Reminders of a Relationship

Some days, the sunlight hits the flowers in the most beautiful of ways.

The cut hydrangeas sit on my desk in front of the windows, in a round vase that reminds me of a marble. I like to think the vase is handblown, purchased in some tourist town gift shop, but I don’t know its history.

I bought it for a dollar or so at a neighbor’s estate sale, but it’s worth much more than that to me.

Though I like the vase independent of its original owner, it’s meaning is tied to her in my memory. She was a friend, and the one person I’ve called 911 for, and one of the few whose deathbed I’ve visited. Though I suppose you couldn’t say we were particularly close, these experiences leave an impact.

Not that I constantly examine them. I can go weeks without thinking of her, but then the sun will hit the papery petals of the hydrangea, and I’ll slow down to write, not knowing where the post will go. As words come, I find the vase is filled not with water and stems, but with a quiet reminder of a relationship.

Reminders of God are Everywhere

I didn’t sit at my desk to look at the flowers or to type a post. I sat to read a Bible passage and to journal about how Jesus’s love for me is reflected in Colossians 1:15-23.

For all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. (vs. 16-17 NET)

Everything around me is created through him and for him. It’s all held together in him.

This is so much more than a casual, once-upon-a-time ownership of a vase. Jesus’s relationship with his creation is ongoing and intricate and purposeful.

I paid a dollar for a keepsake to remember a relationship I lost.

Jesus paid his blood, his life, to redeem a relationship I’d severed.

The reminders I have of my neighbor are few. The vase, and a teacup where I keep my more special jewelry.

The reminders of God’s redeeming love and ongoing care are literally everywhere. Everything is held together in Him. Everything.

Reminders of the Holy

And yet, like I often don’t pause to look at the vase and remember my neighbor, I also don’t often enough pause to look at the world around me and appreciate the reminder of the relationship I have with the Creator and Sustainer.

But then the sun will hit the papery petals of the hydrangea, and God will guide me here. I’ll type slowly,  not knowing exactly how to say, Look, the earth is full of his glory. It’s not filled with mountains and animals and prairies and people, but with evidence of a relationship.

A relationship that’s ongoing, despite our fallen nature. A relationship that means enough to the Creator to die for the sake of His created. Washed in His blood, all the evidences of Him we see in the world around us aren’t melancholy reminders of a relationship we lost—like my vase is—but rather of the ultimate redemption and hope that reaches beyond the grave and into eternity.

I have to believe God wants us to see it. I have to believe that’s why, sometimes, the light hits just right and interrupts our mundane day with reminders of the holy.

Let’s pause when those moments come. Let’s go so far as to seek them out, not to fulfill our own thirst for beauty, but to remember the goodness of our Savior. Let’s echo the seraphim, who cried out to each other:

Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isaiah 6:3 KJV)


Emily Conrad

Connect with Emily: www.emilyconradauthor.com facebook.com/emilyconradauthor Instagram.com/emilyrconrad Twitter.com/emilyrconrad


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Can We Really Trust God?

What causes you to question God? Is it seeing a child in distress? Receiving a life-altering diagnosis? Can circumstances force you to question the Father? It wasn’t that long ago my perfectly settled life was thrown off course. But security rooted in anything but Christ is an illusion.


Today, I’m a guest on author Emily Conrad’s blog, celebrating with her the release of Justice in paperback. Click HERE to read more of Can We Really Trust God?

 

.99 cent sale: The Builder’s Reluctant Bride

I love how a story is able to convey deep theological truths in a compelling and applicable way. I love being lost in a character, thinking and feeling as deeply as them, struggling to find God in their broken dreams, and knowing—as the writer—their happy ending is with their Saviour.

Jenna, from The Builder’s Reluctant Bride, was a particularly challenging character to write; she had been deeply wounded. Like all of us, Jenna is accountable to God for her response to the wounds inflicted on her. For a time, she held onto her anger and bitterness, pulled away from God, and put up walls between her and the people who loved her. Like all of us, Jenna had a lot to learn about forgiveness, love, and the Lord.

Learning from Jenna

If you know what it is like to hold tight to a dream or desire and struggle to submit it to God’s will, you will connect with Jenna. You will ache as she aches, weep when she weeps, and celebrate when she celebrates because you know the struggle. You know what it means to want to forgive yet still feel anger. You understand wanting what God wants but battling with the hardened and wounded heart within. Life isn’t fair, it is too hard, and forgiveness seems to cost too much.

Jenna’s moment of complete surrender is my favorite passage in the book. It’s where she considers that God did hear her prayers, and He collected each and every tear she shed, that His love for her was not dependant on her ability to trust more, act more, pray more, or be more — but was based on Him. He had walked so closely to her during her struggles that she blamed Him when He had wanted her to lean on Him.

The greatest gift to us during suffering is God himself

Jenna’s broken dreams were the catalyst that sparked a search for a deeper intimacy with the Lord. As she examined her sin that exposed the deceptions she believed, she shows us how to move toward fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose for our life – glorifying Him in the good and the difficult.

Jenna’s story raises questions: Do your unfulfilled dreams prompt you to call out shamelessly to God for grace, mercy, and restoration? Have you laid down your dreams and ambitions at His feet in complete surrender?

Jenna’s story is on sale this month for only .99 cents! The Builder’s Reluctant bride is also part of a promotion with My Book Cave. Follow the links below and you can enter to win one of $400 dollars in prizes!


 

He wants a second chance, she says there’s no going back. How much will William sacrifice to redeem his mistakes and prove his love? Can Jenna protect her heart this time or will William break her for good?

The Builder’s Reluctant Bride—WINNER of Best Romance at the 2016 Word Awards—is only .99cents!

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You can also enter to win amazing gifts from the #PelicanBookBonanza. No Purchase Necessary for the #giveaway. https://mybookcave.com/retailer-group/89b60601/ 

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Engage Your Mind

One child, who will remain nameless, jerked the van’s sliding door in a moment of anger, wrenching door off the track. It hung limply, almost completely unhinged. We were already running late for a dental appointment, and this added a SLOW drive through town while my child clung to the sliding door nearly dragging on the pavement beside us.

Emotionally Overwhelmed

Do you connect the word “overwhelmed” to that kind of situation? Does the word have to be negative? If you’re a parent, think back to the first time you cradled your newborn. Did you cry? Did you laugh? Did you do both because your emotions were so overwhelmed?

I remember the first time I saw my daughter. Kevin and I anxiously waited. We were an ocean away from home, tucked into a room with ten crying Asian babies. Our gazes desperately moved from one tiny face to another until they locked onto the girl who reflected the image of the picture we had received two months prior. We could hardly stand it, waiting for permission to reach out and comfort our daughter.

Spiritually Overwhelmed

I know what it is like to be overwhelmed emotionally. I also know what it is to be overwhelmed spiritually. I know what it means to be moved to tears during worship. I know what it means to be overwhelmed with love for God and add my voice to the choir singing out praise.

I’ve sat under preaching that has touched me so deeply that I could feel the Spirit of God prompting my heart to repentance. I have trembled as a familiar text of Scripture comes alive with fresh meaning as the Lord opens my ears to his Word.

Mentally Overwhelmed?

When was the last time my mind was overwhelmed by God? Jesus said that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and MIND (Matt 22:37).

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Let’s go back to that opening illustration of the van. At that moment, I wanted an emotional release. I wanted to yell, to vent, to express my frustrations. But do my feelings have to drive my actions?


God helped me recall something I often tell my children:

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The sin is not in the feelings of anger or frustration, but it is far easier to fall into sin in those moments of anger or frustration. The sin or victory is revealed in our response.


When my emotion tempts me toward sin, when my flesh wants to indulge in the temporary release of frustration, it is more important than ever that I engage my mind. Scripture tells me that I am a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), no longer a slave to the old ways (Gal 4:7). Scripture tells me that God hears me when I call out to Him (Ps 4:3). Scripture tells me that all things are possible with God (Matt 19:26).

Engage the Mind

God met me in that moment of frustration, and by engaging my mind and recalling the truth that sets me free, I did not sin in my anger. Being overwhelmed can be a good thing when I’m overwhelmed by God and by truth.

Be overwhelmed.

Resting in a sleep-deprived​ World

Our world idolizes working faster, longer, and harder, lifting up frenzied lifestyles like a golden calf to be worshiped. How early we rise, how late we stay up, how many hours we log-in defines us. We own our success letting it lift high our esteem; we own our failure letting it label us as lacking. An unhealthy obsession to prove we can manage drives us to volunteer to fill every need. It enslaves us to hosting Pinterest worthy parties, designing home decor, and creating hand-made treasures. It demands time, attention to detail, and energy that requires an I.V. line of pure caffeine to support.

We wonder why we are tired.

For nights, we labor in vain, tossing and turning, unable to close our eyes lest our fears are recognized while we slumber. We work hours before the sun rises and hours long after the sun sets unwilling to honestly depend on the Lord. We forgo the Sabbath, rejecting God’s design for real rest. It doesn’t make sense to our flesh: How do we work one less day and still accomplish our tasks? How do we tithe one-seventh of our time and energy when we need every last bit to simply maintain the status quo? Rejecting the impossible math, our tired head hits the pillow, but our eyes fail to close. Our minds still spin, plan, design, budget, and justify.


Oh, Lord, forgive my foolish heart. Anxiety proves that I still do not fully trust You as my provider. Disobeying the Sabbath is an outward symbol of self-reliance. An inability to peacefully rest illustrates a fretful heart fighting you for control. I will only lay down and sleep when I believe with all my heart that You hold it all. You are building the house. You are watching the city. When I embrace that truth, I will sleep and enjoy the rest of your beloved (Psalm 127:1-2).


Be still

A Nigerian Curse

Today, I have the privilege of welcoming a fellow writer,  Harriet Michael, to Glorious Surrender. Her parents were medical missionaries in Nigeria, West Africa, and one day someone placed a curse on their home.

“Little children, you are from God…He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4 (NAS)


One evening, as my parents walked home from work, my father spied something on our front steps. He stopped in his tracks and told my mother to stop as well. On the top step lay juju—the Nigerian form of a curse.

BY the power of Christ's spirit, We are more than conquerorsThe juju consisted of some African beads along with the bones of a small animal mixed in a clod of dirt with blood, feathers, and feces. Someone had placed a curse on our home! My father stood still, pondering the situation, but my mother walked right up to the juju and kicked it off of our steps. It broke into pieces as it hit the ground below.

 

My mother looked directly into my father’s eyes and said, “Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world! Because of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for me, I can kick juju right off of my doorstep!”


 

Our God is an awesome God! He has overcome the enemy, defeating him at the cross. We can kick juju off of our doorsteps—or whatever other challenges we may have because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.

Father, we confess that Jesus is the Christ. We thank you for overcoming the world through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Make us cognizant of the truth that your Spirit in us is greater than the enemy who is in the world.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Learn more about Harriet and her books by checking out her social media pages.

Where do we find Mercy, Grace, and Help?

Some days are hard. Some days I can’t help but wonder if God even sees my despair. In my head, I know He does, but in the difficult moment, in the darkened folds of my heart where my flesh battles the Spirit, I dare to ask: Do you see me, God? Do you care?

We are at Muskoka Bible Campgrounds this week enjoying a family holiday and biblical teaching. Pastor Rick Baker brought a strong Word yesterday that spoke directly to my questions. The remainder of this post is the response the Lord stirred in my heart to his message.

HOLD FAST TO OUR CONFESSION

In dark moments I must remember the decision I made to trust Jesus and hold fast to that decision. Jesus knew sorrow, yet He remained without sin, making it possible for me to approach the throne of God with confidence.

DRAW NEAR TO THE THRONE OF GOD

When God seems quiet, when I am tempted to doubt His presence, I must draw near to Him. He is the one I have staked my life upon. He is the One who forgives me, and He promises me that when I draw near to his throne, I will receive mercy and find grace in my time of need.

MERCY. GRACE. HELP.

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Mercy. Christ shows me mercy by forgiving me every time I sin. I must show mercy to the one sinning against me. Mercy is undeserved, that is what makes it mercy. It is kindness toward the offender – of whom I am the worst.

Grace. Christ shows me grace. I am a sinner, born into sin and guilty of breaking God’s law. Grace came in the form of Jesus Christ providing victory over my sin. It is undeserved, a free gift to the recipient but paid for in full by Jesus Christ. In light of this, how can I do anything but extend grace and love to my offender?

Help. Where does my help come from? Psalm 121 tells us our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. This passage tells me 6 times the Lord will keep me and 9 times it refers to the Lord. This God, who made the heaven and earth, who spoke it all into existence, can keep me. My eternity is safe. Earth will hold many troubles, but God has secured my eternal joy in Him.

WHERE DOES YOUR HELP COME FROM?

Where does your help come from? Lift your eyes up. Mercy, Grace, and help come from the Lord.

The Answer is Hidden in the Command

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14

This landed heavily on my heart. I had been praying for quite some time for specific relief from God. I am called by His name. I was humble before Him and desperate for his favor. But day after day, and week after week, and month after month, and year after year the situation remained unchanged. I was left with one desperate prayer.

Fix this. Please.

Blind to my disobedience, I struggled to understand why God’s answer was slow to come. Why did it feel like He wasn’t answering at all?

Seeing myself in my child

My child ran to my side. “Mom, can I go outside?” He eagerly shifted his weight from foot to foot.

“Clean your room first.” I smiled to soften the gentle reminder that he had to complete his chores before he could reap the rewards of playing.

“Can I go outside?” he repeated a little louder.

“Clean your room,” I spoke in a firmer tone.

“MOM, I want to go outside!” He accentuated his frustration with flailing appendages.

“And I want you to clean your room.”

We cycled for quite some time. My frustration rose with each repeat. He wanted to know why I refused to answer him, and I wanted to know why he wasn’t listening to the answer I gave.

Bang. Just like that, I saw my sin.

I am just like my child

Clean the rooms in your

All those times I pleaded with the Lord for an answer, He WAS answering. It just wasn’t the answer I wanted.

Please, fix this.

Repent.

Please, God. I need you to fix this.

Turn from your wicked ways.

God, why aren’t you answering me?

Pray and seek my face.

Acknowledging my struggles and frustration while waiting for God’s perfect provision is not the same as repenting of my sin. It is not the same as being broken before the Lord and owning the nails I drove into His palms and owning my part in this present trial.

God does hear my prayers. He has told me what to do. Humble myself and pray. Seek His face. Turn from my wickedness. Then, He hears from heaven, forgives my sin and heals this land. He has told me to clean the rooms of my heart.

Lord, I have sinned greatly. You have called me to more than this. You have called me to be more than I am and promised it can be accompished by the power of your Spirit. I have, in many ways, hindered your work in my family by refusing to seek You in this hardship, by refusing to turn from my wickedness that contributes to this problem. Today that ends. Your loving kindness had led me to repentance.

The greatest obstacle to your working in my family is me. The greatest obstacle to your answering my prayers is my lack of obedience. I repent. By your power, I deliberately turn from this pattern of disobedience and choose to walk in a new direction toward new life in You. You are my God. I am your daughter.

 I understand you might not radically step in and change my circumstances. But as the pain in the moment comes, I will choose to believe that you are supernaturally working out your perfect plan for my family and me. I don’t know how it will come together, I don’t know when it will come together, but You are writing our story and You have already told me it ends in victory.

Put Your Hope in One Basket

We’ve all heard the popular saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” It is a caution against risking everything on one plan or one endeavor. It’s an encouragement to diversify and learn many skills. In many ways, this is good advice, but when it comes to eternity, our faith, and our hope for the future all those eggs belong in one basket: Jesus Christ.

Put All YourHope in One Basket

The church is in a crisis much like the church in Galatia when false teachers added back old rules and restrictions to salvation. They were trying the blend an old system of belief with the new system of belief. In Galatia, false teachers were telling the believers they needed Jesus PLUS circumcision.

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Salvation is not Jesus PLUS. Salvation is Jesus only.

Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no other, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”

Ephesians 4:21-24, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Jesus PLUS a checklist?

I spent some of my early ministry years trying to justify myself before God by following extra rules. They were weighty and exhausting and I was unable to keep them. I tried to do everything perfectly, trying to earn the favor of demanding people as if pleasing them was congruent to pleasing God. Here is a sample of the checklist I tried to follow to earn God’s favor:

  • Sing loud enough for people on the other side of the church to hear.
  • Teach in Sunday school
  • Play the piano
  • Lead women’s craft nights
  • Be a best friend to anyone who desired it
  • Become a counselor
  • Be a great problem solver

Believers in Jesus already have God’s favor

Your hope for the future is not connected to your ability to lead a craft night or deliver a meal. Just like the hope for the people in Galatia was not in circumcision. Your hope is in one thing: Jesus resurrected. When God looks at those who have trusted in Christ, he sees Christ, who is the perfect image-bearer of God.

When you believe in Christ, He covers your sin with his holiness, and God sees you as holy. For God’s chosen ones, those cleansed and made pure by the blood of Christ, our present identity in Christ is holy. Col 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” 1 Pet 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…” We are holy, not because we have earned it or completed a checklist, we are holy because those adopted into the family of God are made holy by Christ.

Put your eggs in that basket.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

You probably saw it somewhere on social media today, another loaf of homemade bread. It was perfectly golden and swollen to impossible heights of fluffy goodness. Scrolling down the website page makes you feel worse. Picture after picture of perfect living spaces with bare counters and fresh flowers are arranged in spring colored palettes. Recipe after recipe boasts images that would make Martha Stewart salivate.

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Most of the days I’m trolling social media, I’m looking for recipes tagged easy and quick with five ingredients or less. I need directions I can follow while navigating the minefield of Lego covering our not-so-bare counters and floors. All those stylish outfits and home staging images on Pinterest make my closet and house look like a second-hand store after a 50% off sale.

Combat being overwhelmed by being overwhelmed

Consider something like fear. I fear lots of things, especially when it comes to putting myself out into the world through teaching, speaking, or writing books. Most of those fears can be listed under the subheading of fear of man.

I don’t fight against the fear of man by inflating my self-esteem or by convincing myself that I am all that and a bag of chips. (Great, now I want chips…) I fight fear with fear. The only way to defeat a sinful fear of man is by cultivating a right and healthy fear of God. Only then, will God’s opinion of me matter more than man’s opinion. Yes, there is space to correct poor biblical thinking regarding who I am in Christ, but ultimately fighting a fear of man is not about feeling better about myself. It’s about knowing who God is, what God has said about me, and believing His word to be true.

Be overwhelmed by the right things

Fighting against feeling overwhelmed is quite similar. I don’t fight being overwhelmed by throwing everything “extra” into the trash, although there may be space for that kind of application in my life. Ultimately, I combat the feeling of being overwhelmed with life by cultivating a heart that is overwhelmed with God. When I know who God is, what He has done for me, and what He has promised me for the future, pleasing Him captivates my heart. Suddenly, I want to pursue Him, obey Him, and walk in submission to Him. I want it more than I want to post a social media snapshot of my so-called perfect life. I am always overwhelmed when the pursuit of image or status overcomes my pursuit of God.

Keep the first things first

When my heart is fixated on the many blessings already received from God, on following His direction rather than the direction in which culture points me, listening to His voice rather than the voice of doubt, the other things fade away.

So bake bread from scratch, if you want to bake bread. Decorate with a minimalist flair, or layer nick nacks and pictures and doilies and lace. Stay caught up on your laundry with daily loads, or work through the wash one day a week. Find the rhythm that works for you in regards to how you manage your responsibilities, but even more important than that, find God.

If I keep the first things first, the rest tends to sort itself out. The most important decision I make every single day is the decision to enter into the presence of God, to seek Him first, to understand His call on my life, and to respond to Him in obedience.

And sometimes, after that, I bake bread. But most days, I do the laundry.

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The most important decision I make every single day is the decision to enter into the presence of God.