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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Death to Self

Self-will. Selfishness. Self-centeredness. Self-importance. Self-pity. Self-absorption. Self-conceit. Self-flattery. Self-indulgence. Self-seeking. Self-satisfaction.

In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition), there are three-and-a-half pages dedicated to "self" words. Our language has a plethora of words describing how important we are, how we're great, better than others, our ideas higher than our neighbors, how we excel.

Aren't we fabulous? Me. Me. Me.

Quite the contrast with the man who said "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

Jason and I are hobby gardeners. Mainly, it's an experiment. But one thing's for sure, unless we bury that "dead" seed in the ground, it's not going to come alive and yield fruit.

I think there's a part in all of us that wants to be the best, first, prettiest, strongest, most liked, etc. Maybe, just being human? The flesh against the spirit thing. But, when it comes right down to it, do we want success as in "I want to do these things for the Lord" or do we long for our success to be better than Joe's or Sue's? Do we dream of our product—books, writing, work, ministry—blessing the Lord or outshining our competitors or neighbors?

The disciples argued over just such a thing. Who's the greatest? Who would do the biggest exploits for the kingdom of God? Jesus asked them what they'd been arguing about. Arguing. Can you imagine? These guys are following Jesus, the Son of God, along a dirt road and they're arguing about who's the greatest. Of course, they didn't want to tell him what they'd been disagreeing (bragging) about. Would you?

Jesus' response is priceless. "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." In another verse, these words pulse right to the heart of pride versus humility: "If anyone would come after me, (ANYONE) he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Death to self.

Since I write second chance stories, I've been thinking about husbands and wives and death to self. I'm reminded of the section in Ephesians that tells men to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave up everything for her. Wow! Can you imagine such a great love? A husband and wife who choose self-denial? Always putting the other one first? Sure, in marriage it's give and take, and there are times we've all been willing to give up our will, our rights, and go along with our spouse's wishes and needs. But all the time? Whew. That would change everything. Death to self.

Picture a husband and wife in the middle of a heated argument. Their mouths are wide open as dirt-rot slides over their tongues and spews into the air. Suddenly, in each of their hearts, simultaneously, the Lord speaks to them, reminding them about dying to self. Loving your neighbor as yourself. The husband giving himself up for her. Her submitting to him as to the Lord. Being last instead of demanding to be first. Servant of all. Death to self.

Yep. In a moment, tempers cool. Hearts react to the Holy Spirit's presence and prodding. We never meant to say those things. I'm so sorry. Repentance. Maybe tears. Forgiveness. Hope for change. Renewal. Perhaps, hugs and kisses.

Death to self can change everything. Sometimes in a moment.

In my upcoming book April's Call, Ty is faced with some tough choices. He can demand his own way and cause trouble between him and Winter, or he can denying himself, love his wife even like Christ loves the church. Become a servant in heart. Putting her needs before his own. It's always a choice. Not necessarily an easy one. Death to self is a spiritual fight between the flesh and the spirit. Which will win?

I hope the next time I'm itching to choose selfishness, self-pity, and self-centeredness, I will remember the death-to-self part of God's plan for my life. Jesus, help me.

It's not easy. But, then, death never is.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Second Chances in the Woods

Eight years ago, Jason and I moved our home from the city to the woods. We'd desired and prayed for land for a long time, ever since we'd sold our remote property in Alaska, so living in the country was going to be a dream come true for us. Our contractor cleared a big area to make it usable, but in the process the house site became like a dust bowl. After our house was placed on a foundation, we took the above picture of the backside.

The thick forest remained behind us, but we had dirt all around us. Since I'm allergic to dirt, that became a problem. We planted grass seed and watered like crazy. Night after night, in the dark after work, Jason would water in the front yard, and I would take the back. Unfortunately, we didn't understand about topsoil, so we faced an uphill battle to get those seeds to grow.

Because of the deer population, we enclosed our backyard with fencing. There, I can grow what I want without fearing another deer raid. Unless, of course, they jump a seven-foot-high fence—or someone leaves the gate open.

I took this picture today of the same viewpoint as the one above, eight years later. A testimony of new life and regrowth--and our determination!

If you've read any of my writing, you know I love second chances. This morning, with all the summer growth and beauty around me, I pondered second chances in nature. Jesus spoke a lot about natural occurrences and likened them to spiritual things. It means a lot to me to walk through my land and see His handiwork teaching me too.

Before we moved in, the previous owner had harvested some trees, and the loggers cut four roads to the top of the mountain. While kind of ugly, these cleared roads were handy as we loved to walk all over in the woods. Surely, these passageways would always be there for us, I thought naively.

After eight years, it's amazing how these roads, which were scraped almost bare by heavy machinery, have entered a new season of life. It's like a miracle!

Here's a picture I took on my walk this morning. We used to drive our Ram Charger up this road to gather wood. Now it's impassable.

My husband recently drove the lawnmower up this path, just so we could use it for our evening walks.

Isn't it amazing how God planned for things to re-grow, to have new life, to reconcile past wrongs, to live again? It's so fabulous, it's mind boggling. Where destruction happened, new life springs up and not only is reconciliation birthed, freedom and growth thrive! When God makes a plan, He makes a good one. It isn't weak. Or helpless. It's strong and powerful.

Several years ago, Jason felled a tree. When it dropped to the ground, part of its branches crushed a small tree beneath it. Over the years, we've observed this plant stretch out and grow bigger and taller, crooked as it is. Each spring, I thrill to see it emerge from winter straighter as it reaches for the sky. Sure, a wrong happened to it. A big old tree fell down "wham" on top of it. But, today, it's thriving in its second chance at life.

Here's a picture of my little miracle tree in the forefront. Notice its crooked limbs. Oh, but it's reaching for the sky!

I love transplanting. It's a risk every time I uproot something, not knowing if it will survive my human efforts of relocation. But with love and tender care, and if the deer stay away, they do quite well. Because the back of our property is woodsy and the roadside area is open, I'm attempting to bring the woods forward. This will give us privacy and hopefully, in time, absorb some dust from reaching our house.

Watching these small trees thrive in their new environment reminds me of the saying "Grow where you are planted!" I think that ties in so well with second chances. Sure, these transplanted trees would have grown in the woods. But I choose to transplant trees that appear to be growing too close to another tree, where they're not getting their share of light, or they might die. In some ways, I'm giving these saplings a new chance.

Just try to hold back the forest from re-growth and new life! It's not going to happen. And it won't stop happening in believers either. God is a God of second chances. Of new beginnings.

In 2 Corinthians 5:19 it tells how God has "committed to us the message of reconciliation." It's all around us. Starting with nature. The things I see as I walk in the woods are a demonstration of the Lord's great love us. We're starting over. Brand new. Blessed with second chances every day. I love it! 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Crossreads Book Blast: Let Me Walk with You by Gisela Yohannan

Let Me Walk with You: Letters of Faith and Strength 
By Gisela Yohannan

About the Book:

Are you feeling alone or overwhelmed in your journey with the Lord Jesus? In this volume of letters, originally addressed to women serving on the challenging mission fields of South Asia, Gisela Yohannan shares precious lessons from her own life and insights from God’s Word that will fill your heart with faith and strength, no matter where you are in your walk with Jesus. By His grace, you will make it!


Gisela Yohannan serves the Lord along with her husband, K.P. Yohannan, who is the founder and international director of Gospel for Asia. Gisela ministers to thousands of Christian women in many countries, teaching God’s Word with deep insight and practical life application. She has written four other books.

Follow Gisela Yohannan

Enter to Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

Enter below to enter a $50 amazon gift card, sponsored by author Gisela Yohannan! a Rafflecopter giveaway This book blast is hosted by Crossreads. We would like to send out a special THANK YOU to all of the CrossReads book blast bloggers!

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Smile a Day

We've all heard the adage an apple a day keeps the doctor away. So we wash those pesticides off, gobble up our apple a day, and hope it's true.

There are also things to enjoy every day for emotional well-being--like a smile! Have you ever walked into a gathering and didn't know anyone? Maybe, if you're like me, you look around for a friendly face. Awkwardly, you move to your seat or table, wondering if you should make a run for the exit and forget all about attending the conference or meeting. Then, suddenly, someone smiles at you.

In that moment, everything changes.The breath you've been holding in eases out. You relax. You smile back. Then, you know everything's going to be okay.

One time a lady came up to me in church and, with tears in her eyes, shook my hand and thanked me for smiling at her. Yes, for simply smiling! She said my smile had encouraged her. Now, that floored me. I didn't have a Colgate-smile, and in fact, I felt quite self-conscious about my teeth. But, apparently, my smile had been welcoming to her during a lonely time in her life, and it was a cool moment for me.

How little effort it takes to smile, yet the simple facial expression can say so much. It can say...welcome, I care about you, I'm glad you're here, you matter to me, I've missed seeing you, the world is a better place with you in it, you belong.

All that in a smile? Yes, and moreThink about what someone's smile does for you. What does it tell you?

Have you ever stood behind a mom holding a small child and had that baby or toddler grin and grin at you? I have. Right then, it changed how I was feeling. The child's smile pulled me in and warmed me. Like a big hug.

Oh, to smile and laugh like a child who cares nothing about what her teeth look like or about the wrinkle lines around her eyes. Haha...such freedom!

Everyone needs cheering up sometime. A smile can go a long ways in making new friends, in encouraging coworkers, in saying hello across a crowded gathering, and telling family and friends you care about them. Without saying a word, you say they matter. Because, in the end, we all need to know that.