Planning Peace

Reading through some of Proverbs this morning, I came across a verse that really struck me. Proverbs 12:20 “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.”

I often associate joy with suffering. One is a product of the other (if you allow it). James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:1-5 have been verses I have clung to throughout my life. When suffering comes alongside you, as a believer you have the opportunity to truly know joy and have the ability to rejoice in any circumstance.

But this verse in Proverbs enlightened my heart to another way the Lord provides joy to His people:  through planning peace.

I use the ESV, but other versions say those who promote peace, and those who are counselors of peace. But the basic idea is still the same:  being a peacemaker, desiring to fill your life and others with peace and not strife.

So what exactly does that look like? How can I plan or promote peace?

I will be the first to say I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that right now my main ministry is to my family. So, as a wife and a mother I need to plan peace in my heart and home.

1. Be still with the Lord. That means setting aside a few moments each morning to just sit, be still, and read the Word. It might not always be quiet, especially if my little girl is crying through her nap. But I do my best to orchestrate a pleasant environment to commune with my sweet Savior. I know it’s hard to be still, to leave the phone in the other room, to stay away from social media, but it’s necessary for the heart for so many reasons. Completely necessary.

2. Keep the house clean and organized. For me, planning peace also means not allowing the dishes, laundry, and dust to overflow. That means taking a little time each day to do simple chores so that my house is in good order. If the house is clean and in good order, stress doesn’t begin to creep in. If the barriers are put up between stress and I, then I can be happier and more content and in turn be a more encouraging, loving, and fun wife and mother. When I do little things each day, I have more time to spend devoted to my family. They get all my attention. They get all of me.

3. Seek forgiveness and forgive. Being a planner, or promoter, of peace also means dealing with sin. I need to be able to look inside my heart, at my actions, thoughts, words from the day before, and seek forgiveness from my Heavenly Father and then from my husband. That gives me the opportunity to learn from my sinful ways, grow in grace and truth, and in turn be the wife and mother I’m called to be. And when I examine myself, I have more of a pure heart to gladly forgive others. And when you walk in forgiveness, you don’t allow bitterness and strife to develop.

4. Live a healthy lifestyle. That can mean so many different things to different people. But for us, that means meal planning, taking Juice Plus+ and eating as much whole food plant based nutrition as we can, and being active. That might sound silly for what this post is talking about. But hear me out. When I plan meals I know what is coming for the evening. I already know what it is going to take to prepare the meal and can try to have it ready for my husband when he gets home. When meals are planned I don’t have to rush to the grocery store last minute or try to throw something together or be tempted to eat out. And when I’m doing all I can to be healthy, I am giving my best self to my family. I can’t serve my family to the best of my ability when I’m sick. So I need to do all I can to present to them the healthiest version of me, not only for the present time, but the future.

5. Have a budget and save money. Money can easily rip apart any peace that exists between you and your spouse. Establishing a budget lets you both know financial expectations and where the money is going. If you don’t have a handle on your money, it can cause an awful amount of discord. And if you save money, even if it is just a little at a time, whenever something comes up that you didn’t expect, you are ready for it. Preparation can take a lot of the stress out of stressful circumstances.

Some of those might appear silly to you. And you might have other categories to add. But for me, those are what I can do to be at peace and promote peace in my family. My family deserves the best me that I can give them. When I am disciplined enough to take a few moments each day to do these things, contentment and peace, happiness and joy will radiate from me to my family. And they are so worth it.

It seems natural that when my heart and home are peaceful, joy will follow.

Take time to plan peace.

And I have a suspicion that more than joy might just come along.

 

Just Keep Walking: Lessons from Isaiah

My heart inclines towards certain passages of Scripture. It just needs to cherish those trusty truths and dwell on the past faithfulness of God in order to be strengthened for the current day’s struggles, temptations, and troubles.

Sometimes the Lord will refresh my heart with a new insight to a passage. But other times He directs me to a place we have tarried before. He invites me to sit with Him and remember the way He comforted and sustained, gave peace and strength in previous days. 

As I’ve traveled into motherhood, the Lord has continually brought to mind a few verses in Isaiah. They have been a source of refreshment and encouragement through several trials and uncertainties.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Do you notice how the last part doesn’t make the progression from walking to running to soaring, but rather the opposite? I will forever remember the teaching I heard on this in an Old Testament class at Union by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Kelvin Moore. There is an intentional reason for this order of things. The author describes different stages in life: mounting up with wings like eagles, running, and walking. He goes from what is least common to what is most common.

There are moments in this Christian journey when we feel like we are soaring. Happiness, joy, peace, excitement fill our hearts. Our yearning for the Lord and His Kingdom cannot be contained. These mountaintop experiences give us such renewed energy for the faith and set our hearts on fire for our great God. Praise God for moments like that. But, most of life is not lived on the mountaintop.

Most of life is not spent soaring like eagles.

Most of life is not even spent running.

Most of life is spent walking.

Usually fainting is not a consequence of merely walking. But the author declares that our God will renew our strength and give us the ability to walk and not faint. Why? It’s the everyday walking that wears us down. The dirty floors, piles of dishes, stressful jobs, financial hardships, endless laundry to do, continuous meals to prepare. The feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, weakness. The subtle temptations and the giant reminders from the enemy of past sin. Thinking about daily struggles is enough to make you want to faint.

But this is a call to remember that the Lord provides what His people need.

Some days it takes everything you have to simply breathe. So just keep breathing. And know that Lord is holding you and calming your weary soul.

Some days will be painful. And on those days know our God comforts, heals, restores. And just know He will give you the strength to keep going.

Some days won’t necessarily be hard, but will just feel mundane. And so when you feel stuck, know the Lord is sustaining you and growing you even in the routine.

And everyday, know the Lord is preparing you for something greater. That greater thing may come in this life, but if it doesn’t it will most certainly come in the next.

So keep walking, my friend. It’s in the walking that we learn to truly trust our Savior and depend on Him for our every need.

Our God is able….But if not…

My mind has reverted to a couple verses in Daniel recently as I’ve thought about the Lord’s activity in my life and around me.

I went through Beth Moore’s Daniel study several years ago when I still lived in Orlando, and it caused my spiritual eyes to be awakened to that magnificent book (as well as Revelation since the two are so connected).  That Bible study packs a mighty theological punch that will make you long for the return of our Savior and fall more in love with Him while we wait.

I just love these verses:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, but it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego stood faithful to God and literally faced the fire.  They knew that God was able to save them from the flames.  They knew He could.  But they also knew He might not.  And that didn’t make their faith waver.  God was able to save them, but if He didn’t He was still God.

What a faith!  What a testimony to hearts in tune with their Maker’s!  They would not compromise.  They would proclaim the greatness of God no matter what the outcome of their situation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about praying for things, good things (like healing for the sick, rest for the weary, families being together, financial provisions).  I know wholeheartedly that my God is able to heal, restore, provide, help.  But sometimes those things don’t happen, at least in the way our earthly minds see.  He is perfectly able.  But there are times His way of healing and restoring, providing and helping looks a lot different than we anticipated or desired.  Even when the answers to our prayers are different than we hoped, He is still God; He is always good; He is forever faithful.

Three examples grip my heart at the moment:

We prayed for my dad to get a job in Nashville so they wouldn’t have to add another move to the Mitchel moving repertoire, but he got one based in Dallas.  There is no doubt that God provided, but there are uncertainties and heartache involved .

So many prayed for healing from cancer for a couple different men who were very close family friends and spiritual influences over the years.  We fervently prayed that they would be healed and continue to be the amazing disciples, husbands, fathers, and friends that they were.  But they were welcomed home into heaven instead.  God surely healed them of all worldly pain and sorrow and sin, but they left behind mourning wives, devastated children, and heartbroken friends.

The summer before my senior year of high school a friend died in a car accident.  We gathered together in prayer while she was in the hospital and hoped for a miracle.  But that miracle didn’t come.  I know God heard our prayers, but His will wasn’t to restore her body and let her continue growing up.

These are just a few of the many situations my heart has been flooded with as I’ve pondered these verses from Daniel recently.  All I know is, my God is able.  And He is always good and faithful.  Always.  He is God.  And He knows best.  He can heal.  But even if He doesn’t, He is still God.  He is able to provide.  But even if it looks completely different from what we thought was best, He is still God.  He uses all for His glory, our sanctification, and His Kingdom.

May we face the day resting assured of who the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is.  May we continue to pour our hearts to our Father and know He hears our passionate pleas.  May we delight in the goodness, faithfulness, and immutability of our God.

He is God.  He is faithful.  He is good.

Always.

Along this same thought is the song “Burn Us Up” from Shane and Shane.  They always have a way of ministering to my heart.

Hear the story behind the song here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqGsZKD2jLY

And here is the actual song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70PDuymQ_h0

The Redeeming Power of Pain

Pain in real.

Suffering happens daily.

Trials unexpectedly pounce from behind bushes and come screaming down the road from miles away.

We learn in childhood that life isn’t fair.

Some people are merely acquaintances with troubles, while others have been plunged into fiery furnaces.

But amidst the harsh conditions of this life, hope is alive.  Peace is at hand.  Joy is attainable.  

Pain can be redeemed.

And the constant truth is that there is always something to be thankful for.  And gratitude fosters joyful perseverance in amazing ways.

We can never lose sight of the gospel.  The whole gospel.  Christ came to earth being fully God and fully man.  He fulfilled prophecies.  He died on the cross.  He rose from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits enthroned now and forever.

While we face struggles, we must hold tight to the gospel and rest assured in the fact that Jesus Christ conquered sin and death.  His resurrection and ascension give meaning to the crucifixion.

And there is a redeeming purpose behind our pain.

Pain can grow us and mature us.  Pain can foster a heart of gratitude, compassion, and mercy within us.  Pain can help us turn our eyes from ourselves and to our Heavenly Father.

When I was in middle school a friend led me to read Joel.  And I will never forget it.

The prophet Joel witnessed an awful locust plague.  There are different opinions as to what the locusts refer to.  But nevertheless, calamity struck Judah.  But hope arrives in chapter two as the people are called to repentance and to turn to the Lord once again.

Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.  The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.  I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his vanguard into the eastern sea, and his rear guard into the western sea; the stench and foul smell of him will rise, for he has done great things.  Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!  Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield.  Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before.  The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.  I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.  You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.  And my people shall never again be put to shame.  You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.  And my people shall never again be put to shame.  And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”

–Joel 2:18-29

God restores the years the locust had eaten!  He sends His Spirit!  What joyous news!

The theme of my life has been that God is good and faithful.

No matter what we face, we can always look back on our lives and through Scripture and be reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness.  God is Emmanuel.  He is always with us.

He is good.

He is faithful.

And He redeems our pain.

Thursday we Feasted, Friday we Mourned…All Week We Longed to Be Home

There have been certain things that I’ve endured in this life that have made me long for Jesus and His return in a extra real way.  Certain experiences have given me eyes to see what my heart longs for…to be home.  Truly home.  The home I was created for.  Some physical and emotional pains made me cry out for my Savior to come quickly.  But more recently, engagement last year and pregnancy this year have been the biggest earthly echoes of my heart’s longing to be with my Father.

People glamorize being engaged, but in all honesty, we hated it.  We were in this already but not yet state.  And it was awful.  For a nonbeliever, I can see how it would be just fine.  But for the believer, it is a very real picture of being on this earth and only wanting to be with our Maker in our true home.  Being in this place of longing and knowing there is something greater to come, is not easy.  It teaches you contentment, joy, and steadfastness.

Waiting for your child is the same.  Whether it is through a painful pregnancy or the long adoption process, you long so much for what is to come and have to learn to endure the momentary pain and heartache.

And finally, Holy Week has created in me a similar longing.  As I’ve learned to walk with Jesus and His apostles through this remarkable and absolutely crazy week over the years, my heart draws nearer to my Maker’s.

After escaping the season of Lent, we declare that Jesus is the King of Kings on Palm Sunday.

As he was drawing near–already on the way down the Mount of Olives–the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

–Luke 19:37-40

We begin to prepare our hearts for all that Jesus says and endures throughout the week on this joyous Sunday.

And then we come to Holy Thursday.  At our church, we celebrate this by having, what we call, Jesus Feast.  It is our version of the Passover meal.  We gather together to feast and celebrate the Lord’s initiation of the eucharist and celebrate the Lord’s presence with us.  We pray, sing, listen to the Scriptures read and blessings  over the food, fellowship, eat and drink deeply.  It is a night where we remember the mighty meek acts that took place right before our Savior’s betrayal.  We gather to remember, and we gather to anticipate.  On this Thursday, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.  He feasted with them, even with the one who would betray Him in just moments.  He described what would soon happen to Himself, in His mysteriously divine way, as He broke bread and gave wine.

 And when the hour came, he reclined at the table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide among yourselves.  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

–Luke 22:14-20

But the bright feasting and celebrating leads into the darkness of Good Friday.  We travel from feasting to mourning in mere hours.  Our joyous, conversing community on Thursday turns into silent, weary travelers on Friday.  We embark on the somber journey of the seven last words of Christ and remember the cross.  We watch the altar be stripped of the linens, banners, tablecloths, and candles.  Decorations and adornments are taken away.  Hope seems to be lost with the setting sun as our Savior breathes His last and gives His life.

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Then Jesus, calling our with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”  And having said this he breathed his last.

–Luke 23:44-46

As we head our separate ways on Friday night in silence, we long for Sunday to come.  And waking up on Easter Sunday morning is just the best.  We can declare that He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  We rest in the security of God’s prophecies being fulfilled in our precious Savior.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.  No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.  They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.  They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.  Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food.  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

–Isaiah 65:17-25

There is no way to separate the resurrection of Jesus from the resurrection to come.  Death was defeated.  Sin was conquered. Hope was restored.  

And now we can daily live in that hope.  Hope that sickness and disease will be no more.  Hope that sin will not tempt us.  Hope that tears will not flood our eyes.  Hope that children won’t be left as orphans.  Hope that suffering will come to an end.  Hope that He is making all things new.

May the beautiful mercies, sweet forgiveness, awful agony, and hope-filled rejoicing of Holy week lead us to long to be home.  Long to be with our Savior.  Give us joy, hope, peace, and gladness.  May the Lord fill us with wondrous delight for His glorious return and joy to live for Him in the here and now.  May He grant us His peace as we endure and enjoy this life.

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Epiphany

Epiphany.

This is such an exciting and glorious time in the church calendar.

So why is it that so few seem to know we are in this season?

My family moved around a bunch while I was growing up.  And with each move, we traveled into another church.  Denomination didn’t matter.  Therefore, I wasn’t “trapped” in a single denomination’s ways.  Being exposed to different buildings, worship services, and styles of preaching allowed me to see the beautifully diverse ways believers fellowship and worship.

But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I was introduced to the church calendar and what liturgy means.  Looking back, I can see that at least one of the churches we attended was liturgical.  I just didn’t know what that meant at the time.  No one explained it.  I just referred to it as “traditional” back then.

After being exposed to the pure beauty of liturgy, my heart seems more alive to Scripture.

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the baptism of our Lord found in Luke 3.

We spend months preparing for Christmas.  Believers and nonbelievers alike know when this season approaches.  And yet, it wasn’t at Jesus’ birth that He was made manifest to the people, but at epiphany, at His baptism.

Why doesn’t the majority of the evangelical church in America celebrate this season?

I can’t answer that.

But I can answer for what I am responsible for.  My family.  Spencer and I can choose to expose our future children to these seasons the church celebrates from early on.  We can choose to tell our children why it is important to pray the Psalms, take eucharist, and share the peace of Christ in fellowship with believers.  We can walk through Scripture with our children and expose them to the gospel, pray for their salvation, and walk daily in the Spirit as we teach, discipline, train, and nurture them.  We can journey through the church calendar with them, and foster their spiritual growth however we can.  And by the grace of God, we will.

Going Back to School and Thinking of Newtown

As I leave this break and wander back into school, I can’t help but think about the community in Newtown, CT.  Families without children, teachers without colleagues, children without innocence.  A community trying to ease back into routine after tragedy barbarically barged in.

I can’t imagine the pain, the questions, the fear, the grief.

My heart weeps for them.

No words can heal the wounds of those afflicted in Newtown.

My heart is steady though because of a few things I do know.

Only One can truly comfort, encourage, calm, bless.

There is Someone who heals the brokenhearted.

There is a balm in Gilead.

There is a hope that does not disappoint.

My God understands this unsettling situation.  His Son was born into such slaughter.

Matthew 2:16 states, “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”

My Savior knows this pain like no other can.  He was completely innocent.  Yet, His holy innocence was overlooked because of pride and selfishness and self-imposed blindness.

My Savior sacrificially endured a gruesome death.  And in the midst of His agony, He forgave.  Even in the anguish of the cross, He spoke words of life.

My Savior did die.  He had to.  His death meant atonement for the sins of the world.  It was part of the plan.

But.

My Savior rose from the dead.  He conquered death.  He smashed through the walls of sin that satan had built.  He claimed victory, fulfilled prophecies, established the church.

My Savior ascended to heaven.  He reigns.  He sees what happens, hears our cries, knows our hearts.

Therefore, as I walk back into the school I work:

I will not fear.

I will be a light in the darkness.

I will encourage the students who are disheartened and sad.

I will laugh with my students.

I will not give up on the students who are distant.

I will choose to get to know my students.

I will provide joy when they aren’t expecting it.

I will walk in the confidence of the Holy Spirit.

I will speak truth.

I will not complain but be thankful in all circumstances.

I will pray for my students and their families.

I will provide hope.

I will know that He is with me always.