Friday, February 3, 2017

Wisdom for Mamas, New & 'Seasoned' Alike


The following post is by guest-writer, Heidi Gifford, and was originally a devotional presented at the baby shower of a new mom-to-be - but the wisdom she shares is perfect for new and seasoned moms alike! Enjoy. :)
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Dear New Mom-To-Be...

It's hard to believe that in just a little while longer, you will be holding your sweet baby in your arms! I know that you have anticipated becoming a mommy and have spent much time planning and preparing to care for baby when he makes his debut! The journey that you and your hubby are about to embark on together is an incredible gift from our gracious God - one that will drastically change your life and will be used by God to make you more like Christ and train your heart to trust Him more. I know that your desire is to raise baby in a way that honors God.

But where do we start?!

Deuteronomy 6: 5-7 says,
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”

The starting place for all of us moms is our own hearts. We see that in these verses as we are exhorted to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might before we are instructed to diligently teach our children all day everyday. While none of us love God perfectly, we can and should be growing in our love for Him day by day.

But how?

By God's design, the way we do that is by the study and application of His word, by the power of the Spirit, and through prayer. The Bible is God's revelation of Himself to us. It is the primary tool that He uses to cause us to grow and mature in Christ.

Psalm 19 says,
“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb."

‭‭Make time every day to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus and learn from Him. Stand in awe of who He is and what He has done for you, and that will fuel your obedience to His commands to you.

As you grow in your own relationship with Christ, you will be equipped to teach your sweet baby. We have a unique opportunity to make disciples in our homes!! For 18 years (Lord willing), our children live under our roof and under our authority! You and your hubby get to go on this journey together, growing in your own faith, and pointing your son to your Savior! Live authentically and intentionally. Let your child see you loving Jesus by how you live. Let your life be evidence that you really believe what you will be teaching him.

And do teach him! Tell him about who God is, show him his sin and his need for Jesus, and tell him about what God has done to make a way for him to have a right relationship with Him. Behold the glory of the Lord Jesus with him in the Scriptures and in the world around him. Dazzle him with the glory of God! I mean, have you ever slowed down and really pondered the complexity of the world we live in and stood in awe of the fact that not only did Jesus create it all but He is sustaining it all at all times. Look at the stars, watch the ants, examine the trees..."Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty!! The whole earth is filled with his glory!"

When you are blown away by how awesome God is, consider the fact that people are His most treasured creation. The Creator of the universe became a man in order to live perfectly and die for sinful people to have a way back to God! It is mind blowing! Talk about all these things and encourage your child to "taste and see that the Lord is good."

It's no small task, being a parent. The days to come will stretch you beyond your limits, expose sin you didn't know was hiding out in your heart, and some days you will feel like you're losing your mind! But God is working!! According to Rom. 8:28-29, for those that love God, He is working ALL things together for your good and His glory.

The good He is working for you is your conformity into the image of His son. God is not interested in giving you an easy life. His will for you is your sanctification, and you can count on Him using these years that you are in the thick of parenting to work toward that end. It doesn't always feel good, but it is good and it is His grace toward you. He is training you to depend on, and to trust Him and Him alone. Apart from Him, you can do nothing! As 2 Cor. 12:9-10 says,
"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I remember bringing each one of my babies home from the hospital, looking at their tiny little bodies, and feeling totally inadequate to be all that they needed me to be. I had no idea what I was doing (I still don't!), but I wanted so badly to be a good mom - to feel good about my performance at the end of every day. I wanted to be the perfect mom, but I wanted that for all the wrong reasons.

But God, in his Grace, has and continues to teach me that I am inadequate. I can't be a perfect mom and He doesn't expect me to be. God wants my heart. He wants me to depend on and trust Him. He wants me to walk by faith with Him and be an instrument in His hands in the lives of my kids. He wants me to be faithful in parenting, not so I can feel good about what I'm doing and not even to get results from my kids. He wants me to be faithful because it pleases Him. How freeing that is!

In the book, "The Faithful Parent,” Martha Peace says,

“Faithfulness, not perfection, is rewarded by the Lord. That's because we can no more live a sinless life than we can make our children do the same thing. Only our Lord Jesus is he “who knew no sin” (2 Corin. 5:21). He never sinned, but we do, and he knew we would need his help and encouragement to raise our children faithfully as he desires. The astounding good news is that by God's grace Christian parents have been placed in a position where they can learn and obey God's will more and more, because they have God's Spirit indwelling them. A person who is striving to honor the Lord in parenting, repenting, and changing is a faithful parent. Although we will not be perfect parents, we can, day-by-day, learn to live out God's instructions. Some day, we can hear the Lord say to us what the master told his slave, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21).”

Mama, you won't be a perfect parent. None of us are. But by God's grace, you can grow in faithfulness day by day. Commit yourself to following hard after Christ. Trust Him in every circumstance that He allows, knowing that it is for your good, that His grace is sufficient, and that in your weaknesses, His power is perfect in you. And, enjoy each season! You'll hear this a thousand times, and it's so true - the days are long but the years are short. While parenting is challenging in a lot of ways, it is also so much fun! It is a tremendous gift to be a mama!!

May God grant you and your hubby much grace as you pursue Him together, and seek wisdom from the Lord to raise your child with the goal to please Him in all that you do. I pray that your heart will rest in the knowledge of God's goodness and faithfulness, and that He will equip you to be a mommy that leaves a legacy of loving and treasuring Jesus, and living a life of joyful obedience to the Savior of your soul.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

He Hears the Needy


"But I am afflicted and in pain;
Let your salvation, O God, set me on high!
I will praise the name of God...
When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy..." -Psalm 69: 29-30, 32-33
We each have our own stories of feeling like we're drowning, sinking down into the mire, being attacked by the Enemy and so wearied from crying out for deliverance that our throats have grown hoarse and our eyes cloud with exhaustion (Ps. 69: 1-3).
We are needy, even if we don' realize it or won't admit it.

When the floods of life threaten to rush over you this week, where will you turn? To the rickety, unstable towers of the world or your own coping mechanisms?

David - a man pursued and battered by his enemies if ever there was one - gives us the clear solution to surviving the inevitable storms of life in Psalm 69:
humble your heart and seek God with praise and thanksgiving.
Father, we praise and thank you because You hear us! In our afflictions, help us to see them as divine opportunities to trust You with the frailty of our lives. Let us have the humility of heart to see that we are needy. We "need Thee every hour" - no, every second. Shine Your light on the areas in our hearts that still turn to false comforters or ways of dealing with stress that aren't from You. Revive our hearts, Father, and may all the trials we walk through become beautiful pathways leading us to an ever-deepening nearness to You. In the midst of our storms, show us how to praise and thank You in our hearts, trusting that You DO hear us and that You are at work - and when we do, let the light of our belief join with Your children's praise to shine brightly on the beauty of Jesus' glorious Name.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Unfair Expectations


As providence would have it, I just so happened to be struggling with anger and unforgiveness in my heart at exactly the time I began to prepare to write this devotion on - of all things - forgiveness.

For a few days or so, there had been this icy undercurrent of a vague sense of anger and hurt flowing through my spirit toward a very significant person in my life. I couldn't exactly put my finger on what it was that had caused me to begin to feel this way, but there was no denying its presence. I'd get up in the morning for my quiet devotional time, and there it was, hovering over my heart like a murky cloud, stopping up my sense of connection with my Savior.
I felt stunted, short-circuited, cut off and confused.

But then, within only a few minutes of pouring over Mark 11:25, God's Spirit convicted me of my unforgiving, angry heart.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
- Mark 11: 25

It was clear as day. I couldn't run from the awful truth that I had allowed my pride to place unreasonable expectations on this precious person in my life - and when they failed to meet them, my sinful heart began to harden in hurt, anger and unforgiveness.

What I'm learning is that sometimes unforgiveness stems from real hurts inflicted by others...but far too often in my life, I have to own up to the fact that I feel hurt because others have failed to meet the unfair expectations that I've subconsciously put on them - I feel like they must act in a way that protects my sense of self-worth and if they don't, then I struggle with disappointment and hurt. All of this is rooted in ugly pride! So, ultimately I begin to see that I am the one who needs to seek forgiveness from my Father (and those I've hurt in anger), and I don't necessarily need to forgive those with whom I'm angry because really they haven't even done anything wrong in the first place! Phew!! What a mess our hearts can be...

But praise God that He uses the power of His Word to gently probe us and show us what sin we need to deal with - all with the purpose of reconciliation to Him and others. I thank God that I was able to go to the person with whom I was unjustly angry and make amends, restoring our relationship to an even deeper level of intimacy. That's what Jesus is all about - restoration of the broken through His power of forgiveness.

In this season of Thanksgiving, let's praise Him for this gift - that through His
forgiveness offered on the Cross, we don't have to sludge through the heavy, murky waters of unforgiveness in our hearts, but we can be washed clean by His Spirit's power to forgive and start fresh every day.

Monday, September 19, 2016

More Jesus, Less Me


We've all been there - felt that stab of jealousy as someone else gets whatever it is that our own hearts are set on. We're just born with the desire to be on top, to be first, to be recognized by others as the best. Hang out with small children for more than two seconds and you're bound to witness at least one fit if someone else wins the game, gets to be line leader, Star Student, or whatever place of honor another child covets. As grown ups, we still struggle with our smoldering selfishness - we've only gotten better at hiding it.

But here, in John 3:30, we see a radically different way of thinking - a way of viewing oneself that is completely foreign to natural man. John the Baptist's disciples anxiously approach him about Jesus' rise to popularity among the masses, but contrary to our natural knee-jerk reactions of self-preservation, John responds in beautiful humility. It's this Christ-exalting position that Jesus praises, calling John "the greatest man born of women" (Matt. 11:11). John's response sets the example for all who would follow Christ with seven earth-shattering words: He must increase, but I must decrease.

This should be our singular goal throughout each and every day - more of Christ, less of me. But, how do we do this? How do we go against the grain of the very fiber of our naturally self-promoting hearts?

First off - through prayerfully seeking God's strength to do so. We can't muster up such an upside down view of things in our own feeble power. But He can. If we are in Christ through saving faith in His work on the cross, then that same Spirit that raised Him from the dead is available to us! He is able to do miraculous works in our hearts, scrubbing us clean and removing impurities in our personalities, through the power of His transforming Word (Rom. 12:2).

Secondly, we see Christ increase and ourselves decrease in our lives by settling our sense of self-worth in Jesus, not in how we perform or what accolades we're given. If we are in Christ, the question of "am I valuable?" (which is at the root of so many of our selfish ambitions) is already answered with a resounding Yes. So there's no need to frantically struggle for appreciation in this world - we are bonafide children of the King...how could we ask for anything else?

Thirdly, we decrease and Christ increases when we make it our aim to treasure Him more every day - to see Him as supremely beautiful amongst all else in life. We must constantly remind our wandering hearts that Christ is what it's all about (Col. 1:15-20).

Is there a constant undercurrent of self-preserving thoughts flowing through my mind throughout the day? Am I striving - even subconsciously - to have my name honored? As Christians, we might not even dare to admit that we have that thought - but God knows our hearts. He calls us to "do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more significant than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3). If we're honest, we all struggle with this. Ask God to make Christ supremely beautiful in your life, to grow your love for Him more and more, which will gradually stamp out self-concern. May it be that each night our heads hit our pillows, we can look back on the day and see less of ourselves and a bit more of Jesus shining through our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

Monday, July 18, 2016

In the Day of Trouble

We were about to board our plane to fly back home from my husband's incentive trip to Italy when a fellow traveler said to us, “hey, did you hear about the attack in Nice, France?” Only a couple hundred miles from where we were standing, families were reeling from the shock of losing their loved ones in yet another heinous act of terror. As I prayed for the suffering, my heart clenched with sorrow, anger, and fear, and I wanted more than ever to just get home and hold my four babies.

This world we live in seems more insecure and unstable than ever, and only getting worse. What are we to do but turn to the Lord for understanding? As we started our long flight home, God's Word yet again brought the clarity my heart craved as I read through Psalm 86.

“For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble, I call upon you, for you answer me.”
- Psalm 86: 5-7

Although we live in a fallen world, underneath the chaos and the threats are the steadfast arms of a sovereign, loving God – an unchangeable Savior who promises to abound in goodness, forgiveness, steadfast love, and grace to all who call upon Him.

So, when life comes at us hard, may we turn to Christ. When we cry out with David that “insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life,” may our hearts quickly return to the truth that “you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” trusting in Him to “give your strength to your servant” (Ps. 86: 14-16).

Our hearts can rest in the amazing reality that ultimately, regardless of what happens in this breath of a life, our hope can never be taken from us because of the salvation Christ secured for us on the cross. God's love will always win, “for great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Ps. 86: 13).

As you face whatever lies before you today, call out to the Lord to help you trust in His future grace and steadfast love toward you through Christ. Make it your top priority to seek to know Him better – to not be blinded or paralyzed by the distractions around us – but to call upon Him all day, trusting that He will answer your pleas for help. And as your heart rests in that place of peaceful security, you can be free to share His steadfast love and grace with everyone He places in your path.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Seeing Ourselves and Others Through God's Eyes

"Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor."
Romans 12:10

Whether you have 20/20 eyesight or not, each of us is born desperate for vision surgery from the Great Physician – for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives and radically transform the viewpoint from which the eyes of our hearts see life.

Our struggle in life is that we are all born with eyes that are constantly turned inward – we are, by nature, concerned primarily with how we are affected by what is going around us. Our default is not to seek to understand how something might be impacting others, but rather to compulsively see only how we are treated. We are, quite simply, self-obsessed.

Instead of being “me-focused,” Christ calls us to be “others-focused.” Instead of being self-obsessed, Christ calls us to be self-forgetful. And what He calls us to, He will empower us for. His Holy Spirit alone can perform such monumental paradigm shift in our thinking – sometimes in big, dramatic ways, but often in small steps as He, little by little, adjusts our lenses to see and honor others above ourselves. It is how our King lived as He walked this earth, and as His followers, we are being made like Him, “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corin. 3:18).

When we allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in our hearts, when we ask Him for eyes to see ourselves and others the way He sees us, we begin to walk in unspeakable freedom! Suddenly, as His Gospel washes afresh over us, we're reminded that, because Jesus paid the price for our sins, we are justified before God and set free from the pressure to perform perfectly in this life to gain His acceptance (which we never could!). His Spirit reminds us that, because Christ is our Savior, we are beautifully clothed in His righteousness and forever declared “good enough” by the only One Whose opinion of us really matters! We are free then to take our eyes off ourselves, free to stop trying to make sure nobody shakes our fragile false sense of self-worth – and instead we can open our eyes to those around us, seeing their needs and joyfully seeking to meet them, trusting that our Savior has and will continue to meet all of ours.

Our love, devotion and service to others is genuine when it comes from a Holy Spirit-inspired place of gratitude for all that Christ has done for us. May we daily seek to see ourselves and others through His eyes so we can spend our time walking in true brotherly love for one another!


Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Stooping Saint and the Standing Savior

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus...Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”
- John 20: 11-16

Waking up early, she was unstoppable in her search for the One Whom her soul loved. Mary – the one who had once been filled with all sorts of unspeakable evil – lingered at His empty tomb that first Easter Sunday morning, overwhelmed with grief at the seeming loss of Her Savior's presence, unable to comprehend that even though it appeared that He was forever gone, He was always right there (and would shortly show Himself in answer to her diligent search). Although the other seekers had come and gone, not staying to search with her, she stood fast in her pursuit, stooping into the grave to look just one more time. In the loss of such a love, how could she not? Even the reward of seeing angelic beings at that moment wouldn't console her as she wept of her confusion. Majestic as they were, arguably the most glorious of all creation, still they were not enough.

All souls are born to know that nothing in all creation will satisfy except the Creator.

And then He spoke her name.

Her spirit within her leaped with recognition of her Shepherd's voice, just as He had said (“and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” - Jn. 10:4). Instantly, she knew it was Him, for “Christ's way of making Himself known to His people is by His word, His word applied to their souls, speaking to them in particular” (Matthew Henry). His voice called her up out of the pit of despair, just as it does to all who – after finally dropping their false comforters - diligently seek to know Him. Her soul couldn't help but respond, My Great Master! - the One Whom she had unswervingly sought, knowing without Whom she was destitute.

This same Jesus is here with you, calling you to Him today. Even though the darkness in our lives may blind us from seeing Him for a season, we must press on to know Him. He is our only hope, the one true source of salvation, both from our sins in this life and the certain punishment they require in the life to come.

This Easter morning, may we fall at the feet of Jesus, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Heb. 1:3). He is the only One Who, even though He holds everything together and sees all people for who they are, loves us with such an unfathomable love that He would come down and die for us, forever paying the price for our sins and clearing the pathway to God – our souls' True Home.

And even more than that, He is now seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us constantly. He has not left us, as Mary feared and as we sometimes feel. Often, the clouds of darkness that blind our eyes from seeing Him are the very necessary instruments of grace that will be used to humble, grow and ultimately stir in us an even greater love for our King.

And although we will most certainly fail Him - just as every disciple since that first Easter has done - His unfailing love will always seek to restore, comfort and strengthen us (although He could've called the first disciples “my betrayers”, He mercifully chose to call them “my brothers” - Jn. 20:17).

As Mary did, may we be unstoppable in our search for the Living Christ. May we hear His voice, turn to Him and let Him be our Great Master today and every day while we have breath. There is nothing in all creation that compares.
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