Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Worship Playlist

Worship Playlist

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and the holiday season officially begins! While I love this time of year, it can be extremely stressful. Rushing from house to house, buying presents, dealing with difficult family members, keeping track of all of the holiday parties, taking on serving opportunities, it's all great, but we take on so much and put so much pressure on ourselves that we begin to lose sight of what the holidays are truly about. 

Lately, with a lot going on in my life, I have really begun to understand the value and the power of praise. I have always loved worship music, but when I'm feeling stressed out or just plain depressed, turning it on is usually the last thing I feel like doing. During this busy season, however, I've been very intentional about cranking up my favorite worship songs when I find myself in a bad mood or overwhelmed. I turn it up as loud as I have to and I always end up feeling so much better! It refocuses my mind and my heart on what is truly important and reminds me where true and lasting joy comes from, Jesus.

So with this hectic time of the year upon us, I thought I would share some of my favorite worship songs with you. My hope is that these songs will give you peace in the busyness, restored joy and a more meaningful holiday season.  


I'm always looking for new music. What are some of your favorite worship songs? Let me know in the comments!

"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands." 
Psalm 63:3-4

Friday, November 17, 2017

I Walked into the Woods with My Husband and this is What I Learned

My husband, Roger, loves to hunt. The world stops from October to January for him and it's all hunting, all of the time. I learned early on that I couldn't beat him, so from time to time, before it gets too cold because cold is not my thing, I join him.

A couple of weeks ago we went out on a Sunday afternoon. After loading me down with flashlights and reminding me how to use my gun (insert eye roll emoji), we headed to our stands. As Roger led the way, he checked the ground in front of us, stepping over fallen limbs and watching for dangerous critters. He held back limbs for me (most of the time) as I walked safely under them. He knew exactly which way to go as we made our way deep into the woods. He had walked that path many times before. As I followed in his footsteps, I thought of Jesus.

If I had been alone that day, I would have chosen a safer spot. I would have been afraid of the wildlife that I may have come across. I would have been scared of getting lost, especially when it got dark. I wouldn't have wanted to walk so far with so much stuff. But because my husband was with me, I had the courage to take the riskier path where the most deer would be. 

It's the same in our lives. When we trust God enough to follow where He leads, He doesn't necessarily lead us down the most safe and convenient road, He leads us down the path that leads to the most blessing. 

In Exodus 13 and 14, we find the Israelites recently freed from the hands of the Egyptians and ready to embark on the journey to the land that God promised them. They could have taken a straight, fairly short path to get there, but instead God instructed Moses to lead them through the wilderness and by the Red Sea. God had a plan to reveal His glory through this alternate route. 

Shortly after, God hardened Pharaoh's heart and Pharaoh began to regret his decision to set the Israelites free. He gathered his large army and went after them. When the Israelites saw that the Egyptians were coming, they became terrified. They questioned why Moses would lead them out of Egypt just to die anyway. 

God caused a pillar of cloud to separate the Egyptians and the Israelites through the night as the Egyptians continued their chase. As they reached the Red Sea, Moses stretched out his hand and God caused a great wind that split the sea, allowing the Israelites to walk on dry ground to the other side. The Egyptians reached the Red Sea and attempted to run through it in pursuit of the Israelites, but when they reached the middle, Moses stretched out his hand again and the sea closed up, drowning each and every one of them, saving the Israelites from their hands.

Because Moses was obedient to follow God down the most unlikely path, the Israelites experienced God's power and therefore believed in Him and trusted Moses. 

I'm sure when Moses and the Israelites learned that God was going to take them through the wilderness and the Red Sea instead of straight to their destination, the Promise Land, they were confused and probably a little irritated. But, if they had not gone the way the Lord instructed them to, the Egyptians probably would have caught up with them and they would have lost both their freedom and the opportunity to witness God's power at work. 

It makes me wonder what in my life I have missed out on because I was afraid or unwilling to be inconvenienced. I don't know about you, but there have been many times that I have clearly heard God's direction, but have told Him "no thanks, I'm going to stay right here where I'm comfortable. That would be too painful, too hard, I'd have to sacrifice too much. I know you'll love me even if I don't so I'm not gonna."

God doesn't promise us that His way will be easy or even safe. All throughout scripture though, we see that what He does promise is that He will go before us. And as He does He says He will fight on our behalf (Deuteronomy 1:30), make the rough places smooth (Isaiah 45:2), protect us from behind (Isaiah 52:12), and will not fail us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8). He says that if we follow Him we will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12). Psalm 23:3 says He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. The places He leads us are for His glory so we can be assured His ways are good. 

Just like I would have chosen a safer spot if I had been hunting by myself that day, I think if the Egyptians had a say, they would have chosen the quicker route to the promise land. I would have hunted safely on the edge of a field and chances are, I would have seen a few does. But if I've learned anything in my short time hunting, it's that the bucks are not typically found in the fields. They're found deep in the woods. God's glory wouldn't have been as evident to the Israelites on the short cut, it was revealed in the long path through the wilderness. 

Maybe today you're on a path that doesn't make sense. Maybe you feel God calling you to something that seems scary and uncomfortable. Maybe you've heard His voice over and over, but you've ignored Him for whatever reason. Be encouraged that just like my husband did for me that day, as we walk down the path God has set for us, He walks ahead of us. He watches for danger and is careful to help us over every obstacle and lead us to the most prosperous place. He honors our obedience. There is a blessing waiting for us at the end of His path. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

More Than Turkey: Cultivating Gratitude This Thanksgiving


Happy November everyone! If you're a holiday lover like I am, on November 1st the holiday season officially began for you. I love all things holiday and Christmas. Decorating the tree, wrapping presents, the lights, the food, the traditions, holiday movies and music, spending time with family. It really is the most wonderful time of the year for me. 

All of those things are great, but the truth is the holidays are about so much more. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I want to celebrate by spending this month focused on gratitude. I wanted to do a little more than the typical "30 days of things I'm thankful for" posts on Facebook so I've come up with some ways to cultivate gratitude this season. I hope they are helpful to you too! 

Keep a Gratitude Journal

This Thanksgiving season, start the practice of reflecting on your day and writing down a few things that you are thankful for each night. Get a new journal or even just jot them down in the notes section of your phone. However you do it, take the time to actually write (or type) these things down instead of just thinking about them. Doing that will cause you to really slow down, appreciate all of your blessings and solidify them in your mind. 

There is always something to be grateful for, even on the hardest days. Focusing on those things will change your perspective of your circumstances, whatever they may be. 

Hand Out Thank You Cards

I think it's important not to just express our gratitude to God, but to others as well. Throughout this month, when someone does something nice for you or you catch someone in the act of generosity or kindness, take "thank you" to the next level and leave them a note of appreciation or recognizing them for what they did. There is nothing better than getting a hand written note. You could even leave it anonymously if you wanted. 

When people feel appreciated it makes them want to continue to do a good job. So the result of showing our gratitude to others is more kindness, more generosity and more love. I don't know anything our world needs more of than that!  

Read Through the Psalms

I know for me, one of the best ways to get my heart aligned with God's is to read His word so I think it's the first place we should turn when we want to cultivate gratitude in our minds and in our lives. 

The book of Psalms is full of songs of praise and gratitude to God so it's a great book to read through during the holiday season. I'm currently going through She Reads Truth's "Psalms of Gratitude" study. Join in with me or just spend some time every morning or before bed at night reading and meditating on a few Psalms. 

Give Back

"He will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. You will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God. As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God." 
2 Corinthians 9:10-13

Paul explains to us in this passage from 2 Corinthians that God's purpose in blessing us is so that we can in turn be a blessing to others and the result of our generosity is that God is glorified. Giving is gratitude in action. 

I challenge you to find a way to put your gratitude to action this holiday season. Donate food to your local food bank. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Invite someone who is alone or in need to your family's Thanksgiving dinner. 

Give back in what ever way you can, big or small, and watch your gratitude multiply into the lives of others. 

I would love to hear how you're planning to make your Thanksgiving about more than turkey this year. Leave me your suggestions in the comments below!

"In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Right Response to Tragedy

Dealing with Fear and Anxiety

Tragedy. It's becoming too frequent lately. It seems every time I turn on the TV, the radio or scroll through Facebook another tragedy has taken place. And it's not just happening around the world or around the country, it has affected my state, my town and my workplace. 

This year has been marked by shootings, devastating storms, drug epidemics, people right here in my own world being diagnosed with cancer and losing loved ones too soon. Even some of my patients have had particularly heartbreaking circumstances. So much has happened I can't even recount it all. 

While none of this tragedy has happened to me personally, I'd be lying if I told you I haven't been affected. In fact, I'd be lying if I told you I have handled all of this bad news like a good Christian should, clinging to my faith, praying, shining my light and praising God for sparing my family. Instead, I've found myself infected with a spirit of fear and anxiety. 

I've laid in bed at night waiting for my husband to get home, wondering if he would come home. I've religiously checked the backseat of my car before getting in, just in case. I've driven more cautiously than ever before. I've double and triple checked that the doors of my house are locked. I've felt my heart sink when my phone would ring unexpectedly, thinking oh gosh, what if this is a hospital calling me?

When will it be my turn? What if something happens to someone I love? What if something happens to me? What if our house burns down? What if we lose everything? What if, what if, what if? 

My mind has been so distracted by these thoughts lately because when bad things are constantly happening eventually they'll make their way around to me, right? 

(I promise I'm getting to the good news!)

Maybe you can relate. After all I think it's a normal response to experience some degree of worry when the world is so uncertain and chaotic, even for Christians. But, as followers of Jesus, we can't let ourselves get stuck there. Instead God has been showing me that, in times of trouble, we must remind ourselves of three things. 

We must remind ourselves of who God is. When the heaviness of this world starts to weigh us down, I think the most important thing we can do is remind ourselves of the ONE who carries it all. 

"God is not a God of disorder, but of peace." 1 Corinthians 14:33  

"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" Numbers 23:19  

"God is our refuge and strength. An ever-present help in times of trouble." Psalm 46:1

"The Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not abandon or destroy you." Deuteronomy 4:24

"No one can snatch anyone out of my hand and no one can undo what I have done." Isaiah 43:13

"It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights."
2 Samuel 22:33-34

In the midst of tragedy, heartbreak and devastation, God remains the same (Hebrews 13:8). He is the safe place that we can run to and always know what to expect: protection, comfort, love, guidance. He is the one guaranteed constant in a world that is out of control. 

The state of our world does not change the character of our God and it doesn't diminish His promises to us.

We must remind ourselves where our hope comes fromOne night, after some horrible news, I was driving home from work when God showed me something amazing. As I drove over the bridge, on my right a storm was rolling in. Black clouds were covering the sky and threatening lightening was striking all around, but as I looked to my left, there was a rainbow. 

Seeing that rainbow and that storm in the same sky reminded me that God is always there. Even during dark times He never leaves us.

In order for there to be a rainbow, there has to be light. In fact, when a rainbow forms it forms in the section of the sky that is directly across from the sun. The rainbow doesn't form in the sunny part of the sky. That tells me that even though there appeared to be a storm on my right, the sun never left. 

Our lives are just like that. Even when we feel like all hope is lost, even when it seems like evil has taken over our world, the light of the world, the son, Jesus Christ, shines brighter still.  

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5

God warns us that in this world we will have trouble, but He ensures us that He has already overcome it all (John 16:33). He promises us that all things work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He says His plans are to prosper us, not harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). He tells us that when we go through deep waters, He will be with us and when we walk through the fire we will not burned (Isaiah 43:2).

So when tragedy seems to be taking over, we have a choice, we can focus on the storm brewing all around us or on God's faithfulness that dwells inside of us. The state of our hearts and minds depends on where we choose to fix our gaze.

We must remind ourselves of our purpose. When you struggle with fear and anxiety sometimes the seemingly best way to deal with the state of our world is to ignore it. I know because that's what I've done. I don't watch the news, I don't read the paper (is that even a thing anymore?) and I typically check out when the conversation turns grim. I don't want to hear about it because then it becomes real. 

But if giving in to fear and anxiety is our response to tragedy, what are we saying to the world about our God? If we disconnect from the world how will the world ever change? 

Paul asks us in Romans 10:13-14, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

As believers our purpose here is to spread the love of God and make disciples. We can't do that if we cower down in fear and lock ourselves inside of our Christian bubbles. The world needs us to be the light now more than ever. 

So instead we share our hope. We point others to His word. We extend grace when it isn't fair. We lead by example and the result is a little bit of Heaven comes down to this broken world. 

Next time you find yourself overwhelmed by the constant influx of bad news and fear and anxiety start to take over remind yourself of who you belong to. Remind yourself of God's unchanging, unconditional promises to you and put your purpose to work. Find peace in knowing that "this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come." (Hebrews 13:14)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Staying Close to Jesus Through a Busy Season

How to Have Quiet Time When You're Busy

Anyone else having a busy summer?!? I am not usually the busy type. Without any kids, a three day a week job and a husband who works all of the time, I usually have plenty of free time. I know, you're rolling your eyes at me right now, but it's true! 

Lately though, with remodeling a house, keeping up with this blog, vacations, work and regular household responsibilities, I have been a little overwhelmed. The one area of my life that has really taken a hit is my personal time with God and I'm starting to feel the effects. I've been more anxious, easily stressed and just plain moody.

Jesus promises rest to those of us who are weary (Matthew 11:28), but we have to make time for Him in order to receive it.  

So if you've found yourself in the middle of a busy season too, keep reading for some practical ways to stay close to Jesus when life gets chaotic. 

Play worship music

I love worship music. It gets my focus off of my circumstances and back on Jesus. Download some Christian music onto your phone or find a good Pandora station and whenever you would normally flip on the radio, listen to worship music instead. It will bring a positive energy to your day. 

As you listen really focus on what the songs are saying and offer up the words to God in prayer and praise. 

Some of my favorites are Elevation Worship, Kari Jobe, Hillsong, Bethel Music, Lauren Daigle and All Sons and Daughters. 

Listen to Podcasts

There are a lot of great podcasts out there. You can find sermons from well known pastors and messages from Christian speakers and authors. Most churches offer their sermons online as well. 

Always have some earbuds handy and listen while you're in the car, mowing the grass, laying by the pool, waiting for an appointment, cleaning the house etc. 

Podcasts are also a great option for when you're out of town and have to miss church. 

If you need a good place to start, you can my find my churches sermons here

Keep an Open Dialogue 

Prayer doesn't have to be done in a certain place, on your knees with your eyes closed. Instead, try talking to God all day long. Change the monologue in your head to a dialogue with God. 

As you fold laundry thank Him for providing you and your family. As you pay bills, thank Him for blessing you financially. Pray for those less fortunate as you recognize just how blessed you are. When you think of a prayer need don't wait until the perfect time to pray, pray right then. 

I think sometimes we obsess so much over the details of when, where and how we should pray that we end up not praying at all. God just wants us to talk to Him. The Bible tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I think that simply means that we should always keep an open line of communication with God. 

Utilize your Drive Time

I do some of my best praying in the car. It's the one place that I feel like I'm completely alone and there are minimal distractions. It's just me and Jesus and since most cars have Bluetooth capability people don't think twice (I hope) when they see me talking to myself! 

On those days that you just can't seem to find any extra time, use your time in the car as your quiet time. Pray, listen to a podcast or crank up the worship music.

Be Flexible

I like to spend time with Jesus first thing in the morning. I believe it's the best time because it sets my day off on the right track from the very beginning. But there are so many days lately that I have so much to do that I simply cannot focus first thing in the morning.

Be open to trying out a new time of day. Just because you didn't have your quiet time in the morning doesn't mean you can't do it another time. Maybe you could focus better at night when your day is done, try it out. During your lunch break do a quick devotional or read a few verses instead of scrolling through social media. Quiet time at an odd hour is better than no quiet time at all. 

Maybe you're used to sitting down and reading multiple chapters of the Bible at a time, really studying them as you go. Give yourself grace in this season to do a little less. It's much better than not doing anything. Try out the First 5 app or use the YouVersion Bible app to find a short reading plan.

If you're like me and when you sit down to have some quiet time all you can think about is what else you need to be doing, keep a piece of paper close by and jot down your to do list before you get started. That may help clear your mind so you can focus. 

I believe that the key to staying close to Jesus during a busy season of life is to weave Him in to every aspect of your day. I hope these tips help you to do just that. 

If there are some other things that have helped you, leave them in the comments. I would love to hear them!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Unexpected Lessons in Ministry

Lessons in Ministry

Are you exhausted from constantly striving to do good? Do you feel like you've been obedient to God's call on your life, but are discouraged because you aren't seeing any fruit? Have you been praying and praying for a loved one with no answer and no change in their behavior? Maybe you've been asking "what's the point in all of this?"

I have to admit that's how I sometimes feel about this writing thing. I love it and I know that God planned for me to do this and the words that I write are directly from Him, but sometimes it's a lonely journey. Recently, though, I received a gift that has really challenged my perspective. 

John Farmer was a man who I never had the pleasure of meeting, but I feel as if I know him. You see, he was a writer too and his son blessed me with a collection of his words. His writing is genuine and simple, but so powerful. Without having known him at all, I can tell you that he loved God, he loved his family, he loved others and he loved to make people laugh. As I read through his book, I found myself both laughing out loud and inspired to love and appreciate others more. 

What was most surprising about receiving a copy of John's book and hearing his story and the story of his family is what I learned about ministry.

God uses even the smallest of ministries

John Farmer is not a household name. You won't find multiple books written by him on the shelves of bookstores. There aren't any interviews featuring him on Youtube. Even still, his work is meaningful and it's finding its way to the people God intended it for.

In the midst of ministry and our Christian walk, it's easy to obsess over the numbers. The number of people we lead to Christ, the number of good deeds we do, the number of dollars we give, the number of followers we have. We can become so focused on measuring our success by these numbers that we forget what we set out to do in the first place.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't strive to reach as many people as possible, but the Bible tells us that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. The pressure to reach millions is unnecessary pressure. If 100, 50 or even just 1 person is all we ever reach, Heaven is expanded and God rejoices. 

I love the quote from Mother Teresa that says, "if you want to change the world, go home and love your family." 

Sometimes the people that God has planned for us to minister to are the people who are right in front of us.

It's obvious through his writing that John's family was incredibly important to him. His faith inspired his son, who inspired me and I hope this message inspires you. The living out of our faith has a domino effect. Never underestimate the impact you make by simply loving the small number of people God has entrusted you with.

God's timing is not our timing

As we serve God and use our talents to further His kingdom, our tendency is to want to see the fruit of our efforts immediately. Sometimes we do, but most of the time we don't.

 "What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful in its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:9-11
I love verse 11, "people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." 

I'm reminded of Ruth whose faith and loyalty earned her a place in the genealogy of Jesus, though she never met Him on this side of Heaven. And Moses who never actually stepped into the promise land, but through his obedience to God played a major role in leading the people of Israel there. 

Sometimes our reward is what we leave behind. 

In the front cover of John's book he wrote:
 "Never miss an opportunity to be a positive influence on young people with your proper actions, sincere pats on the back and words of encouragement."

He left a mission for all who read his book and it's being fulfilled even now by his son as he shares his father's encouraging words with others. 

There will be times when the fruit of our efforts comes days, months even years later and there will be things that we do in this life that we never see the results of, but God promises a harvest in due time if we do not give up. Just know that due time rarely comes on our time.

His ways are not our ways
I'm sure that he had many hopes for his writing, but I don't believe "Big John" knew the legacy his words would leave.

He didn't know that a student from his substitute teaching days would become a pastor, move to this small town and start a church. 

He didn't know that his son would become a doctor, move to that same small town and be baptized by that same pastor.

He certainly didn't know that I, a nurse who works with his son, would attend that same church and end up with his book in my hands. 

But God knew all along and that's what I love about Him. He knows every detail. Where we'll live, who we'll meet, our careers, our dreams, our fears, our failures. He knows it all and he weaves it all together in His perfect plan to bring us all a little closer to Him.  

 So if you're feeling weary in whatever it is that God has called you to do, I want to leave you with a little prayer of encouragement from John himself:

God, I hope that as I write, my pen you'll move along and give me the proper choice of words to make for the heavyhearted, a song.
Yes, please help me mix enough mischief in to lift the downhearted with a lurch,
but please help me mix a message in to reach those out of reach of church.
For not everyone uses a family pew; some sit on an old bar stool.
So please guide my pen as I write to tell them of the Golden Rule.
And certainly while I'm doing this I also inspire,
for those who are already lifted up, to lift up a little higher. 
And for those who have deafened their ears and don't try to listen,
please help me to live a shining example, that in their eyes will glisten.
Not an example of spit and polish or of ceremony fire,
but one of brotherly and sisterly love and concern for all mankind.
And God please help me to live each day so that when my final lines are writ,
Saint Peter won't look up and say,
"Hell! Here comes another hypocrite!"
-John G. Farmer

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Make Some Room!

Make some room for God to move in your life.

There's a song that our worship band does called "We wait for you (Shekinah Glory)" and it is the most amazing worship song. If you've never heard it, go look it up!

The song opens with the lyrics: "we wait for you to walk in the room." I've always thought of that line in a very literal sense: "God, come into the room. We're ready to worship you." But, as we sang it last Sunday, I heard something very different. 

God doesn't just want to come into the physical rooms of our lives. God wants us to make room for Him in every aspect of our lives.

Imagine a room so crowded with people you can hardly get from one side to the other. I was in a room like that recently. People were constantly bumping into each other. Everything moved very slowly. You couldn't hear what the person next to you was saying and if you walked away from the person you were with it was extremely hard to find them again.

I believe that sometimes the situations in our lives get just like that. Our minds get crowded with our worries, our fears and the advice of others until that's all we can hear. We struggle to shift our focus from our own plans and ideas for our lives. Our many unnecessary responsibilities keep us busy and steal our time. Our unbelief puts a limit on God's power. 

We wonder where God is, but even if He tried to come in we wouldn't notice Him.

If there is a situation in your life that God doesn't seem to be working on my question to you is: have you made room for Him to work on it? God can't move if He doesn't have any space.

The word shekinah comes from the Hebrew word shekinot which means to "settle in" or "dwell in." Whatever area of your life that God seems absent in, clear a space for Him to dwell in so that you can experience the fullness of His presence. That may mean freeing up some time to spend in God's word and prayer. It might mean surrendering your plans for your life so God can show you His plan. Maybe it means taking a leap of faith that doesn't make sense to you yet. Whatever it is, allow Him to settle in that free space today and do what only He can do.

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:16-19