Affirmations….Self Help or Jesus Help?

So, juicy little secret about me. I love yoga.  Not the intense kind of yoga that breaks me out in a violent sweat, but relaxing yoga.  More like sophisticated stretching.  It’s one of my favorite parts in my morning routine.  Most days I’m up shortly after 5 AM, when I enjoy the quietness of the morning.  I fix some coffee, read my Bible, then grab my yoga mat.  I love sipping on my coffee and listening to the soothing voice of the chick on YouTube walking me through a nice morning stretch.

One YouTuber I follow just started a 30 day morning yoga challenge.  It’s right up my alley….a new ten minute video every morning!  She likes to end each session by placing her hands over her heart, bowing, and uttering one long ‘Oooommmmmm’.  She takes it super seriously, which makes me laugh.  I salute the end by sipping my coffee.  It feels equally as relaxing!

During these videos, she assigns each day an affirmation.  She comes back to it repeatedly, reminding the viewer to set their intention for the day, even if it’s just one word.

This is actually a relatively popular practice today.  Psychology Today described affirmations as ‘statements that are designed to create self-change in the individual using them.  They can serve as inspiration, as well as simple reminders.  They also can serve to focus attention on goals…which has the potential to promote positive and sustained self-change.’

Practically, an affirmation is a statement that you know to be true or want to be true, so you repeat it to yourself until you believe it.  In my visits with a therapist, we talked about affirmations quite a bit.  I remember sitting in her office, listening to her tell me about things I needed to tell myself to build self-esteem and confidence.  And I remember thinking that part of this idea seemed to make a lot of sense, but part of it was off.

Then it hit me.  The concept of repeating affirmations was a great idea.  I’ve talked and written about this very idea before.  As Christians, sometimes we have to tell ourselves things that the Bible says are true even when we don’t feel it.  The more we tell ourselves these truths, the more we act on them, and the more they become deeply rooted truths in our souls.

The part that was off was the content of the affirmations that our culture promotes. If you go back to the Psychology Today article, you’ll see that it’s all based on self change, self motivation, and self inspiration. Do you see the problem here? Self. I’ve tried to change, motivate, and inspire myself for a long time, and I can tell you that it doesn’t work. The only person that can inspire true life change and motivate us to be better individuals is Jesus Christ and His transforming work in our lives.

The problem is that affirmations that are all about us and for us will ultimately fail us. We are not capable of the change that our souls long for so desperately. And that’s actually a comforting place to be…to know that it’s not all up to me. I have the creator of the universe on my side, helping change me from the inside out. What a weight off my shoulders!

So what do we do with affirmations?  If you use them, should you throw them out the window?  Not at all!  Like I said, the concept of telling ourselves something until we believe it is a great one.  Some of my favorite verses are Lamentations 3:22-24:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’.”

The book of Lamentations is a sad book.  The author is defeated, downcast, discouraged.  He feels as if God has abandoned him and all hope is gone. But in the middle of his grief he proclaims those words,  telling his hurt soul something that it needed to hear.  The verse literally says ‘I say to myself’.  See? Affirmations in Scripture!

This type of self talk is found throughout Scripture.  Here are a few more examples:

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  (Psalm 62:5)

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed with in me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:5)

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.  (Psalm 103:1-2)

So I suggest that we redeems affirmations.  Let’s take the positive ideas that the world says we need to generate from within ourselves and find the right source instead.  Here is an example using some of the affirmations that my favorite yoga chick used this week.

“I am in love with life.”

Let’s just clarify that further…..”Jesus came that I may live life to the fullest.”.

“I easily handle whatever comes my way.”

So this one. I’m not so sure it’s a truth I want to tell myself. My life experience has taught me quite the opposite. I’ve had a lot of things thrown my way that I haven’t handled. Things I’ve just curled up in the fetal position and hid from. Let’s adjust this one slightly for times when life feels heavy and not so easy…

“I can do all things through Christ who give me strength.”

Some of the very best affirmations we can find are just like this last one- straight out of Scripture.  I believe that the Bible is truth all the way through- no errors or mistakes.  So I can’t think of a better source of affirmations than committing to memory what the Bible has to say to us.  When Scripture is the root of what we tell ourselves, it will always point us back to the true source of change and motivation.

So jump in your Bible and discover the life changing truth that God offers you today….and tell yourself that truth over and over until it’s deeply imbedded in your soul. This, my friend, will produce a change that will last.

Lessons From The First Church: Inspiring Excitement For The Gospel

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47

Just imagine. You’re a member of the very first Christian church ever. Not like the Jewish synagogue you were used to, but the new group that had formed. You’ve seen some crazy things.

You watched the agonizing trial that ended with an innocent man being put to death. And you dealt with the sorrow and grief that someone who seemed legit maybe wasn’t all he said he was. After all, he was dead at 33 and had promised so much.

But three days later, you asked your neighbor to repeat themselves when they told you the news. Raised from the dead? Are you serious? That kind of thing doesn’t happen. But then Peter announced it.  Then someone else said they saw Him appear to a crowd of people. It had to be true if that many people all told the same story.

Maybe you saw Him with your own eyes. And your heart skipped a beat as any shred of doubt left your soul. He was alive, and He was all He claimed to be and so much more.

Then you followed Him around for a few weeks until He ascended into Heaven right before your eyes. He left you a command to ‘be His witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).

As you’re celebrating the traditional Pentacost feast, His promises keep coming true. His Holy Spirit comes upon you and the other believers. Then Peter gets up to preach. You’ve not heard preaching like this before! Thousands of people are saved that day as a result of preaching and the Holy Spirit!

This is how the early church got it start. Just imagine how exciting it would have been to be part of something like this. Everyone on fire for Jesus, excited about sharing the good news. It’s quite the contrast to our churches today, isn’t it?

But before we dive into this, it’s important to understand how we read the book of Acts. Would you read a book about home improvements the same way you read a murder mystery? Not so much. And we have to approach the Bible the same way.

Acts is a recounting of the ‘acts’ of the early church. Hence the name. It’s telling us how things went down, not necessarily how we should do them today. The fancy word for the book is descriptive- it describes the early church. It is not prescriptive, telling us how to do church today. Are there things we can apply today? Of course! If something was a success for the early church, we’d be fools to not consider it today.  

As I read these verses, I was convicted about the attitude in which I approach church and fellow believers. They were excited about the gospel and about growing. They ‘devoted’ themselves to the apostle’s teaching. I don’t think devotion is what comes to mind as I check my watch for the 10th time during a sermon and try to remember if I turned my crock pot on.

To these early believers, teaching was essential. They didn’t have years of church tradition or grow up in the Bible belt. They literally had to learn everything. Because we live in such a church culture, we can get a little cocky, think we know it all. But the Bible is a living and active document that God uses to speak to us through. And there is always something to be learned from it, if we take the time to devote ourselves to the Scripture and those who are called to teach it to us.

They also devoted themselves to prayer. And from the passage, I don’t think it was casual comments promising prayer. To devote themselves to prayer is to prioritize prayer. I can imagine that when someone was struggling or had a need, they stopped what they were doing and prayed with their sister in Christ. And I bet they followed up with that brother to see what God was doing and be encouraged.

In today’s culture, this is difficult partly because it requires us to take off the mask and be real about needing prayer. Those in your Sunday School class aren’t mind readers. If we aren’t vulnerable enough to let others know that we aren’t perfect and that we struggle, how will they ever know what needs to be devoted to prayer? And on the flip side, how much easier would it be to be vulnerable if we knew that the person we shared with was really and truly praying for our need?

As I mentioned before, Acts is prescriptive. So I’m not recommending selling everything we have and having all possessions in common. But I do think we can learn from the early church how to hold our possessions loosely. They knew that the furthering of the kingdom of God was more important than anything they had. If that meant sacrificing a possession or land or money to help out a struggling member of the church, they did it. If only our churches today had a big enough view of Jesus and His kingdom that our possessions and wealth faded in significance.

The final lesson we can take away from the early church may be the most important. Especially in the year 2020, when COVID has wrecked so many things. This early church “continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” They prioritized meeting together. I know that COVID has drastically changed the way that we meet together as believers, but I can’t stress the importance of it enough.

Imagine this early church. They were the only ones of their kind and knew that they had to utterly depend on each other. How else would they be encouraged and spurred on to live lives that look so drastically different from the rest of the world? The early church was about to face persecution, growing pains, and ridicule. They were about to get very uncomfortable as they tried to live counter cultural lives in a way to point people to Jesus.

And I think this exactly why the American church today doesn’t have the excitement that this early church had. We don’t realize how much we need Jesus and each other, because we look way to much like our culture. The devil has us convinced that we are doing OK. Our kids get good grades, we have a decent car, live in the right neighborhood.

But we aren’t called to be a people that blends in with the culture. We are called to live lives that follow Jesus and Him alone. And it’s a lot easier to live that kind of life when we have the community of other people with the same goal.

When we understand how desperately we need fellowship and teaching, we will prioritize it. When we understand how absolutely essential our spiritual growth is, those things will sky rocket to the top of our list. And we won’t miss them for anything.

I don’t outline all these things to create more Christian boxes to check. Share with my church. Check. Pray more. Check. Developing these habits is good, but what’s even better is understanding the bigger picture of the kingdom of God and how these elements fit into it.

For now, we may need to check some boxes until they become essential. And maybe when our priorities shift, our church today can mirror even a small portion of the early church’s enthusiasm and influence.

A Heart Revival: Poised to See God Move

“For it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill His good purpose”

Philippians 2:13 (NIV)

A year or so ago, if you had asked me what I thought about old-fashioned church revival services, I would have described them as “extra services that go on way too long, when I could be doing a lot of other things”. With this being my mindset surrounding revivals, you can see why I was confused to see my husband’s face light up when he talked about preaching or singing at them. He truly has a passion for church revivals; and I really wanted to act like I was just as enthused, but I just wasn’t

I wanted to make an effort, though. For two reasons. First, I really do love my husband, and if this brings him this much joy, I wanted to understand why. Just like I’ve tried to understand Southern Gospel music, but no luck in that department yet! Second, as a minister’s wife, I at least needed to act like I was on board with all of this, and I thought would be easier if I was at least somewhat genuine and not putting on a complete mask. I’ve attended and worked a few with him, and I can say I’m making progress. It might be slow, but it’s progress.

A couple of weeks ago, we traveled about 2 ½ hours away to Beaver Dam, Ky to do a revival in a little country church. This was unique in that Brandon was preaching and I was leading the worship for all three services. The first time I had had this big of a role…yikes! I was a little bit nervous. Effectively leading people in worship, preparing them to hear God’s Word- it was a big responsibility!

We had the opportunity to stay at the pastor’s house, with him and his family. We were treated to some sweet hospitality and fellowship. They could not have been friendlier, and their home was so immaculately clean that it put mine to shame….

Funny side story: One night, they graciously provided us with dinner- homemade beef stew. One of my favorites! As I sat down to eat, I noticed that the dish was FULL of peas, intertwined amongst the shredded beef. I’m not a picky eater, but peas are on my top five hated veggies. Then I heard my mother’s voice in my head, telling me to NEVER complain about the food at someone else’s house, just eat it. But I just couldn’t do it, and ate a Lunchable with the kids. Epic etiquette fail, I know.

But, not only did we have a gracious host, the church was also warm and welcoming. I was able to lead new found brothers and sisters in worship, singing timeless hymns and teaching some new songs with timeless messages. Brandon shared the Gospel and spoke on the true cost of being a follower of Christ. They were a small crowd, but one that was striving to love Jesus and make an impact in their community.

It was during the Sunday morning service where Brandon was preaching on the story of Lazarus, that God spoke to me. It was a sermon I’ve heard multiple times, and didn’t expect to really learn anything from. But I made my heart willing, and God took away the fact that it was my familiar husband preaching a familiar sermon, and used his words to speak specifically to me that morning about grace, in a way I desperately needed to hear.

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That evening, we decided to reformat the service, adding in a Q&A session after Brandon’s testimony. It seemed more fitting based on the size and the makeup of the crowd. The result? Candid conversations about real-life struggles. We were able to offer some encouragement and motivation to reach those out in the madness and win them to Christ, no matter who they are or what they struggle with. It truly was an example of believers being transparent and encouraging one another.

Thinking back on a lot of this, I gained a better perspective on revival services. Yes, pastors have to do their part to prepare a church for revival. They have to make it somewhat enticing and keep it from being a snooze fest. But maybe there was a different reason I had never really experienced ‘reviving’ during a revival. Maybe it was me. Maybe I went into it focusing on what I was going to miss by being a church on a weeknight. Or how I would have to rush home from work, change clothes, and eat before I ran back out the door. Maybe I assumed the preacher was going to yell too much or the music would suck. Maybe I hadn’t come with a heart that was receptive to God moving.

Honestly, revivals still are not my favorite thing in the world. Personally, I would rather listen to a podcast from one of my favorite preachers on my commute home. But I can’t limit the ways that God speaks to me. If He chooses to move through an older tradition like a revival, then my response should be “I’m listening, Lord.”.

So I would encourage you to make sure that your heart is in a place that is able to hear what God wants to do in your life and among your brothers and sisters in Christ. Not just in days leading up to a big revival, but all the time. He may move through an old time revival, a Bible Study, a podcast, a new praise chorus, an old hymn, or a trusted friend. However He decides to speak, will you try to push your preferences and conveniences aside and let Him? Please don’t miss out on some of the wonderful things He has in store for you, His precious child.

Potluck Panic: A Tale of Last Minute Mac ‘N Cheese

 

Baptist churches are notorious for a few different things.  Some good. Some bad.  One thing that is distinctly Baptist is the potluck.  Those of you who have not experienced the Baptist phenomenon of a lunch consisting of fatty comfort foods and more desserts than you can ever imagine, will need to use a little bit of imagination to appreciate the conundrum that I found myself in on this particular Sunday morning.

As a ministry wife, Sunday mornings have a few more moving pieces than your normal church going family.  We are normally the first ones at the church.  Instruments are put in place. Media for the service is set. Everything is ready to go so that we can run a practice with other praise team members and be done before small groups even start.  So a little bit busier than the average Sunday morning.

This particular day, I woke up and was not greeted with a cheerful “Good morning, my dear.  How did you sleep?” Let’s be honest, I’d probably slap him if he actually did wake me up like this!  But I would have like it better than “Did you fix anything for that potluck after church?”.

Crap.  I immediately started to decide how necessary it was that we bring something.  We didn’t have kiddos this weekend, so it was just two of us.  Fewer mouths that would be eating. The occasion for the potluck wasn’t a huge deal, so there may not be a big turn out.  But on the other hand, a small turn out means fewer people pitching in, so fewer dishes.  Then I remembered that I didn’t take anything to the last one, and I couldn’t be that minister’s wife that can’t even remember to bring a simple dish to lunch.

So before I jump in the shower, I started a pot of coffee and stood in the kitchen looking for something I could whip up in about 20 minutes.  Even some cookies to put on a plate and pass off as mine would do the trick.

Then I found it- two boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese.  Score!  After fixing it according to directions, I added extra cheese, some almond milk, and some crushed up croutons.  You know, makes it look more gourmet and less $1 box of mac n cheese. In all honesty, though, it was quite good for little prep.  And I can totally give you the recipe…

As I’m finishing up, though, I realize that something looks slightly off. The macaroni pieces looked strange….not like normal elbow macaroni.  I grabbed the box out of the trash can to discover that I had prepared limited edition, Anna and Elsa Christmas pasta.  And it was 90 degrees outside.  Thankfully, the extra ingredients masked the Christmas tree and snow flake noodles, and a quick glance wouldn’t reveal what was actually in the box.

We as human beings worry WAY too much about what other people think of us.  I was reminded of this when I received several compliments on the dish, and did not observe anyone poking at their food, trying to figure out what exactly it was.

Fast forward to the next month, and yet another potluck creeps upon me.  This time, my husband asked me about 15 minutes before we planned to walk out the door.  I was determined not to disappoint again.  I was able to commandeer 4 cans of green beans and a can of potatoes, throw them into the crock pot, season them and run out the door.  They were a hit this time…all eaten!

So what can we learn from this?

First, worrying about what other people think of us is a waste of time. They’re normally more concerned with worrying about what people think of them than actually thinking about you or me.

Second, it’s always good to have a few quick recipes on hand, something that looks impressive, but is actually super easy.  That is, if we’re still caring about what others think…

And finally.  Always put a Saturday reminder in your phone for Sunday potlucks.  It will make for a lot smoother Lord’s Day.

Just Loving People

Addiction. We hear about it on the news and sadly among our own family and friends. It is an epidemic plaguing our society. At one point, the world of addiction was totally foreign to me, something I’d only heard about, but had no real contact with. I was raised in a Christian home, with two parents who loved Jesus and each other very much. I’ve been in church practically my whole life.

Then I married my husband Brandon, who dealt with addiction in his past. There is a powerful story there, but his to share. (Maybe as a guest writer one day?) I got a crash course into the life, mind, and habits of an addict. It pushed me outside of my norm, and I was grateful. But also a little intimidated.

What he talked about most, was the program that God used to save his life. Celebrate Recovery, or CR. Celebrate Recovery is a twelve step recovery program, similar to AA, NA, or Al Anon. The main difference is that these programs have you call on a higher power of your choice. CR names only one Higher Power- Jesus Christ. As I like to say, it’s just AA with Jesus.

Early on, Brandon told me that he wanted to get involved with our local Celebrate Recovery, and asked me to go with him. I told him I’d give it a try, but mainly to see how it was beneficial to him. It just wasn’t going to be my thing. I’m sure God just shook His head and laughed at that moment, like He has many times when I make resolutions about my own life.

I went with Brandon and started soaking up the teaching. It began to feed my soul in a way that was totally unique. It taught me to look at myself, my bad thinking and habits, how that messes with the life Jesus would have for me, and how He loves me enough to help me fix it. It is a gut level honest approach to healthy Christ-like living.

Here are just a few of the twelve steps that recovering addicts work through in this program. A link to all twelve steps is included at the bottom.

Step One
We admitted we were powerless over our compulsive behaviors. Who actually likes to admit we can’t do something or are powerless? Not me.

Step Four
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. It can be scary to go over your every major life decision- good and bad- with a fine tooth comb.

Step Nine

We made direct amends to such people whenever possible. This may be the hardest, to make things right with those we hurt. Primarily for our own sake.

Just think how much healthier our churches would be if Christians, regardless of their background, would put in the work that these steps require.

So God started to plant in my heart a passion for this ministry. And I, of course, threw up a couple of reservations.

First, I wasn’t one of ‘them’. Believe me, I am not always a stellar Christian. My lifestyle has not always honored God, and I still slip up. But because I had never done a drug or had an alcohol problem, I felt like there was some difference between me and an addict. I quickly learned that there is no us or them. We aren’t separated into categories in God’s eyes.

If we really believe that God’s grace can cover any sin, that nothing we do can make God love us any more or any less than He already does; then it follows that His grace is just as readily available to the worst of sins as it is the slightest. We are all just sinners saved by grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

(Ephesians 2:8-9)

Second. I realized that in God’s eyes, I’m no different from the people working the program, but our life circumstances are drastically different. There is no way I could help anyone.

I grew up in a good home.

I wasn’t addicted to a substance.

Neither I nor my parents were divorced.

I didn’t have children, much less lost custody of one.

I’d never suffered abuse.

How would I ever be able to relate enough to help someone? God quickly reminded me that He changes lives, and He can use any vessel, even seemingly unqualified ones. He told me to love people, and let Him do the rest. So I did, and found out that we all struggle with the same issues, just expressed in different ways and with differing severity. I started to love people like Jesus loved people, like I wanted to be loved.

God gave me a heart of compassion for the men and women in the program. The things they have overcome are inspiring. Our worship together on Sunday nights is so genuine. The way we drop our masks and talk honestly about failures and successes, struggles and strengths- it’s refreshing. It’s something the church drastically needs to learn from.

And just like when God told Moses in Exodus 4, “Go, and I will be your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” He’s given me the words I’ve needed in the situations He’s put me in.

So, if God has put a call on your heart to love on some people around you, but you have some reservations, please know that God can break through every single one of those. Don’t miss out on the blessing He has in store for you just for being willing to serve Him.

And if you’re struggling today, please know that the unconditional love, support, and encouragement that I’m talking about is here for you too. You don’t have to be ashamed of what you’ve done or haven’t done. Jesus welcomes you to come find rest in his love and grace. If you need that, please contact me or someone else you know who loves Jesus. We would love to point you in the right direction.

To see all twelve steps, please visit https://www.celebraterecovery.com/resources/cr-tools/12steps

For more information on Celebrate Recovery, please visit https://www.celebraterecovery.com/index.php, or talk to me. I would love to share some information with you!