Heavy Lifting

bigstock-Woman-with-her-personal-fitnes-44726662Weights are not my thing. Pinned by the bench press, I feel like a cartoon character with squeaky sound effects while my husband effortlessly lifts weight in three digit numbers.

Down days can pin me too if I’m not careful. When my heart is heavy, I tend to withdraw. Escape. Hole up. And if I don’t watch it, I’m pinned and the negative emotions press on my chest like too much weight on the bar.

Thankfully, God provides a spotter.

Proverbs 25:20 says, “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” I know we hit this verse recently, but it came up again during my quiet time and something jumped out at me. When we looked at this verse before, we talked about the need to refresh others. What caught my eye this time was how.

Sing songs.

God points to music when our hearts feel heavy and we need spotting. Look at these verses:

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:19-20 NIV)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 NIV)

Not only does Paul encourage us to share psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, but he also ties songs—specifically spiritual songs—to an attitude of gratitude.

Why?

Because depression and negativity find it hard to get a grip when we give thanks. Because self-pity withers and dies in the face of gratefulness.

So, take a deep breath and push. Put on some tunes and sing with a thankful heart. You’ll be amazed at what you can bench.

Questions:

What weighs you down?

What do you do when you are sad?

What Christian music encourages you?

How does music help you transition to a positive outlook and a thankful spirit?

Assemble a heavy day playlist.

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How’s It Growing?

bigstock-Growing-green-plant-22764032How’s it growing? Your faith, that is.

Hebrews 11:1 says,

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

I’ve also heard faith explained as believing God will do what He says and acting on it.

So, how’s it growing?

Is God fighting for time in your thoughts? Or do they go to Him automatically? Does prayer come easily? Or as an afterthought when something goes wrong?

Paul tells us in Romans, our faith is linked to hearing the word of God:

“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 NIV)

So, how’s your hearing?

For those of you with non-readers, the responsibility of making God’s word heard falls on you. But don’t despair. These principles apply to all of us:

  • Read the Bible at the table. Even one verse before school starts the day with Scripture on the brain.
  • Music: Play praise music. Often. At home. In the car. Change it up to meet everyone’s tastes.
  • Memorize Scripture. Tape a verse in the middle of the table or on the bathroom mirror. GT and the Halo Express is great series for the younger ones. For you older folk, there is plenty of Scripture set to music. Win-win!

Hear the Word, out loud or through your favorite headphones, and watch your faith grow.

Questions:

How many times each week are your ears exposed to the Bible?

In Isaiah 55: 10-11, God promises that time in His word is never wasted. What is competing for your attention?

What verse has helped you in your faith? Have everyone share a favorite.

Would these verses be a great start for memorization? Pick one. Give a prize at the end of the week for successful memory work.

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Welcome to AA: Attitude Adjustments

bigstock-Cinderella-Talking-To-Mice-36603259Disney princess movies stump me. Snow White and Cindy happily cleaning away with a song in their heart knowing full well the wicked women in their lives will make them do it again tomorrow. Really?

My children and I are challenged—not to do the simple things—cooking, cleaning, etc.—but to have a good attitude in the process. For my kids, ESPN and So You Think You Can Dance are calling. Me? I have a whole list of things more fun than loading the dishwasher. No, I was not raised in a home where service was a joy and we couldn’t wait to do this stuff.

So I struggle to have a proper spirit, until Paul reminds me:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”(Colossians 3:23-24 NIV)

To picture Jesus standing there and asking me to do it for Him—that’s not the problem. The doing for Jesus isn’t hard. I’m happy to do it for Him. The challenge is to shift my mind into a new gear, because it’s the remembering that everything I do is done for Him that gets me.

Turning the day’s schedule over to God when the day begins has been helpful. Any interruptions or game changers—sick kid, flat tires—come through His hands first. I deal with them more graciously when I’ve released control first thing in the morning.

Thanksgiving is another help. Not the turkey and dressing kind. The thankfulness kind. God’s been encouraging me to exercise this muscle for years.

Initially, I thought I was due. Due a smooth schedule and no problems, because, hey, I toe the line pretty well. I’m a Type A, high achiever. My attitude was “But I’ve been so good. Now I have to stop and deal with _______? Really?” It left me frustrated.

Today, I’m learning to look at dirty dishes and be thankful we have food on the table. As I vacuum tumbleweeds of dog hair, I’m grateful for the silly dog following me through the house. (He likes to distribute the shedding evenly.) As I step over dirty clothes left on the floor—again—well, I’m still working on that one.

Check in with the Boss before the day begins. Allow Him to guide you from class to class, task to task, or appointment to appointment, whatever your day holds. And whatever you do, do it with Him in mind and thank Him for the privilege.

Questions:

What does a typical day look like in your world?

What things do you look forward to?

What things are you dreading?

If the dread list disappeared, what blessings would disappear too?

What character muscles may God be developing through the dread list?

Pick one thing on the dread list and find something to be thankful about.

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Refreshing!

bigstock-Man-And-Ventilator-5390740I walked out my front door this morning to run and it was—cool.

So?

Summer lingers in Texas like an unwelcome guest. But this morning, the breeze was out of the north. It was wonderful.

Texans appreciate refreshment, especially in the form of lower temperatures. One hundred degree summers will do that to you.

When June hits, my husband starts asking, “When is it going to get cool?”

I roll my eyes and say, “November.”

So think of your favorite cold beverage. That’s how a cool fall day feels to a Texan. Refreshing!

“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day . . . is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”(Proverbs 25:20 NIV)

Here, Solomon reminds us to refresh one another through song. Now before you break into Daniel Powter’s, Bad Day, look around. Any heavy hearts?

How about your struggling classmate stressing over the next test?

A teammate nervous for the coming game?

A neighbor whose kid is a real challenge? You know the one.

The single mom at work who can barely make ends meet?

Be a cool breeze in someone’s life today. Give some refreshment to a heavy heart. And by all means, sing.

Questions:

Who comes to mind when you think of a heavy heart?

What cheers you up when you’re having a hard day?

Commit to pray for one person this week.

Start with those around your dinner table. Who is struggling at home? If it’s you, speak up.

Bake something and pass it out to the neighbors just for fun. Make someone’s day.

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Honey and the Heaves

bigstock-wooden-honey-dipper-with-a-str-12356606Honey. Vomit. Ever discussed these topics in Sunday school? Didn’t think so. Yet Solomon teaches us through some vivid word pictures.

“If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it, and you will vomit.” (Proverbs 25:16 NIV)

Too much honey makes me think of Pooh Bear stuck in Rabbit’s front door.

Vomit reminds me of Sarge.

Sarge was Gretchen’s Dalmatian. He was built like a tank. He and Gretchen ran with my golden retriever Luke and me when we lived in Arizona. If Sarge saw anything—trash, leftovers, roadkill—he scarfed it like he hadn’t eaten in days, only to, you guessed it, heave it right back onto the asphalt.

Sarge suffered from something that plagues us human critters too: lack of self-control. When something caught his eye, Sarge went for it. No thought of whether the bunny carcass might hurt his tummy or if the tarantula on the road might not want to play.

Have you ever followed in Sarge’s paw prints? Something looked like honey in the moment, but didn’t digest too well after? Or perhaps the issue is not what we are consuming, but how much.

Food, shopping, TV, computer time. Is the habit controlling you? Psalm 19:13 says: “Keep [me] from willful sins; may they not rule over me.”

If the thing that is sweet causes unpleasant consequences, it’s time to take action. Talk to God about it. Look at why you desire_______________. Is it a crutch? A replacement for something God desires to give?

Is it getting the best of you? Who has control? You or _____________? Are you compelled to __________________?

If necessary, confess it to God and ask forgiveness. Then, ask for release and the ability to stop when you’ve had enough.

Self-control. It’s the sweet that doesn’t fight back.

Questions:

Is there a habit, thing, or an area of your life that is giving you trouble? If in doubt, ask your family. They know.

What’s the attraction?

Where is your stopping point? Why?

What happens when you have too much? Is it worth it?

Do you trust God to supply the self-control you need?

Memorize:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”(1 Cor. 10: 13 NIV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”(Gal. 5:22-23 NIV)

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More Jars

bigstock-Pottery-1248429Another jar story. I couldn’t resist. Here a full jar begins the story, but by the end, the abundance has been miraculous. This widow is a believer, but her husband’s death has left the family in a financial crisis. She and her boys have nothing to live on, but that’s not the main concern. Creditors threaten to take her children as slaves. She comes to Elisha the prophet willing to do whatever he tells her. Obedient, needing only direction. Elisha sends her to collect all the jars she can find. The boys scurry from house to house asking to borrow any extra jars. Large, small, they slowly fill the small house. Then, she brings out the only thing she has—a little oil. She closes the door and begins to pour.

And pour.

And pour.

And pour.

“When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’ But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.’”(2 Kings 4:6,7 NIV)

And guessing from the quality of Jesus’ wine at the wedding in Cana, this would be some EVOO Rachel Ray would proudly use. Imagine the awe, the dropped jaws as the little jar filled big ones. The wonder at God’s provision. The humility of knowing God saw and cared and moved on their behalf.

Cultivate such willingness to obey that all you need is direction.

How? One choice at a time.

“The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.”  C. S. Lewis

Questions:

How willing are you to obey?

When is obedience easy?

When is it hard?

Does obedience get easier? Is there a process at work?

When has your obedience opened the way for a greater revelation of God?

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Empty Jars

bigstock-Terracotta-49859327

God, through Elijah, proclaimed a three year drought. To protect His prophet from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, God hid Elijah by a small brook and provided takeout via Raven Express. Now, the brook is dry too. So God sends Elijah to the beach to a poor widow from Zarephath. Only God neglected to give the widow a heads up.

“So he(Elijah) went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’”(I Kings 17:10-14 NIV)

Here it is. A call to choose: what she wants vs. what God wants. God says feed my guy; her mother’s instinct says my boy is hungry. This poor widow in Zarephath has every right to tell this crazy old prophet to get lost. This is their last meal—one piece of bread—and then they will starve. Note how she refers to God: the LORD your God.

Yet, for some reason, she obeys. She gives away their last bite of food.

And a miracle happens. The jar and the jug are full.

God calls us to give up our right to ourselves. He wants us to zero in on one choice only—His. What shape has your call taken? Talk to the kid everyone ignores? Not cuss when the guys in the locker room do? Cut off the gossip before it starts? Tithe? Take turns with your sibling? Give your husband ten minutes before sharing the kids with him? Return the favor for your wife?

Our call may come one hundred times a day. Look to the One calling and remember, He will keep the jar full.

Questions:

Reread the passage. What stands out?

What would you have done in her shoes? What do you think her reaction was when the jars didn’t empty?

Did Elijah’s God ever become her God? What kind of discussions might she and Elijah have?

How do you think Elijah felt? God sent him to a Gentile woman. By Jewish law, Elijah shouldn’t be in her house. What rights did Elijah give up?

What is God calling you to choose? Do you think He will come through for you?

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