, a more effective and dependable filter.

In the book of James, the twelve tribes of Israel have been dispersed throughout the world.  They are suddenly immersed in new cultures and learning to survive away from their beloved homeland because of persecution.  I can only imagine the temptation they faced to compromise, to “fit in” and just not be noticed or singled out.

I’m sure their kids, growing up in this foreign culture that did not feel foreign to them,  (this was their normal, just as a world full of electronic devices is normal to my kids) often pouted and whined, “Everybody else is doing it, why can’t we?”  The adults likely felt the same struggle.

So James reminds them of who they are and Whose they are.  He encourages them to face suffering with the courage of God and allow God to use it to refine them, making them more like Jesus, who happened to be James’ oldest brother. (Can you imagine?)  He reminds them that they are here for a purpose…God’s purpose.  He wants to use them. Their obedience, though it will not save them, will model the love of the Father to the dark society in which they live.  They have been given a mandate to love and serve sacrificially, because Jesus sacrificed his very life for them.  They are to live outwardly what has happened inwardly as evidence of their salvation and position in the Kingdom of God.

In chapter 4, James warns them about resisting worldliness.  Selfishness, arguing, boasting, befriending “the world” and arrogance are all on his list.  He didn’t tell them to only allow Christians into their home.  He also didn’t tell them to stay home and avoid society in order to avoid temptation.

He told them, in order to win the spiritual battle for their hearts, to turn away from their own interests and submit to God alone.  There are two opposing forces at work, battling to influence our minds and either cripple us spiritually or give us wings:  the World and the Kingdom of God.  They are polar opposites.  We cannot function in both at once.  We either live as an enemy of the World, or we effectively become enemies of God.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m choosing enemies it’s not going to be the Creator of the Universe.

As I ponder this, though, I wonder if what I just wrote is true.  Every day I make a thousand little decisions that add up and affect my loyalties.  This morning, as I was teaching this chapter of James to my children, a light bulb switched on in my spirit and the words came alive as never before regarding the choices we make minute by minute, hour by hour.  We talked about the characteristics of worldliness.  (They had no problem making a long list!)  I looked at them and gently challenged my sweet ones, “When you watch TV, like on Disney, and listen to music do you see any of these things?”  Three pairs of eyes widened as they nodded and named off the list again:  Pridefulness, boasting, selfishness, arrogance.  I continued…

“When you watch or listen to things that are filled with worldliness, it gradually soaks in.  The Bible says that ‘Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45) so what happens is your heart becomes full of these characteristics and it begins to show in your behavior and attitude.  We have to remember that God is the only one worthy of judging what is right and wrong, so if He says these things are sin then they are.  If we want to live as a friend of God then we have to choose not to immerse ourselves in the messages of the world.”

Boy, do I wish this was easy.  I wish that my just saying it to my kids would result in instant transformation and that they would, from this day forward, make awesome choices and have no desire for the things of the world.  But that is not reality.  I can filter internet and TV (which I do) all day long, but if their hearts are not drawn toward the Father then the second they leave my home they will run in the opposite direction of everything they have been taught.

I guess the next question is, how do we help them turn to God?  Well, we begin by modeling it ourselves.  Do they see me change the station when something inappropriate comes on the TV or radio?  Am I having good, gentle discussions with them as they learn to navigate these choppy waters or just casting judgement when they make choices that I disagree with?  It is in the day to day, minute to minute living and learning from real life consequences as well as experiencing blessing from good decisions that their little hearts are molded and shaped for Jesus.  I cannot cast a blanket of rules and expect them to blindly follow.  Legalism breeds sin.  Always has, always will.  But grace draws us to the Father.  Unconditional love and acceptance, having a safe place to land no matter how they have messed up and knowing who they are in Christ are the foundation for them to draw from as they stumble, fall, and learn to walk again.

I struggle with this.  I want to control and just keep them from messing up in the first place, but that is not possible.  There are only certain things I can do, provide a safe haven for them, a home where there are standards and filters and loving discussions bathed in forgiveness when the filters fail.  (Which they will.)  And I can help them develop their own, holy filter…a realization that choosing things that honor the Kingdom are always better, always more beautiful, and always with good consequences.  It takes time.  It takes a lifetime.  And it depends solely on the grace of God manifesting in the prayers and hard work we put in as parents.

 

Traveling…Mercy!

This morning my alarm went off at 5am and I hit snooze not once, not twice, but three times.  I had spent the last two days packing up our entire family for a road trip to San Antonio.   My husband has been out of the country on a mission trip and will meet us in Texas for our niece’s wedding.  So that means I’m driving us, solo, for two days, and keeping kids from killing each other without Daddy as backup.

We left the house at 6:15 with me fully expecting them to all go back to sleep for the first few hours of the trip because I’ve been told on multiple occasions that this exactly what they do when they travel with FRIENDS.

BUT NO.

These kids who insist every. single. morning. that they are not hungry, that they are “never hungry when I wake up” wanted food immediately.  But I had a plan in mind and I stood my ground, wanting to get on the road and keep the schedule I knew would result in an efficient and memorable trip.  So I said no, that we would wait a little while to stop for breakfast at our normal eating time.  After much weeping and gnashing of teeth we started driving.  We stopped in Jackson, Tennessee and had Chick-fil-a around 8:45 am and WOULDN’T YOU KNOW a couple of kids had to be reminded to EAT because they suddenly weren’t hungry!  For. The. Love.

Throughout the day, I felt myself getting impatient.  I know you probably cannot relate (#sarcasm) but I’m just being honest here!  I got tired of complaints about being crowded/hungry/uncomfortable/and mom’s music choices.  One child and I bickered for about ten minutes over something stupid and finally made the wise decision just to drop it and be quiet.  I wasn’t going to win any mother-of-the-year awards, I just wanted to get to the hotel and let them veg in front of a TV with no time limits for once.

But here is the simple joy God injected into what began as a frustrating trip.  The same child with whom I had the conflict with became a comedian and we ended up in stitches. I put on 80’s music and we sang.  Loudly.  Off-key.  We all laughed and danced in the car and the highlight was when we belted out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while in a traffic jam on I-30 just outside Texarkana!

Isn’t it funny how a simple choice can change the entire tone of a day?  Choosing to drop a grudge and laugh, choosing to stop wanting silence and embrace silliness?

Then there was the moment when we passed our first Whataburger billboard because…y’all…there are NO Whataburgers in Tennessee.  The entire car filled with happy yells and all the kids nearly jumped out of their seats in excitement because, “Guess what we are having for dinner!”

And all the people said…Amen and pass me a fry.