Heart Renovations {Good Friday Reflections}

our kitchen in progress

We’re in the middle of a major renovating project in the new house we’re set to move into at the end of the month. With the help of very generous friends in our church, my parents, and my husband and his friends, the ugly 60s style carpet in our living and dining room has been ripped out. The kitchen tile has been smashed out and new hardwood floors will be installed soon.

As you can imagine, the downstairs is a wreck. And on this Good Friday while I have just a few minutes to reflect on it, I can’t help but take a look inside the condition of my soul, apart from Jesus.

Apart from Jesus, it’s an absolute disaster. There is nothing good that exists (I wish there was).

I’m a sinful being and my sin is so disgusting and offensive that a price had to be paid to cover it.

Jesus’ death on the cross paid the massive debt I owed. A debt which I could never actually pay on my own accord. On the cross, Jesus said “It is finished.” Wholly. Completely. Not in part- but in full. Because of the pain, suffering, and anguish he endured and the spilling of his blood, I’ve been set free from the chains of sin. And no one else could do it, but Jesus.

Because of his death, grace washes over all our sin. Amazing grace for you and for me. A most precious gift.

But the cross can’t be left by itself, displayed on a church building, or worn around our neck as pretty jewelry. The cross, which showed his great love for us, demands an answer from us. A choice that we must make. Will we accept Jesus’ gift of grace and surrender our lives to Him? Will we turn from our sin and cling to Him? Will we allow him to renovate the ugliest, shameful parts of our heart so we can be restored again?

He is more than willing if we let Him.

The beauty of the cross and his grace is that He removes the junk and debris. He changes us and makes us new. It is all an act of His grace- a profound mystery.

Today, let’s not forget just how awful our sin is and how disgraceful Jesus’ death on the cross was. But let us also not forget…

Sunday’s coming.

Check out this video.

The Necessity to Shine {when this world drives you crazy}

I was reading a friend’s status update a few days ago about one of her neighbors. She was in her alley (most Texas homes have back alleys) and out of nowhere she heard a man screaming at the top of his lungs:

“I hate this world!!!”

She couldn’t believe it and asked her friends to pray for this man. Obviously, bitterness and hatred were brewing in his heart toward someone or something.

I’ve had days where I’ve seen a darkness and insensitivity in this world from people who have no regard for one another. Co-workers who slander and devour each other, nasty people in checkout lines, off-the-wall thinking, critical and judgmental people, all around negativity from people across the board, and more.

I’ve had days where people have really gotten to me and the world seems like a depressing place to live. Sometimes random and unexpected situations have happened that have affected my attitude. I think to myself:

The only hope in this mean and crazy world is Jesus. What do people do who don’t have that hope? I would go crazy without it.

And it’s not too long after that I’m reminded of who I am in Christ and what I’ve been sent on this earth to do as his disciple. He reminds me that indeed, this world can be a dark, cold and lonely place but there is a solution to the darkness.

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” – Matt. 5:14-16

My natural inclination is to run and hide from darkness and not confront it, especially if I have been hurt by someone else’s sin. But how will my light shine if I don’t forgive and genuinely love that person who’s so incredibly unlovable? How will they hear about God’s forgiveness and healing if I don’t tell them?

If “hurting people hurt people” as the saying goes, then there’s got to be a reason behind every offense. How will my light shine if I return evil for evil? It won’t. My light will shine when I choose to love and let God help me overcome the darkness.

When God’s light shines through us, people can’t help but notice something different. They can’t help but want to know what makes us love rather than hate. They want to know what gives us hope. Love is how people will come to know and understand that the Lord is real and active in the world today.

The man who screamed out in the alley is a picture of how many people feel. They harbor pain and they feel hopeless. These are the people God wants us to seek out and shine our light to. There is no plan B.

And no matter how dark the world continues to get, we are still the light of the world.

Do you find it difficult to shine and show love among the darkness? 

From the Archives: An Anthem of His Faithfulness

Every seat in the chapel was filled. The doors on each side stayed open for Michigan’s August breeze to make its way in. I looked for a place to sit and found a spot on the end of a pew. As I sat down, I felt relieved that my husband was keeping the kids so I could have some time to sit and be still. Besides, this was my vacation.

God, I want to hear you tonight, prayedIt’s so hard to hear you when the daily grind can get so noisy.

Sara Groves started playing the piano and singing:

I can’t remember a trial or a pain He did not recycle to bring me gain

I can’t remember one single regret In serving God only, and trusting His hand

All I have need of, His hand will provide

He’s always been faithful to me

I tried to recollect a time when God was unfaithful to me and I simply could not. Even at a point in my life when I chose the temporal pleasures of sin over following Him, He remained faithful- patiently pursuing me and calling me to his side.

And all the needs I have ever had, great or small, he has provided regardless of my worry and doubt.

I thought about the concerns and fears I have with the future and I was comforted that God knew those too, but my uncertainties don’t change the fact of Who He Is. And if I had to follow Him all over again, in the joys and the hardships, I would still surrender my life to Him.

Sara played on and transitioned into the old hymn:

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see

All I have needed thy hand hath provided

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me

A man in his 60s stood up as she sang. I imagined his life and the possible trials he’d probably faced. I thought about how he’s further along in the journey than I. Then another person in the distance stood and then another. I got goosebumps. Before I knew it, handfuls of people were standing.

Knots grew tight in my throat. God had been so faithful to me and rarely did I thank Him and stand upon that. I felt such conviction. My pride tried to keep me planted in that hard wooden pew, but I rose to my feet anyway. Tears filled my eyes and I confessed to God where I had fallen short.

God, forgive me for not regularly expressing gratitude to you for all you have done. Change me.

I observed all that was happening around me and soon enough, everyone was standing. Some lifted their hands in humbleness. God’s presence filled the air and it was heavenly and so sweet. It didn’t matter what journey any of us had traveled, this was our anthem together.

An anthem of His faithfulness.

The Words “I Love You”

While I was washing the dishes a few nights ago, John walks up to me in adult-like fashion and says:

“Momma?”

I turn to him wondering what his next words will be. I assumed he needed something.

“I love you.”

My eyes lit up and I was pleasantly surprised especially after the kind of day it had been. My heart filled with joy that even though I’m a far-from-perfect Momma, my three year old still loves me and hopefully knows that he is loved deeply too.

“I love you too, John.”

He gave a big grin and went about his business playing.

God spoke truth to me that evening through my son. I love how God often has a way of intervening in our lives to show us how deeply He loves us. I don’t know about you but it seems like when I am the most unlovely, He shows his unconditional love all the more and I’m humbled. How does such a sinner like me deserve so much grace and love?

Yet he continues to love because He is Love. 

And he shows his love in unexpected ways: through Scripture, prayer, the Church, other people, creation, whispers, “aha” moments, circumstances, discipline, trials, and more.

But the truth is that he doesn’t have to continue showing his love. He has already proven his love by suffering and dying on the cross. He loved us while we were still sinners, in all our filthiness and ugliness. The cross sealed the deal and there is no greater love that exists.

But why do I often live like I need to be reassured of His love? Or sometimes I’m insecure of his love. I only need to look to the cross.

When it comes to love it’s no wonder that the song “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan strikes such a chord with so many people deep within. It’s a song that chokes me up and reminds me of His faithfulness. No matter what kind of hurt, pain, or trial we are going through, we follow a God who loves us and who cares about our frustrations and let-downs.

And he is indeed jealous for us.

He wants us to know that, yes, we are broken people and yes we will mess up sometimes but that doesn’t change anything about His love. He is ready and willing to show us that love if we will listen and obey.

I’ve remembered John’s words a few times this week. They have helped me through my daily struggles and they continue to remind me that those are the exact words God is saying to me.

“I love you.”

How to Handle the “In Between”

The week after Christmas tends to be an awkward week for me. The whole month of December, I anticipate Christmas. Everything I do centers around Dec. 25. And then once it’s over, I’m not quite sure what to do.

I could relate to writer Marcus Hathcock in the recent RELEVANT Magazine article, “The Thud After Christmas” when he said, “There is a huge build up to Christmas… You get the feeling that the world is getting ready for something big and mysterious.”

Then Christmas happens and life moves on the next day as if it were never here. Marcus likened it to the radio stations instantly going back to their regular programming: “No tapering down the carols, just a clean break. A thud.”

I love how he uses the word thud because that’s exactly what it has felt like for me. I’ve asked myself a few times: Now What? What’s the next thing to look forward to?

This week, I’ve struggled with being in the in-between. Christmas is over and 2012 is on the horizon. I have my share of concerns about what the future will hold and what changes might occur.

But one thing has brought me true comfort and peace as I wrestle and grapple with the in between.

Going to God in His Word to be reminded and assured of his promises.

I easily forget that Jesus is enough. We hear it so much but it’s so true. He is all I need as I anticipate a brand new year that will hold only the Lord knows! This doesn’t mean that I don’t plan, work hard, make changes, set some goals, and more. Those things will happen.

But the point is that my eyes should not be on myself and what concerns I have. Or how I feel. Or frankly what I need to do. I actually end up getting depressed when I look too hard at myself.

My focus should be upon Christ, his Word, his ways, serving Him and His people. And above all to fulfill what I’ve been put on this earth to do- to know Him and make Him known.

I’m never disappointed when I begin placing my trust in what He says. And somehow, when my eyes are upon Him instead of self, I always end up finding true joy, comfort, and satisfaction. All the things that I’m pretty sure I was looking for in the first place.

Over the past few days I’ve noticed that the thud is slowly fading away and my anxiety about 2012 is turning into excitement and joy about what God will do and reveal about himself.

Have you felt the thud or struggle with the in between?

The Best News You’ll Hear All Christmas

Reflections from Luke 2:1-20

God became a man and lived on earth…

He came by the most humble means and was laid in a manger- a trough or box used to feed animals- very far from a crib in a royal palace. His father and mother, Joseph and Mary, sought a place for Mary to give birth but there was no room in the inn.

After Mary gave birth to the Savior, an angel of the Lord first appeared to shepherds. Humble, lower class citizens of the day and considered unclean- God chose them to be the first to hear the good news of this Savior.

Then that same angel and the heavenly hosts praised God saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

This baby Jesus would bring peace. The peace that mankind had been waiting for all along. His birth would usher in hope and life in the midst of chaos and brokenness.

Then the shepherds traveled to Bethlehem to actually see this Jesus. They saw him, Mary, and Joseph just as they were told. They spread the news to everyone. And everyone was amazed. But Mary hid and treasured all that was going on in her heart. I can only imagine her feelings and thoughts.

Then the shepherds went back to their fields, praising and glorifying God for all they had seen and heard. Finally, the Messiah had come. Not in the way that many expected, but he was here.

So what did this child’s birth mean for all mankind?

Did it mean good cheer, cozy Christmas songs, presents, Santa, snow, a nice manger display on the mantle, parties, charity, family gatherings, and good will toward men?

Those good things are only the outpouring of what this child’s birth means. His birth means so much more for us today.

His birth means that God stepped into history by sending his only son Jesus to earth. Jesus struggled and faced temptation like we do, yet he was sinless. He healed and saved those far from Him. His purpose in coming was to save us from our sins- all our offenses toward God. And they are numerous.

He would come to redeem, restore, renew…

So he did it just as he promised. He proved his love for us on a cross. He died the most shameful, disgusting and horrific death. He screamed. He cried. He agonized. He bled. He asked his father if there was anyway he could save him. But he knew it was God’s will for him to die because it was the only way to save the world.

So he willingly did.

But his death wasn’t the end. He rose again like he said he would. No man has ever raised himself back to life. Only God.

Over 500 witnesses saw his appearing and when his time on earth was finished, he ascended into heaven to be with his father.

Oh but the Christmas story doesn’t end there. Thank goodness. He is coming back for those who know, love, and have committed their life to him. He will one day, judge the living and the dead. And we need to be ready for his coming. We need to revere him and honor him.

Jesus is our hope this Christmas, no matter if we’re jobless, our spouse has been diagnosed with cancer, or we’ve lost a loved one. No matter what we’re going through, He is still our peace. And He is what our hearts are longing for.

Jesus is why we do all that we do in this joyful season. May our hearts be filled with gratitude for the greatest gift that has already been given to us in a manger many years ago.

Last Thoughts on the Life of Scott McCreedy

I had a few more thoughts I wanted to share from Sunday’s post about Scott McCreedy. There is no doubt at all that Scott was a man of influence. That post happens to be at 1,000 page views according to WordPress and Google stats and the number is climbing- all because Scott touched so many lives and people are searching for his name all over the country and world.

One of Scott’s classmate’s Erin wrote in a Facebook comment, “We have much to learn from him.” Her words are so wise as they demand that we take a good look at ourselves and see where we can be like Scott. Here are a few things I saw from a distance in his life that are worth emulating:

*Scott loved his family.

*Scott loved people.

*Scott was Scott and never tried to be someone else.

*Scott was selfless and served our country, even if it meant major hardship and sacrifice.

*Scott was sensitive and open to God and found comfort from God’s word.

Run to God

Those of you who knew Scott and are struggling, I want to encourage you that God loves you. In a tragedy like this, we can either run from God or draw close to him. Often, the natural response is to run and reject God. Our pride gets in the way and we grow bitter. But that always makes things worse and as time goes by, we end up getting nowhere.

Though it’s tempting, don’t run.

Cling to Him with all you have for strength. Cry out to Him for help. Give him your anger, fear, and worry. Tell him what’s on your heart.

Ask God to give you comfort and peace in this time and to reveal areas where you need to change. I’m asking God the same.

Take time to process and reflect on your life. Who are you living for? Yourself or God? If you died today, are you 100% sure you would go to heaven? The Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Belief requires a commitment, an action of placing your faith in the person of Jesus. You’re recognizing that you’re a sinner and that nothing good is in you apart from God.

You recognize that it is by grace that God can save you and there is nothing you can do to earn salvation. You recognize that good works won’t get you to heaven, but the free gift of grace alone.

When you place your faith in Christ, He is the one that changes you. You don’t have to clean yourself up first. That’s God’s job. He changes your desires.

Trusting in Christ is not a religion or a list of rules and legalism. It’s a relationship with your Creator, God who wants to know you personally. Who died to save you, who rose from the dead, and who is coming again. He will never fail you and He is your hope.

Scott’s Legacy

Let’s carry Scott’s legacy with us always. Let’s grow and learn together and share our struggles so we can be healed (James 5:16). Let’s love because love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). Let’s be changed people and make a difference in the world for God’s glory and not let evil and darkness win again.

We have much to learn from you Scott. Thank you for your legacy to all of us. You are loved and we’ll see you soon enough.

Read Scott McCreedy’s Obituary in the News & Record


Remembering Scott McCreedy: Friend & Faithful Reader

Scott McCreedy left a mark on so many lives with his smile, genuine spirit, and servant’s heart. I met Scott in the 6th grade at Southwest Middle School in High Point, NC.

I remember taking classes with Scott, that he was a gifted soccer player, was one of the first guys in our class to grow facial hair, and that everyone liked Scott (especially the girls!).

I graduated from high school with him in 2000. From 2000-2009, I didn’t know Scott but when we reconnected on Facebook a few years ago, I found out he had served our country in the Navy as a rescue swimmer and I was so proud of him.

In July 2009, he sent a Facebook message to me out of the blue that I had saved. Here’s what it said:

Thanks.

Hey Samantha,

I just wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying reading your Blogs… I am going through a tough transition in my life and your thoughts/words are really helpful… thanks and god bless…. keep reaching out, there are alot out there who need it.

Best for you and your family,

Scott

I didn’t know Scott was reading my blog and ironically, I was going through a time where I wanted to quit blogging. His note encouraged me to keep pressing on and that God was speaking to his heart. Just a few weeks ago, he “liked” a new Facebook page I had created and a quote I posted by A.W. Tozer. I was very appreciative of his continued support and encouragement with my writing.

That was the last I really “heard” from him and yesterday I found out the shocking news that he had taken his life. I had trouble sleeping last night and my heart just breaks again today. My husband has been helping me process it all.

Scott’s father wrote a very thoughtful post on Facebook explaining Scott’s struggle with depression and his request that we pray for God’s mercy and love. I appreciated that his father took the time to share his heart. It helped bring peace to my heart.

Many people I know battle with depression, anxiety, and hopelessness on a daily basis. I have dealt with some anxiety and depression (postpartum) after having my second child. No one ever fully knows a person’s situation or struggle and the darkness they feel. I think it’s important to be compassionate and not judgmental towards those who are experiencing such inner turmoil and pain.

I am thankful that on the cross, Jesus crushed sin and death once and for all and that today, our ultimate hope is in Him. The historical resurrection of Christ is our present hope that Jesus will fulfill his promises in the future when he will heal the hurting hearts and bring life to those who love and trust in Him.

I believe that Scott is with His Savior and that all his tears and pain have been wiped away. My heart is sad because his life has been cut short, but I’m looking forward to when we will all experience a fullness and an abundance to life that none of us have yet seen or known.

We love you Scott and you will be missed greatly.

** Additional resources if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one:

Coping with Death and Grief- Focus on the Family article

What Happens When You Die? John Piper Audio Sermon and article

A Christian Perspective on Grief– audio

What if Your Blessings Come Through Raindrops


Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights 
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

I heard the lyrics to this song “Blessings” by Laura Story, writer of the worship hit “Indescribable,” for the first time on my way home the other day and it was as if the world stopped and God spoke straight into my heart.

I often pray for comfort, peace, blessing, and for suffering to cease but as I reflect on my life, it’s been the trials and struggles that have humbled me, shaped who I am today, and drawn me closer to Jesus. When I think of “raindrops” that were blessings in disguise, I think of just a few:

  • Dating relationships that never worked out… the unbelievable blessing in God giving me Jeremiah
  • My dad’s two surgeries on a brain tumor… teaching me reliance on the Lord and how to pray
  • Jeremiah’s job loss 3 months into our marriage… leading us to a better place geographically, emotionally and spiritually as newlyweds
  • Broken sleep, postpartum symptoms, and the daily sacrifices as a mother… so I can learn to die to myself and help other moms who also struggle
  • Dealing and wrestling through my hurts, habits, and hangups… so that God can continue to heal the sinful parts in me so I can best glorify him as a wife and mother
  • The excruciating pain, tears and suffering in having two natural births… and the reward of staring into the eyes and holding my precious children

The difficulties in life have also taught me and will continue to teach me how to serve and have compassion on other people because you never fully understand the shoes of another person. Above all, they have taught me to continue to hope for something more.

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ]

Read the story behind the song

When You Struggle to See the Light

Yesterday while we were playing on the floor, I stood Rebekah up so she could grab on to the couch and balance herself. She had this big grin on her face as she stared at the wall. She was gazing at the painting we have above our couch of The Last Supper. The light from the sunset shined through our window reflecting on Jesus’ face- not any of the disciples sitting at the table, but just Jesus alone.

It was the sweetest thing. Rebekah looked up at the painting another time and smiled again. And it convicted me.

That beautiful moment reminded me how Jesus’ light shines among the darkness. His light shines into my sinful heart. The sinful heart I’ve had for what seems like… all week- unfortunately! I’d prefer not to have to admit that.

I’ve been angry, impatient, irritable, difficult to live with (just ask my husband), and unable to control my emotions with broken sleep. Did I mention I don’t do well off little sleep?! I’m in a season of struggle spiritually. My time in God’s word has been minimal due to laziness, exhaustion, and my own excuses. I’ve been struggling in this season of motherhood with the demands of a two-year-old and 7 month old, among other challenges.

I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a deep pit. And I’ve wanted out!

Well on Monday, I was able to get in the Word after the kids were down and read the first two chapters in James. And on Tuesday, I read the third chapter. And on Wednesday, I prayed that God would keep moving and give me the desire to be in His presence even when I don’t feel like it and even when I struggle.

It’s often that my pride says I need to be perfect and have it all together spiritually or else I can’t come to Jesus. But I’m realizing that’s a lie. The biggest lie there ever was.

We struggle and that’s why we need Jesus. We need him desperately and even when we’re ashamed and try to hide our own darkness, we need only to look to the Light. And to keep looking again, and again, and again so that He can do something great and life-changing within us that we can’t do on our own.

Thankfully, the last two days have been perfect nights of sleep for us. I’m starting to see hope again. I pray that whatever struggle or trial you’re facing (small or large), that you will run fast to the Light and cling to Jesus in your struggles.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7

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