All posts by Brenda

I'm an outdoor lovin' girl from the Black Hills of SD. While I enjoy exploring the trails in the Hills with my gorgeous Siberian Husky, Oliver, I'm also a fan of snuggling in for an episode of Once Upon A Time with my husband. We love hosting college students in our home and often the decor reflects the upcoming holidays. I'm particularly fond of decorating for Christmas, plus I love snow, mochas, all things winter, and most especially, Frozen! (Do you wanna build a snowman?) Since 1999, I have worked in full-time ministry with Campus Ventures, a discipleship based college ministry. I love what I do a lot! I get to hang out with college students nearly all the time, and have the privilege of speaking into their lives, helping guide the major (and not so major) decisions of their lives. And now, as of September 23, 2015, I'm a mom!! Aurora Autumn Rose Lewis is the joy of our hearts and I'm sure the subject of blogs to come!

a baby, fear, & pride

I’ve been thinking about my blog a lot lately. Partly because it’s been a year since I started it. Partly because I’m going through Experiencing God again and as I read about “what has God asked you to do,” this blog keeps coming to mind.

Although it may not seem like it, I have thought about this blog often. But then fear and doubt creep in. I have had so many ideas of things I want to write and share, but not the time to think it through as well as I would like in order to blog it. Getting pregnant affected my ability to write until April (first trimesters are rough!). By mid-April I regained vision for ministry and had things to share. But I didn’t blog them. And more ideas throughout this summer. And I still didn’t write. Then Aurora came, this beautiful baby girl that took up all my energy and time. Two months later, as we figure out this new life, start to gain a “schedule”, and my times with God increase in length and focus, blog ideas are coming to mind — but fear and pride keep me from writing.

So today, I’m choosing to push past it and write instead. I realized that I’m wanting to “think it through” because I want a “legit blog”, which to me means well-written and well formatted and great graphics. But that “goal” is keeping me from writing altogether. And it’s based in pride. God hasn’t asked me to write a professional blog, at least not yet. He’s asked me to share the things He’s speaking to me, as it helps me process them more fully, and along the way others may be encouraged or challenged by those things as well.

So here’s to a new year! 2015 isn’t over just yet! Is there anything God has asked you to do this year? Don’t wait for 2016 — 2015 isn’t over yet!

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Lying in a Manger – 4 Challenging Words

nativityAfter my last post, I decided to order the book “In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas” by Dan Schaeffer, as one of the devotionals I read last week quoted his book. Wow, what a good read! I’ve really been enjoying it. The past two mornings as I read, I thought “this is good stuff! Who could I tell about it?” Then this morning I remembered I started a blog! ha! So, here are some of my thoughts from what I’ve been reading.

The announcement of the birth of Christ started off exhilarating for Mary. An angelic visit, a miracle of getting pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and her time spent with her cousin Elizabeth, who also gave a prophetic word. If I were Mary, I would assume the whole journey would be just as amazing and exhilarating, and well, trouble free. But then she comes home from her visit with Elizabeth, and Joseph sees that she’s pregnant and doesn’t believe her story. This is tragic enough for him to consider ending his relationship with her. An unwed, pregnant teen in our day is a dilemma, back then it would have been even worse. I wonder if while Joseph was considering his options if Mary was asking God “what now? how are You going to provide?” I imagine this was a huge low point for Mary. Thankfully, Joseph also received an angelic vision and the journey was good again as the babe grew within her.

But then another low point, Caesar Augustus declared a census to be taken, and a VERY pregnant Mary had to make the journey with Joseph to Bethlehem. I imagine it was a very wearying travel. They arrived to a crowded Bethlehem and as Joseph knocked on the doors from inn to inn, with no room for them anywhere, I wonder how frantic each of them felt. Joseph frustrated that he is unable to provide a place to stay for his wife; Mary possibly wondering, “God, where are you? Will you take care of us? Will you provide for your Son?” Did Mary wonder if perhaps God had forgotten them? I know I wonder that when situations seems to go horribly wrong.

The journey hits a low point.

And then maybe lower as the only place one innkeeper can give them to stay is a stable. In many of today’s Nativity scenes, the picture is of a crude stable, but quaint and clean. However, I seriously doubt the busy innkeeper had time to muck the stalls for his unexpected guests. Can you imagine how smelly and gross that stable was? Eww. And cold? Not your typical warm, clean birthing room. I wonder if doubt of God’s care for them filled their minds even more as the weary travelers moved into their shelter. Not that Mary would have much time to ponder as the labor pains began. I also wonder how heartbreaking her labor was, possibly awkward… alone with Joseph to deliver the baby (a man whom she hadn’t *known* yet), no mother to hold her hand through the delivery. All in a cold, smelly cave filled with animals and their excrement as a delivery room. A manger for a crib. Really God?

Really!

While this wouldn’t have been Mary & Joseph’s first choice, or even 2nd or 3rd; it was God’s plan, and He had a very wise purpose in it.

After the baby was born, some shepherds showed up, telling their fantastic story of an angelic vision, a host of angels! And their sign: you will find him lying in a manger. With all the people (and babies) filling Bethlehem that night, this unique sign separated the Messiah from all the other babies, no other baby would be in a manger. I wonder if hearing the Shepherds’ stories encouraged their hearts once more. God knew, God saw, He hadn’t forgotten them at all! He was working behind the scenes, and used their unique (and difficult) circumstance as a sign!

“Common folks can’t visit the palaces of newborn kings uninvited (and we seldom are). But kings and princes can visit mangers, and so can bakers and weavers, wise men and shopkeepers, priests and children, cattle and sheep. This reality is so simple that it is easy to miss” (Dan Schaeffer).

Jesus lying in a manger reveals in a dramatic way that He had come to be available, accessible by everyone! When Prince William and Kate had their baby, we could only hear about it and maybe see some pictures months later. But Jesus was available to everyone the day of his birth. God humbled himself in so many ways. Even if He was born in the very best earth had to offer, it would still be humbling for Him. But He went all the way so that we would realize there was nothing God wouldn’t do to bring us into relationship with Him.

Mary and Joseph’s journey was filled with some incredible highs and intense lows. Often, when I receive a call or mission from God, and it starts off awesome, I assume He’s going to work everything out so splendidly, and well, easy for me. But His Ways are not my ways, and when things seem like a mess and God has forgotten me, He just may be working behind the scenes where I can’t see Him. He is ALWAYS working, and His messy plan (in our estimation) may be a sign this world needs, or He may be making Jesus accessible to others through our difficulties.

The author of the book suggested that as we travel this Christmas (whether on errands or to visit friends or family), notice the hospitals you pass and take a few moments to remember how and where your God was born. “When I go into a hospital maternity ward or a comfortable home nursery, I think about how bright, clean, healthy, and warm these places are… and I marvel anew that my God lay in a manger!”

May you be encouraged through the birth of Christ this Christmas.

Pain – Part of the Christmas Spirit?

ChristmasI love Christmastime, probably more than anyone I personally know. I thoroughly enjoy decorating (transforming my home for Christmas in nearly every room), listening to Christmas music 24/7 (Pandora’s instrumental holiday radio is one of my fav’s right now), giving presents (receiving presents), and all the festivities. Everything to make one get into the Christmas Spirit.

Each year I like to focus on a different aspect of the Christmas story, to learn something a bit deeper. Some years I have something in mind; some years God will surprise me with a theme. The latter is one of those years. Starting with the sermon at church on Sunday and then the next few devotionals I read, I saw a theme that I’ve never really noticed before. Pain is part of the Christmas story. Significantly. And it’s rather surprising because Christmas is so festive and we focus on the Joy & Peace, but the other is there too.

As I look at the first few characters from the Christmas story, I see their joy as well as their pain:

Zechariah and Elizabeth. The Christmas story in Luke opens with this prestigious and godly couple who had no children and were old. Then we read of the fantastic moment when an angel appeared to Zechariah telling him “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” Yay! Answered prayer! But how long had they been praying? When was the last time Zechariah had prayed, asking for a child? Did he eventually give up? They longed for child; their best years went by without an answer to this prayer. When they were young and newly married, they probably had dreams of the family they would raise. They stayed faithful to God, but no child came. I think about the times I have longed and waited for something, and the ache is unbearable sometimes. The years waiting for a husband, or praying for a family member to come to faith in Jesus, etc… Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced a heartache and longing that spanned their lifetime, clueless about what God was doing and was about to do.

Mary. The next scene in Luke 1 is the incredible story of the angel visiting Mary, telling this young virgin “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” and her humble reply, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” As I sit and think about Mary and the months that followed, her heartache must have been great. Who would believe her story? How frustrating it is when no one believes you, and yet she holds the greatest truth within her belly! Who could understand her? No one could relate to her even if they did believe her. The social pressure must have been intense. Girls can be brutally mean in our culture, and I bet it was no different back then. “Pious Mary, pregnant before she was married.” How did people look at her, speak to her, treat her? How much did it hurt her heart? Mary would be questioned, ridiculed, and rejected because she was misunderstood by so many who refused to believe her story. She faced the difficulties of her integrity and morality being held in question.

Skip forward in the Story, to Matthew 2 and the escape the Egypt. King Herod heard about the baby and wanted him dead, so the angel warned Joseph in a dream to flee. Now they are fugitives in a foreign land (I can barely understand that heartache). And then, what was Mary’s heartache when she heard what happened? Genocide. Soldiers came and murdered all the male babies two years old and under in the entire vicinity. . . because of her child.

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

And Joseph. The girl he loved is now pregnant, and it’s not his child. Betrayal. What was going through his mind and heart? God let him wrestle through the emotions and options, then Joseph decided to divorce her quietly. (This reflects what a humble and good man Joseph was; he could have chosen any number of options of public disgrace, revenge, even stoning Mary. But he chose not to, and it shows me why God chose him to father His Son). It wasn’t until after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”

Thankfully the stories don’t end at the pain. Our stories of pain never end there either. God is always at work behind the scenes, even in our pain. And that’s where the hope, joy and peace of Christmas shine the brightest!

Zechariah and Elizabeth painfully longed for a son, but eventually God blessed them with one! And not just any son, they got to be a direct part of God’s redemptive plan and raise a son who Jesus called the greatest man ever born (Luke 7:28). The forerunner to the Messiah! God chose them, but they had to wait for His perfect timing to unfold.

Mary received the greatest honor God could pay, He chose her to mother His Son! Mary knew how blessed she was and praised Him (Luke 1:46-56). God was visiting our planet, Immanuel was coming! I’m encouraged by the confirmations and encouragement she received: Elizabeth’s greeting to her, God confirming to Joseph in a dream that she was telling the truth, the shepherds and the wise men coming because God told them as well! She treasured all these things in her heart. I would too!

Even though Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, God wasn’t done with them, and He’s not done with us! As long as God has us alive, He has a plan for us. Will you respond as they did, as Mary did? Trusting in your loving Father, who is always faithful? And even in the waiting, can you find the joy of waking up each morning knowing God has a plan and is working on your behalf?

“Christmas reminds us that we can put our hope in a sure thing – the love of God—demonstrated so beautifully on that wonderful day when He came forth into our world as a babe. Because of our despair, hopelessness and helplessness He left His throne in heaven. This is the ‘good news that will bring great joy to all people’ (Luke 2:10). This is the Christmas we can all celebrate, with or without family, friends, or familiarity. This spirit of Christmas goes beyond trees, decorations, songs, and gifts to speak to our true condition. And to this we can honestly say, ‘Merry Christmas.’” (Dan Schaeffer – The Real Spirit of Christmas)

Finding Rest for Your Soul

be still my soulRecently I attended Lifeway’s Women’s Forum, a women’s ministry leadership conference down in Nashville, TN. Besides having a blast exploring the city and almost escaping the Heist at the Escape Game, I learned a wealth of information during the 2 1/2 day conference.

The concept of soul care kept coming to mind all semester, as it’s been a very busy Fall, possibly my busiest, and I held back on taking care of my soul. A few seminars I attended addressed this idea and it’s just too good not to pass on.

So, if you are looking for some ways to find some rest at the soul level, may this help you in your journey.

We each have an inner life and an outer life. Our outer life is visible, demands attention and seems to get most of our care. Our inner life is invisible and easy to neglect. It’s the place where our soul resides. We tend to spend more time getting ourselves presentable to the world instead of being still, quite possibly because the outside world is pretty demanding, while our inner world is much quieter.

How would you define “soul”? What is it? One of the speakers I heard defined soul as the “operating system” of your life. It integrates your will, your mind and your body.

When your soul is healthy, no external circumstances can change that. But when your soul is unhealthy, the same is true, no external circumstances can change it. Not a day watching Netflix, or a spa night, or an all nighter playing video games. Soul Care is not Self Care.

How do you know if your soul isn’t well?

You might feel: apathetic, disconnected, fatigued, a lack of desire for God, burned out, anxious, confused, self-absorbed, angry, driven, insecure, calloused, critical, irritable, a stronger temptation to sin, etc…

A healthy soul is opposite of all those. It’s optimistic, energetic, creative, at rest, satisfied.

“My mind may be obsessed with idols; my will may be enslaved to habits; my body may be consumed with appetites. But my soul will never find rest until it rests in God. For the soul to be well, it needs to be with God.” (John Ortberg, “Soul Keeping”).

When you are sick, food doesn’t taste good. Right now I’m coming down with a cold and this morning coffee tasted awful! When someone is dying, very little food will taste appealing. In order to keep that person alive, they need to find food that will entice them to eat, otherwise they will die.

The same applies when your soul is sick or dying. You need to find spiritual food that will entice you to eat. Maybe its not the meat and potatoes of a regular quiet time, (or maybe it is because you’ve been starving yourself and eating only junk food, i.e. Facbook, Netflix, video games). But maybe when your soul is dying it needs to be enticed to eat Spiritually.

“Enjoying time with God and finding soul rest isn’t a matter of self-discipline, of trying harder or setting your clock to wake up 15 minutes earlier. If it was a matter of simply willing yourself to DO quiet time, you would have done it. Your soul longs for something more than checking another box off a list.” (Bonnie Gray, “Finding Spiritual Whitespace – Awakening Your Soul to Rest”)

So, how do you gain a healthy soul?

Take a chill pill. Find an M&M, put it on your tongue and let it dissolve (no cheating by rolling it around on your tongue).

As the chill pill, er, I mean, M&M dissolves in your mouth, consider who is the Master of the Moment.M&M

Step 1: Remember.

Remember who God is, the Master of this Moment (M&M). Remember that God is Sovereign, He’s in control, He is loving, good, has a plan, is faithful, etc… Think upon Him and remember who He is.

Remember who you are. If you are God’s child, you are loved, cared for, guided and provided for by God.

Get God’s perspective on your situation. If ____________, then God ____________. Whenever you have an “If” there is always a “then.” So if you are thinking, “what if _________,” then finish that statement with “then God __________________.”

 

Step 2: Renounce

I don’t even know how to emphasize how important this is. Check yourself and get rid of sin by renouncing (confessing) it and turning away from it. Ask God to bring to mind any sins of thought, word, or deed.

Beth Moore shares in her “Seeking a Heart Like His” Bible study, that we must learn to allow God to halt sin in the place it begins — the thought life.  We’re wise to aggressively confess the sins of our thoughts.  The sins of our thought lives are so numerous that their familiarity tends to make them less noticeable.  Our minds may fuel jealous thoughts, sudden lusts, quick criticism, and harsh judgments or anxious thoughts without ever regarding them as sin.  Confessing wrong thoughts stops sin in the first stages, before it comes out of our mouths and then directs our actions.

Consider these verses to guide you in this process of renouncing:

Thoughts:   Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Words:  Psalm 19:14
May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Deeds:  Psalm 15:1-2 
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart.

To hide anything increases the pressure on our lives. What God says is Sin is Sin. No matter how small I consider it.

Step 3: Reassurance. Be reassured that the help you need comes from God.

2 Corinthians 4: But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

Let’s look at some of the key words in this verse.

Jars of Clay: we are easily broken, God knows that. We need Him. The outside pressures will weigh us down if our souls aren’t right with Him.

Hard Pressed: what is pressing on you and weighing you down? What are your pressures?

The good news? We aren’t crushed because we can take on Jesus’ yoke. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I’ve always caught the rest part, but did you catch the learn part? He gives us rest and we LEARN from Him. He doesn’t fix the issue, he teaches us. Plus He’s gentle and humble about it. So ask Him, “what do You want to teach me in this pressure?”

Perplexed: What is not understood? What are you so confused on?

The good news? We don’t despair when life doesn’t make sense because we know the One who does know. You don’t have to understand, just believe. Psalm 119:71 “It’s good for me to be afflicted so that that I might hope in your word.” God is in control.  (Go back to step one, Remember God and put your hope in Him, not in anything else.)

Persecuted: to pursue with harassing treatment

The good news?  We are not abandoned. God walks with you.

Struck Down: dealing with blows (someone gossips about you, etc…)

The good news? We are not destroyed.

Galatians 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I am not destroyed because I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer stand on my feelings, or even my rights. I’ve been crucified.

I live by faith in the son of God, not faith in people liking me, or faith in getting everything accomplished.  Faith in the Son of God.

Step 4: Renewed.

  1. Be thankful
  2. Pray
  3. Be still
  4. Be in His Word
  5. Practice the Presence of God, in community and alone. In community through church, large group in your college ministry, small groups. And alone during a time of silence and solitude (unplug from electronics), or perhaps a nature walk.  This is a foreign concept to us, which is why we need to practice it!

God will refresh you! Day by Day.

Some additional thoughts and questions to ask yourself:

Are you mismanaging the pace of your lives?
Are you hurried or busy?
Are you at risk of slamming into an emotional wall at a high speed?

John Ortberg, pastor and author asked his mentor and dear friend, Dallas Willard, “What do I need to do to stay spiritually healthy?” He answered, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.”

Busy is an outward condition : : hurried is an inward condition

Busy is a full schedule : :  hurried is preoccupied

Busy is active : :  hurried is unable to be fully present

Busy is physically demanding : : hurried is spiritually demanding

Busy reminds me that I need God : : hurried causes me to be unavailable to God

A healthy soul feeds on space and grace. Take care of your soul.

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know
Be still
Be