“The Pursuit of Excellence,” by George Sweeting.

“Do you love Jesus Christ enough to deny your natural tendencies and achieve excellence? The choices of your life record your love for Him.” George Sweeting, “The Pursuit of Excellence.”

“The Pursuit of Excellence,” by George Sweeting, is remarkably written and inspired. Sweeting, sixth president and chancellor of Moody Bible Institute, writes confidently of what it takes to fully follow Christ. His educational background, coupled with his life’s ministry, give his words credibility. 

The book is broken up into fourteen chapters. Though the book is not extremely lengthy, there were many points at which I stopped to pick up my highlighter and restart a paragraph or section. 

The first chapter introduces the premise of the book, exploring nine specific attributes necessary to attain excellence in faith. Chapters two through ten each address one of these hallmark traits: faith, character, action, single-mindedness, love, suffering, prayer, wisdom, and staying power. Sweeting’s Biblically based teaching cuts through “half-hearted” Christianity. “Sometimes suffering is God’s way of bringing us back to Him,” Sweeting wrote.

Sweeting brings the book to a close by citing many examples of  lives that have reflected excellence in their pursuit of Christ. I highly recommend this book. It equips readers with a better understanding of the Word of God, who God is, and His purpose for each one of us. “Having staying power is hard,” Sweeting wrote, “but it will mature us.”

(I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)

Click here to purchase your copy of “The Pursuit of Excellence,” by George Sweeting.

“The Power of Christian Contentment,” Andrew M. Davis

“Believing the secret that ‘I am God-sufficient and it is enough to know that god is with me and loves me’ give us a remarkable staying power in serving others.” Andrew M. Davis, “The Power of Christian Contentment

This book walked right into the dusty corners of my life and swept out an amazing amount of discontentment. The entire work is straightforward, Biblically based, and incredibly convicting. The research and stories that intertwine with the lessons are incredibly captivating. This book is a game changer on this topic. 

In the early chapters of the book, the author states, “Christian contentment is heart work, deep and interior.” Throughout the book, Davis walks His readers through just that …some deep heart work! 

This book was well organized and wonderfully written. I was left convicted to pray daily for God to reveal any areas of discontentment in my life, as this book sparked vast growth in my heart on the topic. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to more about what Christian contentment is, and how we can do this characteristic justice in our lives.

“The tapestry of our life’s history is made up of Todays. And it should start with some basic spiritual disciplines, if we are ever to make progress to maturity in Christian contentment.” Andrew M. Davis, “The Power of Christian Contentment.” 

Click here to purchase your copy of The Power of Christian Contentment.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Auto-Correct 

“I DIDN’T SAY THAT!!!!” One sister yelled.

“YESSSSSSS YOUUUUUUU DIIIIIIIID-AAAAAAAA,” the other retorted.

“WELL THEN YOU HEARD ME WRRRRROOOONNNGGGG-AAAAAA,” she snapped back.

“Ugh,” I sighed, listening to them pile frustrated syllables on top of simple words, “they’ve BOTH gotten that from me.”

Faces twisted into eccentric versions of craziness, both seethingly glared into the review mirror. Apparently, that was my cue to magically apply logic to what had “actually” been said. Ironic, how they burst into laughter at Siri’s mistakes …or Mom’s …that’s always hysterical. But they take sisterly “corrections” very seriously.

imageGrown-up or not, we all fall victim to our own stubbornness. Right or wrong, few people have the ability to apologize on the spot for the effect irrelevant to the cause. Except Siri, she’s pretty quick to tell you, “I’m sorry, I did not understand.”

If you join me in the struggle to handle hot-tempered moments of kids quarreling in the backseat, I can offer a couple of tips that have kept me on the road. But don’t judge me if you hear me screaming “SHUT UP!” as I drive around town with the windows down. #trying #inthefield

1. Load up and line up your corrections. 

When we rely on the seat of our pants to apply sage wisdom, we conjure a stink full of bad advice. image

“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” Leviticus 20:7-8 (NIV)

Tense moments flare tempers, and words seem to fail us. No matter how many, or at what volume, they spill into the car … mistranslated like a text message surrendered to auto-correct.

God seeks to steer us, and applauds efforts to guide our children through tedious moments. Seek His wisdom. Set aside some space to clear the clutter and read the Bible. Everyday has five free minutes. The time I spend in His Word allows me to relay the motherly messages He always intended for my daughters to hear. image

2. Embrace The Correction

Imagine God watching from Heaven while we blow right by misinterpretations and hit “send” anyway …EVEN WHEN He’s waving both hands in front of our face?!?! Instead of ridiculing us for missteps and side-trails, He sent His only Son to die for us. The love demonstrated in sacrifice forever forgives our failed efforts. Through Jesus, God replaces every “fallen short,” with “grace and love.” image

What missteps have lent us the opportunity to spread Christ’s love? The story of Jesus naming Peter yields immense hope.

“And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas (which, when translated, is Peter.)” John 1:42 (NIV)

Peter was a fisherman that doubted Jesus at the rooster’s crow. But he was also known for having solid faith in Jesus, and for his leadership in the early church. The NIV Study Bible further notes that, although his name is literally translated, “Rock,”

“Peter was anything but a rock; he was impulsive and unstable…Jesus named him not for what he was but for what, by God’s grace, he would become.”

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My daughters’ bickering in the backseat brings to light the natural struggle to be right …to be the best …the favorite … independent… No winner emerges from unjust conflict.  There’s no reason to put our individual mission on earth to death by comparison. Our kids need us to be who Jesus says we are.

“Peter was best know for his impetuous nature and fierce devotion to Christ.” -NIV Study Bible Text Note 

Impetuous means, “acting or done quickly and without thought or care.” (Google.com) It also can mean, “moving forcefully or rapidly.” (Google.com) 

Fierce means, “having or displaying an intense or ferocious aggressiveness.”(Google.com) It can also mean, “(of a feeling, emotion, or action) showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity.”(Google.com)

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So by one definition we can choose to see Peter as a flip-flopping doubter with a temper. Or, we can choose to look a little bit deeper into the heart Jesus identified long before Peter knew his name. The “Rock,” who spread the gospel with force and speed throughout the early church, and loved Jesus with heartfelt and powerfully intense faith.

Embrace the correction.

Parents are glaringly aware of faults and annoying attributes, but our love blows any negative ducks out of the water. We’ve embraced the imagecorrection before it’s corrected.

“Girls…” I warmed up, as I prayed that a nugget of Spirit-led wisdom would fall out of my mouth, “…it doesn’t matter who started it or who’s fault it is …you both need to apologize and hug it out.”

Insert insane amount of eye-rolling and last ditch efforts to pinch each other…

“Love you,” I added with a smile.

The correction is love.

imageWe don’t have to fight to be fierce. Most of us haven’t even grown into our true “names” yet. When we’re scrunched up and mangled into frustrated faces, Jesus sees our hearts and knows our names. His gift of death in exchange for grace grants us new life …for life …for forever.

Fight with the fierce and ferocious power of the love that conquered it all. And if you let a hot-tempered phrase slip, apologize. It works for Siri …my kids think she’s hilarious when she admits she’s at a complete loss…

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When I want to quit, prayer is there to pull me through. I hope you know He’s there for you, too.

Happy Corrections!

Megs

The Over-Answerer

Solutions are revealed through noise, and hidden in the slow silence of subtlety.

“Lo, you can’t cheer in flats.” I harped.

“UUUGGGHHHH!!!!” She exasperated as she stomped off to change her shoes.

“Mom…” My oldest began…and then I really can’t tell you what she said after that. It was too long and drawn out, and I didn’t have the capacity to digest it as I popped my coffee out of the microwave and corralled her little sister to the door.

“Brianne, honey,” I quipped,”get in the car.”

Poor thing, she’s just me.

I’m an excessive talker, over-answerer, and I’m missing that “stop talking no one is listening anymore” radar. God has encouraged me so much, it in turn just oozes out of me. Let the encouraged, encourage. However, I get so excited that I’m not always the best at slowing my thought train down to tune in to other voices.

Face freezing and my girls yelling, “C’MON MOM! YOU’RE TOO SLOW,” I checked them in at mini-cheer and then parked by the lake to walk the pier. Ear buds in to drown out the peace, I forced myself to walk at an uncomfortable pace against a brutal north wind.

Somehow the stillness of the sun sparkling off the ice, devoid of other living things out to brave the chill, breaks through the tingling of my itchy hat to uncover a secret space where I can hear God. I’m obedient in my rush to meet with Him everyday because I’m very aware of my need to stop talking. And even if your struggle to be silent isn’t as intense as mine, He waits in the stillness of the dawn to over-answer the day’s quandaries. Who doesn’t want a head start before the gun goes off?

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3 Revelations I’ve gained by letting God’s Word drown out mine in the secret space.

1. It’s not by chance. Do you ever feel like you’re being followed around by a reality TV crew? All of the sudden, you seem to be tuned into different people that are saying and writing and speaking and singing about the same things, at the same time in your life when you are looking for answers to that very notion. That collaborative coincidence is evidence of our very personal God. I don’t put YAX on my boots and trek out onto the ice because it’s boring out there…

Give Him the first part of your day, and you’ll see what I mean. Even if it’s only 5 minutes..and there’s an app for that, too.

 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.“-Romans 3:26(MSG)

image2. Perfection is overrated and already reserved.  Since it can never be attained by anyone else, let it be the first thing you cross off your daily to-do list and start seeking attainable joy.

A struggle lies behind every smiling selfie and perfectly posed portrait. I don’t want my funky faces rolling through the facebook newsfeed any more than my kids want me circulating theirs to their Dad and the rest of the family and all of their friends’ parents.  I’m too aggravated to fumble with my phone in the heat of those moments, and the kids run away in a blur.

Every joyful moment is the product of a struggle. The answer to prayer…blessing from God. I cry out in angst beyond the lens, and He never fails to over-answer.

 “But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:21-24(MSG)

My life is not the only testimony to those verses. Flip through the album, but ask me for the story. My college degree looks awesome in my bookcase now, but it was absent the day of graduation. My family is amazing, but this isn’t my first marriage and my kids are not perfect. I gossip and envy and lose my cool with the people that love me, and way too often add Cabernet and dark chocolate to aid the indigestion.

The struggle with self-doubt is real…but my heart is His.

Maybe I should try posting pictures of blurred children running away from me so that we can all bond together. #blessedmess  

3. Look up and Look out.

I am living proof that God aggressively pursues those whom He has called.

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“Who is like you?” Moses stated in Exodus 15:11. Can’t you just picture the awe and hear the whisper of hope and faith in his voice? “Who is like you?” That’s how I feel about Jesus.
Every day a faithful friend, He pulls me out of my coffee coma and through my mess to the feet of His Father. God left a reminder to the Israelites of the Manna He faithfully fed to them every day for 40 years. (Exodus 16:32)

Jesus is ours.

“God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.“-Romans 3:25-26(MSG)

 He supply’s my whole portion in the first few minutes of the day, speaking through my child’s ramblings and the still of frozen water. Through an Elevation sermon in my ear buds or an eagle on the ice. But I won’t hear or see anything if I don’t tune in and look up. I am joyful because I seek to be.

Walking with the wind pushing me back, the snow wisping across the iced over River, I felt my pace quickening. I felt like I was walking pretty fast until the snow blasted by alongside me with a gusty blow. I heard God say to me clearly, “YOU’RE TOO SLOW.”

“OK, OK” I laughed.

imageWhen my daughters go through spurts of arguing about every thing all of the time, I’m quick to remind them that family comes first and sisters are forever friends.  They typically glare at each other, disgusted mid-argument that they are stuck together for life without choice. But, the seed inevitably always sprouts a root, and the moments bursting with sisterly love triumph over the squabbles.

Many mornings, I attempt rush by my Father at full speed with my own agenda in tow. Perhaps that’s why He reveals the wind. Or, leaves a rock balanced a-top the ice in one season and sunk to the bottom in the next. He certainly knows how yank me out of my whirring thoughts. Walking with the wind reminded me Who was at my side …right now  …and one day at a time. Family first.

  “Give us this day our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11

He will aggressively pursue you…more than you ask.image

Happy First Five Morning Minutes…

Megs

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25:4-5

The Eagle and The Ice

“How do I help my kid do a cartwheel?” These are the things that I Google while my butt conforms to the stiff waiting room chair at the dance studio. “The hardest part is overcoming the fear of falling in order to take that first leap forward,” said a sweet personal trainer via YouTube.

“I almost got it, today, Mom!” Brianne exclaimed, floating out on a cloud of accomplishment. “I just have to land on my feet, now!”

Isn’t that what makes a cartwheel a cartwheel? The landing? Lacking the heart to dampen her demeanor, I harbored that thought between my own ears as I flipped through my old motivational “coach” file for some sage inspiration. Visualization made the most sense, so I sequestered that subject through a surge of giggles at bedtime.

“Before you go to bed every night, close your eyes and picture yourself doing cartwheels…” I launched, “…picture yourself landing on your feet, and then picture your teacher being so proud, and the other girls cheering you on.”

“I can’t make myself picture myself…I don’t know how to do that,” she stated, “I can only see myself falling.”

It takes effort to intentionally direct our thoughts, but in order to achieve any task, it has to exist accomplished in our minds. To let the distance coach out for a moment, “To achieve, ya gotta believe.”

Take the time to quiet your mind so that God’s message doesn’t get lost in the static.

The devil would love for the “I can’t” reel to keep playing in your mind, and it’s hard to shut him down when we “haven’t” yet. God gives us the ability to imagine the uncharted to lend us a vision of His goal.

Easier said than done. There’s a lot of static…mixed signals…off days…

“WWWWAAAAAAA….Good Morning!” I managed to giggle out as I recovered from being scared half to death. A runner strode off down the pier, gliding along the  edge next to the freshly frozen layer a-top the river, and I was extremely jealous. Hillsong praising God in my ears, I determined to look onward and upward and walk on instead of letting my thoughts drift to my injured Achilles, and perpetually onto wallowing over the ninth month sans running from there.

And as I looked up and off in the distance toward the edge of the pier, I saw something swoop up and over the lighthouse…cruise the surface of the ice, and then careen back up into the air with one flap of an enormous wingspan. That’s why the normal flock of birds had cut their cackling coffee hour short. The grand bald eagle was out to hunt. I’d never seen him out there before.

Jaw dropped and smiling at the sight of his enormity, I fumbled as my frozen joints failed me in unzipping my pocket for my phone. “Have a nice day!” I waved as the runner passed by me on his way back to shore, and I wondered if he’d taken the time to notice the white feathers against the dim winter horizon. I de-gloved my hands to swipe open my camera app …but when I looked up, he was gone.

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I knew God had meant to encourage me in response to my request for a light to pierce through the fog of this season of doubt and fear. But wondered over the significance of the eagle’s sudden absence. A Word from my thoughts popped in over my ear buds.

“The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.” Romans 14:22a

Some things are just meant to be between me and God. Anyone else might think I’m batty for making such a big deal over a bird. But me and God know why.

I craned my neck at the lighthouse a few times on my way back to shore, but the eagle still wasn’t there. I predictably pondered the significance of it over my typical inspiration drawn from the picturesque, lake-life setting. Irritated not to snap a digital reminder, I tried to associate God’s message to a memory. I flipped through thoughts of the sparkly gold eagle Christmas ornament I’d gotten in honor of my alumni status as an Ashland University Eagle, and onto memories of Tuffy our Eagle mascot.

My mind whirred to a stop as I pictured a picture. My favorite picture. With some of my imagefavorite people. That’s my Kate, on the right, whom God granted an instrumental part in Jesus winning my heart. It was there, on that campus, during that workout, at that field, that my life changed forever. I stopped running as abruptly as Elsa hit’s the ice at the end of Frozen when her sister Ana freezes solid. On my knees in rocky seas, I rescinded the helm to Jesus, who trimmed out hull so that I could take the waves on at the right angle. I’ve believed in Christ everyday of my life, but I knew that something significant was lit in that moment.

God brings the memory of light to life in face of impending death.

Like an eagle amidst the ice, dousing the doubt that threatened to put a dream to death. Don’t doubt the moment Jesus took the helm. And if you do, ask God to confirm it. He is faithful, and He will. But don’t miss it.

The Message version of Roman’s 14:22-23 puts it this way:
“Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe-some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them- then you know your out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.”

It’s in the moments of doubt and anticipated failure that we need to look inward to God in prayer, and watch outward for Him to answer. God unveils His encouragement through His creation.

The next time your doubt tries to debilitate your ability to visualize God’s affirmation of His call on your life, try these methods to calm your madness:

1. When in doubt, stop and think. Look up and out for God. Step out of your situation and into His creation. Exodus 13:21-22 tells of a pillar of cloud send to guide the Israelites out of Egypt. That pillar of cloud never left them. Read Chapter 13 sometime for the whole story, but the part that fascinates me, is that in the famous scene where Moses parted the Red Sea, the angel of the Lord and the pillar of cloud moved behind the people.(v.19) God reveals Himself through His creation. I look for God in the sky, and He meets me there.

2. Pray out your confusion, hurt, and frustration in authenticity to God; He WILL swoop down. Stay in His Word so your mind doesn’t get stagnant. He will find you there often with a Word of encouragement. You might find direction from a friend…maybe you have a Kate, too. Above all, when you are unsure, be sure to remain in His love. John 15:9

3. Line up all you see with all He is. As you seek Him, His voice will become audible to your heart.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”            Isaiah 43:1b

We are His creation, and God uses the five senses that He instilled in us to allow us to experience the majesty He created for us.

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Winter is cold, but it sure is cool.

In the stark void of warmth, the light that permeates is brighter than the summer sun when reflected off the sparkle of snow. Don’t let a seven degree morning hold you back from witnessing the encouragement God has folded into the day for you. And don’t let doubt debilitate your ability to visualize the landing. It’s the difference between life and death.

Happy Living,

Megs